Moltmann and Pannenberg - Theology of Hope Essay

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Moltmann and Pannenberg - Theology of Hope

Jeremiah 29:11 - For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

A theological shift that took place in the 1960s involved an attempt to understand Christianity based on a deep focus on the awareness of Jesus' impending return and what it would mean for mankind and a hope for the future. As mankind has become increasingly unhappy with society's ills -- crime, evil, violence, hatred, and death -- a hope has developed that is rooted in peace and justice. There are many theologians who have contributed to this body of thought. Jurgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg are two such central figures who share many similar perspectives about the theology of hope. This paper looks at them in more detail, as well as some differences in their points-of-view.

As theologians, both Moltmann and Pannenberg place a great deal of emphasis on eschatology, a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind (Harvie, 2008). Both develop their theology from a Trinitarian understanding of God. However, Moltmann is much more focused on practical realities and the experiences of life and with what the Trinity's story of suffering says about the nature of God (Schweitzer, 20102). Specifically, Moltmann is more concerned with the promise of God to act in the future in than His actions in the past. God, in his opinion, suffers along with mankind and understands intimately our joys and sorrows. He has promised to bring about a change, through the sacrifice of his only begotten son.

According to Moltmann, Christ's resurrection will mark the beginning of a new era and the promise of a positive, peaceful future as promised by God (Schweitzer, 2012). The crucifixion served as a means for mankind to achieve everlasting life. Thus, all those who believe can be hopeful despite what pain the world around us may bring. In 1967, Moltmann wrote a book entitled Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of Christian Eschatology. In it he challenges Christians to not be passive participants while awaiting the Kingdom of God, but actors who have a role in making the world a better place (Schweitzer, 2012). We are to dwell in practical realities in which we do not just observe human misfortune, but we act to make our time inhabiting the physical, world better. Not just for ourselves, but for others as well. In short, we work through the present with a hope for the future that we know we can trust because it has been bought with Christ's life and promised by God. For Moltmann eschatology is not the end of the world; rather, it is the beginning and the foundation of our hope and faith. In this famous work, he writes:

Eschatology means the doctrine of the Christian hope, which embraces both the object hoped for and also the hope inspired by it. From first to last, and not merely in the epilogue, Christianity is eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present (page 16).

The nature of God in Moltmann's eyes is that of a loving father. God will rescue mankind from suffering, evil and death. He understands the human condition and has promised to save those who believe. We can conclude from Moltmann's words that he believes that God is inherently good, although he allows us to dwell in a suffering world (Schweitzer, 2012). Suffering is not rationalized; rather, Moltmann establishes it and God's participation in our lives through his observance and testing of our faith through challenges. God's words and instructions are to serve as a roadmap for the true Christian. Hope is the one true way to overcome suffering. We should live justly, fairly, and rightly and lean on God's promise of victory over evil.

Wolfhart Pannenberg shares many of these same perspectives and is also a very influential figure in the theology of hope. His works include Revelation as History (1968) and Jesus, God and Man (1968). Pannenberg's perspective was one of systematic theology involving an eschatological orientation that centers on hope. Pannenberg's offers an understanding of the resurrection as the beginning and emphasizes this way more than Moltmann. He is greatly concerned with the authenticity of the resurrection as a true historical event in which Jesus Christ experienced an eschatological transformation. Pannenberg classifies this transformation as the hope and ultimate destiny of humanity (Hallenger, 2008). Thus, humanity lives with a hopeful expectancy to God's Kingdom to come. Only at that time, the glory of God will be fully realized.

Both Moltmann and Pannenberg turn to the eschaton not as God's justification of suffering, but as God's overcoming of the suffering of the world (Harvie, 2008). This is the foundation of the theology of hope. Pannenberg's views the eschaton as the actual completion of creation. The present, time-based world is connected to the future Creator God through the work of the Spirit (Hallenger, 2008). At the eschaton, the present world and its hardships and suffering will meet the future God and be made new -- something to be hopeful about. History and earthly time will end; God's kingdom will come to fruition and evil will end.

Similarly Moltmann looks to a future time when creation will be redeemed. God's true purpose, he offers, is not in the present sufferings but in the coming eschatological future God has promised. To Moltmann, however, we should not be focused on history and the time-space continuum as we experience it (Schweitzer, 2012). This is where he diverges from Pannenberg in his analysis (Hallenger, 2008). In the Way of Jesus Christ he offers:

Anyone who describes Christ's resurrection as 'historical', in just the same way as his death on the cross, is overlooking the new creation with which the resurrection begins, and is falling short of the eschatological hope….Since death makes every life historical, death has to be seen as the power of history. Since resurrection brings the dead into eternal life and means the annihilation of death, it breaks the power of history and is itself the end of history (page 21).

Despite these differences in certain perspectives, both theologians focus on the role of Jesus Christ who ultimately represents God's promise of the future. Pannenberg focuses on the work of God through history, writing about evidence of God's work at all stages of the history of creation (Harvie, 2008). The most telling example of God's love, according to Pannenberg, is evident in Jesus' incarnation which overshadows a coming end to evil, the power of sin and death (Hallenger, 2008). Moltmann understands the significance of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection in a different light. If the cross represents this present life, the life-in-history, then the resurrection is the promise of the future resurrection of humanity and of God's new creation (Schweitzer, 2012). It is the promise that suffering will be overcome and the basis of all hope. Moltmann offers that the eschatological event should be humanity's hope -- something to rally around and use as a comfort for everyday living.


The Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God's purpose for the world. Both Moltmann and Pannenberg's theologies of hope are centered in the resurrection of the crucified Christ and view it as the source of optimism for mankind. For Moltmann the resurrection is not a historical event that is trusted as having happened, it is a truth into which humanity participates through the mission of the risen Christ. Pannenberg argues for a more historical characterization of the resurrected…

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