Pursuing a future of hope

Jurgen Moltmann’s idea of Christian hope is unique because it brings God and humans together. This is the hope that helped Moltmann, now 81, survive as a German prisoner of war after World War II, as well as face the atrocities committed by his country.

Moltmann, emeritus professor of systematic theology at Tubingen University, has been called by many the most important living Protestant theologian. He spoke Wednesday at the Day of Common Learning on hope, a topic he has been teaching the last 40 years. He said that his vision of hope hinges on the prospect of a future with Christ, but also on a world where Christ is presently working.

"The future is a key element for the Christian," he said. "The future allows for hope, and only in Christ’s name is hope Christian."

He said that he disagreed with the American view of a second coming, because it suggested an absence of Christ.

"The future is a process of God coming to us," he said. "It’s a future that is present without ceasing to be the future."

Moltmann explained that his vision of hope was different because it did not focus on past experiences or what is present reality. He said that a view of what’s ahead announces something new and reflects a God of hope.

"Hope is Christian if it allows something to live and persist through pain and sorrow knowing something better is ahead," he said.

Moltmann connected his ideas of hope with three great "yes" answers to hope: yes to the future of life, to the earth and to the evolution of human life.

"Christian’s love life while others love death," he said. "Jesus brought not a new religion to this world, but a new life against death."

Speaking for about an hour, Moltmann returned to campus in the afternoon and spoke to the Theology Student Union. Students asked him questions for about an hour about his theology, his earlier talks and his published works.

In the Student Union meeting, Moltmann gave a more detailed history of his life and spoke about how Christ found him as a prisoner of war. Moltmann said that he found words in the Bible that expressed what he was feeling as a prisoner, and gave him a new source of hope that fueled his desire to survive. He said that a particular theology should not start with study or authors, but with experience.

"Theology always begins where you are in life," he said.

Bob Zurinsky, assistant director for the Center for Worship, was the person responsible for inviting Moltmann to campus. He said the speech was very engaging, and that he was delighted with his visit.

"At 81 years old, I wasn’t sure what his energy level would be, but he was so full of life," Zurinsky said. "I saw youth in him because he lives his hope for the future."

Zurinsky said he talked with a lot of students after the speech, and most that were already familiar with Moltmann’s work were very receptive to his message. He said they were able to connect his work to his speech, and latch particularly to his eschatological views, or the religious views concerning death, the soul and afterlife.

"His eschatology is part of his hope for the future," Zurinsky said. "What he means by the future is that God will completely fill the earth."

Zurinsky said that Moltmann sees the purpose of the soul to stay on earth, and that the work of the resurrection of Christ is the promise and the center for his vision of the future. He said Moltmann sees Christians being raised up from the dead like Jesus, where restoration will bring completeness to the world.

"That’s one of the great aspects of having an intercontinental perspective like his," Zurinsky said. "He helps us see how much of what we believe comes from how and what we are taught."

He said that he would encourage students not to think of the Day of Common Learning as a onetime event but as a spark for a year of discussion.

Bo Lim, visiting assistant professor of Christian Scripture, said that Moltmann’s talk presented in many ways an overview of his theology and thought for the last 40 years.

"I appreciated him considering the American context, and being globally engaged," Lim said.

Moltmann’s eschatology was also a topic for discussion, Lim said, and students who were introduced to his ideas of heaven and the resurrection could grasp more easily how controversial Moltmann’s views were at the time he founded them.

Lim is the faculty adviser for the Theology Student Union and said that he appreciated Moltmann’s challenge to students not to make a distinction between the heart and mind.

"He really challenged them to take up academic rigors," he said.

Doug Koskela, assistant professor of theology, teaches a class on Moltmann and his theology. Koskela said that having Moltmann on campus was very beneficial for students to understand more fully the concepts presented from Moltmann’s theology.

"Having the living, breathing person to interact with shed light on the readings, and he could respond to concerns and confusion," Koskela said.

He said that for most of his students, the speeches Moltmann gave helped fill in the gaps and allowed students to ask critical questions about his work.

"The Day of Common Learning is a great time just to listen and start discussion," he said. "It’s an opportunity to listen to a great theologian whose thoughts by nature are stimulating and promote discussion."

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Title: Pursuing a future of hope | Author: Andy Scott | Section: News | Published Date: 2007-10-31 | Internal ID: 6082