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Candler to ponder 'unfinished worlds' with eminent theologian Jürgen Moltmann

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Laurel Hanna

Candler School of Theology will host world-renowned German theologian Jürgen Moltmann for a two-day conference on issues of contemporary theology, the church and the world, as seen through the lens of Moltmann’s theology. “Unfinished Worlds: Jürgen Moltmann at 90” will take place Oct. 19-20 in Cannon Chapel.

The title “Unfinished Worlds” comes from a lecture Moltmann delivered in 2011. According to conference organizer Steffen Lösel, associate professor of systematic theology at Candler, the phrase captures one of the central tenets of Moltmann’s theology — namely, his insistence that the power of Christ’s resurrection doesn’t apply merely to eternity, but to humanity on earth. Because of this, Christians should experience hope in the future, but also dissatisfaction with the present.

“This ‘unfinishedness’ of the world is both a gift and a task for us human beings,” says Lösel. “It is a gift, because we are not locked into the eternal return of the same. Things can change in this world. Those who suffer can be liberated from oppression, and those who have committed crimes are not marked by their sins forever. But it is also a task for us: Because God meets us from the future, we can and must work for change here and now.”

In planning the conference, Lösel says that he and Moltmann agreed that rather than focusing on his theological work of the past, they wanted to take a forward-looking approach. “We wanted to focus on the question: Where is this world unfinished? And where does the church need to raise its voice for change?”

They also wanted to feature younger, promising theologians whose work deals with “present ills in our unfinished world,” says Lösel. “These are exciting young colleagues who will challenge us to not be complacent, but to seek out passionate engagement with these issues.”

Moltmann will begin the conference with a lecture that Lösel believes will be “a clarion call for Christians today to wake up from their ecclesial slumbers.” Then, a diverse slate of speakers will take up the question of what theologians, Christians and citizens must work for in this unfinished world.

The speakers were allowed to choose any issue for their presentation, resulting in a varied program that includes environmental justice, racial justice, gender justice and justice behind bars. Moltmann will deliver a response to all the presentations on the second day of the conference, followed by a concluding worship service with Raphael G. Warnock, senior pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, preaching. See the full conference schedule.

Speakers include Candler faculty members Joy Ann McDougall and Jennifer Ayres; Nancy Bedford of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary; Reggie Williams of McCormick Theological Seminary; Raphael Warnock; Charles Mathewes of The University of Virginia; Joshua Ralston of the University of Edinburgh; Gerald Liu of Princeton Theological Seminary; Reinerio Arce-Valentín of Matanzas Theological Seminary in Cuba; Rachelle Renee Green of Emory University’s Graduate Division of Religion; and Hilda P. Koster of Concordia College.

A prisoner of war during and immediately following World War II, Moltmann was drawn to the Christian faith while imprisoned, and later studied theology at the University of Göttingen, where he earned his doctorate in 1952. He is the author of more than twenty books, including his two most famous works, 1967’s “Theology of Hope,” considered one of the most influential theological works of the second half of the 20th century, and 1972’s “The Crucified God.”

Moltmann archive coming to Candler

Moltmann served as the Robert W. Woodruff Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology at Candler from 1983 to 1993, and has returned regularly since. His most recent visit was in 2011, when he spoke on campus as well as at the graduation ceremony of the theology certificate program for inmates at Lee Arrendale State Prison, a program Candler co-sponsors.

And now, Moltmann’s ties to Candler and Emory will endure, thanks to the theologian’s decision to bequeath his entire personal archive to Pitts Theology Library.

“I am so proud that Candler is able to host this conference to celebrate Moltmann’s 90th birthday on this side of the Atlantic,” says Lösel. “It is also an appropriate occasion to thank Professor Moltmann for this gift, which will make Emory a destination for Moltmann studies for years to come.”

Admission to the conference is $30 for the general public, and free for Candler and Emory students, faculty and staff. All attendees must register in advance.

Candler School of Theology at Emory University prepares real people to make a real difference in the real world. An intellectually vital, internationally distinguished, and intentionally diverse university-based school of theology, its mission is to educate faithful and creative leaders for the church’s ministries throughout the world. Candler is dedicated to expanding knowledge of religion and theology, deepening spiritual life, strengthening the public witness of the churches, and building upon the breadth of Christian traditions, particularly the Wesleyan heritage, for the positive transformation of the church and the world. It is one of 13 seminaries of The United Methodist Church, with an enrollment of nearly 500 students representing 40 denominations and more than 8,000 alumni worldwide.

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