Much of Christology has centered on Jesus as the son of God, the holy trinity and other longstanding questions on his character as prophesied in the Old Testament and revealed in the Gospels. Not so is Moltmann’s (1-12) text, which instead examines the tough question of who Christ is to the contemporary society. In the midst of diminishing hope from death, disease and destruction from multifarious sources, the current generation wonders who Christ is to them and how he fits in their story. The author highlights several disastrous happenings such as Hiroshima and the Chernobyl disaster as some of the drivers of despair for Christians that make it important to examine the role of Christ in their lives (1). These questions are fundamental in nature- beginning with whether he exists and acknowledging the same prior to becoming a disciple. If acknowledgement and discipleship are granted, what follows is answering the all important questions on why there is so much suffering in the present day and how the Christ relates to it. Notably, Moltmann (1) appreciates the presence of other answers to the question of Christ’ nature in Christianity, citing examples from secularism and western pluralism. As such, it is important to define Christ, characterize him and understand his intersection with the world today – embedded in endless armed conflicts, clash of civilizations, new technology and bodies of knowledge and so forth.
The author argues that defining Christ in the present day is the assurance of Christian faith, requires more than an intellectual approach and gives two versions of the Christ. In the first version, he dwells with us in distress (Crucified Christ) and brings God’s Kingdom on earth (earthly Christ). Elsewhere, he guarantees God’s restoration in our lives when facing death and perilous circumstances through his resurrection (resurrected Christ).
Born in Hamburg in 1926, Jurgen Moltmann has excelled as one of the most critically acclaimed theologians in the 21st century. He has published a number of books many of them in Christology, including The Crucified God, The Trinity and the Kingdom, Theology of Hope, and The Spirit of Life. He is currently Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the University of Tübingen in Germany. Growing up as a child, he dreamt of studying mathematics and science but could not realize that dream after being enlisted into the German Army in 1944 (2). He was drafted into the frontlines of the Belgian Forest and surrendered into the first enemy combatant he came across. This would mark the beginning of his anguish and suffering as he was taken prisoner by the British, being moved from one point to another including Scotland and Northern England. While at the war camps, he made contact with Christian chaplains whom offered him the New Testament and psalms to read, introducing him to theology (3). When the war came to an end, he came back to Germany where he began theological training and completed his Doctorate in 1952. He has acted as a theology teacher in numerous institutions, served as a professor since the 1960s among other capacities. He got married to a feminist theologian and have four daughters together. Due to his widely read publications, he received several awards and continues to be one of the most prolific theologians in the second half of the 21st century. Due to the unique focus he places on Christology, the author is one of the best sources available today that break down complex questions about the messiah and his mission on earth.
Assurance of Christian Faith
The foremost argument made by the author is that the assurance of Christian faith today rests on understanding who Christ is to us. In this respect, he introduces an important concept, “life in companionship with Christ” (2). This is exemplified in both acknowledging Christ and becoming his disciple. Notably, he highlights the difficulty in acknowledging the existence and positive involvement of Christ in our lives today. It is in this argument that he takes note of disasters like Chernobyl, which in ideality should have been averted by the existence and positive influence of the Christ. People are suffering daily and battling hopelessness, leaving them with no basis of acknowledging the existence and goodness of Christ. Moltmann (2) earmarks the recognition of Christ in these unbecoming circumstances as the plain indicator of the Christian faith. He goes ahead and adds that acknowledgement and discipleship are two sides of the same coin, relating to companionship with Christ in life. Both ideals are becoming hard to abide by in the present day but remain mandatory for those who profess the faith. This is more so given that numerous meanings that are accorded to Christ and Christianity in this modern age of new knowledge. For a preliminary point, the author makes a strong case. Christ is undeniably central to the Christian faith with the scriptures stating that no one can get to the father except through him (John 14:6). Therefore, it is a foundational maxim that acknowledging and following Jesus is the marker of Christian faith. Looking at the extenuating circumstances today that have made it difficult to acknowledge Christ or become a disciple precipitates the nature of faith. The latter is all about believing even when evidence suggests otherwise. Therefore, the author’s assertion that the assurance of Christian faith lies in defining Christ by living in companionship with him is solidly grounded.
Yet another central claim by the author is that answering who Christ is does not require a purely intellectual approach. Though his text is intellectual in nature and seeks to provide logical answers to the question posed, he values the input of a personal approach. This is justified in the sense that faith is grounded on scripture and personal convictions, rather than an out-rightly intellectual argument. The author makes good this positing by narrating how he personally came to answer the question of Christ’s identity in his life. He explains how he was taken captive in the army and suddenly became a prisoner in unchartered territories. His hometown Hamburg had fallen together with his youthful dreams, leaving him shattered and feeling abandoned by both men and God (2). He was in no different circumstances than the present day where there are a myriad of problems and atrocities that make people wonder where and who Christ is. However, he got his answer when he received a Bible from a chaplain which predisposed him to the story of Jesus. He felt abandoned at the cross just like he felt abandoned in the hands of the enemy. The experience therefore gave him the answer on who Christ was to him, including several Psalms that offered him consolation. Therefore, the argument made was plausible in that understanding Christ could take a personal experience or conviction, rather than intellectuality. Given that such understanding has been laid out as the basis of Christian faith, every believer must deliberate on their own pathway (intellectual or not) for understanding and defining Christ today. The argument made by the author is logical given that not all Christians are intellectuals, yet all need to answer the question on who Christ is to them.
Crucified and Earthly Christ
More importantly, Moltmann (3) presents an earthly Jesus who performs two functions, acting as a brother in times of distress and bringing God’s Kingdom on earth. In the former, the author meditates on his introduction to Christianity and theology while still a prisoner of war. In the midst of his tribulations, he came to learn of Jesus as the brother and friend who understands abandonment, dejection and such desperation. He encountered Jesus’ moments on the cross where he cried out to his father and asked why he had forsaken him. This is an essential part of the Christ’s definition, as he comes out as a brother when faced by distress. He has been through it all, faced all the tribulations and offers the example to be followed in such situations. He describes him as the “crucified Jesus” who delivered him from guilt and offered companionship when in bondage (3). Another definition of Jesus in the book that resonates with the life we live today is the earthly Jesus who brings God’s kingdom on earth by delivering solutions in times of trouble. He is the Christ who provides for the needy, heals the sick and opens doors for the stuck. It is evident that the author gave the Christ many characteristics that would allow him to view him accordingly depending on the situation. For instance, when there was suffering and hopelessness, he looked at the crucified Christ who had gone through it all and was as such a companion in such times. He not only offered comfort and consolation but also acted as a blueprint on how to navigate such turbulences. The example of Christ is apparent on the cross where he prayed prior to his death, in the midst of all the pain and persecution. That is the Christ we still look at today, regardless of the pain, suffering, death and destruction. He is indeed a brother in times of distress and an earthly Christ who brings his father’s kingdom on earth when providing solutions to those in need.
Ultimately, Moltmann (3) also cites the resurrected Christ and his importance as a symbol of restoration of all that might have been lost. This is what the author termed as the “Easter faith” which he describes as a reality rather than a myth. He argues that in the face of all the suffering and impending death Christians can take solace in Christ’s resurrection as it indicates that there is hope beyond death, or in other terms, anything that is lost shall be recovered in the end. In conjunction with the crucified Christ and the earthly Christ, the resurrected Christ sums up the story of our lives today. Yes there is death, disease, destruction and suffering on earth, but Christians should go through the same in the lens of the crucified Christ who acts as a brother and companion in times of distress. The earthly Christ is also capable of delivering them from whatever trouble they are in, be it health, financial or relationship among others. In the event that death becomes inevitable, they should focus on the resurrected Christ who offers hope beyond death and signifies restoration of the lost. Therefore, the unification of the three ideas of Christ offers a comprehensive answer to who he is in the present day, where circumstances are quite discouraging. Moltmann talks of the resurrection faith as the struggle of love against death, where love triumphs. Christ loves us and this goes beyond death, assuring of his restoration of God’s kingdom in our lives in due time. It is striking how the author succeeds in defining Christ for the contemporary age despite the prevailing circumstances. There is a compelling answer to the question of who Christ is to all of us in the end. Whether the circumstances are dire, favorable or improving, there is a definition of Christ that best answers to the context. It is upon those who profess the faith to understand these different variations and apply them as necessary in always acknowledging Christ and bending into his discipleship.
Therefore, Moltmann’s text offers a strong Christology argument. He foregrounds that the assurance of the Christian faith is in the definition of Christ which entails acknowledgement of his existence and discipleship. The two go hand in hand and generally signify the companionship of Christ in daily living. Moltmann also demonstrated that answering who Christ is in Christian lives is not entirely an intellectual activity but can be explained from personal experience as was in his case. More importantly, he offers sufficient answers on who Christ is to the world today: A brother when in distress (crucified Christ), the earthly Christ and the resurrected Christ. If the three are brought together, one will get a clear picture of Christ regardless of the situation they find themselves in. They shall understand Christ’s existence and goodness hence become disciples even in the midst of the troubles abound. The text offers integrated, rich arguments that are well substantiated with evidence. The book is highly recommended for atheists and doubting Christians who often cite the problem of evil. The standard idea is that if God (Christ) exists, then there should be no death, destruction and other forms of evil on earth. The answer to this problem can be drawn from the nature of Christ as outlined by Moltmann. Most of the atheistic arguments often view the evil in the world as proof that God (Christ) did not exist. In their view, there should be no death, suffering or destruction due to the omnipotence and omniscient nature of God (Christ). However, it is apparent that such a worldview considers evil like death as an end in itself when in reality is not. The resurrected Christ reminds us that there is hope beyond the grave and thus death is not an end. The resurrected Christ represents the season of restoration to come in the future period, bringing back all that was lost in the beginning. It is for this reason that the book offers a valuable read to doubters of the Christian faith and other groups that dangle on “the problem of evil”. It is therefore a book that would be of great service to both believers and non believers.
Moltmann, Jürgen. Jesus Christ for today’s world. Fortress Press, 1994.
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