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Moltmann and the Judgment of Oneself

Some time back I wrote an open letter to Jürgen Moltmann. Two people who read that post provided me with a mailing address for Dr. Moltmann, and so I was actually able to send my letter to him. Today I was delighted to receive his response.
I won’t copy everything he wrote (I don’t like to post personal correspondences without the express permission of the other party), but I will reflect on one of the things that he said.
Basically, my most pressing question for Dr. Moltmann was how he was (and is) able to reconcile the lifestyle of a privileged academic with the theopolitical conclusions of his own theology (a question that is deeply personal to both Dr. Moltmann and I). Here is his reply:

Your personal question is indeed challenging. Should I not leave my position of “privilege and power” and live with the poor? I have asked this question myself many times, especially in Atlanta, where I was attracted to leave my position as guest professor and join the Open Door Community working with the homeless. But friends said to me: Better use your capacities and possibilities to change the theological system and create a new ethics. And therefore I am still on this way.

He then writes this:

It is not my task to judge myself, this is Christ’s task.

I have been thinking about this line all day. You see, I have committed myself to not judging others — and leaving that to Christ — but I had never thought to apply this approach to myself. In fact, I am constantly judging myself… and finding myself to be full of lack, hypocrisy, and failure. So the statement “[i]t is not my task to judge myself” is one that seems to be full of liberating potential. Indeed, grasping this may be a part of what it means to embrace my own brokenness. Here I am, a broken, flawed and failing person… yet can it be that it is not for me to judge myself in this way? If it is Christ’s task to judge me, then instead of judging myself in this way perhaps it is better to say this: “Here I am. Beloved.” That’s all. Full stop. For this is all I have ever known from Christ–a deep awareness of being loved.
Yet, even as I write this, it is hard for me to fully accept it. I hear myself saying, “No, you must constantly judge yourself and evaluate your actions so that you can better serve those in need” or “To refuse to judge yourself easily becomes a self-serving ideology which will allow you to live a self-centred life, so while it’s nice to want to affirm this statement, it is better not to” or again “sure, it’s up to Christ to judge us in the end, but for now we need to be constantly evaluating ourselves so that that judgment does not catch us off guard” and so on.
Thus, even as I am confronted with a statement that is full of so much liberating potential that it brings tears to my eyes, I simultaneously feel a massive urge to flee from this liberation (just as I fled from resting with Christ in my dream four years ago).
I do not know how to be free. I do not know how to pursue the Way of Jesus Christ without judging myself. I don’t know how to be both-disciple-and-beloved, and so, because the lover side seems to be fraught with such sweet peril, I overdo the discipleship.
Well, I’m going to try to be done with that now. I’m going to try to not only embrace my own brokenness, but also embrace Christ as both the one loves me and as the one who will judge me. Amazing grace, indeed! To be free not only of the ways in which others judge us, but also of the ways in which we judge ourselves.
[Just as I was about to post this I remembered something. My name, Daniel, means ‘God is my judge’. How ’bout that, eh?]

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  1. Dan,
    I’m grateful that you share these sorts of things. Over the last year and a half, I myself have been wrestling with similar questions as the one you wrote Dr. Moltmann. I’ve at times been eager for you to get your response and share something from it. Interestingly, I happen to be AT the Open Door Community right now, staying for a month in an attempt to read the bible and pray with some who’ve ordered their lives around the groaning places, and with the poor themselves… in preparation for the launching of a similar ecclesial community in VA. Its fascinating to know that Moltmann wrestled with the Spirit in this place too. Thanks for the post, and for your honesty.

  2. Dan. Thanks for sharing this.
    I do think we need to talk about the concept of judging and how we use this. Jesus said “Do not judge”, but what does this mean? Apparently for Jesus it was not synonymous to “evaluate”, “criticize” or even “severely criticize”, since in the same context he admonishes his disciples to BOTH remove the plank from their own eyes and then to remove the speck out of the brother´s eye (Matthew 7). And in his own life, Jesus did criticize others and also admonished his disciples to talk to their brother about their wrong-doing. And the apostle Paul admonishes the believers to check their own way of life (2 Kor 13:5, Eph 5:15-17).
    So what did Jesus mean? I think we should not judge, meaning “pass a sentence”/handing out punishment. We should evaluate and criticize our selves and others, but we should not punish each other for our guilt, but try to bring forgiveness into the situation and treat each other and ourselves (!) with peace, patience and gracefulness, as God has done with us through Jesus.
    So, I think Moltmann is wrong in his answer to you, and I think he should leave the academy. To try to hold on to worldly power in order to use it for God seems to me to not be very much in line with the example and temptations of Jesus. And by saying this, I claim that I am NOT judging him in the way Jesus forbade his disciples.

  3. Hmm this is thought-provoking. I’m reminded of Jesus’ statement: “My yoke is light” – it’s both a yoke, and it’s light: He invites us into servitude; but somehow that servitude is intended to be refreshing and liberating, rather than an unbearable weight.

  4. Dan,
    appreciate you posting this…
    i was wondering about when you would receive the response from Dr. Moltman.
    it’s real interesting cause since i’ve been convicted of my priveledged life as a Christian… I’ve been desperately wanting journey alongside the poor and the rejected….
    but… ever since i’ve encountered that realization, i’ve been feeling stuck… b/c i felt like i could not leave that lifestyle until i completely remove myself from my surroundings…. so i left the city, the country… in search of truly living out the gospel…
    yet here i am, volunteering at a youth drop in… and still feeling stuck… i don’t think i’m doing enough… so my mind wanders and thinks should i be moving to a third world country and become a missionary?
    i’m trapped in a constant cycle of not ‘doing enough’ and feeling like a hyprocrite…
    but in deed it is true, it is not my task to judge myself… but it is Christ’s…
    and i agree w/ you dan.. those words are liberating… and also teaching me not to judge the ones around me… let Christ be our judge, and ours only…
    peace & love
    James (Ceasar)

  5. steba:
    Sorry about the moderation. I’m not sure how to change that feature of this blog. However, once your first comment has been approved, all other comments you write will appear immediately — so it won’t happen again!
    Good to hear from you! I think that we think and feel the same things. I know I’m not always that great at emails, but I’d love to hear more about what you’re up to these days.
    However, Moltmann is now in his eighties and, even if he wanted to do things differently, he can’t. So, to leave things in the Lord’s hands — given the fact that he will likely be meeting the Lord very soon — seems quite appropriate.
    And since you’re keen on taking the speck out of Moltmann’s eye, what’s the plank you’ve removed from your own?

  6. Dan. I didn´t know he was eighty. That definitely puts things in perspective! I guess for me Moltmann in this regard was both a person and a metaphor (frankly more of a metaphor since I sometimes have a hard time believing that people like M and Hauerwas and others actually exists…) for those theologians you´ve been writing about sometimes that have a (good) theology that seems hard to reconcile with their lives. Since I have been heavily influenced by Yoder in some areas, I have had the same thoughts about him.
    When it comes to my own journey, since you ask, I am 34 and have spent most of my efforts in the church sphere. I felt a “call” to become pastor when seventeen and went to two one year bible schools and the spent six years (trying to) pastor a church planting project. After this I studied theology for four years and seemed to have a quite promising theological career within my grasp, possibly doctorate studies under Arne Rasmusson who wrote The Church As Polis: From Political Theology to Theological Politics As Exemplified by Jurgen Moltmann and Stanley Hauerwas. To study theology was the most rewarding thing I have done, my teachers were giving me good feed-back etc, and my identity was closely connected to my “abilities” in this area. Anyway, when I was writing my application for the doctorate studies, I felt the Spirit questioning what I was doing and pointing to how I was moving into something that was contrary to my convictions in certain regards. I had a big struggle with this, but did finally choose to abandon academical theology. Instead, I am now driving state financed transports of old and sick people etc for a taxi company, a work I had been doing for a few summers during my studies and really hated at the time.
    Well, this was one of my planks. I am absolutely sure I have more of them, but I trust God through others will patiently and gracefully help me with them too.

  7. I just stumbled onto this post (via, via, and it reminded me of a sermon I love by Tim Keller. It’s on 1 Cor. 3:21-4:7 where Paul talks about how he doesn’t care how other people judge him, and he doesn’t even judge himself. Very much like you said here. You can buy the sermon at, but I’ve taken the liberty of putting it up for download at
    I’ll leave it up for at least a week.

  8. Yes! I have struggled with this myself, as I was working through I Corinthians.Faithfulness without judgment seems to be Paul’s attitude, and he expressly applies it to himself:
    2Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.
    Of course, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t evaluate ourselves and seek direction. Just that we shouldn’t judge ourselves.
    And I disagree with Jonas’ interpretation of the specks and planks. I think the main point of that passage is that planks are way bigger than specks, so we should always consider our own sin to be much greater than the sin of others (even to the point where we can ignore their sin altogether). The point is not how to properly judge, but how not to judge.

  9. Brent. So Jesus message is that we actually never should do anything about the thing in our brother´s eye? Isn´t that both un-loving and against the example and explicit teaching (Matthew 18:15-) of Jesus.
    And regarding 1 Kor, I wonder what you would do with 1 Kor 5-6?
    I think we should judge as in “evaluating”, but not judge as in “handing out punishment”.

  10. Daniel – Great post with some very real issues. One thought I had in reading this is that it’s a very indavidualistic picture of deciding what the right thing to do is. So in judging ourselves what is the role of the faith community to which we belong?
    Also have a look at this paper it’s called Incarnational Spirituality: Taking Downward Mobility Seriously.


  • judgement of oneself… « portrait and a dream December 3, 2008

    […] judgement of oneself… over the past few years i have struggled with a deep instrospection that has often been very self critical and lacking in freedom. i have often struggled over how i am to reconcile the theological conclusions i have come to over the past few years with my place in society and my lifestyle. i have by no means come to a conclusion about what that may look like, and i think it will be a constant process during this journey of life, but i came across a post today that wrestles with the same question and contains some insight from jurgen moltmann. go check it out: moltmann and the judgement of oneself […]