Feedback? Opening paragraphs from my book on Pannenberg

These are the opening paragraphs from my book on Wolfhart Pannenberg and his doctrine of reconciliation, Faithful to Save. The manuscript isn’t due at T&T Clark for a couple weeks yet, and I am still fussing over these first words.  I would be quite happy for your interaction, so feel free to offer your thoughts.

The experience of preparing to send away a manuscript is a strange one. My girls are still young, but I imagine the experience of their inevitable departure from home will be similar. You have done all you can do, and having labored valiantly you release them to go out into the  harsh world (of critical readers in this case!).

Christian theology variously names the difference between God and everything else: Creator and creation, holy and profane, uncaused and caused, infinite and finite, and so on. If nothing else, attentiveness to such distinctions has kept Christian theology mindful of the singular uniqueness of its object, God. ‘Let your imagination range to what you may suppose is God’s utmost limit and you will find him present there,’ Hilary of Poitiers says. He continues,

Strain as you will there is always a further horizon towards which to strain. Infinity is His property, just as the power of making such effort is yours. Words will fail you, but His being will not be circumscribed. . . . Gird up your intellect to comprehend Him as a whole; He eludes you. God, as a whole, has left something within your grasp, but this something is inextricably involved in His entirety. . . . Reason, therefore, cannot cope with Him, since no point of contemplation can be found outside Himself and since eternity is eternally His (On the Trinity, II.6.)

And yet, reason’s incapacity to cope with the infinite God does not signal reason’s demise, but rather its dependence upon God’s own communicative self-presence. “Reason is foiled, not by God’s distance, but by the character of his unfathomable proximity.” We call that proximity Emmanuel, God with us.

Wolfhart Pannenberg’s entire theological program has been an attempt to navigate between this dynamic of God’s qualitative difference and his proximity. As Pannenberg describes it, to ‘witness to the glory of Jesus Christ’ while remaining ever mindful of the ‘inconceivable majesty of God which transcends all our concepts’. Pannenberg names God’s difference from everything else in terms of God’s infinity, or holiness. God’s holiness, however, does not sequester him from intimate involvement with the world, but describes his own deep investment in reconciling all creation to himself in Jesus Christ. Importantly for Pannenberg, God’s communicative self-presence—his revelation—is found in the particulars of history; God’s proximity is found through his acts in time and space, most dramatically in Emmanuel. In the closing pages of his three-volume Systematic Theology, Pannenberg summarizes his dogmatic vision for God’s reconciling action: ‘God holds fast to his creation through his acts of reconciliation, and does so indeed in a way that respects the independence of his creatures.’

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7 thoughts on “Feedback? Opening paragraphs from my book on Pannenberg

  1. Great intro. Clear and understandable. Very easy to read. If the rest of book is similarly easy to read, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it.

    Oh, the “Reason is not foiled”-quote. Is it from Hilary?

    • That quote is from John Webster (Editorial” International Journal of Systematic Theology, 6/3 (July 2004), p. 231.)

      I sure hope the rest of the book reads as easily, but no promises!

  2. Kent, I think this is very well done. The only comment I could make that might be helpful would be concerning your use of “Emmanuel, God with us.” I wonder if it might be better–the second time you use Emmanuel–to simply say “Jesus Christ” in order to make sure that your reader knows that you mean God in Jesus Christ, when you speak of “Emmanuel” as God’s proximity to us.

    I am a bit critical, but overall very very appreciative of Pannenberg, so I am really glad to see some good new scholarship on Pannenberg–I hope to see even more.

  3. Hi I am doing PhD research on Pannenberg’s anthropology and the contribution it might make to current treatments for narcissism. I am a student at Trinity Collge at the University of Bristol in the UK. Your opening statement “Wolfhart Pannenberg’s entire theological program has been an attempt to navigate between this dynamic of God’s qualitative difference and his proximity.” seems to be reductionistic of Pannenberg. Richard John Neuhaus wrote an great introduction to one of Pannenberg’s early works, I think it was “What Is Man?” Neuhaus advised against blanket statements about Pannenberg because of the complexity of his thought. I don’t think his entire theological system can be summarized in one sentence. Although what you have said is true about Pannenberg. He successfully, in my reading of him, bridges the gap between transcendence and immanance without falling into the panentheism of John MacQuarrie. There are Pannenber scholars who read him through a grid of the Hegelian dialectic, although Pannenberg himself denies being a Hegelian.

    • Ah yes, the risk of general, summarizing statements raises its ever-present head. Surely the one to which you point isn’t able to completely avoid the charges of reductionism or over-simplification. Yet, I think I might stand on fairly solid ground in making it considering that the sentence immediately following is actually Pannenberg’s own summary, general description of his theological program: to ‘witness to the glory of Jesus Christ’ while remaining ever mindful of the ‘inconceivable majesty of God which transcends all our concepts’. My intention was simply to indicate the same insight you share in your comment: he “bridges the gap between transcendence and immanance without falling into the panentheism” or deism.

      Thanks for your interaction, and enjoy your extended theological conversation with Pannenberg through your PhD work. My doctoral work at the University of Aberdeen was on Pannenberg, and even when I didn’t agree with him I found him to be a consistently challenging companion.

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