Saturday, October 15, 2016

Chapter 15



Eschatology is the study of “last things.” Popular literature on this theme is from the standpoint of some form of dispensationalism. One will focus upon Daniel, the Book of Revelation, and the letters to the Thessalonians. It will focus on events leading up to the end, especially the revelation of the Beast, 666, the millennial reign of Christ on earth, the New Jerusalem, the great white throne judgment, and the consummation of all things. In popular eschatology, an important sign of the end is the gathering of Israel and a final battle between good and evil at the battle of Armageddon. Other signs include false prophets and “the Lawless One (II Thessalonians 2:8). Such matters are also important for Muslims, although reversing the judgment envisioned in Revelation. To put it directly, if your schooling in such matters is The Late Great Planet Earth and Left Behind, Pannenberg will disappoint. For those looking for unorthodox belief in Pannenberg, he will offer some good reasons. At the same time, I would caution that, unlike the Trinity and Christology, Christian doctrine is not as specific here as one might like. Students of the end have arrived at positions of A-millennialism (or realized millennialism), postmillennialism, and premillennialism. One would have to infer from Pannenberg if he is in any of these schools of thought. He will not address this matter directly. Pannenberg will acknowledge that the images of Jewish apocalyptic are metaphors relating to the end of human time. References to “signs of the end” would not fit here. Thus, he would criticize the popular literature in its focus on the metaphor. They need greater theological and philosophical to perceive the reality behind the metaphor. The reality is not an apocalyptic interpretation of human history that involves the destruction of empires and the reign of Christ over the earth in Jerusalem. The reality to which apocalyptic points receives its definition and transformation by Christ. The historical Jesus undergoes a transformation through the resurrection of Jesus, in which God clarifies the ambiguity of the historical Jesus. The ambiguous nature of the historical Jesus was such that the disciples did not understand and deserted him. Further, those invested with the responsibility of preserving the Torah thought Jesus deserved death. The resurrection is the way God looked back upon the life of Jesus and offered a divine Yes. It was also a way to look forward to the destiny of humanity (the rest of creation as well) as a transformation that allows the finite things and moments of time to have a place in the presence of God in eternity. He is rejecting the dialectical notion of time and eternity again, adopting the Hegelian notion of the Eternity embracing time. As if have pondered this section, I find the reference to philosophy helpful. Philosophy can give the reader the impression that Pannenberg is engaging in pure speculation. Yet, behind the apocalyptic metaphors is not the speculative idea, but the life of Jesus in its fullness. The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus become the basis for what he considers the major themes of eschatology. This will mean a thorough engagement with the relation between our finite experience of time and the notion of Eternity. He thinks that eschatology points to reality that involves transformation of creation and human history so that both can live in the eternal life of God. Eternity will come into time, revealing that Eternity has embraced time throughout. Therefore, the question of when and where this “happens” becomes inappropriate. If Eternity enters time, it will occur everywhere. This reality will resolve two issues Pannenberg has discussed in every chapter of his theology, namely, the debatable quality of the existence of God and the questions related to theodicy. Pannenberg has confidence in all of this because, as Paul put it in I Corinthians 15:12-23, God has raised Jesus from the dead, making the early preaching of the church full of meaning and purpose. The apostolic witness truly represents what God wants to say humanity about God, creation, humanity, and in particular the destiny of creation. Christ becomes the paradigm of the destiny of creation in his resurrection to live with God. It would stress the thoroughly Christ-centered nature of this eschatology.

            The challenge for theology in the modern period has been to find the notion of “end,” a teaching on “last things,” in which it has its proper place. Is the proper place a rather useless appendix? Is the place at the core of Christian theology? Paul Tillich goes so far as to say that while theology traditionally places a discussion of eschatology at the end of its systematic presentation, eschatology could just as reasonably be the first discussion in a theological work. The reason is that the eschatological question is the question of the inner aim or telos of all that is.[1] Moltmann refers to eschatology as the doctrine of last things, but he thinks that to think apocalyptically means thinking things through to their end. The ambiguities of history must sometime become unambiguous. The time of transience must some time pass away. The unanswerable questions of existence must sometime cease. In fact, the “torment” and “intolerableness” of historical existence push us toward questions regarding “the end.” His point is that if eschatology deals only with the end, it would be better to turn one’s back on it, for the last things spoil one’s taste for the things that come before, dreamed of, or hoped for. The end can rob history of its freedom and possibilities. Eschatology could destroy the fragile beauty of this life. However, “in the end is the beginning.” The end of history is also the end of temporal history and the beginning of the eternal history of life. Christ is the pioneer of that life.[2]

            In this essay, I want to consider the role of the “end,” “telos” in Greek, and eschatology in Christian theology. Asking the reader to consider such things runs into many objections. As Gordon D. Kaufman frames the issue, matters related to eschatology are questionable and speculative. After all, the “end” is not something we can observe or experience. Would it not be wiser in such dubious matters to maintain a discreet silence?[3] Such is the question that we might have from within theology.

Further, the context of the modern world places in question the thought of an end of the world and that human history will have an end. As modern persons, we might visualize an end to the world, but this would be a natural end in accordance with the knowledge gleaned from science. It would have nothing to do with an action beyond history, a supernatural irruption within space-time. Given the scientific knowledge of the world in which we live, a cessation of time as we experience it implies death rather than life.

Further, from the perspective of modern notions of nature and history, it is not self-evident that the end of the world should have the character of fulfillment rather than a mere breaking off and a plunge into nothingness. Paul Ricoeur nicely points out that hope suggests an excess of meaning, a passion for the possible. Such is not just wishful thinking or utopian dreams. For him, it will need to have a reliable basis, which he rightly finds in the resurrection of Jesus. The drive that our human rationality has for wholeness and purpose, the drive to discover the meaning of things, our moral striving for better individual lives and political arrangements, all clearly have significance for our human life together. However, these drives do not mean that the universe as a whole will have whole, purposeful, meaningful, and moral end. In does not mean that human history will have such a worthy end. It may well be that beings such as us, wherever they may have formed, are the true “aliens.” We must live our lives as goal oriented, living with the end in mind, considering worthy ends for human behavior, and so on, knowing that we do so in a universe that is random and directionless. Living with feeling of separation between us and nature, even though nature produced us, will require courage, rather than hope.[4]

I hope that the following helps us understand the reality to which Jewish and Christian apocalyptic point, as Pannenberg sees it. One reason I have found this material difficult is that I am not sure I have come across in other theologians this way of putting eschatology together. He will go back to the early Alexandrian approach to many eschatological themes. Of course, my knowledge of historical theology may have a limit in recognizing other theologians who would embrace what Pannenberg says here. At the same time, Pannenberg may well be seeking something new, at least in the way he seeks to put together some of the traditional themes of eschatology.

The theme of eschatology is the affirmation of the lordship of God, thereby connecting it to every chapter of Christian theology. Christian hope directs itself toward eschatological salvation. This hope fulfills the deepest longing of humans and all creation, even when explicit awareness of the object of this longing is lacking. This longing transcends all our concepts. The reason is that this longing means participation in the eternal life of God. “Thy kingdom come” is the prayer of the Christian community in the Lord’s Prayer and the perfect example of this hope. When Christians discuss the resurrection of the dead and the last judgment, they have a relationship to the coming of God that consummates divine rule over creation. Pannenberg has wanted to make the coming rule of God a theme of every chapter of theology. In his view of eschatology, the eternity of God comes into time and is creatively present to the temporal things that precede this future. The future of God is the creative origin of all things in the contingency of their existence as well as the final horizon of the definitive meaning and nature of all things and events. A hint of this thought is in I John 3:2, “It does not yet appear what we shall be.” Existence in time is anticipation of that which they will be in the light of their final future, which Christian theology defines as the coming of God. He will summarize his teaching up to this point on this topic. The revelation of God in history has the form of anticipation of the eternal and omnipotent deity at the consummation of Christian hope. This means the truth of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ depends on the actual breaking in of the future of the rule of God. Christian proclamation rests upon this promise. The explorations of Johannes Weiss and Karl Barth in the early part of the 20th century find special commendation in their recovery of eschatology.

Pannenberg will then explore how one can establish eschatological statements. He emphasizes the role of Jewish apocalyptic in Jesus and Paul as the basis of Christian hope. Barth moved away from his emphasis on eschatology in his work on Romans and toward a Christological focus in Church Dogmatics. His letters to both Pannenberg and Moltmann suggest that he saw dangers he wanted to avoid in placing too much focus upon eschatology and the role of the future in a Christian view of the redemption of humanity and creation, as well as an approach to theodicy. He agrees with Moltmann concerning the importance of the promise. However, he will place more emphasis upon its fulfillment in the resurrection of Jesus. The promise must also stand in a positive relation to the nature and the deepest yearnings of human beings and the world. Such a positive relation is the reason we can look upon the future of God as promise rather than threat. His point is that the themes of eschatology call for anthropological demonstration. Such a demonstration will make the promise credible to us. It will help the theologian argue for the universality of the eschatological hope. He thinks Karl Rahner has made some good suggestions in this effort. The primary concern of eschatology, though, is the rule of God and the fulfillment of the command to love God will all we are. The knowledge of possible wholeness, salvation, is the anthropological basis for Christian hope. The promise tells us how the future of God meets our need of salvation. The promise links our present need of salvation to the future of God while keeping them separate. Of course, he is pointing us to the distinctive tension between Already and Not Yet that is typical of Christian faith and community. Thus, the sending of Jesus was for both the Jewish people of God and for the human race. The completion of the sending of Jesus means the reconciliation of the human race to God.

Pannenberg will explore the relation between individual and universal eschatology. The tension here is between what happens at the death of the believer on the one hand when put into relation with the general resurrection of the dead at the end of time on the other. As he sees it, Philippians 1:23 and Luke 23:43 make it clear the believer is with Christ. The promise of a general resurrection of the dead, grounded in the resurrection of Jesus, is a completion of this oneness with Christ and with the rest of creation in the final redemption of all things. In other words, he finds here another example of the Already (with Christ upon death) and the Not Yet (universal redemption of creation). The Holy Spirit is the eschatological gift to believers now, the promise of the future redemption of all things. The Holy Spirit can be such as the life-giving presence of the Spirit in all creation. The Spirit completes the mission of the Son.

Pannenberg will now explore the relation between death and resurrection. He will begin with the development of a theology of death. He began this exploration of death earlier. His point there (Chapter 8.4) was that sin promises a richer and fuller life. The command of God had a view to life. The desire oriented to the forbidden thinks it has better knowledge that will promote life. Romans 7, even after 2000 years, needs no commentary as an example to a greediness for life that in all cases ends in death. The link of sin and death arises from the presupposition that all life comes from God. The consequence of turning from the source of life, God, is death. He will explore the notion that death, far from being a punishment for sin, is a result of our finitude. The problem he sees here is that such psychologizing led to the loss of the sense that our relation to God is a life-and-death matter. The theological argument against the notion of linking finitude and death is that Christian eschatology looks to finite life without death. Such participation in Eternity will lead to the preservation of fellowship with God for finite life. Thus, only participation in time means finite life will die. Eschatology points to the wholeness of finite life that cannot exist in time. Our self-affirmation of life is an antithesis to our end in death. Fear of death pierces deep into life. It motivates us to unrestricted self-affirmation. It robs us of the power to accept life. Fear of death pushes us deeply into sin. Acceptance of our finitude is hard for us because of the self-affirmation of our lives and projects. Our end, and with it our wholeness, is still ahead of us. Our unrestricted self-affirmation (we might call it idolatry) is the origin of apostasy from God and implies death as the end of our existence. His exploration of an anthropological understanding of death should help the reader understand the Christian hope of resurrection. To return to Chapter 15, he reminds us that a distinctive feature of human life, in contrast to other living beings, is our awareness of our impending death. He thinks the promise of resurrection connects body and soul in ways that other approaches, such as the immortality of the soul and reincarnation, will not do. He will disagree with Heidegger that death is the consummation of human existence. In contrast, he will find Sartre helpful here. However, in contrast to both philosophers, he will want to recover the notion that the fulfillment of our finite life requires participation in the Eternal, and therefore, in life with God. Awareness of our finitude includes awareness that death is ahead of us. Facing this end, we still have a feeling for life as we pursue the course of a human life to its end. Heidegger describes this process quite well. Our sin separates us from God, even as death separates us from God. Death seems to be a natural consequence of our finitude. When we live our lives independently of God, we know our finitude only as we know that death is ahead of us. Sinners deny the finitude of their existence in trying to be as God. The refusal to accept finitude delivers us to death. The typical human hope of life of eternal death, from the standpoint of apologetics, is a hint of our divine destiny. We can see the links of finitude, sin, and death when we see the proper relation between finitude and time. Life lived in in time did have to be broken by the separation of past, present, and future. We have our self and identity only in anticipation of the totality of our lives. The self forms in relation to that which is other than itself. Yet, its self-seeking is such that remains with itself. Our now goes with us through the changes of time. Our sense of time is participation in eternity and awareness of the division and opposition of the moments of time. The end of this tension in a human life is death. Our finitude becomes death for us. It did not have to be this way. To put it a little differently, we could live out of a self fully aware of the totality of our existence. However, the ego lives with the illusion of its infinity and divine likeness. He values the work of John Hick, Death and Eternal Life, at this point. The hope of resurrection involves the transformation of present life in way that means triumph over the wrongs, hurts, and failures of this life. This pitiable life will share in eternal salvation and therefore redeem it. The risen Jesus is the first one to rise from the dead. He is the captain of our salvation. His individual destiny anticipates the universal resurrection of the dead.

We will have no answers to questions regarding last things so long as we do not clarify the relation of time and eternity. John Wesley, in a sermon “On Eternity,” puzzles about time and eternity.

But what is time? It is not easy to say, as frequently as we have had the word in our mouth. We know not what it properly is. We cannot well tell how to define it. But is it not, in some sense, a fragment of eternity, broken off at both ends? — that portion of duration which commenced when the world began, which will continue as long as this world endures, and then expire forever? — that portion of it, which is at present measured by the revolution of the sun and planets; lying (so to speak) between two eternities, that which is past, and that which is to come.  

His suggestion that the time we experience is part of eternity is quite suggestive. What we do with our time will have an influence upon eternity. Further, whatever eternity is, it influences our time. One of the ways he sees this influence occurring is that only God everlastingly endures, but God shares limited endurance with the things God has made.

Pannenberg will next explore the relation between the rule of God and the end of time. The rule of God is not obvious in the course of our personal or communal histories. If the affirmation of the providential care of God for the world is true, it demands eschatological verification. However, traces of that rule show up in Jesus and therefore in the history of Israel. The election of a people is a sign of the future, when human beings will give proper recognition and respect to each other, to the created order, and to God. The rule of God will bring peace and reconciliation. Sin and its alienation will give way to communal peace. The rule of God is the end of history, as we know it, while also becoming the completion and fulfillment of human history, and with it, the acts of God in creation and redemption. His argument here is that individual meaning depends upon the totality of meaning that we find in all experience. As he puts it in another work, each individual experience presupposes a totality of reality as a condition of the specific nature of the individual experience even though the contours of the totality are still indistinct. Individual experience presupposes the total process of the history of the universe and the history of humanity. Yet, we need to remember that the decisive criterion of the truth or falsehood of assertions in these matters is their ability to prove their worth in the context of present and future experience. The crucial question of Christian theology is the present reality of the Christian faith. It must have power to persuade in the present. This faith rests upon the reality of God as the one who is the all-determining reality.[5] With Kant, he thinks our rationality demands the concept of the complete synthesis of all the parts in a whole. Individual events point beyond the boundaries contained in them to a totality only dimly felt or intuited. He is arguing against what science indicates, namely, that the end of our time is nothingness. Rather, the end of human time is participation in eternity. Eternity embraces time. A positive estimation of eschatology presupposes a revision of the understanding of eternity. Eternity must include time or leave a place for what is distinct in time. The importance of the future for the theme of eschatology has to rest on the understanding of eternity in relation to time. Pannenberg is now ready to discuss the rule of God as the coming of eternity into time. He will point to the valuable contribution of Barth in CD II.1, 608-11. He thinks that both Plotinus and Boethius have made some valuable contributions here. He thinks of our limited duration in time as a sign of our participation in Eternity. Our limited duration is decisive for our independent existence. Life is present for us as we sense duration in its indefinite totality. He agrees with Barth in arguing against the self-constitution of time. The “I” cannot constitute the duration of our existence, for each Now replaces another in the flux of time. The changing “I” cannot be the basis of our sense of duration. The time God gives us is a quite different experience. The multiplicity of times and events is a prerequisite of the richness of reality. They are also a prerequisite of independence. They are constituent parts of the good creation by God. Yet, independence comes into being as the reintegration of what is distinct. We have new types of duration in this reintegrating. This new form of duration is also a form of partial participation in the divine eternity. This limited duration points ahead to new and higher stages of participation in the eternal life of God. In all living things, a desire is present for the totality of life that they do not yet possess. Human beings experience this desire as a thematic knowledge that we do not possess the totality of our lives. In the march of time, we can only seek and hope for the totality of life from a future that will integrate this multiplicity of times and events. We can acknowledge that death breaks off the drive toward totality. Thus, any hope of completion of our time is beyond death and participation in the life of God. Participation in the eternal life of God overcome overcomes the disintegration of our time. We participate in eternity through acknowledging deity, thank God for creation, and offer worship and praise to God. Overcoming our ego and desire to be as God, we find the Son of the Father shown. Overcoming separation from God and from each other is a matter of the Spirit lifting the ego about itself to see the Son and share in his family relation to the Father. Time constitutes the essence of things. The presence of the essence of all things is already in the process of their history. They are now what they will be in the end, even if only in anticipation of their end. As he argues in another work, He argues for a close connection between and time, as being is an anticipation of its future essence. The wholeness of human existence is not death, as Heidegger proposed, because it isolates in the individual question of existence from its social context.[6] We can think of duration as the proleptic presence of their future identity or essence. Individuals will show this identity only at the end of history. Thus, in time allotted by God, this duration is participation in eternity.

Eternity entering time means the future of consummation. The eschatological future is the basis for the lasting essence of each individual. The insight of I John 3:2, that it does not yet appear what we shall be, is true of all of who are still on the way to becoming who we are, even though we are already “in some sense” the persons we shall be. As he put it another work, we are an ego at every moment of our existence. We are still becoming because we are on the way to the wholeness of our existence. We are “person” in the midst of an incomplete life. We are “person” in the anticipatory consciousness of our identity.[7] This eschatological future, and with it the eternity of God, arrived in the history of Jesus of Nazareth. Accepting the message of Jesus and opening oneself to his work allows one to participate in this coming of the rule of God, for which see Luke 11:20 and John 5:24, the latter referring to passing from death to life. We find the structure of the Already and the Not Yet in Paul as well. Christological statements reflect upon the same tension. Faith makes the hidden present salvation. Yet, the truth of things, their essence, already defines the present. He grants that he needs a general ontology of the present reality of being as constituted by the eschatological future in order to make such theological statements plausible. In essence, eschatological truth is present in hidden form. Such statements call for the reversal of our understanding of eschatological statements. Clearly, in the scenario Pannenberg has described, the future cannot meet the present as an entirely different reality. The entrance of eternity into time will mean the purging of the perversions and woundings of earthly existence as traces and consequences of evil in seeking autonomy from God. We can now understand the resurrection of the dead in terms of the notion that in the eternity of God, God loses nothing that takes place in time. We may also see the resurrection of the dead and the renewal of creation as the act by which the Spirit restores to individuals their form of being-for-themselves that their future had determined. They do not lose their existence in the eternal present of God. On another issue, all individuals go into eternity as judgment as well as salvation and transfiguration. However, only at the end of the ages will all receive the totality of their existence that God has preserved. On another issue, the end of time dissolves time into eternity. Times and events are no longer apart. God is the future that receives finites forms and creates a space for them alongside God in eternity. This will mean that multiplicity will find reconciliation. Former antagonism is gone. This will mean the full actualization of individual identity and social relations. Only the breathing of the eternity of God can constitute human society in a way that embraces individuals as well. Such participation by individuals in the eternity of God occurs only after a radical change. The reason is the sin, understood as separation from God and antagonism between living things, accompanies our being in time. The question remaining is how individuals, dominated by sin, can participate in the eternal life of God.

Pannenberg will now discuss the notion of divine judgment and the return of Christ. The return of Christ is the arrival of the rule of God, even as Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed the coming rule of God. The entrance of the Eternal into time is judgment, for it also means confrontation of our destructive drive toward autonomy from God and therefore alienation from each other and from creation. We must also face the conflict we have with ourselves. We have made shipwreck of the opportunity God has given. Our moments of time and events as separate moments make suppressing, disguising and masking possible. Eternity brings our identity to light, disclosing the truth of earthly life. Such truth will bring shrill dissonance. To bring earthly life into eternity is first a picture of hell. Pannenberg has provided the basis for a strong and terrifying conception of judgment and hell. Divine judgment executes that which is the nature of case, delivering us to the consequences of our own conduct, as Paul put it in Romans 1:24, 28, their lives perishing due to the inner contradictions of their existence. However, God is also creator. God will not allow creatures to make shipwreck on the dissonance of their existence as eternity discloses it. God has gone after us in order to move us to reconciliation. For those reconciled with God, judgment will mean purifying from the discord of sin, as in Isaiah 1:24 and Malachi 3:2ff. Fire purges that which is incompatible with participation in the eternal life of God, as in Isaiah 66:15ff, I Corinthians 3:12-15, I Peter 1:7. The person and word of Jesus is the standard of judgment in John 12:48. The word of Christ is the offer of salvation. He focuses on Luke 12:8-9 and Mark 8:38. The last judgment will confirm the word of Jesus, which we also see in Matthew 25:31-46 and Luke 13:25-27, Matthew 7:22-23. The message of Jesus is the standard of judgment, while who executes judgment is a subordinate matter. For this reason, he escapes the charge of unfair particularism in that salvation depends on our fellowship with Jesus Christ. Such a notion contradicts the love of God for the world. For those who have not heard the proclamation of the gospel, judgment based upon such a contingent and historical factor is not decisive for salvation. The question for them in judgment is whether their lives agree with the will of God. The beatitudes themselves could apply to many persons who have not heard the gospel. This idea is consistent with Matthew 8:11-12 as well as I Peter 3:19-20. Christians know the standard of judgment and receive assurance of future participation in salvation. They have already received justification and pardon. Judgment is in the hands of the one who died for us. Judgment will mean the purifying fire. The returning Christ is the transformation of our human existence into the image of the Son. He admits that we cannot rule out the possibility of the eternal damnation of some. For some, nothing may remain after the purging fire. Such a possibility is not constitutive to the notion of divine judgment. Rather, we are dealing with borderline cases from which Christians find protection. The work of the Holy Spirit at this point is that of the glorification of God in creation and the gathering and transforming of creation into offering this glory to God. The Spirit will transform creation to make it possible for it to participate in the eternal glory of God. Thus, the Son and Spirit work together in judgment by completing the work of reconciliation so that creation may participate in divine life. Such a future transforms creation into union with Christ in such a way that it becomes the Body of Christ. As eternity enters time, all that happens in creation becomes a revelation of the love of the Creator and Reconciler of the world. The power of the divine Spirit transforms the dissonance of judgment into the peace of the rule of God and the many-voiced harmony of the praise of God that will sound out from the mouth of renewed creation.

Pannenberg will conclude with his final exploration into theodicy. Every part of Christian doctrine is dealing with the single, even if differentiated, action of the Triune God. Everything said about the action of God, especially the saving event of Christ, anticipated the eschatological consummation. He thinks it essential that the eschatological consummation occurs already in this earthly life, in the midst of human history. He finds this element in the history of Jesus Christ, which will find completion in the end. Creation sighs under the dominion of corruptibility and death. Individuals may well persist in accusing the Creator and demonstrate their unwillingness for reconciliation with God. One can understand this as focusing on the misery we find in the world and individual life. Eschatological consummation will bring definitive proof of the existence of God and final clarification of the nature and work of God. Before then, of course, the absurdity of suffering and wickedness provide material enough for atheism when it comes to the postulate of a loving and wise Creator. He refers to David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 1779, section 10-11. Pannenberg has throughout maintained the debatable quality of the affirmation of the reality of God. The Christian concept of God is an anticipation of the reality whose concept it claims to be. He is making an argument similar to one he makes in another work, where concepts are anticipations in that they depend upon verification through the thing that it grasps. Such verification transcends the mere concept. He points out that Kant affirmed the anticipatory essence of the concepts of the understanding. The understanding can do no more than anticipate the form of possible experience in general. The same is true of perception. The structure of anticipation is its dependence upon the validity claims upon what it anticipates. This temporal structure brings anticipation into its proper significance in human reason.[8] While the debatable quality of belief in God is present in the discussion of creation and reconciliation, the consummation of the world will end this process. The eschatological perfecting of the world for participation in the glory of God will show unbelief and doubt its wrong basis. It will prove the love of the Creator for the world. In this light, every rational theodicy has, at best, provisional significance. It may already be an expression of unbelief. He will discuss the value and short-coming of the proposals of Leibniz, Hegel, and Schelling. If we are to have reconciliation, it will be transformation as well. He wants to explore the notion that if we think of transformation, can we think at all of identity with our present life at all? He goes back to the notion that we already are, in some sense, what we shall be. Identity involves integrating the facts of present life into what we can be and shall be. Our present situation anticipates this future and defines our lasting identity. The eyes of love see in us the potential of our destiny that we can realize here only in a fragmentary way. Of course, God sees us with these eyes of love. What we accomplish in this life points beyond the fragmentary way we have actually lived our lives. Our successes and failures experience change in the eschatological transformation of our lives. The reconciliation already embraced in the cross is a foretaste of the future consummation. Thus, the end of our time is the revelation of the love of God shown in the consummation of creation. God permitted evil and its consequences in permitting independence. It was all too easy for the “impossible transition” (Barth) to take place toward autonomy. The ability to choose among varying possibilities is a necessary condition of freedom and is a high form of independence. God took a risk in that such autonomous creatures would consider God non-essential and non-existent. Evil strengthens this possibility. Ingratitude, failure to accept finitude, and moral failure become reason for protest against God. Yet, the reconciling action of God shows that God stands by what God has created in a way that protects their independence. Eschatology fulfills independence rather than negates it. In the end, divine love declares itself. Creation is already an expression of the divine love that grants existence. We see this love most clearly in the reconciling work of the cross. The coming of divine love into time culminates in the Incarnation, God with us. The eschatological future will consummate this revelation of love for participation in the eternal life of God. The gift of the Spirit is a pledge for this participation, allowing believers to experience peace with God. Such a revelation will remove all doubts. The “very good” pronounced in Genesis 1 is true throughout history, since God is present in its history, leading us through the hazards and sufferings of finitude to participate in divine glory. Pannenberg will stress that creaturely reality has an orientation toward its future consummation. Further, if the end reveals the righteousness of God, then this righteousness has an ambiguous presence in history. The praise of creatures anticipates the eschatological praise of God. In any case, as Pannenberg sees it, in light of this future of salvation, history is a manifestation of divine love. We find here the basis for the immanent Trinity calling itself out of itself and becoming the economic Trinity. The distinction and unity of the immanent and economic Trinity constitute the heartbeat of the divine love. With a single such heartbeat, this love encompasses the whole world of creatures.


[1] Systematic Theology, Volume III, 298.
[2] The Coming of God (Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 1995, 1996, x-xi.
[3] (Systematic Theology: A Historicist Perspective, 1968, p. 314)
[4] (“Freedom in the Light of Hope,” 1968)
[5] (Theology and the Philosophy of Science, p. 286-96.
[6] [See Concept and Anticipation, in his Metaphysics and the Idea of God, 91-109, but especially 104-9.]
[7] See Anthropology, p. 240.
[8] He refers to his discussion in Metaphysics, p. 91-109, but especially 99-100.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Ecclesiology: Chapter 14


Chapter 14: Election and History


 

Pannenberg is now ready to explore the doctrine of election. While Jesus preached the future rule of God, the future is present by anticipation in the person of Jesus. People participate now in the future of divine rule by being in fellowship with Jesus. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are signs of that future rule, giving advance notice of the whole course of life of those to whom they apply. Participation is important here in order for us to bear the image of God and allow God to fashion us into the likeness of God. He proposes thinking of religion as the divine education of the human race. This education occurs in the context of cultural history. Important for inner formation is the medium of spontaneity, within which the image of the Son and his free relation to the Father take shape in human life. He refers at the natural level to the self-organization of the living creature. This natural occurrence also occurs at the level of the human race and its history. The struggle for existence continues in the rivalry of cultures as they reflect the struggle between alternative ideals of life. The common end of this striving is the unity of the race as a species and the achieving of what is common to humanity in the lives of individuals and in the forms of their association. The divine origin of ideals of life declares itself in a sense of election and calling that sets the lives of individuals or particular societies in relation to the rest of humanity and to all peoples. Applied to the theological discussion, the people of Israel had a sense of election in the free historical action of God. The existence of the church rests on the historical work of God in the history of Jesus of Nazareth. The Christian sense of election has an eschatological basis in terms of the living eschatological reality of the risen Christ, who is the new humanity. Election as it meets individuals in baptism and the Lord’s Supper sets us on the way to fulfill our destiny. Confident in our election, we perceive the way and the goal dimly. The fellowship of the church has its basis in calling, election, and the accompanying sending all of which has an eschatological goal. He admits that the hints he has offered of election and calling are not congruent with the classical formulation of the doctrine of election. He will part company with Origen and Augustine. The mistakes they made show up in Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin. Karl Barth acknowledged his departure from the Reformed tradition. Pannenberg will depart further from that tradition. He will criticize the Lutheran Formula of Concord (1577) for its discussion of this doctrine. The placement of this discussion is important. He has not discussed the doctrine under the doctrine of God. Even Barth followed that rule. Instead, by placing the discussion of election as part of his consideration of the church, he is able to connect it with the election of Israel and the entire notion of the particularity of a people chosen to witness to the world.

            First, Pannenberg will discuss the election of individuals. He needs to justify and clarify his view of election by a critical discussion of the traditional form of the doctrine that relates it primarily to individuals and their participation in eternal salvation. One, he discusses the classical doctrine of election. The discussion by Paul in Romans 9-11 and 8:28-30 focus on the plan of God for salvation. The plan involves the divine acts in history, especially relating to Jesus Christ. Later theology shifted the focus to elect individuals. Determinism arose through Gnostic influence. Origen and Augustine treat election as an act of God that takes place in eternity before time. They also see eternal election relating directly to individuals with restriction to the theme of their participation in eschatological salvation. These presuppositions guide the discussion in scholastic theology of the Middle Ages, Aquinas, and Calvin. He views this as an abstract view of election in contrast to the biblical statements of the electing activity of God in history. Such an abstract view of election makes the divine decision timeless, detaches individuals from all relations to society, and restricts the purpose of election to participation in future salvation. Such an abstraction moves against the historical nature of election in the Bible to a people who have a role in history. He acknowledges the Bible refers to God choosing individuals, such as kings and patriarchs, but the election serves the historical purposes of God. The early church realized God had called them into a new divine act of historical election by founding the church and its mission of offering salvation to the nations. The idea that God first foresees and then determines that we find in Origen rightly has the suspicion of Pelagianism. This view dominated in the Middle Ages. The determinism of Augustine rightly makes God seem unjust and cruel. This view dominated among the Reformers. Luther developed the insight that the eternal election of God is in Jesus Christ and is thus in the historical turning toward us in Jesus Christ. His goal, then, is to chart a different course than this classical formulation and its attending problems.

            Two, he discusses election and calling. If salvation occurs already in the timeless nature of election, it would seem to devalue the preaching of the gospel and the present call to salvation. However, the aim of the counsel of the love of God is to have creatures who participate in the fellowship of the Son with the Father and the sending of the Son into the world. Interestingly, both Schleiermacher and Barth saw the problems with the classical formulation of election and its focus upon individuals. While election relates to the eternal in Ephesians 1:4, it also relates to the future consummation of the divine plan in 1:10. As among those “in Christ,” the elect are proleptically what they shall be.

            Three, he discusses the election of individuals and the fellowship. The biblical emphasis is upon the election of people. This was true of Israel. It was also true of the Christian community, in which belonging to Jesus Christ was the basis of election. The electing will of God relates to the community and beyond it at all humanity. Election of individuals serves the saving will of God for humanity. The eschatological destiny of humanity shows itself in Christ, in individuals, and in the community. The elect serve the greater goal of the saving action of God. The saving action of God is that of reconciliation with God and with each other. Election has a fellowship as the primary target. This means others are not elect. If God elected Israel, this meant the exclusion of other peoples. Yet, even that community remained open to new members. The chosen stand in for a future definitive human fellowship under the rule of God. It therefore remains an open question which individuals will or will not belong to this eschatological fellowship. Election to a fellowship does not exempt the elect from divine judgment. We must bear the consequences of what we do. He does not think one can guarantee an ultimate universal reconciliation. However, in a history that is still open the possibility of forgiveness, the promise is still present for those who repent.

Second, Pannenberg will discuss election and the people of God. He will focus specifically on the relation of election to the church, especially through the theme of the church as the people of God. The eternal election of God aims at the human society that will find definitive form in the eschatological fellowship of the rule of God. The work of election in history has an orientation to those on the way to this goal. The community anticipates the final rule of God and the destiny of humanity. The elect community is a sign of that end. As a sign, the community is a witness to the will of God to save. The church is a provisional representation of the fellowship that will be under the rule of God. Participation comes through faith, hope, and love.

One, he discusses the concept of the people of God in ecclesiology. Historically, the notion of the people of God dropped out of use until the reformation period picked it up again in order to oppose the hierarchical and juridical concept of the church as a clerical dominion that contrasted with the secular powers that had developed during the Middle Ages. However, in the Bible, the concept of the people of God is broader than church. Vatican II tried to do justice to this. From among Jew and Gentile, Jesus called a people to grow together in the Spirit and to form the new people of God. It sees the church as the core of this humanity of the future. It sees the church in Christ as a sign and instrument for the inward union with God and for the unity of all humanity. In its light, a theology of election underlies this function of the church for all humanity, a function that has a close link to the church as the people of God. The whole church can welcome the emphasis in Vatican II as encouraging us to consider the function of the church relative to the divine economy of salvation. The view of the church in terms of election as the people of God relates its description as the fellowship of believers to its function with respect to the ordaining of humanity for fellowship with God in the consummation of the kingdom of God.

            Two, he discusses the church and Israel. We cannot biblically reflect on the church without also reflecting on Israel. With all that I have just written, is the church the new people of God? Does Israel continue alongside the church as the old people of God? Note, also, that the term “people of God” is not plural. In spite of their painful history, do they in some way belong together in our notion of the people of God? What I want to urge is that the churches be clear that when they think of themselves as the people of God, it has an implication regarding our relationship with the Jewish people. Moltmann can say that Israel is the original, enduring, and final partner of Christianity in history.[1]

As we move through these difficult waters, I should stress that the New Testament does not refer to the church as the “new” people of God. We see the term from in the Epistle of Barnabas 5:7, 7:5, and 14:1ff. The unfortunate verdict is that Israel never was the people of God, since it rejected such a designation in building the golden calf, and only the church is the people of God that the Old Testament promised. Melito of Sardis and Hippolytus differed in that they thought of Israel as the people of God for its time, but the church has replaced it. Such thinking, if not in accord with the New Testament, is understandable. As Robert L. Wilken presents it, the destruction of the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the end of the temple worship, and the demise of the priesthood, the subjugation of the Israel by Romans, all seemed permanent.  Christians did none of this, by the way. Christians in the second and third centuries continued the prophetic interpretation of world events they found in the Bible. Therefore, for them, the involvement of Jews in the crucifixion and its expulsion of the first Christians from the synagogue led the judgment on Jerusalem and its Temple. Historical reality led Christians to think that Christianity had replaced the Jewish way of life and that the Jews would no longer continue to exist as a people. Of course, history would show that the Jewish way of life did not end. It appears that it took the horror of the holocaust to force the church to face this reality. The theological theme of supersessionism, that the church succeeds Israel in such a fashion as to displace Judaism from the status of the people of God, never became a dogma of the church of the Middle Ages. Such reflections may help us understand why early theologians reasoned the way they did, to a point where it sounds anti-Jewish to us, even if at the time it may not have been intended that way.[2]

Paul offers a vision of the people of God, Israel, and church in Romans 9-11 that I think is worth our reflection. In 11:1, he raises the question of whether the rejection of the gospel of Jesus Christ by the majority of the Jewish people means that God has rejected them. He answers emphatically in the negative. Christians would themselves become anxious of their comparatively new elect status if that were the case. He makes the point by advocating the inviolability of the election of the Jewish people in 11:29 (for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable) and 9:6 (It is not as though the word of God had failed.) Therefore, God has not annulled the covenant with the Jewish people. Their overwhelming rejection of the gospel was obviously painful to Paul, but he found some comfort in the Old Testament view of the remnant. “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.” (Romans 11:7) As the people of God, Israel is for the time this remnant. At the same time, the people of God are expanding as the apostolic mission to the Gentiles is bringing in believers from the nations.

24 including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea, "Those who were not my people I will call "my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call "beloved.' " 26 "And in the very place where it was said to them, "You are not my people,' there they shall be called children of the living God." (Romans 9:24-26)

 

Therefore, a link already exists between church and Israel, which he describes in terms of the root of the olive tree that carries the wild branches that contrary to normal rues God has grafted into it.

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. (Romans 11:17-18) 

Paul regards the majority Jewish reaction as the expression of a hardening by God based on the divine plan of salvation, but not forever.

7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, "God gave them a sluggish spirit, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day." (Romans 11:7-8)

25 So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25) 

His point is that the hardening does not finally exclude them from God or from sharing in divine salvation.

In a similar theme, the death of Jesus brings peace between Jew and Gentile.

12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:12-20) 

Paul does not seem to argue for a special path for Jew and Christian. Rather, the returning Christ will show himself to be identical with the Messiah whom the Jews await and will renew the covenant of God with the Jewish people by remission of their sins. Paul could appeal to the Old Testament prophets, who wrote of a new covenant that did not mean God had abandoned the earlier covenant.

20 And he will come to Zion as Redeemer, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression, says the Lord. 21 And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the Lord: my spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouths of your children, or out of the mouths of your children's children, says the Lord, from now on and forever. (Isaiah 59:20-21)

9 Therefore by this the guilt of Jacob will be expiated, and this will be the full fruit of the removal of his sin: when he makes all the stones of the altars like chalkstones crushed to pieces, no sacred poles or incense altars will remain standing. (Isaiah 27:9)

33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:33-34) 

Interestingly, Judaism has a counter-thesis at this point. Some have argued that Jesus was not the Jewish Messiah, but that he has become the Savior of the Gentiles. The problem with this, of course, is that Jesus was Jewish and that the first believers were Jewish he had come to believe Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah. Any Christian mission to the Jewish people must witness to this belief that Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah. Yet, the mission to the Jewish people is of a different nature than to others, for the New Testament itself stresses that Christians believe in the same God, as do the Jewish people. For Christian witness, the focus has to be on the fact that the God of Israel has definitively revealed who God is in Jesus of Nazareth, and has done so first to the Jews. At the same time, such a Jewish approach may well answer the question of whether synagogue can recognize the church as belonging to the same people with it.

To complete the New Testament picture at this point, in a less nuanced way we find a similar discussion of the church as the people of God.

7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner," 8 and "A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (I Peter 2:7-10)

 

Once again, we must return to the notion of the church as the new people of God or as the replacement people of God. Paul had already warned the church of arrogance in relation to Israel.

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 You will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree. (Romans 11:17-24) 

Sadly, the church in its history ignored this warning. In essence, the church decided that it was the place of the initially actualized eschatological consummation, and thus could think of itself as the “new” or replacement people of God. This choice was dangerous and destructive for the history of the church well beyond its relation to Jews. It took the form of dogmatic intolerance, resulting in a history of division and dogmatic exclusiveness. Such a painful history began with the mistake it made regarding the Jewish people. It took the horrors of the holocaust under Nazi Germany to prepare the church to confess that it has this fellowship of destiny and solidarity with the Jewish people. Christians today, as individuals and as churches, need to handle their relation to the Jewish people with the type of openness that we find in Paul.

            Here is the point, as Pannenberg sees it. We can think of a single people of God that constitutes the object and goal of what God does in election. The term “people of God” leaves room for all humanity transformed and renewed for participation in the lordship of God. The Christian church is not exclusively identical with the eschatological people of God. Rather, the church is a provisional form of this people, a sign of its future consummation that will embrace Jew and Gentile, whether the “righteous” of all nations who stream in from every culture to the banquet of the reign of God.

            Three, he discusses the people of God and the official church. The actual and historical church can never be anything more than a provisional sign of the destiny of itself as well as humanity. The eschatological fellowship of Christians can take adequate shape in no political order. Without going to lengthy discussion here, the historical separation of church and state, which we find in Romans 13, Augustine, during the Middle Ages, and in the modern era, is a reflection of the notion that the political order will never reflect the destiny of humanity in fellowship with God or with each other. The increasing secularism of this era makes it seem impossible, but the notion of the people of God as expressed here opens the possibility of a newly formulated relation between church and society. Christians cannot identify themselves with any one model of political order. In the past, separation of church and state occurred within a society that had a Christian basis. Today, secular society emphasizes its separation from religion in order to give religion a marginal role in its social life. The point here, with Pannenberg, is that the secular order needs a religious or quasi-religious basis and justification in the faith of its citizens that will precede all manipulation by rulers. Christian awareness is now on the point of outgrowing the antagonisms of the denomination age and thus the historical reasons for making religion a private matter. A recovery of the social sense of Christians as the people of God could initiate a new epoch in shaping the relation between Christianity and the public order, especially since many people in North America and Europe no longer are sure where they stand in regard to the Christian tradition.

            Third, Pannenberg will discuss the election of the people of God and the experience of history. He wants to deal with the relation between the theological doctrine of election and the history of Christianity, including secularized forms of the belief of the belief in election. Divine election is an act of historical calling. Yet, it also forms the starting point of a history of the elect, for election orients itself toward a future goal. Election assigns to the elect community a function in relation to this goal. We can see this in the Old Testament with the election of the Patriarchs. Deuteronomy understood the history of Israel in light of this election. The link of election to keeping the covenant is clear in the Deuteronomic history we find in Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. What he will want to do is link this sense of election in the history of a particular people to the universal history of culture.

            One, he will explore the thought of election as a religious category for the historical constitution of the cultural order. The political system of an ancient culture, Israel being one, linked to a religious basis. The difference was that while surrounding cultures grounded this religious basis in cosmology, Israel grounded it in its historical election. The grounding of its political and legal system in the historical acts of God gave Israel uniqueness in its context. This meant focusing on the election of a people instead of the royal connection to the divine. This meant that election is not for Israel alone. Amos 9:7 is a powerful example of comparing Israel with other nations in a way that attacks its sense of uniqueness. Amos is re-reading the cosmological self-understanding of other cultures in light of their historical experience. This observation will lead him to explore a theology of history that closely links to the concept of the election of the people of God.

            Two, he explores aspects of historical self-understanding related to the thought of election. Election refers to the historical origin of a people. Yet, this initial act is a historical process that moves toward the rule of the electing God in relation to the goal implied in election. The elect community will need to correspond to the destiny the electing God has marked out for them. Therefore, election connects to the revelation of God to a people. Election presupposes knowledge of God that revelation provides. The irrevocable nature of election rests upon the self-identity of the electing God and on the faithfulness of God. This also means that the elect community has an obligation that by their conduct they should correspond to the fellowship with the electing God. We see this in the Old Testament in its emphasis upon the covenant. We also see it in the declaration that Israel is the possession of God and a holy people. In the New Testament, the theme of the sanctification of the people of God is the focus. The separation of the people of God distinguishes it from the ways of the world. For Pannenberg, modern Christianity has largely forgotten this point. Its members think they must adjust to the world instead of consciously and concertedly differentiate themselves from its rules and form of life. Of course, in this separation, it can every only be an anticipatory sign of the destiny of humanity. The other side of this separation from the world, however, is that election involves the elect community in witness and mission to the world. This witness is to humanity as a whole. Insight into the general connection between election as separation from the nations and the sending of the elect to bear witness to the nations forms the framework for an understanding of the distinctive nature of the task of Christian mission. Matthew 28:19 makes it clear that the risen Lord have the mission proclaiming the gospel to the nations and making disciples from among them by baptism in the triune God. In this way, the church serves our humanity destiny for reconciliation with God and with each other. Jesus seemed to live with the Jewish vision of the nations making pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The community of believers also lives with that vision, and witness to it. They are the city on the hill that one cannot hide, as Jesus put it in Matthew 5:14. The mission of the church means setting aside the Law of the old covenant and proclaiming a gospel for all people. The final theme of election is divine judgment. This means that the elect community can fall under divine judgment. It also means that the nations can fall under that judgment. His concern here is that if the church is silent concerning historical acts, people will have a weaker sense of the reality of God. We have no protection from making mistakes in this regard. An affirmation of the divine governance of the world is empty and meaningless without taking this risk.

            Fourth, Pannenberg will discuss the task of interpreting theologically the history of the church and Christianity in the light of the doctrine of election. He will offer some observations on election and the world government by God as they lead him again to the theme of eschatology. Most presentations of church history detach its history from any connection with the reality of God. The result is fatal, not only for theology, but also for faith. Biblical writings speak of the acts of God in history. When church accounts of its own history leave the impression that God has withdrawn from human history, it creates an ambiguity in terms of how the church itself experiences the reality of God. He objects to the approach of Oscar Cullman, who detaches from world history the concept of salvation history.[3] Rahner seems to move down the same path.[4] Pannenberg thinks that the links to logos theology as we see in John 1, theology of creation, and especially a theology of history in keeping with the testimony of the Bible, are important in this regard. Such a theological interpretation of history will include the doctrinal discussions, the divisions of the church arise from them, and the missionary expansion of the church. He refers to Protestant theologians like E. C Rust, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Hendrikus Berkoff as among the few who have developed approaches to a theological interpretation of the history of the church. He likes E. Muhlenberg as well. As Pannenberg sees it, one does not have to see the activity of God in both natural events and human history as in competition with the operation of finite and temporal factors. He refers to F. C. Bauer in his 1842 work, Die Epochen der kirchlichen Geschichtsschreilbung as an imposing presentation of the notion of the unfolding of the idea of the church, especially as he focused on the incarnation. If God was flesh in Jesus, the church as the body of Christ is an incarnation as well. John Macquarie will say that the church is the community in which the raising of humanity to God-humanity, which we see in Christ, continues. He connects this notion with the church as the body of Christ. The church has the purpose of forming a new creation after Christ. The church is an extension of the incarnation, although he stresses that the church is still in process.[5] Pannenberg thinks, in contrast, that the notion of election as the people of God is a more fitting way of viewing church history. On its historical paths the church is subject to the providence of God as to a reality that differs from it in nature and that is transcendent to it and to world. This reality manifests itself in the sending and preservation of church by God and in divine acts of judgment on it. Although he respects what Muhlenberg has accomplished, he thinks the focus is far too much on the opportunities in history for God to act for our salvation, and not enough on God acting in judgment on the church. As he sees it, then, only the category of judgment enables us to trace back historical disasters to God. Such a history cannot overlook the truth claim of Christian belief in God. Such a presentation cannot simply presuppose it dogmatically. In other words, as is typical with Pannenberg, such a presentation will be quite aware of the debatable character of the reality of God in history. Now, as he sees it, a theology of church history, when it comes to the theme of the missionary church, focuses on the church as an eschatological community and as the end-time people of God. The church and its members know that Jesus Christ has chosen them for participation in the eschatological fellowship of salvation with God. Yet, Christ also calls and sends them to bear witness to all peoples concerning their eschatological destiny and the way that in Jesus Christ it has already broken in. His point is that Christian mission presupposes the sense of election of church as the eschatological people of God.  As an example, he rejects the notion of a fall of the church due to the Constantine era. It has led to a spiritualizing concept of the church that does not recognize that had the church not accepted responsibility for renewing of the political order it would have fallen under the judgment of God. In any case, the history of the church also consists in its formation of doctrine. The schisms that resulted opened the door for the victory of Islam in the East, and thus came under the category of judgment. In fact, as he sees it, the inner decay of Western Christianity because of the swollen claims of the papacy is an expression of the judgment of God. The alienation of the modern world of Western culture from Christianity, inasmuch as its secularism derives from the divisions of the 1500’s and the Wars of Religion express divine judgment. The shattering of social peace by the intolerance associated with confessional difference are surely expressions of divine judgment. John Wesley will trace the “mystery of iniquity” from the early church and through the history of the church, concluding that the grand objection of those who do not believe against Christianity is the lives of Christians.[6] However, Pannenberg also agrees with Danielou, who thinks that along with judgment, we need a focus on repentance and new beginning. The rise of the ecumenical movement, for example, ought to give all traditions an opportunity to look self-critically at its history. He thinks this attempt is hardest within the Roman Catholic tradition. Within the Protestant tradition, however, as this self-criticism continues among them, they need to realize the central importance of Rome for the Christian world and the beneficial role it can for Christianity as a whole. Rome could well find itself in the situation of Peter.

31 "Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:31-32) 

            Pannenberg concludes with a brief consideration of secular belief in election and nationalism in the history of Christianity. He refers to European nationalism, Moscow as the “third Rome,” the mission of the new American nation, and Zionism as examples. As a rule, these secular interpretations have not been beneficial. It has led to a sense of superiority over other peoples.

Fifth, Pannenberg will discuss the goal of election and the government of the world by God in the process of history.  He will want to discuss the theme of eschatology. To conclude, the ultimate aim of the election by God is the fellowship of a renewed humanity in the kingdom of God. We can think of this renewed humanity as the fulfillment of the purpose of God in creation. It was the aim God had of all creation living in the divine presence. The aim of God will find fulfillment in overcoming sin and death, the yearning for fellowship with the Creator, the witness to all people of fellowship with God and each other, and settling the issues related to justice and peace. Amid the strife of world history, the people of God offer a model of the rule of God, which took place in Israel and the church. In this regard, as we have already suggested, the conduct of the church and individual Christians will obscure that which the church celebrates in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The church entangles itself in the conflicts of the world. Christians have contributed to the disasters that have taken place in the history of Christianity. True, the church suffers rejection repeatedly in its history, and thus, shows a difference between elect and non-elect that seems like no one can bridge. However, this would not be so if with full clarity the church always and everywhere discharged its function as a sign and representation of the consummation of humanity in the rule of God that has dawned already in Jesus Christ. In fact, the life of the church often distorts the sign of the divine rule to the point of unrecognizability. His point is that a person may remain, on justifiable grounds, aloof from the church. This means that some of those who do so act of disenchanted longing for the rule of God that they can no longer see in the church’s life. One might think of the analogy of Romans 9-11 here, that the hardening of Israel led to a new mission among Gentiles. The perversions of the fellowship of the body of Christ may well open new doors for reaching this world. He refers to “the supreme art of God’s world government” reflected in causing good to come from evil. To take one example of judgment upon the church, the divisions between East and West, and later the divisions within Protestant world, opened the way for the thought of tolerance in civil life and in the life of and faith of the church. The church has become increasingly aware of the provisional nature of its assessments, remaining open to the future of God and divine judgment.

Pannenberg concludes with a parable that may suggest the church of today is applying wisdom it could have long ago applied to itself in far better than it did in the past as it invited schism and war.

"The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, "Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?' 28 He answered, "An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, "Then do you want us to go and gather them?' 29 But he replied, "No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.' " (Matthew 13:24-30)



[1] The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 135.
[2] “The Jews as the Christians Saw Them,” First Things, 73:28. http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/03/003-the-jews-as-the-christians-saw-them-20.
[3] Cullman, Salvation in History, p. 153ff.
[4] Rahner, Theological Investigations, V. 97ff, 104ff.
[5] Principles of Christian Theology, Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York, 1966, 348.
[6] John Wesley, Sermon 61, “The Mystery of Iniquity.”