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ATR/UX12

Ethics on a Trinitarian Basis: Moltmann's


The Crucified God
DAVID A. SCOTT *

This article questions the adequacy of Moltmann's doctrine of God as the foundation of his view of ethics. More specifically this essay assesses Moltmann's
idea of "God's trinitarian history" as a basis for his conception of "a political
hermeneutic of liberation." The focus of the article, then, is theological ethics;
its underlying concern is the relevance of the doctrine of the trinity for theological ethics.
Preparatory to assessing Moltmann's constructive proposals, an explication sets
forth two of his controlling ideas. First, an analysis of his concept of "political
hermeneutic of liberation" is presented to show that it views history as a process
of suffering and struggle against injustice, a process in which God is "really
present."
Next, Moltmann's idea of "God's trinitarian history" is explained showing
how he uses it to criticize traditional trinitarian and christological formulations
and to affirm that the history of struggle for human liberation is not extrinsic
to Goafs being but part of God's triune reality.
In the final, critical section, an argument is proffered that Moltmann's constructive proposals, while they deserve our attention and respect for the central
issues they address, are seriously inadequate. On the one hand Moltmann's theological basis for ethics is one-sided, because it ignores God as creator. On the
other hand it is deficient, because his doctrine of God renders GocPs power to
save implausible.

I.

INTRODUCTION

I N the aftermath of the church's intensive involvement in social action


during the last decade, two convictions, it seems, have been attained.
First, general agreement exists that social action is an essential, not
merely peripheral, concern of the Christian community. Second, however, widespread uncertainty remains about the theological basis for such
social action.
Against the background of these two convictions, Jrgen Moltmann's
The Crucified God1 merits serious attention by those involved in the
* David A Scott is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at The
Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, Virginia.
1
Jrgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology (New York: Harper & Row, 1974);
German edition, Der gekreuzigte Gott. Das Kreuz Christi als Grund und Kritik
christlicher Theologie (Mnchen: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1972). See also:- Molt166

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task of theological ethics. In this volume Moltmann presents a Christian


theology which on the one hand makes Christ's cross central, and thus is
distinctively Christian, and, on the other, attempts to build a social ethic
on the foundation of this theology of the cross. But of special interest,
both because of the confusion in theology today about the doctrine of
God and also because of the need in theological ethics to relate morality
to a distinctively Christian understanding of God, is Moltmann's trin
itarian conception which directly shapes his ethics.
In this study of Moltmann's book, one can argue two points. The
first, relating to his ethics, is that Moltmann's political hermeneutic of
liberation is a truncated ethic, and that its incompleteness derives from
Moltmann's too narrowly conceived theological basis for it. The second
point concerns Moltmann's trinitarian conception, and one can argue that
his dismissal of the traditional metaphysical framework for understanding
God leaves in doubt God's power to save. So that this study be not
misunderstood as merely negative criticism, let the viewpoint be stated
here at the beginning that Moltmann's general approach, his attempts
to explore the ethical relevance of the trinity doctrine, is one of the most
valuable directions in contemporary theology.
Sections two and three of this essay summarize his ethical position
and his central theological idea, God's trinitarian history. Section four
undertakes critical assessment.

MOLTMANN'S POLITICAL HERMENEUTIC OF LIBERATION

The center and thrust of Moltmann's ethical conception as developed


somewhat fragmentary in chapter eight of The Crucified God, are
perhaps best concentrated in the following sentence. "History is the 'sac
rament' of Christian ethics, not merely its material" (g.G., p. 298).
The word "sacrament" calls up the image of Christ's real presence
and God's action in the material stuff of bread, wine and water. Molt
mann wants his readers to conceive of history as a sacramental "matter,"
as the arena where God is identifiably present in compassion and power.
Moltmann qualifies the assertion that history is identical with God's
real presence in two ways. First, for reasons to be considered later, God
is identified with what is opposite to his inherent glory and power in
present history. That is, God is identifiable in those who suffer bondage
mann, "Gesichtspunkte der Kreuzestheologie heute," Evangelische Theologie 33
(1973): 346-365; Moltmann, "Dialektik, die umschlgt in Identitt: was ist
das?" Theologische Quartalschrift 153 (1973): 346-450; Moltmann, "Gedanken
zur trinitarischen Geschichte Gottes," Evangelische Theologie 35 (1975): 208223. Page references and quotes in the text will be taken from the German
edition which will be referred to by g.G. Translations are my own.

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in such vicious circles as poverty, political domination, racial and cultural


alienation, ecological destruction, and meaninglessness. The paradigm for
thus seeking God in his opposite is, of course, Christ's suffering and
death on the cross and God's identification with the death of Jesus.
God is not unambiguously identifiable in history; he is identifiable
rather in his opposite, in what is inglorious, weak, and in bondage. There
fore, and this is the second qualification, God is really present in history
in a symbolic way, i.e., in a way which points forward or beyond to a
fuller, truer, presence. This fuller, truer presence will be God's eschatological presence, when he will be all in all. But the basis of Moltmann's
ethic is that, although present in "his opposite" and present only "in
anticipation," God is identifiably present in history, especially the his
tory of the human struggle for freedom.
Moltmann's goal is to convince his reader to perceive the history of
human suffering and struggle for liberation not as a history outside God
but inside God. We should conceive the history of suffering and struggle
for freedom as a dimension of God's own history, a process of history
which began with the crucifixion, whose prefigured end is Christ's resur
rection, and whose actual end will occur when God is "all in all."
Does such a view release and direct Christian ethical action? Molt
mann believes it does for two reasons. First, every Christian should
understand his "situation" as one in the history of God in which God
identifies with the unfree, exploited, and suffering. Each believing Chris
tian is with everyone who suffers in the process of God's history. This
history is one in which God, through Christ's cross, has identified with
those who suffer. Second, the Christian understands that the history of
human suffering, because it is now in God through Christ, is destined
to become the kingdom of glorified humanity because the crucified one
is also the resurrected Lord. Therefore, the "real presences" of God have
the character, Moltmann claims, of praesentia explosiva; they are pres
ences awakening, focusing, and releasing the faith and charity of Chris
tians enabling them to identify with and serve the liberation of suffering
human beings.
It may help to clarify what Moltmann sees as the distinctive element
in his ethical conception of liberation by seeing how he himself dis
tinguishes his position from two major Protestant models of ethics.
One conception Moltmann calls the "model of unburdening" (Ent
lastung). Here Moltmann means the Lutheran doctrine of two kingdoms,
whereby religion and politics are clearly distinguished in order that they
may be properly related within the tension of Law and Gospel. The
second major conception of ethics in Protestantism Moltmann names
the model of correspondence. By this he seems to refer to Karl Barth's
social ethics as developed further by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Helmut
GoUwitzer. Here the effort is made in Christian personal and social

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ethical living to bridge the two worlds of God's kingdom and the king
dom of this world. Christian ethical engagement serves, according to this
model, as correspondences in this world's history to the fulfillment
promised in the age to come.
Moltmann criticizes these two models as "idealistic" in contrast to
his own "sacramental" model of Christian ethics. They are idealistic in
die sense that both religion and God's kingdom are viewed as really
distinct from, "above," and separate from the history of human suf
fering.
In contrast, Moltmann views his ethical conception as "concrete." He
wants to speak not of differences between God and world or correspon
dences between God and world but of identifications between God and
world.
Must we not go beyond [these two models] and grasp right from the beginning
God in the world, the beyond in the here and now, the universal in the con
crete, and the eschatological in the historical, in order to come to a political
hermeneutic of the crucified and a theology of real liberations (g.G., p. 297)?

This quotation points again to the heart of Moltmann's ethical concep


tion : God's real presence in the history of human suffering in anticipation
of glory and fulfillment. The quotation also points back to the theological
foundation of this ethical conception, Moltmann's theology of the cross
and his idea of God's trinitarian history.

GOD'S TRINITARIAN HISTORY

In The Crucified God Moltmann's basic purpose is to demonstrate


God's identification, through the cross of Christ, with human history,
with every force in human history opposing human freedom and fulfill
ment. He seeks to attain this theological goal by reinterpreting the doc
trine of God as Trinity such that the history of human suffering is
understood as taken up, through the cross, into God's life. The history
of human suffering, according to Moltmann, should, in the light of
Christ's cross, be seen as constitutive of God's reality. This identification
between God's inner trinitarian life and the history of human suffering
is so radical that Moltmann wants to emphasize that in the cross God
has freely made human suffering and death his own and, thus, he wills
to come to his own divine perfection (Vollendung) only in and through
the history of human suffering.
To establish this theological conception, Moltmann has to accomplish
two things. First, he has to discredit the traditional distinction between
God in himself (ontological or immanent trinity) and God-for-us (the
economic trinity or trinity of revelation). Only in this way can he achieve

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the identification of God's essential being with human history. Second,


Moltmann must establish an identity between God's essential being with
the suffering, abandonment, and death of Jesus on the cross. Only in
this way can Moltmann secure the identification of God's inner reality
with the history of human suffering.
The basis on which Moltmann discredits the traditional distinction
between the economic and immanent trinity is to assert that this distinction presupposes a basically Greek metaphysical distinction between
infinite and finite, reality and appearance, eternity and history. Christian
trinitarian reflection simply accepted these pervasive Hellenistic metaphysical dichotomies without, Moltmann implies, subjecting them to the
criterion of Jesus' cross.
Moltmann apparently considers the influence of these Greek metaphysical assumptions sufficient grounds for rejecting the traditional distinctions; or perhaps it is truer to Moltmann's theological intention to
say that his starting point of the cross causes him to reject these dichotomies in order to affirm an identity between God's inner reality and
his revelation in Christ.
We have interpreted here the event of the cross in a trinitarian way, as a relational event (Beziehungsgeschehen) between persons in which these persons constitute one another in their relation to one another.... In the relation to his
father it is not a question of the divinity and humanity of Christ and their relation to one another, but the total (ganzheitliche), personal aspect of Jesus'
Sonship. This point of departure is a break with tradition. It overcomes the
dichotomy between immanent and economic Trinity as well as the distinction
between the nature of God and his inner trinitarian being. It makes trinitarian
thought necessary for the sake of the cross of Christ (g.G., p. 232).

This quotation indicates that a new understanding of Jesus' suffering


as Son in relation to the Father requires abandoning the traditional
distinction between the economic and immanent trinity. The result of
leaving this distinction behind is a new view of God's essence.
The essence of God does not lie as an eternal, ideal essence behind the appearance of history, and the appearance in history, but is this history itself.2

Or again:
If one understands the Trinity as the event of love in the suffering and in the
death of Jesus and faith must do this then the Trinity is no self-enclosed
circle in heaven but an eschatological process open for man on earth which
proceeds from the cross of Christ (g.G., p. 235-236).

Moltmann, "Gesichtspunkte der Kreuzestheologie heute," 360.

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As mentioned above, this opening of God's inner trinitarian reality


to human history presupposes Moltmann's revision of the theological
understanding of Jesus' suffering.
In his view, the traditional understanding of Jesus' suffering and its
meaning for God's own being was determined by the theological axiom
that God cannot suffer. Moltmann names this the axiom of the apathetic
God.
Following Moltmann, this axiom made it impossible for the theologians of the patristic period to assert both that Jesus was God and that
he was abandoned by God (g.G., p. 215). Accordingly, Jesus' suffering
on the cross was explicated theologically within the framework of the
two-natures doctrine and the notion of the hypostatic union. This theological resolution viewed Jesus' suffering as borne only by the human
nature of the God-man. Thereby, the God-man was affirmed to be the
subject of suffering and death; yet suffering and death were predicated
only of Jesus' human nature. In this way, Moltmann claims, the "God
concept of philosophical metaphysics," according to which God in his
divine nature could not suffer, was retained uncorrected by the cross.
If one considers the cross event between Jesus and his Father in the framework
of the two-natures doctrine, then the platonic axiom of God's essential apathy
erects the spiritual barrier (Sperre) against taking seriously (Wahrnehmung)
Jesus' suffering (g.G., p. 215).

Moltmann rejects this traditional way of relating Jesus' suffering to the


Christian understanding of God; he insists that Jesus' cross should be
the starting point for the Christian understanding of God.
Christian theology [however] must think through God's being in the suffering
and dying and finally in the death of Jesus, if it doesn't want to violate its
integrity (sich selbst aufgeben) and lose its identity (g.G., p. 200).

Moltmann's alternative is to understand Jesus' suffering and death


on the cross as the suffering and death of the divine Son, and, therefore
an event within God's life between God-Father and the Son of God.
The Son dies in the curse of the Father. He is the abandoned God. The Son
suffers death in abandonment. The Father, however, suffers the death of the
Son in the pain of his love. The Son suffers the abandonment of the Father
whose rule of grace (Gnadenrecht) he preached. The Father suffers the abandonment of the Son whom he chose and loved.3
3

Moltmann, "Gesichtspunkte der Kreuzestheologie heute," 359. See also,


g.G., pp. 230 ff.

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Moltmann stresses that this new understanding of the relation of


Jesus' suffering and death to the divine nature leads to a new view of
the meaning and centrality of the trinity.
The doctrine of the trinity is no longer an unmanageable (unerschwingliche)
and impracticable speculation about God, but is nothing other than the summary (Kurzfassung) of Christ's Passion in its significance for the eschatological
freedom of faith and the life of oppressed nature (g.G., p. 232).

In order to uncover the theological foundation of Moltmann's ethical


conception, it was necessary to explicate his notion of God's identification
with the history of human suffering in and through the suffering and
death of the Son of God. I have shown that Moltmann's aim is to
identify God's essence with history, and this he accomplishes in turn by
rethinking Jesus' cross as an event within God's life.
Having set forth the key elements of Moltmann's ethical position and
the decisive elements of the theological foundation for it, we are ready
to proceed with a critical assessment.

IV.

CRITICAL ASSESSMENT

As indicated at the beginning of this study, interest focuses on the


link Moltmann forges between the trinitarian conception of God and
Christian ethics. This link should be a primary concern of theological
ethicists if, as one takes for granted, Christian ethics is a religious ethics:
Christian morality derives from the believer's relation to God; how
Christians should relate to their neighbors is determined by God, who
and what He is, and how He relates to us. The special value of The
Crucified God, from this perspective, is that, at a time when the doctrine
of God is so perplexing, Moltmann appropriates the trinity doctrine,
which is usually viewed as the distinctive Christian conception of God,
and draws ethical implications from it. Besides Karl Barth's Church
Dogmatics and, to a lesser extent, Paul Lehmann's Ethics in a Christian
Context, Moltmann's book is the most important contemporary effort
to explore the ethical bearing of the trinity doctrine.
How can theological ethics, concerned with the relevance of the
trinity doctrine, benefit from Moltmann's effort? Negatively stated, his
book demonstrates a basic lesson for ethics. An ethic based exclusively
on the second Person, by Moltmann conceived from the perspective of
a theology of the cross, is a truncated ethics, an ethics relevant only to
the oppressed. Positively stated, The Crucified God illustrates, by its
one-sidedness, that if ethicists use the trinity doctrine, they should also
appropriate the doctrine of God the Father, as creator, if their ethics

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will be relevant to the powerful, those whose decisions can show responsibility for the created order. When sexual, medical, and ecological problems abound, an ethics of responsibility for the creation ought not be
neglected. An ethics of protest and liberation only, an ethic for the oppressed, which is all that Moltmann's theology of the cross can yield, is
important, but not enough. The ethics of protest must be balanced by
an ethics of affirmation; God the creator is as important for ethics as
the crucified Son.
To avoid misunderstanding, the ethics of responsibility is not the
specific ethical model proposed by H. R. Niebuhr in The Responsible
Self, although it is not contrary to Niebuhr's themes. A more general
point is intended: Christian ethics should include the creation doctrine
as one of its theological premises to ensure that a dimension of our faith
relation to God involves thanksgiving for and responsible use of the
creator's gift of human talent, natural order, material and cultural wealth,
and political power in our possession. With one of its bases in the doctrine of God as Father and in the first article of the creed, ethics can
address God's will to the rich, not just to the poor, to those who hold
power, not just to the oppressed. The possessors of the world's goods
are thereby included positively, not just negatively, within the arena of
God's command.
Moltmann, as shown in the summary of his political hermeneutic of
liberation and his idea of God's trinitarian history, develops his social
ethics from a theology of the cross. This basis, because it focuses exclusively on Jesus Christ, results in making history the horizon of ethical
reflection. As such, the horizon of history is essential to ethics, since
probably every ethics must relate moral action to some vision of the
meaning of historical events and some interpretation of history's outcome. Certainly Christian ethics does. But when history is made the
only horizon for ethical reflection, nature as creation is either ignored
or viewed as a morally neutral stage on which the drama of history is
enacted. Moltmann's appropriation of the trinity doctrine for ethics, it
seems, is determined by Kant's separation of the pure from the practical
reason, despite Hegel's influence on Moltmann. The result is a truncated
ethics.
Another way to describe the insufficient basis of Moltmann's ethic
is to observe how he defines God's Fatherhood. Limiting himself to the
perspective of a theology of the cross, he defines God's being as Father
exclusively from the perspective of the crucified Christ. Christ's unjust
death becomes, thereby, the point of God's identification with history.
God's being as Father, presented solely in relation to the injustice of
the cross, is thus ethically significant only in relation to those who suffer
injustice. This theological move enables Moltmann to develop a vigorous
theology of liberation: God is on the side of the dispossessed and op-

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pressed. In itself this is theologically valid, but it is incomplete. Christian


theology and ethics must also validate the possession of wealth and
power for the sake of their responsible enjoyment and use. God is on the
side of the poor and oppressed against the irresponsible and unjust users
of wealth and power.
In contrast to Moltmann's definition of God's Fatherhood, based
exclusively on the Son's relation to the Father in the cross event, the
New Testament includes the creation as the arena of God the Father's
love and power. Whereas Moltmann restricts the meaning of the Father's
love to His suffering in relation to Christ's death, Jesus, according to
the New Testament witness, speaks of the sun, rain, flowers, and birds
as evidence of the Father's beneficence. Whereas Moltmann, like Luther,
pictures the Father's visible identification with history only under the
contraries of human suffering and death, Jesus' teaching and actions
portray God the Father as authorizer of marriage, and as the giver of
good gifts. Certainly the cross deepens Christian perception of the
Father's love and power, but Jesus's death is not the only point of
reference for understanding God's creative relation to the world. Adequate
theology requires both Jesus Christ as Son and the creation as bases for
conceiving die Fatherhood of God.
Moltmann, in asserting that Christ's cross is the exclusive center of
theology, appears to overlook the significance of Ireneaus' insistence on
God's unity as creator and redeemer against the Gnostics. By deriving
his ethics wholly from the cross event, he also disregards the tradition
of Christian ethics, which draws ethical implications from God as creator.
Catholic natural law theory, grounded theologically in the concept of
God's eternal law and the doctrine of creation, finds ethical significance
in the structures and dynamics inherent in created existence. Even Luther,
from whom Moltmann draws so much in The Crucified God, viewed
the orders of creation as arenas for Christian vocation and the responsible
use of power. Karl Barth's profound theological ethic, grounded in the
unity of God as creator and redeemer, should have made Moltmann at
least acknowledge the problem of an overly narrow theological basis
for ethics. Despite all the problems in the tradition of theological ethics,
this tradition suggests, by its unanimous affirmation of the relevance of
the creation doctrine, that the theology of the cross cannot, in isolation,
sustain an adequate ethical program. This ethical tradition might have
led Moltmann to question the adequacy of his trinitarian conception and
its basis in the theology of the cross.
The critical assessment of Moltmann's social ethic brings us back,
then, to his central theological conception and to its basis, the theology
of the cross. As the reader will have gathered from this exposition of
Moltmann's idea of God's trinitarian history, his central conception is
a revised doctrine of God, the result of a thoroughgoing critique of the

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Greek metaphysical framework and of the traditional trinitarian and


christological doctrines. A criticism of Moltmann's social ethic, if cogent,
should demonstrate, however, that this revised doctrine of God based
on a theologia crucis may not be sound. To specify the weakness of his
constructive effort is the task of the rest of this essay.
The weak point in Moltmann's constructive proposal, it seems, is
this: his conception does not succeed in balancing the affirmation of
God's compassion with an affirmation of the power of God's grace. This
critical objection to Moltmann's position presupposes., to be sure, the
validity of the following basic theological assumption. An adequate Christian doctrine of God requires a balance and integration between the
divine attribute of goodness and the divine attribute of power, both in
relation to a concept of God's being. Christian theology must think
through the divine attributes of God's being, power, and goodness, in a
coherent, unified way. To define God's power in isolation from God's
grace, as, for example, William of Ockham did with his use of the distinction between God's potentia absoluta and potentia ordinata, is inadequate. The contrasting error is to consider God's grace apart from
God's power of being, which leaves God's power to save unclear or
implausible. Contemporary process theology appears to me vulnerable to
this criticism.
The warrant for this theological assumption seems obvious: it is the
gospel message of salvation. An adequate theological understanding of
God's saving work must clarify how God's power of being is effective
on our behalf (the doctrine of divine grace); an adequate theology must
also show how God's power is effective on our behalf, the doctrine of
the sufficiency of God's power of being in relation to the evil, sin, and
death creatures suffer. Moltmann's theological position does not accomplish the latter.
Moltmann's book presents a forceful, at times moving, affirmation of
God's compassion. In stark contrast to the apathetic, remote God of
metaphysical theism, who moves others but is never moved, Moltmann
posits die compassionate God of the Bible. Specifically, he presents the
suffering, dying Son in relation to the divine Father who suffered the
death of His beloved Son. Moltmann depicts God as one to whom suffering and death are no longer alien, a heavenly Father who out of free
compassion, took up, through the death of Jesus Christ, human suffering
and death into the history of His own divine, triune life. Moltmann
presents a doctrine of God's grace and compassion which militantly
rebuts the atheist who, because of Auschwitz, asserts that God doesn't
care.
The very force of Moltmann's assertion of God's compassion, however, makes that much more urgent an explanation of how this God can
save. If the history of God's triune being can include suffering and

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death, if God as Father, has, through die death of the divine Son, identified Himself with dying and death, what and where in the nature of
God's being are the resources to conquer that dying and death which
are now in God's own eternal being? Moltmann, in The Crucified God,
fails to answer this question, or even to address it directly. Yet an adequate theological doctrine of God is one which not only clarifies how
God identifies with our plight, but is one which also shows how God's
power of being is sufficient for us in our plight.
To assess The Crucified God apart from Moltmann's earlier book,
Theology of Hope, would be a mistake. In both books he is concerned
with a political hermeneutics of liberation. In Theology of Hope, however, the stress is on Christ's resurrection; in The Crucified God it is
on Christ's crucifixion. In both books the idea of God's history is central
In Theology of Hope, the stress is on the future of God's sovereignty in
relation to history, hope for which is born with Christ's resurrection, a
hope which should move Christians to social criticism and action. In
The Crucified God, the stress is on the significance of Christ's death for
the history of God and the history of human suffering. And in both
books the themes of God's history and human hope are linked by the
dialectic between Christ crucified and Christ raised. Rightly, Moltmann
claims that these two books do not contradict but rather balance each
other.
Using the idea of God's history and the theme of the dialectic between the crucified and resurrected Christ, Moltmann unambiguously
asserts God's power to save. But in both Theology of Hope and The
Crucified God, he leaves the ontological problem of God's power to
save unexplained. Where, in Theology of Hope, the issue of political
liberation was dominant, Moltmann's elusiveness about this question
could more easily pass unchallenged. But in The Crucified God, where
he argues that death is, in the confrontation and unity between the
Father and the Son, constitutive of God's being as history, the ontological question of God's power to save cannot be passed over. Christian faith affirms with Moltmann that the God who identifies with our
dying is a God who can save us. But Christian theology requires more
than asserting faith claims; it requires an attempt at least to understand
how this faith claim is plausible. Traditional metaphysical concepts in
theology tried to serve that purpose.
Moltmann acknowledges that to say God died on the cross would
be absurd. Not only would such a statement contradict the traditional
attribute of God's eternity, but it would render Christ's resurrection
impossible. Therefore, at the beginning of chapter six, his major constructive chapter, Moltmann sets aside the phrase "God is dead" in its
denotative sense, although he holds that, as a metaphorical statement,
the phrase has value. Instead of saying that God died when Jesus died,

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Moltmann argues that the cross is an event in God, an event which


occurs within God's trinitarian being (mitten im trinitarischen Sein
Gottes). Death, which would be impossible to ascribe to God within the
traditional metaphysical framework used to speak of God, can meaningfully be ascribed to God when God is conceived in a trinitarian fashion.
Here Moltmann is not successful.
Setting aside the traditional metaphysical God concept and adopting
a trinitarian model, Moltmann conceives Jesus' death as an event in
God between the Father and Son. (Note that Moltmann cannot avoid
speaking of God, as such, and even of God's being.) The Son, according
to Moltmann, suffers Godforsakenness and dying; the Father suffers the
death of the Son in the infinite pain of love. In this way, Moltmann
apparently thinks he avoids saying that God's beipg is subject to death,
because, focusing only on the relation between Father and Son, the
event of death occurs only to the Son, whereas the Father suffers the
Son's death only relationally, in the sense of suffering the infinite pain
of a loving Father for the Son whom He has abandoned to death. Yet
the logic of Moltmann's position, despite his dialectical skill, leads to
ascribing death to God's being, against his own intention. He even says
that God as Father constitutes the reality of Jesus Christ as Son, so
that when Jesus Christ dies as Son, the Father dies as Father.
The Son suffers dying (das Serben), the Father suffers the death of the Son. The
Father's pain is thus equal (von gleichem Gewicht) to the death of the Son.
The Son's loss of Father (Vaterlosigkeit) corresponds to the Father's loss of the
Son, and if God as Father constitutes Jesus Christ, then in the death of the Son,
the Father suffers the death of his being as Father (Vaterseins!). Otherwise, the
trinity doctrine would still have a monotheistic background (g.G., p. 230).

But since Moltmann clearly wishes to ascribe the death of Jesus


really, and not just verbally (p. 191) to the Son, then the death of the
Son, involving as death does die cessation of existence, must be ascribed
to the Father, and thus to God's being as Father. But if this is true, if
God's being in any sense is subject to death, then his whole position is
vulnerable to the criticism being raised. A God whose being is subject
to death can hardly raise either Jesus Christ or us from the dead.
Because Moltmann understands that early Christian theology not only
accepted but modified existing Greek metaphysical concepts of God to
help express the power of God's grace (p. 215), it is surprising that he
so facilely sets the metaphysical God concept aside and neglects the
ontological issue of God's power. Moltmann acknowledges that the early
use of the metaphysical God concept had, among others, a soteriological
function. He acknowledges too that when Ritschl rejected the metaphysical framework and replaced it with a moral one, he jeopardized
the doctrine of salvation. Thus he sees the importance of the ontological

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question, the question of the power of God's being in relation to death.


Yet Moltmann himself rejects the metaphysical framework and never
returns to the ontological question whose pertinence he accepts. This is
an unexpected flaw in his theological argumentation.
Concluding this assessment of Moltmann's constructive theological
proposal, this author would suggest that a more viable approach to the
doctrine of God would involve a broader basis than the cross of Christ.
One cannot agree with Moltmann's assertion that theologia crucis is the
center of theology as a whole and of the doctrine of God in particular.
In using the trinitarian conception of God for theology and ethics,
one would, like Moltmann, begin with Jesus of Nazareth, and christology.
This befits the centrality of Jesus Christ in the New Testament But
instead of beginning with the cross of Christ, theology should first
interpret the New Testament's witness to Christ in the light of the
Old Testament's witness to God, and, then, in relation to the concepts
of God in natural theology. Jesus Christ, after all, according to the New
Testament and Christian faith, established a new covenant The idea of
a new covenant implies both continuity and discontinuity with the faith
of Israel. The God whom Jesus obeyed and addressed in prayer as
Father was the God of Israel's faith. Paul, moreover, in Romans : ioif
and according to Acts 17: 24t appeals to a knowledge of God the creator
known in some real sense apart from and before the coming of Christ.
For the New Testament witness, then, the knowledge of God as Israel's
covenant partner and as creator of the world is not derived exclusively
from Christ, much less from Christ's cross. The New Testament presup
poses an understanding of God derived from salvation history mainly,
but also, secondarily, from the creation. Our knowledge of God through
Christ changes, indeed radically deepens, this understanding of God, but
does not simply replace it. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ
determines how we understand God's being and will for us; but faith
in Christ does not render unnecessary a prior understanding of God or
make irrelevant the metaphysical framework for understanding God.
Therefore, the Old Testament and philosophical theology are indispensible for Christian systematic theology.
Had Moltmann followed this more traditional line of theological
argumentation, he would not have neglected the doctrine of God the
creator and he would have then had a much more adequate basis for his
social ethic. And had he retained the metaphysical framework and tried
to reconstruct it (rather than simply set it aside) in the light of a trin
itarian conception grounded in Jesus as the incarnate Word, he would
have done greater justice to the question of God's power to save.
Moltmann's theology in The Crucified God helps us see the in
adequacies of the traditional metaphysical God concept. Thereby, as does
process theology, he addresses perhaps the central problem of theology

ETHICS ON A TRINITARIAN BASIS

179

today. But his constructive proposals demonstrate the dangers involved


when theology abandons the traditional metaphysical framework altogether without attending to the functions that framework, however inadequately, performed. In The Crucified God Moltmann addresses what
this author believes to be the most pressing task for modern theology
today: utilizing the resources of the trinity doctrine to reconstruct the
doctrine of God and its bearing on Christian ethics. If the constructive
proposals by a theologian of Moltmann's stature have major defects, the
extraordinary difficulty of that task is the more apparent.

^ s
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