Archive for the ‘Moltmann’ Category

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.

The Trinity, the Devil, and Other Theological Questions


Why is that in our day and age it is still possible to believe in God but much more difficult to believe in angels or demons? For instance, people are much more likely to admit the possibility of spiritual contact with God but most people remain extremely skeptical about the validity of exorcisms.

Why is the term God used in Christian theology? Shouldn’t we only use the word God in conjunction with the modifier triune? Barth continues to refer to the three different modes of God as Father, Son, and Spirit or Revealer, Revelation, and Revealedness, or Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer (CD I/1, 426). Furthermore, by keeping the signifier God, we run the risk of only associating this name with the Father. While theologians like Moltmann argues that the Trinity disrupts any possibility of monarchy or hierarchy, isn’t it obvious that very way in which we list Father, Son, and Spirit already suggests an ordering principle? Although, I understand the unity of God is central to an understanding of the Trinity, why are most Christians functionally monotheists (as Moltmann rightly observes in the Trinity and the Kingdom of God)? For instance, Christians often refer to the Spirit, but it seems that the different Persons of the Trinity are used interchangeably to such an extent that most Christians arbitrarily assign names, likely suggesting a lack of understanding of the differences that separate the three Persons of the Trinity. While I’ve yet to read Pannenberg’s Systematics, I’ve always respected the fact that he begins with the three persons of the Trinity as separate and then proceeds to argue for their unity. Most Christian theologians would assume a belief in a single God, and then attempts to argue for a Triune God. By adopting such a methodology, it’s obvious that the Christian theologian has yielded too much ground to natural theology.

Christianity’s removal of the Devil has created some significant deficits in our understanding of the Triune God. A typical approach is to demythologize the Devil to be immanent to the powers and principalities that functions as the oppressor in society. Girard understands that Devil has no being, but is rather immanent to the contagion of mimetic (imitative) desires that are responsible for violence that pervades society. There’s much to be commended of such an approach, but I remain unconvinced. Understanding demonic forces is integral to an understanding of Jesus as presented in the synoptics. One problem that comes about by excising the Devil from Christian theology is that once Satan is negated God the Father absorbs all of his evil attributes. For instance, Anselm removed the Devil from his theory of the atonement, and now God appears to be in opposition to humanity. He’s the overlord that sits above humanity in judgment. There’s no Father God and humanity against Satan and the forces of evil, rather God’s enemy is man or more specifically man’s sin. Ultimately Jesus pays the price on the cross for Satan’s absence. He has to die to uphold God’s righteousness, as opposed to liberate man from the forces of Satan, evil, and sin. God’s solidarity with man is disrupted by the fact that there’s no mutual enemy that God and man to oppose.

Predicaments in Modern Theology


Theologically, there have been multiple ways to understand Bonhoeffer’s religionless Christianity. I’ve already noted that the death-of-God theologians thought they were remaining faithful to his message, although their radicalism would likely upset the far more orthodox Bonhoeffer. While Gutierrez, the famous liberation theologian, argues that the church’s complete service to the world is a realization of Bonhoeffer’s call. In our more current theological debates between Hauerwasianism and Radical Orthodoxy vs. Secular/Radical theology (Taylor and Caputo) a disagreement over the understanding of ecclesiology and secularism remains. I also want to focus on the historical credibility of these different theological approaches.

Milbank’s brilliant but controversial genealogy of the secular in his Theology and Social Theory attempted to show how the notion of secular reason was a historical development, which ultimately stemmed back to the ‘heretical’ theology of Duns Scotus and his understanding of the univocity of being. From what I understand, Scotus dissolved the difference between existence and essence ultimately assigning the being of man and God to be of the same kind, although God’s being is greater in intensity. Being precedes God, and hence both men and God share being, which ultimately lead to the shattering of God’s transcendence. This facilitated the bifurcation of faith and reason and of the supernatural and natural that has led to the increasing privatization of religion perfectly epitomized in liberal theology. Milbank wants to bring together reason and faith. For instance, Tillich’s famous method of correlation, which allows the world to pose questions from philosophy and existentialism and theology endeavors to respond through the use of divine revelation, goes wrong because theology should set its own agenda and not have to answer to philosophy. Also, leveling the critique that postmodernism has offered against metanarratives, Milbank tries to out narrate other metanarratives claiming Christianity ultimately prevails against nihilism and humanism. It does so because Milbank believes that Christianity offers and ontology of peace/nonviolence that rivals the ontology of violence that is posited by the likes of Girard, Foucault, and Derrida. Here is where I get pissed. For one, as Clayton Crockett argues in his Theology of the Sublime, this ontology of peace that Christianity supposedly represents has to suppress hundreds of years of Christian violence, so it’s ultimately a non-historical account. Secondly, claiming that past expressions of Christianity were not truly Christian because of their connection with Constantianism or something of that matter, strikes me as odd considering how much emphasis they place on tradition. Third, as Crockett also points out even if the cross is a symbol that resists violence, it still suggests that violence and the sacred are at the heart of Christianity. Need I even mention the ridiculously violent interpretations that have perverted atonement theories?

Likewise, Hauerwas’ prophetic call for the church to be the church offers a helpful critique of liberalism in his postliberal theology. Postliberal theology emphasizes the narrative aspects of Christianity stemming from tradition and the Bible and endeavors to transcend the polarities between Conservatism (propositional and cognitive) and Liberalism (experiential and expressive). While I think reclaiming the emphasis on narrative is a helpful corrective, this position completely neglects the importance historical criticism has on Christianity. For instance, by focusing on tradition narrative the discoveries of the historical Jesus research or a historical critique of the Bible may be dismissed.

From the radical theological perspectives new works stress the parallels between Christianity and secularism. A helpful understanding of secularism arises in Mark C Taylor’s magnificent book After God. Here he argues that secularism is inherently linked to the Reformation. This is because with the Reformation, the tradition of the Catholic church is compromised and refocused on the individual’s justification through faith. Also, the increasing availability of the Bible led to the proliferation of interpretations, and hence authority now rests in the individual (not the holy and apostolic Church) . Hence, the death of God is contingent on the Reformation and the decentering of authority away from God and redirected towards the individual. Thus, he believes we should trace Modernism not back to Descartes but rather to Luther.

While the radical theologians take historical critique seriously, they tend to discuss only portions of the tradition. For instance, it’s no surprise that Caputo’s Jesus is derived from Crossan’s research that results from the Jesus Seminar. I’ve already discussed how those scholars de-emphasize Jesus’ eschatological orientation. Although he claims that this Jesus confounds all of our neat, hermetic systems, I find his presentation of the tolerant, liberal Jesus to have already removed one of the most profound offenses Jesus offers: the focus on the end of the world and the coming reign of God. Also, given Caputo’s hesitance to fully engage the tradition because of the fear of relapsing into onto-theology, suggests that his weak theology does not offer a very promising future.

In Marcus Borg’s Meeting Jesus, he offers the helpful terms of pre-critical naïveté and post-critical naïveté. The former refers to the conservative position that assumes the Bible is historically accurate and ignores historical criticism. The latter term is represented by the liberal tradition which embraces historical criticism, and thus events such as the virgin birth are not historical but express the deeper symbolic truths of humanity. I used to have sympathy for the liberal position, but now I find it more and more to be simplistic. Why not embrace both history and science to allow us to remain critical and  faithful to our tradition? I’m no apologist, and I don’t pretend that all of the truths of Christianity can be historically validated, but we cannot shy away from historical research. As NT Wright says, “True Christianity has nothing to fear from history”. I also believe that even if it’s untrue historically that it doesn’t loses all of its importance, but history should inform our faith. Or else we fall into the temptation of worshiping the Cosmic Christ as opposed to Jesus of Nazareth.

Here, I find Pannenberg to be the most helpful theologian. In his book, Anthropology in Theological Perspective he dialogues with the human sciences and allows the findings to offer a critique of modern orthodoxy. He argues against the position that Milbank adopts: that even if the Fall is not historical, it is necessary to assume ontologically. So, in Pannenberg’s opinion, we must remove the Fall from orthodoxy. At least, this is intellectually honest. Moreover, in Jesus: God and Man, he dismisses the virgin birth as myth because he feels as if this story in Luke and Matthew endeavored to situate a time at which Jesus’ divinity was secured. Whereas John adopted a pre-historical stance on the incarnation, Mark placed Jesus’ divinity as being instituted during his baptism when the Spirit descended on him and the Father blessed his ministry. I’m just glad he’s honest with history, and that he takes seriously research on the historical Jesus (especially his apocalypticism). Some argue against this dismissal of the virgin birth because Pannenberg assumes that because Mark, John, and Paul don’t mention the miracle they must have been ignorant of it. Even though, he incorrectly includes Paul in this list, and with John we really have no idea what he thought was historical given his mythological and theological perspective, it’s naïve to assume that Mark somehow forgot to include this miracle. If the virgin birth was historical, just what exactly would be Mark’s reason for excluding that narrative? Also, given the wildly different virgin birth stories that emerge in Matthew and Luke, it’s hard to imagine that these stories were not ideologically driven. Unfortunately, Pannenberg infamously refuses to take seriously post-structuralism and dismisses Derridean deconstruction as a mere fad.

Here’s my issue with modern theology. I respect Altizer’s death-of-God theology (especially its apocalyptic focus), but I’m not entirely convinced by his Hegelian interpretation of the cross. Likewise, Mark Taylor’s more or less complete abandonment of theology since the early 90’s suggests that his a/theology will not offer fruitful engagement in the future. I find Caputo’s emphasis on weak theology interesting, especially the weakness of God. But, I tend to find his stringent commitments to all things liberal and his complete dismissal of psychoanalysis to be discouraging. Also, even though his recasting of deconstruction in a religious light was useful (especially as a critique of Taylor’s overly atheistic theology), it’s obvious that he will never actually take the risk of being a robust theologian (as Zizek righly notes). Most of the deconstructive theologians restrict themselves to philosophy but never take up political theology. Their politics rarely vary much from modern liberalism. Milbank’s radical orthodoxy is clearly the most developed of all of these modern theologies, but his polemical nature and his utter dismissal of all things non-Christian as pagan or nihilistic strikes me as juvenile. I’d like to see him consider taking a more historical approach to Christianity, but as I’ve already noted he’d rathe preserve a pristine version of Christianity than seriously engage history. Hauerwas and gang mostly annoy with their fixation on the church, perhaps I’m still stuck romanticizing on the possibility of a ‘religionless Christianity’. I love Pannenberg’s (and to a lesser extent Moltmann’s) historical, eschatological theologies, but Pannenberg’s refusal to converse with modern continental philosophy doesn’t suit my appetite. Liberation theology certainly fascinates me with their radical politics, but their orthodox commitment to Christianity does not yield very interesting theological results (here I’m thinking mostly of Latin American theology, not feminist). Lastly, one of the most fascinating theological discussions I find occurring comes from Clayton Crockett and Zizek. Crockett’s engagement with psychoanalysis in his latest book Interstices of the Sublime was wonderful. His faithfulness to his mentor Charles Winquist will likely open up exciting theological horizons for the future. For Zizek, his Hegelian and Lacanian death-of-God theology while fascinating, tends to repeat the death-of-God theologians. I would’ve mentioned more on Marion’s post-metaphysical theology or process theology, but I remain mostly ignorant of these different strands.

In summary, I would like theology that is historical, engaged with the human sciences (like psychoanalysis), confronts actual doctrines and reformulates them, sensitive to continental philosophy, concerned with liberation struggles, apocalyptic, kingdom-of-God focused, and political.