Friday, May 15, 2009

Moltmann and God as the Coming One

So, I've been swamped with travel and the end of a semester and so haven't gotten to my blog to continue the series on gospel and cultures. But I'm writing a paper on this for a class this semester and am using Jurgen Moltmann as a source. Moltmann is a hope guy, and I have a friend who recently and in very eloquent ways reinforced the importance of hope in everyday life.

So, here are some paragraphs from Moltmann's, The Future of Creation. It's not in any kind of form and lacks a setting to make it seem like an argument. But hey, this is an adventure in getting to the point. I like, however, how Moltmann defines God and ties God to the category of the new. Anyway, more soon. My semester ends next week.

While gospel was a word used primarily outside of religious circles, it is not a word without theological significance. Jurgen Moltmann, for instance, emphasizes the biblical descriptions of God as “the Coming One,” and in turn suggests the category of novum as a primary category for understanding God. Moltmann distinguishes the biblical view of God from the traditional Greek depictions of deity. God is not the one who “will be” (einai), but is the one who “is coming” (erchestai). “God’s being is in his coming,” and it follows that “the future is God’s mode of being in history.” The experience of God in history is one of advent.

This is important for Moltmann who distinguishes between futurum and adventus. Futurum develops out of the past. The future is latent in the “tendencies of process.” In contrast, adventus is a change in “the transcendental conditions of time.” Advent is an arrival, a coming, and the conditions of arrival carry the prospect of surprise, or of the astonishingly new. The future is not determined by the momentum of historical processes, but is open to the possibilities of the Coming One.

The prophets represent an advent posture toward the future. Israel’s hope in exile is not for a restoration of Israel’s former glory, but rather lies in God’s ideal future. Moltmann cites Isaiah as typical of this postexilic prophetic hope: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. For behold, I purpose to do a new thing” (43.18f). The “new thing—is the historical side of their eschatological openness to the future.” God, as the coming one, is bringing new possibility, an alternative to the inevitable forces of history.

The category novum (new), for Moltmann, possesses two characteristics. First, it announces itself as a judgment on what is old. This is not simply the improvement of the old, but the announcement of its end or futillity. The new makes the old obsolete. This does not mean, however, that the old has no place in the new. The second feature Moltmann cites relates the new to the events of the past. The new is like things that have happened before—for example, the Exodus—but the new is always more. It resembles roughly the former, and, therefore, is recognizable as God’s faithfulness. In this sense, one might say that the former is not in linear continuity with the new thing, but is related typologically, the former thing to be understood now in relation to God’s coming. These same characteristics are true, for Moltmann, of the advent of Jesus. It possesses surprise and judgment, but also a resemblance to prior things.

Moltmann does not notice here that the prophetic emphasis on newness is also the place where the word gospel appears in the LXX (Septuagent, the Greek Old Testament). “How beautiful upon the mountain are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (Is. 52:7-8, italic added). The announcement of the rule of Zion’s God is not obvious to all. It is hidden in the disfigurement and suffering of the servant who bears the announcement. “Who has believed what we have heard? To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (53:1). It is precisely the surprise of this announcement, however, that awakens observers that the suffering of the servant is a suffering on their behalf. If the term gospel as used in the New Testament has biblical antecedent, it is surely here in relation to God’s new work.

Moltmann’s description of God as the Coming One brings us back to the question of news. News is related to the identity of God and corresponds to eschatological notions of God’s saving reign. Novum, therefore, is descriptive of God’s engagement with the world. And the two characteristics of novum that Moltmann cites provide clues as to how the church might remain in the mode of news. Surprise and Wisdom.

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