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The Dwelling Place of All-Consuming Fire

In his article in The Gospel of John and Christian Theology, “God in the World–The World in God,” Jürgen Moltmann offers some interesting theological engagement with the concept of perichoresis nascent in John’s gospel, but perhaps more interesting are his reflections on the progression of his own theological work. Put roughly, Moltmann claims that his thought moves “from eschatology to ecology,” namely from an emphasis on the God of promise and hope, the God of the exodus to the inhabitable Trinitarian God who draws the world into God’s own life. Thus, Moltmann sees himself as moving from a radically eschatological theology, to an ecological theology of divine-creaturely indwelling.

Now, this I take to be a generally negative move on Moltmann’s part. Moltmann’s move towards a pneumatocentric ecological theology of creation seems to me to be a profound devolution from his early eschatological work in Theology of Hope and The Crucified God.

However, Moltmann does make some interesting points in this recent essay, one of which is how a theology of the dwelling of God with God’s people is not necessarily a rejection of an apocalyptic theology of God’s invasion of the cosmos in favor of a sort of ecological-pneumatological immanentism (though I think Moltmann’s later works fail his own test on this score). He points to the Torahic narrative of the dwelling of Yahweh with Israel in the Exodus and the following sojourning of Israel in the wilderness. Yahweh descends and dwells with the people in his Shekinah presence in the tabernacle which signifies not any sort of immanence of God-in-us, but rather the dynamic presence of the transcendent which leads the people in the sojourn through the wilderness. “God’s presence in Israel does not lead them to rest in the desert, but into movement towards the promised land. It is a presence inaugurating history, not concluding history.”

Thus, the notion of God’s presence dwelling in God’s people, seen in the perspective of the Old Testament narrative, does not signify any sort of over-realized eschatology in which the church somehow possess the fullness of the beatific vision in its own life. Rather, it summons us to a vision of the uncontainable presence of the God who leads us as a consuming fire into a land we do not know and a future we cannot conceive (cf. 1 Cor 2:9). The claim that God dwells with us is no domestication or institutionalization of the uncontainable presence of God, nor a denial of God’s utter freedom. Rather we claim that God dwells in his people in utter fear, in awe of the transcendent presence that has claimed us and descended upon us in the ineffable decision of election. God’s intimate indwelling within the congregation of the faithful is not any sort of a claim to preacomplished eschatological beatitude, but rather a testimony that Christ is indeed and really “with us,” always leading us to the ends of the earth and the end of the age (Matt 28:20) as a inexhaustible, uncontainable fire who descends upon us and remains.

So, in a way that is not immediately obvious, the language of the church as the “dwelling place” of God, or the “home” of the Trinitarian life on earth is not a claim to the church’s own possession or capacity. Rather it is a claim that the church is an absolute emptiness into which the consuming fire of the Triune God descends, transfiguring, consuming and leading us on into the uncharted reaches the wilderness in which we sojourn, awaiting the city that is to come, whose maker and builder is God (Heb 11:10).

4 Comments

  1. Mike Bull wrote:

    Dear Halden

    Could you explain in more detail his “pneumatocentric ecological theology of creation”? Sounds interesting.

    Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 2:14 am | Permalink
  2. Miller wrote:

    I think you need to explain why you see his move as a devolution, esp. in light of what he means by indwelling and transcendence.

    Friday, October 17, 2008 at 7:21 am | Permalink
  3. poserorprophet wrote:

    Halden,

    I’ve asked myself the same question about the trajectory of Moltmann’s theology. Personally, it makes me wonder (yet again) about the impact one’s context has upon one’s theology.

    But, then again, who knows. There is something compelling about Moltmann’s description of God as the “broad place” in whom we live and move and have our being.

    Friday, October 17, 2008 at 12:33 pm | Permalink
  4. Interesting and well spoken,Halden.

    Monday, October 20, 2008 at 4:03 am | Permalink

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