The Crucified God by Jürgen Moltmann: a Christmas Reflection
The Crucified God by Jürgen Moltmann is not a very Christmasy book. It has no mangers or babies wrapped in swaddling clothes. It's not about the birth of Christ but the death and resurrection. I always used to read it at Christmas, however, and I still think of it when Christmas comes around; I think the birth of Christ is about the death of Christ and the death is about the resurrection.
The Crucified God (Jürgan Motlmann). I haven't read it in a few years because in 2007 we had an apartment flood and I haven't seen my copy since. Last a mentioned this and a good friend sent me a new copy! I'm reading it again now. It's one of the best books to read for Christmas because it sets the atonement in context with the incarnation and orients it in Hegelian fashion toward the resurrection as a synthesis of incarnation by the father and rejection by the father.. This book has it all, moving passages that reflect for of and for Christ, and abstruse theological and philosophical points that only a seminarian could love, and a German cultural bias. Hot dog (Wienerschnitzel) it's just made for Christmas.
Christmas is about the baby Jesus and celebrating his birth. Yet lurking behind this innocent facade is the brunt of Christian Trinitarian theology. The whole point of baby Jesus is the cross and the empty tomb. Why did he manifest in hsitory as a man (beginning as baby) but to die on the cross for the sin of the world and raise from the dead. Why do that anyway? What's it all about. That's the true point of Christmas. The holiday is the hopeful side of it all because it starts with unfulfilled potential of the baby Jesus and looks forward to what he will do in the future when he grows up. The resurrection is positive but not hopeful because it's the fruition of the thing. It's not hoping in something; it's obtaining it. The Christmas story is hope because it looks to the future.
I am going to do at least two if not more summaries of Moltmann's book and I hope the reader will get hold of a copy. There is an online copy on Google books the reader can use now. It's not complete and I hope the reader will buy a copy or at least go to the library and get a copy.
The time I was leaving Perkins (school of theology SMU--1990) Moltmann was being called "the greatest living Protestant theologian." I don't know who get's that title today, as far as I know Moltmann is still alive. He was born in Hamberg in 1926. His family was secular. He grew up interested in German Idealism and philosophy. He was drafted at 18 in 1944 and taken prisoner at the end of the war. Those experienced started him on a theological search. He studied at Göttingen University under Barthian influenced teachers. Something of a rarity he is a Calvinist not a Lutheran. The kind of Calvinist he is I have only encountered in seminary. I would call thm "liberal." Predestination is not important to them. I guess they are neo-orthodox that's what Barth was. He was not a Calvinist.
Moltmann first gained recognition in the mid '60s with his ground breaking work Theology of Hope.(on line text). The Crucified God came out in 1968 it coincided with the times. 1968 was a seminal year for the counter culture and the political movements from Parish (May '68) to Mexico (the massacre of the students at the university in Mexico City), the the riots at Columbia (in New York). Not to mention the police riot at the Dem's convention in Chicago. The Crucified God served as a justification theologically for taking part in the protests. It served as a lunching pad for the liberation theology and the struggles of Latin America. Moltmann was no sooner hailed as a liberation theologian than he was denounced by those wishing to lead such movements and feeling their third world origins deprived them of leadership. They disparaged his contribution. Moltmann was undaunted because he didn't care about leading he cared about the struggle.
The reason the book serves in this way was a liberation is because of the new light it sheds on the atonement. Motlmann changes the focus on the meaning of atonement from the efficacy of the act itself to the meaning of the act and it's wider implications due to that meaning. This is not a spoiler.It is the crux of the book. You get this concept here you know what the book says it's still well worth reading in my opinion. This is no more a spoiler than revealing that the allies win in the movie The Longest Day. It's a concept I have called participatory atonement. I've talked about it on this blog I have a page about on Doxa, it's my view of the atonement.
The basic idea is that the atonement is not a commercial transaction or a work of magic. It's not because Jesus shed blood that it atones but because the act itself is a statement of solidarity. It is in creating a mutual solidarity between us and God that the ground for forgiveness is created. That means if we are in solidarity, we signify this by acceptance of God's statement of solidarity, that is by placing faith in Jesus act of atonement, we are in solidarity with God and we can't be held in condemnation.
To get to this point Moltmann begins by talking about Christian identity. He asks where should we find a Christian on Sunday morning? Should we find one in the pew doing the religoius thing? Or should we find one on the barricades fighting the government? He concludes we should find a Christian on the barricades (very '60s, you see). This is more than just a sense of identification "I am a Christian and I feel good about it." But the question of "what makes one a Christian?" Doctrine alone doesn't do it, he finds. Of course we know just taking part in ceremony and being present in church doesn't do it. Just touting a doctrine is not personal - it doesn't engage one's life. Moltmann finds that living God's love engages our lives in the sense of identity. We live that by taking God's act of solidarity into the world. So having solidarity with the poor ourselves is an expression of God's act of solidarity for all humanity.
There's a lot more going on here than just "live out your faith by being a protester." In this coming month I'll try to unpack it. I hope as the reader reads all of this that he/she will think about it in relation to Christmas as the celebration of all of Christ's work not just his birth. WE embrace the hope of the infant in the manger because we know how the story wound up.