Moltmann in Brief

Stephen D. Morrison and “Jürgen Moltmann in Plain English”

Stephen D. Morrison has stumbled upon an excellent idea: distilling and synthesizing the corpus of intellectual material of notable and influential Christian theologians. As a teacher of theology and religion, I long for ways to get good and accessible theology into the hands of my students. Handing a student a volume from Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics or one of Luther’s commentaries isn’t always feasible or advisable. Being a bit of a broody hen when it comes to my students and their theological education, I’m wary to send them off on their own to slog through one of these theologians. However, Morrison is a capable and humble guide and thorough.

 

Morrison does not twist the theologian to get them to say what he wants them to say. Rather, he carefully and thoughtfully organizes his book around their works, devoting a chapter to their major works while incorporating the other writing; this creates a smooth, fluid, and coherent representation of the theologian. He has a knack for creating before the reader’s eyes the living and breathing person that is the theologian under examination and consideration. She will feel as if she’s entered a casual conversation with Morrison and with the theologian she’s reading about. The project “Plain English Series” will prove to be fruitful for academics and lay-scholars alike. You are right, Morrison, it truly is a unique[1] project; I’m excited for more installments of the series to grace my bookshelves.

 

In this particular volume, Morrison looks at the work of one of my favorite theologians: Jürgen Moltmann. (I read Moltmann’s work when I need to take a break from my dissertation research.) Moltmann’s theology is paradoxically confrontational and pastoral; but I’d argue that’s the paradox of Jesus the Christ and the gospel proclamation of Him crucified. Moltmann is deeply cruciform and Christocentric in his approach to systematic theology, from his doctrine of creation, the eschatological hope, doctrine of the trinity, to ethics, etc. Morrison, in my opinion, captures these aspects splendidly; at times the reader will be left wondering if Morrison isn’t in conversation with Moltmann directly while writing. Moltmann’s goal is to bring life to his reader through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ; Morrison stays true to this.

 

Morrison begins with a biographical sketch of Moltmann and continues to structure the book by creating 10 sections each primarily focused on one of Moltmann’s works. Each section heavily draws from the work corresponding to it, as mentioned above. But Morrison is a good researcher and brings in other components of Moltmann’s material to bolster the deductions Morrison is making. Thus, Morrison’s explanations and conclusions are well grounded in Moltmann’s conceptions as they are articulated not only in one book but throughout the corpus of his work.

 

Interspersed between the chapters are these short excurses, or “Sidebars.” These sidebars range from further explanatory and instructional words about some of the conceptions of the corresponding chapters (“Peace with God” with “Theology of Hope,” “The Sacraments” with “The Church in the Power of the Spirit,” “Tritheism” with “The Trinity and the Kingdom” to mention a few) to challenges for the reader—challenges Morrison himself received while engaging with Moltmann’s work. These sidebars specifically are exactly what Moltmann would have his reader do: he would want her to turn her eye to the world to see where she and her church are failing to be proactive in the world on behalf of the oppressed and disenfranchised. He would want his reader to use his voice to proclaim the word of God crucified to bring true and radical freedom and liberation to those dying for lack of. In this way, Morrison exposes that he’s a good student of Moltmann; one from whom I can learn a lot.

 

There was one sidebar, though, that didn’t measure up to the others in content, and it is with that sidebar I’ll contend with here. Near the end of chapter 5, “The Trinity and the Kingdom,” Morrison splendidly sums up Moltmann’s Christocentric and social approach to the doctrine of the trinity, “The Triuntiy of God is in their mutual indwelling and interpenetration; it is a unity not found in a hierarchal monarchy or a philosophical one subject, but unity in Tri-unity.”[2] And further explains a bit later, “Understanding the doctrine of God’s Triunity as the fellowship of person leads to rejecting hierarchy in the Church, the state, and in society. We should strive toward a community free from hierarchy and patriarchy, an open fellowship of equals.”[3] Morrison goes on to mention that Motlmann’s conception of the doctrine of the trinity works well and inherently advocates for feminism (as well as for Liberation Theology and Black Theology).[4]

 

Morrison took the right conclusive trajectory from Moltmann’s conception of the doctrine of the Trinity defined as perichoretic triunity. However, in the sidebar associated with this chapter, “Sidebar: God, His & Hers,” Morrison seems to miss an opportunity to put to work exactly what he sees occurring in Moltmann’s conception of the trinity as social force in the world dismantling hierarchies. In defense of feminism in church and theology, rather than quoting from Elisabeth Moltmann extensively (a known feminist theologian), Morrison leans heavily upon Jürgen to validate Elisabeth and the role of feminism in theology and church. Also, there is a lot of recourse to other male theologians to validate the maternal nature along with the paternal nature of God. Thus, the female voice is subordinated to the male one, and upholds rather than challenges the status quo of the hierarchy of patriarchy in church and theology. Feminism is valid because it’s valid in its own right and not because a host of men have seen the value of it.[5]

 

That Jürgen was influenced by Elisabeth (as the story initiating the sidebar indicates) is a beautiful thing, but should not be the basis by which we validate her theology or her feminism. Yet, starting the chapter with such a story[6] situates the reader to validate Elisabeth based on what Jürgen says. Elisabeth is a worthy theologian (Full stop). Considering the title of the sidebar is one of the titles of Elisabeth’s works, she herself can substantiate the validity of both her theology and feminism. A presentation of her work alone would have done well as the totality of the sidebar and placed the reader in a confrontation of having to decide for themselves.

 

Jürgen Moltmann in Plain English by Stephen D. Morrison is not only commendable but recommendable. I enjoyed the accessible tour and my able tour guide and fell in love with Moltmann all over again. We should not take for granted talented authors who can revive such love. I look forward to more installments of Morrison’s series, “In Plain English.”

Stephen D. Morrison’s Jürgen Moltmann in Plain English Columbus, OH: Beloved Publishing, 2018.

[1] Stephen D. Morrison Jürgen Motlamnn in Plain English “Introduction” p. vii.

[2] Ibid, 119.

[3] Ibid, 120.

[4] Ibid, 120.

[5] Especially with the dynamic of what Morrison refers to as “bitter feminists.” We must always remember that women have suffered deadly violence at the hands of men. When we categorically dismiss those who are angry, we will forget just how bad the violence is.

[6] Morrison, 126.

White Supremacy, Mysticism, and Feminism

Welcome to Sancta Colloquia episode 101 ft. Kate Hanch

In this episode, I talk with my friend and colleague Rev. Kate Hanch (Twitter: @katehanch) and we discuss mysticism, feminism, and white-supremacy.  It’s clear that in this conversation I am wading into unknown theological waters, and Kate proves to be a good swim coach and life guard. She deftly moves me from my default to skepticism of mysticism into a “hot-damn!-Maybe-I-should-rethink-this” mindset. The way in which Kate engages medieval female  mystics rightly challenges my average (mis?)conceptions about Mysticism. She reveals that mysticism isn’t only about our vertical relation with God, but also about participating in the horizontal actively and politically. So, if you’ve ever thought mysticism was merely a means for Christians to “Jesus-Juke” out-of-body experiences, think again. Mysticism has been and continues to be a means to combat and overhaul oppressive systems in society and challenge the status-quo.

Intrigued? You should be. Listen here via Screaming Pods (https://www.screamingpods.com/):

A huge THANK YOU to my friend and producer Sean Duregger (Twitter: @seanCduregger) and Screaming Pods (Twitter: @ScreamingPods) for hosting Sancta Colloquia (Twitter: @SanctaColloquia). Also, a big hug to my friend Danielle Larson (Twitter: @DanielleELarson) for helping me record a test run.

To hear (and see) more from Kate about medieval female mystics, specifically on Julian of Norwich, watch this video by Dr. W. Travis McMaken (Twitter: @WTravisMcMaken):

The Rev. Kate Hanch is studying theology at Garrett Evangelical seminary, and is also ordained in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  Kate specifically studies medieval female mystics and 19th century black female mystical preachers.

Here are some resources from Kate for further reading and studying:

Andrews, William. Sisters of the Spirit: Three Black Women’s Autobiographies of the Nineteenth Century, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.
Bostic, Joy R. African American Female Mysticism: Nineteenth-Century Religious Activism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.  This is the book, more than any others, that challenged and changed my view of mysticism.
Crawley, Ashon T. Blackpentecostal Breath: the Aesthetics of Possibility. New York: Fordham University Press, 2017.
McGinn, Bernard, ed. The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. Modern ed. New York: Modern Library, 2006.
Newman, Barbara. “Annihilation and Authorship: Three Women Mystics of the 1290s.” Speculum 91, no. 3 (July 2016): 591–630.

Pelphrey, Brendan, and Julia Bolton Holloway. Lo, How I Love Thee! Divine Love in Julian of Norwich.  Spring Deer Studio, 2012.

Ruffing, J.K. ed. Mysticism and Social Transformation. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2001.
Washington, Margaret. Sojourner Truth’s America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011

A Comment Worth Posting

Last week I wrote a post about being a feminist. (You can read it here.) I received a couple of comments on the actual post and some more via twitter. But one friend, Nate Sparks, dm:ed me privately with his comments. His reason to dm me privately was that he didn’t want his comment to detract from my post. I really respect that choice and felt honored by it. However, Nate and I have a really cool friendship. You see, we do not agree on everything, specifically as it pertains to certain issues regarding sexuality, sexual identity, and gender identity. There is much overlap in our thoughts, but there are differences. That he felt the freedom to come to me and tell me what he was thinking was an honor to me, specifically because of the dialogue we had as a result; that I was still free to say: “hey, we don’t agree here” is a beautiful measure of the real freedom that our relationship has. I don’t want to be surrounded by the people that I only agree with nearly 100% of the time; conflict and tension aren’t to be feared in relationship with an other, with another human being, but to be pushed through. If the cycle of death to life in relationship is to continue, which it should, then conflict and tension demand the setting aside of self  (the death of the self (of both selves) in the relationship) through ardent listening to the other and desire to have your language altered because of the other. I’m not sure if any of that makes sense. With those with whom I agree nearly completely, my listening and language become lazy; but with those friends who disagree with me, listening and language are taken to another level because they have to be if the relationship is to remain alive and concurrently life-giving. This is the kind of relationship I am fortunate enough to have with Nate, and, frankly, I’m really grateful for it and blessed by it.

With that said, I wanted to take the time to honor Nate and his extremely thoughtful and well thought out response to my post on feminism. I was going to add it to the comments section of the original post, but after I read it a number of times felt compelled to give it its own place. Nate in his comments challenges me to think bigger and offers some very interesting things to contemplate. So, below, is what Nate wrote to me. Enjoy.

 

Yay! I love what you did here, and love your humility in writing it. Its awesome that Travis can come to you like that and you can listen and learn. That is a trait I love about you, and this post makes me even more proud to call you a friend. I’m not pushing you to change the post, but I did have a couple thoughts as I read it.

1. Many feminists will recoil at the phrasing “man-hating.” Because much of the angst of feminism is based in very real slight and mistreatment, mosts feminists would rather be perceived as “man hating” (though that is largely a misnomer) than be seen as playing by the rules of the patriarchal system.

2. I encourage you to give feminist theologians another shot. I used to cringe at feminist scholarship because I saw it as twisting and manipulating the text. But I recently went back to some feminist theology/commentary books I own. I was struck by a word in the work of Elaine Wainwright on the Gospel of Matthew. She said that, when so much of scholarship has worked to exclude you, you have to form a new meaning (she uses poesis) with a new and inclusive narrative. This involves going against the grain and asking the questions often deemed too dangerous. There are certainly feminist scholars who go a bit off the deep end. But I greatly value and learn from feminist scholarship and have found much of what so believe challenged by learning to see the narrative of women where once I never even thought to look.

3. I absolutely agree you are a feminist, but be careful not to define feminism in a way that dismisses intersectionality. Feminism, at least since the third wave, has strongly emphasized that overcoming patriarchy benefits all people. They are things like racism and homophobia as rooted in patriarchy and the pursuit of the “ideal masculine” which rules over and is privileged above all others. As such, feminism is about equality for POC and LGBT as well. A prime example is Black Lives Matter. Many are unaware the movement was started by and still run nationally by two black, queer feminists. Again, I don’t say this to dismiss your words or crush you. I certainly hope they haven’t done so. It takes a lot of deprogramming to embrace feminism – trust me, I know that full well. I only want to encourage you to continue the journey and keep exploring. I know I am often tempted to say, “Okay, I embrace feminism and equality, so I’m here now. I’ve arrived.” I need to remember that I am on a journey, that it is okay to listen and learn and develop over time. In as much as I know I need to be reminded of this, I hope to encourage you in this as well. You’re an awesome person, a great teacher, and an amazing friend. I’m happy to see you grow more comfortable in your skin as a feminist. Thank you for sharing with me 😃

Feminist.

Someone I know from twitter challenged something I said in an interview that aired yesterday over at Key Life Network. Now before you cry out, “Down with trolls!”, I have to say this individual is far from a troll and is someone for whom I have sincere respect. I don’t entertain trolls, but I’ve learned that when Travis* asks what seems like a nonchalant, casual question or finishes a statement with an ellipses, I’m quite certain something is about to be unearthed, some preconceived notion of mine is about to be radically altered…for the better.  So, when he asked,

Why don’t you want to sound ‘like a complete, total feminist’?

I thought, “Oh, crap…here we go…”,  and I buckled up and braced for impact. My answers and his push-back revealed (to me) that I had serious cracks in my understanding about feminism in general and exposed (to me) my own very deep seated fear of being associated with feminism and called a feminist–not something I’m proud to admit. And if the initial question and the following push-backs weren’t well aimed arrows hitting each of their marks, it was the last remark he made that hit me so perfectly and with such skill that Legolas himself would be jealous. I had just defended myself by saying,

…even tho I’m cautious (and maybe overly so) about how i define myself as a feminist does not discredit all the work I do to promote women and men…

To which he wrote,

Nope, doesn’t discredit it. But it (your caution) may implicitly discredit the work being done by others…

That arrow hurt. That impact hurt. While I wasn’t hurled into an existential crisis, I was forced to reckon with some questions:

Why am I cautious about a feminist label?

Am I potentially hindering good work being done by disassociating myself from feminism?

Am I a feminist?

To answer the first question, I think the main reason I’m hesitant to call myself a feminist because of the way “feminist” is a four letter word in conservative evangelical circles, in which I was spiritually reared and (to some extent) academically trained. Not only is it considered a four letter word, but it is assumed to be so connected to secular life, that  a good Christian woman would never want to call herself a feminist. Feminist, from what I can deduce from my experience, seems to draws up imagery of an angry, man-hating women, looking to overthrow the entire system by her rejection of marriage and family. A couple of years back, my seminary had to deal with the issue of some male MDiv and DMin students singling out female MDiv students on the ordination track telling them they were acting against God’s divine ordering of the sexes. In conservative contexts, many feminist theologians get a bad name for some of the awkward things they do exegetically to scripture (sometimes the accusation is valid; sometimes not. And let us not confuse feminist theologian with a theologian who is also a feminist). As a woman student and then as a Teacher’s Assistant, who spoke up for the equality and freedom of women using both theology and scripture as my foundation, I thought I was in a bind: I’d lose my audience if I played the feminist card. So I distanced myself, “Not feminist…so you can listen to meRather than stand ground and demand that the word “feminist” be defined correctly in spite of the few places it’s been run into the mud, I attempted to placate the more conservative folk I was encountering.

And here I can answer the second question posed above: yes, my disassociation from feminism hinders the good work others are doing. How so? In this way: as I go about both my academic and pastoral callings, which incorporates a message of freedom for women and men, while simultaneously denying that I am a feminist essentially creates a dividing line where I make the implicit statement that what I am doing is good and what other feminists are doing is bad. For all intents and purposes, I’m promoting my work at the expense and detriment of the work of other feminists. I’m creating teams, an “us” and “them.” As a Christian the “us” and “them” will almost always take on the flavor of Christian and Secular, good and bad; this is unacceptable.

And since when is it a good idea for Christians (for me) to shirk a word or phrase because of the historically negative connotations it has carried? Am I not given a new language, a new grammar, a new voice to speak, new eyes to see, and new ears to hear as a result of faith in Christ? To part ways with “feminist” because of fear, rubs against the confidence I’ve been given in Christ. Rather than throw out language because of its baggage (hypothetical or not), let us use the new language we’ve been given in Christ to rightly define the language.

Feminism rightly understood is freedom and equality for woman alongside man; and this freedom and equality is beneficial for man in that it demands and expects more from him than has been previously expected from patriarchy. This freedom and equality for woman is exactly what is given to her through Jesus Christ; for scriptural support, start by reading through the gospel of Luke and move on from there. This demand on man that expects more than what patriarchy has ever expected is justified in the person and being of Jesus Christ.  The way Jesus interacts with women throughout the gospels is a demand and expectation on man to be capable of more. In union with Christ by faith in Him, men are neither tyrannical overlords lusting to rule over the weak woman nor primal beasts needing to be tamed and educated by the domesticated and civil hand of the woman; in union with Christ by faith in Him, the free man is rightly oriented to the free woman, and she to him because they are rightly oriented to God by the power of the Holy Spirit.This is the goal of feminism rightly understood, and it has everything to do with us Christians and Christianity.

Am I feminist?

Yes.

I am a complete and total feminist.

 

* @WTravisMcMaken (on Twitter) and I highly recommend visiting his blog: Die Evangelischen Theologen   http://derevth.blogspot.com/