Understanding Pannenberg (Thiselton)

Thiselton, Anthony. Understanding Pannenberg.

This is an excellent mini-survey of Wolfhart Pannenberg’s corpus.  Thiselton touches on all the key points without getting too technical.  Unfortunately, he sometimes pays a price of sacrificing depth for clarity.  Numerous sections needed more detail. Notwithstanding, this is a highly recommended introduction to Wolfhart Pannenberg.

While Pannenberg’s theology is inadequate in many areas, he does represent a crucial break from early neo-orthodox models.  Bultmann, for example, dissolves historicity into existential crisis. Barth is a gnostic.

God as Trinity and Absolute

Pannenberg faces the challenge of Hegel head-on.  He is also aware of the influence Hegel had on the social aspect of Trinitarianism.  Pannenberg is keen to point out the “reciprocal self-distinction of the Father, Son, and Spirit.” He rejects Barth’s fear of the word “person.”  By way of summary, Thiselton notes that “Pannenberg’s key category is self-differentiation, which allows each person of the Trinity to be themselves and one in will.”

Pannenberg notes that the divine essence “can no longer be thought of as a relationless identity transcending the world, but must be seen as inherently [relational]” (Grenz).

The Holy Spirit, the Church, and History

The Church is not identical with the kingdom.  It is a sign that points towards the kingdom. This fits in with the pilgrimage role of the church in this life.

Lord’s supper: more important to focus it around table fellowship that essentialist language of being, eating God, etc. It is a covenant meal, not a vehicle for deification. Nonetheless, Pannenberg remains true to his Lutheran heritage and follows Luther on the Eucharist.

More important than those discussions, however, is the Hebraic theme of remembrance. It is not merely my pious recollection, but a lasting reality actualized by the Holy Spirit. It is neither mental recollection nor physical re-enactment.

Election and History: Pannenberg refuses to detach election from salvation history as presented in Romans 9-11. It is the people of God as God’s possession “and constitutes God’s self-declaration “ as the “God of election, history, and human destiny.”

The Future, the Spirit, and Eternity

Anticipation of the future: anticipation links and differentiates the future and the present. Pannenberg criticizes Hegel for failing to see the Absolute in its futurity.  Hegel saw only a timeless present.

Accordingly, “truth” takes on an extra dimension: it includes an openness to future disclosure.

While Pannenberg doesn’t endorse the “Greek vs. Hebrew scheme,” he does note some differences.  For example, “The God of Greek philosophy really had no attributes. The eternity of the Greek God is that of empty, eternal being” (Pannenberg, What is Man? 75).


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