Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sacramental Political Theology: More on Moltmann

Moltmann's The Crucified God begins with musings on the place of the church in society and, after he presents a provocative revision of the doctrine of God founded on the event of the cross, he concludes with some more developed thoughts on constructing a theology of Christian political engagement. To start, he mentions two options for construing the church's role in society: "the model of unburdening" and "the model of correspondence." The former, he says, argues that the church should be freed from politics and politics from religion. For Moltmann, this contains an element of truth in that there's nothing to be gained from establishing a church state or a state church. However, he thinks the model is undesirable for several reasons: it opens up the possibility of the liberation of faith enjoyed in the church simply awkwardly co-existing with oppression in the surrounding society; it also leaves room for spiritual liberation to serve as a substitute for "real political liberation in the world" (p. 319). In the end, the distinction between ecclesial life and politics is indispensable but "of little help in the individual case when the decision is made" (p. 319).

"The model of correspondence" assumes the ecclesial-political distinction but aims "to build a bridge from the realm of free faith and the liberated church into the realm of politics by means of correspondences, reflections, and images." So "liberations from the prisons of capitalism, racism, and technocracy must be understood as parables of the freedom of faith" (p. 320). The problem here, judges Moltmann, is that this construal can be cast in "too hierarchical terms," with the church "idealized so as to become the model of society" (p. 320). Ultimately, the "unburdening" and "correspondence" perspectives share certain deficiencies: both relegate social action to merely "the realm of the possible and arbitrary"; both envision liberation "in general terms first and only then look for 'concretions' of the abstract" (p. 321).

Enter Moltmann's doctrine of God with its eschatological "openness." The trinitarian event of the cross is taken up into the very being of God and from the separation and mutual surrender of the Father and Son the Spirit goes forth to bring new life to humanity (p. 244). With such an emphasis on God in history and, indeed, history in God, Moltmann confesses himself unhappy with only images of spiritual liberation showing up in society. He proposes to begin with the notion of "God in the world," "anticipations and promises in the process of (eschatological) realization, in which the ultimate announces itself in the penultimate" (p. 321). This, says Moltmann, implies "a perception of God's identifications in history" (p. 321). As God identified in the crucified Christ is really present in these "anticipations," "history is the sacrament of Christian ethics" (p. 321).

Moltmann is an interesting character and I have my disagreements with his doctrine of God and his theology of political engagement, but I find that he makes a good dialogue partner on at least these topics. Any thoughts on the above themes in theologizing about the relation of the kingdom and the church to contemporary society?

1 comment:

  1. If you don't know it yet, check out my blog, the "Political Theology Agenda":