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A. J. Conyers

The Renewal of All Things

Jürgen Moltmann's journey of hope.

Every age has its own genius, its own peculiar insight, that comes out of the bowels of its own suffering or its own dreams. Theologians and historians of a later age will see, more accurately than we might, how it was that the twentieth century produced such a Christian thinker as Jurgen Moltmann.

Only a decade before his birth in 1926, Europe was spiraling down from an incredible peak of optimism in its own civility and its lease on the future. Over 10 million soldiers—German, British, French, American, Russian, Italian, and Turkish—lay dead. After the Battle of Verdun, those who bore the "white man's burden" and had announced the "Christian century" awoke to news of staggering casualties, 600,000 lives lost in a single engagement.

Tidal waves of misery and conflict spread through the following decades. Economic collapse was followed by heightened bitterness, greater preparations for war, and the rise of ideologies of race and class that heretofore would have been dismissed as mere superstitions confined to fringe elements in society. Living patterns were disrupted; the delicate fabric of morals and manners was torn.

Philosophers such as Nietzsche had partly convinced Europeans that the replacement of those gentle, but deceptive, "Mediterranean values" was inevitable. Scapegoating on a vaster scale than ever before threatened to destroy the Jews of a half-dozen of what were considered the most civilized nations on earth. The pogroms of the Middle Ages paled in comparison. The slaughter of civilians in warfare moved from being a shocking casualty of high-tech warfare to a routine strategem of modern total war. And today, as the century comes to an end, old scores are still being settled.

The future "theologian of hope" grew up in the midst of this turbulence.

In 1943, Jurgen Moltmann and his entire class of 16-year-old gymnasium students were drafted to stand guard with the antiaircraft guns in Hamburg, waiting for the Royal Air Force. "At first they did not come ... and ...

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