Jürgen Moltmann as a Reformed theologian

In the latest issue of the Evangelical Quarterly, Nigel Wright has a fascinating article on the early theology of Jürgen Moltmann. Through an appraisal of his early (untranslated) works, Wright reveals the great extent to which Moltmann was self-consciously working within the Reformed tradition, beginning as a historical theologian covering the 16th century and as a student of Otto Weber. Regardless of whether you think Moltmann was too Hegelian and perhaps too Lutheran, you should be stimulated by his interpretation of varying Reformed trajectories, as either rationalistic or empirical-historical. These sort of categories tend to be too neat and easily controverted, but helpful all the same. Here is a snippet from Wright’s article, summarizing Moltmann’s interpretation of Beza and Ramus:

A conflict emerges therefore between the influential high Calvinism of the Beza school and the more historicist Ramist school generally opposed to it. The essence of the Ramist position was to take with a new seriousness a less abstract, less syllogistic, more empirical and practically engaged philosophy of history in the humanist tradition. This was seen in some Calvinist circles as a carrying through of the Protestant reformation into the realm of philosophy, the triumph of historical revelation over deductive philosophy. Over against Beza’s a priori, deductive approach to dogma, Ramus was positing a new a posteriori position which accented salvation history. In turn this was foundational for the growth of federal theology (foedus = covenant) which was rooted in the history of the biblical covenants.

Calvin by contrast [to the Beza school] was no speculative metaphysician but biblically speaking a rational empiricist, a dialectical positivist and a psychologist, patiently tracing the acts and works of God as revealed in salvation history and seeking to hold conflicting statements dialectically in tension. Ramism, and its effects upon later Calvinist recoveries of Calvin from the distorting impact of Beza’s approach, represented a legacy that was to form the basis of subsequent Calvinistic humanism, empiricism and pietism. It also contributed an impulse that would in time issue in the Enlightenment’s concern with history. For Moltmann, Petrus Ramus supports a recovery of the doctrine of predestination from its systematisation as a series of decrees and places it within the workings of the Triune God in history in intimate association with the purposes of God achieved through the covenants of God with humanity, with Israel and in Christ.

[Nigel Wright, “Predestination and perseverance in the early theology of Jürgen Moltmann,” Evangelical Quarterly 83.4 (2011), 336-337. The article is available as a pdf on EBSCOhost, assuming you have access through a college or seminary account.]

I tend to see these two approaches (rationalistic and empirical-historical) as complementary and not necessarily opposed as Moltmann has it. Moltmann’s reading is likely skewed a bit by his disdain for double predestination. He has to see this doctrine as a rationalistic slip in Calvin’s otherwise historical and practical orientation, whereas I would see it as evidence for my own position that the categories are complementary (with Calvin being a model of this).


  1. I greatly enjoyed, and learned some new things also, reading Jeffrey Mallinson’s book: Faith, Reason, And Revelation In Theodore Beza, (Oxford, 2003). As he shows, Calvin’s hand chosen leader for the ‘Genevan Academie’, was closer to Calvin in general, though certainly closer to natural philosophy & theology, and lived into the 17th century, dying at a late 86 years old.

    • Yes, make that Calvin and not so much modern “Calvinism”! 😉 I would agree with Bobby that Calvin believed and taught a general Atonement, with an explicit doctrine of the election of the elect. Which is really only seen within the historical Church Catholic – both East & West! But GOD alone knows this measure!

  2. Calvin taught double predestination:

    “We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others. Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak or him as predestined to life or to death.” (Institutes III.XXI.5)

    This is perfectly compatible with general or universal atonement, in my opinion, but Calvin was very explicit on the predestination of the reprobate, even viewing the reprobate as “created” for this end.

    • Yes, I agree that Calvin was a DP. I have one of his quotes for this on my blog. I am myself however, not sure I believe in the DP, in fact I tend toward the Infralapsarian. And I can even see at least Barth’s position, that in the end, only God knows, and maybe He will or can ultimately redeem universally? So like so many in the EO and the Reformed, we are dealing with the great mystery of God, here! And God will do what’s best for God, His character, purpose, and finally the Love of God! If that is DP? So be it, if it is universal, God’s will, mercy and love be done! What say you?

  3. And God will do what’s best for God, His character, purpose, and finally the Love of God! If that is DP? So be it, if it is universal, God’s will, mercy and love be done!

    Yes, I can agree with that, which is why I would hesitate to say that the reprobate were “created” for this end (reprobation). Assuming that there is a reprobate number — which seems likely according to Scripture — the final cause of their reprobation is unknown. The cause of our election is known (special grace), but reprobation does not have a symmetrical relationship with election (as if we could inverse the order of salvation and come-up with an order of damnation). This is what single predestination is trying to say, but double predestination is just an obvious corollary of non-universal predestination. The asymmetry of double predestination is standard fare among Calvinists (we covered it at RTS just a couple weeks ago); I would just add the possibility of universal salvation, which would make Christ the only reprobate man.

    • Kevin: Yes we agree here! 🙂 I must be willing to see what Barth saw, and perhaps even the possibility of universal salvation, as In Christ, if God so wills it! I am close to C.S. Lewis here that somehow the lost choose their own doom! But then there are God’s contingencies, which I see in the Irish Articles creedally…

      “11. God from all eternity did by his unchangeable counsel ordain whatsoever in time should come to pass: yet so, as thereby no violence is offered to the wills of the reasonable creatures, and neither the liberty nor the contingency of the second causes is taken away, but established rather.”

      Indeed God is a Mystery! At this point I don’t see “universal salvation”, with texts like John 17: 12 / 2 Cor. 2: 15-16, etc. And Barth is of course theologically brilliant, but so was/is Calvin! So I am treading along with the best of the Anglican Articles myself, but hopefully always looking at the Word & Spirit of God, and ready and willing to be taught and changed by God in Christ!

      • Btw, I am across this fine statement by John Calvin: “There is no worse screen to block out the Spirit than our confidence in our own intelligence.” Very humbling! In the end, GOD Himself must be our “theology”, His very ontology, reality and being, which is always triune love!

      • I’m actually doing a paper now, for one of my classes, on Barth’s massive excursus on Judas in CD II.2. The whole section, “The Determination of the Rejected,” is well worth reading slowly.

  4. Kevin,

    As a quibble, I don’t like when people claim to hold DP (as I take it you are claiming) but then have the same asymmetrical view of the matter that practically all reformed non-DP holding theologians would have. Something like Calvin’s “created for” reprobation is, to my view, DP; there may be a kind of asymmetry there, but it’s overshadowed by the overall symmetry: God’s will determines, apart from people’s actions/identies, their eternal destinies. If they are elect, you can say this will and determination is gracious, if reprobate, something else (here one can claim a kind of asymmetry). Since people really do and have held this view, I think it confuses the matter for one who don’t hold so extreme a position to call himself double-predestinarian, or claim such a position is compatible with the asymmetrical view I take to be a clear rejection of DP.

    i should confess I used to do the same thing, and argued the same way you have done so above (particularly on the reprobation is just a logical corollary of election, which it is not); I’ve just come to reject that because I know now, unequivocally, that I vehemently disagree with real double predestinarians and regard the position as pretty monstrous and a strong argument against Calvinism i.e., I sympathize with harsh critics of Calvinism who take doctrines like DP to throw the whole shmeer, assuming its logical, into suspicion. (But I have lots of problems with certain classically Reformed ways of framing things, even though I am Reformed, and they go far beyond the quibbles)

    • Thanks again, Joseph. I enjoy your insights. You are right that my qualifications to DP result in flattening the differences between Reformed single predestinarians (often Anglicans or mainline Presby’s) and DP’s. I take that as a good thing, and I think there are justifications for it in the tradition (including qualifications made in the WCF and Dort that uphold a basically infralapsarian scheme including the liberty of secondary/creaturely causation).

      Not surprisingly, my own position would combine Barthian supralapsarian themes with this basically infralapsarian scheme. I agree with Bavinck that both supra- and infra-lapsarianism are incomplete by themselves.

      To be clear, when push comes to shove, I’m willing to say that God withholds his grace from the reprobate (for reasons unknown) and applies special grace to the elect, which invariably raises the objection of Romans 9:19. If our own claims (about election) do not raise this objection, then we are parting from Scripture.

      • Kevin,

        Indeed when one looks at God’s providence in the whole, HE does seem to withhold His grace and favor unto so many? It is a great mystery to me living in this world that seems so steeped in evil, (Gal. 1:4). However, the Incarnation has also entered this world and defeated evil in some real spiritual sense, (John 1:3-5 ; 9-13, 14;18, etc.)..as St. Paul sees it too, (Col.2:9;15). There is so much I don’t know! But then I read Phil. 1:21, and as St. Paul says just to know and live ‘In Christ’, also somehow involves death in and to this world, or age!. (So again, Gal.1:4).

  5. Kevin,

    Thanks for the response. I still like Dort a great deal on election; I think it’s clearly distancing itself from DP in how much it goes out of its way, one could say, to distinguish how and why people are reprobated from how/why they are elect.

    As for Romans 9:19, tempt me not! It’s very difficult, and I confess I also used that argument, and still would, in that, if one fails to ask the questions Paul is addressing, one hasn’t been reading him right.

    How all that applies to election is difficult, of course, and I’ll leave that for another day.

  6. Coming form a much more ‘biblical studies-oriented’ approach, could it be that Calvin didn’t understand what election meant for the NT writers? As in, not ‘who will be saved’, but ‘who’s in the church community’ and therefore has the opportunity of salvation. Seems to me that this matches up more closely with Israel’s election: i.e, you were elect by virtue of being born as a Jew, but faith in YHWH was necessary for actual salvation.

    • Yes, this was the position of the Jewish elite Pharisee’s! 😉 As for Calvin, he at least seeks to deal with the great Pauline mystery of election…Romans chap’s 9-11, etc. Also St. Paul talks about his own divine election, Gal. 1:15-16. And in Romans 8: 30, and to St. Paul’s great question rhetorical in verse 33: “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? But certainly in the end, divine election is always ‘In Christ’, and it is God’s to give, perpetuate and sustain! (Rom. 8:30-39)

      So Calvin is never far from the reality of the doctrine of God!

    • Benjamin,

      That echoes what a lot of NPP folks would say, but I’m simply not convinced. Paul obviously has a corporate element to his doctrine of election, but the individualist element takes priority. This is part of Paul’s overall polemic against the Jews. As Robert points out, Paul is actually attacking a corporate view of election, perpetuated by the Jews. Test case: look at Romans 9 again. The objections in Romans 9 would not make any sense if Paul were primarily thinking in corporate categories.

      To be frank, I find this NPP stuff to be nauseating. I really can’t imagine Paul being more clear about the individual focus of election (the remnant, etc.) as part of a larger corporate election (the Jews first but now, in Christ, both Jew and Gentile).

      • Well said Kevin! And people wonder why I dislike the NPP work of NT Wright, it is just not exegetical or really historical! Oh yes, “nauseating” theologically says it all!
        Sometimes I wonder what the great mind of Barth would have said to my fellow Anglican brother N.T. Wright (“Tom”)? Now that would have been a debate, and to my mind, Barth would stand alone at the end! But hey, Barth is a modern Church Father! 🙂

  7. if I may butt in:

    Re: Calvin:

    Calvin taught double predestination:

    “We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others. Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak or him as predestined to life or to death.” (Institutes III.XXI.5)

    David: This is tricky Calvin language here. Most folk read stuff like this from Calvin mediated through decretal categories, so Calvin is read as saying, in the supralapsarian ordering, God decreed to elect some to life, and ordain some to death, and this logically before the to create and permit the fall. And so, to be clear, the common perception is that “reprobation” (itself a broad term theologically) is apart from consideration of sin and fall. God then, so the thought goes, decrees to create some men to be saved, some others to be damned, and this is apart from sin and fall.

    This is not Calvin at all. When Calvin speaks of creation to destruction, for sure he is invoking the Aristotelian idea (last in action/is first in thought), and thereby positing a unity within the divine will and decree. However, Calvin also affirmed that “reprobation” is always on the supposition of sin and fall. So for Calvin it would look more like this: On the supposition of sin and fall, God has created some to be saved and some to be damned.

    If we could inject lapsarian categories into Calvin–which is just wrong to do anyway–what he is saying echoes infralapsarianism, not supralapsarianism.

    The other problem is the word “reprobation.” Calvin never set out a systemic distinction in the forms as had been established by Aquinas, and other medievals, and which was picked up again by the later Reformed Orthodox. That is: reprobation can refer to the two-fold aspect of a) preterition (passing by, eg, unconditional non-selection) and b) ordination to condemnation (predamnation) on account of sin. This predamnation is never apart from the supposition of sin factored in. God only decrees to condemn a man on account of sin, never apart from the supposition of sin. Hence Calvin says, a man’s condemnation has for its proximate cause his own sin. However, the ultimate cause, for Calvin, why this man is saved and not this man (preterition), is the free will of God.

    Double predestination is also a tricky term. If we parse out election and reprobation we see the core point of content. Election has a twofold aspect, unconditional election to life (why this man and not that man) and unconditional ordination to glory. Both are unconditional decrees of God. However, in Reprobation, only preterition is unconditional, where God acts as King. But predamnation is always conditional (on account of sin) where God acts as Judge.

    No classic supralapsarian ever held to symmetrical causation, such that election and glorification mirror preterition and predamnation. Gomarus, Beza, Perkins, Twisse et al. Symmetrical causation has was only pushed or suggested by such as Herman Hoeksema and Gordon Clark because they rejected the concept of divine permission of sin. For example, if we have two forms of divine causation, 1) direct (efficacious, immediate causation), and 2) indirect (second causes propel themselves, permissive will, etc), and if we just void 2) all we have left with is 1). This led Hoeksema and Clark, and now folk like Cheung (as Ive read him) into contradiction and irrationalism in the final analysis.

    Hoeksema, for example, could not wrap his mind around the idea that God could decree to damn a man on account of sin his sin, as he would want to know how does that work? its causal mechanism? Is the sin itself not “caused” by God, for there is no place for permission of sin in his thinking. And likewise, all talk of God decreeing to damn on account of sin foreknown, is out of place for Hoeksema because that would entail knowledge apart from divine causation (the usual rubric: God’s foreknowledge is dependent upon the decree, not the other way around). There is more to his internal thinking but I will stop there. 🙂

    So what exactly is double Predestination as opposed to single Predestination? Any distinctions have to be more nuanced I think. I though Chris Donato’s distinctions was very interesting and deserves more analysis The Logical Order of Things About Which We Know Next to Nothing

    Kevin said:

    Not surprisingly, my own position would combine Barthian supralapsarian themes with this basically infralapsarian scheme. I agree with Bavinck that both supra- and infra-lapsarianism are incomplete by themselves.

    David: I dont know how one can do that? And in some ways I find Bavinck’s treatment unsatisfactory in the end. I would say the entire lapsarian project needs to be jettisoned. Calvin could affirm the unity and the apparent diversity of the divine decree, without any recourse to supra or lapsarian categories. Supralapsarian categories just lead one to knots and contradiction. For example, how and where does predamnation work for men like Gomarus and Beza? There only option is to separate the predamnation decree from preterition, else they have God decreeing to damn men without regard to sin. I think this is terminal for Supralsapsarianism. I think its best to go with Calvin (dont try to penetrate the labyrinth) and Davenant and Dabney and junk the whole lapsarian project. I personally think that at the end of the day its just a power-play (especially by supralapsarians today). It makes them feel more ‘Reformed’ etc.

    If in the end of the day we want to affirm both unity and diversity to the divine decree (as Bavinck wants to affirm) we can do that without giving supralapsarianism, indeed, the entire lapsarian project, a place at the discussion table. I think that’s the healthier way to go. Bavinck stumbles because he still wants to underwrite the legitimacy of supralapsarianism (it still has some place at the table, albeit reduced), etc etc.

    On a side note, it is good to see that Irish Anglican concedes that Calvin held to universal expiation (unless I am misrading that). I am curious what he thinks of Cranmer, Hooper, Ridley, Latimer, Bullinger, Musculus, Luther, et al.,?

    Thanks for your time

  8. Thanks, David. Just a couple quick comments (I’m in the middle of papers and finals):

    Yeah, I would not interpret Calvin as supralapsarian. Of course, the language of “created for this end” does raise the sort of questions/distinctions that Calvin does not address (leaving his followers to do so).

    Jettisoning the whole lapsarian project is fine by me! That’s why I like Bavinck’s wavering on the topic — seeing the truth in both sides. The distinction between eternity (God’s time without limitation) and our time (created and limited) should void any ordering. Perhaps you are right that Bavinck should have gone further and discarded both sides, but he probably saw too much value in what the infralapsarians are trying to secure (in theodicy).

  9. Great conversation going on here in the comments, but to the post re: Moltmann: My work on Milton over the years often comes back to Ramus, who was far more influential than our current narratives suggest. Especially pertinent to the study of Milton (for me, at least) is Ramus’ influence on the Amyraldians.

    iirc, didn’t Moltmann do his dissertation on Amyraut?

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