Acting on God’s sure promise

by
12 October 2012

Peter Selby finds this theologian equal to today's challenges

Furnishing ideas: "Sugges­tions for Christmas . . ." (above) was publicity material for a Quaker business initiative in Brynmawr, the former mining town in south Wales, badly hit during the Depression. The Quakers started a settle­ment there in 1928, and went on to create jobs by opening the Gwalia Works, which produced modern craft furniture (such as the example in another illustra­tion from the book, below). In 1938, it opened a London showroom at 6 Cavendish Square. This tale of ethical investment is told in The Brynmawr Furniture Makers: A Quaker initiative, 1929-40, by Mary, Eurwyn and Dafydd Wiliam (Carreg Gwalch, www.carreg-gwalch.com, £6.50; 978-1-84527-402-3)

Furnishing ideas: "Sugges­tions for Christmas . . ." (above) was publicity material for a Quaker business initiative in Brynmawr, the former mining town in south Wales, badly hit during the Depression. The Quakers started a settle­ment there in 1928, and went on to create jobs by opening the Gwalia Works, which produced modern craft furniture (such as the example in another illustra­tion from the book, below). In 1938, it opened a London showroom at 6 Cavendish Square. This tale of ethical investment is told in The Brynmawr Furniture Makers: A Quaker initiative, 1929-40, by Mary, Eurwyn and Dafydd Wiliam (Carreg Gwalch, www.carreg-gwalch.com, £6.50; 978-1-84527-402-3)

Ethics of Hope
Jürgen Moltmann
SCM £40
(978-0-334-04403-1)
Church Times Bookshop £36

IN HIS response to Jürgen Molt­mann's 2011 Boyle Lecture, Alan Torrance says of him that "No theologian has done more . . . since the early 1970s to recover a proper emphasis on the central doctrines of the Christian faith." Those of us who have Moltmann's key texts on our shelves will readily agree, stimulated by the relationship that he has constantly struck between the eschatological orientation of faith and the life of the world - that is to say, by his call to hope.

The trajectory begun with Theo­logy of Hope has reached the point where he shows how hope can govern our responses to current ethical challenges.

The chapter "The Exodus Church" in Theology of Hope rings in this reader's ears as Moltmann critiques Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anabaptist versions of Christian hope, and describes instead the "transforma­t­ive eschatology" of hopefulness which he wishes to commend. That transformation is then worked out in the spheres of medical ethics ("An Ethics of Life"), sustainability ("Earth Ethics"), and peacemaking ("An Ethics of Just Peace"). These sections are enormously stimulat­ing, making at least this middle section of the book ideal and ac­ces-sible material for a reading or dis­cussion group.

At the end, he tackles the par­ticularly current question of the integration of economic justice and sustainability with a trenchant attack on "growth fetishism".

But this book is empowering as well as challenging: the concluding three "aesthetic counterpoints" under the title "Joy in God" are a reflective and worshipful relating of the themes that have been covered to the biblical tradition. Moltmann's Boyle Lecture, referred to above, has the title "Is the World Unfinished?" There is no doubt at the end of this book that the world is unfinished, but there is equally no doubt that there is a promise that stands, a hope fully justified by faith in God, that it can and will be.

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Moltmann's writing is stimulat­ing not just because it engages theo­logically in an exhilarating way with most of the critical challenges of our day. It is stimulating, above all, for bringing the reader face to face with the enormity of what faith professes: could we speak these words (the reader is bound to ask) to Syrian mothers watching their children killed in the fighting, or African mothers watching their children die of starvation?

The book asks those questions not in a self-indulgent way, but in a manner calculated to challenge readers to more hopeful living, to the making real of the promise.

 

Moltmann is important for Brit­ish readers in bringing a tra­dition of theological reasoning which is not indigenous for us. Gaining what one does from that, it is possible also to notice a few significant gaps: Roman Catholic thought does not appear, except to be dismissed rather cynically (we may disagree with RC thinking about birth control, but it cannot be dismissed as simply there to ensure the birth of more RCs); and the tradition of Anglican social - and hopeful - thought does not appear at all.

But there is a richness here that makes Ethics of Hope a worthy part of the Moltmann collection, a collection that is surely one of the most profound theological con­tribu­tions of our time.

Dr Selby is a former Bishop of Worcester.

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