Archive for the ‘Pannenberg’ Category

Jungel – God as the Mystery of the World (Part I)


I’m going to offer some reflections on Jungel’s brilliant God as the Mystery of the World Sections 1-10.

1) The nonnecessity of God – Jungel’s work is an attempt to respond to questions Bonhoeffer raises in Letters and Papers. God is no longer a necessary working hypothesis. Furthermore, Jungel claims that arguments that attempt to prove God are the “midwife of modern atheism” (19). A God of necessity is always construed to be Lord and believed to be a God defined by power. This necessary omnipotent God always has to make room for His love, which is secondary to power. To move beyond this necessary God, Jungel wants to argue for a God who “is more than necessary” (25). God’s desire to come “to himself with out man” (38) is more than necessary. Following Barth, Jungel argues that God comes from God and we only know God through God’s self-revelation. From this perspective of revelation, God is groundless, unconditioned, and more the necessary. Finally, as a good Lutheran, Jungel declares that we “can speak of no other God than the ‘incarnate God’ and the ‘human God’” (37). This christological perspective has not informed God-talk in modernity because theology has been under “the dictatorship of metaphysics” (39).

2) Methodology –  Jungel charges Pannenberg for  beginning his theology with “the “claim to intellectual veracity” is better dealt with by assuming from the anthropological relevance of talk about God is first demonstrated ‘apart from God’” (17). For Jungel, this concedes too much and sets the ground for atheism. This probably explains why Pannenberg opens up his systematics by beginning a study of the history of religion and makes history such an important aspect of his theory of revelation.

3) Death of God – Jungel self-consciously takes a non-apologetic approach when discussing the death of God. He is not trying to rescue theology from such challenges, rather he states “[t]heology is either interesting on its own, or not at all” (45). Historically, Jungel recognizes that the question “Where is God?” is implicitly a question of theodicy. In my opinion, this is precisely what radical theology tried to address when Altizer et al. raised the question about the death of God. Is it still possible to speak about the goodness of God after shoah?

4) Bonhoeffer – Jungel gives credit to Bonhoeffer who opened up the path to begin engaging the question of the death of God, perhaps best exemplified by his provocative statement to live in the world “even if there were no God” (59). What is key for Jungel is that Bonhoeffer grounds this discussion christologically. The God on the cross of Christ is revealed to be a weak and suffering God. God does allow Godself to be pushed out of the world on the cross.

5) Hegel – The first philosopher to integrate the death of God into his metaphysical system was the Lutheran Hegel. Although Hegel discusses a speculative good Friday, this is never detached from its christological basis. For Hegel, the idea that “God himself is dead” is based on the understanding that God finitized Godself, as the self-negation of God. This God “does not desire to be “in and for himself” and does not desire to forsake the world in its finitude” (74). Against the docetic tendencies of the church fathers, Hegel boldly claims that “it was not the man who dies, but the divine; that is how he became man” (77). In Hegel’s theology, the incarnation is “immediately related to the death of Jesus Christ” (77). Ultimately, Jungel wants us to recognize that Hegel’s understanding of the death of God is christologically driven and is strongly related to the atheism of modernity.

In the next sections Jungel engages the question of atheism and God in modernity by evaluating the philosophy and theology of Descartes, Fichte, Kant Feuerbach, and Nietzsche. However, I don’t have time to analyze Jungel’s discussion of these great philosophers.


Tillich – Systematic Theology Volume 1 (Part I)


My task is to offer some reflections on the introduction and Part I of Tillich’s ST Vol 1.

A. Methodology – Tillich’s theology is apologetic, an answering theology that responds to the situation of the day with the “power of the eternal message” (6). In this sense, his theology stands firmly in the liberal tradition started by Schleiermacher which tried to make Christianity relevant to modern society.) Tillich opposes Schleiermacher for relegating religion to the merely emotional realm. He views this retreat as essentially a refusal to engage modern thought. Here Tillich is perhaps at his best theologically in the way he easily engages modern psychology, philosophy, and religious studies. He also rejects the Barthian approach to make the Bible the sole source for theology. Instead, Tillich wants to have many sources of theology including: “Bible, church history, history of religion and culture” (40).

B. Christian triumphalism – “Apologetic theology must show that trends which are immanent in all religions and cultures move toward the Christian message” (15). This is perhaps my biggest fear about his theology. Why this method of correlation? I understand the relevance, but there’s an assumption Tillich makes that Christian revelation possesses the truth to the question modern man poses. He’s ruled out, a priori, that modern questions might actually challenge the truth of Christian revelation. Moreover, as much as I find his interdisciplinary approach admirable, I feel as if theology is restored to its place as the “queen of the sciences”. Not in the sense that theology is somehow true and all other disciplines that disagree must be critiqued (Tillich explicitly says it’s not the business of theology to accept or reject, e.g. Freud’s theory of libido (131)), but in the sense that theology is assumed to possess all of the answers. Pannenberg is much better here when he allows other disciplines to actually challenge theological ideas. The boundaries are much more porous. If anything, Pannenberg’s methodology restores hope in the idea that theology could once again exist in the academy as a respectable discipline. Barth’s theology is weakest here with his severe allergy to be in conversation with other disciplines. Instead he returns to the Bible for the timeless truths and completely bypasses the historical criticism of liberal theology, a major mistake in my opinion.

C. Return to ontology – Philosophy must “address the question of reality as a whole” (20). Tillich is critical of current (1950’s) trends in philosophy that refuse the ontological task of philosophy. Neo-Kantians have attempted to reduce philosophy to epistemology and ethics while logical positivists have attempted to reduce philosophy to logical calculus (19). Similarly, Tillich criticizes Biblicists (evangelicals and liberals like Ritschl) for trying to construct a non-ontological biblical theology. I think Tillich is entirely correct here that the theologian must address ontological issues. Trying to avoid the ontological task by hiding in the Bible is ultimately untenable as it weakens the relevance and importance of theological reflection.

Pannenberg Podcast


Check out this fun interview with Phillip Clayton on Panneberg and process theology over at HC. Clayton studied with Pannenberg for awhile in Germany, and he recalled having a meeting with Pannenberg while he was in the process of writing his magisterial Anthropology in Theological Perspective. Panneberg admitted to being exhausted because he was reading over 1000 pages/day in preparation! I’m just finishing this podcast, and Clayton also believes that the two greatest influences on 20th century theology have been Barth and process thought. Not sure I buy that.

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.

Pannenberg on Youtube


On Creation


I often hear Christians talk about the world as if God created it. Am the only one out there who doubts God had a role at all at the origin of the cosmos? Is it possible to think of a God who does is not thought of as a creator? The usual (mature) Christian response is God was the zero-point at the Big Bang, but I really dislike this gesture. For one, I can imagine a point in the near future where we might advance our understanding of scientific knowledge so as to make this assumption pointless. Also, I have trouble understanding why we need to hold on the image of God as creator to affirm God’s self-revelation in Jesus of Nazareth. Even if science never discovers the origin of our universe will we really need to secure God a tiny spot in history to fit in with the natural world? It actually reminds me of a conversation I had this summer with a dear friend who has lost his faith. He described himself as a deist but not an atheist. I was baffled. He thought it was reasonable to imagine a God who initiated the cosmos but took a step back and assumed a detached role. I have a hard time imagining ever getting there. I didn’t think it was possible any more these days to hold onto a theology like this. I thought that with the advent of modern science a belief in God like this was all but impossible.

I’ll include my response to Halden to flush my objections out more:

Certainly, scriptures and the creeds supports the conclusion that God is creator. Here, I’m thinking of Pannenberg’s method in Anthropology in Theological Perspective. He puts theology in dialogue with pretty much every discipline to allow them to critique theology and allow theology to supplement our understanding of those “secular disciplines”. He basically admits certain beliefs in the fall cannot be upheld given our understanding of evolution. He resists the temptation to locate the fall in a mythical, pre-historical world. I just don’t know what to say about the creation of the world. I mean where did God intervene? I really dislike this God as stop-gap in our knowledge, it just seems insulting and awkward. Basically, we cannot explain the how things began so we use God to help us make sense of this lack of knowledge. Did he just set the ball rolling and at the beginning of time? I just don’t like theistic evolution. God’s merely a useless name in the whole business, why does chance receive the name God? Isn’t that unworthy of God? Side note: I should read Pannenberg’s Theology and the Philosophy of Science.

It’s odd that I have such difficulty trying to imagine a God that I could believe in that wasn’t involved in the creation of the world. Partially, I suspect the conditions and tools I’ve been given to conceive of God hinder a more productive exploration. I’m about to begin my study of Deleuze, and I just checked out his books on Nietzsche, What is Philosophy, his essays on Pure Immanence, as well as listening to Caputo’s lecture on Deleuze that involves a study of Difference and Repetition. I know the Deleuzian answers to the question what is philosophy is the creation of concepts. I wonder in what ways theology should think of fostering a more creative atmosphere as opposed to merely reflecting on traditional sources of theological inspiration: the church, the Bible, religious experience, and the work of past theologians. This seems like a more productive enterprise. Maybe once I start reading Deleuze I’ll have something of substance to say.

Church Dogmatics


Apparently if you read 25 pages every day of Barth’s massive tome you can finish in one year. I should do something like that next year or maybe re-read the Hebrew Bible. Two years ago I read the New Testament, and I’ve read the gospels a couple of times in the last two years. Or I suppose I could read Lacan’s seminars instead. Perhaps, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and Psychopathology of Everyday Life. Maybe Kant’s Three Critiques or Hegel’s Phenomenology, Science of Logic, and Philosophy of History. So many books.

However, Barth is certainly the most important theologian of the last 100 years, and it seems fitting to find out exactly why. I have my reservations about Karl, but I recognize just how intelligent and penetrating so many of his insights were especially his ‘Nein!’ to liberal theology and National Socialsm.

I’d also like to make my way through Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology as well. I’ve enjoyed his work so much already. I liked him all the more because he published his great work on Christology, Jesus: God and Man much to Barth’s chagrin. Part of me would like to read Tillich’s Systematic Theology as well. However, I find myself not as attracted to Tillich’s thought because of its diluted sense of history and its overly-Heideggerian emphasis.

I have so many things I want to read, but it’s hard knowing in what direction to head. I wanna continue reading philosophy, theology, and Marxist thinkers but at the same time I feel pressured to become more knowledgeable about psychoanalysis to stay up to date on the field. Oh the choices…

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.