Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 1 (Part I)

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I want to offer couple of brief talking points on CH 1-2.

1) The Source of Theology – Pannenberg offers a history about the source of theology for both Protestant and Catholic dogmatics. Early Protestant dogmatics grounded its theology firmly in the Word of God. Of course, the Enlightenment criticism of the unity of Bible “destroyed the biblical statements by drawing attention to contradictions and antitheses in biblical statements” (26). Pannenberg notes that the accommodation theory (the notion that differences in the Bible can be explained by the idea the Spirit adapts to the language and culture of the Bible’s various authors) replaced the doctrine of inspiration. The doctrine of accommodation exposes the true problem of the doctrine of inspiration, which is that it “handled the divine truth of scripture as the presupposition rather than the goal of theology” (35).

2) Barth and Schleiermacher – For Schleiermacher, theology must be grounded in the subjective experience of the believer. He also presupposes that truth was “always decided already in advance” (42). Unlike the inspirationists, scriptural unity is replaced by the “subjective faith consciousness” (42). Of course, this severs theology from the argumentation for the truths of Christian doctrine because what ultimately matters it the subjectivity of the individual Christian. Although Barth was tirelessly critical of Schleiermacher’s project, Pannenberg believes that Barth again committed the sin of “basing dogmatics on faith as risk if not on faith as experience” (44). Barth intended to base theology on the priority of God’s self revelation, but Pannenberg argues if we want to move beyond this fideism ought we not to “abandon the assumption that the reality of God is a presupposition of dogmatics from the very outset?” (45). Pannenberg goes so far to say that Barth “demonstrates the tragic embarrassment of theology at this point. So long as one thinks that the truth of Christian doctrine must be established in advance of all discussion of its content, and given the demise of both the infallible authority of the church’s teaching office and the older Protestant doctrine of inspiration, there is little choice but to appeal to an act of faith, where as experience or as risk or venture” (47). For me, this is Pannenberg at his best. The later Bonhoeffer comes to mind who likewise criticized for Barth’s ‘positivism of revelation’. Bonhoeffer argues that there are degrees of importance and decisions to be made theologically. We have to discriminate and argue without demanding that all of it must swallowed completely.

3) Truth – Pannenberg outlines his methodology as one that will attempt to argue for the truth of Christian doctrine. The real task is not to assume the truth of Christian doctrine, but rather to “face the contesting of the reality and revelation of God in the world” (50). Pannenberg recognizes that it is simply impossible to do theology without presuppositions. Similarly, he understands that the subjectivity of the theologian also comes into play although it does not determine truth. However, the truth will ultimately be determined by God. He considers that doctrines should be conceived of as “hypotheses” (56). Since God is the source of truth, systematic theology “must be a systematic doctrine of God and nothing else” (59). All different doctrines emerge from and “have their truth in God” (59). Finally, a systematic theology must be critical of previous dogmatics, which area incomplete and open to revision.

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One Response to “Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 1 (Part I)”

  1. Troy Polidori Says:

    As to #2, would it be fair to say that Jungel’s formulation of God as Love can do some work with the Barthian core to help escape this charge (obviously the “positivism of revelation” charge is a bigger issue, so I’m simply talking about the “faith as risk” charge)? If God is really Love, then all ontological necessity-talk is meaningless, and theological presuppositions cannot exist.

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