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.

Christology

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).

Eschatology

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.

Conclusion

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.

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).

The Living God (Thomas Oden)

Oden heroically disregards modern theology’s fear to speak about God. In return he gives us a clean, lucid account of the classical Christian tradition, grounded in Scripture and the fathers with some attention to later writers. Methdologically, this follows the first part of most Systematic theologies–Prolegomena and God. There is a twist, though. Oden gives the prolegomena after the doctrine of God. There is a reason for this: earlier accounts began with the subject of theological discourse, God, rather than our thoughts about God.

Oden writes, ” Christian teaching has its external source in God’s self-disclosure, whose record is Scripture preserved, studied, and remembered by the living tradition, and its internal source in faith personally experienced and reasonably ordered” (Oden 26). Oden then follows with a classic exposition of who God is, with a helpful discussion on God’s attributes, properties, relation to divine, and divine foreknowledge.

Unique contributions:

*Oden notes how classical writers focused on God’s economy, which often isn’t emphasized in modern theologies.
*The Patristic citations are worth the price of the book. This almost functions as a topical index to the fathers.

Cons:

*Oden more or less dodged the Filioque question.
*While he had good points on how Tradition functioned, he could have developed it more.

Oden writes from a historical methodist position with regard to synergy, so one might expect disagreements there. But it doesn’t detract from the work. It enhances it. He invites us to a discussion

DKG Questions 3 (Language)

  1. While wanting to avoid “anti-abstractionism” in theology, theologians shouldmake use of one of the most important theological words there is–merely. While God is a God of mercy, he is also a God of justice. He is not merely a loving God, but also a just One.

 

  1. The dualism critique often becomes…a word-level rather than a sentence-level critique. Critiques of dualism usually are arbitrary critiques of terminology that an author does not himself employ. If the critique is engaged on the sentence-level and is forced to deal with the content of the propositions then the possibility of arbitrary critiques is lessened. In other words, it is a critique of the author’s vocabulary and not of his ideas.

 

  1. How are non-orthodox positions “systematically vague?” Can you give a example? Non-orthodox (and non-Christian, for that matter) positions cannot balance or account for truths or doctrines that do not fit their own paradigm. For example, non-orthodox positions cannot simultaneously account for transcendence/immanence and in honing in on one, they miss the other. Practically speaking, this means that if the positions takes an immanence view of God, for example, they will take a rationalistic view of the world. In doing so, they cannot account for patterns or facts that do not fit their own (usually arbitrary) paradigms.

 

  1. Discuss values, dangers in labeling. Labels allow one to state a position succinctly. Theologians do not always have the time to outline the uniqueness of x position. If we understand that labels are descriptive nouns then our very act of describing this theological position or that theologian’s beliefs is “labeling.” However, labeling can often degenerate into judging a theologian on the merits of what others in his “group” rather than in what he is saying. Furthermore, labeling often does not do justice to one’s position. One might be a “fundamentalist,” broadly defined, but there is more to the position that was not said, etc.

 

  1. Thus we may think we have a clear idea of the meaning of the term, when all we really have is a feeling.” Discuss, Try to think of an example. We often make judgments based on what we think a word or phrase means without knowing its proper biblical and historical context. Words and phrases, furthermore, have “fuzzy boundaries.” Placed in context a doctrine x certainly sounds wrong, but the doctrine x is not always wrong. Orthodox theologians wince at God repenting, but seen in the covenantal context at Sinai it is then biblically correct to say that in a way God did repent. We rightly feel that making this an absolute truth about God’s immutability is wrong, but if we see the biblical and covenantal context that it is in, then it is correct.

 

  1. What methods will help us to recognize ambiguities? Young theological students are encouraged to make theological lists of what a word or phrase can and cannot mean. This will help interpret the author fairly if one examines all that a phrase can mean and then decide, in the best light, what the author probably means by it. Then, one must point out what that language is not air-tight. As language is not air-tight, the systems that are made up of language are not air-tight, either. A sentence is not necessarily always true or false. Knowing this will keep the theologian from passing judgment until he has seen the best of what could be meant by a phrase.

 

  1. Why the linguistic turn in recent philosophy and theology? As philosophy continues to search the deep questions of life, it will (most likely) keep asking the same questions, with little progress. To counteract this weariness, philosophers have begun to wonder if their lack of progress is due to a lack of clarity in language. Many philosophers are seeing language as the key to reality. This is true, but it is not the only key. However, language does describe the world and the better the use of language, generally, the more useful one will be in describing reality.

 

  1. Language is an indispensable element of the image of God. Expound. God communicates to man by his word. God created the world by “word of his power.” Jesus is the Word of God. Man’s cultural mandate involves the use of language to describe and dominate reality. Conversely, sins of the tongue are sternly warned against in the Bible.

Review Hodge Systematic Theology

Charles Hodge is the highpoint of American theology. While Dabney searched deeper into the issues, Hodge’s position (if only because the North won) allowed him a wider influence. Thornwell was the more brilliant orator and Palmer the greater preacher, but Hodge was the teacher and systematician.  Of the Princetonians Hodge is supreme.  His writing style is smoother than Warfield’s and he is deeper than his predecessors.

We rejoice that Hendrickson Publishing is issuing these three volumes at $30.  Even with the page-length quotations in Latin, Hodge is strong where American Christianity is weak.   A renaissance in Hodge would reinvigorate discussions about epistemology, the doctrine of God and God’s knowledge, justification, and God’s law. We will look at Hodge’s discussion of epistemology, doctrine of God, human nature (including both sin and free volition), soteriology, and ethics.

Common Sense Realism

 Far from stultifying the gospel, Hodge’s position safeguards the reliability of “truth-speak” and if taken seriously today, adds another angle to the “convert” phenomenon.   A properly basic belief is one that doesn’t need another belief for justification.  I’m not so sure if Hodge is making that claim.  However, he does anticipate some of Plantinga’s positions by saying that God so constituted our nature to believe x, y, and z.  My aim is to show from Hodge’s own words that our cognitive faculties are (1) reliable and (2) made so by God.  I will advance upon Hodge’s conclusions:  a commoner can read the Bible and get the general “gist” of it apart from an infallible interpreting body.  Secondly, to deny the above point attacks the image of God.   Thirdly,  to deny the above point is to reduce all to irrationality.   The practical application:  Those who deny this position often find themselves looking for “absolute” and infallible arbiters of the faith.    Such a position denies a key aspect of our imago dei.

“Any doctrine [and Hodge is using this word in the technical sense of philosophic and/or scientific beliefs], therefore, which contradicts the facts of consciousness, or the laws of belief which God has impressed upon our nature, must be false” (I: 215).

“Our knowledge of mind, therefore, as a thinking substance, is the first and most certain, and the most indestructible of all forms of knowledge; because it is involved in self-knowledge…which is the indispensable condition of all knowledge” (I: 277).

It is interesting to note his reference to self-knowledge.  One is reminded of Calvin’s duplex cognito dei.

Doctrine of God

…[S]tart with the revelation that God has made of himself in the constitution of our own nature and in his holy word.  This method leads to the conclusion that God can think and act, that in him essence and attributes are not identical (I: 564).

It’s also interesting to note Hodge’s comment about God constituting our nature in a certain way.  Shades of Thomas Reid.

“To say, as the schoolmen, and so many even of Protestant theologians, ancient and modern, were accustomed to say, that the divine attributes differ only in name, or in our conceptions, or in their effects, is to destroy all true knowledge of God…If in God knowledge is identical with eternity, knowledge with power, power with ubiquity, and ubiquity with holiness, then we are using words without meaning (I: 371-372).

The attributes of God, therefore, are not merely different conceptions in our minds, but different modes in which God reveals himself to his creatures…just as our several faculties are different modes in which the inscrutable substance self reveals itself in our consciousness and acts (I: 374).

Following Turretin, Hodge writes,

The attributes are to be distinguished not realiter, but;”virtualiter, that is, there is a real foundation in the divine nature for the several attributes attributed to him (I: 370).

What does virtualiter mean?

Richard Muller defines it as “literally, i.e., with virtue or power” (Muller 371).

It’s interesting that Muller mentioned “power.”  This corresponds with Radde-Galwitz’s interpretation of Gregory of Nyssa.  Alluding to Michel Barnes he notes that divine power is the causal capacity rooted in the divine nature; inseparable from the divine nature and gives rise to the divine energies (183; Barnes).  Further, each “Good” (or attribute, in our case) entails another.

Human Nature

Charles Hodge’s key argument regarding the free will controversy is this:   does infallible certainty of a future event destroy human liberty?  He answers no.  Hodge gives a lengthy explanation that the Reformed tradition can maintain free agency, yet God’s foreknowledge of future actions is not threatened (Hodge, II: 296-304).  Part of his discussion is labored and a bit confusing, for he realizes that “free will” has as many glosses as it does adherents.  He explains what is and is not meant by “free will.”

I do not always agree with his defining of the terms.   He lists the three options:  necessity (fatalism), contingency (free-willism) and certainty (Reformed and Augustinianism).  My problem with Hodge’s list is that traditional Reformed orthodoxy made a distinction between the necessity of the consequent (absolute necessity as pertaining to God ad intra) and necessity of the consequent thing (conditional necessity). My problem with his term “contingency” is that it risks confusion:  God is a necessary being; man is a contingent one.  It is evident, though, that Hodge makes clear he means the semi-Pelagian options.   He does advance the discussion forward, though, with his use of the term “certainty.”  Hodge is content to show that opponents of the Reformed system cannot demonstrate a contradiction between the proposition “all events are foreknown by God and will happen with certainty,” and the proposition, “Man can make rational choices apart from absolute necessity.”  Hodge lists several metaphysical and biblical examples.   God is a most perfect being.   This is a certainty (else we are doomed!), yet few will argue that God’s liberty is impinged.   Jesus’s crucifixion was foreknown in the mind of God, yet the Roman soldiers sinned most freely.

This raises an interesting issue:  many semi-Pelagians try to duck the Reformed charge by saying, “God simply foresees who will believe and elects them based on his foreseeing their believing.”  Besides being a crass works-righteousness, does this really solve the problem?  Is their belief any less certain?   If the semi-Pelagian argues that election is God’s foreseeing their faith, then we must ask if this is a certain action?   It’s hard to see how they can say no.  If they do affirm that it is certain, then they must at least agree (hypothetically) with the Reformed gloss that certainty does not destroy free agency.

So what does it mean for a man to act “freely.”  Few people on either side ever define this satisfactorily.   Hodge loosely follows the standard Reformed gloss:  the will follows the intellect (which is assumed to be fallen).  Man can be said to act freely if he acts naturally:  man acts according to the way he was created (II: 304).

Imputation

One of the objections to the doctrine of the satisfaction of Christ is that the transfer of guilt (ours/Adam’s) and/or the transfer of righteousness (Christ’s) is morally and legally impossible.  Hodge answers:

“The transfer of guilt or righteousness, as states of consciousness or forms of moral character, is indeed impossible.  But the real transfer of guilt as”a responsibility to justice, and as righteousness which satisfies that justice,’ is no more impossible than that one man should pay the debt of another.  All that the bible teaches on the subject is that Christ paid as a substitute our debt to the justice of God” (II: 540-541).

Justification

Vol. 3: 114ff

Hodge gives a wonderful and penetrating treatment on justification.  He notes that The nature of the act of justification Does not produce subjective change.  It is an Act of God not in his character of sovereign but in character of judge (speech-act?)

Includes both pardon and declaration that believer is just in the sight of the law.    It is not saying that the believer is morally just in terms of character.  The believer is just in relation to the law–guilt is expiated (120).  It is not mere pardon: sinner’s guilt is expiated (125).  Mere Pardon does not produce reconciliation (128).

Scriptural usage:

Dt 25:1.  Judge pronounces a judgment.  He does not effect a character change. Condemnation is the opposite of justify.  A sentence of condemnation does not effect an     evil character change.  Thus, if sentence of condemnation is judicial act, so is justification (123).

Romanist Views

Infusion of righteousness does nothing for guilt (though possibly they would say the guilt is washed away in baptism).  Accordingly, justification does nothing for the satisfaction of justice.  Even if the Romanist claim that justification makes me holy were true, I would still be                       liable to justice (133).

Satisfaction of Justice

An adequate theory of justification must account for satisfying justice (130). Nothing “within” me can do that.

Works of the Law

Scripture never designates specifically “what kind of works” (137).  The word “law” is used in a comprehensive sense.  Nomos binds the heart–law of nature.  Not ceremonial.  Paul says “thou shalt not covet” as the law that condemns me (Romans 7).  Not ceremonial.  Grace and works are antithetical. It doesn’t make sense to subdivide works (138).

Ground

The Ground of justification is always what is done for us, not what is in us

  • justified by his blood (Romans 5:19)
  • by his righteousness (5:18)

If just means “morally good,” then it would be absurd to say that one man is just because of another (141).

  • We say that the claims against  him are satisfied.
  • When God justifies the ungodly, he does not declare him morally godly, but that his sins are expiated.

Hypothetical Objections Proves Protestant View

Why object over possible antinomianism if faith alone not true (Romans 6; p. 140)?

The Law of God

Like older Reformed systematics, Hodge has a treatment of the Decalogue.  Much of it is common fare.  What is interesting is the way he handled it. By reading his arguments we see a commentary on problematic cultural issues.  Of particular importance, which I won’t develop here, are his expositions of the 4th and 7th commandment.  In the latter he specifically deals with Romanist tyranny in marriage.

Throughout the whole discussion he is combating Jesuitism.  We do not see that today.  Modern systematics, even conservative ones, are scared of appearing “conspiratorial.”  Hodge’s age was a manlier age.  They called it for what it was.  They knew that Jesuits swear an oath to destroy Protestant nations by any means necessary. And they knew that only the Law of God provides spiritual and political liberty.

Hodge is not entirely clear, though.  When he wants to prove the Levitical prohibitions as binding today on sanguinuity and close-kin marriage, he argues like Greg Bahnsen. Almost word for word.  If he did that today he would be fired.   But when he wants to argue against more theocratic penalties, he sounds like a dispensationalist.

Sacraments

Keith Mathison’s book on Calvin’s view of the Supper is now something of a classic, and deservedly so.  I am in large agreement with most of the book.  I certainly lean towards Calvin.  That said, I think one of the unintended consequences of the book is a slighting of Charles Hodge among the “Young Turk Calvinists.”  It’s not that I disagree with Mathison or Calvin, but I am concerned about the new interest in Nevin.  I used to be a hard-core Hegelian for 3 years.   Nevin was also an Hegelian.   Granted, Nevin pulled back from the worst of Hegel.  I am not so sure Nevin’s modern interpreters fully understand that.  I hope to give something of a modified defense of Hodge on the Supper:

“really conveying to the believing recipient, Christ, and all the benefits of his redemption…There must be a sense, therefore, in which believers receive the body and blood of Christ” (III: 622).

However,

Anything is said to be present when it operates duly on our perceiving senses” (637).  I am not so sure Hodge is able to dodge Mathison’s charge.  I agree with Hodge’s common sense realism, but I don’t think Hodge’s next point follows:  “In like manner Christ is present when he thus fills the mind, sheds abroad his love into our hearts…” (638).  I suppose the question at issue is this:  we grant that Christ fills the mind.   We grant that sensory operations also fill the mind, but it does not necessarily follow that Christ is present in the Supper in a sensory manner.   In some sense I think all Reformed would agree with that.

Hodge makes the common Reformed point that “what is affirmed to be present is not the body and blood of Christ absolutely, but his body as broken and his blood as shed” (641).  This is a decisive point against High Church traditions:  when they insist upon a literal reading, “This is my body,” the Reformed can point that Christ’s wasn’t sacrificed yet, so the “body” at issue can’t be the sacrificial body.

Hodge concludes his exposition of the Reformed teaching with “There is therefore a presence of Christ’s body in the Lord’s Supper; not local but spiritual; not to the senses, but to the mind and to faith; and not of nearness, but of efficacy” (643).

The Problem with Nevin

Throughout the work is a running attack on Nevin’s theology.  Hodge makes a point that isn’t always grasped by Nevin’s defenders today: if we accept Nevin’s platonic essentialism, especially with regard to the Eucharist and Christology, then we run into huge problems.  If Christ assumed the universal humanity, then he also assumed the rules of predicating of genus:  the more universal a genus, the less specific it is.  If Christ is the universal humanity, then there is nothing specifically human about him!

Evaluation

It is superfluous to sing of Hodge’s greatness.  That is a given.  I do have some issues with his treatment.  Hodge routinely appeals to the “received consensus of the church” for many of his doctrines.  There are several problems with this. Aside from the most general teachings from the Creeds, appeals to the Patrum Consensus are problematic and question-begging.  Further, the Eastern Orthodox Church, to which Hodge sometimes appeals, would not share his assumptions about Adam’s imputed guilt, for example.

Intro to Systematic Theo (Pannenberg)

A fantastic read, but ended in a let down. Pannenberg rightly suggests that a lot of our categories for doing systematic theology are not only outdated, but a few are contradictory and wildly at odds with the Hebrew narrative. Our understanding of God, for example, owes more to the quasi-heretic Origen’s definition of God-as-mind (that is how Origen glossed “pneuma” in John 4:24ff), which raises problems when we discuss God’s immutability, infinity, and other doctrines. Interestingly, John of Damascus and essentially everyone else in the ancient world followed Origen on this point. Glossing pneuma as spirit in the Hebraic sense solves all these problems.

The take on Creation was good.

The Christology section was a let down. He did a great job emphasing the Hebraic-ness of Jesus but conceded to much to neo-Protestantism and didn’t deal with the potential tensions in Chalcedonian ontology.