More on Panennberg

More on Panennberg October 30, 2007

Christoph Schwobel has a dense but helpful overview of Pannenberg’s theology in David Ford’s The Modern Theologians.

Pannenberg insists from the beginning of his career that history is revelation, and his whole theology is an effort to hammer out the implications of that claim. Like Barth, he insists that revelation is not the disclosure of truths about God, but God’s own self-disclosure in history. Yet, he also insists that this revelation in history is always indirect, and that it will only be universally accessible and obvious at the end. This universal disclosure of God is anticipated in the resurrection of Jesus, which is in principle also open to “all flesh.”

Pannenberg’s work on Christology attempts to reach back beyond the kerygmatic presentation of Christ to the historical Jesus. For Pannenberg, Christology must begin from below. And he objects to the soteriological qualification of Christology. “What Jesus means for us must be grounded in what he is, and what he is can only be established by starting from the past reality of the historical Jesus,” Schwobel summarizes. Jesus’ resurrection is central, since that event vindicates Jesus’ claims and His unity with the Father.

Jesus’ resurrection not only points to theology proper but to human destiny. Pannenberg is worried that traditional substance conceptions of the Person of Christ is “trapped in the dilemma of having to choose between a ‘unification’ and a ‘disjunction’ Christology.” Instead, he sees the identity of Jesus with His Father in Jesus’ obedience, in the Son’s self-distinction from the Father (which is a mutually dependent self-distinction). Jesus also discloses human destiny by His openness to God. Human existence is open existence, open to the world and to the infinite beyond the world. Man’s existence is always exocentric, centered outside himself. Human nature is not a fixed substance that man begins with, but the history of the realization of his destiny.

Pannenberg recognizes that, especially in Western modernity, theology proposals can be no more than hypotheses, and he attempts to define and defend the notion that theology is a science. He is also deeply interested in the relation of theology and philosophy. While not attempting to lay philosophical foundations within which theology has to function, he does see philosophy has having a “criteriological” role in theology. His notions of Absolute and Infinite, derived from Descartes and Hegel, provide a criterion for our talk about God. There is a kind of “unthematized” religious orientation inherent in man – and reflected in philosophy – that requires thematization through the specifics of Christian theology.

Pannenberg’s philosophical commitments defy easy classification. He draws from William James, George Herbert Mead, and Erik Erikson the notion that consciousness of the unity of the ego is mediated through contact with the world and through social interaction. He draws on Plotinus and Heidegger to conclude that finite being in time is a participation in eternity, and the future is the “origin of the totality of finite beings” and their being should be “understood as the anticipation of their future.” Substance is what things are becoming, and their mode of being now is “an anticipation of the completion of the process of their becoming.” Schwobel calls Pannenberg’s position a “realism of anticipation” and sees a correspondence with the “eschatological realism” found in his theology.

Pannenberg is willing to begin with general talk about God, and ask whether such God-talk is coherent. He finds the coherence (not proof) of God-talk in the anthropological claim that human existence is open, awaiting actualization, and that religiosity is innate. He also finds the history of religions a valuable tool, understood as the history of the appearance of God’s unity.

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