Saturday, December 19, 2015

Moltmann God in Creation

I would like to share a few reflections on Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation (1985),
These reflections arise out of two reading groups in which I have the pleasure of participating. One is a second reading of Barth’s Church Dogmatics and the other is “I have forgotten how many” reading of Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology. In both groups, we are reading about the doctrine of creation. Of course, Pannenberg refers to this text in a generally positive way, a fact that encourages me to read the text. My approach will be to make a few comments on what is in each chapter. I will make comments along the way.
In Chapter 1, Moltmann explores God in creation. He offers some guidelines for an ecological view of creation. First, knowledge of nature as the creation of God is participating knowledge. This simply means that science tends to break down its study to the smallest particles to its smallest elements, while the theologian will need to focus upon the complex way the finite things of creation relate to each other. Second is creation for glory. A Christian view of creation is a view of creation in light of Jesus as the Messiah. It will focus on the liberation of human beings, peace with nature, and redemption of the community. He wants to view creation in light of the future for which God has made it. One can view that future as the kingdom of glory, which human beings experience provisionally here. If God dwells in creation, God is already home. Three is the Sabbath of creation. God rests and enjoys creation. God is in fellowship with creation. Four is the messianic preparation of creation to be the kingdom. He will want to discuss nature and grace, with glory completing both nature and grace. Five is creation in the Spirit. The Spirit preserves life and brings lift to its goal. The presence of the Spirit in creation means the self-transcendence of the world that will make it open to its future and achieve its goal. He thinks this aspect of his theological program will move us away from a domination theme to a communal theme. Six is God’s immanence in the world. He thinks the separation between God and world led to a notion of exploitation, while his view will lead us to relating in a communal way with creation. He wants to bring together the Jewish notion of Shekinah and the Christian notion of the Trinity in this project. Seven is the principle of mutual interpenetration. He will part company with Barth here, saying there is no antithetical relationship of God/World, heaven/earth, soul/body, man/woman, command/obedience, and master/servant. I should say that on this point, he conflicts directly with the approach of Barth is CD III.1. For Moltmann, the affirmation that God created the heavens and the earth means that earth has an upward thrust, an openness, to the divine. Here is also a place where Pannenberg and Moltmann are together. Eight is the cosmic Spirit and the human consciousness.
Chapter 2 explores the ecological crisis. I have read Moltmann on this before. Here is a place where his politics and mine differ. Even if I agreed, my solutions would be free market solutions rather than trust government machinery to get the job done. So, let us skip this. When I consider the theology of Moltmann, I need to bracket his politics and focus on his theology.                                                                                                    
Chapter 3 explores knowledge in creation. He notes that Barth does not give sufficient attention to the way in which creation is a sketch or design of the kingdom. Created things are promises of the kingdom and the kingdom is a fulfillment of both the historical and natural promise of God. He wants to restore the notion of vestiges or traces of God in creation. Natural experience is an anticipation that widens to a future or destiny of fellowship with God. In all of this, I would think Barth would be horrified, for it could lead down a path of natural theology.
Chapter 4 is an exploration of God the creator. He will disagree with process thought and preserve the distinction between Creator and creation. He will also disagree with Schleiermacher in his attempt to dissolve creation into preservation. He parts company with Barth in shifting the focus from the freedom of God to the loving expression of the nature of God. God is free to be who God is. God is creative, and therefore creates. He considers the notion of Tillich, that creation is identical with the divine life. He seems to abolish the self-differentiation of God from the world. He wonders if such a monistic conception is any different from pantheism. As he sees it, then, the eternal divine life is a life of “eternal, infinite love, which in the creative process issues in its overflowing rapture from its Trinitarian perfection and completeness, and comes to itself in the eternal rest of the Sabbath. It is the same love, but it operates in different ways in the divine life and in the divine creativity.” (p. 84) He will bring together the notions of the resolve we find in the divine decrees and the notion of emanation through these reflections. He will also engage in a discussion of nothingness, with which God creates by letting-be, by making room, and therefore withdrawing the divine presence. For him, God overcomes this nothingness in eschatology, where the creative life and love of God will end death and sin. God enters this nothingness in the cross. Yet, only in the resurrection can we have the hope that the intense suffering and violence of history will find their end. Eschatology is also faith in God as creator in the sense of bringing it to its fulfillment. Pannenberg will disagree with this notion of nothingness. The notion rests upon Jewish speculations that sought to explain the independence of creaturely existence alongside God.[1] It identifies it as the space that God gives creatures as God withdraws the divine presence. He finds in it a materially unfounded mystification of the subject. He wants to replace this notion with a thoroughly Trinitarian explication of the doctrine of creation. The specifically Christian contribution to a notion of creation is one we can find in the cosmic Christ and in the work of the Spirit. Here is a place where Barth is not as clear as Moltmann and Pannenberg concerning the involvement of the Trinity in creation. With Barth, although he writes of this involvement, his focus is on the Father as creator. For Moltmann, the emphasis upon transcendence of God led to deism and the emphasis upon immanence led to pantheism (Spinoza). The Trinitarian view leads to panentheism. Pannenberg will not use this term, to my knowledge. I am not sure why, for as Moltmann describes it, the word describes the position of Pannenberg as well. For Moltmann, the Creator Spirit suggests that each individual is part of the whole. Everything finite is a representative of the Infinite. The Word became flesh; the Spirit dwells in all things. Pantheism would make everything indifferent; panentheism makes differentiation possible. This view of creation makes of the universe an open system.
Chapter 5 discusses the time of creation. He discusses Eliade and the mythical experience of time. He also discusses Augustine and the disagreement Barth had with him. He then discusses the biblical notion of fulfilled time, the history of the promise, and the prophetic experience of eschatology. Jewish apocalyptic separated the past of sin and death from the future revelation of God. The New Testament focuses on messianic time. This means that believers do not experience the prison of sin, death, and Law, but rather, find their definition in the future. Pannenberg disagrees with the notion of Moltmann of interlaced modes of times. He connects Moltmann to another author, A. M. K. Muller, who developed this schema based upon the primacy of the future in the understanding of time. This option presupposes a view of the constant present that isolates one of the three of time, the present, from the other two. To understand the eternal present as a present that comprehends time is not to exclude past and future but to include them. It is possible only from the standpoint of a future, or its anticipation, upon which nothing can infringe.[2] I do not think I am smart enough or insightful enough at this point to understand the difference. I am open to some help from someone who does understand the difference.
Chapter 6 discusses the space of creation.
Chapter 7 discusses heaven and earth. He disagrees with Barth here in that heaven and earth are not dualities, but rather suggests the openness of creation to God.
Chapter 8 discusses the evolution of creation. He explores the theory of evolution in Darwin and others, noting that it became the basis for a materialistic view of the world. As he sees it, evolution suggests the interrelation of all things. It becomes participatory, anticipatory, and open. This openness makes it open to God. All of this suggests the continuing of creation, rather than its completion, as Genesis 1 might suggest. Here again, Moltmann and Pannenberg join in wanting to bring the church along in an interaction with the physics and biology of this time. They are recognizing the philosophical and theological issues involved in some writers who want to interpret the science in an atheistic way. They want to suggest that one does not have to read the science in that way. Now, the method of these two thinkers is quite different from that Barth, who will continue his exposition of the Word. He will not interact with philosophers like Whitehead and Bergson, or the contributors to Lux Mundi, who saw the challenge that the science of the time presented. My point is that CD III.1 is the first place that we see the impact of the method Barth stated in CD 1. For myself, here is where I decided that, with as much regard as I had for his exposition of doctrine and Scripture, which remain to this day, I could not go with Barth all the way.
Chapter 9 discusses the image of God in creation as human beings. Moltmann will offer his contribution to theological anthropology. He will look at it as the original designation of human beings as the image of God, the messianic designation of the messianic calling of human beings in the image of Christ, and as the eschatological glory of human beings. The image of God means human beings are the representatives of God on earth and therefore to rule. It also suggests fellowship with each other and with God. Yet, humanity is both the image of God and sinner. If we take the Trinity seriously here, we also see the social nature of the image of God as duplicated in humanity. In all of this, Pannenberg and Moltmann are in harmony.
Chapter 10 discusses embodiment as the end of all the works of God. He will argue against the priority of soul over body. Pannenberg refers to the ensouled body. He thinks Barth also gives priority of soul over body. What I find interesting here is that Pannenberg will part company with Moltmann and defend Barth. Pannenberg says that this rejection of the rule of soul over the body is due to his notion of rule as tyrannical perversion of rule. He describes Barth as affirming theological sovereignty corresponding to his notion of the intratrinitarian order of a ruling Father and obedience of the Son. He notes that Barth nowhere mentions any right of the misused body to resist, or any right to feeling to have a voice in the decisions of the rational soul, or any desirable agreement of the body with the soul that governs it. Nevertheless, his idea of a partnership of mutual influencing entails far too ideal a notion of harmony and agreement without any problems. The aim of all just government is to achieve such an agreement when it is not self-evident at the outset. He also does not want to reject out of hand the thought of the rule of the Father, to which the Son obediently subjects himself. He refers to the New Testament passages one would have to ignore. In contrast to Moltmann, Pannenberg will affirm the monarchy of the Father, mediated as it is through the free obedience of the Son.[3] After discussing the gestalt of the human self, Moltmann goes on to describe the Spirit as that which provides an anticipatory structure to human existence. The presence of the Spirit is an affirmation of life. One experiences the life-giving Spirit in this life as love.
Chapter 11 discusses the Sabbath as the feast of creation. Sabbath completes, sanctifies, and redeems creation.
I think I would just add that given my reaction to Barth in CD III.1, I was glad to have someone like Moltmann in my corner. As Pannenberg put it, theology needs to have the intellectual courage to affirm that God is the creator of the world that science describes. Yes, it may mean re-thinking the doctrine of creation, but this is not a bad thing. For 2000 years, theologians have been re-thinking doctrine in light of the challenges of their times. Such ability within the Christian tradition is a sign of its strength. The ability to adapt to new challenges is a sign of strength. In his autobiography In a Broad Place, (p. 244-5) Moltmann refers to a collection of essays in 1972 that for him is an example of how theology then engaged many disciplines, as over against today, as others leave theology in peace. Neither Pannenberg nor Moltmann want theology left in peace by other intellectual disciplines. I guess I do not as well.

[1] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991), Volume II, 14-15.
[2] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991), Volume II, 92.
[3] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991), Volume II, 201.

1 comment:

  1. Facebook Moltmann discussion group post: I find Barth does well with restoring the orthodox, but can also accept the paradoxical, in spite of his heavy inclination towards systematizing. I never liked his rejection of the need to integrate theology with other disciplines, such as the liberal arts, science, psychology, anthropology etc. Here, Multmann does better. I also like how Multmann integrates Eastern philisophy. I don't think the concept of origins needs to be so heavily synthesized, though. While I reject literalism, I think that the intended meanings of the creation stories provide foundational understandings, including human dignity. Here, perhaps Ignatian spiirituality provides a better alternative. Please feel free to counter or disagree accordingly.

    I replied: Very well said. I am learning that about Moltmann as well. No need to counter or disagree from this end.