Archive for September, 2011

Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 3 (Part IV)


Here are some reflections:

1) Cone and Black Theology – Pannenberg believes Cone’s black liberation theology (and other variants of liberation theology) are all examples of “secularizing belief in election” (521). There is a major danger that a “hubris that brings down historical disaster, the judgment of God in history” (521). We witnessed a similar critique of Boff and the idea of the Kingdom of God at the beginning of Volume 3. It appears that Panneberg’s anxiety is that these theologies are not eschatological enough and run the risk of putting too much agency into the hands of fallen humanity. I really think Pannenberg is quite uncritical here, and one wonders about the political import of Pannenberg’s systematic theology, which is woefully apolitical (read conservative). Why he could not be more leftist like Moltmann who shares many of Pannenberg’s similar theological convictions, despite some significant differences?

2) Eschatology and Pneumatology – Pannenberg understands the two having a strong connection since the fulfillment of eschatology is contingent upon the action of the Spirit. We have to be careful to not merely view eschatology as being a futural event because it “is also at work in our present by the Spirit” (553). The Spirit is always already at work in bringing about reconciliation in the present moment for the sake of a final consummation

3) Salvation and the Unreached – Pannenberg acknowledges that a personal relationship with the Christ cannot be the “universal criterion for participation in salvation” (615). If we are to take seriously the proclamation of the universality of God’s love we have to admit that some people cannot be judged based upon that Christological criterion. Rather, Pannenberg believes that parables like the sheep and the goats suggest that what counts is “whether their individual conduct actually agrees with the will of God that Jesus proclaimed” (615). Amen.


Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 3 (Part III)


While the doctrine of the  real presence in the Eucharist is something that has traditionally been an issue of saliency specifically to the theologies that derive from (or react to) the Reformation, it has lost some of its interest among modern theologians. Nevertheless, Pannenberg’s ecclesiology includes a detailed explanation of his position on the Eucharist. He does not offer his theology in a vacuum and therefore it is of some benefit for this post to recognize that Pannenberg is confessionally Lutheran.

Pannenberg contends that instead of, say, an Aristotelian doctrines of categories, the concept of anamnesis (ἀνάμνησις) or remembrance is vital for thinking the Eucharist. Pannenberg wants to say that Christ is really present in the elements of the sacrament, but only insofar as “by means of recollection of the historical Lord who went to his death” (312), and not “as a descent of the risen Lord from heaven with transfigured corporeality and mediated by the words of institution – a descent into the elements of bread and wine that have been prepared on the altar or holy table.” (311). In other words, Christ is really present, but not through some ontological change in the substantial qualities of the elements.

He elaborates in his excurses that idea of real presence was linked very early to the idea of incarnation (e.g. in Origen and Justin Martyr, the latter in turn ascribes it to Irenaeus), as in the incarnation when the heavenly Logos took fleshly form and unites himself with the elements of the bread and wine in the same way. This was the issue in the Reformation debates between Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin’s position (which was the via media between the former two).

Pannenberg, as mentioned, does not want to think of Christ’s presence as a descent from heaven into the elements. We are to think of it as “recollection of the earthly story of Jesus and his passion” that we participate in (315). Specifically, by remembering or recalling the event (ἀνάμνησις), we can be said to participate in and show solidarity, not only with the uniting of participants of the Eucharist and thus with the whole church catholic (325), but more importantly to experience solidarity with “the path of Jesus to his death,” and it is in this anamnesis that we can say that Christ is present in the signs of the wine and the bread (315.).

Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 3 (Part II)


This post and the one succeeding it are going to seem oddly out of place on Jeremy’s blog. This post will deal with Pannenberg’s discussion of prayer, while the next will deal with the status of the real presence in the Eucharist, both of which make up the larger portion on ecclesiology in Pannenberg’s dogmatics.

– Pannenberg begins his discussion on prayer by noting that it has no fixed or traditional place in dogmatics. Indeed, if any doctrine could be considered an appendage or addendum, or even an afterthought, it is prayer. But prayer in dogmatics is not simply an expression of religious piety but, as Pannenberg observes, a fruitful discussion of religious epistemology and pneumatology. Prayer presupposes both God and knowledge of God (202). For Pannenberg, prayer should therefore immediately proceed yet remain closely tied to pneumatology because, “the spirit alone enables us to pray and gives us strength to do so” (203).  In keeping with this, Pannenberg again nuances whether prayer should be oriented within the larger context of the cultic or religious community, as it was in world religions and ancient Israel, or whether prayer in a dogmatic context should focus on the prayer in the life of individual. Given Jesus’ pronouncements on prayer, Pannenberg sides with the latter, while noting that one can only pray alone in the Christian ecclesia when one prays together with the church, e.g. in the Lord’s Prayer.

– Pannenberg orientates prayer also within his section on love. Prayer is therefore not merely a response on the love for ones neighbour, but also love for God.

With participation in the filial relation they receive their own subjectivity before God that expresses itself as spontaneity in relation to the Father and hence also to all creaturely reality. Prayer is a particularly suitable form by which to express this divinely generated spontaneity. In it addressing God as Father stands closely related to intercession for others, so that the link between love of God and love of neighbour finds concrete manifestation in Christian prayer (205).

This again ties in to Pannenberg’s anthropological digression to the root of prayer in human history, where it probably arose among ancient tribal people as petitionary prayer in response to some emergency which exposed both humanity’s impotence relative to the powers of nature and the vicissitudes of history, as well as his awareness of this and full dependence on higher transcendent powers to which he could not obviously control but which he thought at least he could petition or at the very least satiate.

– Pannenberg writes of the conditions that Jesus attaches to having one’s prayers heard, for example, forgiveness, because for Pannenberg, “Those who will not forgive others have fallen out of the dynamic of the divine love for the world and thus have no more right confidently to invoke the Father ‘in the name of Jesus’” (209). Finally, he deals with the understanding prayer coterminous, perhaps, with the doctrine of divine providence that asks whether prayer is ultimately superfluous.  To this Pannenberg sides with the Christian tradition and says that, of course, it is not superfluous. The Kingdom, Pannenberg observes, does not come into this world like fate, unalterably fixed in every detail from the very beginning (209).

Only in the future of consummation will eternity have come fully and totally into time and taken up time into itself. But the path to this point is by no means determined in every detail. Openness to the future relative to each finite present is real, not illusory. Hence believers are summoned to cooperate with God on his way to the future of his kingdom by their actions and prayers (209-210).


Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 3 (Part I)


A couple of thoughts:

1) Boff and the Kingdom – Pessimistic Pannenberg chides Boff and liberation theology for believing that “church-incited revolutionary action can actualize the righteousness of God’s kingdom even in social practice” (55). Pannenberg believes that we must be mindful of the perversion of human nature, and the fact that God brings about God’s Kingdom. Of course, he declares that the church has no space to be silent in the face of injustice, but we can never “establish the full and final righteousness of the reign of God” (55). This strikes me as bizarre and naïve. Do liberation theologians really believe that they are somehow working independently of God to achieve their hope for justice and emancipation? Haven’t liberation theologians been much more “sober” in realizing just how sinful humans can be, especially systems of structural injustice?

2) Personal Jesus – Pannenberg criticizes, “individualistic Jesus-piety [that] passes too lightly and quickly over the fact that the work of Jesus including the forming of a band of disciples, the symbolical relating of the Twelve to the people of God and of common meals to the future fellowship of God’s Kingdom” (125). This pious Christianity fails to take seriously the importance of the church and the body of Christ, which demands a sharing and solidarity with fellow believers

3) Faith – Faith is historical knowledge plus trust (or perhaps what the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson termed ‘basic trust’). Faith can never be a content-less knowledge. To some extent, it is always based on our understanding of the history of Jesus of Nazareth (145). Our knowledge of God and Christ is always provisional (154). He believes that it is cowardly and pathetic for us to declare that, “the historical knowledge presupposed in Christian trust to be itself a matter of faith and in this way evading all criticism. If we do that, faith falls victim to the perversion of being its own basis and is robbed of any sense of having a ground in history preceding itself” (154). This is Pannenberg at his best, and something I appreciated throughout his dogmatics. Christian theology cannot immunize itself from external critique, lest it sequesters itself into the safe halls of the seminary burying its hand in the sand avoiding all conversations with other disciplines. Christian theology has to risk itself otherwise it quickly becomes meaningless ideology.