Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pannenberg & Barth: ST, I.1.1

Given my interest in eschatology, one of my main goals this semester is to deepen my knowledge of both Moltmann and Pannenberg. I've given significantly less attention to the latter thus far, so I thought it might be fun to bring the readers of DET along for the ride as I begin to address this deficit. Without further delay here is the first of (hopefully) many snippets of reflection on his Systematic Theology (Eerdmans, 2010).

The opening chapter of Pannenberg's ST is entitled "The Truth of Christian Doctrine as the Theme of Systematic Theology," and his initial discussion revolves around defining what the word "theology" means. While there are several points of interest in these initial pages, I want to point out how at the outset Pannenberg begins to reveal his relationship to Karl Barth, noting two instances in particular. His statement that "in the concept of theology the truth of theological discourse as discourse about God that God himself has authorized is always presupposed" (p. 7) demonstrates an affinity with Barth, but prior to that he has already begun to suggest that he will differ from Barth regarding how "creatures can attain to the knowledge of God." As he writes, "in any case, whether inside the Christian church or outside it, and even in the so-called natural knowledge of God, no knowledge of God and no theology are conceivable that do not proceed from God and are not due to the working of his Spirit" (p. 2). I am unclear whether Pannenberg is advocating a different understanding of natural theology or a theology of nature in this opening section; based on other reading I have my suspicions, but for now I will leave it open. Regardless, I look forward to seeing how he develops this further.

I assume that those familiar with Pannenberg are already well aware of how these statements can be fleshed out and nuanced, and if anyone can and desires to please jump in, but for my part I will hold off until the argument unfolds naturally further down the road in the texts.  For now let me end by noting that already from these first eight pages I have the suspicion that tracing the relationship between Barth and Pannenberg's theology would make for quite an enriching endeavor, one that I look forward to doing in some measure here at DET.

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11 comments:

Darren said...

Looking forward to this series on Pannenberg's ST, Derek. My sense from reading Jesus - God and Man is that Pannenberg wants to distinguish himself from Barth at key moments, but ends up misinterpretting Barth and then sounding very much like the real Barth when he registers his own account!

David Roquemore said...

There is a good article on Pannenberg in the current issue of First Things, that says a good bit about his personal and theological relationship with Barth.

Derek Maris said...

David,

I just saw that in the library yesterday. I might have to give it a look.

Darren,

I haven't checked out that book yet, but what I've looked at thus far seems to stress his differences from Barth; I'll keep your view in mind as I go along.

Thanks to you both for stopping by!

W. Travis McMaken said...

Derek, a friend of mine who knows Pannenberg well told commented to me elsewhere that he hopes you can...

"set aside his bias against natural theology to read Pannenberg on his own terms. Also, he should have started with [Pannenberg's] little Introduction to Systematic Theology, which frames the three volumes in a very helpful way."

I should mention that I have an old 4-part series on that little Pannenberg book indexed on the serials page.

Derek Maris said...

Travis,

My first post, and already an accusation of bias!! I'm guessing this will be the first of many ;)

Seriously though, your friend presumes a bit much here I think; I'm very open to reading Pannenberg on his own terms and being won over. Just because I suspect I know where he's going doesn't mean I will necessarily disagree with it. Tell him to be encouraged!

In either case, I am looking forward to thinking through their relationship more in the future, and I do plan on reading that little introduction. I'll be sure to look at your prior posts when I do.

tripp fuller said...

Blogging on Pannenberg is always exciting! You got me to pull out volume one so here are some pages to skip to if you want to see what he ends up doing around these issues.

Pannenberg makes a sharp Barthian distinction in defining the function of the word God. Namely that God should properly interpret our experience of finite reality as the infinite one and not vice versa so that our experience of the world serves as the interpreter of God (ST I, 127). This distinction is developed in his dismissal of natural theology as an appropriate theological discipline and his development of natural knowledge as a non-anthropological alternative. Natural theology is the demonstration of the reality of God through the use of human reason and human experience. If knowledge of God could be established within these limits, the proofs of God’s existence would need to be universally convincing because all other parts of natural theology depend upon the establishment of God first. Natural knowledge, however, has God as its source and is distinguishable from the finite object that may serve as a medium (ST I, 115-117). For Pannenberg all revelation of God assumes some form of previous knowledge of God. If this previous knowledge is then traced back to the point where previous knowledge is no more, then there is a non-thematic awareness of God (ST I, 157). This knowledge is not knowledge proper and does not have God as its object, but is the first cause of divine awareness that makes the reception of all future revelations of God possible and as such our non-thematic awareness is part of our original situation as created beings.

Phil Stewart said...

As someone who has read a great deal more Pannenberg than Barth, I'm looking forward to this perspective. Some of what has been said in the comments is right, and some of it is not so great on the Pannenberg interpretation, so I'm curious to see what you will say.

That said, my reading of Pannenberg is that he redefines what natural theology should be understood as, and wishes to support certain understandings of it rather than a sort of blanket rejection. Trip is correct in pointing to the non-thematic knowledge of God (in "What is Man" this is translated as "openness to God").
A lot of the distinction comes from Pannenberg's refusal to reduce revelation to the Word alone, part of which you are going to be reading soon (revelation as history is in the third volume) and part of which you will see the foundation for later (rejection of Barth's Anerkennen/Erkennen/Bekennen model of faith in volume 3).
Understanding Pannenberg is, unfortunately, problematic if one doesn't approach his dogmatics in the light of the corpus, and Pannenberg is often misinterpreted (in German as well as in English!), so good on you for diving in!

Phil Stewart said...

Sorry, should be "revelation as history is in the first volume", not "third"

Ken said...

A key concept, which you get in the Introduction book but only later in ST1, is Pannenberg's understanding of divine Infinity, which he gets from Hegel but also has some precedence in Gregory of Nyssa, Nicolas of Cusa, and Descartes. The natural, unthematic awareness of God derives not only from God's pervasive Spirit but also from our anthropological finitude, which by nature seeks to orient itself toward the finite. This is why, for Pannenberg, we are incurably religious (culturally speaking). (This is one of his main points in his Anthropology book.) This orientation toward the Infinite does not tell us much about who God is, it does even really function as a proof because the Infinite could be something other than a personal God, but it is our common human disposition. As such, we can't "read Trinity" or "infer attributes" off of the world. If you want to call this Natural Theology, it is very different from the kind of natural theology that tends to make people nervous.

Ken said...

Sorry, should have said "toward the Infinite"

Ken said...

And "doesn't function as a proof"

Typos galore!