Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Chapter 5


In Chapter 5, Pannenberg offers the first portion of his discussion of the Trinitarian God. In fact, Chapters 5 and 6 present his doctrine of God, keeping in view the plurality and debatability of all religious truth claims. He has already said that theology has to do with the study of God. Therefore, identifying God is important. Pannenberg begins the process of identifying this God from the perspective of Christian belief. He will do so understanding that he will need to reformulate the Christianity understanding of God from the standpoint of experience of the world, humanity, and philosophical reflection. He will want to redefine the relations of these doctrines to their historical origins. He will do so by reference to scripture and to Christian tradition. He does this because he is a Christian wrestling with the new realities of any religion that he laid out in Chapters 2 & 3. In his discussion of the Doctrine of God, he wants to see if he can reformulate Christian teaching regarding God in light of what we have learned in Chapters 2 & 3. Thus, he is not appealing to Scripture or Tradition as authorities, but as sources out of which the Christian theologian must wrestle to find out whether the truth claims of Christianity can stand in a provisional way. He concedes that he is following the pattern Karl Barth established in his Prolegomena, where he discusses the doctrine of the Word of God as a criterion in Chapter 1, then the revelation of God in Chapter 2. In the latter chapter, Part I reflects on the Triune God, Part 2 on the Incarnation, and Part III on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Although their content is quite different, the structure is similar in moving from revelation to a reflection on the Trinity. In fact, in Chapter 6, Pannenberg will discuss the essence and attributes of God, parallel to Barth and his discussion of the doctrine of God in Volume 2 of Church Dogmatics. Paul Tillich, in contrast, will explore the being and reality of God in Part II of his Systematic Theology. He will relate the question of God to the philosophical notion of Being and its connection with finitude. Here is also where he will discuss connecting the secular concern for “ultimate concern” and the modern meaning of the word “God.” He will relate God to “Being-itself,” and therefore as living, creative, and related (in holiness, power, and love).
In Section 1, Pannenberg deals with the God of Jesus and the beginnings of the doctrine of the Trinity. Jesus announced the nearness of the divine rule of his Father. The God of Jesus is the God of Jewish faith. He grants that the notion arose out of the patriarchal constitution of the Israelite family. The father cared for the members of the clan, so God as Father cared for Israel. The God is Father in relation to the creatures God has made. God as Father chose Israel and established the covenant. “Father” becomes a proper name for God, and not just a time-bound notion. Further, Jesus differentiated himself from the Father, so he does not think it proper to say, “Jesus is God.” Yet, Jesus also closely linked the work of the Father in the world with his mission and ministry in the world. Jesus is the Son due to the nearness of divine rule, the subjection of the Son to the will of the Father, and as a revelation of the love of God. Easter becomes divine confirmation of this mission and ministry of Jesus. Eschatological revelation will disclose Jesus as Son of God and Messiah, a truth shown in the resurrection. He relies upon Jewish apocalyptic and the notion of divine wisdom for the early rise of the notion of the pre-existence of the Son in the New Testament. We see this development in the rise of the title, “Lord” for the exalted Jesus, a term applied to God in the Old Testament. This title suggests the full deity of the Son. Further, the Spirit of God is the medium of the communion of Jesus with the Father and the mediator of the participation of believers in Christ. The Spirit gave life to creation, inspired the prophets, and was the mode of the presence of God in the ministry of Jesus. Pannenberg will discuss the difficult issues arising out of the controversy between Arius and Athanasius. The Creed of Nicaea is at risk here. In addition to what we have already noted, he will add that the notion of the Trinity arises out of the Logos, the Torah, the name of Yahweh, and the glory (kabod, shekinah) of God. Such notions distinguish God from the mode of the presence of God in the world. His point is that Christian statements about the Son and Spirit take up questions already in the Old Testament that related to the transcendence of God on the one hand with the modes of divine presence in the world on the other hand. The Cappadocians had monotheistic intentions in their vision of the Trinity. They focused upon the Father as the “origin” of the Trinity, which therefore provided a basis for the unity of the Trinity. Yet, this path was close to the notion of subordination proposed by Arius.
In Section 2, he wants to justify his placement of a discussion of the Trinitarian God at the beginning of his actual exposition of Christian teaching. The idea here is that one might have a general notion of God through reason and experience, but actual knowledge of the Trinity only through revelation. Eventually, however, the Trinity began to look like an appendix to Christian teaching, which it became with Schleiermacher. The psychological approach of Augustine was a way to link unity and Trinity. Anselm would derive the Trinity from the unity of the divine substance that embraces the three persons. He speaks favorably of Richard of St. Victor, who focuses on the thought of love. The love of God has a fully worthy partner only in a divine person. The Spirit of love becomes the common essence of the Trinity – the lover, the beloved, and love. The difficulty, of course, is that love may relate persons while not suggesting their unity. The Protestant focus upon the Bible and revelation meant that Socinians could base anti-Trinitarian arguments on Scripture, giving it the impression of being an unbiblical teaching. It took German Idealism and its concept of Spirit to recover the importance of the Trinity. He will stress that the deity of Christ cannot exist apart from the Trinity. The teaching regarding the Trinity places God and the revelation of God at the heart of Christian theology. It was through Idealism that Isaac August Dorner influenced Barth and the impressive recovery of the teaching of the Trinity. By deriving the Trinity from the formal concept of revelation as self-revelation, he is structurally similar to the self-conscious Absolute of Hegel. Barth also proposed three modes of being in the one divine subjectivity. The difficulty of such Trinitarian discussions is that one falls into modalism or subordinationism. For Pannenberg, we need to begin with the event of revelation, out of which arise the distinctions of Father, Son, and Spirit. Such an approach will bring the immanent and economic Trinity together, after which the unity of this God becomes a theme as we discuss the divine essence and attributes.
In Section 3, Pannenberg discusses the distinction and unity of the divine persons.
In subsection (a), he discusses the revelation of God in Jesus Christ as the starting point. He does not think Barth is helpful here, seeing the Trinity having its source in revelation as subject, object, and predicate. For Pannenberg, the place to begin is with the relation of Jesus to the Father and his message of divine rule. He will pay attention to “historical Jesus” research as he discusses such matters. With Moltmann, he refers to the baptism of Jesus and his sense of calling. The notion of the sending of the Son and Spirit suggests fellowship and movement within the Trinity. He prefers the notion of the preexistence of the Son and the sending from the Father. He agrees with Karl Rahner, who suggested that the immanent Trinity is the same as the economic Trinity.
In the next subsection (b), Pannenberg discusses the reciprocal self-distinction of Father, Son, and Spirit as the concrete form of Trinitarian relations. His point here is that the mission of the Son is to witness to and establish the lordship of the Father, thereby distinguishing himself from the Father. According the Gospel of John, his opponents charged Jesus with claiming equality with God. Further Genesis 3:5 tells us that Adam wanted to be as God. Yet, as the Son and the Father relate to each other, we discover a new dimension of God. As Athanasius put it, the Father would not be the Father without the Son. This shows the reciprocity of this relation. For Pannenberg, the handing over the work of the Son to the Father (I Corinthians 15:24-25, 28) so that God may be all in all refers to the eschatological consummation. It will be a defining moment in the relation within the Trinity. For Pannenberg, in the cross the deity of the Father is at issue. Jesus took upon himself the ultimate consequence of his self-distinction from the Father and in so doing showed himself to be the Son of the Father. The Father participates in, embraces, and takes within the deity of the Father, the passion or suffering of the Son. The involvement of the Spirit in Easter is as the creator of life. The Spirit glorifies the Son and through the Son the Father. He prefers the notion that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son receives the Spirit. He would prefer to withdraw the filoque clause from the Creed of Nicaea (381).
Pannenberg is now ready to go to his third and final subsection (c) with a discussion of three persons but only one God. He wants to see the Trinitarian relations as living realizations of separate centers of action. He agrees with Moltmann that through the personal characteristics that distinguish Father, Son, and Spirit they dwell in each other and communicate eternal life to each other. In the perichoresis, the very thing that divides them becomes that which binds them. Each is a catalyst of many relations, which he refers to as the relational nexus of the perichoresis. He thinks of the classical notion of Trinitarian relations as simplistic in this sense. He refers positively to R. W. Jenson, who said that the relations between the persons are constitutive for their distinctions and for their deity. The Son and Spirit serve the monarchy of the Father. The monarchy of the Father is the result of the common operation of the three persons. At this point, Pannenberg rejects Moltmann as he wrote of making a distinction between the constitution of the Trinity by the Father (in being the Father of the Son and the breather of the Spirit) and the perichoretic mutuality of the personal relations in the life of the Trinity. Rather, Pannenberg wants to state that the Trinitarian relations mediate the monarchy of the Father, which is to say that the Father cannot be the Father without the Son.
Pannenberg concludes in Section 4 with a discussion of the world as the history of God and the unity of the divine essence. To say that the immanent and economic Trinity is identical is to say that revelation is internal to the deity, rather than an external act of the deity. The incarnation is a specific instance of the intervention of a divine person in worldly reality. The uniqueness of this event occurs in the context of a work of the Trinitarian God in the world that embraces the entire economy of salvation. The incarnation brings creation into the relations of the Trinitarian persons and participates in them. The Father remains transcendent, acting in the world through the Son and the Spirit. This way of framing the relations within the Trinity maintains their mutual dependence. In this way, the Father became dependent upon the course of history, with the crucifixion of Jesus illustrating the reality of this dependence. The Spirit becomes the glorifying and unifying of God in the resurrection of Jesus. The Trinity throws itself open to the world, to time, and to the renewal of creation in the sending of the Spirit. Yet, the reverse is also true, that the transfiguration of the world through the Spirit means all people turn to God through the Son. This Trinity has sense and significance only if God is the same in salvation history as God is from eternity. This does not mean that the Trinity is the result of a historical process. As he sees it, the eschatological consummation is only the locus of the decision that the Trinitarian God is always the true God from eternity. Easter is a retrospective confirmation of the eschatological consummation of history. All of this is to say that Nicaea and Constantinople broke loose from historical events and this represents their failure. Bringing the immanent and economic Trinity together brings transcendence and immanence together, establishes the self-identity of God, and the debatability of divine truth in the process of history. What Pannenberg has done is show why the classic formulation of the Trinity no longer works and he proposes a new way to formulate it. Pannenberg and Moltmann unite in wanting to bring the Trinity to the front of the Christian view of God, rather than as an appendix to a general notion of divine transcendence and monotheism. 

Chapter 4


In Chapter 4, Pannenberg discusses the revelation of God. It forms a bridge from his discussion of the preliminary matters of the nature of systematic theology in Chapter 1 and his exploration into the philosophy of religion in Chapters 2 and 3 on the one hand, to a discussion of the Christian notion of God in Chapters 5 and 6. He is finishing his preliminary studies. He has already written that theology must deal with knowledge that comes from God, and is therefore inaccessible to human beings apart from that disclosure. Here is a primary point that he learned from Barth. He has argued that talk of God, even in a secular society, is credible because humanity needs a way to talk about the totality of reality and ultimate commitments. He has already argued that in our finitude as human beings we have awareness of our dependence upon the Infinite. He has argued that the religious quest is constitutive to the human journey. He has argued that the religious experience relies upon the experience of a power that comes from beyond the individual. At this point, then, one could discuss the revelation of God as seen in Judaism, in Islam, in Hinduism, or the nature of enlightenment in Buddhism. In fact, if one were to write a theology of religions from the perspective of Pannenberg, he would want to find presentations of these faiths that take Chapters 2 & 3 seriously. The religion would need to have the capacity to include the unity of divine reality, the proof of the deity of God in the process of experience, and that the actual debatability of the deity of God is unavoidable. Of course, he is a Christian theologian, so he is going to explore the nature of the revelation of God in Christianity. He will do so in the context of competing religions. He will present the truth claims of the Christian belief in God based upon its sacred text, the Bible. He has already stressed that the systematic theologian must abandon the scripture principle. Therefore, he is not approaching the text as an authority. The text is more like the original witness to Christian faith and life. It carries with it a certain facticity if one is to be a Christian theologian. The only veracity of the text that concerns him is whether this sacred text is compatible with what he has stated about religion in Chapters 2 & 3. Karl Barth discusses the Word of God in Chapter 1 [I.1, Section 3-7] and the revelation of God in Chapter 2, Part I [I.1, Section 8-12], to which Pannenberg is responding here. Barth, however, will not discuss the various means of revelation that we find in the Bible. Paul Tillich has an interesting discussion in his Systematic Theology Volume I, Part I [p. 71-159] of reason and revelation that actually provides some good background for what Pannenberg is pursuing here. Tillich focuses upon the depths of reason, bringing us far beyond rationality as expressed in math and science. Peter Hodgson discusses faith, reason, and revelation. He will say that faith is a kind of thinking in response to revelation. Trustworthy persons, texts, testimonies, and communities mediate knowledge of God through the response of faith. Revelation is the trustworthiness of ultimate reality. He relies on Hegel to bridge the modernist gap between reason and revelation, saying that revelation reveals truth, and therefore God is subject of revelation rather than its object. Reason is always fragmentary, given its finitude, but the quest is for wholeness that is open and diverse. Rationality has the purpose of communicating, speaking truth, reaching mutual understanding, engaging in dialogue, and engaging in persuasive arguments that clarify, rather than coerce or deceive.[1]
In Section 1, Pannenberg will explore the theological function of the concept of revelation. The basic point he will want to make is that given his definition of God as the power that encompasses and determines all things, the only way true knowledge of God by humanity can occur is through the revelation or self-disclosure from God. As he examines the Bible, he does not see that God addresses Cain or Noah in a special way, but El, a name used of other gods, did address the Patriarchs. His point is that the early experience of the divine does not include special revelation. This general notion of the divine was the basis for the intelligibility of the God of Israel. In fact, Yahweh was the national god of Israel. As he sees it, Isaiah 40-55 is the first time in the Bible that God becomes universally the God of all people. It looks forward to the future action of God that will show all people that the God of Israel is the one true God, the Creator of the world. Further, the exile seems to give revelation a new function. The law and election of God replace myth in Israel. Awareness of history by which Israel became the people of God is the mediating factor. Exile placed this revelation in question. The fact that other people did not acknowledge the truth of this revelation also makes it open to challenge. Yet, revelation itself focuses on the future self-demonstration of its truth. We cannot know God unless God makes God known, a notion that is behind all religion. Preaching rests upon this divine authorization. He agrees with Barth here.
In Section 2, he will explore the multiplicity of biblical ideas of revelation. He will stress that revelation involves a prior general awareness of the divine. Revelation could disclose worldly matters normally concealed from us. Israel forbade consulting with the dead, but found it permissible to inquire through lot, dream, prophet, and oracle, all of which bring us close to manticism. Christianity took a harder line against attempts to know the future through divination. While Jesus rejected signs and wonders, they accompanied the exodus from Egypt. He concludes that from a phenomenological perspective, manticism is the religious soil of revelation. He thinks of it as an intuitive manticism shown in the dream or prophetic vision and the signs that God gives. The Old Testament prophet might experience seizure, trance, or dream. The stress, however, is on the word of God contained in the experience. The call of the prophet brings the prophet into the counsels of Yahweh. One might think of the experience as rapture similar to the inspiration of the muse in Greek literature. Yet, such experiences rested upon the knowledge of God found in the tradition, which made possible an interpretation of the experience. He sees five forms of revelation: intuitive manticism, theophanies, revelation of the divine name, revelation of the will of God in the Law, and the prophetic word of demonstration. Even the revelation of the name is a provisional self-disclosure of God, for the name will take on its content only from the future action of God in history. The rise of apocalyptic, with its focus upon the future self-demonstration of deity, provides the context for the New Testament notion of revelation. The New Testament intertwines the eschatological and the provisional, which he finds especially in the Easter message. In this context, one lives in the light of the truth that the future will reveal. He concludes by connecting all of this with previous chapters. The question of the reality of God is in conflict with varied and opposing religious truth claims. The account of revelation as seen in the New Testament implicitly acknowledges the debatability of the reality of God by laying claim today to the eschatological truth of the deity of God. In terms of the modern discussion, this indicates its capacity for truth. Testing will occur in the reality of the world as far as we can experience it. The truth claim Jesus made brought him to the cross. The apostolic gospel of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is always the word of the cross.
In Section 3, Pannenberg will explore the function of the concept of revelation in the history of theology. The age prior to the Middle Ages did not have a specific place for revelation. It could rely upon Hellenistic awareness of the divine and the Logos to make its appeal. The Middle Ages and the Reformation made the inspiration and authority of the Bible as revelation the beginning of its theological reflections. The Enlightenment period undermined this approach to the Bible. It also distinguished between revelation by word and deed. He has particular interest in the notion of self-revelation that derives from German Idealism. It was the result of the decay of the inspiration of the Bible and the decay of natural theology. He thinks that the self-revelation of God has to be the basis for the assertion of divine reality. This self-revelation occurs in the acts of God in history as well as in the word that interprets such acts. He is recovering a truth he sees in German Idealism at this point, but modified by the notion of the proleptic appearance of the end of history in Jesus, a truth that still requires the future self-demonstration of God. One has this truth only in anticipation. Is this notion tenable? One criterion here would be whether one can successfully integrate the differing biblical views of revelation. A second criterion would be whether the presuppositions are systematically plausible. One will also need to make comparison with alternative solutions in both cases, especially with the understanding of revelation as the Word of God.
In Section 4, Pannenberg explores revelation as history and as Word of God. Reading the book Pannenberg edited, Revelation as History, would be good at this point. The book is a collection of essays by Pannenberg, Rolf Rendtorff, Trutz Rendtorf, and Ulrich Wilkens. On the cover of the book, the subtitle describes it as a proposal for a more open, less authoritarian view of an important theological concept. The book, a collection of papers presented in 1960, summarizes quite well what Pannenberg wants to say in this section. In this case, “open” refers to the belief that Pannenberg has that truth has a historical dimension, and since history continues, truth remains “open” to future verification or falsification. “Less authoritarian” is a reaction to the kerygmatic theology of the Word presented by Barth and Bultmann. In the view of Pannenberg, kerygmatic theology borders on making assertions that it does not want to submit to normal processes of verification regarding their truth. It tends toward the ancient notion of a magical approach to the word. One can understand Barth, for example, in his context, feeling a need for a new authority for the preacher and teacher of Jesus Christ, and therefore focused on the authority of the Word. However, with Pannenberg, the need he senses has shifted to the issues that modernity and secularity present to Christian teaching. He felt the need for apologetics in his setting, while simply making assertions that this is the “Word of God” were simply not going to work. These writers also saw deficiencies in the kerygmatic theology of Barth and Bultmann in terms of their views of history and Oscar Cullmann’s view of salvation history. In this Chapter, Pannenberg will interact with several scholars. One is James Barr. Barr wanted to replace the term “history” with that of “story,” to which Pannenberg objects that this word takes away from the obvious realism and facticity the Old Testament intends when it refers to the acts of God. Pannenberg will say that the use of history is essential for what Christianity has to say about the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Mentioning William J. Abraham, he rejects the notion of revelation as a telepathic experience, for it cannot be the basis for accepting its truth claims. We can decide about the truth or meaning of prophetic sayings, dreams, trances, or oracles only based on their relation to our normal experience of the world and the self. He thinks the exegetical backing for Barth in pointing to the Word of God preached, written, and revealed, is very slim. I should note that what Barth does is trust the authority of the Word in a way that seems like an arbitrary assertion. He ridicules the search for criteria, which for him is like searching for a foundation that would have to be more important than Jesus Christ was. For that reason, the only criterion for anything is Jesus Christ.[2] In contrast, for Abraham, the immediate object of revelation is humanity and our world, but Pannenberg would add that the revelation of God and divine glory are at issue in eschatological revelation. Revelation will give clarity and precision to the notion of the Word. He also wants to modify the notion of revelation in the Word because the notion of a powerful Word of God has a mythological and magical origin. He also thinks of the appeal as argumentative and authoritarian. Further, biblical reference to the Word has various references: announcing divine action, Torah that regulates human action, a creative word, the missionary message, and the Logos. Any self-revelation will be in historical acts as well as word. This implies the indirectness of revelation from God. Revelation is part of a sequence of events, and therefore, one cannot know the revelation at the beginning, but only at the end of the process. One has anticipatory disclosures, such as the exodus or the resurrection of Jesus. Ezekiel and II Isaiah are the biblical background of this notion. He admits that he will need to show in the course of his systematic presentation of theology that the modern person can still live with the vision of the action of God at the end of human history. He also thinks that abandoning this expectation makes untenable Christology and the Trinity. The final events are proleptically present in the person and work of Jesus, as confirmed in II Corinthians 4:2. Proleptic implies the brokenness of the knowledge of revelation and the continuing debatable quality of the revelation even for the believer. He would replace the view of the Word in Barth with the Word as foretelling, forthtelling, and report. He will rely upon the work of James M. Edie, who says, in contrast to John Searle, that speech is actually a matter of speaking-together or the phenomenon of conversation. An object of shared interest creates a common ground and therefore communication. Speech might even exist within spirited conversation. Individual words have an indeterminate meaning, for the context is everything, not just the context of the sentence or paragraph, but also the spirit of the conversation. Successful conversation leads to transformation and communion. We do not remain what we were. In the process of communicating, we only have a preliminary grasp of the incomplete totality of the conversation. Here is the battle Pannenberg is fighting. The concept of revelation embraces the biblical theology of history. Without this, the Word of God remains a mythical category and an instrument of unproven claims to authority. The event of revelation is an anticipatory fulfillment of the realization of the historical plan of God and of the manifestation of the glory of God at the end of history. In that sense, revelation is the content of a comprehensive idea of the Word of God. One can call this event the Word of God in the full sense. In this way, we can speak of Jesus Christ as the Word of God as the height of the divine plan for creation and history, of its end-time but already proleptic revelation. We can thus speak of the self-revelation of God by this divine Word and its revelation. We can do so because this Word is the same as the deity of God, for which we will need to explore the notion of the Trinity. Such a claim of God as Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer moves towards the still outstanding future of the consummation of history. It remains open to verification by that future. This means its truth remains in question. The ongoing answer to the question of its truth lies in in the lives of believers by the power of this revelation to shed light on their life experiences. The question of its truth can receive only provisional answer in this way. Theological testing and verification of the truth claim is in the systematic reconstruction of Christian doctrine.





[1] (Hodgson 1994), 119-36.
[2] (Barth 2004, 1932-67), IV.2 [64.2]