Jürgen Moltmann as a Reformed theologian
November 27, 2011
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).