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Episode Summary

Miroslav Volf remembers his mentor and friend, German theologian Jürgen Moltmann, who passed away on June 3, 2024.

Jürgen Moltmann (April 8, 1926 – June 3, 2024)

On June 3,2024, Jürgen Moltmann died. He was one of the greatest theologians of our time. I met him for the first time when, in April of 1979, on my way from California back home to Yugoslavia, I stopped in Germany to inquire whether I could do doctoral work under his supervision. In the summer of 1980, I moved to Tübingen (where he taught from 1967 until his retirement in 1994), and in the fall he became, as Germans say, my Doktorvater —doctoral father. We soon became friends. His influence on my life and my theology has been profound.

Moltmann had become world famous some 15 years earlier. Publication of the English translation of his Theology of Hope was front page news in the New York Times. Many people in the United States read it as a response to the so-called “death of God” theology; at the time, “death of God” theology seemed like a tsunami in the ocean of theology, but turned out to be no more than a small ripple. Moltmann’s work, however, left a major mark on modern theology. Eloquent witness to his influence are the more than 500 (!) doctoral dissertations on his theology written thus far; I know of one more being written even now. He was a brilliant theologian, and a highly creative one as well. The great attraction of his theology is that it is “fresh,” close to the pulse of life. He wrote about things that move people—about suffering and joy, about exploitation, discrimination and solidarity, about the travails of God’s creatures under human greed, about life and death. And he wrote about life by exploring the great themes of Christian faith: God, Christ, Spirit, creation, redemption, and new creation.

Jürgen and Miroslav in Tübingen in 2014

Moltmann acquired a reputation of being a “political theologian,” and this he certainly was. But he was a champion of the church as well, especially those churches which he saw pulsating with new life. He himself was a convert to the Christian faith, and for him the Gospel was always a message of life-giving hope. Incongruous as it may sound to many, he was a friend of both Paul Yonggi Cho, the pastor of the largest Christian congregation in the world, and of Robert Schuller, so flamboyant in his TV presence; Moltmann preached in both the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea and the Crystal Cathedral in California.

My last contact with Moltmann was 9 days before he died. On May 25, I sent him an email inquiring how he was doing and giving him a bit of an update on what was happening in my life. The next day, I received a longish response, which started with, “Es geht mir gut”—“I am well.” He was positive and full of hope until the very end.

Last April, I received from him a copy of his talk at the celebration of his 97th birthday. In it, he reflects about his impending death:

Every morning I am amazed that I am still here. ... To die means to let go. I am preparing myself for this. To die means to give one’s life over to God. I am preparing myself for that, too. The raising to eternal life is my hope in life and in death. The eternal life will also be lived. This is the life of God’s new creation. Death is like a birthday to new life in God’s kingdom. Every morning of every new day that hope gives me new courage to live. But I did not invite you here to ponder things with me but to rejoice with me. Let us toast to life—here and there!

I mourn his passing. But perhaps his death is not just an occasion for mourning but for celebration as well. “Let us toast to his life — here and there!”

Miroslav Volf
June 5, 2024

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