If Jürgen Moltmann Planted a Church – Part Two

This is part of a series based on chapters four and five of my new book, The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement, in which I look at the ecclesiology of German theologian Jürgen Moltmann and put it into conversation with the ecclesial practices of the emerging church movement (ECM).  Part One

Key to understanding Moltmann’s ecclesiology is to grasp his concept of the social trinity.  The ecclesiology that he proposes, and that I take up in my book, is a “relational ecclesiology,” and he gets there by beginning with a concept of the godhead that is fundamentally relational.

For Moltmann, God is relationship — primarily the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit.

Significantly for Moltmann’s ecclesiology in The Church in the Power of the Spirit, and growing out of his reflections on the crucifixion (in The Crucified God) and resurrection (in Theology of Hope), he develops a social understanding of the Trinity, a theme that overarches all six of his later “contributions” to systematic theology.

Moltmann rejects traditional Western trinitarian theories—those held both by the Catholic Church and most Protestants—as “modalism” or “monarchial monotheism” and instead adopts the Eastern conception of God as a perichoresis, or an enduring and mutually interpenetrating fellowship of divine love between three persons.[1] For instance, the Holy Spirit is not merely the power between the Father and the Son, but is instead a unique subject (Moltmann strongly rejects the eleventh century creedal addition of the “filioque clause”[2]).

One characteristic of Moltmann’s perichoretic Trinity is that of openness: the fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is “other than” creation, but it is open to embrace creation into itself.  Thus, Moltmann argues that all of history is actually a part of the “trinitarian history of God.”[3]

This last concept, the trinitarian history of God, is Moltmann’s christianization of Hegel and Heidegger — and I particularly like it because it understands God as the subject — the protagonist, if you will — of all history.
So, understanding Moltmann’s particular view of the Trinity is essential to understanding his ecclesiology.

Any questions?


[1] Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), 175.

[2] Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God, 180-82.  See also Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 306ff.

[3] This phrase, which becomes very important in Moltmann’s writings, is first introduced in Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology, 274ff.

  • http://pomotheosis.wordpress.com Travis Ingels

    Love this. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Trinity and the church. Looked at Moltmann, Boff, and Zizioulas. I took a very similar approach to you in discussing the relational ecclesiology. Great stuff.

  • http://www.missionvineyard.org John Aureli

    Tony – Curious on your thoughts regarding relational ecclesiology and a comparison to someone like Ladd’s understanding of a concurrent kingdom implementation. How does a relational church relate to joining with God in his mission on earth? (or should I just read the book)

  • http://www.benhammond.org Ben Hammond

    I love this too. I interacted with Moltmann in a paper for my final class at North Park University.

  • Larry Kamphausen

    Travis that sounds like a fascinating study to do of those three theologians.

    I read Moltmann before reading Zizioulas, but I have felt that Zizioulas not needing to fight against certain tendency’s in some Western Theology is a theology that is freer and opens me up more to the movement of the Spirit in the Church and the World.

    Boff is certainly interesting and I suppose doing related things in theology.

  • Larry Kamphausen

    Tony,
    I too liked this “Christinizing” as you say of Hegel and Heiddegger. Though I’d say returning Hegel and Heidegger to their Christian foundations. Since it can be argued that both are deeply indepted to the Christian tradition, and both would admit this and I think actually did.

    One thing I haven’t ever thought about is where God as subject of history and Jean-Luc Marion’s sense that God is without being. To the extent that Moltmann still works within Hegelian and Heideggerian assumptions God even as subject of history is sort of the Being of beings, the “Big Other” ans ZiZek puts it. Marion as I read him removes God from ontology, where as Moltmann still has God within the realm of Being. But I actually didn’t return to Moltmann after reading Marion and Zizioulas. Think I might need to do that.

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  • http://notesfromthebridge.wordpress.com Christopher Kirk

    Interesting blog. I think you would like mine too.
    Been relational housechurching and planting for 30 years. My blog is about Jesus, Church and life in general.
    http://notesfromthebridge.wordpress.com

    Christopher “Captain” Kirk

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  • Marc

    The Catholic Church has never taught that the Holy Spirit is merely “a power between the Father and the Son”. The Holy Spirit is one of the persons of the Holy Trinity, consubstantial with the Father and the Son and with the Father and Son is worshipped and glorified. The Holy Spirit is at work with the Father and the Son from the beginning to the completion of the plan for our salvation. In these end times ushered in by the Son’s redeeming Incarnation, the Spirit is revealed and given, recognized and welcomed as a person. Now the divine plan, accomplished in Christ, the firstborn and and head of the new creation, can be embodied in mankind by the outpouring of the Spirit: as the Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. The Holy Spirit unveils Christ to us and does not speak to us on his own. -Spirit of Truth. This divine self effacement explains why the “world cannot receive him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.” When the Father sends his Word, he always sends His breath. In their joint mission, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct but inseparable. The Spirit who is unseen reveals Christ the visible image of the invisible God.


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