Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology

Jürgen Moltmann

Table of Contents
1. Background
2. Works (Selected List)
3. Themes
4. Outline of Major Works
5. Relation to Other Thinkers
6. Bibliography and Works Cited
7. Internet Resources
8. Related Topics

1. Background

With the publication of Theology of Hope (1964; ET 1967), Jürgen Moltmann had a meteoric rise in theology, establishing himself as one of the world’s leading Protestant theologians. Various labels have been attached to his theology by those who are familiar with Moltmann’s writings: theology of hope, theology of eschatology, dialectic theology, theology of the cross, political theology, liberation theology, the theology of Trinity, etc. Nonetheless, one theme runs throughout all of his writings: hope for the future based on the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that is, hope for the coming Kingdom of God.


Jürgen Moltmann was born in Hamburg, Germany, on April 8, 1926. He was raised in a rather "enlightened secular" home; therefore, he underwent no very profound Christian socialization, but grew up with poets and philosophers of German Idealism: Lessing, Goethe and Nietzsche. He was, for the time being, far from Christianity, the church, and the Bible. On this account he has always thought that he must discover, learn, and comprehend for himself everything that others had already learned from an early age. Thus theology has always remained to him even until today an "incredible adventure."

Moltmann’s later concern with the phenomenon of hope is initially rooted in his personal experiences as a prisoner-of-war (POW). Moltmann was drafted, at the end of 1944, into the German army at the age of eighteen to fight in World War II. At that time he took with him Goethe’s poems and Faust as well as Nietzsche’s Zarathustra as intellectual nourishment. He served as a soldier for six months before surrendering, in Belgium, in 1945; to the first British soldier he met. For the succeeding three years he was confined to prisoner-of-war camps in Belgium, Scotland, and England. In the Belgium camp he saw how other prisoners collapsed inwardly, how they gave up all hope, sickening and dying for the lack of it. Moltmann was saved from the same fate only by a religious conversion that began in a POW camp in Belgium. When he was given a Bible—a copy of the New Testament and Psalms—by an American military chaplain, he started to read it behind barbed wire. Though he began largely out of boredom, he was surprised to find that the words of Scripture fed his imagination and emotional need. They opened his eyes to the God who is with the broken-hearted. Moltmann found the God who was present even behind the barbed wire. But whenever he tried to profess or grasp this experience of the presence of God, the experience evaded him. "All that was left was an inward drive, a longing which provided the impetus to hope" (Moltmann 1980, 7). His inexpressible experiences led Moltmann to become interested in theology. Fortunately he was allowed to study theology in a Protestant theologians’ camp, Norton Camp—an educational camp run by the YMCA and supervised by the British army—near Nottingham in England. Since then, the experiences of the life of a prisoner have left a lasting mark on him: the suffering and the hope which reinforce each other.

After he returned to Germany in 1948, Moltmann began to study theology regularly at Göttingen University. He studied there under teachers strongly influenced by Barth; he imbibed thoroughly the theology of Karl Barth. Therefore, he initially became a disciple of the great master of dialectical theology. Later, however, he saw some need to move beyond the narrow understanding of Barth and "Barmen orthodoxy"—solus Christus—when he wanted to give positive answers to the political possibilities and cultural challenges of the post-war period. Thus he became highly critical of Barth’s neglect of the historical nature of reality, while remaining indebted to Barth. Moltmann could come out of the dilemma by D. Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. From Ernst Wolf as well as from Bonhoeffer’s work he developed his concern for social ethics and the church’s involvement in society. In addition, he was also influenced by Luther and Hegel through Hans Joachim Iwand. Luther and Iwand convinced him of the liberating truth of the Reformation doctrine of justification and the theology of the cross; Hegel and Iwand helped him develop his dialectical interpretation of the cross and the resurrection. Moreover, he gained his solid grounding in biblical theology from Gerhard von Rad and Ernst Käsemann. Above all, Otto Weber, who supervised the doctorates of him and his future wife—Elisabeth Wendel, helped him gain the eschatological perspective of the church’s universal mission toward the coming kingdom of God

Moltmann received his doctorate in theology from Göttingen University and got married, in 1952. Then he served as pastor of the Evangelical Church of Bremen-Wasserhorst for the following five years. In 1957 he got to know the Dutch theologian Arnold van Ruler, from whom he discovered the Reformed kingdom of God theology and Dutch apostulate theology. At the urging of his teacher Otto Weber, he became a theology professor at an academy in Wuppertal—Kirchliche Hochschule—operated by the Confessing Church in 1958. There he came into contact with Wolfhart Pannenberg. Then he joined the theological faculty of Bonn University in 1963. The following year he published Theology of Hope. After his brief stint at Bonn University, Moltmann was offered the prestigious position of professor of systematic theology at Tübingen University and taught there from 1967 to 1994. Now he is emeritus professor of theology at Tübingen University.

Since his marriage Moltmann has received help from his wife in doing theology. Continual discussion with her opened his eyes to many things which he should "probably otherwise have overlooked"; it also made him conscious of the "psychological and social limitations" of his "male point of view and judgment." (Moltmann 1990, xvii). His wife, Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel—the author of The Women Around Jesus, A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey, and I am My Body, etc.—also has played an active part in feminist theology.

2. Works (Selected List)

Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology (1967); The Gospel of Liberation (1973); The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ As the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology (1973); Man: Christian Anthropology in the Conflicts of the Present (1974); The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Ecclesiology (1975); The Experiment Hope (1975); The Open Church (1978); The Future of Creation (1979); The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God (1981); History and the Triune God; God in Creation (1985); The Way of Jesus Christ (1990); The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation (1992); The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology (1996); The Source of Life (1997); Experiences in Theology: Ways and Forms of Christian Theology (2000); Science and Wisdom (2003); In the End the Beginning (2004)

3. Themes

Moltmann’s Adventure of Theological Ideas

For Moltmann theology is a voyage of discovery into unknown country, even without any map, only with ‘curiosity.’ In this sense, his pilgrimage to theological ideas has a character of adventure rather than of simple journey.

Since the publication of Theology of Hope in 1964 Moltmann has continued his long adventure of theological ideas with eschatological hope, that is, hope for the coming Kingdom of God, as his central theme. His adventure of theological ideas can be divided into two parts by a turning point in his theological path in 1978: the Mexico City conference with liberation theologians, black theologians and feminist theologians. On this account we can meet two distinct series of his works: the early trilogy and systematic contributions to theology.

I. The Early Trilogy (1964-1977)

Moltmann’s early trilogy—Theology of Hope, The Crucified God, and The Church in the Power of the Spirit—represent three complementary perspectives on Christian theology. These are programmatic in style and content: in each of them the aim is to look at theology as a whole from one particular perspective (Moltmann 1981, xi). Though they are ‘one-sided,’ he could enter new territory, for which no maps yet existed in the theological traditions.

II. Systematic Contributions to Theology (1978- )

Different from that in his early trilogy, Moltmann’s aim here is to present a series of systematic contribution to theology by considering the context and correlations of important concepts and doctrines of Christian theology in a particular systematic sequence (Moltmann 1981, xi). This means that he has followed up particular lines. In this series he intends to avoid the seductions of the theological systems and the coercion of the dogmatic thesis (Moltmann 1981, xii). By the phrase ‘contributions to theology’ thus he means his intention to avoid a tacit presupposition: the absolute nature of one’s own standpoint in one’s own context.

In this transition he sees in himself a development from the dialectic of history toward a holistic consideration of nature (Meeks 1996, 104) Thus, in relation to theology of trilogy, the most noticeable new direction of ‘contributions to theology’ is the focus on nature and experience.

Moltmann’s Method of Theology

Moltmann is primarily interested in "the content of theology, in its revision in the light of its biblical origin, and in its innovation given the challenges of the present" rather than in the questions of theological method (Meeks 1996, 103). In addition, his development as a theologian has been marked by a restless imagination.

Exploration is also one of Moltmann’s methods in doing theology. According to Moltmann he has never done theology in the form of a defense of ancient doctrines or ecclesiastical dogmas. In other words, his way of thinking is experimental—an adventure of ideas. Moreover, he emphasizes the dialogue; therefore, his theological approach to the truth of God is dialogical. That is because Moltmann thinks that truth is to be found in unhindered dialogue rather than in theological systems and assertive dogmatics. (Moltmann 1981, xiii).Thus for him theology is a "common task, and theologians belong also to the communio sanctorum, in which justified sinners and accepted skeptics are gathered" (Meeks 1996, 103).

Moreover, Moltmann thinks that Christian theology should be developed in ecumenical fellowship; but, this fellowship always reaches beyond our own present denominational, cultural and political limitations. Therefore, Moltmann has been involved in ecumenical dialogue with Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews.

For Moltmann theology is imagination for the Kingdom of God in the world and for the world in the Kingdom of God. Imagination for the kingdom of God arises from the passion for the kingdom of God and this passion develops in the community with its Messiah Jesus. In this sense Moltmann is an innovator in theology.

4. Outline of Major Works

The Early Trilogy

Theology of Hope (1964; ET 1967)

Moltmann understands Christian faith as essentially hope for the future of human beings and this world promised by the God of exodus and the resurrection of the crucified Jesus. Thus for him eschatology expresses the attitude of expectancy that underlies all of faith. For him, however, Christian eschatology does not mean "the future as such"; it sets out from a "reality in history" and announces "the future of that reality, its future possibilities and its power over the future" (17). Moltmann presents Christian eschatology as an active doctrine of hope in order to give hope for an alternative future to the oppressed and suffering of our present time. This hope for him acts as the motivating force behind liberation in the world. In re-examining the sources of eschatological thought, Moltmann finds that Christian eschatology looks toward the revolutionizing and transformation of the present. This is why for him "[t]he theologian is not concerned merely to supply a different interpretation of the world, of history and of human nature, but to transform them in expectation of a divine transformation"(84). Therefore, for Moltmann history is the reality instituted by the promise of God in God’s presence and experienced by human beings as the moving horizon of promise in anticipation. In this sense his eschatology in Theology of Hope is different from the traditional theological eschatologies of the ‘hereafter.’

The Crucified God (1972; ET 1974)

The cross of the risen Christ is the other side of the raising of the crucified Christ as the theological foundation for Christian hope (ix). In this sense for Moltmann Theology of Hope requires as a complement the remembrance of the crucified Christ—The Crucified God. Thus the cross of the risen Christ in The Crucified God is understood from the perspective of the theodicy problem and interpreted by the themes of dialectical love, suffering, and solidarity, that is, God’s loving solidarity with the world in its suffering. In the context of a theologia crucis Moltmann develops the thesis that real Christianity must hold on to both ends of the various alternatives that are often presented for an understanding of Christianity—evangelization and humanization, the "vertical dimension" of faith and the "horizontal dimension" of love of neighbor, the humanity and the divinity of Jesus. For Moltmann all these dimensions coincide most effectively in the cross of Jesus. In connection with the theism versus atheism controversy, he develops a theory of the "suffering God." The cross of Christ represents not merely the death of Jesus but God’s identification with the suffering of the world in the suffering of Christ. Thus for Moltmann the crucified Christ calls for a revolution in the concept of God. For Moltmann "God and suffering are no longer contradictions," but "God’s being is in suffering and the suffering is in God’s being itself, because God is love" (227). This is why human beings "can open himself to suffering and to love" in "sympatheia with the pathos of God" (303).

Moltmann’s arguments in The Crucified God raise a few questions: substitutionary meaning of the cross atonement and patripassianism. Nevertheless, his arguments seem to inspire theology with vitality.

The Church in the Power of the Spirit (1975; ET 1977)

The Church in the Power of the Spirit complements the approaches of the previous two volumes of trilogy with an ecclesiological and pneumatological perspective. The Spirit, whose mission derives from the event of the cross and resurrection, moves reality toward the resolution of the dialectic, filling the godforsaken world with God’s presence and preparing for the coming kingdom in which the whole world will be transformed in correspondence to the resurrection of Jesus. Thus the church lives between the past history of Jesus and the universal future in which that history will reach its fulfillment

Systematic Contributions to Theology

The Doctrine of God: The Trinity and the Kingdom of God (1980; ET 1981)

In The Trinity and the Kingdom of God Moltmann attempts to overcome the conflict between theological and anthropological exegesis of the biblical scriptures with the aid of ‘trinitarian hermeneutics.’ He tries to free the Christian doctrine of God from the confines both of the ancient metaphysics of substance and of the modern metaphysics of transcendental subjectivity. In addition, he develops his fully social doctrine of the Trinity. Social doctrine of the Trinity seems to presuppose somewhat the divine Persons’ subjectivity to each other. Yet Moltmann’s social doctrine of the Trinity emphasizes the relative independence of the person and work of the Holy Spirit in its community with the Father and the Son. In addition, it emphasizes that there is no fixed order in the Trinity. Moltmann insists that the unity of God is the unity of persons in relationship by adhering to the Cappadocian doctrine of perichoresis. Thus, "the trinitarian persons form their own unity by themselves in the circulation of the divine life" (175). This is why he constantly opposes any ‘monotheistic’ or ‘monarchical’ doctrine of God which would reduce the real subjectivity of the three persons.

The Doctrine of Creation: God in Creation (1985; ET 1985)

Moltmann emphasizes the critical theological and ethical significance of the doctrine of God in his eschatological and Trinitarian positions. He seeks the ways of linking human beings and nature with the help of the living God who cares for us in a living world. This is because for him the question of creation and its relation to God is a central systematic question in contemporary world. In this sense, the doctrine of creation is an ecological doctrine. God’s creation is necessarily the double world of heaven and earth. Thus, on account of the fact that in heaven "creation has its relative transcendence" and in the earth "creation has its relative immanence," the world open to God "possesses in itself the dialectical structure of transcendence and immanence" (182). Moltmann suggests "panentheism" as a middle ground—between pantheism and a God radically separate from creation—by developing a Trinitarian doctrine of creation: the "world of nature as bearing the prints of the Triune God" (64). He tries to balance the traditional emphasis on God’s creative labor by insisting that a doctrine of creation should culminate in the Sabbath celebration. Furthermore, the Sabbath of God is at the center of the doctrine of creation.

Christology: The Way of Jesus Christ (1989; ET 1990)

Moltmann tries to think of Christ no longer statically "as one person in two natures or as a historical personality"; but rather he tries "to grasp him dynamically, in the forward movement of God’s history with the world" (xiii). Critical of both the classic cosmological and modern anthropological models of christology, he elaborates an eschatological, soteriological, Spirit-christology that is inclusive of both nature and history. In speaking of the messianic person of Jesus, his christology does not follow the traditional christologies—the metaphysical concepts of nature or essence and the Protestant doctrine of Christ’s threefold office. He rather looks at the divine person in the relationships of his messianic ministry in his life story. Jesus is "as yet only the messiah on the way and the messiah in his becoming" (139).

Pneumatology: The Spirit of Life (1991; ET 1992)

Moltmann devotes his attention to developing a holistic doctrine of the person and work of the Holy Spirit within a Trinitarian framework. Among the two paths of access to pneumatology—the theological conception of God the Holy Spirit and the personal, shared experience of the Spirit—he intentionally seeks to begin with the second path. For him experience of the Spirit can be defined as "an awareness of God in, with, and beneath the experience of life, which gives us assurance of God’s fellowship, friendship, and love" (17). Thus for him "the human experience of God is the foundation of human theology" (5). In sum, Moltmann argues that theology should, on the basis of the experience of the Spirit, be able to reflect two primary movements: the experience of God in all things and the experience of all things in God.

Eschatology: The Coming of God (1995; ET 1996)

Except the future sixth volume, which will be focused on the method of theology, this is in fact the final volume in Moltmann’s ‘systematic contributions to theology." For Moltmann eschatology is not about something apocalyptic—the end or ‘The Last Things’ or ‘The End of All Things’ —but rather about new beginnings (xi). Moreover, it is about the "coming of God" and "the cosmic Shekinah of God." In The Coming of God Moltmann tries to integrate the traditional diverged perspectives: the perspective of individual and universal eschatology, the eschatology of history and the eschatology of nature (xiv). This theme is developed through four spheres: personal eschatology (eternal life), historical eschatology (the kingdom of God), cosmic eschatology (new heaven-new earth), and divine eschatology (glory).

5. Relation to Other Thinkers


6. Bibliography and Cited Works

Dorrien, Gary J. 1990. Reconstructing the Common Good. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Ford, David F., ed. 1997. The Modern Theologians. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers.

Grenz, Stanley J. and Roger E. Olson, ed. 1992. 20th-Century Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

Lorenzen, Thorwald. 1995. Resurrection and Discipleship. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Meeks, M. Douglas. 1974. Origins of the Theology of Hope. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Meeks, M. Douglas. 1996. Jürgen Moltmann’s Systematic Contributions to Theology. Religious Studies Review 22 (April 1996): 95-105.

Metz, Johann-Baptist and Jürgen Moltman. 1995. Faith and the Future. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Moltmann, Jürgen. 1967. Theology of Hope. Translated by James W. Leitch. New York/Evanston: Harper & Row, Publishers.

Moltmann, Jürgen. 1974. The Crucified God. Translated by R. A. Wilson and John Bowden. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Moltmann, Jürgen.  1977. The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Ecclesiology. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.

Moltmann, Jürgen. 1980. Experiences of God. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Moltmann, Jürgen. 1981. The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God. Translated by Margaret Kohl. San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers.

Moltmann, Jürgen. 1985. God in Creation: An Ecological Doctrine of Creation. Translated by Margaret Kohl. San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers.

Moltmann, Jürgen. 1990. The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions. Translated by Margaret Kohl. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.

Moltmann, Jürgen. 1992. The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation. Translated by Margaret Kohl. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Moltmann, Jürgen. 1994. Jesus Christ for Today’s World. Translated by Margaret Kohl. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Moltmann, Jürgen. 1996. The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology. Translated by Margaret Kohl. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Moltmann, Jürgen., ed. 1997. How I Have Changed: Reflections on Thirty Years of Theology. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International.

Moltmann, Jürgen. 1997. The Source of Life. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Moltmann-Wendel, Elisabeth. 1997. Autobiography. London: SCM Press LTD.

Morse, Christopher. 1979. The Logic of Promise in Moltmann’s Theology. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

7. Internet Resources

Article on Moltmann at Wikipedia

Discussion group on Moltmann

Online edition of the Theology of Hope

Jürgen Moltmann Reading Room (links to writings by and on Moltmann maintained by Arnold Neufeldt-Fast, Tyndale Seminary)

8. Related Topics

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)

Rudolf Karl Bultmann (1884-1976)

Karl Barth (1886-1968)

Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-)

Feminist Theology

Liberation and Indigenous Theologies, East Asian

Liberation and Indigenous Theologies, Latin American

Liberation and Indigenous Theologies, South Asian


Editor: Derek Michaud, incorporating material by Hyung-Kon Kim (1999).


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