April Book Notes – 2

This is my second list of book notes for this month. The first can be read here. It’s been a month of reading around themes of hope. To that end, few are better friends to turn to than Jürgen Moltmann, whose writings grow on me more every year. He seeks to give voice to many of the questions of existential bite that I wrestle with, and along the way creates the invitation for the kind of open and informed conversation that I believe theology ought to be having much more often. So, to the list of highlights:

Richard Bauckham, ed., God Will Be All in All: The Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001).

This is a valuable collection of 6 critical reflections on Jürgen Moltmann’s eschatology (and 8 responses by Moltmann) that arose from a conversation at St Andrews some years back between Richard Bauckham, Trevor Hart, Timothy Gorringe and Moltmann (there’s also a essay by Miroslav Volf, who was not present). Who would not have loved to have been a fly on the wall in that room! Anyone who wants to engage with Moltmann’s impressive vision – and contemporary theology more generally – could do little better than familiarise themselves with these indispensable interactions. I reckon it’s worth buying just to read Moltmann’s brilliant 5-page essay on ‘The Logic of Hell’. The main drawback is that Bauckham (who is the editor after all) spills more than his fair share of ink and it may have been preferable to have some other voices included, or just a shorter book. ♦♦♦½

Brian Hebblethwaite, The Christian Hope (Basingstoke: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1984).

In this study, Brian Hebblethwaite provides the reader with a helpful survey of the tradition of Christian hope in both its classical and modern dialects. While sometimes his brevity leads him to so simplify the facts that he distorts them, this book is a useful introduction to some of the key names and issues that have informed Roman and Protestant eschatological discourse. ♦♦♦

Jürgen Moltmann, In the End – The Beginning: The Life of Hope (trans. Margaret Kohl; Philadelphia: Fortress, 2004).

This was a re-read for me, and not for the last time. One of Moltmann’s best. ♦♦♦♦

Geoffrey Rowell, Hell and the Victorians: A Study of the Nineteenth-Century Theological Controversies concerning Eternal Punishment and the Future Life (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974).

I am aware of no more comprehensive – or important – study on nineteenth-century thinking concerning questions of heaven and hell than this one. That Rowell’s work remains a standard text after 30 years is testimony in itself to its abiding value. (The more-recent work by Michael Wheeler, Death and the Future Life in Victorian Literature and Theology (along with its popular-level version, Heaven, Hell, and the Victorians (1994)) is also very valuable.) While Rowell’s study (too) largely neglects non-conformist voices and, to a lesser extent, voices from within evangelicalism (Anglican or otherwise), the treatment remains a valuable and encyclopaedic study! ♦♦♦♦

John Arthur Thomas Robinson, In the End, God.: A Study of the Christian Doctrine of the Last Things (London: James Clarke & Co., 1950).

Though pushing close to 60 years old (Forsyth did encourage us to ‘think in centuries’, after all!), and in parts showing its age, this short treatment remains a useful study, not least for the fact that herein Robinson outlines some critical contours in which the conversation regarding eschatology should take place. I found the chapters on the resurrection of the Body, and ‘The End of the Lord’, to be the most fruitful. Here’s a few tasters:

‘Indeed, every statement of Christian eschatology, whether of the end of the person or of the world, is an inference from some basic truth in its doctrine of God, and must be judged and tested accordingly. False ideas of the last things are direct reflections of inadequate views of the nature of God’. (p. 31)

‘The hope of immortality is a corollary of faith, but yet of a faith which knows no personal God. In consequence, it is a hope that can hold out no guarantee of the future as a life of personal communion’. (p. 79)

‘The sole basis for such a doctrine [of universalism], as more than wishful thinking, is the work of God in Christ’. (p. 108)

‘The recovered awareness is the “the Christian lives not at the End of Time, but rather from the End and in the End of Time” (Lambert). [The Christian] sees everything from an eschatological perspective. The Biblical world-view is not obtained by regarding all things under the form of a timeless eternity, nor as ideally they might be, but as they are already in Christ, the End’. (p. 125).

Covers an impressive amount of material in an easily accessible way. ♦♦♦♦

Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology (trans. Margaret Kohl; Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2004).

It is impossible for me to do justice to this book in a wee book note. Suffice it to say that there is a sense that in this book all that this great teacher has been saying previously – about God, creation, ecclesiology, hope, justice, christology, pneumatology, soteriology, mission, Sabbath, shekinah …everything – reaches its head. Like the best of muscats, this one is to drink slowly, and often. Here’s Moltmann on the fullness of God:

In order to grasp the fulness of God, we are at liberty to leave moral and ontological concepts behind, and to avail ourselves of aesthetic dimensions. The fulness of God is the rapturous fullness of the divine life; a life that communicates itself with inexhaustible creativity; an overbrimming life that makes what is dead and withered live; a life from which everything that lives receives it vital energies and its zest for living; a source of life to which everything that has been made alive responds with deepest joy and ringing exultation. The fulness of God is radiant light, light reflected in the thousand brilliant colours of created things. The glory of God expresses itself, not in self-glorying majesty, but in the prodigal communication of God’s own fullness of life. The glory of God is not to be found, either, in his laborious self-realization by way of his self-emptying, but follows upon that of the eternal day of resurrection (p. 336).

Amen, and Amen. ♦♦♦♦½

James Baldwin Brown, The Doctrine of Annihilation in the Light of the Gospel of Love (London: Henry S. King & Co., 1875).

J. Baldwin Brown was PT Forsyth’s pastor, and his influence on the young Forsyth is obvious in a number of areas, eschatology among them. This series of lectures was penned and presented at a time when conditional immortality was an even more richly debated topic than it is today in the post-Fudge world. While much of what Brown has to say in his critique of annihilationism is inadequately developed, his instincts remain valuable, and his pointing us to towards the broader scope of God’s redemptive purposes as the overflow of his own community of love puts the discussion at least on the right page. ♦♦♦½

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