Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

Archive for the tag “Pannenberg”

Jesus – God and Man

Introduction

Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Jesus – God and Man[1] set a Christological precedent. He approached the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity with rigorous rational thought and historical-critical methodology, contemporary philosophical enquiry and sensitivity to tradition and ecumenacy, concluding that the majority of the core tenants of Christian orthodoxy are, in fact, sound doctrine, whilst placing high importance on Jesus’ resurrection. This latter point is what makes Pannenberg’s Christology distinctive: the resurrection must be the point of departure and the central concern for any discussion regarding Jesus’ divinity.

This essay shall analyse the theological landscape from whence Pannenberg’s Christological triumph emerged, through the turbulent responses to Enlightenment thinking, differing historical-critical arguments, philosophical, existential and eschatological speculation, to the theological positions that influenced Pannenberg’s Christology ‘from below,’ his desire to go behind the New Testament texts and assertions that Jesus’ resurrection is the key to unlocking the mystery of Jesus’ being. First shall be discussed the several broad categories of differing Christologies, before analysing the first two “historical quests for Jesus” and then how these have influenced theological approaches to Jesus’ resurrection in recent history. The essay shall conclude with a discussion of how Pannenberg emerged out of this theological landscape as a distinctive theologian in his own right.

The Theological Landscape

‘Types’ of Christology

Hans Frei broadly categorizes Christian theology into five ‘types.’ The first places theology within a purely philosophical discipline; the second gives weight to Christian self-description, but remains predominately a philosophical discipline; the third ambiguously merges the disciplines of philosophy with Christian self-description; the fourth gives Christian self-description superiority, but includes philosophical reflection; and the fifth has solely to do with Christian self-description, rejecting any other influence.[2] Ford expands these categories into a Christological context, and provides the following examples:[3]

  • Kant falls into the first Christological ‘type,’ arguing Jesus was a prototype for human morality.
  • Bultmann is an example of type two, who, engaging with the distinctive elements of the proclamation of Jesus, argued Christology has more to do with immediate and present experience of Jesus than anything else.
  • Schleiermacher fits into type three, for whom Jesus was both an historical person and the mediator of Christian experience.
  • Barth falls into type four, giving precedence to Christian self-description, arguing Jesus was both a particular human and God, and thus beyond normal human experience.
  • D. Z. Phillips, arguing there is no place for philosophy in the discussion about the biblical Jesus, is an example of the fifth type.

Apart from these five types, there are two distinct methodological approaches, commonly labelled as either Christology “from above,” and “from below.”[4] The former are exponents of traditional Chalcedonian Christology, insisting that the basis of Christological understanding is Christian kerygma, not historical-critical analysis, nor upon rational argument. Occasionally caricatured as Docetism, examples include Barth, Bultmann, and Brunner. Those who fall into the latter approach assert a necessity upon historical research, that the possibility exists to arrive at the divinity of Jesus as a conclusion rather than a presupposition. Käsemann and Pannenberg are examples of a Christology “from below,” and have received criticisms of reviving elements of Nestorianism.[5]

Historical Quests

A precursor for these two approaches to Christologiy is what has been labelled the “historical quest” for Jesus. The Enlightenment thinking of the 18th century began to question with unprecedented vigour the historicity (or lack thereof) of the Gospel narratives. A succession of authors in the 19th century sought to reconstruct the life of the ‘historical Jesus’ through stringent historical-critical scholarship, most concluding that the Jesus of the Christian faith was an invention of Christianity. Feuerbach (1804-1872) argued Christianity was mere introspection and Strauss (1808-1874) argued the supernatural elements in the gospel were myth, primitive expression of spiritual ideas. Strauss’ work demanded objectivity in historical research of Jesus, for the Gospels were not historically reliable. Strauss’ work influenced many others, including Renan’s Life of Jesus in the 1860s. Drews (1865-1935) argued the historical Jesus was a myth and hence the quest for the historical Jesus was pointless, and then Schweitzer (1875-1965) wrote The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its progress from Reimarus to Wrede in 1906, tracing the history of this quest, and insisted these attempts at the historical Jesus should stop, for they domesticate Jesus and had become more about the historian than the history. Schweitzer’s attack on the historical quest effectively stopped this first ‘quest.’

Kähler also had a significant role in the cessation of this Quest through his critique of its methodology in The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ, in 1896. He argued it was impossible to separate the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith; the only Christ academics should be interested in is the one preached through the ages. Searching for the historical was not only unsuccessful, but counterproductive. He also, however, argued faith should not be dependent on historical research, this latter statement greatly influencing Tillich and Bultmann who focussed not on the historical events of Jesus, but on the faith and teachings of the church, wherein meaning is found in existential encounter.[6] Witherington argues this separation causes problems, for Christian faith is based on historical events and thus separating the Jesus of history from the Jesus of Christian kerygma leads to a form of Gnosticism.

Until the second half of the 20th century, the academic quest for the historical Jesus was nonexistent. However, in 1953 a gathering of Bultmann’s former students launched a new revitalized quest for the historical Jesus, particularly in Käsemann’s (1906 – 1998) work. He argued against Bultmann’s assertion that the Gospels had no historical credibility and that Bultmann was too extreme in his scepticism about what could be known of Jesus. Bornkamm (1905 – 1990) had an influential role in this second quest. His publication, Jesus of Nazareth in 1956, argued that by applying critical scholarship we can know something about the historical Jesus.[7] This paved the way for Pannenberg, who insisted that, in fact, we can know something about Jesus only by applying critical scholarship.

The Resurrection

Fergusson begins his historical analysis of the doctrine of the resurrection with the simple question: “Is the resurrection an event in the life of Jesus or an event in the life of the believer?”[8] He argues the different doctrines can be divided into three broad positions: radical, liberal, and traditional. The ‘radical’ and ‘liberal’ positions argue there was no historical resurrection; the former posits the resurrection is a reference to faith itself, the latter that it is myth emerging out of faith. The ‘traditional’ position claims the resurrection was an historical event in Jesus’ life which gave rise to that faith. Bultmann and Marxsen are examples of theologians who fit into the ‘radical’ position, Küng and Schillebeeckx into the ‘liberal’ position, and Barth and Pannenberg into the ‘traditional’ position.[9]

According to Schleiermacher (1768-1834), the only support for the resurrection of Christ comes from Scripture, which is historically unreliable. After a detailed historical analysis of the Gospels, he concludes that much of what was said during Jesus’ life, pre- and post-resurrection, were the result of redaction. He then questions why Jesus would devote his time after his resurrection strictly to a few, rather than many, which would clearly have a greater impact. Furthermore, he argues the resurrection has no significance for Christ or the individual, for the cross itself has no redemptive significance.[10] However, he does not deny the historicity of the resurrection, for that would mean Jesus chose his disciples poorly as unreliable testimonies, or that he intended to deceive humanity. The resurrection is therefore a kerygmatic tool arising out of the disciples’ faith who “recognized in Him the Son of God without having the faintest premonition of His resurrection and ascension.”[11]

There seems to be some tension present in Schleiermacher’s understanding of Scripture. On the one hand he refuses to acknowledge the reliability of the resurrection accounts, but on the other does not question the disciples’ statements about Jesus. Furthermore, while the biblical accounts attest to the disciples’ acknowledgment of Jesus as Christ, none of them addressed Jesus as God until Thomas did so after the resurrection. Hieb details a further inconsistency within Schleiermacher’s theological schema, in particular regards to his positivistic nature-system which inherently disallows supernatural miracles. His doctrine of reconciliation denies the need for resurrection and his nature-system denies the possibility of resurrection – yet he refuses to deny Christ’s resurrection.[12] As is evident, there is ambiguity to Schleiermacher’s interpretation of the resurrection and unresolvable tensions. His doctrine is thus irrevocably untenable.

Strauss interpreted all stories through the lens of myth and thus any hint of supernaturalism was denied from a historical perspective. He “regarded the Gospels as a hopeless conglomeration of mythical stories from which no trustworthy picture of Jesus could ever be won,”[13] arguing that either Jesus had not really died, or he had not really been raised. The resurrection was, rather, a primitive myth. Similarly, Tillich (1886-1965) rejected the notion of Christ’s bodily resurrection and insisted it was a metaphor, a reference to the return of Jesus to Christ in the minds of the disciples.[14] For Troeltsch (1865-1923), historical-critical methodology threatened traditional dogmatics. If certain traditions or ‘facts’ did not correspond to present experience – such as the resurrection – it is deemed improbable. His aim was to present Christianity purely as an historical phenomenon compatible with historical-critical methods.[15] Ruling out any supernatural explanation, he concluded that “Christianity is in actuality the strongest and most concentrated revelation of personalistic religious apprehension.”[16] While viewing Christianity as the highest religious truth, in regards to morality, the resurrection must be denied on a historical basis – we do not experience people resurrecting today, therefore we cannot say that anyone has in the past.

Bultmann (1884 – 1976) believed that what is significant is the ongoing, existential meaning of the cross and resurrection. More important than any historical evidence is the individual’s experience of Christ in the present. Like Tillich he viewed the resurrection as metaphor, but insisted that the resurrection should not be understood as an event of past history, nor can its saving significance be proven historically. Instead, it represents “the elevation of the Crucified One to the status of Lord,”[17] a belief arising out of the early Christians’ proclamation to be prepared for his imminent return. According to Bultmann, “The resurrection of Jesus, Pentecost and the parousia of Jesus are one and the same event, and those who believe have already eternal life.”[18]

For Barth (1886 – 1968), the resurrection was entirely a work of the Father, and it was unnecessary for redemption. Reconciliation occurred in and through Jesus’ obedient life and death, and so Christ’s resurrection was a sovereign act of God’s free grace as an entirely new act – as was the creation of the cosmos. However, the resurrection functions epistemologically; “In His resurrection He reveals Himself as the One He is – the genuine, true and righteous man, the real man, who kept the covenant which all others broke.”[19] It does not alter who Jesus is, yet there is definite transformation. He is “the same whole man, soul and body,” who “rises as He dies,”[20] yet it “crowns this event [of Jesus’ ministry on Earth] as its disclosure and revelation.”[21]

For Barth, “The resurrection is an event in the life of Jesus that gives meaning to the disciples’ faith and to ours today through the power of the Holy Spirit and thus through faith.”[22] Furthermore, “It is…an objective event within history whose meaning is always tied to Jesus himself as subject and object and thus requires faith in him to be understood.”[23] Jesus was a particular man in a particular time, and is saviour only so long as he, his incarnation and resurrection, are historical events. However, understanding these events cannot come through normal historical-critical methods, rather can only be understood through faith, given through our unification with the risen Jesus by the Holy Spirit. He argues that his death and resurrection “must be understood in the flesh, as a real event, yet not as a single event or as many single events, but as the totality of the event of the existence of Jesus.”[24] For Barth, the resurrection is an historical event but is unlike any other historical event; it is God’s history with humanity, more than it is empirical human history.[25]

Rahner (1904 – 1984) attempts to hold the resurrection as both an event in Jesus’ life and as an event within the faith of the disciples. He insists the resurrection be linked to the cross, arguing it is “the manifestation of what happened in the death of Christ,”[26] and in his resurrection, the transfiguration and renewal of the world has begun; in his death and resurrection, Christ is the fulfilment and consummation of all of creation.[27] According to Rahner,

The resurrection of Christ is essentially…the event in which God irrevocably adopts the creature as his own reality, by his own primordial act, as he had ‘already’ done in the incarnation of the Logos. It is likewise the event in which God so divinizes and transfigures the creature that this glorification is accomplished as the total acceptance of this divine assumption by the freedom of the creature itself.[28]

The resurrection was an actual, historical event that gave rise to faith, but without faith there would be no resurrection, as Molnar notes, “The resurrection of Jesus is not a historical fact existing independently of the disciples’ faith and ours.”[29] While it was an historical event, it cannot be understood as any other historical event, for it does not exist within our normal realm of experience of empirical and recurring data. The resurrection cannot be separated from faith for “it is only in this faith that its own essential being is fully realized.”[30] In this faith we receive and experience Christian hope, for since Jesus has been raised, we can hope for our own resurrection, which shall be a resurrection into Jesus himself.[31]

Where Rahner links the resurrection to hope, Schillebeeckx (1914 – 2009) links it to Christ’s glorification: “Jesus’ resurrection is directly associated with his exaltation.”[32] The empty tomb tradition did not lead to the belief in Christ’s resurrection, rather God exalted Jesus to the heavenly places after his death, which in effect was his resurrection, and thus resulted in the tales of the empty tomb as a consequence. He argues the early Christians would have reflected upon Apocalyptic texts such as Wisdom of Solomon, and concluded that upon his death, Jesus lived on in God. Therefore, the resurrection of Christ is merely a reference to his exaltation into the heavenly places, and not a literal historical event. Yet through this exaltation, “God’s definitive saving action has been accomplished.”[33] Macquarrie, reflecting upon this position, concludes that simple contemplation upon a passage would not result in the dramatic turnaround in the disciples’ lives – something had to have happened to cause them to insist, to their deaths, that Christ was risen.[34]

For Moltmann (1926 – present), the resurrection represents the antithesis to Christ’s crucifixion. The former represents death and the absence of God, the latter represents life and the presence of God. Despite this contradiction, Jesus remains the same man, though in his cross he is identified with sin and death and in his resurrection is identified with God’s promises. The Christian hope arises out of this resurrection, wherein the general resurrection, the coming of the Kingdom of God, and the new re-creation of all, are ensured.[35]

Conclusion: The Arrival of Pannenberg

This essay has attempted to outline the major theological currents that paved the way for Pannenberg’s Christological publication, Jesus – God and Man. To be noted, of special interest, is the sheer diversity of Christological assertions and how these conclusions have been influenced by an even greater diversity of factors, including philosophical presuppositions and approaches to the role of historical research. The essay began with an overview of Ford’s five ‘types’ of Christologies; with Bultmann, Pannenberg fits into the second type, in that his study of Jesus had as its foundation a rigorous historical-critical methodology. He refused to accept, without question, Christian self-description and kerygma, seeking to go behind the early church proclamation to find the real, historical Jesus. He insisted that “the task of Christology is to establish the true understanding of Jesus’ significance from his history,” and thus “all statements…are to be tested in the light of Jesus’ history.”[36] Emerging out of the ‘Second Quest’ for the historical Jesus, Pannenberg argued that it’s not just possible to discover the real Jesus through historical-critical methodology, but, in fact, we can discover the real Jesus only through historical-critical methodology.

Evidently, Pannenberg approaches Christology from below and provides three reasons why a Christology from above is not feasible:[37]

  1. It presupposes Christ’s divinity. Determining who Jesus was and is is the primary task of Christology, and thus nothing can be presupposed or assumed.
  2. It does not fully recognize the distinctive elements and attributes of the historical human figure. For example, if a universal nature is presupposed in Christ’s being, Jesus’ relationship with historical Judaism loses importance.
  3. It assumes a position any human interpreter cannot inhabit: the position of God himself. We can only ever think from a humanly, historical perspective.

While he would fit into Fergusson’s ‘traditional’ position on the resurrection, with Barth, Pannenberg’s position is very different to Barth’s, due to Barth’s methodology being a Christology from above. Where Barth placed emphasis on the epistemological significance of the resurrection, Pannenberg prescribed it a greater ontological significance, arguing,

Only because in Jesus’ resurrection the end of all things, which for us has not yet happened, has already occurred can it be said of Jesus that the ultimate already is present in him, and so also that God himself, his glory, has made its appearance in Jesus in a way that cannot be surpassed. Only because the end of the world is already present in Jesus’ resurrection is God himself revealed in him…[and] in Jesus, God himself has appeared on earth.[38]

In other words, the resurrection – and the eschatological significance inherent within it –ontologically determines Jesus’ divinity. McClean expands,

[Pannenberg] argues that the Easter event ‘determines’ the meaning of Jesus’ life and his relationship with God. That is, the proper understanding of Jesus’ life and his identity depend on the resurrection, not simply for their being known, but for their being what they are.[39]

Pannenberg’s Christology in Jesus – God and Man is progressive and groundbreaking. Though his thought didn’t change dramatically as he aged,[40] it did develop and thus there are evident differences in his Christology in his later publication Systematic Theology, where a greater anthropological emphasis leads to slightly different conclusions regarding Jesus’ humanity and our relation to him.However, the purpose of this research is on his early work and as such, such discussion is best left elsewhere. Though technically falling into Fergusson’s ‘traditional’ position, he clearly is anything but.

 

References

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. Ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Trans. H. Knight, G. W. Bromiley, J. K. S. Reid, R. H. Fuller. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1960.

Bauckham, Richard. “Jürgen Moltmann.” In The Modern Theologians, edited by David F. Ford.2nd ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1997.

Bloesch, Donald G. Jesus Christ: Savior and Lord. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

Bradshaw, Timothy. Pannenberg: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: T&T Clark International, 2009.

Bray, G. L. “Christology.” In New Dictionary of Theology, edited by Sinclair B. Ferguson, and David F. Wright. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988.

Bultmann, Rudolf. Jesus Christ and Mythology. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958.

Edwards, Denis. “The Relationship Between the Risen Christ and the Material Universe.” Pacifica 4, no 1. (1991)

Eitel, Adam. “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Karl Barth and the Historicization of God’s Being.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 10, no 1. (2008)

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998.

Fergusson, David. “Interpreting the Resurrection.” Scottish Journal of Theology 38, no 3. (1985)

__________. “Barth’s Resurrection of the Dead: Further Reflections.” Scottish Journal of Theology 56, no 1. (2003)

Ford, David. “Christology.” In The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought, edited by Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason, and Hugh Pyper. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Ford, David F. and Mike Higton. Jesus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Frei, Hans W. Types of Christian Theology. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

Gilbertson, Michael. God and History in the Book of Revelation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Grenz, Stanley J. and Roger E. Olson. 20th-Century Theology. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Haight, Roger. Jesus: Symbol of God. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999.

Harris, Horton. David Friedrich Strauss and his Theology. London: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

Hieb, Nathan D. “The Precarious Status of Resurrection in Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Glaubenslehre.International Journal of Systematic Theology 9, no 4. (2007)

Janssen, Claudia. “Bodily Resurrection (1 Cor. 15)? The Discussion of the Resurrection in Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Dorothee Sӧlle and Contemporary Feminist Theology.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 79. (2000)

Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospel. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.

Macquarrie, John. Jesus Christ in Modern Thought. London: SCM Press, 1990.

McClean, John. From the Future: Getting to Grips with Pannenberg’s Thought. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2013.

McGrath, Alister E. The Making of Modern German Christology. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1986.

Molnar, Paul D. Incarnation and Resurrection: Toward a Contemporary Understanding. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus – God and Man. Translated by Lewis L. Wilkins and Duane A. Priebe. London: SCM Press, 2002.

Rahner, Karl. Theological Investigations. Vol. 4. Trans. Kevin Smyth. London: Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd., 1974.

__________. Foundations of Christian Faith. Translated by William V. Dych. London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd., 1978.

Schillebeeckx, Edward. Jesus: An Experiment in Christology. Translated by Hubert Hoskins. London: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., 1979.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. The Christian Faith. Ed. H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1968.

__________. The Life of Jesus. Ed. Jack C. Verheyden. Translated by S. Maclean Gilmour. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975.

Schwӧbel, Christoph. “Wolfhart Pannenberg.” In The Modern Theologians, edited by David F. Ford.2nd ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1997.

Smith, J. W. D. “The Resurrection of Christ: Myth or History?” The Expository Times 72, no 12. (1961)

Thiselton, Anthony C. The Two Horizons. Exeter, UK: The Paternoster Press, 1980.

Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. Digswell Place, Great Britain: James Nisbet and Company Ltd., 1968.

Troeltsch, Ernst. The Absoluteness of Christianity. Translated by David Reid. London: SCM Press Ltd., 1971.

Witherington III, Ben. The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

 

Footnotes

[1] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man, trans. Lewis L. Wilkins and Duane A. Priebe (London: SCM Press, 2002).

[2] Hans W. Frei, Types of Christian Theology (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992). 28-55.

[3] David F. Ford, “Christology,” in The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). 116-118.

[4] G. L. Bray, “Christology,” in New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson, and David F. Wright (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1998). 137-140. He argues this splits Christology into two opposing camps.

[5] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998). 684. Cf. Pannenberg. 1-11.

[6] Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997). 6-11. Also, Michael Gilbertson, God and History in the Book of Revelation (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003). 11-16.

[7] Witherington. 11. Though the second quest was largely a reaction to Bultmann, his influence remained, portraying Jesus as an existentialist philosopher (p. 11).

[8] David Fergusson, “Interpreting the Resurrection.” Scottish Journal of Theology 38, no 3. (1985). 287.

[9] Ibid. 287-305. Cf. Paul D. Molnar, Incarnation and Resurrection: Toward a Contemporary Understanding (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007).

[10] It is not within the scope of this essay to detail and critique Schleiermacher’s understanding of redemption, but in short the satisfaction of sin is found not in the suffering, but in the active obedience of Christ throughout his life. If humanity’s sin is infinite then the punishment must equally be infinite. Christ’s death, having occurred within time and space, is not infinite and thus cannot satisfy the punishment for sin. Reconciliation comes through Christ’s obedience, and that obedience is transmitted to those who have fellowship with Christ (Cf. Nathan D Hieb, “The Precarious Status of Resurrection in Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Glaubenslehre.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 9, no 4. (2007). 401-03).

[11] Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith. Edited by H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1968). 418. Cf. Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Life of Jesus. Edited by Jack C. Verheyden. Translated by S. Maclean Gilmour (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975). 392-465.

[12] Hieb. 399, 407-14.

[13] Horton Harris, David Friedrich Strauss and his Theology (London: Cambridge University Press, 1973). 272.

[14] Stanley J. Grenz, and Roger E. Olson, 20th-Century Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992). 129; Paul Tillich. Systematic Theology (Digswell Place, Great Britain: James Nisbet and Company Ltd., 1968). Cf. Alister E. McGrath, The Making of Modern German Christology (Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1986). 37-38.

[15] Gilbertson. 3-4.

[16] Ernst Troeltsch, The Absoluteness of Christianity. Translated by David Reid (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1971). 111-12.

[17] Grenz and Olson. 95.

[18] Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958). 33. Cf. J. W. D. Smith, “The Resurrection of Christ: Myth or History?” The Expository Times 72, no 12. (1961). 372-73.

[19] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. Ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Trans. H. Knight, G. W. Bromiley, J. K. S. Reid, R. H. Fuller (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1960). III/2, 214. Cf. Adam Eitel, “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Karl Barth and the Historicization of God’s Being.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 10, no 1. (2008). 38. Cf. p.40 – “Barth understands Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead as the event in which God the Father acted unnecessarily and graciously.”

[20] Barth. III/2, 327.

[21] Ibid. III/2, 337.

[22] Molnar. 1.

[23] Ibid. 6.

[24] Barth. III/2, 337.

[25] Ibid. 8-14. Cf. Claudia Janssen, “Bodily Resurrection (1 Cor. 15)? The Discussion of the Resurrection in Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Dorothee Sӧlle and Contemporary Feminist Theology.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 79 (2000). 64.

[26] Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations. Vol. 4. Trans. Kevin Smyth (London: Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd., 1974). 128. Furthermore, the death of Christ was “the imposed and enforced handing over of the whole bodily man to the mystery of the merciful loving God, by the concentrated freedom of Christ as he disposes of his whole life and existence,” (p. 128).

[27] Denis Edwards, “The Relationship Between the Risen Christ and the Material Universe.” Pacifica 4, no 1. (1991). 11-12.

[28] Rahner. Theological Investigations. 128-29.

[29] Molnar. 63.

[30] Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith. Translated by William V. Dych (London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd., 1978). 267-68.

[31] Molnar. 45-66. Cf. Rahner. 267-68 – “Jesus is risen into the faith of his disciples…that faith which knows itself to be a divinely effected liberation from all the powers of finiteness, of guilt and of death, and knows itself to be empowered for this by the fact that this liberation has taken place in Jesus himself and has become manifest for us.”

[32] Edward Schillebeeckx. Jesus: An Experiment in Christology. Translated by Hubert Hoskins (London: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., 1979). 533.

[33] Ibid. 543.

[34] John Macquarrie. Jesus Christ in Modern Thought (London: SCM Press, 1990). 311-312.

[35] Richard Bauckham, “Jürgen Moltmann,” in The Modern Theologians, edited by David F. Ford. 2nd ed. (Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1997). 210-213.

[36] Pannenberg. 12. Emphasis mine.

[37] Ibid. 17-18.

[38] Ibid. 59.

[39] John McClean. From the Future: Getting to Grips with Pannenberg’s Thought (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2013). 99-100.

[40] It should be noted at this point that his earlier work is marked but a focus on methodology, as seen in his works Revelation as History and Basic Questions in Theology, thereby establishing his theological schema for healthy growth and development. Hence his overall direction taken in his theological work remained true and did not change or wave.

The Church’s Kingdom-Oriented Mission

Introduction

According to the German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg, “the central concern of the Church, and the primary point of reference for understanding the Church, must be the Kingdom of God.”[1] He elsewhere states,

In this way the church is related to the coming kingdom of God: the kingdom of God is not the church; it is the future of the church, as it is the future of all mankind. But the church is the community of those who already wait for the kingdom of God for Jesus’ sake and live from this expectation.[2]

Pannenberg insists upon a proleptic understanding of the function of the Church as a sign of the future fellowship believers will experience with the coming Kingdom of God, which has, paradoxically, already arrived with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Kingdom has indeed arrived in the proclamation of Jesus as Messiah, and thus the values of the Kingdom, predominately love which results in perfect peace and justice, are to be central in the Church’s mission. The Church will never permanently implement these values, or any lasting positive social change, for it is merely provisional until the Kingdom arrives, which will bring the final consummation of humanity.

This essay seeks to analyze Pannenberg’s ecclesiology, with particular focus on the role of pneumatology, which he argues is a core aspect of any ecclesiological discussion, and the relationship the Church has with the Kingdom of God. Discussion will begin with analysis of his ecclesiology, before moving to the Church’s function as proleptic sign of the Kingdom. The essay will then assess the way in which, according to Pannenberg, the eschatological realization of the Kingdom influences the Church’s mission in contemporary society, with critical reflection before concluding with an assessment of the viability of this theological perspective.

The Church and The Kingdom of God

Pannenberg begins his ecclesiology with discussion of the vital role of the Spirit in the formation of the Church. He argues the Church is a continuation of God’s creative work, the Spirit eschatologically unifying believers with one another and with the Son, empowering them to continue God’s work of creation. Hence, the Spirit and Son work closely in forming the Church; Spirit enables and Son fashions.[3]

The Spirit is gift in our lives producing fellowship with Jesus, who is criterion for entering the Kingdom of God. This communion with Jesus brings people into the Kingdom, giving us a taste of our final eschatological humanity, precisely because Jesus is himself the Kingdom of God. According to Grenz, “Pannenberg describes the church as the anticipation of a new eschatological humanity,” and “the Spirit grounds not only the individual assurance of faith but also the fellowship of believers.”[4] Furthermore Pannenberg states,

The gift of the Spirit has a soteriological function as an anticipation of the eschatological outpouring of the Spirit and is defined as a gift by the fact that Jesus Christ has given him to believers, the eschatological future of salvation having dawned already in his own person and history, so that they are aware that the Spirit they have received is the Spirit of Jesus Christ.[5]

The Church is the eschatological people, gathered for mission, unified as the Spirit witnesses to, and reveals, Jesus in believers. The Spirit reveals the eschatological nature of Jesus’ resurrection as the future eschaton itself, breaking into the present, promising the resurrection of the dead to come for believers. Thus it is only by the Spirit’s work that Jesus is the foundation of the church, leading believers to the Father.[6] Pannenberg hence appropriately labels the Church as “the field of activity of the Spirit of Christ.”[7]

The Church, as the new People of God, has as its vocation the reflection of the light of the nations: Christ. This does not mean, however, the Church possesses light and authority to force a sense of superiority over this world.[8] Believers are bound together with Jesus through the knowledge that in Jesus the consummation of humanity has come, revealed by the Spirit, enabling us to see Jesus as Messiah. However, distinction must be made between Jesus and the church, and the kingdom of God and the Church; the church anticipates the future fellowship of humanity in God’s Kingdom. Jesus is the consummation of humanity, but this consummation is yet to find total actualization in the arrival of the Kingdom of God. The church must therefore educate believers for the Kingdom.[9]

Pannenberg asserts that the Church’s existence finds its origin “when the first step was taken to proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation,”[10] referencing Pentecost as this decisive moment. However, the resurrection and Pentecost were merely partial aspects of the consummation of the Kingdom, as was the formation of the primitive community which would find realization in the fellowship in the Kingdom of God.[11]

The rule of Christ is…already present in the church’s proclamation. For the rule of Christ can have no different goal from his earthly ministry, where it was to call men into the kingdom of God and to proclaim the coming of that kingdom. Through the continuation of the mission of Jesus Christ in the church’s proclamation of Christ, the rule of Christ shows itself to be present within it. And yet the community of Christians in the particular historical form which its life takes at any given time is not identical with the kingdom of Christ.[12]

Jesus’ earthly work was the formation of a church and the proclamation of the nearness of the Kingdom, for the immanence of Jesus means no less than the immanence of the Kingdom. The calling of the 12 disciples was less the formation of a core community, and more a symbolic eschatological action, representing the restoration of Israel. With the rejection of the Easter message by most of the Jewish population, this core fellowship transcended the bounds of the Jewish people, becoming a representation “of the destiny of all humanity as a new and definitive society in the Kingdom of God.”[13] The 12 were thus “a provisional sign of God’s dominion, although in such a way that in it the future of this dominion was present already, even if not fully so.”[14] Furthermore, Pannenberg argues that Jewish eschatology had always included recognition of the inclusion of the Gentiles; “In Israel expectation of God’s rule developed as the hope of a future in which God’s just will would be done without break or limit, both in Israel itself and also among the nations.”[15]

Jesus’ ministry was the proclamation of this coming Kingdom and thus, Pannenberg argues, any who dedicates their life to Christ inevitably dedicates their life to the Kingdom. Jesus points the Church toward the Kingdom and reigns where people acknowledge the Kingdom and live accordingly.[16] This was Jesus’ Messianic function, to enable others to participate in the Kingdom. Jesus was exalted to exercise God’s power, and as one with the Father, he serves the Kingdom of his Father, who exercises his power through Jesus.[17]

He argues that the Church is a proleptic “sign of the future fellowship of humanity under God’s reign,” seen particularly in its liturgical life and specifically in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.[18] It functions as an eschatological community, thus as a sign of God’s coming rule, but must be distinguished from this coming rule. It must proclaim this provisional nature, ever moving towards God’s lordship which is already present as a sign. The Kingdom was therefore present in Jesus’ ministry and presently in the Church, by the Spirit, through proclamation.[19] Bradshaw explains,

The future remains the future in our historical continuum, and the kingdom of the Father remains in the future, however it has arrived proleptically in Christ…The kingdom of God is present as the future of God’s final reign proleptically arrived in Christ, and yet the future holds the fullness of this reign and our participation in it.[20]

The Church is, therefore, the “sacrament of the kingdom.”[21] It is, in Christ, both the mystery of salvation and has the function as sign. Jesus is the revelation of the mystery of salvation, and the Church is a sign of the Kingdom by participation in this salvation. Pannenberg argues that “the church has its end not in itself but in the future of a humanity that is reconciled to God and united by common praise of God in his kingdom.”[22] The Church, as sign, witnesses to this end, but is not in itself this end, nor can her work be undistinguished from that of Jesus’.[23]

Pannenberg rejects the chiliastic notion of a distinction between the Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of God, a notion resulting from the Jewish-Christian expectation of the millennial reign of the Messiah. There should be no separation between the two, for the Kingdom of Christ is the Kingdom of God, for, as Pannenberg argues, there is unity between the Son and the Father as the Son participates in God’s Lordship; “There can exist no competition between the Son and the Kingdom of the Father.”[24]

Because the Kingdom is an all-encompassing event, the consummation of all humanity, justice and peace will reign supreme. As the fulfillment of this justice and peace, it will be perfect communion, for without justice and peace, this communion is broken; it is clear that the Kingdom is not yet realized precisely because of the injustice and brutality in the world.[25] It is clear, therefore, that the Church is merely a partial realization of the Kingdom. To remain faithful to Jesus’ message of salvation, the Church must keep the Kingdom of God as the central concern in its proclamation, which points toward the future of the world and of humanity. Pannenberg argues against the Protestant emphasis on individual salvation as the goal of the Church’s mission, rather arguing that the purpose of the Church must be directed toward the Kingdom of God.[26]

Eschatological Peace

Pannenberg argues that the Church is a proleptic sign of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom breaks into the present from the future, revealing love and true peace and justice. He states, “In the work of Jesus the kingdom of God, and therewith the eschatological future of the world, had already broken into salvation.”[27] This was particularly revealed through his resurrection, which was revelation of the end. He also argues, “The hope of the coming of God’s kingdom necessarily goes hand in hand with the expectation of a cosmic renewal of the world,” extending beyond the temporal to the inclusion of eternity into the present; “Eternity will no longer have to be in antithesis to time but must be thought of as including time.”[28] Bradshaw clarifies,

At the eschaton the kingdom of God enters time, eternity being the future perfection of everything. Everything that occurs and perishes in time is preserved in God’s eternity, which embraces all temporal events and identities and brings them to their final destiny, that of praising the Father with the Son in the Spirit.[29]

Invariably, the general resurrection of the dead is anticipated. Only this can lead to all individuals participating in the perfect society of the Kingdom, for this resurrection implies transformation, with the believers being transformed into the light of God’s glory. This transformation, however, cannot occur in the present, rather in the future return of Christ.[30] He states, “It is only because the full advent of the kingdom of God occurs together with the general resurrection of the dead, that all individual members of humankind will have a chance to participate in the final consummation of human destiny in the kingdom of God.”[31] The Kingdom, the perfect society, will be realized in history, thus in time and not outside of or beyond time. This realization will be simultaneous with the new heaven and Earth as eternity breaks into history. Schwӧbel observes that for Pannenberg the end of history does not mean transition into void, but rather that history is included into God’s eternity, the consummation of humanity finding fulfillment in eternity.[32]

This eschatological renewal, wherein the Church’s reality is included into God’s eternity, finding realized and complete actualization, impacts upon the present. Hence, the Church is called to enact these Kingdom values into the present. The future realities of the Kingdom of God are present only through faith, not through the Church enforcing these values onto this world. There are functional implications as the sign of this reality, but the Church cannot cause the Kingdom into this world.[33] When the Kingdom does come, there will be no need for the Church to remain, for the Church exists only as long as the political orders do not provide the ultimate human fulfilment, which is found only in the Kingdom of God. This should not result in despair, but in hope, for this provides us with the strength needed to accept these limitations.[34]

Panneberg argues that the Kingdom will bring true fellowship between all people; this unity only comes in the present through the reign of God amongst those who are subject to its authority. This unity cannot be enforced or coerced, but only through loving and caring for one another, advocating for justice.[35] Political order is, also, connected to the Kingdom of God and God’s reign. Politics establish peace and justice in society, but any stable political order requires a foundation that transcends the world, appealing to a higher authority. However, the goal of politics will only find actualization in the Kingdom. The difference between the spiritual and the secular in the political realm, is in the eschatological awareness of Christianity. Hence, “Christians and their churches must act as advocates of our rational autonomy in awareness of our own finitude and hence also of the divine mystery that constitutes our finite existence.”[36]

Christians must not keep silent on matters of injustice, but must remember that full and final justice comes from the Kingdom of God which is still to come. Christians should enact Kingdom values, but these values will only ever be a partial reconciliation. Only God can definitively bring the Kingdom into actualization. The Church must remind the State of this fact.[37] Hence, the Church is essential in society, pointing others toward the Kingdom, primarily in two ways: 1) preventing humans from claiming ultimate significance, and 2) encouraging social action.[38] He argues,

While we must not despise the legal forms of life, neither should we think that, by themselves, they can provide ultimate justice for the individual. Laws cannot achieve the justice we seek precisely because they are abstract and general. Only care for the individual achieves true justice; legal formulations must be subordinated to this justice…Love effects that unity among men which expresses itself in legal forms but which is always more than those forms. Love fills the legal forms with life and thus achieves true justice.[39]

The actualization of this love and true justice is realized only in the Kingdom of God. Hence, the Kingdom speaks to these legal forms and is thus “pointedly political.” Pannenberg’s view of the Kingdom is indeed political, but, contrary to liberation theology, this Kingdom comes neither through political agenda, nor through human action.[40]

He states, “In the light of the futurity of God’s Kingdom, it is obvious that no present form of life and society is ultimate.”[41] But this does not disqualify the need for political activity. The future Kingdom of God demands obedience in the present. In fact, any recognition of God’s future reign and obedience to God as ruler requires a change in the present situation, for the future of God’s reign has a reality of its own, one which includes and revises the present. Yet any political forms of peace and justice remain provisional and preliminary and require an awareness of this temporality. We must engage in politics, inspired by a transcendent ideal that we will only ever see realized provisionally, striving towards history’s destiny and fulfillment in the realization of the Kingdom.[42]

This view of human political orders as provisional is likely influenced by his history, being exposed to both Nazi Germany and Stalinist Eastern Europe; “His firsthand exposure to the evils of two human social orders…forms a part of the background to Pannenberg’s conclusion that no human political system can ever fully mirror the perfect human social structure that one day will come as a divine gift in the kingdom of God.”[43]

Human laws can never actualize a perfect society of peace and justice. Only God can bring this justice because his law is perfected by love, reconciling individuals with one another. However, a totally new heaven and Earth is required before this love can reign, “for human conflict, on account of the dominion of sin in human relations, is deeply rooted in the natural conditions of existence as it is now.”[44]

The Church, as constituted by both Spirit and Son, proleptically reveals the fellowship that is to come in final fruition in the actualization of the Kingdom of God, which constitutes the consummation of humanity in Christ, found particularly in his resurrection. This future reality which the Church reveals is one of perfect community, wherein God reigns supreme through love, and perfect justice and peace is enjoyed. The Church represents this fellowship, albeit merely partially. The Church’s essential nature is living in this world, showing Christ’s death and resurrection to the world and is thus missional in nature. The Kingdom of God constitutes this mission, being a sign of God’s reign over all humanity. The Church is not a means to salvation in itself but points to Jesus Christ, who is.[45]

Pannenberg argues, “The truth is that the Church can only be understood in relationship to the world…the connection between Church and world is by no means accidental; the Church’s relationship to the world is determinative for her authentic vocation.”[46] He asserts that the Church must always gaze outwards toward humankind.[47] He further argues that there is no distinction between a ‘horizontal’ love and a ‘vertical’ love. In other words, loving God is loving others and vice versa. Therefore, in loving one another and the world, in being unified through love, we are participating in God’s rule, anticipating the future fellowship between all in the perfect society of the Kingdom of God.[48]

Critical Reflection

Pannenberg’s theological understanding of the relationship between the Church and the Kingdom is not without criticism. According to Grenz,

Some remain skeptical concerning the practical working out of his proposal, specifically how modern pluralistic society, in which many truth claims are competing for adherence, can nevertheless appeal to a religious understanding of reality for the legitimation of its political order.[49]

In other words, Grenz is questioning the place of Pannenberg’s political theology in contemporary pluralistic society. He observes that religious pluralism is the result of humankind’s innate knowledge of God, but Christians must demonstrate the truth of the love inherent in Christian theology, built around the proclamation of the immanence of the transcendent Kingdom. While Pannenberg rejects a religious plurality as sufficient for salvation, he asserts the inclusiveness of the Gospel, while further arguing that other religions have their place in revealing Christ.[50] Hence, Pannenberg is seemingly unperturbed by these criticisms, for he asserts that while other religions may reveal Christ in a partial way, Christianity is the one true faith and hence the Kingdom values must be implemented in any human political society. But he stresses that ecumenical unity must be formed, and that Christians must demonstrate the truth of these Christian values to the world; the only way the world can acknowledge the truth of the Kingdom is through demonstration and proof of its efficacy.

Activist theologians have criticized Pannenerg for not providing a theology for social change, arguing his political theology is too conservative. They focus on his claims that no political order will provide lasting positive change, which can only come with the actualization of the Kingdom of God. However, this criticism is unfounded, for he argues not for a disengagement from the world but rather that the Kingdom causes the Church to engage with the world, without overestimating the Church’s ability to bring about significant lasting change.[51]

Another area of criticism pertains to Pannenberg’s tendency toward determinism. If the future is not already determined, how can it influence the present? How can the Kingdom function retroactively unless it is determined already? Hence, Pannenberg’s theology, argues Grenz and Olson, presupposes a strict determinism.[52] These are fair concerns, and highlight a major area of tension in Pannenberg’s eschatology. He denies this determinism, but argues, “God creates his creatures as they are, which means in the case of the human creature that human freedom itself is to be conceived as God’s creation.”[53] In other words, human freedom is in itself a divine determination. The future impacts upon the present not in removing freedom, but by providing that freedom.[54] The tension, however, is still left unresolved.

Conclusion

In sum, Pannenberg’s ecclesiology seeks to incorporate a greater pneumatological – and, arguably, eschatological – aspect than had been allowed in much evangelical theology. The Spirit’s vital role is in leading humans to Christ, who in turn leads to the Father, and in whom the Kingdom is made present. Pannenberg insists upon, however, a distinction between the Church and the Kingdom; the Kingdom is made present by Christ, through proclamation, but the Kingdom can only be experienced provisionally until Christ returns and the rule of God is actualized in totality. The Church thus functions proleptically. It is a sign of the Kingdom, albeit a provisional sign, and hence the Church’s mission is intricately linked with the Kingdom.

The Church’s Kingdom-oriented mission is to represent the peace and justice that will come with the actualization of the Kingdom. The fellowship to come with the resurrection of the dead, when eternity breaks into history and a new heaven and earth will be formed, will have love as its foundation. Therefore, the Church must represent these Kingdom values of love, justice and peace, by loving and caring, and being involved in social action, whilst remembering than any system or political order will always remain provisional. She must remind society of its temporality and finitude, pointing to the future fellowship in the Kingdom as the hope that strengthens the Church’s mission.

Despite the tension of the tendency toward a strict determinism, of which Pannenberg denies, his ecclesiology and his understanding of the mission of the Church as being determined by the future Kingdom of God is comprehensive and on the most part, agreeable. His argument is intricate and logical and is difficult to find fault with. It is impossible to escape tension within the bible itself in regards to the eschatological bend in its portrayal of the Church and the “now – not yet” of the Kingdom of God which Christ proclaimed. Pannenberg seems to play on this tension, and rather than simplifying this tension so as to remove the paradoxical eschatological mystery of the Church, he returns focus to Christ, and through Christ the eschatological proclamation of the consummation of humanity in the Kingdom of God.

Pannenberg’s ecclesiology and understanding of the relationship and tension between the Church and the Kingdom is an important contribution to missiological ecclesiology, for it places the Church’s mission upon a transcendent ideal. The promise of the perfect fellowship to come with the Kingdom, that has come and has been revealed through the resurrection, places the Church in something much bigger than itself. This understanding will – and must – cause the Church to recognize the fact that it is God alone who builds his Church, but he builds his Church through his children. The Church must therefore not remain static or inactive but must seek to fulfill the Great Commission by loving and seeking the implementation of the Kingdom values. The Kingdom will always invariably orient the Church toward love, and anything other than this will cause the Church to cease to be the Church, for it will cease representing Christ and his Kingdom.

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[1] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God, ed. Richard John Neuhaus (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1977).  73.

[2] Wolfhart Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1972). 154 – 155.

[3] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. 3 (London: T&T Clark International, 2004). Cf. Christoph Schwӧbel, “Wolfhart Pannenberg,” in The Modern Theologians, ed. David F. Ford (Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 1997). 198.

[4] Stanley J. Grenz, Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (New York: University Press, 1990). 150 – 152. Cf. Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 82 – 83. Cf. Timothy Bradshaw, Pannenberg: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T&T Clark International, 2009). 88, 102.

[5] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 7. Cf. Phil. 1:19; Rom. 8:9.

[6] Ibid. 13 – 16. Cf. Don H. Olive, Wolfhart Pannenberg, ed. Bob E. Patterson (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1973). 63; Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man, trans. Lewis L. Wilkins (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1968. 107.

[7] Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 145. Cf. Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 107 – 108.

[8] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 75.

[9] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 17 – 21. Cf. Wolfhart Pannenberg, “The Present and Future Church,” First Things, www.firstthings.com (accessed 28/05/2013). 4.

[10] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 28. Cf. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Ethics, trans. Keith Crim (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1981). 181 – “The Kingdom of God…became present reality for his hearers in and through that proclamation.”

[11] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 28.

[12] Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 153.

[13] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 29 – 30. Cf. Bradhsaw. 90; Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 153 – “The church, as the community of the end-time, is now the company of people who are already united in expectation of God’s future for mankind.”

[14] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 31. Cf. E. Frank Tupper, The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1973). 231 – 232; Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 193, 212; Wolfhart Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology,” in The Last Things: Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Eschatology, ed. Carl E. Braaten, Robert W. Jenson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002). 5, 10; Bradshaw. 77 – “Jesus is clearly the bringer in of the kingdom of the universal God, the one who is to come has come.” Cf. Luke 11:20; John 12:31, 48.

[15] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 30. Cf. Zech. 9:9-10; 14:9, 16-17; Mic. 4:1-4; Deut. 33:5; Num. 23:21; Ps. 47:7; 1 Chron. 28:5; 17:14; 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8.

[16] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 76 – 77, 83. Cf. Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 3.

[17] Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 218. Cf. Pannenberg, Ethics. 181; Bradshaw. 138.

[18] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 31. Cf. Pannenberg, “The Present and Future Church.” 5; Grenz. 151; Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 152 – “The church is not the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is, rather, the church’s future as it is the future of the world.”

[19] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 32 – 38. Cf. Pannenberg, Ethics. 19; Grenz. 180; Pannenberg, “The Present and Future Church.” 4 – “The kingdom of God is not something that we can bring about, nor is it identical with the life of the church…The church’s mission is to be a sign of the kingdom.”

[20] Bradshaw. 102. Cf. p. 166 – “God’s kingdom is still to come, while being proleptically here.” Synder argues similarly, “In a very real sense, the church is not only a sign but also (when faithful to Christ and led by the Spirit) the agent of the kingdom on Earth. The church is not the kingdom; neither is it unrelated to the kingdom. It is the witness to the kingdom and, when anointed and animate by the Holy Spirit, becomes in a partial though not unambiguous way the sign, prototype and pilot project of the kingdom on earth,” (Howard A. Snyder, Kingdom Lifestyle: Calling the Church to Live under God’s Reign (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1985) 80).

[21] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 42.

[22] Ibid. 45.

[23] Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 219. Cf. Tupper. 241.

[24] Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 369. Cf. Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 152 – 153. Furthermore, “The Father establishes his Kingdom precisely through the Son, not apart from him, or beside him, or after his Kingdom…The Kingdom of the Son is also that of the Father and vice versa,” (Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 369).

[25] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 80. Cf. Pannenberg, Ethics. 181; Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 5.

[26] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 73. Cf. Grenz. 153.

[27] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 581. Cf. Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Future and Unity,” in Hope and the Future of Man, ed. Ewert H. Cousins (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1972). 65.

[28] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 584, 595. Cf. Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 61, 193.

[29] Bradshaw. 167.

[30] Pannenberg, “Future and Unity.” 70 – 71. Cf. Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 106 – 107; Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 6 – 7. Cf. Isa. 26:14, 19; Mark 12:26f; 1 Cor. 3:13-15; 15:50ff; 2 Cor. 5:10.

[31] Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 11.

[32] Schwӧbel. 201. Cf. Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 76.

[33] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 48.

[34] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 83. Cf. Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 2, 6.

[35] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 78 – 79.

[36] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 49 – 54. Cf. Grenz. 179.

[37] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 55 – 56. Cf. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Human Nature, Election, and History (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1977). 101.

[38] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 85. Cf. Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 6 – “Hope for the kingdom may inspire and direct our human efforts in this world, but its achievement is for another world and puts an end to our antagonistic history of human action.”

[39] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 79-81 – “Love is the final norm of justice.” Cf. Bradshaw. 91.

[40] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 79 – 80. Cf. Grenz. 180.

[41] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 80. Elsewhere Pannenberg states, “The expectation of the Kingdom of God implies that only when God rules and no man possesses dominating political power any more, then the domination of people by other people and the injustice invariably connected with it will come to an end,” (Pannenberg, “Future and Unity.” 70 – 71). Cf. Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 1 – 2.

[42] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 81. Cf. Ulrich Wilckens, “The Understanding of Revelation within Primitive Christianity,” in Revelation as History, ed. Wolfhart Pannenberg (London: Sheed and War Ltd., 1969). 61; Olive. 87.

[43] Stanley J. Grenz, Roger E. Olson, 20th Century Theology: God & the World in a Transitional Age (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992) 186 – 187.

[44] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 584. Cf. Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 11. Cf. Rev. 21:1; Isa. 65:17.

[45] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 45 – 47. Cf. Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 75 – “The Church is true to its vocation only as it anticipates and represents the destiny of all mankind, the goal of history.”

[46] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 72-74 – “Since every conception of the Church that disregards its relatedness to the world remains one-sided, and since only the vocation of the Church for the Kingdom of God explains theologically the essential character of her relatedness to the world; therefore, the whole of the ecclesiological thematic can be brought into perspective only from the viewpoint of the Kingdom of God.”

[47] Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 147.

[48] Ted Peters, “Pannenberg’s Eschatological Ethics,” in The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, ed. Carl E. Braaten, Philip Clayton (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988). 242, 247.

[49] Grenz. 170-80.

[50] Steffen Lӧsel, “Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Response to the Challenge of Religious Pluralism: The Anticipation of Divine Absoluteness?” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 34:4 (1997). 499-519.

[51] Grenz. 181. Cf. Peters. 248-49 – “God’s future has had and continues to have an impact upon our present situation. The direction of force comes from the future.”

[52] Grenz. 198-99.

[53] Wolfhart Pannenberg, “A Response to My American Friends,” in The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, ed. Carl E. Braatan, Philip Clayton (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988). 322.

[54] Gijsbert van den Brink, Almighty God: A Study of the Doctrine of Divine Omnipotence (Kampen: Koh Pharos Publishing House, 1993). 220.

Wolfhart Pannenberg on Revelation

Introduction

Pannenberg made his first significant mark upon the theological community in 1968 when his influential “Revelation as History”[1] was first published, reacting against a common early 20th century trend of avoiding historical criticism by embracing it and concluding that revelation was exclusively history. With a starting point built on a Hegelian and Barthian understanding,[2] Pannenberg advances the argument that “theological questions and answers are meaningful only within the framework of the history which God has with humanity,”[3] and revelation comes through the indirect process of interpreting this history, comprehended objectively and completely only at the end of history, open to anyone who has eyes to see.[4] Reacting against a strong onslaught of modernism threatening theology, Pannenberg’s theology was reasonably influential[5] in retaining a sense of rationalism in the public arena and extending the discussion beyond simply seeing the Bible as the unique revelation of God. This essay seeks to analyze Pannenberg’s understanding of revelation, discussing his context, his understanding of Old Testament and apocalyptic traditions, the role of Jesus’ death and resurrection and what this means for our understanding of the future. This analysis will be followed by a critique of its validity as a theological doctrine, and a proposed method for its application in a local congregation, with the example of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.

Context

With the rise of historical criticism, doubts began to develop regarding the validity of the Biblical texts, resulting in theologians by the 20th century reacting in differing ways; some ignored historical criticism, leading to a form of fundamentalism, others conformed theology to the modern historical outlook, which often meant completely removing certain doctrines, and others inhabited a middle ground in which historical criticism was seen as valid, with revelation understood to be separate from world history entirely. Bultmann and Barth adopted a form of this third approach;[6] “pursuing the purity of faith, revelation was restricted to the Bible,”[7] hence history had no influence over theology. Pannenberg departed dramatically, finding Barth to be too subjective[8] and understood Bultmann’s distinction between New Testament theology and Jewish apocalypticism to be erroneous, himself believing them to be a continuous tradition. According to Powell, Pannenberg placed himself outside fundamentalism, in opposition to Bultmann’s approach to apocalypticism,[9] and rejected the common idea that revelation is “trans-historical.”[10]

Revelation as History

Pannenberg places great emphasis on a correct understanding of Jewish tradition, and much of his argument is based on his interpretation that there was no initial special revelation at the beginning of Israel’s faith. Instead, there was an existing sense of the divine (more of a general revelation), which was interpreted and reinterpreted over time. The function of revelation was never to prove God’s existence, for this was already presupposed.[11] Pannenberg argues,

Inspiration and signs have significance for knowledge of God. Yet they are not its basis. These various forms of revelation already presuppose a knowledge of God…If an awareness that God is the author [of revelation] is connected with the content of the revelation, the awareness of revelation already contains an element of reflection.[12]

What separated Israel from the other nations was an awareness of the history in which God sought them out to save them.[13] History is suspended between promise and fulfillment, hence Israel was always looking forward to the goal of the fulfillment of God’s promises, and, quoting Deu. 7.8, Pannenberg stressed “the goal here of Yahweh’s action in history is that he be known,” which is revelation.[14] This led to the development of apocalypticism, which said history would provide reinterpretation, and his self-revelation would be surpassed by new events as it further developed over time.[15] He further argued,

Apocalyptic Israel understood every world event as God’s passage toward a final goal. The last fulfillment was expected to be the event of raising the dead. For us the end is still outstanding: our resurrection has not yet occurred. History for the world is not yet complete.[16]

Murdock points out that from Pannenberg’s understanding of the Old Testament and Jewish apocalypticism, Jewish tradition understood revelation as indirect and partial, in historic events, reinterpreted over time, heading toward the final consummation at the end of time.[17]

Regarding New Testament theology, Pannenberg argued it was not the person of Jesus, but his fate, which indirectly revealed God’s glory.[18] He argued, “Without the resurrection Jesus’ interpretation of the law would have remained an exorbitant critique…the teaching of Jesus is not true in itself, but only as it is a constituent part of the fate of his career.”[19] In other words, neither the person nor the teachings of Jesus directly revealed God, rather the resurrection “is the appearance in historical time, of the future kingdom,”[20] so is not just the confirmation of Jesus as the revelation of God (through hindsight), but also the revelation of the eschatological goal of history. He further argued that “the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection yields itself to us today: in him the end of world history has already come to fulfillment, an end which also waits for us but which still remains hidden from us in the future.”[21]

The apostolic and patristic proclamation, says Pannenberg, was less to prove and more to interpret Jesus,[22] arguing his career was historically verifiable, among other events, but not just another event.[23] Their interpretation, built on an apocalyptic tradition, pointed them toward anticipating the future, as McGrath discusses, “Revelation is not completely apprehended at the beginning, but only at the end of revelatory history.”[24] Full knowledge will only be revealed at the end,[25] but in the mean time the Spirit provisionally convinces us of the truth of God.[26] The end of history is the goal,[27] “which reads back over the events [of history] to declare the meaning of all the ‘factors’, all the clusters of events in different contexts bundling up together until that final ‘secret’ discloses itself and every thing with it.”[28] According to Pannenberg, history does not end with Jesus, but continues, drawing all Christians into the same history as that of Israel. By this we are unified, and look toward our future resurrection, which Jesus has already revealed.[29]

Pannenberg’s approach is summarized in the first four of his seven theses:[30]

  1. God’s revelation is not theophanic, rather indirect, through historical acts, arguing that “the apocalyptic writings expect the final and ultimate self-vindication of Jahweh in connection with the end event, and envision his appearance in glory.”[31]
  2. This revelation can only be fully comprehended at the end of the revealing history. Our current revelation is partial, and the meaning of the present is hidden. However, the ultimate event of salvation that is to come in the future has already been experienced in the fate of Jesus.
  3. This revelation is objectively and universally open to anyone willing to look, and understanding this historical revelation points us toward faith in God’s future actions.[32]
  4. The deity of God is not yet revealed completely and objectively to all people, except in the fate of Jesus, in whom “the resurrection of the dead has already taken place, though to all other men this is still something yet to be experienced,”[33] and “the fate of Jesus Christ is the anticipation of the end, and thus the revelation of God.”[34]

Furthermore, he rejects the distinction between special and general revelation, arguing there is one self-disclosure, found in the public sphere of history,[35] linking revelation with reason,[36] thus concluding that “all theological questions and answers are meaningful only within the framework of the history which God has with humanity,”[37] and, notes Wood, “what is theologically true cannot be historically false.”[38]

Pannenberg’s approach is not without criticism. Some criticize him of misinterpreting apocalypticism, such as Murdock,[39] and Olive who argues he made apocalypticism too optimistic.[40] Gunton argues revelation should not be understood merely eschatologically, but also soteriologically, quoting Exodus 3, John 1, Galatians 1.11, and Ephesians 3.5-6 as scriptural evidence for direct revelation.[41] Wood criticizes Pannenberg of making the Bible simply a historical resource instead of a kerygmatic tool[42] and Powell notes a remarkable lack of examples of Kingdom appearances in historical situations other than Biblical tradition.[43] Furthermore, it seems his discussion tautologically presupposes his conclusion, with broad, general statements lacking in evidence and theological statements lacking in scriptural examples. Hence, Pannenberg’s approach is not entirely convincing.

Application for Congregations: Mount Pleasant Baptist Church

Despite these criticisms, three areas of Pannenberg’s approach carry merit for the church. Firstly, while his rejection of direct revelation is short-sighted and unscriptural, he reminds us of the broad ways which God could reveal himself to us; we should not limit God’s methods of revelation, but continuously expect God to do the unexpected. Secondly, his emphasis on the resurrection is notable, as confirmation of Christ as Son of God and, hence, of our salvation. Thirdly, we should not separate theology from its place in history and the world, immediately rejecting anything that questions the validity of Scripture.[44]

A recent survey found that people from Mount Pleasant Baptist tend to hold to something closer to Barth, but place a greater emphasis on the role of the Spirit in revelation. Further, God reveals himself through ways other than simply the Bible, including history and nature, but is not limited to one way or another. The Spirit is vital to our understanding of Scripture and revelation can be either direct or general, but only through the illumination of the Spirit. All three of the above are applicable: the congregation should expect God to work in many possible ways; the proclamation of the Gospel should include the resurrection as a pivotal point for the validity of our faith and remind us of our future resurrection in Christ; and, without compromising theology, we can openly discuss worldly matters and the Church’s eschatological role in presenting Kingdom values to the world which is yet to receive revelation of Christ.

Conclusion

Pannenberg’s understanding of revelation places history as the unique mode in which God reveals himself, built on from his interpretation of Jewish tradition. We interpret previous events in the world to see God, which gives us faith for our future resurrection. The fate of Jesus is the ultimate revelation, in whom we experience the eschatological reality of our future resurrection. He rejects direct revelation, arguing the meaning of the present will only be made known in later interpretation, culminating in the eschaton which provides the ultimate revelation and understanding of history. While his approach has disagreeable elements, three conclusions can be applied to Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, in that we should expect the unexpected, preach the resurrection as vital to our faith, and understand theology, revelation and the Church as being a part of the world, not separate from it. His influential doctrine came at a much needed time and has been successful in reinforcing the need for reason and rational thinking in the way we perceive Christ.

Bibliography

Bradshaw, Timothy. Pannenberg: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: T&T Clark International, 2009.

Fackre, Gabriel. The Doctrine of Revelation: A Narrative Interpretation. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997.

Grenz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994.

Gunton, Colin E. Revelation and Reason. London: T&T Clark, 2008.

McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. King’s College, London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Murdock, William. “History and Revelation in Jewish Apocalypticism.” Interpretation 21, no. 2 (1967): 167-187.

Olive, Don H. Wolfhart Pannenberg. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1973.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. “Dogmatic Theses on the Concept of Revelation.” In Revelation as History, edited by Wolfhart Pannenberg. London: Sheed and Ward Ltd, 1969.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Basic Questions in Theology. Translated by George H. Kehm. London: SCM Press Ltd, 1970.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. “Jesus’ History and Our History.” Perspectives in Religious Studies 1, no. 2 (1974): 139-147.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology. Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988.

Pinnock, Clark H. Biblical Revelation: The Foundation of Christian Theology. Chicago: Moody Press, 1971.

Powell, Sam. “History and Eschatology in the Thought of Wolfhart Pannenberg.” Fides et Historia 32, no. 2 (2000): 19-32.

Root, Michael. “The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg.” First Things 221 (2012): 37-42.

Wood, Laurence. “History and Hermeneutics: A Pannenbergian Perspective.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 16, no. 1 (1981): 7-22.


[1] Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Dogmatic Theses on the Concept of Revelation,” in Revelation as History, ed. Wolfhart Pannenberg(London: Sheed and Ward Ltd, 1969).

[2] I.e. The only knowledge of God comes through his self-revelation.

[3] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology, trans., George H. Kehm (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1970). 15.

[4] Pannenberg, “Dogmatic Theses on the Concept of Revelation.”

[5] Some, such as Olive, suggest his influence was extensive (Don H. Olive, Wolfhart Pannenberg (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1973). 103-106), whereas others argue that whilst he had some sway, Pannenberg was not as influential as others imagine (cf. Michael Root, “The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg,” First Things 221, no. (2012).)

[6] Sam Powell, “History and Eschatology in the Thought of Wolfhart Pannenberg,” Fides et Historia 32, no. 2 (2000). 20.

[7] Laurence Wood, “History and Hermeneutics: A Pannenbergian Perspective,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 16, no. 1 (1981). 7.

[8] Colin E. Gunton, Revelation and Reason (London: T&T Clark, 2008). 94. Further, Gunton states, “For Barth, you see, it would be direct, if you were to bump into Jesus Christ, as you wandered around Israel in the first century. You would actually be bumping into God. In that sense it is direct: to see Jesus is to see God. For Barth, Jesus is God’s self-revelation. Pannenberg will not go that far, it has to be indirect. You see, for Pannenberg, full Revelation happens, is disclosed, in the fullness of time,” (p.68). Also, Pinnock effectively argues that Pannenberg believed experience can reveal nothing new of Christ, contrary to Schleiermacher and Bultmann who place emphasis on subjective experience, (Clark H. Pinnock, Biblical Revelation: The Foundation of Christian Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971). 40). Cf. Gabriel Fackre, The Doctrine of Revelation: A Narrative Interpretation (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997). 145. Fackre notes that Pannenberg rejected Barth’s separation of theology from public rationalism.

[9] This concept will discussed in detail further, but Pannenberg saw apocalypticism as the culmination of Biblical tradition, contrary to Bultmann, and argues these Jewish themes run into New Testament theology.

[10] Powell. 20-21.

[11] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, trans., Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988). 189 – 192.

[12] Ibid. 201.

[13] Ibid. 192.

[14] Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology. 19. He further argued that “we must say that the historical consciousness of Israel was always eschatologically oriented insofar as, on the basis of the promise and beyond all historically experienced fulfillments, Israel expected further fulfillment,” (p. 23).

[15] Olive. 51.

[16] Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Jesus’ History and Our History,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 1, no. 2 (1974). 145.

[17] William Murdock, “History and Revelation in Jewish Apocalypticism,” Interpretation 21, no. 2 (1967). 167-168. Furthermore, Bradshaw argues that according to Pannenberg, “history reveals and enacts the human and the divine interweaving as we are drawn to trust in the God of the future eschaton, made present here and now,” (Timothy Bradshaw, Pannenberg: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T&T Clark International, 2009). 47.

[18] Olive. 48. This is contrary to Barth, who argued that the person of Jesus was the direct revelation of God.

[19] Pannenberg, “Jesus’ History and Our History.” 140.

[20] Powell. 23.

[21] Pannenberg, “Jesus’ History and Our History.” 145. Olive notes, “In the fate of Jesus the end of history is actually experienced in advance as an anticipation. In his fate, the end of history makes itself available to man…The fate of Jesus is both past revelation and the anticipation of the end where God fully reveals his deity through the totality of all events. And in this sense the event of Jesus’ fate provides the means by which revelation is comprehended from the vantage point of the end before the end,” (pp.49-50).

[22] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 194.

[23] Olive. 100. According to Olive, “Pannenberg also restores Jesus to a determinative place in revelation as history. He cannot be only one among other events, although he is fully among other events. Jesus’ history is the key to the proper understanding of historical reality in which God reveals himself. His history is the anticipation of the future of God wherein God is fully revealed,” (p. 100).

[24] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (King’s College, London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 157. Cf. Fackre. 146.

[25] Gunton. 66.

[26] Fackre. 146.

[27] Murdock. 167.

[28] Bradshaw. 48.

[29] Pannenberg, “Jesus’ History and Our History.” 144. Furthermore, “The philosophical tradition has considered what lies beyond death in that it thought of the infinite destiny of man in terms of an immortal soul. This thought is strange to us moderns, because recent anthropology has demonstrated the unity of all mental events with the physical body as their prior source, so that a soul without a body has become unthinkable for us. Therefore we can no longer think of the infinite destiny of man extending beyond death as immortality of the soul, but, if at all, as resurrection from the dead,” (pp. 146-147).

[30] Pannenberg, “Dogmatic Theses on the Concept of Revelation.” 125-155.

[31] Ibid. 127.

[32] Pannenberg further discusses faith: “Faith has to do with the future. This is the essence of trust. Trust primarily directs itself toward the future, and the future justifies, or disappoints. Thus a person does not come to faith blindly, but by means of an event that can be appropriated as something that can be considered reliable. True faith is not a state of blissful gullibility…The Christian risks his trust, life, and future on the fact of God’s having been revealed in the fate of Jesus,” (p. 138).

[33] Pannenberg, “Dogmatic Theses on the Concept of Revelation.” 141. NB. Earlier in the essay I briefly discussed the way in which – according to Pannenberg’s interpretation – apocalypticism saw the resurrection of the dead as the final goal, at which God would be clearly revealed to all humanity.

[34] Ibid. 143.

[35] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994). 137. Cf. McGrath. 157.

[36] Bradshaw. 46. According to Bradshaw, the “assumption that there is ultimately one convincing and true interpretation Pannenberg flies in the face of ‘postmodernity’ and its stress on the diversity of reason, truth and meaning, indeed the demonstration of such foundational matters,” (p. 51).

[37] Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology. 15.

[38] Wood. 7.

[39] Murdock argues apocalypticism led to dualism within Jewish tradition, i.e. good and evil. According to Pannenberg, “apocalypticists replaced the Old Testament idea of the future restoration of the earthly kingdom with the concept of the eschaton as the goal of history,”[39] which, asserts Murdock, poses problems. The Old Testament concept of the future kingdom was the future age, not the eschaton, and was prepared for the righteous, while another place was prepared for the unrighteous. Hence, Pannenberg must conclude that hell is the goal for some. Rather, heaven and hell should not be understood in terms of the goal of history, but with reward and punishment, (Murdock, p. 175).

[40] Olive. 101. According to Olive a better understanding is “that the apocalyptic attitude is one of negation and pessimism rather than affirmation,” (p. 101).

[41] Gunton. 73-76.

[42] Wood. 12.

[43] Powell. 32.

[44] A pertinent example is the discussion of evolution. We should not reject the possibility of evolution – or any other scientific theory (such as the 16th century discussion over whether or not the Earth is flat) – based on our interpretation, and understanding of the role of, the Bible. However, we should not go to the other extreme Pannenberg goes to and simply reject any Scriptural statement based on a historical or scientific argument. While we should not immediately reject the theory of evolution based on our understanding of the Bible, we should not immediately reject the Bible based on our understanding of historical or scientific arguments. What is important is the theological intent of the author.

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