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.’

A Pannenberg Sermon: The Cross & the Christian Faith

Many know Wolfhart Pannenberg for his careful and prolific work as an academic theologian, but he was a preacher as well and published two volumes of sermons (I am still searching for a copy of the second volume, Freude des Glaubens). No published English translations are available, and this is unfortunate considering the fascinating window they offer into his thinking on subjects ranging from the human person, pneumatology, the Church, and Christology.

The following is from a sermon on Jesus’ invitation to imitate the cross delivered in 1972 in Tutzing.

Whoever freely hears Jesus’ word to imitate the Cross must be startled by the cold severity of it. This severity stands alone, and just so it binds the community to Jesus for readiness to martyrdom and the readiness to go with Jesus on his way to the bitter end of a criminal’s death.

In the Gospel Jesus issues a warning to all who would consider imitating the Cross, but who would do so, like Peter, without understanding. Peter attempted to hold Jesus back from his way to Jerusalem when it would lead Jesus to the cross. And Jesus responds to Peter’s attempt with extreme sharpness; he calls Peter a satan who would tempt him. “Get behind me Satan; you are a hindrance to me; you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” The word to imitate the cross follows immediately after this, and, like Peter, seeking to protect and preserve yourself from suffering will be judged as the thinking of men and not of those who would imitate the cross.

By the wisdom of God, Jesus’ mission led in another direction. It consisted not in self-protection, but required self-abandonment. Jesus declared with his invitation to imitate the cross that this was also a necessity for his disciples, yes he even gave it the form of universal force. The tendency toward self-protection leads to the loss of oneself; only through self-abandonment will one become themselves, preserve their life, and, in fact,  gain life (“Das Kreuz Jesu und das des Christen (1972),” in Gegenwart Gottes: Predigten [München: Claudius Verlag,  1973], 176ff).

I corresponded with his secretary at the University of Münich recently and was disappointed to hear that Pannenberg’s health has not improved. In this his eighty-second year of life, I continue to pray that his years of retirement will be rewarded with good health and the enjoyment of his remaining time on earth.

Truth as “Coherence” » Pannenberg on Science and Theology

Wolfhart Pannenberg, edited by Niels Henrik Gregersen. The Historicity of Nature: Essays on Science and Theology (West Conshohocken: Templeton Foundation Press, 2008), 242pp + xxiv, $23.96.

Wolfhart Pannenberg’s enduring engagement with the natural sciences, philosophy, and history has been theologically driven by his doctrine of God. Credible talk about God, he urges, has to be related to that reality claimed to be his creation. In a recent autobiographical essay, he explains,

[T]alk about God has to deal with God the creator of the world. Otherwise it would come to nothing. To deal with the creator of the world, however, requires us to consider everything to be a creature of that God, and that requires us to clarify whether each single reality can be understood and has to be understood to be a creature of God. Thus, 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” (“An Intellectual Pilgrimage”, Dialog 45, no. 2 (Summer 2006), 190. Emphasis mine)

You can’t fail to appreciate the boldness of that claim! The result of embracing it, for Pannenberg, has been a vigorous and sustained commitment to various fields sometimes considered outside theology proper, Continue reading

Recent studies on Pannenberg » 5 short reviews

[NOTE: This was originally written in 2008, and several studies have since been published. Let me mention two. At the cost of shameless self-promotion, I published a book on Pannenberg’s doctrine of reconciliation last fall, Faithful to Save: Pannenberg on God’s Reconciling Action (T&T Clark, 2011). The book is an exposition and analysis of the central place and comprehensive character of the doctrine of reconciliation in Pannenberg’s mature theology. I also discuss at some length his doctrine of God, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology. Given the high price, I should mention that a paperback edition will be published later this year. Another book of note is Timothy Bradshaw’s contribution to the Guide for the Perplexed Series by T&T Clark, Pannenberg: A Guide for the Perplexed (2009). I recommend it highly.]

I am often asked, “What should I read on Pannenberg’s theology?” Toward making some gestures in that direction, here are five short reviews of recent studies in English.

Iain Taylor, Pannenberg on the Triune God (T&T Clark, 2007), 225 pp., $130.00.

If you owned just one book on Pannenberg’s three volume Systematic Theology (ST), Iain Taylor’s Pannenberg on the31r7wmc8bpl_ss500_.jpg Triune God would be a good choice (at this price you might only afford one). Covering the doctrinal loci in the order in which they appear in ST, the work advances as a detailed exposition and evaluation of Pannenberg’s mature trinitarian theology. Both carefully researched and lucidly written, Taylor makes a significant contribution to the scholarly literature on Pannenberg’s theology.

On the whole, Taylor demonstrates a consistently generous reading of Pannenberg’s theology without hesitating to articulate carefully formed critiques. While all readers of Pannenberg may not concur with those appraisals, Taylor’s grasp of his dogmatics makes this a highly valuable addition to those hoping to explore Pannenberg’s trinitarian theology. A unique contribution (and the best that I have seen) is Taylor’s convincing refutation of persistent assumptions of Hegelianism in Pannenberg’s trinitarian thought. Continue reading

“Dappled things” & Doctrines of Creation

In a letter to Robert Bridges dated October 25, 1879, Gerard Manley Hopkins penned hopkins-1.jpg“Pied Beauty”:

Glory to God for the dappled things -

For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow; For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches wings; Landscape plotted and pierced – fold, fallow, and plough; And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.

Wrapped up in his idiosyncratic vocabulary and unique sense for rhythm and pacing, Hopkins captures something one rarely finds in doctrines of creation: note of dappled things. In his own way, Hopkins reminds us that the triune God “father[ed] forth” the diversity and difference in creation, the “couple-colour as a brindled cow” and the “finches wings.” Continue reading