A Brief Overview of Moltmann’s Writings

The oeuvre of Moltmann can be subsumed into three phases. The first phase is located in his trilogy comprised of Theology of Hope (1964; English translation 1967), The Crucified God (1972; ET 1973), and The Church in the Power of the Spirit (1975; ET 1977). In these three volumes Moltmann attempts to discuss the entirety of theology through a particular lens: in Theology of Hope, it is through the God of promise and the hope for creation found in the resurrection of Christ; in The Crucified God, it is through God’s solidarity and identification with the suffering of the world though the godforsakeness of Christ in the crucifixion; and finally, having thus dealt with Easter and Good Friday, Moltmann then turns to Pentecost with The Church in the Power of the Spirit, a book that, by using the themes of ecclesiology and pneumatology, embraces the dialectical tension of the previous two volumes by having the Spirit moving creation towards the resolution of this dialectic—the transformation of all creation in correspondence to the resurrection of Christ.

The second phase is a set of six books that Moltmann calls his “systematic contributions” to theology. One needs to keep in mind, though, that even though his theology can rightly be labeled as “systematic,” it is not in the sense of a Summa Theologica a la Aquinas. This systematic phase in Moltmann’s writings was in part due to criticisms directed against his theology during the 1970s by liberation theologians. For while Moltmann is considered a key influence on some liberation theologians, he was nevertheless criticized by leading figures in the movement as simply being another instantiation of an out-of-touch professor offering up nothing more than a theology consisting of only theory, no praxis. As one can read in his own preface to The Trinity and the Kingdom of God (vii), this resulted in Moltmann no longer focusing on presenting the whole of theology through a singular focus (as he did in his initial trilogy), but to instead placing a spotlight on specific issues. The inaugural volume in this “systematic” phase is on the doctrine of God (The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, 1980; ET 1981), followed by one on creation (God in Creation, 1985; ET 1985), then Christology (The Way of Jesus Christ, 1989; ET 1990), pneumatology (The Spirit of Life, 1991; ET 1992), eschatology (The Coming of God, 1995; ET 1996), and finally, a volume on theological method (Experiences in Theology, 2000; ET 2000).

The third phase of Moltmann’s theological career is an assortment of books, with a unifying characteristic of them being that they reveal his affinity with the Frankfurt school of philosophy, which is demonstrated in his burgeoning focus on the themes of liberation and freedom in sociological and geo-political areas such as human rights (e.g. On Human Dignity, 1984; Ethics of Hope, 1984), globalization (God for a Secular Society, 1999), and to answering new, usually existential, boundary conditions of humanity, such as nuclear warfare (The Coming of God, see pp. 204–08) and ecological disaster (God for a Secular Society, 11–20; The Coming of God, 208–11; and Ethics of Hope, 109–62). The works in this phase are not dense or sustained theological arguments as his earlier volumes, in fact they seem to contain modest theological reflection and biblical interaction. Nevertheless, there is much to be admired in Moltmann’s creative and poetic writing style and insights contained within these volumes.

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