Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 1 (Part II)

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Pannenberg’s third and fourth chapters of his Systematic Theology (Vol. 1) expand his methodological considerations as he develops his understanding of the truth of God in the experience of religions, before moving on to describe the concept of revelation in the history of theology. I want to offer some points of observation, and continue to some degree Jeremy’s third point.

Pannenberg ostensibly seeks to offer a theology that is at once didactic, coherent and, most characteristically, apologetic; it should be concerned with the truth of Christian doctrine (this is in distinction from someone like Brunner, for example, who holds that systematic theology is not, as such, apologetic in nature). The apologetic aspect is something that I think is not sufficiently emphasized. Not because it is apologetic as such, but the way in which Pannenberg is apologetic. Pannenberg’s apologetic stance is hardly conventional, as he undercuts nearly all apologetic argument as they are traditionally employed.

In the chapters that Jeremy wrote on in the previous post, Pannenberg writes that the traditional arguments for the existence of God do not establish the existence of God with certitude (or even necessarily alter the debate), but that they remain important only as philosophical criteria which make talk of God broadly intelligible (95). Pannenberg also writes that Kant effectively confuted all speculative arguments for the existence of God (90). Is this apologetic?

For Pannenberg, the truth of theology is provisional and unproven. While he has a fairly high opinion of the historicity of the resurrection (more precisely, the ability of one to establish the likelihood of it’s historical occurrence, see his Jesus – God and Man), I don’t understand Clayton’s criticism that Pannenberg suffers from a lack of “epistemic humility.” The veridicality of theology is for Pannenberg, again, provisional and something that will only be determined in the eschaton. Theological truth-claims are not something that can be established in toto, and are as such contestable – in fact, theologians must expect their claims to be criticized. Hence, Pannenberg’s goal of re-establishing theology’s credibility in the university and the wider intellectual debate is central to his project (see his Theology and the Philosphy of Science).

In a related fashion, Pannenberg also dismisses of the virgin-birth as a legendary appendage to the gospel narratives, probably coming from a tradition that post-dated Paul (this, to be sure, is not necessarily unusual). As well, he undercuts the usefulness of the idea of the mythic Adamic fall. Pannenberg’s methodological chapter on the nature of religion, where he overviews the nature of religion in the context of the debate regarding religions reduction to its most universal constituent factors, is again subservient to the section on the question of truth in the concept of religion.

Certainly, Pannenberg’s theology is oriented toward an apologetic stance, but it is not an apologetic stance that can be understood as an uncritical salvaging of the Christian tradition from the exigencies of external criticism. The great strength of Pannenberg’s strong methodological dialogue with the natural sciences (which is more clearly evident in the second volume of this systematic theology than this one), is that Pannenberg allows these other disciplines (e.g. anthropology, cosmology, etc.) to correct his theology quite freely. If a doctrine can no longer be held because it has been rendered meaningless through the insights of another discipline, then Pannenberg happily jettisons it. If  I could, I would describe Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology as ‘a dogmatics without dogma.’

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6 Responses to “Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 1 (Part II)”

  1. Rod of Alexandria Says:

    “As well, he undercuts the usefulness of the idea of the mythic Adamic fall.”

    Are you saying he believes in a historical Adam (and Eve) as real people?

    How does that work, considering he denies the Virgin Birth? Usually, those who believe in a historical Adam say that we must believe in a VB.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    No, he denies that hisoricity of the event entirely.

  3. A.J. Smith Says:

    Not only does Pannenberg deny the fall, he denies that we can still salvage any “deeper-meaning” from the doctrine even if we acknowledge that it’s not true.

    In his “Anthropology in Theological Perspective,” Pannenberg writes that “There can be no loss of something that never existed. As a historical claim about the beginnings of human history, the idea that there was an original union of humankind with God which was lost through a fall into sin is incompatible with currently available scientific knowledge about the historical beginnings of the race. This being the case, we should renounce artificial attempts to rescue traditional theological formulas” (57).

    I can see how my wording can be confusing. I should have said something like, “he holds the Adamic fall to be in its entirety totally mythical.”

  4. Rod of Alexandria Says:

    Okay, thanks for the clarification.

  5. Jeremy Says:

    Who claims that P’s theology lacks epistemological humility?

    Although I tend to view apologetic theology as necessarily reactionary and defensive (see evangelicals, radical orthodoxy, etc), I find P’s theological methodology attractive because he actually is critical of the tradition while also attempting to be faithful to it.

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