If Jürgen Moltmann Planted a Church – Part One

If Jürgen Moltmann Planted a Church – Part One August 18, 2011

Possibly the most significant theological advancement that my dissertation, neé book (The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement) accomplishes is in chapters four and five, 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).  Further, I believe mine is the first published work to deal with Moltmann’s most recent book, Sun of Righteousness, Arise!: God’s Future for Humanity and the Earth.

Moltmann’s ecclesiology, although spelled out at length in his third major book, The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Ecclesiology, is largely ignored by the theological academy.  I have a theory about why that is: Because, unlike much of Moltmann’s theology, his ecclesiology is eminently practical.

But before getting to that, a quick primer on Moltmann’s overarching theological project is in order.

Both at the beginning and end of his career, Jürgen Moltmann has referred to his own theology a theologia viatorum: “a theology for us wayfarers.”[1] By that, he means that his theological agenda has been ever-shifting, the result of the various contemporary issues that he feels have confronted the church over his career.  He has attempted to develop a theology that has a biblical foundation, an eschatological orientation, and a political impetus.[2] Elsewhere, he has written that his theological corpus has three main themes:

  1. a trinitarian thinking about God,
  2. an ecological thinking about the community of creation,
  3. an eschatological thinking about the various indwellings of God (in his people, in Christ, and in creation).[3]

Nos 1 and 3 are essential to understand Moltmann’s ecclesiology, which I will begin to unpack in the next post in this series.

[1] Jürgen Moltmann, Sun of Righteousness, Arise!: God’s Future for Humanity and the Earth (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 181.

[2] Jürgen Moltmann, History and the Triune God: Contributions to Trinitarian Theology (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 182.

[3] Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology (London: SCM, 1996), xii.

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  • Brian Merritt

    Interesting. I have been reading a lot of Johanns Baptist Metz this summer. He plays a lot with Moltmann.

  • If Moltmann planted a church, I’d go to it.

  • Joe Carson

    when “rapid reader” software is available on an ebook reader, I purchase it. Till then, probably not. Is a paper version of your book in offing?

  • Tony,

    I didn’t know that Moltmann’s ecclesiology is not talked about much. I read the Church and the Power of the Spirit as my first intro into Moltmann. Followed closely by Trinity and the Kingdom and God in Creation. I am discovering that I took a very different route into Moltmann than most people. I still have not finished A Theology of Hope. Still working through your book. Very good so far.


  • TR

    Awesome. I look forward to the next installments.

  • This is definitely the key text for understanding the movement in general and for seeing how it goes way beyond a church growth strategy or whatever other way it was dismissed as fly by night. Indeed, this officially, I think, replaces the Gibbs and Bolger book as the go-to text.

    What has been happening has been an instinctive and reflective movement pushing towards a new ecclesiology, something that Moltmann has been writing about since the 1970s for sure, in the book you mentioned and in his smaller more popularly written texts in that era. You helped put these two, the theologian and the practioners, in a very fruitful conversation that immensely sharpens the wider conversation and shows that there’s a very deep consideration going on.

    Okay, this sounds like an Amazon review… I should go and post it there, but since I’ve only skimmed the book so far, I’m going to wait for a closer reading.

  • Charles

    #2 & #3 catch my interest. #1 not so much… I’ll stay tuned, with hope for a true practical outlining of the character of a church – I’m not convinced we need “church,” at least none that I’ve seen in my 60+ years.

  • In my theological academy experience, Moltmann was completely ignored. Or maybe I just took the wrong classes.

    I’ve been carrying Sun of Righteousness around for a while without really getting into it. You doing this series might be just the kick in the rear I needed, thanks!

    So which should I finish first: Sun of Righteousness or Church is Flat?

  • By the by, I’d argue that just about all of Moltmann’s theology is eminently practical. It’s not all practical in the same way to everyone, but it’s all meant to be in response to real, lived situations. His whole theological method, I argue, is about building integrity between systematics and lived experiences.

    Of course, translating Moltmann’s theology into sounding practical to most people is itself a needed task, but the practicality is built in to his goals. That’s why he resonates so broadly in so many different contexts.

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  • Larry Kamphausen

    I would not describe Moltmann’s work as practical or eminently practical – Life giving, and yes a theology done out of a sense that theology should be lived. but practical connotes to me being caught in only the possible and what one can see right before ones eyes and thus a lack of imagination. Clearly that is not what you mean by practical, so I wont harp on this too much.

    Those three themes in Moltmann’s theology are the three things that also lead me to look beyond Moltmann and more deeply into Eastern Orthodoxy and the Capodocian Fathers.

  • Ivy

    I was introduced to Moltmann when I studied Theologies of the Cross my second year of seminary. Thank you for the introduction to this aspect of his theology.

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