Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 3 (Part I)

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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.

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4 Responses to “Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 3 (Part I)”

  1. Rod of Alexandria Says:

    “Christian theology cannot immunize itself from external critique”

    I like that approach.

  2. A.J. Smith Says:

    For liberation theology and also Cone in particular, Pannenberg I think gets him exactly wrong. Pannenberg seems to think that Cone, for example, in his theology sets up blacks as “an advance guard for humanity, (521)” as if Cone thinks blacks are a chosen, i.e. specially elected, people where “humans will bring in a this-wordy eschaton” (ibid) in the same manner that, say, John Milton thought England was specially blessed and elected by God.

    Cone is not really doing anything especially radical in my mind, and hardly what Pannenberg is saying. All Cone is saying, to my understanding, is that blacks, given their cultural and socioeconomic antecedents, have correspondingly different theological concerns than white people and, as a correlative of this, and with their status as slaves, black theology is different from theology as carried out by white people both in its methods but primarily in what it concerns. He does not even denigrate white theology, saying the questions of Athanasius and Luther are important but simply not the theological questions black people ask.

  3. Jeremy Says:

    I wonder if Pannenberg believed that Cone was attributing to African Americans some ontological superiority when, in reality, he’s simply saying that as oppressed peoples God is resolutely on their side. Of course, it is somewhat accidental historically that they happened to inhabit that social space. At AAR in 2009 Cone talked said his guiding belief was to try and make Karl Barth relevant for black folks in the Jim Crow south. I think Pannenberg is misreading black theology and black nationalism as somewhat similar to Nazism and Aryan nationalism. This of course was the way Malcolm X was read throughout his career by white folks, but it is simply uncritical and inexcusable. We also have to keep in mind historically what was going on when Cone was writing in 1968-9. They had already killed Malcolm X along with MLK and RFK. He wanted to give these events a proper historical reading, and I wonder if Pannenberg’s ignorance of American history shines through in these dismissive comments.

  4. Jeremy Says:

    events a proper historical reading,

    I meant a theological reading.

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