Jürgen Moltmann (b. 1926) is “without a doubt one of the three or four most widely read and influential of twentieth-century- and early-twenty-first-century theologians” (Thiselton). I recently wrote a paper that ended up exploring a bit of his eschatological thinking, specifically his vision of premillennialism. What follows is a bit of that research…
In Moltmann we find many provocative statements about the importance of “millenarianism” that, at face value, cannot be considered distinctly premillennial. For example, Moltmann writes,
“… there is no affirmative community between the church and Israel without the messianic hope for the kingdom. And that then means that there is no adequate Christian eschatology without millenarianism. Eschatology is more than millenarianism, but millenarianism is its historical relevance. It is only the millenarian hope in Christian eschatology which unfolds an earthly and historical future for the church and Israel… Millenarianism looks towards future history, the history of the end…” (Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, 197)
What does Moltmann mean when he discusses “millenarianism”? Questions concerning Moltmann’s “millenarianism” are, in my estimation, based more on semantics than on theological differences in that Moltmann does not use traditional terms such as “premillennialism,” “postmillennialism,” or “amillennialism” consistently or in a way that most systematic theologians do. However, Moltmann clearly rejects “Historical Millenarianism” (Amillennialism) and accepts “Eschatological Millenarianism” (Premillennialism) in The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology.
Moltmann makes an important clarification when he writes that,
“… the resurrection from the dead necessarily leads into a reign of Christ before the universal raising of the dead for the Last Judgment. That is to say, it leads into a messianic kingdom in history before the end of the world, or into a transitional kingdom leading from this transitory world-time to the new world that is God’s. This hope is clearly evident in Paul [Phil. 3:10f].” (Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, 195)
Not all understand Moltmann as a clear premillennialist. Bauckham raises this issue when he states that “Moltmann fails to distinguish between the two types of futurist millenarianism: premillenarianism and postmillenarianism (or premillennialism and postmillennialism).” However, Moltmann provides clarification when he responds to Bauckham by writing, “I understand [the millennium] theologically. Christ’s kingdom of peace is evidently associated with hope for Israel’s future in the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel in the kingdom of the Son of man (Daniel 7). But for Christians this kingdom of the Son of man is identical with Christ’s kingdom of peace at the end of time.” Moreover, Moltmann states, “Christian millenarianism has had a clearly detectible affinity to Israel. It is only here that the theological recognition of Israel’s enduring vocation, and the hope for Israel’s future, are really preserved.” This reads strikingly similar to the previously mentioned premillennial commitments to a future eschatological place for ethnic Israel and is connected to Moltmann’s agreement that “hand in hand with expectation of the overthrow of the Antichrist went the expectation of Israel’s redemption and the establishment of Christ’s thousand years’ empire.” One is hard pressed to argue that Moltmann does not argue for premillennial theology (Roger E. Olson states that in personal correspondence, Moltmann affirmed that he was a historic premillennialist).
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Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
I know I owe you an article on this, but one of the reasons why I think us evangelicals need to pay attention to Moltmann is that has unveils the complexity of eschatological language, a language that we evangelicals like to have all wrapped up neatly. For me Moltmann’s is a project of creating tension, both with theology and in the language of eschatology. A conversation I had with an old friend last night really brought the issue home for me. My friend is fixated on dispensational end-time scenarios and just refused to accept anything I said about the genre of the texts he was using or the reality that Revelation is talking about a context where those things were actually going on. Not that this doesn’t speak of an eschatological reality, but we, in our efforts to make distinct claims and be sure about them, end up discarding much of what biblical scholarship has already helped us understand about the texts. Moltmann seems to dive right in and his refusal to be pinned categorically (even though I agree he has a historic premill leaning) is a refusal to play the game many evangelicals believe is necessary. Not that it isn’t good to understand (and even position ourselves) the various different formulations of eschatology presented through Christian theologies. It is. And in fact I think we find certain resources more readily in some eschatologies more so than others. But we adopt eschatologies strategically and we shape them even. Moltmann says this language is about us, and the critique is how such language fosters the kind of hope that actively moves us towards a better ethic. Dispensationalisms, for example, are adopted strategically to support Fundamentalist theological intentions, previous to that the prevailing thought was more amill than premill. What we say about eschatology matters, it matters because it is in a large part what we say about God. I don’t find the Fundamentalist God that compelling. But the God described by Hist. Premill is completely amazing and worthy of worship.