A Response to Jurgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God

A Response to Jurgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God

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Tad DeLay
Ireland, ST501
Critical Response #1
A Response to Jurgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God
A theology centered on the cross developed in Jurgen Moltmann’s years as a
minister and professor, but the groundwork was laid in an Allied prisoner of war camp at
the moment he learned of Auschwitz. Moltmann, along with so many other German
soldiers returning from the war front, entered an academic career while haunted with this
most brutal example of theodicy that he had unknowingly helped to defend. Where is
God in our suffering? Moltmann concedes the opinion of Martin Buber, who once said
that the question of theodicy cannot be answered nor ignored, but instead must be lived
with. It is a theology of the pathos of God that holds together the existential viability of
our faith. Even so, the cross must be more than a mere existential salve to heal the
wound created by an absent God.
The opening argument sets up a description of the anxiety of defensive,
conservative, and reactionary faith. It is a pusillanimous faith that allows the structure of
religion to believe for the individual. Our tendency is to become rigid with moral law
and mechanistically codified dogma. The defense of our structure, our beliefs and
traditions, is made subconsciously paramount. Moltmann uses this most ubiquitous
example of the fundamentalist faith to draw out the very familiar results of faith that loses
the message of the cross. Aggressively critical of the heritage John Calvin left in a
mechanical atonement theory, Moltmann argues for an theory of the cross with
reflections of recapitulation and exemplar influence, but with crucial emphases that set it
far apart.
The cross according to Moltmann is an event with two points of emphasis. First,
there is the death of God. But to understand the death of God we must be wary of
repeating the disintegration of the teachings and life of Jesus from the death of Christ. It
is this Jesuology-lite, so wholly disconnected from Christology, which creates the
untenable mythically mechanical salvation of anxious religion. Instead, we have to see
the death of God as result of a Jesus who was a political threat to the imperial
establishment, not merely for love or blasphemy (the latter which, Moltmann notes,
would have required stoning). Secondly, God died in the sight of the resurrection of God,
whereupon he enacted the eschaton inside history. We do not do good because it is what
a bourgeois gentleman does; we do good because that is how the story ends! Far more
than a proto-Resurrection to offer hope of afterlife, the Resurrection of Christ was the
enactment of God setting the world as it should be, and in this specific case, God enacted
vindication on a political dissident who cared for the poor. This is our model for identity.
Moltmann writes,
“Christian identity can be understood only as an act of identification with the
crucified Christ, to the extent to which on has accepted the proclamation that in
him God has identified himself with the godless and those abandoned by God, to
whom one belongs oneself.” (Moltmann, 19)
A church with a theology of the cross must be an eschatological collective, bent towards
the sacrificial enactment of liberation of the world.
Moltmann turns his attention to our conceptualization of God. A God who suffers
along with creation, a God of pathos, is not perfected, impassible, self-causing cause god
of Aristotle. We try to brush this point away by pointing to the pathos seen in Elohim
and YHWY, but Moltmann recalls our focus to the early Patristic era God, who seemed
highly influenced by the Aristotelian, Platonic, and Neoplatonic gods. It was the advent
of the Trinity doctrine, Moltmann argues, that necessarily killed both this classic Greek
theism as well as political religions as well. Turning inward even further we see this
potentiality for suffering in God to be our Resurrection from protest atheism. Protest
atheism is described as the atheism we experience when overwhelmed with despair. This
is the atheism a theist experiences at the death of a child, not a cognitive disbelief, but a
feeling that God has lost all operative power in a one’s life. This protest atheism was
experienced by the Son on the cross, crying out to God the words from Psalm 22. Even
at this point, the Christ is certainly not cognitively doubting the existence of God, but is
instead experiencing the despair of the psalmist, with a hope that God will redeem
Godself by redeeming God’s followers.
It is no secret that in practice our conceptions of God tend to slide into
monotheism, tritheism, or some variation of modalism. Kant famously wrote that the
doctrine of Trinity was the ultimate example of a belief without practical application.
Moltmann strongly argues that in The Trinity and the Kingdom that if theology is not
Trinitarian, then it is not Christian. In The Crucified God, Moltmann writes of the cross
as an event between God and God, while warning we disintegrate a historical Jesuology
from Christology if we do not understand,
“the event between the Father who forsakes and the Son who is forsaken… The
Son suffers in his love being forsaken by the Father as he dies. The Father suffers
in his love the grief of the death of the Son.” (Moltmann, 245)
Cross is the turning point of the cosmos, in which human history is caught up in this
history of God (a Moltmannian euphemism for Trinity). The God of the cross
experiences not only our sadness, but also our loss (the Father) and the protest atheism of
our forsakenness (the Son). The aftermath of the cross must lead to Resurrection, in
which the Spirit continually ushers the eschatological event into history now.
In the latter sections of his work, Moltmann devotes attention to his theology’s
implications in the psychology of anthropology and politics. Being as they are such short
but profound chapters of thought, I have chosen to weave his arguments into my greater
response to his theology of the cross.
Paul describes a cycle of law, sin, and death acting reciprocally as the archetypal
condition of man. Moltmann draws heavily from Freud, describing this reciprocity as
neurosis, and arguing that we have much to learn from Freud’s criticism of religion. The
neurotic man will obsessively seek the relief of his anxiety. Religion, says Freud, brings
an awareness of sin and a means to relieve that sin. But as the prominence of public
religion declines, a pervasive notion of guilt remains while the means of propitiation
disintegrate. From this point on, the neurotic man must seek alternate obsessive means to
alleviate anxiety, whether related to faith or not. Alternatively, when believers lose
contact with the history and theology of practices, they become practitioners of
existentially meaningless ritual to alleviate anxious guilt (though they appear
theologically motivated). Coming full circle from his opening diatribe against
fundamentalism, Motlmann again explains a system in which the structure of religion
functions for the individual in place of free faith. Rules and ritual can believe for us,
hiding our lack of faith from even ourselves. At this point, the anxious neurotic seeks to
surround himself only with others who believe in the same way, which is a clear
narcissism. Because maturity can never be complete, Moltmann offers this is a warning
for all.
“…every man- always makes himself idols and values which for him become
identical with his own self… He therefore regards attacks on his highest values as
attacks on himself and reacts with fatal aggressiveness.”
This comes a far distance from a faith routed in pathos, in loss, and in protest atheism. It
is not a faith sure of Resurrection, but instead is reactionary. I find this psychological
profile immensely helpful in clarifying the varieties of fundamentalism I have
encountered. This has been a topic constantly challenging me as I try to make sense of
dogmatic belief structures. My key question has been this: is dogmatic fundamentalism a
psychological pathology or merely an issue of misinformation. If it is misinformation, it
could only be willful ignorance in a world where we have instant access to all
information, but this is not hard to conceptualize. Certainly, those with avidly fierce
dogmatisms seem neurotic, but does this speak for the whole? Through Moltmann, I feel
encouraged to say that the higher the degree of dependence on structural belief (believing
via rituals, pastors, or statements of faith), the higher the neurotic anxiety. It comes as no
surprise then that the particular understanding of the cross favored by the dogmatist is
one of penal law which has no room even for God’s wishes aside from sacrifice. This is
a moral law that even God himself cannot break. Moltmann goes on to describe the role
of the cross as the final sacrifice, then end of our need to offer sacrifices to the gods for
the removal of guilt and anxiety. We can then say that anxious faith is dependent on a
repression or misunderstanding of the cross, for one cannot welcome grace, doubt, and
loss into his existential psyche while clinging anxiously to the certainty and mechanical
simplicity of a penal code atonement.
In his last chapter, Moltmann describes the implications of the cross for the
political sphere of liberation. Delineating the model of unburdening, the total separating
of the political and religious spheres, and the model of correspondence, seeking to build
“little hopes” based on the “great hope” of the eschaton, Moltmann argues proper
Christian political action enacts the eschatological event within the temporal event. We
cannot ignore the eschaton or seek to mimic it, but must surgically enact events according
to how things are foretold to end (a kingdom of embrace). He enumerates a series of
destructive concentric circles (Moltmann, 330-335): the vicious circle of poverty, the
vicious circle of force (economic, military, class), the vicious circle of racial and cultural
alienation, the vicious circle of the industrial pollution of nature, and the vicious circle of
senselessness and godforsakenness. The solutions offered, respectively, are socialism as
symbol for liberation from poverty, democracy as liberation from force, emancipation
from alienation, peace with nature as liberating our views on nature, and the meaning of
the cross as the solution to godforsaken destitution and meaninglessness. Moltmann
offers this quip,
“God is not dead. He is bread.” (Motlmann, 337)
I find this political conceptualization compelling. I do wish he expounded more his
meaning of socialism, but given its close tie to democracy, my understanding is that we
seek the equality of all by means of both distributive and redistributive justice. In other
words, guaranteeing equal rights for all does not go far enough to create fairness once the
vicious circle of force emerges. I am equally impressed with Moltmann’s inspiring call
to reconcile with nature, as he writes a full two decades before environmental science
began to tell us how destructive we were becoming.
The challenge I came away with, though I cannot remember the term even
existing in the corpus, is ecclesiological. He writes,
“Brotherhood with Christ means the suffering and active participation in the
history of God.” (Moltmann, 338)
The value of a proper understanding of the cross as an integration of Jesuology and a
liberating Christology as forming our operative existential outlook is invaluable, but it
can only come to fruition in a community focused on liberation. The church must focus
itself as an eschatological community aiming to enact sacrificial liberation wherever it
finds oppression in its religious, psychological, or political forms, as this enacts the Event
of its founding on the cross and Resurrection.


  • Reply March 8, 2019

    Varnel Watson

    Henry Volk picked up original 1st print English ed. 1973 for $1 Came from an old book store near you where it was priced $4 and prior belonged to someone called Jeff. I intend to post some of the more powerful quotes I am finding after reading it again since the last time

    for starters – the resurrections was for Christ ONLY not for the believers

    the believers dont die [period]
    for believers to die would mean death was not defeated on the Cross

    Joe Absher let this sink in for a little bit

  • Reply March 9, 2019

    Varnel Watson

    I wish some young theologians actually jump on this Angel Ruiz Michael Ellis Carter Jr. Tom Torbeyns

  • Joe Absher
    Reply March 9, 2019

    Joe Absher

    Seems like the christian ought know God is easily moved with the feeling of our infirmities, look at those scars man.

  • Reply March 10, 2019

    Varnel Watson

    Zachary Michael Tackett which Pentecostal author would you compare / parallel / juxtapose with Moltmann ?

    • Zachary Michael Tackett

      Troy Day, there have been numerous writers who have interacted with Moltmann. My experience has been that he is received well by Pentecostals, perhaps because of his taking seriously the empathy of God for humanity. Moltmann has even edited a volume of Pentecostalism, though I have not accessed that volume.

    • Reply March 10, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      I was asking per your prior list – which one would you chose?

  • Reply April 9, 2020

    Varnel Watson

    you wanted theology in this group? Jimmy Pearson

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