The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg

Carlton Wynne leads us into the world of modern theology by introducing the theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg. Pannenberg (1928–2014) was a leading systematic theologian who introduced an innovative relationship between eschatology and theology proper. By studying his theology in a polemical fashion, we may become better theologians of redemptive history. Carlton Wynne is Lecturer in Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

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Glen Clary

4 years ago

Excellent. Very insightful and helpful.

Camden Bucey

4 years ago

I really enjoyed this one. Modern theology can seem so far from our Reformed creeds and confessions, but studying figures like Pannenberg can help us to sharpen our understanding of Scripture and the system of doctrine it teaches.

Uwe

4 years ago

Shallow, liberal theology.

Barth, Rahner, Pannenberg…why not Enns, and Ehrman, and Norman Shepherd too?

This is not the real armor of God. If you’re solely looking for a foil to orthodox doctrine to be able to see orthodox doctrine more clearly or in some new light then doing that with shallow, sub-biblical liberal theology is not the way to go. Using other worldviews (a term modern seminary intellectuals have learned to hate recently) is a better way to go. Even using some of the more sophisticated occult languages and systems is a better way to go. Why? Because these are real world idols. These are the real spiritual battlefield. To see real biblical doctrine – the armor of God – in contradistinction to these things is practical. Pannenberg (liberal compared to on-the-mark Reformed doctrine if not to Barth or whatever) …these are confused souls at best, or just intentionally wrong using a maze of philosophical rhetoric and categories within the realm of theology. It’s vain (empty), shallow, and mischievous.

Brandon

4 years ago

Uwe,

Confessional Presbyterians, who watched their denominations get eaten away by the acids of modern liberalism 100 years ago, would disagree with you.

They know better than anyone that it is part of the armor of God to learn the difference between a truly orthodox theology and distortions of it. That’s why JG Machen wrote that book, whose name I can’t remember, on the crucial difference between Christianity and liberalism.

Uwe

4 years ago

“Uwe, have you read Pannenberg?”

The way we do a general field study as we zero in on the truth. You don’t have to be in a whorehouse long to know you’re in a whorehouse.

Name*

4 years ago

I enjoyed listening to this discussion of Pannenberg’s theology. I studied with Pannenberg in Munich in the early 1980s and heard volume 1 of his Systematic Theology in lecture form (in German). I wrote my dissertation (Rice University) on Pannenberg’s theology and especially what he meant by “God does not yet exist.” I had many one-on-one and group conversations with Pannenberg about that and other crucial questions about his theology. May I insert a couple of additions (not really corrections) to what the participants in this discussion said about Pannenberg and his theology? First, he was not “into” natural theology; he regarded “fundamental” or “foundational” theology as the replacement for natural theology in prolegomena. For him anthropology functioned in place of natural theology. In this way he was influenced by Rahner and other post-Vatican 2 Catholic theologians. (I sat in on weekly seminars led by Pannenberg and a Catholic theologian in Munich. Pannenberg was clearly enamored with some aspects of contemporary Catholic theology although he told me that his main disagreement with Rahner was what he saw as Rahner’s non-historical approach to human existence.) But Pannenberg did not think God’s existence (or anything else outside of the analytical realm) is provable. All synthetic truth claims are hypotheses to be tested by the future. That’s true of theological truth claims as well as any others. (I once asked Pannenberg’s teaching assistant if Pannenberg cares to be orthodoxy. He responded “It’s more important for him to be Wissenschaflich.”) Pannenberg’s driving motive in theology was to provide a means for Christian theology to remain in the university as a science (Wissenschaft) among the sciences. As with Fichte in the early 19th century many contemporary non-Christians in the German universities are arguing that theology has no place in the university because it is not a science. As for God–one cannot understand Pannenberg’s theology (including especially “God does not yet exist” and what I call “Pannenberg’s Principle” which is that “God’s deity is his rule”) apart from an understanding of his underpinnings in German idealism. The key contribution there is that thought and being are inseparable. Americans tend to regard the order of knowing and the order of being as separate orders. Pannenberg did not. Insofar as something is truly “strittig” (debatable) it does not yet exist. But that is, of course, true only for creatures, not for God. God has no doubts about his own existence; for him, his existence is not debatable. However, within history, before it is whole, complete, everything is debatable because (Pannenberg appeals to Dilthey here) the meaning of a thing depends on its context and the ultimate context of anything is the final future. The German word for “define” is the same as for “determine.” That should give anyone a clue! The word is “bestimmen” and “bestimmt.” “Bestimmen” is the participle; “bestimmt” is the present. For Pannenberg, the future (ultimate, final future of universal history) bestimmt the present and past. I once asked him whether he meant by that the future “defines” the present and past or “determines” them. His response: “Both, of course.” There you go. So, for finite creatures caught within the flow of history God truly does not yet exist in the same way that he will when his rule is manifest and his existence is no longer debatable. But God is already there! And therein lies the paradox. For Pannenberg, Jesus truly WAS NOT YET God (one with God) before his resurrection. But once he was raised from death to eschatological life that demonstrated conclusively that he was one with God (the divine Son of God) and thereby retroactively “enforced” that. But God himself was not waiting around “to see if” that is how things would turn out. Being already in the future, at the end of universal history, God himself already “sees” history as a whole. But (!) we finite creatures cannot have God’s perspective. In theology, anyway we must put forth our truth claims as hypotheses. Our ground for claiming Jesus is the Son of God and that God will rule in the future, that universal history reveals God, is the resurrection of Jesus. But even that is, for us, in theology, a hypothesis for testing as history unfolds. HOWEVER (and this is crucial)–in worship we do not have to “wait,” as it were. Worship speaks of God doxologically without the “reserve” that must haunt theology insofar as it wishes be scientific. We can and must worship God as already fully existing and Jesus as already God the Son even though theologians as theologians must state these as hypotheses. I hope this sheds some more light on Pannenberg’s theology.

Roger E. Olson

4 years ago

The above comment (regarding my study with Pannenberg and thoughts about his theology) is by me–Roger E. Olson, Foy Valentine Professor of Christian Theology and Ethics at Baylor’s Truett Seminary. I attempted to state my name in the appropriate field above the comment but somehow it was deleted.

Carlton Wynne

4 years ago

Dr. Olson, thank you very much for taking the time to share these helpful insights and personal anecdotes. I benefited from your writings on Pannenberg throughout my dissertation writing. I do wish I had mentioned “Pannenberg’s Principle” (a key idea in his thought and, as you know, a lens through which he interprets Rahner’s Rule) explicitly in the interview, but your comments provide ample supplementation to what we managed to cover. Thanks again, and blessings.

Camden Bucey

4 years ago

Yes, thank you for your comments Dr. Olson. There is certainly plenty here for me to explore as a Rahner scholar. Where do you think I should begin if I’d like to obtain a better understanding of Pannenberg’s interaction with Rahner’s theology?

Roger E. Olson

4 years ago

Camden (I hope you won’t mind if we switch to first names), When I was with Pannenberg I also wanted to know more of his thoughts about Rahner. I did not see him interacting with Rahner in any depth. And yet there were definite similarities between their theological anthropologies. Both, for example, regarded “man” as fundamentally “open to God.” That is why I asked Pannenberg about Rahner but, as often happened when I asked him about other theologians, he brushed my question off with a decisive but overly concise response. (In that case that the main difference between his view of humanity and Rahner’s was that Rahner’s was “unhistorical.”) When Anthropology in Theological Perspective appeared in English in the mid-1980s I looked for deeper and more extensive interaction with Rahner’s anthropology, but Rahner receives only brief mention several times. As I’m writing this I don’t have Pannenberg’s ST at hand; it’s at my office and I’ll try to remember to look into it later today. As I recall, however, even there Pannenberg did not interact much with Rahner. Rahner’s influence at the University of Munich was very strong. When I was studying with Pannenberg (1981-1982) Rahner was living in the Jesuit house just down the street and around the corner from Pannenberg’s office. I walked by there many times and often was tempted to go up and ring the doorbell and ask for a meeting with Rahner. However, I was warned away from that by people who knew that he was quite ill. He died not long afterwards (in Innsbruck). My many interactions with Pannenberg (as well as reading virtually everything he wrote) led me to believe he (like many scholars) was wary of giving people (including students) fodder for drawing comparisons between his thought and others’. He did not often admit to being influenced by other theologians or philosophers. He made use of them but then denied dependence on them. Pannenberg wanted to be thought of as a creative thinker in his own right. He would get annoyed when people pointed out “Hegelian roots” of his thought (as I did much to his dismay). The one philosopher he gladly admitted as an influence on him was Dilthey. But even then, the “influence” was only that the meaning of something depends on its context and that, therefore, a Weltanschauung is necessary to explain anything. When I asked him about Moltmann, for example, he brushed him aside as having borrowed much of his theology from him (Pannenberg). I didn’t even dare bring up Ernst Bloch! (When I was studying with Pannenberg he was in a very anti-Marxist mood and Marxist students were harassing him and his classes–something I experienced first hand.) So, all that is to say, I suspect Rahner influenced Pannenberg, but I suppose he could claim they were both influenced by some of the same people (especially in their anthropologies). I realize I have not helped you much. For that I apologize.

CM

4 years ago

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve benefitted at times from grains of truth gleaned from liberal theologians while researching a particular topic; but this one-way type of phenomenon where orthodox pastors/ theologians spend months if not years “sharpening” their beliefs by studying bad theology raises red flags for me.
You rarely if ever hear “great” liberal theologians say,

“I really enjoyed this one. Reformed theology can seem so far from our Liberal creeds of diversity and inclusion, but studying figures like Bavinck or Van Til can help us to sharpen our understanding of Scripture and the system of doctrine it teaches.”

Just say’n

Uwe

4 years ago

The fact that you have students of conservative Reformed seminaries getting PhDs by writing dissertations on old hat liberal theologians gives evidence of the cultural Marxism those institutions are submerged in. I.e. it’s how the apple is polished in those institutions. Telling. (If you don’t understand cultural Marxism it’s not bloody revolution, and it’s often as detectable or obvious to the people inside the institutions as water is to a fish.)

Blakr

4 years ago

What a blessing to get Dr Olsen’s coments.

This comment thread is also an interesting study on being smug and being thoughtful.

CM

4 years ago

Just for the record, I don’t share “Uwe’s” pointof view.

Providentially, after listening to one of Dr. Strimples lectures on the doctrine of salvation last week I referenced an article he mentioned, “Arminianisms” by J.I Packer. Dr. Olson took strong exception to that article here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2011/11/j-i-packer-and-arminianism/
Interesting perspective there….

Eric Seelye

4 years ago

I was interested to learn about iTunes University, and I was able to find lots of stuff by Dr. Gaffin, but the volume was a bit overwhelming, and I couldn’t find anything that seemed to be called st-101. If if is possible to direct me to the right place, I would really appreciate it.

Thanks also for all your podcasts. Being just a layman, sometimes I don’t know what you guys are talking about, but that’s good ’cause I learn a lot. And, I always find it interesting.

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