A Comparison between Luther and Moltmann

The theological method of Martin Luther is aptly summed up in the Reformation cry of sola scriptura (scripture alone) and his guiding principle of reading the Bible was “was Christum treibet” (what drives Christ), which is to say, all scripture is about Christ.

The crux of Luther’s theology is theologia crucis (theology of the cross). This works itself out in the following three ways:

  • Hermeneutically as “law and gospel.”
  • Politically as his doctrine of the “two kingdoms.”
  • Existentially as “simil iustus et peccator” (righteous and sinner at same time). This is where for Luther the law and gospel encounter each individual simultaneously.

The scripture that encapsulates Luther is Romans 7:15: “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Luther interpreted the plight of the man in Romans 7:14-25 as something that all Christians go through; it is the war waging in us between the law and the gospel.

Jürgen Moltmann’s theological method is best described as ad-hoc and eclectic. He employs scripture to support his theology, but he is not driven by the need to derive his theology from scripture. He somewhat respects church tradition and the church fathers, but he is in no way beholden to them. In fact, he has no qualms at bringing in other resources use in his theological dialogue (e.g. Kabbalah, mysticism, science, psychology). He uses this method to prevent the petrification of theology and to bring about change to the church’s way of thinking.

Moltmann was undoutedly influenced by Luther and his theologia crucis, whether directly or indirectly through other theologians (such as Barth and Iwand). Moltmann does not seem to view scripture through the same “law and gospel” dichotomy that Luther does (at least not to the same extent), and neither does Moltmann accept Luther’s “two kingdoms” doctrine, with one criticism he levels against it being that Germany showed that the two kingdoms viewpoint did not provide a basis for resisting the Nazi party.

The most Moltmannian moment in scripture is the cry from the cross  in Mark 15.34: “Eloi eloi lama sabachthani” [My God, my God, why have you forsaken me]. This event is very critical in Moltmann’s theology. He says: “Either Jesus who was abandoned by God is the end of all theology or he is the beginning of a specifically Christian, and therefore critical and liberating, theology of life” (The Crucified God). While Luther stressed the concept of Christ becoming our sin on the cross and transferring his righteousness to us, Moltmann sees the cross as an event where Jesus was abandoned by God, and suffered in his divinity. This raises another important difference between these two theologians, as Moltmann finds the traditional way of speaking about God (e.g. a Thomistic view of God) to be unhelpful and instead holds to a panentheistic view of God.

One response

  1. Dear Kevin Brown! Your writings on Moltmann are probably
    the best on the web … I really appreciate your contribution. Your
    insights are very clear and helpful for me. Nowadays I start a
    comparative research on Barth and Moltmann and their understanding
    of hope. In Serbia we do not have access to good theological
    resources so I would like to ask your help. I would like to read a
    comparison from you between Barth and Moltmann in general sense but
    especially on their theology of hope. (similarities, differences,
    strong points, weak points) I would also appreciate some critical
    comments from you on Barth’s letter to Moltmann in connection with
    the book “Theology of Hope” … Thanks for your help and for your
    suggestions. Please feel free to contact me via Email … May God
    bless you and your family. Sincerely yours, Bela Djulai (40),

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