Wild Ideas about Pannenberg's 'Supposed' Hegelianism

This could be unique to me, but at some point between informal conversations, research, and classes I've gotten the impression that when it comes to Pannenberg, there is a ton of interest in how his work relates to Hegel. For example, it seems that people want an answer to the question “to what degree is Pannenberg’s system ‘Hegelian’?” In one of my courses a couple years ago my professor spent some time on Pannenberg, discussing sections of his Systematic Theology and the reasons for / the rationale behind Theology and the Philosophy of Science. He also took special care to note that while Pannenberg resisted being seen as a disciple of Hegel, the footnotes may have told a different story.

In the light of this interest, below is a lengthy quote from an interview with Pannenberg that I have not seen referenced elsewhere. Maybe later I can make an argument, but for now, here is part of his answer to the question put to Pannenberg: “What aspects of your thought do theologians continue to misunderstand?”
There are the wildest ideas about my supposed Hegelianism! I am not a Hegelian. I just happen to think that [Georg] Hegel was one of the outstanding minds in the history of modern thought, one whose work sets a high standard for us to follow. That is why I believe that theology after Hegel should strive to rise to his level of sophistication and rigor. But very few of my ideas did I actually get from Hegel—very few. I feel much more closely related and indebted to thinkers other than Hegel. His ideas for example, are not as good as those of Wilhelm Dilthey, to whose assumptions in the area of hermeneutics I am indebted. . . . Put differently, I do not follow the lead of any one person. I try to concern myself with the history of a problem and then make my own judgment in a systematic way. (pp. 47-8)



Would you like to say more about how you might try to sort out this question, Derek?
Geofff said…
Everybody knows that the most Hegelian recent Dogmatician is Robert Jenson.
What about Peter Hodgson? But I don't know if the readership of DET would class him among the "dogmaticians."
Matthew Frost said…
So, perhaps a case to be made that Pannenberg's relation to Hegel is like Barth's relation to Schleiermacher, if a bit more distant and less antagonistic?
KenR said…
Pannenberg uses the Hegelian idea of the true infinite (vs. the bad or spurious infinite) as a description of divine infinity, but there is little else in his program taken directly from Hegel. He was more influenced by thinkers like Dilthey (as the quote suggests), Gadamer, and Popper.
Derek said…
Hey Scott,

I need to think on it more, but I might apply what I've learned from Michael Welker and be "topic-focused," hoping that I can eventually make a larger claim out of the tiny studies.

For example, in his book on Pannenberg Grenz pointed out that many theologians wrongly accused Pannenberg of following Hegel in his understanding of "revelation as history." Grenz showed that Pannenberg was actually having a conversation with figures like Richard Rothe. While he documented this mistaken reading, Grenz only devoted a few pgs to it. My guess is that a more in-depth examination is possible and would be interesting.

I also think I should come clean. A large part of what motivated this little post was that I've recently become annoyed when discussions of Pannenberg become discussions of his relationship to Hegel. I've even read a commentator claim that Pannenberg "is trying to out-Hegel Hegel!"

I want to follow Ken on this (see LeRon Shults' bk on Pannenberg, if I remember correctly he discusses the importance of "the true infinite" for Pannenberg), so I find myself wanting to debunk the idea that "Pannenberg is a Hegelian." For some reason it bugs me, so at some point I'd like to do several studies on topics like the one I mentioned and see where it might take me.
Derrick said…
This has always been one of the tougher questions for me to sort out. There are "idealist" themes all over, no doubt, but it seems to me Pannenberg always alters and critiques Hegel even when in appreciative dialogue with him, and Pannenberg usually approaches Hegel via Dilthey and Gadamer as he himself suggests. Whenever his "Hegelianism" comes up it usually seems like its a conversation stopper instead of a springboard to engage in his work.

I would agree with you in the idea that we need to debunk the Pannenberg is a Hegelian thing. It seems pretty clear to me that he is not. He uses Hegel's idea of self-distinction but alters it; he disagrees with Hegel's idea of spirit and its relationship to consciousness (part of P's general critique of the tradition where nous is equated with pneuma); completely disagrees with any necessary self-development in God; disagrees with Hegel's concept of sin as alienation; disagrees that a total perspective on history is possible other than proleptically in the figure of Christ; disagrees with any real fusion of divine being with history (and the so-called Pannenberg principle is really developed more in dialogue with Tertullian than it is with Hegel). To my mind the equation with Hegelianism is made simple because Hegel himself was so omnivorous as far as Christian sources go that when people simply don't have the extensive knowledge of the tradition that P has the path of least resistance is to claim he is picking up on Hegelian themes when in fact they are from Richard of St. Victor or Duns Scotus or Nicholas of Cusa, etc...
I have to say that I'm somewhat surprised at what I perceive to be an anti-Hegel undertone in some of these comments. Of course, I have little stake in whether and to what extent Pannenberg can be described as a Hegelian, although I recognize the value of asking such questions of influence and dependence. But Hegel is undoubtedly one of the greatest thinkers of the western tradition, described by some - including Barth, if memory serves - as having the potential to play the same role in Protestantism as St. Thomas does in Roman Catholicism.

Now, it is perfectly fine if after a close and serious reading of Hegel one nevertheless comes away with criticisms.* That's only natural. But you can't dismiss the guy, and offering backhanded compliments or snide implications, without making yourself look bad. He is, quite simply, an impressive thinker.

*One would, of course, have to determine which Hegel one wants to deal with since there sometimes seems to be a dozen different versions of him running around in the secondary literature...
Yossman said…
I think it is possible to point out where Pannenberg follows Hegel and where he follows Dilthey. He follows Hegel in the concept of truth as something that has a historical nature, something that unfolds itself dialectically toward its full manifestation. He doesn't follow Hegel where this implies that this is an unfolding of God's own consciousness. For Pannenberg God is transcendent. And so, in an important respect, Hegel is not integrated into Pannenberg's system. Truth is not so much a matter of self-development as it is a matter of becoming manifest. The dialectic is not one of Spirit evolving into a higher cognition of itself; it is a growing awareness of the unity of God as more of God becomes revealed indirectly. Instead of elaborating a Hegelian absoluteness from within the system, Pannenberg explains the dialectic as one of historical acts of God that are indirectly reflected upon. The dialectic is less ontological and more hermeneutical. We are the ones interpreting God's indirect revelation. In this regard Pannenberg is thoroughly a follower of Dilthey: interpretation can only arrive at proper assessments when the whole is given.
Derrick said…
I'm certainly not "anti-Hegel" so I didn't mean to sound that way; merely anti-"Pannenberg is a Hegelian" which in my experience is often a phrase of dismissal, and at the very least a phrase that lacks nuance (sort of the updated "Hellenization thesis" so often thrown at the Church Fathers, as it were). Hegel nearly single-handedly kept the Trinity alive as a source of theoretical reflection, for that alone (and many other things of course) he deserves our respect.

Popular Posts

Abortion, Authoritarian Self-Deception, Evangelicals, and Trump: a collected Twitter essay from Christopher Stroop

Brief Reflection on the Suicide of a Pastor

Marilynne Robinson on Theology

Does God "Exist"? Meh. (With Apologies to my Atheist Friends)

Jürgen Moltmann on lecturing at the beginning of his career