Sunday, November 15, 2015

Chapter 7

In Chapter 7, Pannenberg will explore his perspective on the doctrine of creation of the world. In terms of a systematic presentation of Christian teaching, creation is the beginning of the historical activity of God.[1] Of course, as we have learned thus far, the Trinitarian God has already been active within divinity in the relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit. Love defines this activity. Creation involves the turning of the loving activity that has occurred within God outward toward things clearly not divine.

One of the obstacles for many young people today is that the church seems to fight a battle against science. Many youth accept as a given the big bang and evolution. They assume Adam and Eve are mythic figures. Pannenberg provides a path for the church to embrace such notions while affirming that God created the world that science describes. For many persons, reading a theologian who can converse respectfully with science, and especially with the dominant theories of evolution and the big bang, to some degree agreeing they are true explanations of the way the world works, should be refreshing.

The difference with Karl Barth in Volume 3.1 of his Church Dogmatics (1945, 1958) is vast at this point. Barth will be content with an exposition of the two creation accounts in Genesis. His reason is that the material of theology is the exposition of the Word of God as the revelation of God. Barth will even admit that another theologian might want to interact with science. He did not need feel a need to do so. Maybe Barth simply recognized a limit in his personal interests here. In any case, Pannenberg will refer to the authors of Lux Mundi (1899), to A. N. Whitehead, and to Henri Bergson as providing valuable theological roots for affirming the continuing creative activity of God that an expanding universe and evolution suggest. Karl Barth could have considered such texts, but he chose not to do so. He wanted to give no credence to natural theology. Yet, in Volume 3.2, he will interact deeply with existentialist philosophers Heidegger, Sartre, and Jaspers. Barth has the capacity to study what human beings say about their world, and show how Jesus Christ sheds light on the matter. Thus, I think Pannenberg is right when he says that the approach of Barth is an escape from the modern experience of the world. Moltmann will explore his notion of creation in God in Creation (1983, 1995) in which, while he goes through a very different intellectual journey, ends up in a similar place as does Pannenberg. Peter C. Hodgson will also take a similar approach to what we find from Pannenberg.[2] Pannenberg wrote “Theological Questions to Scientists,” in The Sciences and Theology in the Twentieth Century (1981). He wrote essays in Toward a Theology of Nature: Essays on Science and Faith (1993), edited by Ted Peters. In another volume edited by Ted Peters in Science & Theology: The New Consonance (1998) he wrote, “Human Life: Creation Versus Evolution?” Pannenberg will also refer to the writings of Ian Barbour and A. R. Peacocke in this chapter. He appreciates the writings of Teilhard de Chardin as well. Acquaintance with the authors mentioned here would be helpful to the reader of this long chapter.

The reader of this chapter will need to have a good acquaintance with Big Bang theory and with the theory of evolution. However, the point Pannenberg is making is that the God of the biblical witness could have created such a world. He is not making the point that he can “prove” that God created this world. As we have explored his methodology, we have learned he takes seriously the modern experience of the world, and that includes its science. He is taking physics and biology of this time seriously. One of the difficult issues here is the category of purpose. He will want to distinguish between the orientation of the universe toward increasing complexity from the notion of purpose. He will also view the radical contingency of the universe as in line with the Christian notion of creation. He will challenge the modernist notion of the Copernican revolution, which has removed earth and humanity from central concern. As one of my book discussion participants put it, he stands the Copernican revolution on its head by restoring humanity to a central part in the unfolding history of the universe.

In Part I, Pannenberg will explore the notion of creation as the act of God. In Section 1, Pannenberg explores the notion of the outward action of God. Toward the end of Volume I, Pannenberg discussed the notion of God engaging in action. The origin of the world is in the free action of God, and is therefore contingent, in that it might not have existed. If we take seriously the notion of the Trinity as already engaging in actions of Father, Son, and Spirit, creation becomes an outpouring of divine activity outside of this inner relation. Therefore, God is active by nature and eternally, apart from the specific act of creation. Creation is not a different type of divine activity. Rather, as the Trinity is a relation of divine activity within the divine, so creation is a turn of this divine activity outward. The importance of the Trinity is that one can avoid the question that puzzled Origen. Origen speculated that if God is Creator, then God must have always created, and therefore the world always existed. One also avoids the issue of Richard Rothe, who thought that if the world has a beginning, one must think of God as not being Creator at some point.[3] The Trinity becomes the basis of relations between the Creator and the creatures. When we consider the notion of ends and means, we need not view God as a needy and dependent being. The unity of the series of temporal events in creation has its basis in the end. Finite events and beings in their temporal sequence refer to a future fulfillment. The destiny of creaturely occurrence has its orientation toward fellowship with God. In that sense, God chooses to become dependent on creaturely conditions for the manifestation of the Trinitarian relations. Each creature has a part in the saving purpose of the Father. Creation embraces the themes of reconciliation, redemption, and consummation.

In Section 2 of Part I, Pannenberg explores the nature of creation. Genesis begins with the notion of dating the covenant history of Yahweh back to creation. He disagrees with J. van Seters and suggests that the Patriarchs had the notion of El, which would combine with the later new revelation of Yahweh. The notion of Yahweh as active in the history of Israel led to further reflection on the religion of the Patriarchs and further, to the notion of the activity of God in creation. Once again, II Isaiah is central in his argument, as he based his expectation of a new saving action on the part of Yahweh on the past actions of Yahweh in history and creation. This raises the question of whether one should limit creation to the beginning. Given scientific theories today, it seems reasonable to say that God is creative, continuing to create, recreating, and sustaining the covenant contained in creation.[4] He admits that the Genesis story gave classical expression to the unrestricted nature of the power of God in creation. The idea that creation occurred through the power of the divine Word, just as the prophets referred to the divine Word, has a mythical origin. The Word is not unique here, but what seems to be unique is the unlimited freedom of God in the biblical view of creation. He refers to the notion of creation out of nothing as having its origin in Theophilus of Antioch and Irenaeus of Lyons. He rejects both Barth and Moltmann in their attempts to give “nothing” a reality that God had to overcome. This also separates the Bible from Plato’s account in Timaeus as well as the view of Whitehead, all of whom he describes as dualistic. He is sympathetic to the notion of God working by persuasion as similar to his exposition of the patience and kindness of God as God works toward the destiny of creation. He is cautious in that it restricts the power of God, suggesting that the creature does not depend fully upon God. However, the question I would have here is that if creation is not simply an echo of the divine, then is it not true creatures need to receive help from other finite things? He also thinks that Genesis 1 moves against any monistic (Spinoza and Hegel) notion of creation, which would suppose that creation occurred by necessity. He wants to hold together the freedom of the divine origin of the world with that of God holding fast to creation. Divine love is the link between them. Divine love and divine freedom belong together. He has already shown the Trinitarian notion of divine love, which provides the basis of a doctrine of creation. Moltmann (God in Creation Chapter 4) will also part company with Barth in shifting the focus from the freedom of God to the loving expression of the nature of God. God is free to be who God is. God is creative, and therefore creates.

Thus, in Section 3 of Part I, Pannenberg explores the Trinitarian origin of the act of creation. He will point to science agreeing with the notion of the contingency of the world. He will also explore the notion of divine love as the origin, that which sustains, and that which will not let go of the finitude of creation until creation reaches its consummation. He rejects resolving these issues by referring to the eternal decree of God, as he finds in Moltmann and Barth. Rather, theology has to develop the thought that the creation of the world is an expression of divine love, as Moltmann affirms, but must do so along Trinitarian lines. I must say that my initial reading of Moltmann is different, as he is very Trinitarian in his notion of creation. As for the decree, Moltmann modifies this by combining it with the notion of emanation. For Pannenberg, the existence of the world is an expression of the goodness of God. The Son is the object of the love of the Father and is the basis for all that is different from God. The self-distinction of the Son from the Father is out of humility, rather than the pride we will find in humanity as it sought separation from God. He refers to Karl Rahner and his notion of Incarnation for support in this notion. Although materially, he is close to the distinction Barth makes between the external and internal basis of the covenant, the effect is quite different (Church Dogmatics III.1, 41.2/3). The existence of the eternal Son is the basis of the distinction and independent existence of all creaturely reality. Jesus put his own existence in the service of the glorifying of God. In another book, Pannenberg will bring creation and eschatology together. His point is that the essence of a thing has not always existed. The essence of a thing is what becomes of it as it finds its ultimate illumination, place, and definition, in light of the entirety of creation. For the Christian, the essence of a thing finds its determination based on their orientation to Christ. It will have a proleptic structure, and is therefore inadequate and provisional. It will have metaphorical meaning.[5] Humanity put its existence into revolt from God. I have already directed the attention of the reader to the discussion in Anthropology in Theological Perspective 62ff, 66ff for the notion of being oneself with another. This discussion becomes a way of understanding the relations within the Trinity. He sees the notion of the eternal Son as having its basis in the Jewish notion of preexistent wisdom. Creation will have its consummation in Jesus Christ, which presupposes that creation owes its existence to Christ as well. He modifies Hegel at this point. Hegel pointed to the necessity of the emergence of the principle of otherness in the Son. However, Pannenberg wants to refer to the mutuality of the relations of the Trinitarian persons. The divine life is a self-enclosed circle, which needs no other outside itself. Creation is the free act of God because it flows from the free agreement of the Son with the Father through the Spirit. He refers to the biblical witness that the Spirit is the origin of life. Continued creaturely existence is possible by participation in God, which is the special work of the Spirit. As he sees it, the stages of the evolution of life are the stages of its increasing complexity and intensity and therefore growing participation in God. A mark of the organic life is that it has an inner relation to the future of its own changes and its spatial environment. He sees this in the developmental thrust of plants and the instinctive life of animals. This self-transcendence results in internalizing the future of the organism. He refers to Henri Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin as partners in this view of evolution. Moltmann (God in Creation, Chapter 1) will also say that knowledge of nature as the creation of God is participating knowledge, which means that the theologian focuses upon the complex way the finite things of creation relate to each other. He also refers to the future of creation as the glory of God and that the Spirit preserves life and brings life to its goal. The presence of the divine Spirit means self-transcendence will make nature open to its future and achieve its goal. Pannenberg finally makes it clear, then, that creation is not a notion that theology should reserve for the beginning. Preservation goes with creation. Therefore, creation is a living occurrence, continued creation, a constantly new creative fashioning. The action of God is a single act that embraces the whole cosmic process. He is in agreement with Moltmann (God in Creation, Chapter 8). The action of God includes many individual acts and phases. It leaves room for a plurality of creatures. Moltmann (God in Creation Chapter 4) will stress that God creating by “letting-be” or making room. I am not sure what to make of his idea that God creates by withdrawing the presence of God in order to make room for others, opening the door for a discussion of “nothingness.” Its basis is Jewish speculation that seems like an unfounded mystification of the subjection, according to Pannenberg.  Robert Jensen will stress that God opens room and therefore creates. The roominess of God becomes the context of creation as divine life embraces it.[6] The creatures in their plurality can participate in the movement of the divine action that fills creation. It does so through the taking shape of the Word and in the moving of the Spirit.

In Section 4 of Part I, the final section, Pannenberg explores the creation, preservation, and rule of the world by God.

In subsection (a) of Section 4, he explores preservation and creation. Paul Tillich defines God as creative. The doctrine of creation serves the purpose of exploring the meaning of human finitude as well as the meaning of the rest of finite things. Tillich will carry out his discussion of creation in the context of his notion of time, and thus, as originating, sustaining, and consummating aspects of his doctrine of creation.[7] Tillich prefers to think in terms of continuous creation. The sustaining power of God is in the basic structures of reality. It refers to that which continues within change. Without this static element, the finite could never gain self-identity. “The faith in God's sustaining creativity is the faith in the continuity structure of reality as the basis for being and acting.”[8] Moltmann (God in Creation Chapter 4) will suggests that Tillich, by saying that creation is identical with the divine life, abolishes the self-differentiation of God from the world, and thus becomes monistic and pantheistic. For Pannenberg, the concept of the preservation of creation implies it does not owe its existence to itself. God wills to preserve creation. He refers to Augustine (City of God 11.6), who said that God created with time, and not in time. Barth (Church Dogmatics III.1, 67-70) affirms creation in time. He agrees with Barth that eternity is the source of time. Pannenberg thinks that Augustine preserves the notion that creation is not an arbitrary resolve of God and that it opposes any restriction of the divine action in creation to the beginning of the world. Such preservation by God means God remains faithful to creation, and therefore preserves its independence. He has already shown in referring to II Isaiah that continuing creation does not contradict the notion in Genesis 2:1 that the work of creation is finished. Creation is a unique act that constitutes time and the various phases of creation, while preservation always occurs in time. He concludes this sub-section with a brief discussion of miracles. He affirms Augustine, who saw miracles as our limited knowledge of the order God had created. He also agrees with Schleiermacher, who said miracle is the religious name for an event. Every event becomes a miracle once one relates it to the Infinite. In reality, the fact of the order of nature, its regularities and enduring constructs, is genuinely astounding.

In subsection (b) of Section 4, Pannenberg explores the divine cooperation in the activities of creatures. He begins with the traditional distinction between concursus and conservatio, which modern theology has thrown into doubt. The point of this distinction is that God does not leave creatures to themselves, while recognizing that such cooperation does not mean that creatures may not deviate from the purpose of God. He will explore the principle of inertia in this regard. He notes that Spinoza used this principle to refer to the notion of self-preservation of the creatures. He missed the notion that self-preservation does not guarantee the continuation of the creature or of nature. Rather, self-preservation refers to preservation by another. The identity of individual things has its formation in the process of persisting. In another work, Pannenberg refers to the way such persisting occurs in the human being through hope and trust in reference to the future. The identity of the person becomes the time-bridging present.[9]

In the final subsection (c) of Section 4, Pannenberg discusses world government and the kingdom of God as the goal of creation. Paul Tillich will refer to this as the directing creativity of God through the freedom of humanity and through the spontaneity and structural wholeness of all creatures. It works through individual and social forms of human life. It works through any resistance to divine activity. This affirmation asserts with faith that no situation can frustrate the fulfillment of one’s ultimate destiny, that nothing can separate the individual from the love of God in Christ.[10] To return to Pannenberg, here is an attempt of the tradition to describe how God orders events so that they achieve the ends for which God created them. The goal is both rendering to God the glory due God and to reflect the goodness of which they are capable.[11] He agrees with Barth (Church Dogmatics III.3, 41, 19, 186) that world government refers to the faithfulness of God in the changes of created reality. The concern of world governance is for the world as a whole, but therefore, must deal with the parts in relation to each other. Every creature is an end in the work of creation and for world governance. The objection to this is that the actual direction of the world and its history offers little evidence of a God of love, mercy, and justice. He refers to the presence of the absurdity of meaningless suffering as a strong objection. Barth rightly points us to the royal dominion of the God of Israel to which the Old Testament witnesses. Jesus had a message that had its start in the statement of the future being near at hand. He reminds us of the tension between present concealment and the future of the royal rule of God over the world. The question he raises is whether divine world government has a direction or a final structure of action. In what sense can we see this preceding rule in the world as oriented to the future consummation of the world? Irenaeus (Against All Heresies, iv. 20. 7) said that the glory of God is the living human person and the life of a person is the vision of God. For Aristotelian Scholasticism, God is the final goal of the action of God. The older Protestant dogmatics said the goal of God in creation is to receive glory. He objects that God does not need this. God would become a model for the behavior of self-seeking or love of self that is sinful among human beings. Robert Jensen will agree with Jonathan Edwards that the final goal of creation is God and the creatures God has made united in Christ.[12] World government is also an expression of divine love that has as its content the consummation of creation. God receives glory as individuals find their fulfillment in their destiny. He offers a summary of Section 4, Part I (p. 57-59). He will stress that the central theme of divine world government is the supremacy of God over the misuse of creaturely independence. World government contradicts the claim made by wickedness and evil that they can oppose the will of God as Creator. Thus, even the consequences of creaturely revolt from the Creator finally have to serve the purpose of God for creation. The skill of God in government shows itself in the divine ability to bring good even out of evil.

In Part II, Pannenberg discusses the world of creatures. He will want to interpret creation as the work of the Trinitarian God. He is not offering a proof for the existence of God. He is not saying one can read off the scientific description of the world and discover God. What he wants to do from an apologetic perspective is to argue that one can read the scientific description of the world as a work or action of God. He thinks we have here a theme of the utmost importance for the question of the truth of the Christian faith. Theology cannot avoid describing the world of nature and human history as the creation of God. Theology can do this only in dialogue with the sciences. For him, a failure to claim that the world that the sciences describe is the world God has made is a conceptual failure to confess the deity of the God of the Bible. In the process, theology cannot ignore what the sciences have to say about the world. He refers to Ian Barbour (Issues in science and Religion) and A. R. Peacocke (Creation and the World of Science). He thinks failure here leads to Docetism. Of course, Pannenberg is opposing Barth here. Moltmann (God in Creation, Chapter 3) opines that Barth does not give sufficient attention to the way in which creation is a sketch or design of the rule of God. Created things are promises of the rule of God and the rule of God is a fulfillment of both the historical and natural promise of God. Moltmann wants to restore the notion of vestiges or traces of God in creation. Our experience of the world, properly understood, is an anticipation that widens to a future or destiny of fellowship with God.

In Section 1 of Part II, Pannenberg will explore plurality and unity in creation. Theoretically, God could have created one thing outside the divine realm. However, considering the magnitude of God, it would be a small thing for God to do that. Once God decided to create freely and out of love, it meant a world of creatures. Finite things find their limit in their relation to other finite things, then, and not just in relation to the Infinite. The cosmology of science today is relativist. It traces the beginning of creation before finite time, for which one can read Paul Davies, God and the New Physics, 9ff, 25ff. It also traces the plurality of finite things to a big bang and the expansion of the universe. Such expansion requires space and temporality. It also carries with it the idea of openness to the future. Finite things develop their identity in relation to other finite things, out of which we observe the unity of the universe, in which one can see theologically the working of wisdom and the Logos. This Logos transcends finite things and is immanent in finite things. We see the order in the natural law that governs the interaction of phenomena. The Logos manifests itself in the actual unfolding of the world. The universe has a history. The importance of this is that the Christian view of the Incarnation means the Logos appeared on friendly turf in Jesus of Nazareth. It does not represent a divine or alien invasion. The Son reveals the destiny of each creature to honor the Father. Creation and divine preservation show themselves in natural law. He refers us to A. R. Peacocke, Science and the Christian Experiment (1971, 21-22). This uniformity, however, has its balance in chance and the contingency of events. He refers us to Ian Barbour, Issues in science and Religion, p. 298, 303ff. Israel saw the action of God in its history as giving meaning to the contingent events of history. The analogy here is that the natural laws of science assume the contingency of natural events. He refers to T. F. Torrance (“Divine and Contingent Order,” The Sciences and Theology in the Twentieth Century 1981, edited by A. R. Peacocke). In a different book, Pannenberg will make the point that natural and historical studies are equally distant descriptions of reality. He refers to T. S. Kuhn (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1967, p. 192), who showed that scientific theories offer the best attempt to describe the evidence at hand. One could use such a notion for historical hypotheses as well. Of course, this means that psychology and philosophy can develop meaningful statements.[13] The contingency of events expressed in the laws of quantum physics and thermodynamics are an exception to the laws of regularity. Yet, regularity is the basis for the emergence of enduring forms. Of course, one could use the regularity of nature as an argument against the Christian claim of God as Creator. He refers to J. Polkinghorne, One World: The Interaction of Science and Theology, 1986, 71-2. One can also see the regularity as a reflection of the faithfulness of God as Creator and Sustainer. In other words, once again, one does not have to read science in an atheistic way. Moltmann (God in Creation Chapter 8) will also refer to the materialistic view of the world that arises out of evolutionary theory. He will also argue that evolution suggests the interrelation of all things. It becomes participatory, anticipatory, and open, thereby becoming open to God. The point for Pannenberg is that the processes of nature are open and communal systems that allows new forms and therefore a new totality to emerge. As Moltmann (God in Creation Chapter 1) stresses, such awareness of the immanence of God moves us away from domination and toward a more communal notion that will have ethical implications. The persistence and perishing of forms contributes to a new totality. He directs us to Ian Barbour again. He also directs us to J. D. Barrow and F. I. Tipler, The Anthropic Principle (1986), 302ff. He also refers us to Whitehead, with whom he agrees that the meaning of individual occasions emerges within the process of relation. The temporality of such occasions means that by anticipation the occasion has future relevance for others. Aristotle also suggested the future goal must allow us to reinterpret the present.[14] Modern science has opened the universe to the continuing creativity of God. However, are humans the goal of creation? The Incarnation would imply as much. Yet, science has shown that earth is hardly the center of the universe. Even on earth, can we assume that evolution ends with us? If there are other intelligent beings in the universe, this does not threaten the Christian teaching.

In Section 2 of Part II, Pannenberg discusses the Spirit of God and the dynamic of natural occurrence.

In subsection (a), he discusses the biblical starting point. He points out that that the biblical witness is that the Spirit of God is the life-giving principle, to which all creatures owe life, movement, and activity, especially with Psalm 104:30. He admits that a first glance at the Bible puts it at odds with modern opinions.

In subsection (b), Pannenberg discusses force, field, and Spirit. He notes that the description of forms of movement and forces is the central theme of physics today. It has developed the concept of force or energy working on bodies and thus producing movement. He refers to the development of field theories that see a close link between force and space-time. The metaphysical background of such theories is Stoicism.  Movement arises out of the field of energy. Bodies emerge out of the field of energy. Thus, the field unites all movement in the universe. What he wants to say is that theologically, we can understand this field as the immanent working of the divine Spirit. His point is that field theory brings modern science and the biblical witness regarding the Spirit into close connection. Moltmann (God in Creation, Chapter 1) refers to this as creation in the Spirit, as the Spirit preserves life and brings life to its goal. This aspect of his theological program will us ethically to move away from hierarchical and domination themes to communal themes.

In subsection (c), Pannenberg works with the notion of space and time as aspects of the working of the Spirit. The transcendence of God requires space. In creating, God gives creatures space alongside God, while still embracing them. The perception of space and time is a way of sensing the Infinite. When we explore time, we have to deal with the constitutive significance of simultaneity. Space-time is a multidimensional continuum. Relative simultaneity is that which is not simultaneous in itself. Augustine had the insight that for God to have creatures, God needed to take time for them. This led him to reflect upon time.[15] Augustine described this as the present that bridges time in his Confessions (Book 11). God is with every creature as its own place, since God is omnipresent. He has already shown that eternity is the undivided presence of life in its totality. Eternity is a present that comprehends all time and has no future outside itself. Eternity constitutes the experience and concept of time. He has previously referred to Plotinus for this insight. He refers positively to Moltmann, God in Creation as well in a way that suggests substantial agreement. He does not think that the eschatological consummation will bring disappearance of the distinction that occurs in cosmic time. Yet, the separation will cease when creation participates in the eternity of God. He admits that the future toward which finite things move has for them an ambivalent face. They have little control. The future threatens an end to their independent existence. Yet, he has already shown that the future is the field of the possible. He has already discussed the openness of creation to new forms, which is the dynamic of the divine Spirit in creation. In another work, he writes that in the light of the idea of a creative eschaton, being achieves an intrinsic relation to the future and pushes forward to new forms of participation in the creative origin of all being. Humanity is the only being aware of this future orientation.[16] In another work, Pannenberg discusses Plotinus as the origin of the idea of the primacy of the future, a theme that Heidegger explores as the means for attaining the wholeness of individual existence. In Augustine, time becomes the song that allows individual things to participate in eternity. In this way, duration is the synthesis of the flow of time. Finite being has its limited participation in the divine eternity. The problem with Kant is that the horizon of time is the ego, while the problem with Heidegger is that only the future of one’s own death constitutes meaning and time. Yet, meaning and wholeness occurs in the context of eternity, of the possible completion and participation of time in eternity.[17] This creative force moves against the countervailing increase of entropy, which amounts to the dissolution of creatures as they deteriorate and move toward inert uniformity. This creative dynamic of the Spirit is entry into the eternity of God. The goal of the dynamic of the Spirit is to give creaturely forms duration by a share in eternity and to protect them against the tendency to disintegrate. He wants to think of the dynamic of the divine Spirit as a working field. It links to time by the power of the future that gives creatures their present and duration. It links to space by the simultaneity of creatures in their duration. The Spirit encounters the creature as its future, which embraces its origin and its possible fulfillment. Moltmann (God in Creation, Chapter 4) will frame this future as the arrival of Sabbath, where God once again declares the goodness of creation and where God rests in the sense of taking pleasure in restored fellowship with creation. As he sees it, then, the eternal divine life is a life of

eternal, infinite love, which in the creative process issues in its overflowing rapture from its Trinitarian perfection and completeness, and comes to itself in the eternal rest of the Sabbath. It is the same love, but it operates in different ways in the divine life and in the divine creativity.[18]


 In subsection (d), Pannenberg discusses the creative working of the Spirit and the doctrine of angels. He will interact with Barth in Church Dogmatics III.3 [51]. Naturalist assumptions seem largely to have undercut the possibility of angels.[19] Yet, he is willing to reformulate this teaching. He wants to see angels as a force, such as “principalities and powers” in the New Testament. He refers to revival of the doctrine of angels and demons represented by Paul Tillich and the archetypes in depth psychology. For Pannenberg, the angels of the biblical traditions are natural forces that from another angle might be the object of scientific descriptions. Demons are the increase of entropy. Yet, for him, the creative energy of the divine Spirit means that destructive powers are not the only determinative ground of creaturely reality.

In subsection (e), Pannenberg discusses the cooperation of Son and Spirit in the work of creation. In fact, Moltmann (God in Creation, Chapter 4) will put it stronger, saying that the specifically Christian contribution to a notion of creation is that of the cosmic Christ and the work of the Spirit. As he sees it, a Trinitarian view of creation leads us away from both deism and pantheism and toward panentheism. The Creator Spirit suggests that each individual is part of the whole. Everything finite is a representative of the Infinite. The universe becomes an open system. Pannenberg wants to bring together his discussion of Logos and Spirit. Logos, as it represents natural laws, is the information system that allows for the transition to new creaturely forms. The history of the earth has seen the development of organized life and the continued higher structuring of its forms. It becomes a chain of events. Theologians find in this story of the continued higher structuring of forms an analogy to the history of divine election. He refers to I Corinthians 1:27 to the effect that God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. He finds here an analogy to evolution, in which the improbable exception becomes the intimation of a new creation. Thus, while entropy and its dissolution of creatures is a downward movement, evolution is an upward movement. He thinks higher structuring in the sense of increasing complexity is an open possibility with this framework, referring to Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin. He refers to Peacocke, God and the New Biology and Creation and the World of Science. The Logos is the means through which creation has its order, while the working of the Spirit involves the emergence of new forms. The Christian notion of Incarnation is the highest instance of creation.

In Section 3 of Part II, Pannenberg discusses the sequence of forms. Creatures refer to each other and relate to each other. They live off lower creatures, but they also live for them. A theological doctrine of creation should follow where the biblical witness leads by claiming current knowledge of the world shown in science as a description of the work of God. Thus, theology will not do justice to the biblical witness if it tries to preserve the time-bound ideas with which the biblical account in Genesis 1 works.  He points to Isaac Asimov, In the Beginning, as saying that Genesis 1 follows the modern order to creation to an astonishing degree. Thus, the biblical account has light at the beginning, humans at the end, light prior to the stars, plants springing from the earth, the function of vegetation as a presupposition of animal life, and the close relation between humans and land animals on the sixth day as opposed to sea creatures on the fifth day. Doing justice to the biblical witness will mean uniting its concern for an established order we see in Genesis 1 with the constant bringing forth of things that are new that modern science describes. He admits that the church was slow to recognize the opportunity that evolutionary theory provided for the church and theology, doing great harm to relations between church and science. Philosophically, the church overly committed itself to a philosophy of constancy and to an over-estimation of humanity. He refers to Lux Mundi that Charles Gore edited as pioneering the way toward embracing the theory. He refers to the creationist effort of Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcome in The Genesis Flood as a negative in that it rests primarily on a fundamentalist view of the authority of the texts. He likes Teilhard de Chardin in this regard (Moltmann does as well), as well as Karl Rahner and Ian Barbour. He again appeals to II Isaiah for the notion of the creative nature of the acts of God in history. This notion becomes the basis for the idea of emergent evolution. He admits that science today traces back all forms of nature to elementary processes, a difference with the biblical account. He is consistent with Moltmann (God in Creation, Chapter 1) here, who will also point to science breaking down its study to the smallest particles to its smallest elements, while the theologian will need to focus upon the complex way the finite things of creation relate to each other. The point Pannenberg will want to stress is that even such elements occur within a field of relation, the field becoming the basis for enduring forms. The smallest elements are in relation to the structural links that forms the totality of creation. Even subatomic particles have a holistic character. The emergence of humanity out of such processes is an example. The universe is an “end,” with the parts and the totality conditioning each other. The expansion of the universe reveals the commitment of God to continuing creative activity. In this context, the multiplicity of living creatures in such abundance means competition with each other for the use of the energy in their environment. Living forms have energy and have the dignity of coming into existence for their own sakes, an important aspect of their distinctive beauty. The self-organizing principle of living things follows the pattern in the Bible of their fruitfulness. The sexual form of this fruitfulness is the basis for the greater variety within a species. The selection of sexual unions within a species opens up space within which life can expand. In this process, life is a good and such creativity is participation in the creativity and sustaining work of God. Of course, this sharing also means a possible demonic perversion of the gift. The divine likeness and the closeness to God it suggests gives humanity a special place in the creative work of God. Yet, this special place does not necessarily mean humanity is the goal of evolution. Evolution might lead to other forms of intelligent life. Theology can take the step that the appearance of humanity brings fully to light for the first time the meaning of all creaturely reality. The will of the Creator is that the creature should be as an independent existence. Only humans learned to see divine reality in its distinction from everything finite. Therefore, he sees no problem with evolutionary theory. It does not rule out our closeness to God. He will stress that creaturely independence is a gift of God in creation. Yet, continued creaturely life depends upon fellowship with the eternal God. The Incarnation of the Son reveals that creation comes to fulfillment in us. The attainment of the goal is still ahead of us. It becomes the object of eschatological hope.

In Part III, Pannenberg will discuss creation and eschatology, taking a final look at the constitution of the world as a whole in the light of its Creator. It fulfills his promise that eschatology must be a theme of every part of Christian doctrine, rather than an isolated theme at the end.

In Section 1 of Part III, he will discuss the unity and distinction of the act of creation and the eschaton. The goal of creation is to share in the life of God. Even the sighing of creation (Romans 8:21-22) is an expression of the presence of the life-giving Spirit. The fact that the goal is not yet reality is the theme of eschatology. The fact that the destiny of creation is ahead of it means creation and eschatology belong together. He is exploring the relation of beginning and end in the action of God. His point is that the eschatological future of God in the coming kingdom is the standpoint from which to understand the world as a whole. This view will affect the beginning. The beginning loses its function as an unalterably valid basis of unity in the whole process. Ulrich Wilckens refers to Luke 12:22-31 as linking the everyday care of God and the kingdom of God that is at hand. To surrender to God the cares of everyday and to have an orientation to an attentive expectation of the impending rule of God is the same thing. The nearness of the rule of God has an intimate connection with creation, providence, and everyday life.[20]

In Section 2 of Part III, Pannenberg will discuss the beginning and end of the universe. Classical philosophy and the theology of the Middle Ages debated the question of whether the world has no beginning. The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 made obligatory the doctrine that the world had a temporal beginning. Modern science has set aside the idea of an infinite universe due to its theory of relativity. It teaches us to think of the world as spatially unlimited yet finite. This meant that the universe as a spatial and temporal extension became a subject of empirical research. It seems logical to assume that an expanding universe means it had a temporal beginning. Pius XII on November 22, 1951 claimed as much. Yet, while science can lead us to infinitely dense mass and infinitely compressed space, it can only approximate the beginning of time. In its computation, we do not have t=0. The question seems unanswerable. Yet, we can reasonably assume that as a finite process, the universe had a temporal beginning, which would mean the beginning of time. Jewish apocalyptic wrote freely of the end of the world, but science is not accustomed to do so. It can do so with the second law of thermodynamics, a state of equilibrium, the death of heat. The anthropic principle, if true, would mean the eventual intellectual dominion over the universe. This view assumes that the emergence of intelligence has constitutive significance for the process of the universe. This view would suggest that the omega point allows us to think of eschatology as constitutive for the universe. He wants to see such scientific considerations as overlapping with the theological concern for eschatology. Moltmann (God in Creation, Chapter 5) will stress that believers do not need to experience the prison of the past in its sin, death, and Law, but rather, find their definition from the future.

In Section 3, Part III, Pannenberg discusses belief in creation and theodicy. Pannenberg thinks he has shown that the biblical God could have created the world science describes. He wants the modern person to keep open the possibility of speaking about God in an intellectually responsible way. The claim that the reality of nature and human history is the work of God is debatable. The self-organizing independence of creatures leaves the impression that they need no divine Creator to explain them. The senseless suffering we find in creation leaves doubt as to the goodness of creation. In Genesis 1, the goodness of creation rests on being in accord with the divine purpose in creation. Unbelief appeals to the fact of evil in the world, recalling the innocent and disproportionate suffering of creatures. Christian teaching has tried to protect God from the charge that God directly causes evil.[21] Yet, he points to Brothers Karamazov Book 5, Chapter 4 and Albert Camus The Plague 198ff as expressing the depths of this suffering. The point is that the Biblical God bears responsibility for the world God created. Christianity can meet the objection only with an eschatology that hopes for resurrection. The philosophical explanation of suffering and evil of one like Leibniz cries out for the real overcoming of evil. Only God can give a satisfying answer. As long as humanity looks only at the incomplete course of history the fact of evil remains an insoluble riddle and offense to a wise, good, and almighty God. The question remains open as to why the Creator did not create a world in which pain and guilt did not exist. We can cast fictitious scenarios, but the exercise is always unfulfilling.[22] Our eyesight remains clouded.[23] He refers to John Hick (Evil and the God of Love and Death and Eternal Life) as well as David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Part 11. God apparently wanted free and independent creatures that can spontaneously acknowledge the deity of God. If they did so, they would correspond to the fellowship of the Father and Son. However, the decision carried with it the risk of a misuse of this freedom. Yet, this notion still lays responsibility for the presence of evil and suffering on a decision made by God. The Creator accepts the risk of sin and evil as a condition of realizing the goal of free fellowship of the creature with God. Evil is an accompanying phenomena of this decision by God. Theological tradition has described evil as ontologically invalid because it is not a work of the divine will. Even if the sin of creatures is the immediate cause of evil, God is still responsible. In fact, God accepted responsibility for evil in the sending of the Son to the cross. The theological tradition points to the ontological weakness of finite creatures, a point Leibniz makes. Limitation constitutes being a creature. He refers to John Hick in Evil and the God of Love in this discussion. He also refers to Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil, 34ff. Yet, this notion is not enough, for humanity revolts against this limit in its desire to be like God in Genesis 3:5. As Robert Jensen points out, the orthodox position and the Bible unite in saying that the possibility of evil arises with the actions of human beings.[24] God granted independence, but humanity asserted autonomy, turning away from the source of its life. Evil became possible simply through the limit of finitude. However, asserting themselves against each other and the Creator is the root of evil and suffering. The independence of creatures means the concealment of deity in creation. He concludes, then, that belief in creation must go hand in hand with the hope of eschatological victory over the reality of evil and sin. Without this hope, one has no answer to the question of theodicy. Creation has an intimate link with the reconciling and redeeming of the world. Therefore, the Creator is our ally in the battle to overcome evil and to reduce and heal suffering in the world. Praise of God as Creator is always in anticipation of the eschatological consummation. Finite reality praises God in its continuation and in its perishing. Eschatological consummation of the world is the only way to demonstrate the righteousness and deity of the biblical God.

[1] (Oden 1987), 127.
[2] (Hodgson 1994), Chapters 12 and 13.
[3] (Jenson 1997), Volume II, 10-11, referring to First Principles, 9.13-14 and Dogmatik 1870, 1.135.
[4] (Oden 1987), 134.
[5] (Pannenberg, Jesus -- God and Man 1964, 1968), p. 390-7.
[6] (Jenson 1997), Volume II, 25.
[7] (Systematic Theology,1951, Volume 2, p. 252ff)
[8] (Systematic Theology, Vol. One, 1951, p. 261-263)
[9] (Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective 1985), 522-32.
[10] (Systematic Theology, Vol. One, 1951, p. 263ff)
[11] (Oden 1987), 143.
[12] (Jenson 1997), Volume II, 19.
[13] (Pannenberg, Theology and the Philosophy of Science 1973, 1976), 64-71.
[14] (Pannenberg, Metaphysics and the Idea of God 1988, 1990), p. 113-29.
[15] (Jenson 1997), Volume II 29.
[16] (Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God 1969), 67-68.
[17] (Pannenberg, Metaphysics and the Idea of God 1988, 1990), 69-90.
[18] (Moltmann, God in Creation 1985), 84.
[19] (Oden 1987), 132.
[20] (Pannenberg, Revelation as History 1961, 1968), p. 117, note 35.
[21] (Oden 1987), 150.
[22] (Jenson 1997), 23.
[23] (Oden 1987), 140.
[24] (Jenson 1997), Volume II, 21.


  1. Superb summary. In preparation for reading WP's Systematic Theology I have begun reading Stanley Grenz' Reason for Hope. I can't wait to be done with it so I can start reading WP himself.

    Thanks for all the work you put into your posts.

  2. Thank you for reading and commenting. Please feel free to read WP and my summary and make any observations you wish, of course, but especially from what you have read in Moltmann. Any references to points of similarity and difference would be helpful.