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Wolfhart Pannenberg: The Prolepsis of God's Revelation in History

Wolfhart Pannenberg: The Prolepsis of God's Revelation in History

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Published by Dave
since the 1960’s, a different theological project that is concerned with the classical quest for ultimate truth again has emerged. The foremost among its proponents is Wolfhart Pannenberg, a former student of Barth. The German theologian sought to propose correctives to what he perceived to be increasing privatization of modern theology as a merely subjective sphere sheltered from public scientific or historical inquiry. The retreat of theology into a cultural ghetto owes much to a post-Enlightenment mindset which views authority and claims of truth with suspicion. For Pannenberg, systematic theology ought to be a discipline in search for universal truth that illumines all human knowledge. As such, theological statements ought to be boldly open to rational inquiry of the historical basis on which they rest.
since the 1960’s, a different theological project that is concerned with the classical quest for ultimate truth again has emerged. The foremost among its proponents is Wolfhart Pannenberg, a former student of Barth. The German theologian sought to propose correctives to what he perceived to be increasing privatization of modern theology as a merely subjective sphere sheltered from public scientific or historical inquiry. The retreat of theology into a cultural ghetto owes much to a post-Enlightenment mindset which views authority and claims of truth with suspicion. For Pannenberg, systematic theology ought to be a discipline in search for universal truth that illumines all human knowledge. As such, theological statements ought to be boldly open to rational inquiry of the historical basis on which they rest.

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Published by: Dave on Apr 20, 2010
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07/04/2013

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Wolfhart Pannenberg: The Prolepsis of God’s Revelation in History
In reaction to liberal theology, Karl Barth pioneered the neo-orthodox movement with itsemphasis on God’s absolute otherness from any human category or experiences. Onecannot speak of God simply by speaking of man in a loud voice. God cannot be seizedand made into an object of earthly categories. Consequently, man could not possiblywork his way up to a true knowledge of God through philosophical and anthropologicalsupports. Barth saw in every form of natural theology a failure to do justice to the‘infinite qualitative distinction’ between God and man. For Barth, God is ultimatelyknowable only through his sovereign personal illumination to human subjects throughChrist, the Word of God.1
 
However, since the 1960’s, a different theological project that is concerned with theclassical quest for ultimate truth again has emerged. The foremost among its proponentsis Wolfhart Pannenberg, a former student of Barth. The German theologian sought to propose correctives to what he perceived to be increasing privatization of moderntheology as a merely subjective sphere sheltered from public scientific or historicalinquiry.
1
 The retreat of theology into a cultural ghetto owes much to a post-Enlightenment mindset which views authority and claims of truth with suspicion. For Pannenberg, systematic theology ought to be a discipline in search for universal truth thatillumines all human knowledge. As such, theological statements ought to be boldly opento rational inquiry of the historical basis on which they rest.Faith is not to be seen as a pietistic but blind “decision of faith”. The Christian faithhinges on the historical event of Christ’s bodily resurrection in space-time (1 Corinth.15:14). As an event in history, it is open to rigorous investigation according to sound principles of historiography and the final criterion of truth - coherence. Whatever is truemust cohere with all other truth so that truth is one and all-embracing.
2
Pannenberg isconfident that systematic theology should show that the Christian faith is true for allhumanity and sheds light on all human knowledge. For example, in his work 
 Jesus: God and Man
, he argued that the Easter appearances of Jesus and the empty tomb traditionswhich emerged independently of each other provided evidence for the resurrection as a
1
Wolfhart Pannenberg,
 An Introduction to Systematic Theology
, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), page 16
2
 
 Ibid 
., page 6
2
 
historical event.
3
 Since theology is a public discipline, the idea of God ought to shed lightnot only on human existence but also the world as a whole, providing unity of all reality.
4
 Nonetheless, his project is not merely a return to the traditional notion that truth is foundin the unchanging essences behind the ebb and flow of history. Rather, truth is seen asessentially historical and ultimately eschatological. Until the eschaton, our truth claimsare contestable in the actual history of rival religious claims. Therefore, our theologicalstatements today are provisional like all other kinds of human knowledge. The futurealone will vindicate the ultimate truth. In the meantime, theologies are hypotheses to betested for coherence with other domains of knowledge. Only at the end of history wouldthe reality of God be indisputably evident to all. He warned that the ‘excitement of systematically exploring the truth of God must not be mistaken for having that truth itself at our disposal”.
5
Even so, God’s self-revelation in the historical resurrection event has a
 proleptic
element in that it anticipates in the present the final vindication of Christ andthe renewal of all creation.
6
As Grenz explains, “Through his resurrection Jesusexperienced in the midst of history that eschatological transformation to which humanityis destined.”
7
What will be disclosed fully at the end of history has become visible and present in Jesus in the midst of history.
8
For Pannenberg, knowledge of God is impossiblewithout his revelation in history.
3
Wolfhart Pannenberg,
 Jesus: God and Man,
(London: SCM Press, 1968), page 96 – 105. He concludedthus, “The Easter appearances are not to be explained from the Easter faith of the disciples; rather,conversely, the Easter faith of the disciples is to be explained from the appearances.”
4
Stanley Grenz,
 Reason For Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg,
(Grand Rapids:William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005), page 7
5
Wolfhart Pannenberg,
 An Introduction to Systematic Theology
, page 19
6
Wolfhart Pannenberg,
Systematic Theology Volume II 
, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing,1994), page 344 -345
7
Stanley Grenz,
 Reason For Hope,
page 8
8
Wolfhart Pannenberg,
Systematic Theology Volume III 
, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing,1998), page 550 – 551
3

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