Moltmann’s Masterpiece [Book Week]

In completing my forthcoming book, Did God Kill Jesus?, I was driven back time and time again to the masterpiece by Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God. Moltmann is my theological muse, and, as Miroslav Volf says to him the in the above video, The Crucified God is his most important book.

For one thing, Moltmann followed up on his earlier Theology of Hope by continuing what today we’d call theopoetics. That is, Moltmann broke away from the staid German prose of theologians like Karl Barth and Wolfhart Pannenberg, choosing instead to write in a more freeform and experimental style. This, I think, set the stage for many Western theologians — particularly feminist theologians like Catherine Keller and Kathryn Tanner, who have written in even more open, experimental ways.

Most significantly, CG emphasized the pathos of God. For Moltmann, the Trinity is a dialectical event, and the death of Jesus causes a rupture in the eternal relationality that defines the godhead. In turn, “we participate in the eschatological life of God by virtue of the death of Christ. God is, God is in us, God suffers in us, where love suffers.”

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Jesus’ Death, God’s Culpability

Marc Chagall's "Yellow Crucifixion," which hung on Jürgen Moltmann's wall as he wrote The Crucified God.

Marc Chagall’s “Yellow Crucifixion,” which hung on Jürgen Moltmann’s wall as he wrote The Crucified God.

I spent the summer revising and rewriting Did God Kill Jesus? That meant that the subject of Jesus’ death was front-of-mind much of the time. Even as I mowed the lawn or biked to work, I was thinking about this.

My editor has expressed some trepidation over the question. Of course, God didn’t kill Jesus, in the sense that God didn’t pound the nails into his wrists and hoist the cross upright. But even if God stood aside and allowed to happen, God is somehow responsible, right?

(Which reminds me of Richard Pryor’s famous bit. God’s invited to a dinner party on Earth, but before he leaves, he asks, “Hey, can I see my son?”

“Oh, um, shit, we cruficified him.”

“What?!?”)

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God Is Not Eternal

Writing a book on the atonement is like peeling the layers of an onion. Everything theological dilemma you solve only brings up two more dilemmas. So it was that I needed to write a section in the book on God’s relationship to time, because it seemed to make no sense to talk about God’s relationship to Jesus’ crucifixion unless I could explain God’s relationship to time.

So a couple weeks back, I write a post arguing that God is not outside of time. When he read that, Keith DeRose sent me Nicholas Wolterstorff‘s classic essay, “God Everlasting” (in Contemporary Philosophy of Religion, New York: Oxford, 1982).

In that essay, Wolterstorff argues that God is not eternal, God is everlasting.

His argument proceeds thusly:

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Which Side of the Cross Are You On?

Scot McKnight made an interesting observation this week:

But the Abelardian and Girardian have an oft-missed sinister side, even if you may object to my saying so. In these theories we side with Christ and God and not those who put him to death. We end up being the good guys, the victims, while the bad guys — Roman and Jewish leaders, the gutless disciples, the whole damned human race — are the ones who put him there. We, on the other hand, know better. We’re innocent, they’re guilty.

Being that I’m writing a book on the atonement, this caught my eye. I’ve got chapters in the book on both the moral exemplar theory (Abelard) and the last scapegoat theory (Girard).

Scot is right, and wrong.

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