Moltmann conference brings scholars together to explore 'Unfinished Worlds'

Nov. 15, 2016

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Candler School of Theology hosted world-renowned German theologian Jürgen Moltmann last month for “Unfinished Worlds: Jürgen Moltmann at 90,” a conference focusing on issues of contemporary theology, the contemporary church and the contemporary world.

Candler School of Theology hosted world-renowned German theologian Jürgen Moltmann last month for “Unfinished Worlds: Jürgen Moltmann at 90,” a conference focusing on issues of contemporary theology, the contemporary church and the contemporary world, as seen through the lens of Moltmann’s theology.

Moltmann bookended the conference with a keynote address and a closing response, and 10 distinguished scholars from around the world addressed subjects of their choice that they believe are “unfinished” in some way.

“Because God meets us from the future, we can and must work for renewal ourselves,” conference organizer Steffen Lösel, associate professor of systematic theology, said in his introductory remarks. “Thus, it is fitting for a conference on unfinished worlds not to focus retrospectively on the past, but instead to look forward and ask, ‘Where is this world unfinished? Where do theologians need to raise their voices on behalf of God’s future? Where might they even need to anticipate this future through their own creative theological imagination?’”

As Candler Dean Jan Love put it, “These topics could not be more timely in this season of our life in this country and the world.”

The conference served as a Festschrift of sorts for Moltmann, who served as the Robert W. Woodruff Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology at Candler from 1983 to 1993, and has returned regularly since. In his opening remarks, the 90-year-old praised the school, saying it “has always been our academic home in America,” the “our” including his late wife, feminist theologian Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel, who died in June.

In his keynote, “Unfinished Reformation” — with a nod to the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017 — Moltmann discussed five major points: the move from a culture of dispute to a culture of dialogue; the unity of the Christian church under what he termed “the papacy of all believers”; the Anabaptists’ stance on the separation of church and state; the importance of celebrating the Lord’s Supper together; and the idea that a reformation of hope follows reformation of faith. Watch Moltmann’s keynote address.

Moltmann’s remarks on the second day of the conference were brief but profound. He spoke about the significance of the relationship between teacher and student, saying that the title he has aspired to throughout his career is not “doctor” or “professor,” but “friend.”

Moltmann also said that he has appreciated being part of the debate between two Americas, North America and Latin America, as they struggle with the legacy of colonialism. “Only in America can such lively theological discussions happen. In Germany, we’ve grown indifferent," he said.

He noted that he has visited conferences in other places, but that “the young and energetic conferences are happening at Candler.” He said he is still learning, and called his own theology an “unfinished world” in the sense that it is still growing and expanding, “moving forward in life.”

Finally, Moltmann discussed the importance of the inward life, which he addressed from the perspective of the incarcerated. He was a prisoner for five years total, he said — two years in “the dying German army” and three as a prisoner of war in England and Scotland — and credits that experience with helping him develop a rich spiritual inner world.

He touched particularly on the inward life of his friend death-row inmate Kelly Gissendaner, who was a graduate of the theology certificate program at Lee Arrendale State Prison and was executed by the state of Georgia in 2015. “[As she died] she sang ‘Amazing Grace.’ She was the only free person in that prison. And if she can be free, we can be free,” he said.

Moltmann ended with this charge: “The sin of the powerful is arrogance. Get out of arrogance and learn humility. The sin of the powerless is apathy. Get out of apathy and live. The sin of the middle class is indifference. Get out of indifference and get involved in the struggle for life. And the Spirit of God will bless you.” Listen to Moltmann’s closing response.

Panelists presented discussions on a diverse slate of topics throughout the conference, held Oct. 19-20:

Contemporary Theology at the Crossroads

  • “Disputed Question: Liberating Augustine”
  • “Bearing Witness: Reframing Christian-Muslim Debates”
  • “The Problem of the Human in Theological Anthropology: Reading Jürgen Moltmann’s Christology with Intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance”

The Contemporary Church at the Crossroads

  • “To Redeem the Soul of the Black Church”
  • “New Religion in the New World: Toward a De-Colonial approach in Latin American Theology”
  • “The Future Social Teachings of the Christian Churches"
  • "We Still Need the Coming of God"
  • “God, Climate and the Challenge of Being Human: The Promise of Moltmann’s Kenotic Theology of Creation for an Age of Climate Change”

Contemporary Practices at the Crossroads

  • “The Rose It Grew From Concrete: A Practical and Political Theology of Creativity and Incarceration”
  • “Cultivating the ‘Unquiet Heart’: Ecology, Education, and Christian Faith”

Read summaries of their presentations here.