Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Friday, February 27, 2015

Michael Root - The Theological Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg and Paucity of Theological Leadership in the Church Today

Wolfhart Pannenberg

The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg

by Michael Root
March 2012

Some theologians are mirrors of their time. The mid-twentieth century rises from the pages of Tillich as palpably as Combray rising from Proust’s tea and madeleines. Other theologians have a more conflicted relation with their age: engaged, but cutting against the grain; in their time, but not quite of it. Wolfhart Pannenberg, one of the most gifted Protestant theologians of his generation, has never seemed quite to fit his surroundings, which may say more about his surroundings than about him. The German theological world has been far less shaken than the English-speaking world by the changes in academic culture of the last decades: feminism, the hermeneutics of suspicion, the dismissal of truth-claims as disguised assertions of power. Even by German standards, however, Pannenberg’s theology has an oddly old-fashioned air.

Pannenberg is not a man who follows fads. Postmodernity seems to have passed him by. Jean-François Lyotard famously characterized postmodernity as incredulity toward metanarratives, the comprehensive stories ”Marxist, Enlightenment liberal, religious” that make us confident that we have the Big Picture. Pannenberg is convinced that without a metanarrative, we are lost. Until you have the Big Picture, your understanding of the details will always be deficient. He seems to have self-consciously rejected postmodernism as a style of reflection. He has sought, in notable contrast to the majority of his theological peers, to address universal human reason.

Politically, Pannenberg has also stood apart. He does not belong to the academically fashionable left. He studied Marx as a philosophy student in the late 1940s in Berlin and found him wanting. He was disturbed by the sympathy for totalitarian dictators shown by fellow theologians during the 1970s and 1980s, and he made his concerns public. Though for years he was a member of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, he was sharply critical of the liberationist turn in the World Council as a whole.

In recent years, he has been outspoken in his opposition within the Evangelical Church in Germany to any approval of homosexual relations. He said that a church that approved homosexual relations had by that act ceased to be a true church. In 1997, he created a public stir when he returned his Federal Order of Merit after the order was bestowed on a lesbian activist. He argued that the constitution of the Federal Republic committed the state to uphold marriage and family and that by honoring a lesbian activist, the state was acting in contradiction to its own basis. This action did not increase his popularity in academic circles.

He has also stood apart ecumenically. When German Protestants were increasingly worried about an alleged loss of a distinct Protestant identity, he promoted an ecumenical opening to Catholicism. While on occasion he wrote as a Lutheran on Lutheran topics, he has never been attracted to what George Hunsinger has called “enclave theology,” theology done within strictly defined confessional limits, in which those limits are taken as given. For Pannenberg, it does not follow that because a proposition is authentically Lutheran it is therefore correct.

He was one of the most prominent academic defenders in Germany of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, the 1999 agreement on the doctrine of justification between the Catholic Church and the churches of the Lutheran World Federation that was violently attacked by a significant portion of his colleagues. More disturbing to many, especially in the difficult ecumenical situation in Germany, where the shrinking number of Christians is almost evenly divided between Protestant and Catholic, he has said that the unity of the church perhaps requires a papacy and that quite possibly the only churches that will survive far into the third millennium are Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical rather than mainline Protestant.


All of this may make Pannenberg attractive to readers of First Things. His close friendship with Richard John Neuhaus, who wrote an introduction to one of Pannenberg’s first books translated into English, led to his writings appearing regularly in these pages. There is much to commend in Pannenberg’s theology, but there are also some warnings and object lessons in his work, both in his difference from and in his similarity to his immediate predecessors and colleagues.

Pannenberg was born in 1928, in Stettin, Germany (now Szczecin, Poland), the son of a German civil servant. Religion played no role in his upbringing, but in autobiographical sketches, he recounts a decisive moment in his early life, an epiphany that in fact occurred on Epiphany. “On January 6, 1945, on my way home from music lessons, a long walk from one town to another, I had a visionary experience of a great light not only surrounding me, but absorbing me for an indefinite time. I did not hear any words, but it was a metaphysical awakening that prompted me to search for its meaning regarding my life during the following years.”

In this brief description can be found two foci of Pannenberg’s lifelong outlook: on the one hand, an openness to the miraculous, the supernatural, to what a reductivist natural science would dismiss, and on the other, a deep desire to understand revelation, and to understand it rationally, even “metaphysically.” The late William Placher entitled a review of the first volume of Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology “Revealed to Reason,” and that title catches the deep structure of an outlook already visible in this account of his teenage experience. As with most of the Protestant theologians who came before him, “revelation” was a central category of his theology, but unlike them, he did not share in the rejection of a rational metaphysics that so shaped (and skewed) their work.

He was drafted into the German army in the last days of World War II and was briefly a British prisoner of war. Following the war, he studied philosophy and theology at German universities, including a brief time with Karl Barth at Basel (not a happy encounter: “I learned . . . that Barth did not like criticism from his students”). His studies did not follow the standard paths trod by Protestant students. His doctoral dissertation was on Duns Scotus on predestination and his habilitation (the second dissertation required to teach in the German universities) addressed the concept of analogy from the ancient Greeks through the medieval period. Under his doctoral adviser at Heidelberg, Edmund Schlink, who had been a Protestant observer at Vatican II, he imbibed an orientation to ecumenism that was to characterize his theological work.

More immediately important for his development were the lectures at Heidelberg by the Old Testament scholar Gerhard von Rad, who emphasized how for the Old Testament God is revealed in his acts in history: the Exodus, the reception of the Promised Land, the return from exile in Babylon. God might speak to Elijah in a “still, small voice” heard only interiorly, but the great promise is that God will act publicly so that the “nations” will “know that I am the Lord.”

A group of graduate students met regularly to discuss the broader theological significance of von Rad’s approach, and in 1961 they produced a small volume of essays with the provocative title Revelation as History, with Pannenberg as the editor and the author of the systematic essay that summarized their understanding. He insists that he had no idea the book would create waves. German Protestant theology had been dominated since the early 1920s by various theologies that had stressed and interwoven the concepts of revelation as foundational to theology and of the Word of God as a concrete address calling for a radical decision of faith or unfaith, with varying emphasis on whatever the address might actually say. That Word was not open to rational investigation, and classical apologetics was not just useless, it was a betrayal of the sovereignty of the Word which allows no space for such reflection. The post-World War II struggles between the followers of Barth and of Rudolf Bultmann took place on territory marked out by these concepts.

Revelation as History questioned the tight correlation of revelation with the concept “Word.” The writers insisted that God’s Word is about something and what it is most immediately about is a historical event: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the inbreaking of the kingdom he inaugurates. We may need God’s Word to understand the event, but the event is fundamental, for it reveals the agent who performs it.

But what event could definitively reveal the one God who is Lord of all? The only possibility is an event that sums up and gives meaning to all events. And that is what we find in Jesus as the one who is the final Kingdom he brings. He is himself the End, the eschaton, the event in whose light all events are rightly seen. Jesus may be a great teacher, and he may atone for our sins, but his teaching and suffering are of decisive significance only because he is the Lord who comes “to unite all things, . . . things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10). As such, he is the revelation both of God and of the meaning of history.

Such an event cannot be private; it does not have its primary home in human interiority, but “all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:5). That full publicity will only be realized when Jesus returns, but in the “between times” after the resurrection and before the return, those who receive Jesus have the key to reality. That key is not private; if it is the key to truth, it is not removed into its own sphere, immunized from rational investigation and critique. Pannenberg insisted that even the resurrection is open to historical inquiry and that the open-minded historian should conclude that the resurrection is at least plausible and perhaps probable.

Pannenberg carried this youthful commitment to both revelation and reason into his mature theology. Revelation as History vaulted him into prominence. Professorships followed at Wuppertal, Mainz, and then, for the longest span of his career, beginning in 1968 and ending with his retirement in 1994, at Munich. A constant stream of essays was punctuated by large studies of Christology (Jesus—God and Man , 1964), theology and science ( Theology and the Philosophy of Science , 1973), theological anthropology ( Anthropology in Theological Perspective, 1983), and the three volumes of hisSystematic Theology (1988 to 1993).

[Pannenberg's] Systematic Theology is certainly his crowning achievement, bringing together his staggering learning, theological and otherwise, in a unified vision of the meaning of the faith. Pannenberg has remained remarkably consistent over the years. Systematic Theology can be read as a much fuller account of the vision first put forward in Revelation as History twenty-five years before: Eschatology remains the key theological locus; Jesus continues to be understood as the anticipatory realization of the final reign of God over all things; Christianity is rational, though this claim is somewhat chastened. New perhaps is the emphasis on ecclesiology. The church is the foretaste of the future unity of humanity and of all things, the place where the future impinges visibly, sacramentally, on the present. (And hence, [why] the division of the church is so scandalous [to Pannenberg]; [his] ecumenical commitments are [on a pace] with his theology.)


New and more determinative for his later theology is its thoroughgoing trinitarian character. In a way similar to some other recent theologians—most notably, in their different ways, Karl Rahner and Karl Barth—Pannenberg does not begin with a discussion of God as one and of the divine attributes, both understood without reference to God as triune, but begins with God as Trinity and allows that understanding to frame both the presentation of God’s unity and the elaboration of the divine attributes. Against that background, God’s act of creation is presented as analogous to the differentiation of the Son from the Father (hence, creation is through the Word) and salvation is participation in the life of the Trinity (an idea more familiar to Catholic than to modern Protestant theology).

In most of these themes—the centrality of eschatology, a renewed interest in the church as theological locus, Trinity as determinative for all that is said about God, salvation as participation—Pannenberg is in line with much recent theology. The way he elaborates them is at times idiosyncratic (for example, his understanding of the divinity that the persons of the Trinity share as analogous to a force field), but he shares these themes with many other theologians.

Distinctive in his theology is the commitment to the claim that the Christian metanarrative, the all-encompassing, eschatologically focused story, is the key to the meaning of each and every thing. Theology backs up that claim by presenting a comprehensive, systematic account of reality in which all other knowledge can find a home. Pannenberg’s project required that his works culminate in a systematic theology. The revelation of God in Christ is either the one truth in relation to which all things makes sense, or it is false. If that revelation is true, then “[e]very single reality should prove incomprehensible (at least in its depth) without recourse to God.” The theologian’s task is to make that truth evident by showing, at least illustratively, the explanatory power of the Christian perspective.


Pannenberg’s project is breathtaking in its audacity. The theologian must stand ready, at least in principle, to discuss every topic. “A doctrine of God touches upon everything else. Therefore, it is necessary to explore every field of knowledge in order to speak of God reasonably.” Theology so understood seems to require a universal genius, a Leibniz or a Newton. Pannenberg’s range of knowledge is so extensive, one is tempted to believe the job possible. As Placher noted, “It’s hard to think of anything he doesn’t know.” But does the project succeed?

Doubts inevitably creep in. Perhaps because he views history as the final context of all meaning, Pannenberg tends to begin any topic in the Systematic Theology with a brief history of its discussion. These histories are a monument of learning, but even Pannenberg cannot be an expert on everything and the specialist scholar spots mistakes, small and sometimes not so small.

The greater limitation in Pannenberg’s work is its continuing orientation to the German philosophical and cultural context. When Pannenberg began his career, the German dominance of Protestant theology, dating back to Friedrich Schleiermacher at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was still firmly established. That dominance has since faded. Pannenberg has been far more open than most of his generation of German theologians to the wider world, but he engages that world from the perspective of a German tradition increasingly foreign to American readers. Pannenberg’s relation to that German Protestant tradition tells us much about how his theology does and does not point toward new possibilities.

The succession of German Protestant theology that runs from Kant through Schleiermacher and Hegel, Ritschl and Harnack, Barth and Bultmann represents a great intellectual achievement. Pannenberg seems to stand at the end of this tradition; no figures from the generation following him in Germany seem to be working at the same level. Pannenberg has not simply continued this tradition, however; he has also called it into question. His ambiguous relation to this tradition tells us much and ironically links him to his least favorite teacher, Karl Barth.

A driving force in this tradition has been the philosophical “turn to the subject,” a shift of focus from the thing known to the knower who knows it. Kant set the problem with his argument against any knowledge of the Ding an sich, the thing in itself, and Schleiermacher represents the first great attempt to accept that turn and still talk about God in a meaningful way. For Schleiermacher, theology is not directly about God, but about us, and most immediately about our faith. Faith (or, precisely, feeling) is the point where God dwells in the self, and so, it is claimed, by speaking about faith, we can in fact speak about God. In varying ways, most liberal Protestant theology after Schleiermacher followed his lead. The anthropology changed, but the path through humanity to God remained constant. The danger of a reduction of God to an aspect of humanity and its religiosity has always lurked in the background, however, and all too often taken over the foreground.

Pannenberg, like Barth, challenges the dominance of the “turn to the subject” [as established by Schleiermacher]. This challenge became explicit in a revealing interchange that occurred in 1989 between Pannenberg and Eberhard Jüngel of Tübingen, his most ponderable German Protestant contemporary. Jüngel wrote an extended essay-review of the first volume of Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology in which, while praising his achievement, he raised some fundamental objections to his program. The title of his essay points to his most basic question: “Nihil divinitatis, ubi non fides: Is Christian Dogmatics in a Purely Theoretical Perspective Possible?” (the Latin phrase, which translates as “Nothing of God where there is no faith,” is a quotation from Luther). Jüngel’s question is about the relation between the content of faith, that which is believed, and the act of faith. He agrees with Pannenberg that the content of faith is foundational for the act of faith, and not vice versa; what we believe is more important than our act of believing it.

But Jüngel also insists that in explicating the content of faith, the theologian must make clear that the content of faith can only be the content of faith (Jüngel uses just this pattern of italics). The gospel, revelation, God in Christ, are not just there for the knowing. There is a theoretical knowledge of the content of faith, but it is inseparable from a practical knowledge, a transformation of the knowing self in the very act of knowing. There can be no true knowledge of God without a radically altered human self-understanding. [This] new knowledge of God and the new knowledge of the self are, he insists, “co-original.” Quoting Luther’s commentary on Galatians, he writes that “God and faith belong together so inseparably that one cannot avoid saying: ‘Outside faith God loses his righteousness, glory, abundance, etc, and there is nothing of majesty, of divinity where there is no faith.’” It is [in] this existential dimension of the content of faith that [Jüngel] misses in Pannenberg’s dogmatics.

Pannenberg’s response, entitled “To Grasp and Understand Faith in Itself: An Answer,” grants Jüngel’s point that true knowledge of God is impossible apart from faith, but counters that when Jüngel makes knowledge of God and a new self-understanding “co-original,” he endangers the priority of God to the human response of faith, the priority of the content of faith to the act of faith.

Behind this somewhat obscure dispute lie basic questions about the character of theology.

Theology is about God, but God is not an object of investigation and knowledge simply there for human scrutiny. How does theology reflect God’s sovereignty even in being known? In the 1960s the Protestant theologian Otto Hermann Pesch characterized the theological styles of Luther and Aquinas as “existential” and “sapiential.” Luther’s theology seeks to stay close to the perspective of the self addressed by God’s words of judgment and promise; Aquinas’ theology seeks to view all things as much as possible from the viewpoint of God’s all-encompassing wisdom, in which the human mind is allowed to participate. Much German Protestant theology since the early twentieth century has, in this sense, been programmatically “existential.” [That is,] the turn to the subject influences the way theology speaks.

Since the early twentieth century, German Protestant theology has sought forms in which first-person confession and second-person address, or, in other words, witness and proclamation, can shape the exposition of Christian theology. In this way, theology can talk about God while its form of discourse shows that God is known only as he gives himself to be known by faith. Theology must not only say that, it must show it by the way it speaks. Thus, for example, the quasi-homiletical rhetoric of Barth’s Church Dogmaticsis not “mere style” but a sign of the inseparability of theology from witness and proclamation.

The “existential dimension” is what Jüngel cannot find in Pannenberg’s theology. And he is right. Pannenberg’s theology is more sapiential than existential. In turning away from the “existential” mode, however, Pannenberg has done more than choose a different style of language. His turn to a public history and a shared reason oriented to that history is the most significant attempt in his generation of German Protestant theology to break with the turn to the subject that has been so determinative for over two hundred years. He represents a sort of new objectivity. In this regard, his turn to history shares much, at least in intention, with Barth’s turn to a Word of God who creates its own conditions of being known. Barth and Pannenberg represent the two figures in the German Protestant tradition over the last century who point beyond the focus on the human that has proven so inadequate.


This objectivity, this strong sense that theology is about God first and foremost and only then, because of what God does, about us and our religiosity, sets Pannenberg apart from much theology as done among mainline Protestants, both in Europe and North America. This objectivity gives Pannenberg’s writing, especially his Systematic Theology, a scholastic tone, in the best sense of the word, the slightly old-fashioned air I referred to at the outset. He analyzes issues, makes distinctions, discusses the options, entertains objections. One senses that the subject matter at hand is determinative. This quality makes Pannenberg’s work attractive as a conversation partner for Catholic and Evangelical theologians.

But a certain ambiguity haunts Pannenberg’s work. While he calls the recent German Protestant tradition into question in some respects, he stands firmly within it in others. A curse of recent theology has been the cult of the virtuoso theologian, the creative mind who recasts the field, the Schleiermachers and Barths of the discipline, Promethean figures who blaze the path others are to follow. Much academic work in modern theology seems less the study of God or of the Christian message about God, and more the study of the creativity of great theologians.

When Pannenberg broke onto the scene in the 1960s, he was treated as the new candidate for these laurels, the latest thing from Germany, the land of giants. His program of a thoroughgoing interpretation of the Christian message under the rubrics of history and eschatology looked like another interpretive tour de force, another exercise in killing the Oedipal father (or fathers, in the form of Barth and Bultmann) so that the children are free to pursue their own projects. The actual shape of Pannenberg’s achievement has been somewhat different. The quasi-scholastic tone points at least to a different intent, a more humble subjection to the subject matter.

Nevertheless, the manner of the virtuoso has never quite disappeared, no more than it disappeared from the work of Barth. The unique interpretive vision rooted in eschatology continues to color all that is said. As a friend has noted, what Pannenberg will not do is outline the tradition on a theological topic and then simply conclude that the tradition got it right and move on. The subject needs to be reshaped by the unique perspective of the system, like the pianist who insists that somehow, somewhere, his/her own unique interpretation must shine through.

Are great theologians always good things? Should we bemoan that there are no giants of the field around today? Certainly, mediocrity is not to be celebrated. Theology must be more than simply cataloging the answers provided by our forebears. But the enterprise of systematic theology is inherently dubious. It necessarily elevates the theologian to systematizer, to master of a subject matter that should not be mastered.

This critique is not new. Barth himself insisted that “systematic theology” is an oxymoron on a par with “wooden iron.” More searching questions need to be asked. What are the historical, institutional, and ecclesial factors that foster the cult of the great theologian? What is the connection between the rise within Protestantism of the idea of the heroic theologian over the last two hundred years and the decline within Protestantism of a stable doctrinal tradition that could guide thought and practice? Are the unique and comprehensive perspectives of a Pannenberg or a Barth (or a Schleiermacher or a Luther) called upon to perform a function that should be performed by a normative communal sense of the faith?

What is theology called to do in the life of the Church? The vocation of the theologian does not exist in a vacuum. The needs, the strengths and deficiencies of the concrete church being served, will shape that vocation, and the individual theologian can break out of the resultant mold only with difficulty. (The Protestant theologian who broke out of the mold most thoroughly, Kierkegaard, is proof of the difficulty and the cost.) A critique of the sort of theology that fits the cult of the great theologian must inevitably be a critique of the ecclesial life that produces the cult. Theology can accomplish much, but it cannot make up for essential deficits in the life of the church it serves.

Wolfhart Pannenberg has produced an impressive range of work that is learned, intelligent, and faithful. His ambiguous relation to his time is itself instructive. It should make us think about what theology is, what it is called to do, and how theology and church inevitably reflect one another.

Pannenberg is now well into his eighties and we can expect that his theological work is complete. From the beginning of his career, he has employed his formidable intelligence and scholarship in the service of careful thought and writing about the God present in Christ and the Spirit. Lives and talents so spent are blessings.

*Michael Root is professor of theology at the Catholic University of America.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Wikipedia's List of Authorial Writings

Books by Pannenberg in English

1968. Revelation As History (edited volume). New York: The Macmillan Company.
1968. Jesus: God and Man. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
1969. Basic Questions in Theology. Westminster Press
1969. Theology and the Kingdom of God. Westminster Press.
1970. What Is Man? Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
1972. The Apostles' Creed in Light of Today's Questions. Westminster Press.
1976. Theology and the Philosophy of Science. Westminster Press.
1977. Faith and Reality. Westminster Press.
1985. Anthropology in Theological Perspective. T&T Clark
1988–1994. Systematic Theology. T & T Clark
1996. "Theologie und Philosophie. Ihr Verhältnis im Lichte ihrer gemeinsamen Geschichte". Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Online writings

"God of the Philosophers," First Things, June/July 2007.
"Letter from Germany," First Things, March 2003.
"Facing Up: Science and Its Cultural Adversaries," First Things, August/September 2002.
"Review of Robert W. Jenson's Systematic Theology: Volumes I & II," First Things, May 2000.
"When Everything is Permitted," First Things, February 1998.
"The Pope in Germany," First Things, December 1996.
"How to Think About Secularism," First Things, June/July 1996.
"Christianity and the West: Ambiguous Past, Uncertain Future," First Things, December 1994.
"The Present and Future Church," First Things, November 1991.
"God's Presence in History," Christian Century (11 March 1981): 260–63.

Further reading

Bradshaw, Timothy, 1988. Trinity and ontology: a comparative study of the theologies of Karl Barth and Wolfhart Pannenberg. Edinburgh: Rutherford House Books.

Case, Jonathan P (2004), "The Death of Jesus and the Truth of the Triune God in Wolfhart Pannenberg and Eberhard Jüngel", Journal for Christian Theological Research 9: 1–13.

Fukai, Tomoaki, 1996, Paradox und Prolepsis: Geschichtstheologie bei Reinhold Niebuhr und Wolfhart Pannenberg (in German), Marburg.

Grenz, Stanley J (1990), Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, New York: Oxford.

——— (30 September 1987), "Pannenberg on Marxism: Insights and Generalizations", The Christian Century (Religion online): 824–26.

——— (14–21 September 1988), "Wolfhart Pannenberg's Quest for Ultimate Truth", The Christian Century (Religion online): 795–98.

Lischer, Richard, "An Old/New Theology of History," The Christian Century (13 March 1974): 288–90.

Don H. Olive, 1973. Wolfhart Pannenberg-Makers of the Modern Mind. Word Incorporated, Waco, Texas.

Page, James S., 2003, "Critical Realism and the Theological Science of Wolfhart Pannenberg: Exploring the Commonalities," Bridges: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, Theology, History and Science 10(1/2): 71–84.

Schwarz, Hans, 2012. 'Wolfhart Pannenberg' in The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity J.B. Stump and Alan G. Padgett (eds.) Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Shults, F. LeRon, 1999. The Postfoundationalist Task of Theology: Wolfhart Pannenberg and the New Theological Rationality. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Tipler, Frank J (1989), "The Omega Point as Eschaton: Answers to Pannenberg's Questions for Scientists", Zygon 24: 217–53. Followed by Pannenberg's comments, 255–71.

——— (1994), The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead, New York: Doubleday.

——— (2007), The Physics of Christianity, New York: Doubleday.

Tupper, E. F., 1973. The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg. Philadelphia: Westminster press.

Woo, B. Hoon (2012). "Pannenberg’s Understanding of the Natural Law". Studies in Christian Ethics 25 (3): 346–66. doi:10.1177/0953946812444686.

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Wolfhart Pannenberg in 1983

Wikipedia Biography of Wolfhart Pannenberg

Wolfhart Pannenberg (2 October 1928 – 4 September 2014)[1] was a German theologian. He has made a number of significant contributions to modern theology, including his concept of history as a form of revelation centered on the Resurrection of Christ, which has been widely debated in both Protestant and Catholic theology, as well as by non-Christian thinkers.

Life and views

Pannenberg was born on 2 October 1928 in Stettin, Germany, now Szczecin, Poland. He was baptized as an infant into the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church, but otherwise had virtually no contact with the church in his early years. At about the age of sixteen, however, he had an intensely religious experience he later called his "light experience." Seeking to understand this experience, he began to search through the works of great philosophers and religious thinkers. A high school literature teacher who had been a part of the Confessing Church during World War II encouraged him to take a hard look at Christianity, which resulted in Pannenberg's "intellectual conversion," in which he concluded that Christianity was the best available religious option. This propelled him into his vocation as a theologian.

Pannenberg studied in Berlin, Göttingen, Heidelberg and Basel. In Basel, Pannenberg studied under Karl Barth. His doctoral thesis at Heidelberg was on Edmund Schlink's views on predestination in the works of Duns Scotus, which he submitted in 1953 and published a year later. His Habilitationsschrift in 1955 dealt with the relationship between analogy and revelation, especially the concept of analogy in the teaching of God's knowledge.

Pannenberg's epistemology, explained clearly in his shorter essays, is crucial to his theological project. It is heavily influenced by Schlink, who proposed a distinction between analogical truth, i.e. a descriptive truth or model, and doxological truth, or truth as immanent in worship. In this way of thinking, theology tries to express doxological truth. As such it is a response to God's self-revelation. Schlink was also instrumental in shaping Pannenberg's approach to theology as an ecumenical enterprise – an emphasis which has remained constant throughout his career.

Pannenberg's understanding of revelation is strongly conditioned by his reading of Karl Barth and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, as well as by a sympathetic reading of Christian and Jewish apocalyptic literature. The Hegelian concept of history as an unfolding process in which Spirit and freedom are revealed combines with a Barthian notion of revelation occurring "vertically from above". While Pannenberg adopts a Hegelian understanding of History itself as God's self-revelation, he strongly asserts the Resurrection of Christ as a proleptic revelation of what history is unfolding. Despite its obvious Barthian reference, this approach met with a mainly hostile response from both neo-Orthodox and liberal, Bultmannian theologians in the 1960s, a response which Pannenberg claims surprised him and his associates.[2] A more nuanced, mainly implied, critique came from Jürgen Moltmann, whose philosophical roots lay in the Left Hegelians, Karl Marx and Ernst Bloch, and who proposed and elaborated a Theology of Hope, rather than of prolepsis, as a distinctively Christian response to History.

As disciple of Karl Löwith, Pannenberg has continued the debate against Hans Blumenberg in the so-called 'theorem of secularization'.[3] "Blumenberg targets Löwith's argument that progress is the secularization of Hebrew and Christian beliefs and argues to the contrary that the modern age, including its belief in progress, grew out of a new secular self-affirmation of culture against the Christian tradition."[4]

Pannenberg is perhaps best known for Jesus: God and Man in which he constructs a Christology "from below," deriving his dogmatic claims from a critical examination of the life and particularly the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This is his programmatic statement of the notion of "History as Revelation". He rejects traditional Chalcedonian "two-natures" Christology, preferring to view the person of Christ dynamically in light of the resurrection. This focus on the resurrection as the key to Christ's identity has led Pannenberg to defend its historicity, stressing the experience of the risen Christ in the history of the early Church rather than the empty tomb.

Central to Pannenberg's theological career was his defence of theology as a rigorous academic discipline, one capable of critical interaction with philosophy, history, and most of all, the natural sciences. Pannenberg has also defended the theology of American mathematical physicist Frank J. Tipler's Omega Point Theory[5][6][7].

Pannenberg was an outspoken critic of the approval of homosexual relations by the Evangelical Church in Germany, going so far as to say that a church which approves of homosexual practice is no longer a true church. He returned his Federal Order of Merit after the decoration was awarded to a lesbian activist.[8]

Pannenberg speaking at a CDUconference in Bonn, 1983


Pannenberg was a professor on the faculties of several universities consistently, after 1958. Between the years of 1958 and 1961 he was the Professor of Systematic Theology at theKirchliche Hochschule Wuppertal. Between 1961 and 1968 he was a professor in Mainz. He has had several visiting professorships at the University of Chicago (1963), Harvard (1966), and at the Claremont School of Theology (1967), and since 1968 had been Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Munich.[9] He retired in 1993, and died at age 85 in 2014.[10]

Throughout his career Pannenberg remained a prolific writer. As of December 2008, his "publication page" on the University of Munich's website lists 645 academic publications to his name.[11]


Pannenberg, Wolfhart (11 March 1981), "God’s Presence in History", The Christian Century: 260–63.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart (1973) [1968]. "Christianity as the Legitimacy of the Modern Age". The Idea of God and Human Freedom 3. London: Westminster Press. pp. 178–91. ISBN 978-06-6420-971-1.

Tipler 1989.

Tipler 1994.

Tipler 2007.

Root, Michael (March 2012). "The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg".First Things.

Brief biography (in German), University of Munich.

Roger Olson, The Journey of Modern Theology, 479

Pannenberg, Publications, University of Munich.