By Derrick Jean-Baptiste
Last week on Monday, Oct. 11, the Lakeland community had the chance of a lifetime to see a rock star in the theologian field perform his craft at our very own Florida Southern College campus. Ninty year-old theologian Jürgen Moltmann gave a lecture at the Warren W. Willis Lecture series and spoke on “Culture of Life in the Dangers of This Time.”
The free lecture started at about 7 p.m. and ran until a little over 9 p.m. in the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel. To understand why this was such a monumental occasion, one must understand the background of Moltmann and understand just why he is considered such a monolith in the field of Theology.
Moltmann was born in Hamburg, Germany, on April 8, 1926. While he eventually grew up to be a world-renowned theologist, if Moltmann was asked, he would admit that he grew up in a rather secular household. Because of this Secular influence as a boy, Moltmann wanted to grow up to study science and mathematics. At this point, theology held no sway in his life.
In 1944, Moltmann finished his pre-university schooling and began to take his university entrance exams to continue on with his education. But instead of receiving his classroom assignments, Moltmann instead received letters to go to war and was drafted into the German army.
Moltmann was sent to the front lines in the Belgian forest, as an Air Force auxiliary. Even on the way to war, Moltmann continued to try and immerse himself with learning materials and brought a few books with him. Moltmann called these books his “Iron Rations” and these books were a collection of Goethe’s poems as well as the nihilistic works of Friedrich Nietzsche. The latter in fact actually influencing his later theories of theology.
When finally reaching the battlefield, Moltmann quickly realized that he was unfit for war. After experiencing a few more days in his personal hell, Moltmann made the decision to run away from war, and in 1945 he surrendered in the dark to the first British Soldiers he met.
From 1945 to 1948, Moltmann was confined as a prisoner of war.
As a POW, Moltmann was moved to camps all across eastern Europe. His time as a POW had a powerful effect on his life, because it was in the camps that he had time to be alone and reflect on the devastating impact of the war the world was enthralled in at that time. It was in the camps that Moltmann met a number of Christian ministers and was given multiple copies of the Bible to read, having his first introduction to Christian theology. It was this time with the Christian ministers coupled with his time of reflection that gave Moltmann the will to strive down the path to becoming a theological titan.
In 1947, Moltmann and a group of other POW’s attended one of the first postwar Christian Movement Conference. At the conference, Moltmann’s life was once again deeply affected by his choices, and he was finally able to find words to explain what he was feeling throughout his time at the POW camp. After he was finally able to return to Hamburg Moltmann immediately began to pursue theological training.
The roots of Moltmann’s theology was grown by his time in the British POW camps. He observed that the prisoners of war that fared the best were the ones that were the most hopeful. Through his studies after the war, he continued to see that Christianity as a whole was ignoring the panacea that hope offers individuals. This became the groundwork of a common ideology attributed to Moltmann, the Theology of Hope.
Moltmann quickly rose up in academia as one of the leading proponents of the theology of hope. According to the theology of hope God’s promise to act in the future is more important than the fact that he has acted in the past. We are forced to focus on the future, not to withdrawal from the world in the hope that a better world will somehow come to fruition, but to be active participants in the world in order to bring upon the coming of a better world.Moltmann eventually proposes that Christian hope should be the motivating factor in the life of the church and each Christian who subscribes to a church.
Having the chance to see Jürgen Moltmann at our prestigious school was a once in a lifetime opportunity that should have been taken advantage of. It is not everyday that an individual that has shaped the very definition of a Christian gives an in-depth look into their own ideology.