God’s Spirit and the Good Earth
God in Creation, by Jurgen Moltmann (Harper and Row, 1985; xvi + 365 pp.; $25.95, cloth). Reviewed by Stanley J. Grenz, North American Baptist Seminary, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
For Americans, Jurgen Moltmann is perhaps the most influential German theologian writing today. Moltmann, who teaches at Tubingen, has gained a reputation as “the pastor’s theologian,” and his latest book will only add to that renown.
God in Creation is the second installment in a projected five-volume series of what Moltmann calls “Messianic Theology.” Although it may appear to be Moltmann’s doctrine of Creation, he intends it as a contribution in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
Actually, the book defies traditional doctrinal categories. Moltmann weaves together materials from various doctrines—theology, anthropology, Christology, soteriology, eschatology—around his central theme, the Holy Spirit as the presence of the triune God in creation. In this symphonic presentation, he masterfully integrates such diverse concepts as ecology, covenant, and the glory of God.
For a relatively short work, God in Creation is encyclopedic. Moltmann finds space to include thoughts on natural theology, to take a jibe at process theology, to interact with the evolution-creation controversy, and to offer a definition of the concept of health.
Chapter 9 is especially exhilarating. There Moltmann describes the human person as bearing both the imago mundi (image of the world) and the imago Dei (the image of God). Building on the debates of the Reformation, Moltmann defines the image of God as “God’s relationship to human beings.” Although wholly sinful, the human person remains wholly in God’s image. The image of God is completed, however, only “at the end of God’s history with human beings.”
The Importance of Sabbath
In addition, many readers will find Moltmann’s treatment of the Sabbath worthy of further reflection. In a departure from the human-centered theology of the mainstream, he claims that in the biblical tradition, the crown of Creation is not humanity but the Sabbath. This theocentric or God-centered understanding, Moltmann maintains, allows the human person to understand oneself as a member of the “community of creation.”
For Moltmann, the Sabbath symbolizes the presence of God in creation and the creature’s reception of rest and redemption in God. The weekly Sabbath points beyond the temporal rest of that day to the eternal Sabbath in God’s new Creation. Because of the significance of the seventh day, Moltmann calls for its reincorporation into the worship life of the church. This does not entail setting aside Sunday as the day of resurrection. Rather, he advocates implementing “Sabbath stillness” on the eve of Sunday as a step toward reappropriating the link between the “Lord’s Day” and Israel’s Sabbath.
Some evangelical readers will take issue with the book’s fundamental theme. Moltmann’s close association of the Holy Spirit with God’s presence in creation may be (erroneously?) perceived as pantheistic. But another caution is more certain. The author tends to speak of the Spirit too exclusively in terms of God’s activity in creation, to the near exclusion of the Spirit as God at work in salvation.
God in Creation is not easy reading. But being Moltmann at his best, it is challenging and provocative. And for evangelicals interested in contemporary theology, it is must reading.
Certainty in the Dock
The Myth of Certainty, by Daniel Taylor (Word, 1986, 154 pp.; $10.95, cloth). Reviewed by John Crosby, associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Glen Ellyn, Illinois.
Television brings into sharp contrast two views of life. There is the TV evangelist, so certain of faith that those watching wonder why they ever doubt. At the same time, another channel shows the marvels of the secular scientist, who implies that no “thinking person” can long hold to belief in a personal God. The channel-switching viewer is left with a dilemma: Can faith survive in the modern world, and can we have confidence in that faith? Is there a touchstone of certainty in an uncertain world?
Daniel Taylor’s The Myth of Certainty is for those who are caught in the tension between secular thought and Christian faith. A professor of English at Bethel College (St. Paul, Minn.), Taylor struggles because he finds both subcultures attractive. He embraces the essentials of Christianity while seeing it in conflict with the world of secular thought.
The Myth of Certainty examines the plight of reflective Christians, those both “blessed and cursed” by inquisitive minds. Reflective thought leads naturally to complexity, resisting simple claims while seeking ultimate issues. Too often reflective persons are paralyzed by a ceaseless ambivalence. They are those “whose minds grind on endlessly but whose wills are frozen.”
The challenge for reflective Christians is twofold. On the one hand, they must resist identifying the church with the will of the God it represents, to hold it prophetically to account. (Too often, Taylor writes, narrow or sloppy thought is covered with claims of piety.)
On the other hand, Christians must find the divine Word coming through the church, rather than rationalizing away a call to action or embracing a cynical defensiveness.
How To Find Truth
If the church shackles the believer who has questions, Taylor says the secular intelligentsia tend to deify questions. Ours is a society whose “contemporary intellectual orthodoxy is: doubt everything.”
The church and secular thought both make claims to Truth as their goal, one through faith and the other through reason. Taylor is particularly helpful in showing the drawbacks of contemporary faith in reason. Reason is a powerful tool, but it is frequently abused to further a particular bias, and usually inadequate to assess Truth. “In fact reason recedes in most of the truly critical areas of human experience (love as a prime example) largely because there are forces at work with which reason is inadequate to deal.”
What remains to find Truth? Taylor puts forth Faith, but not as the pseudorationalistic tool so many in the church affirm. Linking absolutes to faith is fatal, he suggests. The careful Christian apologist quickly realizes that belief in absolutes is just that—a belief. We must transcend doubt by accepting it into faith, rather than suppressing it. Faith is not so much a system of beliefs to defend or expand, but more a relationship with God to be lived out, experienced. It is in the doing of tasks, in obeying, that faith will be verified and the force of doubt lessened.
The Myth of Certainty is an ambitious undertaking. Though Taylor’s writing is elegant, the breadth of subject forces leaps in argument that in a more academic setting would require buttressing. But the insertion of fictional interludes, featuring a college teacher’s struggle with unreflective Christians, gives the work perspective, showing how both doubt and faith emerge in the world of the reflective Christian. All in all, Taylor gives believers a refreshing view of Christian faith and of the gulf that separates it from the dominant thought system of our society.
Is Neurosis For Real?
The Myth of Neurosis, by Garth Wood (Harper and Row, 1986, 294 pp.; $15.45 cloth, $7.95 paper). Reviewed by H. Newton Malony, professor and director of programs in the integration of psychology and theology, Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary.
Psychiatrist Garth Wood contends that far too much credence has been given to the idea that people suffer from a disease called “neurosis,” just as they do from mumps or pneumonia. He suggests that this “medical” model of mental illness has little if any validity. “Neurosis” is a myth, according to Wood.
Instead, he proposes that those who suffer from neurotic symptoms are victims of the violation of their own ethics. He sees them as suffering the pangs of guilt—known or unknown. The cure, from Wood’s point of view, is “moral therapy”: to cease projecting the blame onto the environment or illness and, instead, to reflect anew on one’s inner values. This reflection should lead to a change of lifestyle that, in turn, should lead to freedom from neurotic symptoms.
Actually, there is little here that has not been said before—and better. Thomas Szasz has long been seriously questioning the legitimacy of mental “illness.” And for at least 20 years before his death in 1983, O. Hobart Mowrer thoroughly critiqued the psychoanalytic theory that neurosis was caused by a too-severe superego. In place of a too-severe superego, Mowrer called for increasing, rather than releasing, the power of conscience, and for the confession of real guilt. He agreed with Wood that much neurosis was due to unadmitted wrongdoing and called for acts of atonement that would lead to mental health.
However, Mowrer’s analysis was much more sophisticated than Wood’s. About all Wood seems to offer is the recommendation that one get one’s behavior in line with one’s values, whatever they may be. Wood, like Job’s friends in the biblical story, seems to suggest that what masquerades as neurosis will automatically disappear if one will just admit the wrong that one has done. The “wrong” is determined by whatever one’s value system happens to be. Wood points to no objective ground of morality.
It May Work, But Is It Right?
A much better example of his basic position can be seen in Martin and Deidre Bobgan’s The Psychological Way—The Spiritual Way (Bethany Fellowship). The Bobgans take an absolutist position that values are grounded in God’s revelation in the Holy Bible. Thus, their suggestion that spiritual counseling will heal most of what was formerly known as neurosis is grounded in a position that is far more substantive than Wood’s discussion.
It is no wonder that Wood feels that the best counseling is done by “friends” rather than “therapists.” About all friends can advise is how to do things better. There is no guarantee that friends, any more than therapists, will know what true wisdom is all about. Frankly, I believe that a better name for Wood’s “moral therapy” would be “practical therapy.” He seems far less interested in what is right than in what will work.
Perhaps I am being too harsh. The book is well written, and the appendixes entitled “A Layman’s Guide to Psychiatric Diagnosis” and “The Evidence Against Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy” have a certain populist appeal. However, even here, any layman who attempted to use the “Guide” would need far more than a high school education. And the evidence against “talking therapies” fails to take into account the serious efforts to increase the efficacy of such help or the fact that “neighborly good advice to shape up,” his recommended model, has an even worse record of healing.
There is no doubt that Wood sounds an important note in calling for persons to take responsibility for self-healing by listening anew to the voice of conscience. However, he does not do it well and, because of that, what effect his book could have is lost in a diatribe against the legitimacy of professional mental health treatment and a problematic disavowal of the validity of neurosis.
While some emotional disturbance is, indeed, a problem of conscience, not all of it is of this nature. Nor are all mental health professionals charlatans, as Wood implies, or greedy voyeurs who enjoy being paid to deal with the mess in others’ lives.
Christianity Today Talks To Jurgen Moltmann
God in Creadon can be called an “ecological doctrine of the Spirit.” Do you believe ecological problems should be a major concern of the church in the next ten years?
You cannot open a daily newspaper in Germany without reading about another ecological crisis. There are now no living fish left in the Rhine. More than 60 percent of the Black Forest is sick and dying. Germany is overpopulated and overindustrialized. The “ecological crisis” is the daily crisis of our lifetime.
To respect the integrity of creation must become the practice of the Christian belief in God the Creator, and in this world as his beloved creation.
How do you respond to evangelical Christianity in the U.S. and Great Britain? You once expressed a concern that Christianity had become too “privatized” in those circles.
I am always praising evangelicals for their emphasis on a personal rebirth to a living hope through the experience of the Holy Spirit. But I reject the axiom that “religion is a private matter.” This privatization of faith is a prison for the Christian faith, denying the universal lordship of Christ and stunting the Christian life of true discipleship. Whoever has experienced Christ in the depth of his personality sees the whole world, political and economic, under Christ’s judgment and Christ’s promise. Personal experience of faith and public, political concern must not be separated.
You have a well-deserved reputation for being a biblically oriented theologian. How did this develop?
I was drawn into the reading of the Bible when I got my first Bible from an American army chaplain as a young prisoner of war in 1945, while I was in a Belgian prison camp. The psalms of lamentation spoke to me when I felt completely lost and forsaken. And then the passion story of Jesus spoke to me, because I felt that Christ understood me in my situation. Step after step I discovered the gospel and the promise of God for the poor and the imprisoned.
The Bible is the book which rescued me from resignation and despair. I would not call myself a biblicist or fundamentalist, because I would not identify every human word of the Bible with the Word of God. The Bible is, however, the chosen means, or the “earthly vessel,” of the Word. It is the chosen witness of the Word of God, and through it God himself is speaking to human beings to save them. I am sure the Bible is working in the life of contemporary Christianity and theology in ways similar to my own personal experiences.
In 1978 you delivered a popular lecture on the subject “Do we need a theology of liberation?” Do we need it still?
The growing “theology of liberation” of oppressed people in the Third World demands a new “theology of repentance” in the First World. If oppressed people need divine liberation to become free and human, oppressing people need this divine grace more, in order to become free and human, and to return to human fellowship with their victims.
Do you have any criticisms of the liberation movement?
I do not criticize the liberation movement of oppressed people. I want to understand and support it. What I would like to see more of is a concern not only for themselves, but also for other people. If you act locally, you must at the same time think globally. And if I understand and support liberation movements in the Third World, I cannot forget the oppressed peoples and persecuted Christians in other parts of the world, including my relatives in East Germany, then my friends in the Soviet Union and Romania, as well as the Polish people.
A. J. Conyers is a professor of Bible, Central Missouri State University.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.