The Trinity and the kingdomMoltmann, Jürgen. The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God. 1st HarperCollins paperback ed. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.


Jürgen Moltmann (born 8 April 1926) is a German Reformed theologian who is Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the University of Tübingen. Moltmann is a major figure in modern theology and was the recipient of the 2000 Grawemeyer Award in Religion, and was also selected to deliver the prestigious Gifford Lectures in 1984-1985. He has made significant contributions to a number of areas of Christian theology, including systematic theology, eschatology, ecclesiology, political theology, Christology, pneumatology, and the theology of creation.


Influenced heavily by Karl Barth‘s theology, Hegel‘s philosophy of history, and Ernst Bloch‘s philosophy of hope, Moltmann developed his own form of liberation theology predicated on the view that God suffers with humanity, while also promising humanity a better future through the hope of the Resurrection, which he has labelled a ‘theology of hope’. Much of Moltmann’s work has been to develop the implications of these ideas for various areas of theology. While much of Moltmann’s early work was critiqued by some as being non-Trinitarian, during the latter stages of his career Moltmann has become known for developing a form of Social Trinitarianism. His two most famous works are Theology of Hope and The Crucified God. Moltmann also served as a mentor to Miroslav Volf.[1]

My Thoughts

Moltmann tries to bypass two major cul-de-sacs of monotheism that have dominated Western Theology. The first is that which understands God as supreme substance and the uncreated creator who established a stable and ordered universe of which the human is one substance among many. This originated in Greek Antiquity, was passed to the Middle Ages (Aquinas) and still forms the core of Roman Catholic theology. The second cul-de-sac is that which understands God to be the absolute subject. This flows from the special tradition of the Old Testament, was carried through medieval nominalism, and matured in nineteenth century idealist philosophy. In Western theology it followed the lineage of Augustine, Descartes, Kant, Schleiermacher, Bultmann, Fichte, and Hegel. The universe, and thus any knowledge, can only be known through the single subject of the human perciever. Therefore, God must be the absolute subject that is engaged in the process of self-revelation to all the other single subjects in the cosmos.

Moltmann notes that both of these theological systems claim to be Trinitarian, but begin with the one-ness of God and move to the three-ness of God as only secondary in nature. On the one side, God is one substance (essence) and three persons. On the other, God is one subject expressed in three modes of being. In both cases God is ultimately monotheistic and the Trinity is deemed irrelevant.

Moltmann suggests that we should begin with the three-ness of God as revealed in the narrative of scripture and then move back to the one-ness of God in the tri-unity of the three unique persons of the narrative—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is the fellowship and the relationality between the persons of the Trinity that is the essence of God and that opens up God to the world. Moltmann calls this the social Trinity.

This is important work for the missional church conversation. Moltmann’s social Trinity establishes a theological basis for the church as an open system that moves toward the world—the Other—with hope of reconciliation and a future vision of peace. The church is not sent from a single subject to another subject to coerce or convince that subject to come in. Rather, the church is constituted by the relationality of God to embrace the other and move toward a preferred and future promise of hope and restoration in the glory of God in the Kingdom of love.

My Visualizations

Moltmann - Trinity and Kingdom 02 Moltmann-Trinity and Kingdom 01

Selected Quotes

The present book is an attempt to start with the special Christian tradition of the history of Jesus the Son, and from that to develop a historical doctrine of the Trinity. Here we shall presuppose the unity of God neither as homogenous substance nor as identical subject. Here we shall enquire about that unity in the light of this trinitarian history and shall therefore develop it too in trinitarian terms. The Western tradition began with God’s unity and then went on to ask about the triunity. We are beginning with the trinity of the Persons and shall then go on to ask about the unity. What then emerges is a concept of the divine unity as the union of the tri-unity, a concept which is differentiated and is therefore capable of being thought first of all.

In distinction to the trinity of substance and to the trinity of subject we shall be attempting to develop a social doctrine of the Trinity. We understand the scriptures as the testimony to the history of the Trinity’s relations of fellowship, which are open to men and women, and open to the world. This trinitarian hermeneutics leads us to think in terms of relationships and communities; it supersedes the subjective thinking which cannot work without the separation and isolation of its objects.

Here, thinking in relationships and communities is developed out of the doctrine of the Trinity, and is brought to bear on the relations of men and women to God, to other people and to mankind as a whole, as well as on their fellowship with the whole of creation. By taking up panentheistic ideas from the Jewish and the Christian traditions, we shall try to think ecologically about God, man and the world in their relationships and indwellings. In this way it is not merely the Christian doctrine of the trinity that we are trying to work out anew; our aim is to develop and practise trinitarian thinking as well.[2]

Which of these freedoms corresponds to God’s freedom? The triune God reveals himself as love in the fellowship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. His freedom therefore lies in the friendship which he offers men and women, and through which he makes them his friends. His freedom is his vulnerable love, his openness, the encountering kindness through which he suffers with the human beings he loves and becomes their advocate, thereby throwing open their future to them. God demonstrates his eternal freedom through his suffering and his sacrifice, through his self-giving and his patience. Through his freedom he keeps man, his image, and his world, creation, free—keeps them free and pays the price of their freedom. Through his freedom he waits for man’s love, for his compassion, for his own deliverance to his glory through man. Through his freedom he does not only speak as Lord, but listens to men and women as their Father.[3]

The New Testament talks about God by proclaiming in narrative the relationships of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, which are relationships fellowship and are open to the world.[4]

“His kingdom is the kingdom of fatherly and motherly compassion, not the kingdom of dominating majesty and slavish subjection.”[5]

At this stage in the history of the Son the Trinity means:

⁃ The Father sends the Son through the Spirit.

⁃ The Son comes from the Father in the power of the Spirit.

⁃ The Spirit brings people into the fellowship of the Son with the Father.[6]

The Father is crucifying love, the Son is crucified love, and the Holy Spirit is the unvanquishable power of the cross.”[7]

The form of the Trinity which is revealed in the giving up of the Son appears as follows:

⁃ The Father gives up his own Son to death in its most absolute sense, for us.

⁃ The Son gives himself up, for us.

⁃ The common sacrifice of the Father and the Son comes about through the Holy Spirit, who joins and unites the Son in his forsakenness with the Father.[8]

We ought not to interpret Jesus’ resurrection in merely eschatological terms. In its innermost process it is Trinitarian too. This makes the express use of the Son’s name necessary in these contexts. Which form of the Trinity can be perceived at this stage in the history of the Son?

⁃ The Father raises the Son through the Spirit;

⁃ The Father reveals the Son through the Spirit;

⁃ The Son is enthroned as Lord of God’s kingdom through the Spirit.[9]

Whereas until his resurrection we were able to perceive in the history of Jesus the sequence: Father—Spirit—Son, we now encounter the sequence Father—Son—Spirit. What does this mean?

It means that in the sending of the Spirit the Trinity is an open Trinity. Through the sending of the creative Spirit, the Trinitarian history of God becomes a history that is open to the world, open to men and women, and open to the future. Through the experience of the life-giving Spirit in faith, in baptism, and in the fellowship of believers, people are integrated into the history of the Trinity. Through the Spirit of Christ they not only become participators in the eschatological history of the new creation. Through the Spirit of the Son they also become at the same time participants in the Trinitarian history of God himself. That is the profounder reason why acknowledgment of the trinity was developed in the context of baptism first of all.[10]

    • What Trinitarian order can we perceive in the eschatological consummation?

In the sending, delivering up and resurrection of the Christ we find this sequence:


In the lordship of Christ and the sending of the Spirit the sequence is:


But when we are considering the eschatological consummation and glorification, the sequence has to be:


We shall start from the assumption that the relationship between God and the world has a reciprocal character, because

this relationship must be seen as a living one….

Just as God goes out of himself through what he does, giving his world his own impress, so his world puts its impress on God too, through its reactions, its aberrations and its own inititatives. It certainly does not do so in the same way; but that it does so in its own way there can be no doubt at all. If God is love, then he does not merely emanate, flow out of himself; he also expects and needs love; his world is intended to be his home. He desires to dwell in it.[12]

A new divine presence is experienced in the experience of the Spirit. God does not simply confront his creation as creator. He is not merely, as the incarnate One, the representative and advocate for men and women. In the Spirit God dwells in man himself. The experience of the Spirit is therefore the experience of the Shekinah, the divine indwelling. The Shekinah is a divine presence which was otherwise only experienced in the Temple, in worship on the Lord’s day. But now men and women themselves, in their own bodies, already become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1Cor. 6.13-20). In the end, however, the new heaven and the new earth will become the ‘temple’ of God’s indwelling. The whole world will become God’s home. Through the indwelling of the Spirit, people and churches are already glorified in the body, now, in the present. But then the whole creation will be transfigured through the indwelling of God’s glory. Consequently the hope which is kindled by the experience of the indwelling Spirit gathers in the future, with panentheistic visions. Everything ends with God’s being ‘all in ll’ (1 Cor. 15.28 AV). God in the world and the world in God—that is what is meant by the glorifying of the world through the Spirit. That is the home of the Trinity. If the world is transformed and glorified into this through the Holy Spirit, then creation can only be conceived of in trinitarian terms, if it is to be understood in Christian terms at all.[13]

“Time is an interval in eternity, finitude is a space in infinity, and freedom is a concession of the eternal love. God withdraws himself in order to go out of himself. Eternity breathes itself in, so as to breathe out the Spirit of life.”[14]

The Father creates the world out of his eternal love through the Son, for the purpose of finding a response to his love in time, in the power of the Holy Spirit, which binds together what is in itself different.

In creation all activity proceeds from the Father. But because the Son, as Logos, and the Spirit, as energy, are both involved—each in its own way and yet equally—creation must be ascribed to the unity of the triune God. In his creative love God is united with creation, which is his Other, giving it space, time and liberty in his own infinite life.[15]

If follows from this that the Son of God did not become man simply because of the sin of men and women, but rather for the sake of perfecting creation…Christ is the ‘true man’ in this perverted and inhumane world. It is therefore in fellowship with him that believers discover the truth of human existence.[16]

Freedom in the light of hope is the creative passion for the possible. Unlike lordship, it is not merely directed towards what already exists. Nor, like love, is it only directed towards the fellowship of existing people. It is directed towards the future, in the light of the Christian hope for the future of the coming God. The future is the kingdom of not yet defined potentialities, whereas the past represents the limited kingdom of reality. Creative passion is always directed towards a project of a future of this kind. People want to realize new possibilities. That is why they reach forward with passion. In hope, reason becomes productive fantasy. People dream the messianic dream of the new, whole life that will at last be truly alive. They explore the future’s possibilities in order to realize this dream of life. This future dimension of freedom has long been overlooked, theologically too, because the freedom of the Christian faith was not understood as being participation in the creative Spirit of God.[17]

In obeying God’s command a person feels himself to be the Lord’s servant. In faith in the gospel he sees himself as being the child of his heavenly Father. As God’s friend he talks to God in prayer, and his prayer becomes a conversation with his heavenly friend.[18]

Freedom itself is indivisible and all-comprehensive. That is why every partial freedom presses forward to total freedom and to the freedom of the whole creation. The thirst for freedom cannot be quenched by any partial satisfaction. It knows no limits. That is why even the freedom of God’s friends is not yet complete freedom. In history it is the best of all possible freedoms in our relationship to God. But even this points beyond itself to the freedom that only achieves its complete and perfect bliss in God in the kingdom of glory. When God is known face to face, the freedom of God’s servants, his children and his friends finally finds its fulfillment in God himself. Then freedom means the unhindered participation in the eternal life of the triune God himself, and in his inexhaustible fullness and glory. ‘Our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee’, said Augustine. And when we think of freedom we may surely say: ‘Our hearts are captive until they become free in the glory of the triune God.’[19]

[2] Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God, 1st HarperCollins paperback ed. (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), location 405.

[3] Ibid., loc. 899.

[4] Ibid., loc. 1000.

[5] Ibid., loc. 1097.

[6] Ibid., loc. 1171.

[7] Patriarch Philareth of Moscow in ibid., loc. 1281.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.loc. 1350

[10] Ibid., loc. 1382.

[11] Ibid., loc. 1439.

[12] Ibid., loc. 1482-1499.

[13] Ibid., 1572.

[14] Ibid., loc. 1660.

[15] Ibid., loc. 1693.

[16] Ibid., loc. 1742.

[17] Ibid., loc. 3114.

[18] Ibid., loc. 3160.

[19] Ibid., loc. 3176.

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