Ethics of Hope
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.
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.