Archive for the ‘Modern Theology Project 2011’ Category

Jenson – Systematic Theology Volume 1 (Part I)


Robert Jenson divides his dogmatics in a rather odd manner; he has authored two volumes, the first of which deals with the Trinity, the second of which deals with everything else (or the creatures, as Jenson styles it). This first post will deal with Jenson’s view of the Trinity from Vol. 1.

– “The Trinity is less a homogenous body of propositions that it is the Church’s continuing effort to recognize and adhere to the Biblical God’s hypostatic being” (90).

Jenson’s understanding of the Trinitarian doctrine is relative; that is, the formulation of the Nicene and subsequent ecumenical council are historical conditioned by the antecedent history of the Hellenistic-Mediterranean intellectual traditions to which the evangel encountered. Had it come through differing intellectual cultures it would no doubt have taken different but analogous forms.

– “God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead” (63).

Jenson attempts and mostly succeeds in constructing a very robust Trinitarian understanding. Predictably, he sides with the Alexandrian Christology over the Antiochene Christology. He cites the dissonance of Melito of Sardis with approval: “The Impassable suffered. . . .” “God was killed. . . .” He dismisses Antiochene Christology as simply Arianism transposed, trying to distinguishing the suffering Jesus from the actual Divine Son (126). For Jenson, God most definitely suffers the vicissitudes recorded in the gospel; he is crucified and finally put to death. To be sure, it is the Father that raises the Son up from the dead, though even then he does not do this dispassionately (144).

Jenson writes, “Our divine saviour is not an extra metaphysical entity, whether the incarnate Logos of the Antiochenes or ‘the Christ’ of the more feeble sorts of modern theology. He is Mary’s Child, the hanged man of Golgotha” (145).


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.

Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 2 (Part III)


This post will focus on §3 of chapter ten of the second volume of Pannenberg’s ST on God’s self-actualization in the world through the incarnation.

Pannenberg astutely notes that the incarnation is not irrelevant to Trinitarian doctrine as if it were some addendum to the doctrine, but is instead a natural corollary of the mutual self-distinction within the immanent trinity itself and also an outgrowth of the contingent creativity of God. Pannenberg differentiated between creation and lordship. God is, by the fact that he brought the world into being, the creator of the world. However, only insofar as he rules over the world is he Lord and also truly God in the fullest sense of the term. Certainly, God in the eternal mutual self-distinction of the intra-Trinitarian relations of the Trinity was God prior to and without the creation of the world; but the creation of the world and independent creatures necessitated for Pannenberg the fact that lordship over creation was a condition of proof of the deity of God. The rule of the Father is brought, as Pannenberg says, to acknowledgment through the incarnation and the work of the Son in Jesus Christ (390).

Pannenberg then orientates himself with his ontological eschatology; Jesus Christ is the eschaton proleptically instantiated, and brings the future of God to the present world through the death but especially the resurrection of Christ, where death has been abrogated and finitude no longer rules.  However, the presence of God in Christ also indicates God’s abiding absence in that God is only present through the Son, who in this way can be seen as a mediator between creation and the creator. This for Pannenberg is part of the independence of creation, whereby God allows creatures their own independence, which for Pannenberg forms the “inner goal of all creation” (ibid.). This divine absence reached its nadir at the cross in the cry of dereliction. But, again, for Pannenberg this absence or even abandonment “is itself a factor in [God] becoming present for the world through the son” (392). As this pertains to God’s self-actualization in the world, Pannenberg says:

Since we cannot separate the deity of God from his royal lordship, it follows that the irruption of the future of this lordship in the world of the Son has as its content the absolute reality of God in and for the world. Because, however, the sending of the Son and Spirit is from the Father, in relation to the fulfillment of the mission by the obedience of the Son the world of the Sprit, we thus may speak of a self-actualization of the Trinitarian God in the world (393).

This is not, as Pannenberg takes pains to illustrate in his excurses, an actual ontological self-actualization of God who no prior reality (393). Pannenberg cites with disapproval the idea that God is the cause of himself (causa sui). The self-actualization of which Pannenberg speaks is the self-actualizing of God through and to the world, not the self-actualization of God in and of himself.

Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 2 (Part II)


Pannenberg’s second volume touches on three areas: creation, anthropology, and Christology. This 2nd part will treat of Pannenberg’s anthropological remarks, which are altogether much more briefly than in his own Anthropology in Theological Perspective.

– Pannenberg beings his eighth chapter on the dignity and misery of humankind. Pannenberg prefers to use the term “misery” in place of sin here because “it sums up our detachment from God, our autonomy, and all the resultant consequences” (179).  Sin is in this way seen in light of its relations or effects as opposed to merely its brute facticity, i.e. the alienation it produces from God. With Augustine, Pannenberg says, “we are not most miserable when we are not aware of our plight – i.e. not in misfortune, sickness, or closeness to death, but when the goods of this world cause us to forget God; we are miserable in the midst of prosperity and affluence because we find life empty and meaningless” (ibid.). There is, however, above this misery a dignity to humanity related not only to both our relation to God as his creatures and our future with God in the eschaton, but primarily in the incarnation. As Pannenberg writes, “The human destiny for fellowship with God, which finds definitive realization in the incarnation of the Son, means that humanity as such, and each individual within it, is lifted above the natural world and even also above the social relations in which we exist. The destiny of fellowship with God confers inviolability on human life in the person of each individual.” (176). For Pannenberg, these two facets form the presupposition of God’s redeeming work.

– Also in his section anthropology, Pannenberg deals with the unity between body and soul. Pannenberg notes that advances in neurological sciences and their correlative establishment of the complete interrelation between physical and psychological aspects of the human person have destroyed the traditional idea of the soul as a distinct substance that contains ethereally the irreducible locus of human personhood and could, as such, survive the ceaseation of bodily and cognitive function of the human organism that come in the state of death.  As Pannenberg notes, modern theological anthropology tends to more explicitly emphasise the complete corporality of the human person as well as the unity between the body and soul in so far as the soul is not reified but instead understood as the living and vitalizing force within the body itself that is not therefore hypostasized from its function within the human person as it constituent element. Personhood does not exist outside of embodiment. Though Pannenberg notes that the Fathers, in distinction from the prevailing Platonism of the 2nd century, defended the psychosomatic unity of personhood in contending that the soul was the form of the body and the resurrection was necessary insofar as the soul was incomplete without its body, they were not able to keep Platonism from excursing into Christian thought for they accepted the prevailing Hellenistic view of the soul as an independent entity from the body. In Gen. 2:7. Pannenberg notes that insofar as the bible speaks in a language relating to Hellenistic thought, “the soul is not merely the vital principle of the body but the ensouled body itself, the living being as a whole” (185). Pannenberg would, in the language mind-body philosophy, be a physicalist to the degree that soul is not some metaphysical centre to human personhood but rather the vitalizing force that is indicative of, and necessary for, life.

Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 2 (Part I)


Some Thoughts:

1) Creation ex nihilo – Pannenberg is mistrustful of Barth’s use of the nothing that he outlines in CD III/3 as being an antagonism or resistance to God. Pannenberg (14) believes that this sort of reading of creation is not upheld exegetically and fails to do justice to Genesis 1. Ultimately, the decisive power of the Word will not permit any such idea of resistance. He is also critical of Moltmann’s notion of self-withdrawal or self-limitation which Moltmann appropriates from Jewish mysticism (15). This serves to help make sense of the independent existence of creature and Creator. However, Pannenberg is skeptical of this move by Moltmann because it is insufficiently Trinitarian. I’d be curious to hear Pannenberg’s opinion of Keller’s Face of the Deep, which argues, quite persuasively, that creation out of nothing does exegetical violence to the creation narrative.

2) Creation and the Self-Distinction of the Son – Pannenberg argues that the creation itself bears witness to the goodness of God. The Son of God is “the primary object of the Father’s love” (21). The love that the Father has for creation is ultimately mediated through the Son, and it is non-competitive with the Father’s love for creation. Readers will recall that Pannenberg places great theological and Christological significance in the Son’s self-distinction from the Father. Hence, the proof of Jesus’ divinity is manifested his submission to the Father’s will. The eternal Son predates the existence of Jesus and “is the basis of his creaturely existence” (23). Pannenberg puts it quite succinctly that the, “eternal Son is the ontic basis of the human existence Jesus in his relation to God as Father” (23). Later Pannenberg argues that the mediation of the Son in creation not only serves as a structure and the basis for fellowship with God, but also “as the origin of existence of creaturely reality” (29).

3) Theodicy/Creation – Pannenberg acknowledges that meaningless suffering is perhaps the greatest challenge to the belief in the goodness of God. He applauds Barth for arguing against that the natural theodicy of Leibniz that fails to take seriously the suffering in the world. Pannenberg believes that the fatal flaw of Lebinz’s argument is that it simply considers theodicy from creation and fails to consider “God’s saving action and the eschatological fulfillment that has dawned already in Jesus Christ” (165). This question is an open one that will only be fully revealed in the eschaton (164). Pannenberg recognizes that God bears responsibility for evil’s existence. However, for Pannenberg, “God did not shirk the responsibility but shouldered it by sending and giving up His [sic] Son to the cross” (169). Although this does not serve to explain away evil, it does suggest a God who involves Herself in the suffering and contingencies of this world.

Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 1 (Part III)


There is much to discuss in the final two chapters of Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology, Volume 1.  Both chapters involve Pannenberg’s account of the Trinitarian identity of the Christian God including the various attributes of God.  In view of the large amount of material needing to be discussed here, I decided to discuss one section I found most interesting; Pannenberg’s position regarding the place of the doctrine of the Trinity within the dogmatic structure.

After a nicely organized historical account of the dogmatic ordering concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, Pannenberg argues that the ordering is determined by a particular view of the unity and distinction within Godself.  As discussed earlier in the chapter, Pannenberg shows that the early Christian Church struggled to develop the unification between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit without losing their distinction.  The doctrine of the Trinity became less emphasized in 17th and 18th century Protestant theology because theologians of this time period struggled to account for the coherence between the unity and differentiation of God’s being as testified in the biblical witness.  Even Protestant dogmaticians who were sympathetic with the idea of the prominent role of the Trinity still believed “that the OT justifies a prior presentation of God as the Supreme Being (Exod. 3:14) and also of his attributes” (281).  Beginning from the Hebrew Bible’s conception of this One Ultimate God encouraged theologians to view the Trinity as a later addition rather than the essential starting point for Christian dogmatics.  It becomes clear (and Pannenberg even admits this) that the construction of the doctrine of God is difficult for any dogmatician given the tension between God’s Triune identity as unified yet distinct.  The most interesting observation Pannenberg makes is when he states that the decision whether to treat the unity or distinction of God first will ultimately be determined by one’s view of metaphysical knowledge.  If the theologian believes that God’s unity can be postulated through the sheer extension of human reason, then unity is necessarily treated first and the distinction between the Father, Son, and Spirit are discussed later since on this view such beliefs arise only through revelation.  Moreover, the statements concerning God’s triunity can only be seen as important if the discussion of God’s unity is not deemed as satisfactory in order to offer a full account of His identity.  Unless the concept of God’s triunity is seen as indispensable, “the Trinitarian statements must seem to be a more or less superfluous and external addition to the doctrine of the one God” (283).

Pannenberg finally divulges his own commitments when he proposes that even the statements about God’s unity are made possible only through revelation: “It is true that Christian talk of Father, Son, and Spirit, and especially Jesus’ addressing of God as Father, must always presuppose a prior understanding of God. This is not, however, the understanding of philosophical theology but that of religion and in particular it is the understanding of the God who revealed himself to Israel as the one God” (299, emphasis added).  All of this is to say that Pannenberg concludes by agreeing with Karl Barth’s ordering of dogmatics and Barth’s recovery of the essential role of the doctrine of the Trinity.  But unlike Barth, Pannenberg prefers to construct the doctrine of the Trinity not from some “formal concept of revelation as self-revelation” but rather through “historical revelation of God as Father, Son, and Spirit” (296).  In Barth’s Trinitarian account of revelation, there is “a subject of revelation, an object, and revelation itself, all of which are one and the same” (296, emphasis added).  Therefore, since Barth sees the subject of revelation as singular, plurality plays no role in terms of the “persons in the one God but only for different modes of being in the one divine subjectivity” (296).  In short, Pannenberg praises Barth’s understanding that God’s unity can not be discussed apart from God’s Triunity, but ultimately Barth “subordinated his doctrine of the Trinity to a pretrinitarian concept of the unity of God and his subjectivity in revelation” thus not allowing Barth to “see what is the function of the doctrine of the essence and attributes of God for the doctrine of the Trinity, namely, that it is only with the question of the essence and attributes of the Trinitarian God that the unity of this God becomes a theme, and we are thus enabled to avoid the confusions which inevitably arise when we try to derive the trinity from the person of the Father or the unity of the divine substance” (299 – phew!).  I would be very interested if anyone had any insights concerning Pannenberg’s criticisms of Barth’s Trinitarian theology along with his own preference for a “historical” account of Trinitarian theology.

Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 1 (Part II)


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.’