Monday, 2 February 2015

Salvation & Eschatology (2): Salvation is the Coming of the Kingdom of God (Moltmann)

The salvation of God should be understood in terms of the Kingdom of God. Salvation is not about souls being salvaged from a lost world (as traditional Evangelical and Reformed piety would sometimes have it), but about God's inbreaking reign in this world.
In philosophical terms: the very substance of salvation is God's reign bringing wholeness of life.

In this blog I'll explore Moltmann's proposal to understand salvation in terms of the (messianic) Kingdom. Next week, I'll explore Pannenberg.

[Part 9 in a series on New Wine and systematic theology, drawn from my research master thesis Life to the Full. From Creation to Re-Creation, VU University 2014]

Moltmann: The Salvation of the Messianic Kingdom

As we noted previously, Moltmann is very much intend on rooting his theology in the soil of Judaism. Israel’s messianic hope roots back into both its understanding of Yahweh as “the true King of Israel” and its perception of Davidian kingship as kingly rule in the name of this God. Salvation for the people of God comes through his kingly rule.
God’s kingship isn’t merely spiritual – his reign is grounded on liberation from slavery, as the covenantal text of the Ten Commandments states: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). The concept of Davidian kingship is characterized by

“defending the rights of the poor, having mercy on humble, unimportant people, protecting the weak, and liberating the oppressed.”[1]

As Israel’s brief political independence comes to an end and many are taken into exile, this image of kingship transforms into images of the Messiah, expressed by Israel’s prophets. The exile cannot be the end of God’s promise of his divine reign, this just can’t be it. When Isaiah speaks of the “Immanuel” this goes beyond the memory of King David, as does the figure of the “suffering Servant” spoken of in Deutero-Isaiah. It is in keeping with this tradition that in Jewish apocalyptic the figure of the “Son of Man” emerges, to whom all power will be given, whom the peoples will serve, and whose kingdom knows no end. Israel’s messianic hope becomes universal, even cosmic: this divine kingdom comprises all nations and all of creation.[2]
It is in the light of this messianic hope, that Jesus understands his own ministry of bringing salvation for the world, Moltmann argues. Messianic salvation, therefore, comprises much more than just forgiveness of sin.

“Admittedly, in the past the Christian doctrine of salvation was often applied solely to the eternal situation of human beings in God’s sight, in order that eternal salvation might be related to the fundamental existential situation of men and women: their separation from God, their transience, finitude and mortality. This meant that often enough this doctrine ignored the actual, practical human situation, in its real misery (…)If Christian soteriology confines itself to this metaphysical dimension, it can even actually contribute to physical affliction. In the theological sense, salvation is whole salvation and the salvation of the whole, or it is not God’s salvation.”[3]

Kingdom: Both “rule” and “realm”

The βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ - the basileia tou Theou, Kingdom of God - in the New Testament can refer to both the present lordship or rule of God in the world and to the universal goal of that divine rule, the realm of the future Kingdom. In agreement of the Kingdom-theology within Vineyard and New Wine, Moltmann argues that both terms must be maintained, as complements to each other.[4]
This double definition prevents the relegation of the Kingdom of God to the future, “to a beyond which is totally unrelated to earthly, bodily and historical life”, as happens when we perceive the “Kingdom of heaven” as something purely spiritual and “not of this world” (as in much of Reformed and conservative Evangelical theology), Moltmann argues. It equally prevents the identification of the Kingdom of God with any existing state of affairs - the imperium christianum, for example - or with any chiliastic, utopian “golden age” (as in certain other strands in Evangelical and Charismatic theology).
Much of Modern Protestant theology, on the other hand, has restricted Kingdom of God to the present rule of God in the lives of individuals, reducing it to moralistic terms: God’s lordship reaches as far as people obey and do his will. But in this way it is helpless in the face of sickness and death, and it neglects the biblical perspective of the new creation that is typified by justice, peace, healing and wholeness of life.[5]
The eschatological concept of the Kingdom of God as both rule and realm is thus essential for a biblical understanding of salvation.

Kingdom: Liberation, healing and deliverance, and restoration

This double definition determines our understanding of Jesus’ salvific ministry, Moltmann argues. At the beginning of his ministry, the Spirit moves Jesus to proclaim the Kingdom of God in the words of Isaiah 61, announcing the messianic Sabbath year (Luke 4: 18-19),

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,    because he has anointed me    to proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners    and recovery of sight for the blind,to release the oppressed,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

Jesus drives out demons, heals the sick and restores spoiled creation. These miracles of healing and deliverance “are the mark of Jesus’ ministry”, and they also belong to the messianic mission of his disciples, including the present church, Moltmann argues. For true knowledge of Christ involves “living the life” - Christopraxis.

“Christopraxis inevitably leads the community of Christ to the poor, the sick, the ‘surplus people’ and to the oppressed. Like the messiah himself, the messianic community is sent first of all to unimportant people, people of ‘no account’: ‘Preach: The kingdom of God is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons’.”[6]

These are no “way-out phenomena”, but belong intrinsically to the Kingdom of God, Moltmann argues. This is what God’s salvation is about.

“The lordship of God drives out of creation the powers of destruction, which are demons and idols, and heals the created beings who have been damaged by them. If the Kingdom of God is coming as Jesus proclaimed, then salvation is coming as well. If salvation comes to the whole of creation, then the health of all created beings is the result – health of body and soul, individual and community, human beings and nature.”[7]

Especially in the case of healing and deliverance, the question arises how Moltmann perceives this practically. Being a non-charismatic, could he actually be thinking of bodily and inner healing (and of the casting out of demons), as the charismatic renewal of New Wine does? Or are these mere metaphors for Moltmann?
His section on “the healing of the sick - the expulsion of demons” is fascinating, as many Charismatic theologians could wholeheartedly concur with the phrasings of Moltmann.[8] Moltmann closely relates these works of Jesus to his mission - the healings themselves “are the message”, because this is what the salvation of the Kingdom is about: the healing of creation, freeing creation from the powers that disintegrate life.
Moltmann positively refers to Christoph Blumhardt (1842-1919), the German evangelist who practised the ministry of healing of the sick. Jesus “makes the world whole and free”, “through the power of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5). This healing intrinsically is part of the new creation that the Kingdom is about, Moltmann argues.

“In the context of the new creation, these ‘miracles’ are not miracles at all. They are merely the fore-tokens of the all-comprehensive salvation, the unscratched world, and the glory of God (...) They point to the bodily character of salvation and to the God who loves earthly life.”[9]

Moltmann identifies salvation with both inner and bodily healing in the present earthly life to the extent that it is hard to perceive how he could refute the importance of healing ministries in the life of the present-day Church.

This is somehow different for his perception of “exorcism”. It does make sense to speak of “demons” and “driving out demons”, Moltmann argues, for the “powers of destruction” are very real and “destructive of life” as they enslave and damage people, “destroying the personality and deranging the organism”, sometimes rousing the death-wish in people. In the time of the New Testament, these forces were conceived of in personal terms. But, Moltmann argues,

“we do not have to believe in a particular, separate world of spirits in order to see how human life is destroyed by the powers of annihilation (...) for today too there are possessions and dependencies which rob men and women of their freedom, making them ill, and subjecting them to external compulsions. The ‘demons’ have simply been given other names.”[10]

Moltmann emphasizes the importance of the “expulsion of demons” as part of the salvation of the Kingdom, relating them to “bondage” and “illness”, but clearly does not conceive of demons as actual spirits or demons.[11]

Likewise, the poor are restored in dignity[12], outcasts are accepted and the humiliated are raised up.[13] Wherever Christianity lives from the promise of the future of the Kingdom, mission in the power and authority of this Kingdom becomes its hallmark, committing themselves to justice, peace and humanity.[14]

Moltmann distinguishes between “Apologetic Christology” and “Therapeutic Christology”. The former has always been strong in Protestant theology (defending faith in accordance with Scripture), but the latter has often been neglected, Moltmann argues, to the demise of a fully biblical understanding of the nature of salvation.

“Therapeutic Christology is soteriological Christology. It confronts the misery of the present with the salvation Christ brings, presenting it as a salvation that heals. Healing power belongs to salvation; otherwise it could not save.”[15]

The Kingdom of God is “the real heart of eschatology”, Moltmann stated already in his Theology of Hope.[16] Therefore, it is at the heart of all theology. Moreover, it is at the heart of the gospel of Christ, as the whole cosmos will be brought to salvation, healed and made whole, in the Kingdom of God.

Criticism: How about sin and justification?

To the point as his innovatory perspectives on salvation and the Kingdom of God may be, Moltmann has been criticized by both Evangelical and Reformed theologian for failing to work out an adequate soteriology: How exactly do Jesus’ life, ministry and death have salvific meaning?[17]
In general, Evangelical theologian Tim Chester observes, there are two major problems in Moltmann’s soteriology:
     the question of the justification of God predominates over the question of the justification of humanity[18]
     the solidarity of Christ with human suffering is emphasized to the exclusion of the redemptive uniqueness of Christ’s suffering.


Reformed and Evangelical theology could not ignore the problems with Moltmann’s theology, as they are rooted in its basic structure. But what should be affirmed, is the messianic notion that salvation comes as the reign of God breaks way in history (healing creation from all brokenness, injustice and suffering) and is to be consummated in the future Kingdom of glory. The need for salvation lies in the present brokenness of reality, the separation of mankind from God, the sin, the hurt and the injustice, - and consequently the failure of creation to glorify God.

Earlier in this series on salvation & New Wine theology:


[1] Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 7.
[2] Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 20. Also N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 2 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996).
[3] Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 45.
[4] Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 97. See also my Introductory chapter (paragraphs on Ladd and Morphew.
[5] Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 98-99.
[6] Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 43.
[7] Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 104.
[8] Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 104-112. In Part III of my dissertation I will pay further attention to the ministries healing and deliverance in the life of the Church.
[9] Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 107.
[10] Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 109.
[11] However, also within the charismatic renewal the understanding of evil spirits and demons is divergent, and many charismatic theologians would probably be able to concur with Moltmann to a large extent (see my Introductory chapter).
[12] Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 94.
[13] Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 112.
[14] Müller-Fahrenholz, The Kingdom and the Power, 56-57.
[15] Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 44.
[16] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 216.
[17] See Tim Chester, Mission and the Coming of God. Eschatology, the Trinity and Mission in the Theology of Jürgen Moltmann and Contemporary Evangelicalism (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 65-76.
[18] Chester, Mission and the Coming of God, 67.
[19] Chester, Mission and the Coming of God, 67-72. See specifically Moltmann, The Future of Creation (London: SCM Press, 1979), 164, and Moltmann, The Coming of God, 90-94. I will return to this important issue of sin and salvation in my chapter on salvation and creation, as the problems of both human sin and  creaturely finitude impose themselves when we think of the meaning of salvation as wholeness to all creation.
[20] To the defence of Moltmann could be said that he aims at correcting objectifying, legalistic interpretations, and alleged suggestions in Reformed and Evangelical theology that God had to be “appeased”, his “wrath” had to be “stilled” by offering a “scapegoat”. However, Moltmann replaces these interpretations (which largely are caricatures of what Reformed soteriology asserts, manifold as they may be in popular - Evangelical - piety) with an interpretation that is hard to reconcile with the tradition of Reformation theology.
[21] For instance as he speaks of the meaning of Christ’s death at the cross in term of “justification”, “forgiveness of sins” and “liberation from the power of sin and the burden of our guilt” (Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 182 ff.), and of “atonement for sin” at the cross, as God himself atones for our sin in order to reconcile the hostile, sinful world (Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 132-138).

No comments:

Post a Comment