Reason for Hope (Grenz)

Grenz, Stanley.  Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg.

Wolfhart Pannenberg was the most impressive and powerful theologian since Barth, and he was superior to Barth in every way.  And while he was a better communicator than Barth, not everything he said is immediately clear.  And not everything he wrote came across with equal power.  His doctrine of God and defense of the resurrection will serve the theology student quite well for decades.  His ecclesiology, by contrast, while not necessarily wrong, lacks that same power.

Pannenberg’s most baffling claim concerns the futurity of God.  What I think he means, and this is what Grenz suggests, is that the demonstration of God in its finality can only occur at the end of history, making all previous claims provisional in character.  Jesus’s resurrection and announcement of the kingdom is a proleptic moment of that futurity. In short, it is an epistemological, not an ontological claim.

On Truth

In the biblical understanding truth isn’t just a static realm of changeless ideas.  “Rather, it is what shows itself throughout the movement of time climaxing in the end event, which is anticipated in the present” (Grenz loc. 207).

On God

Pannenberg’s trinitarianism is probably the most exciting locus in his project.  He bypasses the debates on whether we should begin with the one essence or three persons.  Neither position does full justice to God’s self-revelation.  With the Cappadocian Fathers he understands that the conception of the three persons implies their relationships to each other.  Unfortunately, the Fathers erred in formulating this model in terms of the Father’s monarchy (Grenz loc. 658).

If we begin with “one being” or a single subject or mind, then “every attempt to derive the plurality of the trinitarian persons from a concept of God as one being…leads to modalism or subordination, for in all such approaches God remains a single subject” (676).  Maybe.  The tradition said that God is three subjects in one mind, not one subject.  That might not matter today, though, since we tend to equate mind and person.

Pannenberg thinks a better model is to see the relations as self-differentiations.  “The essence of person lies in the act of giving oneself to one’s counterpart and thereby gaining identity from the other…person is a correlative term” (691).

While terms such as generation and procession are important, we shouldn’t let them crowd out New Testament terms on personhood: giving over and receiving back, obedience and glorification, and filling and glorifying.

Drawing upon his rich field theory, Pannenberg suggests it is more accurate to speak of God’s spirit in terms of “field” rather than reason and will (which, of course, he has). He correctly notes that the biblical material does not speak of “spirit” as “consciousness” but as moving air.  This fits in with his field theory, and from this Pannenberg sees consciousness under spirit, not the other way around.

Further, he anchors the concept of essence in the sub-category of relation.  This part needs more work.  It has precedent within the tradition but we need more development.


Pannenberg does incorporate the logos concept from the tradition, but he notes that the tradition failed to use it in connection with Jesus as the New Adam and Israel’s hope.

Pannenberg is famous (or notorious) for his “Christology from Below,” but several things are going on.  He doesn’t hold to an adoptionist Christology where Jesus became God.  His is more of method: we must begin with what our eyes have seen and hands handled.  

Unlike the tradition, Pannenberg wants to anchor Jesus’s identity in his mission for Israel.  This is the main strength in a Christology from below: it takes Jesus’s Jewishness quite seriously.  If your Christology ignores Israel, you have a different god of the Bible.

The first casualty is election.  It is de-historicized.  Strangely enough, Arminians and Pelagians are just as guilty as Calvinists.  I believe I am elect.  Chosen before the foundation of the world, but my election can never be abstracted from Israel. 

Pannenberg correctly notes with Luther that assurance is found, not on speculating on my election, but in hearing the word of forgiveness found in the gospel.

So if we reject supersessionism on one hand and two peoples of God on the other, where does that leave Israel today?  Pannenberg answers with Paul:  there is a remnant and that remnant is the people of God (anticipating, of course, a final ingathering of Jews).


His remarks on time and eternity are quite interesting.  The end of time is not nothingness.  Rather, God lifts “temporal history into the divine eternal presence” (2957).  Time is when eternity is divided into moments.  With Maximus the Confessor, Pannenberg argues that in the eschaton time will no longer be divided.  Its different moments will become a unity.


This analysis is far heavier than Anthony Thiselton’s otherwise fine work on Pannenberg.  Grenz interacts with all of the criticisms of Pannenberg and occasionally offers his own.  The work is strong where Pannenberg’s own work is strong: the doctrine of God and Christology.  His stuff on ecclesiology is okay but nothing to write home about.  I do wish Grenz would have devoted more time to Pannenberg’s use of field theory.  Other than that, a recommended title.

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