Pannenberg will have three chapters that involve certain phases of Christology. The importance of these three chapters ought to be obvious. Christians continue to trust Jesus with their lives, deepen their fellowship with Jesus, and represent him in this world. Successful Christology places these decisions on a secure foundation. In the Christian view, the man Jesus of Nazareth is the preexistent Son of God come to earth. Christology begins with the early Christian interpretation of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah of the Jewish people. He will agree with Moltmann in this assertion. However, the difficulty in our secular age is great. He will want to bridge the gap. The early church quickly went to an exploration of the descent of the Son to humanity. However, since the Enlightenment, the historical picture of Jesus has removed itself from this theological tradition. The result is that the confessional statements become strange or impossible without sinking into the subjectivity of the perceptions of faith. Such difficulties will not disappear. Theology must take up the task of bringing its Christological statements into connection with Jesus. The connection is important because, for example, if we study only the historical dimension, we will likely make hasty and superficial decisions regarding Jesus. He will want to explore these matters with the nearest context of the preaching of Jesus and the early church, namely, that of Jewish apocalyptic. He engages in this task, recognizing that no theological affirmation is timeless. Every insight can become outmoded.
Throughout these three chapters, Pannenberg will refer to his classic work in Christology, Jesus – God and Man. He will also refer to Moltmann Crucified God and The Way of Jesus Christ. James D. G. Dunn wrote Christology in the Making, receiving much mention in these chapters. The works of Joachim Jeremias also receive positive mention.
In Chapter 9, Pannenberg will explore the question of anthropology and Christology. It will be his introductory chapter on Christology, in which he explores the question of proper methodology in Christology. He will need to make the methodological decision of whether to begin with the God who sends the Son or with the human reality of Jesus of Nazareth that leads Christians to think of him as the Son. He will famously choose the latter, thereby parting company, again, with Karl Barth.
In Section 1, Pannenberg discusses the method of Christology. Apostolic proclamation began with the earthly work, death, and resurrection of Jesus. However, quickly the church of the second and third centuries developed a Logos Christology, what we now call “from above.” Moltmann and Pannenberg will differ here, in a gentle way. Sometimes, it seems as if Moltmann was not quite willing to part from Karl Barth this much. Moltmann offers differences from Pannenberg in his two works on Christology, The Crucified God and The Way of Jesus Christ, and I have essays on each. The problem that both Pannenberg and Moltmann have with the “from below” approach of the 1800s, people like Ritschl and Schleiermacher, was that they stopped their considerations at the crucifixion. Their reaction to the speculative approach to the Trinity and Christology of Hegel and Schelling was to focus upon the personality or God-consciousness of Jesus. The point Ritschl will make is that we cannot know Christ as the eternal Son, or even the benefits of salvation, if they are not at work in his life. Think about this for a moment. Is this not a good point? For Ritschl, the continuing effects of Christ today are the result of continuing the earthly work of Jesus as mediated through the church. Of course, historical and critical studies of the gospels have made access to this history difficult. The conclusion of Barth that no other way exists except the road from above downward ignores the justifiable demand that all Christological statements connect to the historical reality of Jesus. Pannenberg will stress that we can know God only in that which took place in the human history of Jesus of Nazareth. If he stopped there, he would be susceptible to the criticism by Moltmann, who seems unsupportive of any discussion of “anthropology and Christology” in The Crucified God. He also seems to have the Barthian concern that dialectics keep from below and from above approaches in tension. He contrasts the anthropologically oriented from below approach with the eschatological history of God in Chapter 2 of The Way of Jesus Christ. However, Pannenberg includes the resurrection as important datum “from below” in defining who Jesus is. This approach will include the primary eschatological aspect of the history of God, the resurrection of the dead, seemingly satisfying the objection of Moltmann. Further, after reading the two primary works of Moltmann in Christology, his approach has a “from below” feel to it. The point of Pannenberg will be that confession of the divinity of the man Jesus requires substantiation. The divinity of Jesus is not self-explanatory. We can then gain a clearer grasp of how he claims our faith in him. In fact, even knowledge of the Trinity arises out of the knowledge of the man Jesus. Of course, the history of Jesus below has an upward thrust. His history is open to the reality of God. To put it another way, faith has its foundation in who Jesus was. When the revelatory character of the event is inherent to the events, then we can speak of the events as forming the basis of faith. Christology has to show this. The foundation of Christological statements is the history of Jesus. He will want to show the inner necessity of the development of Christology in the New Testament and in their continuing formation in the theological tradition. Thus, he proposes that it will have a historical and systematic character. The message about Jesus in apostolic preaching will have an inner connection to the preaching of Jesus concerning the kingdom. He can do this only by including the resurrection of Jesus to a form of fellowship with God that legitimates his pre-Easter work. Only the risen Lord is also the Lord of the community. Moltmann also says that Christology is not simply a matter of the earthly person, Jesus of Nazareth. Christology must include his resurrection and presence in the Spirit of the coming of God. I should note that Pannenberg thinks a Christology can take many forms. For him, when Moltmann discusses his version of “Spirit Christology” in The Way of Jesus Christ (Chapter III.1), Pannenberg thinks of this as a “from below” approach to Christology. In any case, Pannenberg grants that for his “from below” approach he will have to show the facticity of the Easter event. Only then will he be able to show that apostolic preaching, confessional statements, and Trinitarian teaching are an explication of the meaning of the history of Jesus. This thesis is the basis of his first book in Christology, Jesus – God and Man. Moule, in The Origin of Christology, has a similar plan. He also sees Karl Rahner as close to the approach he takes. He recognizes the burden that many modern people will feel in considering the resurrection of a dead man as the basis of their faith. Of course, one may have faith without awareness of such arguments. Theology cannot ignore the foundation of faith in Jesus. The truth of the Christian confession is at issue for theology. In adopting this plan, he sets aside other “from below” approaches, such as the demand in the preaching of Jesus, a focus on the cross, or the response of faith on the part of hearers. The appeal to faith and the Holy Spirit is not a theological argument. He will stress that the Easter proclamation follows the Easter event, rather than constitutes it. What he will want to show in his exposition is that the human and historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth achieves its proper understanding only in the light of his coming from God. In fact, what he will be doing is re-thinking classical theological confession in light of reconstructing the revelatory historical basis. In a sense, then, “from below” and “from above” are complimentary. The result will be that the appearance and history of Jesus will be the action of the Trinitarian God for human salvation. He does not want to treat Christian confession as a presupposition. He wants to explore the validity of the confession. He also wants it clear that for the Christian, Jesus shows who God is. Thus, he does not want to begin with a general concept of God. He wants to draw attention to God as known through Jesus. Of course, the “from below” approach could dissolve into a general anthropology. What he is proposing is a mutual conditioning between an idea of God and a human self-understanding. Thomas C. Oden refers to this as a theandric starting point, meaning that he will find it ridiculous to arrive at an historical Jesus not oriented to God. As an example from the theological tradition, Jesus as the image of God, the Logos, and the Son of Man point to Jesus as the true human being. As he has shown in Chapter 8, human destiny is toward divine likeness. He thinks he has shown in his Anthropology from a Theological Perspective that secular ideologies are reductionist and open to argument. Such secular approaches in his mind have an awareness of human self-understanding that is open to the world, and provide a trace of their creation by God. Humans have the distinction of a special relation to God. We are religious by nature, a fact that the Christian understanding of God illuminates through the special relation Jesus had with his Father. What would humanity be without religion? He sees this particularly, of course, in our ability to distinguish finite things from each other, a consciousness that leads to our connection with the Infinite. We have awareness of the transcendent. The Infinite conditions our knowledge and existence of finite things. Our constitution as human beings is religious. He will also point to Karl Rahner here. The appearance of the Logos, Jesus of Nazareth, is the completion of creation. In Rahner, the Incarnation is the free, unmerited, unique fulfillment of what humanity means. Pannenberg and Moltmann diverge in their thinking about Rahner. For Pannenberg, Rahner had in view a divinely constituted humanity and thus could write in a Trinitarian sense of the true deity of the Logos incarnate in Jesus. Of course, sin breaks the unity of human reality. Yet, the particularity of Jesus is the origin of a new human image, as Paul points to contrasting Adam and Christ in I Corinthians 15:45-50, Romans 5:12-19, and Philippians 2:6-11. The point is that Christ sheds light on the original situation of Adam and therefore on our human nature and destiny in relation to God. The approach of Pannenberg will be to start with the particularity of the public work of Jesus and seek his universal significance there for the humanity and for the confession of his deity.
In Section 2, Pannenberg will discuss the “new man” in the person and history of Jesus Christ. I Corinthians 15:45-50, Romans 5:12-19, and Philippians 2:6-11 are the passages of scripture to which he will refer. It would be good to have these passages in front of one, and maybe even engage in an independent study of them.
In subsection (a) of Section 2, Pannenberg will discuss the new man from above. His point is that Paul is describing in Christ the eschatological form of humanity in contrast to humanity as defined by Adam. Although he will focus on Paul, due to its connection with the history of Jesus, he will connect his consideration to the Logos teaching of the opening verses of John as well. Such a description expresses the claim of a universal relevance for the person of Jesus and history that goes beyond the sphere of his Jewish faith. The redemption that God brings in Jesus is an expression of the faithfulness of God to creation. In harmony with this is the idea of a salvation history that aims at human fulfillment in Jesus Christ. He will point to Irenaeus and Justin Martyr as early exponents of this view. Athanasius will also link the Adam-Christ typology with the Logos of the prologue in John. He obviously thinks the linking of the Logos to the virgin birth was a mistake in the history of theology, since the Bible does not do this. This approach blocked the path to a true consideration of Jesus as the expression of the destiny of humanity. His point is that the significance of the birth of Jesus rests upon the future course of his life. No one has full personal identity at birth. We are who we are only in the course of life and view of its end. Such a notion is true of all persons. From the point of one’s death, someone can narrate a history that reasonably approximates who the person is. However, if the person remains living, any narration that involves personal identity can only anticipate the identity that the future shall be. One grasps the significance of an event in the life of a person only in the context of the whole of life, a notion he derives from Wilhelm Dilthey. For Jesus as well, the course of his life, especially his passion and the Easter event, determine who he is. He refers to this as “retroactive force.” The basis for this lies in the hermeneutic of historical experience, namely, a descriptively demonstrable fact with ontological implications. The significance of an event as we see it later depends upon the provisional conclusion upon which we look back. His thought is that the essence of a person, situation, or even the world, is not yet visible. Only the future will decide it. Applied to Jesus, the resurrection has such retroactive force. In the resurrection, the disciples recognized Jesus and the one who he was previously. Yet, he was not recognizable as who he was without the resurrection. In fact, he would not have been who he was without the Easter event. In that sense, the resurrection has a confirming character regarding who Jesus was. This notion corresponds to the constitutive significance of anticipation, which Moltmann also assumed. Moltmann referred to the notion of the resurrection as having retroactive force as a “forced assumption.” in The Way of Jesus Christ (p. 77). However, he said in The Crucified God it was a helpful thought. In any case, had the church stayed with the Adam typology of Paul, the church could have made a much earlier exploration into the distinctiveness of Jesus apart from the virgin birth. Pannenberg sees no reason why the Son should come into the world in a different way from anyone else.
In subsection (b) of Section 2, Pannenberg explores the notion of the author of a new humanity. As he reflects upon the implication of the teaching of Paul, he thinks of the church as the sphere where the many can experience change into the new humanity by missionary preaching, baptism, and faith. Paul is connecting the appearance of Jesus Christ and the consequences of the sin of Adam. Therefore, the mission of Jesus is the saving of the many that live under sin and death. Theology will need to evaluate the orientation of the obedient suffering of Jesus to the salvation of the many within the context of his earthly message and activity, which led him to the cross. Theology will need to relate the earthly history of Jesus to humanity. He points out that while the focus of early Christology was the distinctiveness of the deity of Jesus, the sinless quality of Jesus was a way to give distinction to his humanity. It was important enough that it became part of the creed of Chalcedon (451): “in all things like unto us, without sin.” Early reflection upon this quality of Jesus focused upon his moral perfection and his fellowship with God. As Pannenberg points out, the notion came to receive the interpretation that Jesus was sinless from birth through the virgin birth. It also meant Jesus could not sin. Of course, this idea ran counter to the idea of Paul in Romans 8:3 that the Son adopted sinful flesh. Therefore, this focus upon his individual life led a focus upon the life of the believer. The focus in the modern became the ethical grandeur of the life of Jesus, a notion Jews of the time of Jesus would have debated. Of course, the other issue here is that we do not know enough of the life of Jesus to make judgments. The only way we can make such a judgment is from the perspective of the resurrection. As human beings, we have no basis for making a judgment regarding the sinless quality of Jesus. Only God could make this declaration in the resurrection, thereby passing judgment on the course of the life of Jesus. He notes that Schleiermacher related the Redeemer to the covenant of grace and to the community of the people of God. He would see the uniqueness of Jesus in his personality, which left its impression on the community throughout history. He will move away from Schleiermacher and toward Bultmann, who viewed Jesus within his Jewish context. The point here is that Jesus and his message of radical adherence to the first commandment met with rejection from the Jewish people. Yet, part of the providential rule of God is to bring good out of evil. He refers to the idea of Moltmann that Jesus orchestrated his entry into Jerusalem and proclaimed himself as Messiah in the trial before Caiaphas and Pilate. While consistent with the Gospel narrative, these accounts have questionable historical reliability in the minds of many scholars. Surely, the entry into Jerusalem is a prophetic sign. For Pannenberg, the confession of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah corresponds to the ministry of Jesus to the people of the old covenant, the people of God as Israel. The mission of Jesus had a messianic character in deepening its relation to God. For the disciples, the messianic hope of Israel fused with the picture of the suffering and crucified Son of God. Moltmann argued along these lines in The Crucified God. The messianic hope in Israel sought had an orientation toward overcoming the suffering of the people of Israel. Interestingly, Paul did not use the concept of Messiah to achieve his end of expressing the universal significance of the history of Jesus. Of course, he retained a link in the title, “Christ.” Jesus changed the Jewish hope in the consciousness of his disciples. He also opened it up with a view to the reconciliation of the Gentile world with Israel and its God. In fact, Moltmann in a similar and powerful way will say that the mission of Christianity is the way in which Israel pervades the world of the Gentile nations with a messianic hope for the coming of God.
In subsection (c) of Section 2, Pannenberg discusses the manifestation of the Son and human fellowship. He will show later, in Chapter 10 section 2, that the idea of the sending of the Son presupposes the preexistence of the Son. We can see a prefiguration of this in the history of Israel as their kings received the designation of son of God. Members of the people of God in both Testaments receive the designation of children of God. He wants to consider all of this without the aid of the virgin birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, Chapters 1-2. He does not view them as contributing to knowledge of the history of Jesus. Instead, he will point to the legendary character of the narratives. Thomas Oden seems to think that denial of the virgin birth derives from the assumption that this miracle could not happen. I think one can say that Pannenberg avoids that criticism. However, Oden will also point to the connections with the worship life of the church as important for maintaining this teaching. Think of the hymns and prayers that will no longer have the same impact! He will also suggest that the virgin birth stories arose out of the family of Jesus. The family did not tell them until long after the resurrection. He also points to the importance of devotion of Mary in the history of the church. It seems that for him the continuing personal devotional and collective worship life of the church are sufficient for continuing affirmation of the historicity of the virgin birth. At this point, if one is orthodox, conservative, or evangelical in general theological perspective, your temptation will be to put down Pannenberg and leave him behind. After all, the creed does say, “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” The Council of Ephesus refers to Mary as “Mother of God,” an Christological statement. If the reader stops reading Pannenberg at this point, such is the right of the reader, of course. I have interacted with some self-identified evangelicals in Internet discussion groups who have done this. However, you will also be missing out upon much fruitful theological reflection. Now, the Incarnation of the Son means that this man is the Son throughout the course of his life. The Easter event definitively decided the personal identity of Jesus as the Son. However, the event revealed he was the Son from the beginning and throughout eternity. The goal of the sending of the Son, the goal of the Incarnation, is concern for others. The aim is the reconciliation to God of the world, or maybe better, creation. He wants to maintain the connection between the sending of the Son to save us. Here is the important way in which Pannenberg wants to explain the universalizing thrust of the Christian message. Moltmann will make a similar argument in The Way of Jesus Christ. The function of the Messiah relates to the fellowship and renewal of the people of God. Christ is the Son and the new Adam. Christ also gives universal relevance to the story of the election of Israel and the tradition of the Jewish faith. This occurs through the revision of Jewish messianic expectation and of Jewish hope. This occurs through revision of the significance of the historically conditioned elements of the Jewish faith, meaning that the cross of Christ ends the Mosaic Law in the sense of the way it separated Jews and Gentiles. Yet, Paul would maintain that the Law testified to the righteousness of God, which, of course, does not end. An important part of the prophetic proclamation was the election of Israel would be the proclamation of the righteous will of God to the nations (Isaiah 42:1-2, 42:6). On this view, the election of Israel serves the will of God on behalf of the human race. It serves the rule of God in the world. In historical reality, of course, the Law is a sign of difference between Israel and the Gentiles. His point is that the central content of the witness of Israel among the nations is fellowship with God and human fellowship. The exposition of the law provided by Jesus broke the Law free of its Jewish history and made it applicable to all. Jesus criticized the traditions. His earthly career accomplished the liberation of the messianic hope of Israel. By relating the messianic idea to the cross, the risen Lord could show himself to be the Messiah of all people, the Son who wills to unite all people to himself and therefore to God, after the image of the new eschatological human being shown in him.
(Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ 1990), 1ff, 37.
(Pannenberg, Jesus -- God and Man 1964, 1968), 11-14.
(Pannenberg, Jesus -- God and Man 1964, 1968), 26-30.
(Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ 1990), 40-41.
(Oden 1987), 323.
(Pannenberg, Jesus -- God and Man 1964, 1968), 201-2.
(Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ 1990), 61-62.
(Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective
(Pannenberg, Jesus -- God and Man 1964, 1968), 135-7.
(Pannenberg, The Apostles' Creed: In the Light of
Today's Questions 1972) 72.
(Pannenberg, Jesus -- God and Man 1964, 1968), 354-64.
(Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ 1990) Chapter 1.
(Oden 1987), 283-298.