A Broad Place, Again

3 Jun

Months ago I promised more on Jürgen Moltmann's autobiography A Broad Place. (Fortress Press, 2009). It is such a good book.

I am hoping and praying to come again to that broad place of which he speaks. The image is drawn from Job 36.16, 'You too he allured out of distress into a broad place where there is no cramping.'  I am trusting and hoping that this allure will do its thing for me! The broad place, room to be and room to grow, is one of the most basic biblical images of salvation. It fits very nicely with our wide open spaces in Aus, and our love of the outdoors.

But now for a few wonderful snippets  from the book.

Moltmann has developed a lot of his theology in dialogue with groups of people, including professional groups such as medical practitioners, disabled people, and Christians in marginalized contexts. He has shown a wonderful capacity to learn from others, not just to expound the deep insights of his own experience and study.

Just a glimpse of this is found on pages 88-89 when he speaks of participating in a conference on 'Theology in the World of the Modern Sciences.' He then comments on how theology faculties seem to focus on training pastors for the churches or more teachers for religion departments. These are good purposes, but he says this is too narrow a view of theology. 'theology is a task for the whole people of God; every Christian is a theologian!'

This is another of those moments when one thinks: 'I agree. I have said that too. I am in great company!'

It is not accidental that he then goes on to discuss his idea of the Lord's Table and the 'open friendship of Jesus'. This is one of the most creative ideas in his missional ecclesiology, which in my view is one of the great strengths of Moltmann's theology. I wish that all theology had this evangelical passion, in the best sense of that word. Here it is, for example:

The community of Christ is a community in the open friendship of Jesus. The person who lives in his friendship also discovers Jesus' friends, his brothers and sisters, the people whom he calls blessed. If we look at his example, we see that these people include the sick, the excluded, and the disabled. Jesus liked being with them, and they sought him out. He embraces them with his friendship, and they are close to him as he is to them. Consequently, disabled people belong in the worship of the congregation. Church congregations become communities when they themselves accept their disabled members, as far as they can. Diaconal service belongs in one's own family, neighbourhood, and congregation, not just in special homes and institutions. p.89

On the next page, Moltmann goes on to speak of the importance of experience for theology, and what was called a 'natural theology'. It might be clearer to call it a 'theology from nature', or a theology from experience, although it does also draw upon the possibility that humans have some inherent or 'natural' knowledge of God.

Karl Barth had vehemently rejected the possibility of a natural theology, at the time of his furious debate with Emil Brunner, in the 1930s and 40s. The context was the struggle against the "German Christian' movement, which basically identified the kingdom of God with the emergence of the superior Aryan culture. Now, in vastly different times, Moltmann writes:

It was a long time before I put aside my Barthian fear of 'natural theology' and realized that it was a task for Christian theology. To discover 'traces of God' in nature does not indeed save us, but it does make us wise, as tradition says; for we discover in the memory of nature a wisdom of existence and life which mirrors the wisdom of God, and for human civilization it is wise to co-operate with nature and to become integrated into it, instead of exploiting and hence destroying it in the interests of human domination. p.90

Just one further quote, this time picking up a related theme. Moltmann is very interested in what we might call a spirituality of all life, and one expression of this concerns where the table of the Lord is located. Is the fellowship of Jesus and the open circle of his friendship only expressed in church buildings and official church ceremonies? Not at all! So here we get a sense of the heart of the man, as he reflects on this question, in direct relation to two specific experiences.

    First, Moltmann was in London and was invited to attend an anti-Vietnam war demonstration. He records:

A motley collection of Protestant and Catholic Christians, together with people from 'the highways and byways', met in the offices of the Catholic publisher Sheed and Ward, and with a celebration of the Lord's Supper, sitting on the floor, we prepared ourselves for the demonstration by agreeing to renounce violence; for in the previous demonstration many people had been hurt. Bread and wine passed from hand to hand in a small circle, and we felt the bodily presence of Jesus among us. …

 [Later, in Edinburgh] I preached at St Giles, John Knox's church. After the sermon, those who stayed behind were served the Lord's Supper on silver trays by servers clad in black. The participants sat separate from one another, scattered here and there in the great church. There was no sense of community, and I went out of the beautiful church depressed. Where does Jesus' feast belong? On the streets of the poor who follow Jesus, or in the church of the baptized, the confirmed and established? I decided for the feast that is open to all, and to which the weary and heavy-laden are invited. Baptism, on the other hand, should be reserved for believers. That certainly contradicts the practice of the mainline churches, but it is in conformity with Jesus according to the Synoptic Gospels. Jesus' Supper is not a church meal for people who belong to one's own denomination. It is the feast of the crucified Christ, whose hands are outstretched to everyone. … The Eucharist is in Jesus' literal sense 'catholic': that is to say all-embracing, exclusive of no one but inclusive of all. p.164


3 thoughts on “A Broad Place, Again

  1. Love another parallel that came to mind in the wake of “Broad Places” that of Isaac’s experience in re-digging the wells of his father (reclaiming his heritage and place of being) where he dug a number of wells only to be opposed or denied, then found a well where he could dwell without quarrel so called it Rehoboth (Broad Places)… (Gen 26:22) Matches well the desire of Job, and the heart desire of us all to have space to be, exclusive of no-one, inclusive of all.
    blessings, David

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