The PostBarthian
26Apr/1711

Jürgen Moltmann: “I accept Jesus as my savior” diminishes the Gospel

In his Introduction to Christian Theology lectures at Duke in 1968, Jürgen Moltmann keenly observed that the Church's presentation of the Gospel has shifted from proclamation to personal invitation. Moltmann quotes an American Baptist declaration to demonstrate this shift has had the unintended consequence of diminishing the Christian Gospel to an "introverted and self-centered individualism".  In the Bible, the Christian Gospel is "Jesus Christ is Lord of All", and the Apostles proclaimed this good news to the whole world (Phil 2:10-11; 1 Cor 8:6), regardless of whether individuals accepted it or not (Acts 4:25; Rom 14:11). Moltmann explains that the Gospel has been diminished from the Biblical formula, to an invitation asking individuals to "personally accept Jesus Christ as my savior." The Apostles never asked anyone to accept the Gospel (as Karl Barth criticized D. L. Moody), and this diminished formula "I accept Jesus as my savior" appears nowhere in the New Testament. Consequently, the purview of the Gospel has been diminished from its universal scope in reality to a private personal matter benefiting only those who decide to accept it.  

Moltmann said, for Christians, faith is self-evident, and unbelief is inexplicable. Faith comes to us, faith is given to us, faith overwhelms us, and we receive faith and believe as a result of it. Our personal faith doesn't come about due to a our personal decision to embrace it (this is a Semi-Pelagian misunderstanding of the Protestant formula 'Justification by Faith Alone'). New Christians might begin believing that they made a decision for Jesus, but later realize that they received faith by the grace of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. We may begin with our personal faith, but then realize that faith is for the whole world, not just us alone (1 Tim 4:10). The Gospel is for those who have personal faith, but it is also for those who do not yet have faith, and it also is faith "for the future of the whole suffering creation." The Gospel is for all of Creation, not just individuals who believe it, or personally accept Jesus as their savior. We are not the authors of our faith (Heb 12:2), because the ground of our faith is in the saving work of Jesus Christ alone (solus Christus), and although we are justified by faith alone (solo fide), it is not our personal faith that causes our individual salvation. Moltmann says that simple faith matures to an understanding belief, and this mature faith is much larger than our own personal faith, and extends beyond our own person to all the Heavens and the Earth. Moltmann describes mature faith as "believing with our eyes open", or as Anselm said, "faith seeking understanding". Moltmann concludes this quotation by defining theology as "the form of the knowledge of faith with respect to its life in the world."  

The following quotation is from Jürgen Moltmann's Introduction to Christian Theology lectures at Duke in 1968:

For the believers it is self-evident to believe. Not faith, but rather unfaith is inexplicable. In their faith, they not only accept as true the personal significance that Christ holds for them, but they also know him as he is in himself and therefore as he is for all mankind. In Peter's confession we read: "We have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:69). . . . I want to give an example of the importance of this argument. I quote a declaration of American Southern Baptists. They write:

"We have reduced in some way the range of the Christian Confession by having substituted the original version 'Jesus Christ the Lord', which expresses the triumph and the largeness, comprehending heaven and earth, of God's deed, with the diminutive formula 'I accept Jesus Christ as my savior'. Although those who pretend to keep closest to the Bible insist on the second sentence, it occurs nowhere in the New Testament. And there is little justification for it. It diminishes the great miracle of the Christian Gospel into the handy form of an introverted and self-centered individualism."

Here then we can elucidate the problem with some precision: There is no other approach to Jesus the Savior except by faith in his Word. But in faith we find in Jesus the author of the salvation of the whole creation and not only our own. Because it is not our believing which makes him a savior to us, but he who makes us believers, we find him as he is in himself and for everyone whenever we being to believe in him. This is the significance of the sentence that the ground of faith is more than faith and, naturally, more than my own faith. For I expect him to be the ground not only of my faith but of the faith of those who do not yet believe, and I expect him to be the ground not only of faith, but also of a renewed world ("the Lord both of the dead and of the living" Rom 14:9).

There is more of him for the future of the whole suffering creation that comes out in his significance for me in my faith. Therefore, it seems to me, that we always start with the belief that he is "my" savior and come to age in belief that he is "the" savior. Exactly this is the way from simple belief (fides implicita) to a mature belief (fides explicita). It is the way from simple belief into understanding belief. Thus we can see that knowledge is inevitably necessary to Christian faith. Theology is the form of the knowledge of faith with respect to its life in the world. [1]

Jürgen Moltmann

References:

[^1] Moltmann, Jürgen. An Introduction to Christian Theology. Ed. Douglas Meeks. N.p.: Duke, 1968. 30-31. Print.

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Posted by Wyatt

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  1. The citation Jurgen Moltmann quotes is rather curious, in that it seems to already bemoan the popularized formula of “accepting Jesus Christ as [one’s] Savior.” In the rest of what Moltmann says, he seems thoroughly planted in the Lutheran-Reformed tradition, describing faith as something that nearly happens to an individual, as though they had no choice in the matter. He affirms the inevitability of faith. Whereas I embrace the rest of what he says about the Lordship of Christ as it relates to others and the whole world, I feel inclined to note that many years ago when I read a Lutheran description of salvation, and the inevitability of faith happening to a person, I was extremely put off as a Wesleyan. Now, I will admit that Wesleyanism has a strong semi-Pelagian tendency. It would be interesting to do a survey of patristic catechetical texts and see how they describe the relationship of faith to the baptized. In any case, at the very least we can say for certain that faith is received, and is a gift, that comes by hearing, and is not something we bring to the equation.

    • I appreciate that Moltmann extends God’s grace to a all of creation. Even things who disagree or are incapable of agreeing. The Reformed Creeds always extend grace to the heathens.

    • I think that “the inevitability of faith happening to a person” more accurately describes the Calvinist position (grace is irresistible for the elect) than the Lutheran. A more accurate description of the Lutheran position is that faith is a gift to us from God, something which the Holy Spirit creates in us by the means of grace (word and sacrament), but we are free to resist the work of the Holy Spirit and reject the gift of faith.

      • Resisting the work of the Holy Spirit and rejecting the gift of faith are not the exercises of one who is free, but of one who is in bondage to sin. What shall the Christian do when another resists and/or rejects? Tell the story again; perhaps seeking a new way to tell the old, old story. That seems a more Christ-like approach to unfaith than consigning to hell or killing them.

  2. That is the early, Barthian Moltmann. In his later years, when he digged deeper in pneumatology, he came to a more balanced view of God’s work and human involvement. He found new insights in wesleyan and pentecostal studies, documented in his pneumatology “The Spirit of Life” (1992). I was studying in Tübingen at this time and had the joy to attend his lectures and seminaries. But he continued to critizise narrow individualistic perspectives on faith. The spirit which makes me able to believe and to play an active part in my life with God is always and first the spirit sustaining and renewing all the creation.

  3. Moltmann has a keen eye. To accept “Jesus as my Savior” makes the story decidedly about me when the story is in fact about GOD and the reclamation of God’s good world (where Jesus is LORD). It seems to me, if we get this direction right, then everything else falls into place.

  4. The article claims the statement was an “American Baptist” statement, then that it came from the “Southern Baptists.” Two very different denominations, people! American and Southern Baptists split in the 1840s over whether the church should allow missionaries to be slaveholders. –A proud American Baptist.

  5. I have included an analysis. To skip the details read 3 paragraphs with “>” at the front.

    >I like the comments about using “Jesus Christ is Lord of All”, as a confession of our faith. BUT OVERALL THE DOCUMENT IS NOT HELPFUL. I see the Introducer and Moltmann as making a step toward advocating objective faith*, but then they go down a rabbit hole of introspection (or as the author’s named it “introversion”) by focusing on our internal mental processes. There is no firm foundation for our faith here. For example:

    Unclear, unhelpful and hopelessly abstruse comments from the introducer–no firm foundation for our faith in Para 2:

    para 2: …Moltmann says that simple faith matures to an understanding belief, and this mature faith is much larger than our own personal faith, and extends beyond our own person to all the Heavens and the Earth. Moltmann describes mature faith as “believing with our eyes open”, or as Anselm said, “faith seeking understanding”. Moltmann concludes this quotation by defining theology as “the form of the knowledge of faith with respect to its life in the world.”

    In para 5, I appreciate Moltmann saying “There is no other approach to Jesus the Savior except by faith in his Word” and that it is he to “MAKES US BELIEVERS,” but then down the rabbit hole to talk about how “WE FIND HIM AS HE IS IN HIMSELF ” and how Christ is to be the “GROUND OF FAITH” leaving the reader to subjectively figure out how. [No firm foundation here.]

    Para 5 : Here then we can elucidate the problem with some precision: There is no other approach to Jesus the Savior except by faith in his Word. But in faith we find in Jesus the author of the salvation of the whole creation and not only our own. Because it is not our believing which makes him a savior to us, but he who makes us believers, we find him as he is in himself and for everyone whenever we being to believe in him. This is the significance of the sentence that the ground of faith is more than faith and, naturally, more than my own faith. For I expect him to be the ground not only of my faith but of the faith of those who do not yet believe, and I expect him to be the ground not only of faith, but also of a renewed world (“the Lord both of the dead and of the living” Rom 14:9).

    In para 6, After recognizing the inadequacy of FAITH IN FAITH, Moltmann advocates achieving a “MATURE FAITH” by an unspecified internal thought evolution and the teaching of THEOLOGY—very much the same kind of subjectivity they seemed to decry. He presumes every convert has to start from a subjective faith alone which is absurd**. Moltmann’s formula quickly becomes ambiguous [and abstruse]. There is no firm foundation for our faith here:

    Para 6: There is more of him for the future of the whole suffering creation that comes out in his significance for me in my faith. Therefore, it seems to me, that we always start with the belief that he is “my” savior and come to age in belief that he is “the” savior. Exactly this is the way from simple belief (fides implicita) to a mature belief (fides explicita). It is the way from simple belief into understanding belief. Thus we can see that knowledge is inevitably necessary to Christian faith. THEOLOGY is the form of the knowledge of faith with respect to its life in the world. [1]

    >The Lutheran solution is to focus on OBJECTIVE salvation—objective truths*, E.g. the sin of every human being, God himself being born as a human baby into the world, Christ’s sinless life, his substitutionary death and his resurrection completed 2000 years ago for the whole world and for all time, forwards and back.
    These are the objective* facts that we are to BELIEVE IN and TRUST IN FOR SALVATION.

    *Objective = Events that happened and whose effects are true whether or not I know or believe it.

    > **Preaching is broadcast, but is heard individually and subjectively. Proper preaching of the Gospel is to preach that the objective truth of sin and the universal redemption by Christ applies to every sinner in the whole world and in all times. We are also to emphasize that this objective, Biblical truth also applies to YOU since YOU are a sinner. And we repeat what the Scriptures say, BELIEVE THIS AND BE BAPTIZED AND YOU WILL BE SAVED. This is a firm and Biblical foundation for faith that saves.


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