5 April 2011

Book Review: The Crucified God by Jurgen Moltmann

I read this as a sort of 'Easter follow-up' to N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God. I'd heard various good things about the book and have seen it referenced by quite a few people as being highly influential in their view of the crucifixion.

From the very start, this was not what I was expecting at all. The book begins not so much with theological exposition, but with a sociological look at the relevance of belief in the church and of the church's place in society. From the outset, Moltmann states that his intention is to give food for thought and stimulate discussion, rather than give a systematic theology of the cross.

What follows is an extremely tightly written work. That is, is it not easily broken down and each sentence is carefully thought through and argued; and it is not all that easy to follow the argument, if I'm honest. There were numerous times I found myself having to go back on myself, re-read certain passages and try and find the origin of the thread. In that respect, it is not dissimilar to the way Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, with lots of sentences starting with a reference (e.g. therefore, so, since, etc.) to what had been discussed before.

A very large focus is put on the emphasis of God suffering as a result of the crucifixion, and of exploring the theology of what it means for God to be in Jesus and therefore for God to be crucified. Now a lot of my reading, and probably most people's, will be coloured by their own pre-existing ideas about the nature of trinitarian theology and what it means for Jesus to be identified as God and yet abandoned and rejected by God on the cross. In this discussion, Moltmann certainly succeeds in giving a stimulus to thought and careful consideration, although from my point of view I did not agree with him on every point, most notably the fact that here he does not regard the resurrection to be an actual historical event, as was the crucifixion, agreeing more with Bultmann and less with Wright on this matter.

However, his conclusion at the end of the chapter which is given the same title as the book is a beautiful summary of a part of the gospel. Moltmann does not give a systematic theology here, though his concise conclusion is brilliantly written and eminently quotable.

From here, he suddenly jumps off in an apparent tangent for the last 50 pages of the book to his “liberation theology” where he looks at personal psychology and at politics. In here, he echoes an important distinction made by Karl Barth on the separation of faith from religion and proposes that the truth of Christianity be as far removed as possible from religious superstition, the root of so many misguided attacks on Christianity, which we still see today.

Overall, it is very odd book, in that some quite meaty theology is sandwiched between two sections on sociology. There is much to think about here though it is not the most accessible read I have come across by a long way. So would I recommend it? Just about; but you might want to keep a dictionary close to one hand and a Bible close to the other.

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