Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Open Church

The Open Church
Jurgen Moltmann

I actually came across this book while reading another book that often cited it in its notes. That book is The Shaping of Things to Come. I actually put it down in order to read The Open Church. I searched for a while to find it, and ultimately found it for a reasonable price on Ebay. The link in the title is to Amazon, which lists it for a fairly high price.

I fully realize that many people would automatically discount the writings of Moltmann based purely on what they have been taught in school, or by their well intended pastor. I still vividly remember being asked by an ethics prof at SWBTS why I was reading The Crucified God because Moltmann was a heretic. His theology and writings are certainly rich with the theme of social justice and the underpinnings of liberation theology. This book does have its leanings in this area as it stresses the union through suffering aspect of Christianity and care for the poor and oppressed. When one learns the history of Moltmann, especially the time he spent as a POW, you begin to understand his theological stance for justice for those who lack. The perspective of this book is ultimately summed up in the challenge to refocus church to a compassionate community of people who seek to live Christ in the world. The church must be a committed group of believers who have sought to discover their unique spiritual make up of gifts, passions, and abilities and put this into practice daily outside the walls of a structure called church. In his eyes the church is not necessarily comprised of like-minded people, but rather God created individuals with the common goal of making the truth of Christ known in the world.

In honor of Ben Cole here are some money quotes:

"... the most crucial thing the congregation has to regain today is passion."

"Every Christian congregation must be formed charismatically by discovering the special gifts and talents which have been given by the Spirit to each person."

"The Christian lifestyle is characterized and shaped by the gospel... The Christian lifestyle therefore will be evangelical and not legalistic... Life under the law is principally determined by prohibition and restraints. If one understands the Christian lifestyle legalistically, then a Christian is a person who is not allowed to do this and that, perhaps smoke, or drink, or dance. Living under the law gives us a constant fear of ourselves and anxiety before our impulses and wishes. It makes us have the gnawing feeling that we must and ought to be someone other than who we really are. Life under the law is a repressed, agonizing life. A common law demands uniformity. Everybody must wither do or abstain from the same thing. When the Christian lifestyle becomes legalistic, then the Christian life becomes anxious and narrow-minded.
A life which is worthy of the gospel, however, liberates us to be ourselves and fills us with the powers of the Spirit. We are enabled to give ourselves up and trust ourselves to the leading of the Spirit. Then we are able to accept ourselves just as we are, with out possibilities and limitations, and thereby gain a new spontaneity. We are freed to live with God in the covenant of freedom. The life worthy of the gospel also has its discipline, but it is the discipline of love and joy, not the discipline of anxiety under the threat of the law."

"There is room enough in God's all-powerful freedom for human freedom."

"Nationalism is one of the worst seductions of the people. It is an instrument of the domination of the people with which one people and be incited against another people."

"But God as love can be experienced and represented only in the comprehendible congregation in which one sees and recognizes the other, and accepts the other as he or she is accepted in Christ."

"The Reformation's own impetus was and is composed of three strands: the justifying faith, the universal priesthood of all believers, and the mature, responsible congregation."

The book is well worth the read if it can be found for good price. I have always sought and enjoyed reading material that challenges my thinking and perspective. This book certainly accomplished that goal. I do not agree entirely with all that Moltmann writes or believes, yet I walk away with the challenge of thinking about how I do "church" differently. The idea of closely identifying with the "least of these" through the church is important, yet often forgotten in our race to ensure we don't lose those congregational members who believe that church is entirely centered on and created for their own personal needs.


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