Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Diller on Barth, Pannenberg, and Fideism

DET readers are occasionally treated to reflections on or pertaining to Wolfhart Pannenberg, perhaps more recently when contributor Derek Maris wondered about “Pannenberg’s ‘Supposed’ Hegalianism.” There’s even a mini-series of admittedly dubious value buried among the other DET Serials. So it is fitting that we gather together and harken unto Diller as he raises the question of Pannenberg’s criticisms of Barth’s fideism.

Kevin Diller, Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response (IVP Academic, 2014), 72–73 (italics is original; bold is mine).
Pannenberg determines that Barth’s rejection of an earthbound scientific epistemology must leave Barth hopelessly mired in subjectivism. Pannenberg believes that if human reason and experience are subjugated, only two options remain: subjectivism and fideism. In explicit agreement with the Enlightenment, Pannenberg states that “a ‘positive’ theology of revelation which does not depend on rational argument can rely only on a subjective act of will or an irrational venture of faith.” It is clear, moreover, that for Pannenberg these two alternatives collapse into each other. Both are an indication of wholly arbitrary and irrational positivism that stifles intersubjective dialogue. [Pannenberg cannot] understand Barth’s “from above” as anything other than making an arbitrary human start. For this reason, Pannenberg sees rejecting Barth’s “from above” as crucial for theology “if it does not want to fall into the hopeless and, what is more, self-inflicted isolation of a higher glossolalia, and lead the whole church into this blind alley.” But this conclusion only follows if one rules out a priori that God has acted to give himself in Jesus Christ by the Spirit as the ground of theological knowing. This a priori ban on the givenness of divine revelation is the arbitrary assumption driving Pannenberg’s conclusions. He writes, “Barth’s apparently so lofty objectivity about God and God’s word turns out to rest on no more than the irrational subjectivity of a venture of faith with no justification outside itself.” But dependence on faith becomes fideistic in Pannenberg’s sense only if that faith is an arbitrary human choice. The tables turn dramatically if that faith is the gift of divine self-revelation. Barth would agree that it has no justification outside itself. But what justification could be more secure than God’s own self-attestation? Far from fideistic, this alternative, invisible to Pannenberg . . . , offers what Barth would see as the only escape possible from the ghettos of human reason.
It seems to me that perhaps the most basic question is: What do you want or expect theological knowledge to be good for?



Matthew Frost said...

Problem: how can reduction to subjectivity possibly stifle intersubjective dialogue? Clearly Pannenberg was of the opinion that only agreement on objective facts, agreement on the nature of reality, could enable dialogue—but that is only to say that people who disagree must actually dialogue instead of being able to immediately cooperate in paradigm work. Without that shortcut, we are left to pan out and see that real intersubjectivity—the kind to which we are most frequently called—is so much larger than the tiny islands made up of paradigmatic agreement.

Diller is right, the givenness of revelation might be used to overcome this ... except that the givenness in question is itself part of a living and alien subjectivity. We did the alienation, to be sure, but Pannenberg always seems to want the rationality of revelation in coherence with the world of facts as a place to stand. His starting point is no less purely human than Barth's; Barth simply recognizes that rationality is a thing we impose upon reality, and not a universal key to it. Pannenberg makes his own irrational venture of faith—in objectivity and epistemological availability.

If "fideism" is to mean anything—and I'm not sure it does, besides "I want your knowledge available on my terms, and I resent that knowledge is dependent on the path taken to get to it"—it belongs to a hidden claim that belief can only be valid on the terms of empiricism. Modernist to a fault!

Matthew Frost said...

It has always pissed me off, working in religion and science circles, that "science" is measured by topic and not method. I have found this nowhere more true than among the Pannenbourgeois. Conformity of a science to the terms of its object, to the basis on which the object gives itself to be known, has always been basic scientific method. Theological naturalism should never be mistaken for "science".

George Plasterer said...

The role of a systematic presentation of Christian teaching is that it presents the unity of Christian teaching, consistent with rational knowledge. The frustration that science and philosophy have with Christianity in this regard is that the biblical writings have the character of a witness or testimony to what God has done at particular moments in history, rather than a rational discovery of universal truths that one can find in science and math. For him, the explorations of Michael Polanyi and Thomas Kuhn in the area of science are helpful reminders that even the theories of science are not as objective as some scientists like to think. For Pannenberg, any presentation of Christian teaching cannot assume its truth. Rather, the truth one sees in Christian teaching must cohere with all that is true. Such an exploration will disturb the tradition, even if one does the exploration in a positive way. To focus on the notion of testing in such matters, the criteria of the test of its truth is consensus and coherence. The formation of a judgment in this area must be open to better future insights.

. He refers to W. W. Bartley, a student of Karl Popper, who combined the notion of an open society with that of critical thought. He says theology must not “retreat to commitment.” The point of presenting Christian teaching is its claim to truth, yet another place he agrees with Paul Tillich. This means that its presentation must include an apologetic element along the way. The truth of God as Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer, needs to cohere with the non-theological knowledge of humanity, the world, and history. The general themes of theology will arise from philosophical anthropology, from philosophy, and from science. Such a presentation of Christian teaching needs to include the recognition that the reality and revelation of God are debatable. He stresses that “my truth” ceases to be such if it does not have universal validity. To engage the theological task is a risk, for one must commit oneself to not having a foregone conclusion as to the truth of Christian teaching. One needs to let the truth of Christian teaching shine forth. This means that we acknowledge truth that already has an ontological unity and coherence prior to our epistemological judgments about it.

George Plasterer said...

Here is a further discussion of Bartley and Popper. For Pannenberg, the presentation of Christian teaching cannot claim a prior guarantee of its truth, in either the inspiration or authority of scripture, in the witness of the Spirit, in the act of faith as risk, or in the faith experience of the theologian or the believer. W. W. Bartley was a student of Karl Popper. In The Open Society and its Enemies, Popper developed his view of science into an alternative outlook for social life. In contrast to philosophical dogmatism, he proposed a combination of the “open society” with the tradition of “critical thought” in which all views were put forward as hypotheses and kept open to criticism. This would seem to be a suitable context for a discussion of the social role of religion and philosophy. In The Retreat to Commitment (1961), he studied the relation of theology to the tradition of critical thought. In that context, he diagnosed the Protestant theology of his time as having all the tendencies of suffering from a “retreat to commitment.” He views this as a collapse of the attempts of the liberal theology of the 1800s to have the Christian faith in historical knowledge of Jesus. He tries to show that the disintegration of the liberal picture of Jesus led theology into a retreat to an irrational commitment based on faith. Karl Barth becomes an example in that a central theme is commitment to the Word of God revealed in Christ that one has no right to criticize, while he rules out all theological conjectures about the Word of God by the same principle. Bartley makes the sensible statement that one gains the right to be irrational at the expense of losing the right to criticize. He points out that this position of an irrational decision of faith is one can defend on the basis that any position and even any scientific procedure rests on premises and assumptions that form the basis of all subsequent reasoning. Yet, this position would have us think that no methodological differences between a theologian, mathematician, or physicist. The function of such an argument in theology is to provide a rational excuse for irrational commitment. It becomes a fallacy of informal logic known as the appeal to hypocrisy in order to discredit an opponent. It is a form of the ad hominem argument. In both cases, the attempt is to divert attention from criticism of a position as presented by redirecting attention to the one making the criticism. The fallacy here is that the criticism may well apply to the position as presented. The basis for this argument is the essay by his teacher, “On the Sources of Knowledge and of Ignorance,” (1960). The idea of Popper was that in the structure of the reasoning we find in empiricism and idealism that has the structure of a model of knowledge as revelation. They presuppose a source of knowledge that is certain. One must justify beliefs by an appeal to an authority, generally the source of the belief in question, and this authority makes the belief rational. The authority may be facts, the light of reason, an informed heart, logic, intuition, sacred tradition, or a religious authority. The authority might be sense-perception or mental certainties. Bartley goes further, showing that the apologetic defense of the Christian position has a similar character. It relies on the analogy between its own methods and science to demonstrate its intellectual integrity. Bartley wants to replace empiricism and idealism with the method of Popper. His view of critical examination is the formalization of everyday learning as processes of trial and error. Setting up and testing hypotheses presupposes no ultimate certainties, either empirical or ideal. It becomes a theory of critical preference between options. We can form a preference for one option rather than another in light of evidence and arguments produced at that time. He agrees that this is the procedure of common sense, but it has historically suffered at the hands of empiricists and rationalists.

J. Scott Jackson said...

The central issue here, to me, boils down to the central question: Is God an object (or subject?) of inquiry on a par with all the other phenomena studied by the various sciences (both the human sciences and the natural sciences)? If God is radically (ontologically) different from all other objects of human inquiry, I don't see how theological discourse can be forced to conform to the ostensibly objective tribunal of reason -- assuming practitioners and interpreters of the sciences, including philosophers, could come to some basic agreements about the nature of knowledge, which seems highly dubious nowadays. To be sure, the issue of keeping theological discourse honest and open to critical challenge is always fair game. But with all due respect, I think it is something of a red herring. Barth is one thinker who provides one model for how Christian discourse might aim to be both confessional and open, even if he doesn't always consistently carry this out. This interrogation from the human sciences -- via Pannenberg in this case -- does not persuade me that those of us to who try to follow Barth's intent in this area are misguided.

Matthew Frost said...

George, your idea of "the role of a systematic presentaton of Christian teaching" would be better without the definite article in front of it. That is one conceivable task for systematic theology, but hardly the only one, much less the dominant one! Moreover, there is a basic conflict between "the unity of Christian teaching" and "consistent with rational knowledge." All you're doing is carrying forward the assumed conflict between fundamentalism and modernism by way of a synthesis that discards what can't be "scientifically" verified (via naturalistic empiricism). Your "frustration that science and philosophy have with Christianity" is an apologetic holdover from the 19th century, and the fact that it has served to date as the key bogeyman standing between "science" (defined in terms of the "hard" or "natural" physical sciences) and "religion" (as the squirrely irrational insistence on articles of faith that can't be proven without sacrificium intellectus) has only served to keep both sides bound to those stereotypes of each other. Meanwhile, many others of us are having productive dialogues in which we pierce that veil. I'd appreciate it, as would many of my colleagues—both scientists and theologians—if you'd quit trying to reinforce it!

Matthew Frost said...

Now, let's take your assertions about Pannenberg and demonstrate why they're bad critiques of Barth.

First off: Barth never claims or asserts the truth of Christian teaching. Quite the opposite! The tradition is vastly plural and internally quarrelsome, and his quest is to compare those statements to their Object, and chart a path that seems more reasonably true, regardless of whose toes it steps on in the process.

But the truth one seeks in Christian teaching cannot therefore be sought in coherence with everything that is true, unless we first posit that all truth coheres. That is not a demonstrably valid posit, and as a leap of faith it involves faith in the world more than faith in God. For Barth, we should prefer to speak truth about God, and from it understand what is true about us, and from that understand what is false about the realities of the world. There is no question here of "my truth," because sacrificing what seems true for me is always the first step. Faith is never faith in God if it proceeds on the basis of what is true for me; faith in God calls us to God as the first truth, and to speak truly about God and then about the world. This is the absolute destruction of "fideism" as a religious insistence on "my" propositions about the world, "my" knowledge of God. There is no path from "my truth" to faith, except by leaping away from it.

You have the need for coherence of truths exactly backward for this reason. There is no need whatsoever for the truth about God, whether in immanence or economy, to cohere with what is true about the world. Only if there were no Fall, only if what the Fall signified were not in any way an issue, would such a coherence be possible—and we do not live in such a world. We have arranged the world, ourselves, for its entire history. The world represents our truth. It is nothing but God's creature, to be sure, as are we, but we have laid our hands on it to control its fate in difference from God since the very beginning. Insistence on God's coherence with the world is "fideism" if anything is! Even if we seek statements about the world that seem most universally applicable—and not merely the biased statements about our arrangements that we insist on universalizing—we will not have pursued theological truth in any way, shape, or form. We will only have spoken about ourselves and the way we happen to be. To declare this a theological truth by usurping the priority of the Creator over the creature is to forget that we are inside the thing we are studying. We have no objectivity worthy of the name, except over reasonably small subsets of our fellow creatures.

If you're going to rail against the assumption of truth for Christian teaching, Barth is with you—but he will never follow your path, because you haven't yet found anything to stand on that isn't also what you are. This isn't about religious truth. Religious truth is something we make out of systems of thought that seem appropriate to us. It has nothing to do with faith, and when faith is bent into assent to religious truth, it ceases to be what Barth means by faith.

Matthew Frost said...

Final point for the nonce: Popper is also right: empiricism is predicated on a model of revelation. The object reveals itself to us. We are capable of forcing greater access to most objects in the world, forcing them to reveal themselves in greater depth, taking from them their capacity for revelation because we are the agent of such "objective" science. All of the methodologies of our sciences, hard and soft, natural and social, derive from the necessities imposed by their objects, and the ethical means appropriate to our approaches to them. Of course, "ethical" is a self-imposed criterion, one we haven't always held. We've done some profoundly immoral things in the name of scientific discovery, and mostly because we've done them and realized how horrible it is to the objects of our sciences and the systems to which they belong, we seek better and less violently intrusive approaches now. But we simply don't have that kind of access to God, and we never have, and we never shall. God, like no other object of our knowledge, can resist being known, cannot be forced to self-reveal, cannot be revealed against God's will. And so in the study of God, we wait on knowledge of the one who is not subject to us. We accept what we have, and accept it skeptically, seeking always to compare it to an object of our study that we cannot control. Good theology is profoundly skeptical, and as such cannot be interested in a portrayal of the unity of Christian truth in accordance with reason. Such a portrayal is the opposite of the truth we seek!

Matthew Frost said...

George, if you want more reading, and as a potential counter to what I think the next move from your side will be, I've already written on Barth's so-called "revelatory positivism" and what the actual issue is here. Please, have a look.

George Plasterer said...

I appreciate the article to which you refer. I find it very helpful to understand better what Barth is doing.

I will need to ponder further your comments here and be sure that I follow them and understand them. They deserve more time than I can give right now. This is a busy time for pastors.

One thing that I obviously did not make clear that my sections were my descriptions of Pannenberg and his way of thinking on these matters. In particular, I was responding to the critique by Pannenberg that Barth was being positivist and fideistic.

On the matter of coherence of truth, Pannenberg of course relies on Hegel, with the modification that his eschatology presents. Here is a brief reflection on that matter. I am not sure if this addresses your statement that the coherence of truth is an assumption or not, but here are my thoughts.

I find the insight of Robert Jenson (Systematic Theology Volume I, 64-7) helpful here. He directs us to Aristotle (Poetics 1452a, 3), who noticed that a good story is one in which events occur unexpectedly but on account of each other, so that before each decisive event we cannot predict it, but afterwards see it was just what had to happen. He refers to it as dramatic coherence, a notion he uses to make sense of the notion of divine identity in the long history of revelation in the Bible. He notes the dramatic shifts of patriarchs, tribal federation, sacral kingship, exile, and the crucifixion-resurrection, all of which is a narrative of divine disclosure. The point is that dramatic coherence requires closure to the story in order to constitute identity, for so long as the story simply continues the narrated individuality remains uncertain. The story of God remains committed to a story with the creatures God has made. This means divine identity is a matter of anticipation of the end. In fact, in the history of religion, gods whose identity relies upon the persistence of a beginning view the changes of history and the future as a threat. We do not know the narrated story until the end, but the way the sentences, paragraphs, and chapters fit together should anticipate that end.

George Plasterer said...

Pannenberg will also propose that in a secular setting, a modest, non-authoritarian approach to presenting a truth claim is imperative. Secularity relies upon rationality and experience, more so than history. He will reject any appeal to the sacred text. At this point, people often misunderstand. An important aspect of his theology is that he offers an apologetic for the Christian faith in every aspect of his presentation. He therefore rejects the confessional or dogmatic approach of Karl Barth and moves in the direction of Paul Tillich. He will engage in a serious discussion of the validity of the truth claims of Christianity, in contrast to the confessional or dogmatic approach that assumes the validity of its truth claims. He rejects the idea that any truth claim is immune from criticism, whereas a confessional or dogmatic approach will try to carve out a space in human thought where its truth claims are immune from rational criticism. His primary interest is in the truth and coherence of worldviews. Thus, his point here is that in public discourse, an appeal to the inspiration and authority of the sacred text has the character of simple assertion. The same is true of an appeal to the tradition, to councils, to popes, to a private experience, or any other purely subjective appeal. Such subjective assertions have the same character as the assertion of the fanatic. This observation is why he agrees with the Hegel notion of the coherence of truth, or that truth is the whole. The point here is that any claim to special revelation, which all religions claim, will need to undergo a test. The first test is whether it has the capacity to be open. The second test is the willingness to submit the claim that revelation brings to the tests of history, sociology, psychology, science, and philosophy. Revelation must cohere with what we know in other spheres of knowledge. This requires an “open society” of dialogue, discourse, and persuasion.

George Plasterer said...

Pannenberg will propose that the best way to understand the historical dimension of truth is with a view of universal history. This notion seems incredibly abstract, but I hope I can show that it is not. This idea is actually a way for him to deal with the contextual nature of truth. He will often use the example of language. A letter is not meaningful until it becomes part of a word, the word is meaningful as it becomes part of a sentence, the sentence has meaning as part of a paragraph, and of course, the paragraph has meaning in the context of the novel. Thus, the novel and its conclusion give the fullness of meaning to all the letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs along the way. His point is that our individual lives will not disclose their meaning until the end of our lives. In fact, the meaning of our lives continues in the lives we have touched throughout the course of our lives, and therefore not even death will disclose the meaning of an individual life. Yet, the step he wants us to take is that the beliefs and values by which we live become part of the historically conditioned testing done by humanity of what is true. Your individual life is part of something much larger, the end of which you believe is so, but cannot know. This means the end of history will disclose the truth. Our individual history is part of the history of communities and nations, but is also part of human history. He admits that secularity may well prove to be true. His Systematic Theology is the contribution of one adherent of Christianity to the belief that the end of human history will disclose the truth of Christianity.

Now, to my mind, these notions take us beyond coherence being an assumption. Pannenberg is directing us to rationality and experience that for him suggests the coherence of truth.

This view works itself out most immediately in the difference between III.1 in CD and Chapter 7 of Systematic Theology. The first is largely a biblical exposition. The second is an attempt to wrestle with present scientific theory regarding the origin of the universe and the evolution of human life. My point is that such discussions of theological method have a practical effect in how one pursues the main themes of theology.

You are obviously far more advanced than I in these matters. I am quite open to being persuaded toward another direction. Having been introduced to Pannenberg long ago, and even to Hegel, I have much respect for both.

Again, thank you so much for your thoughts. It will take me a while to more thoroughly ponder your disagreement with Pannenberg and your acceptance of the confessional approach of Barth.

Matthew Frost said...

Thanks for coming back, George. I see how deeply credulous you are when it comes to Pannenberg's worldview, but I want you to understand that nothing you've presented so far goes beyond "I find this credible" to meet any sort of theological truth criterion I recognize. I have to take the other side here, because I can see no way in which it is as you describe.

Dramatic coherence is great, and I know Jens got along with Pannenberg reasonably well, but the qualities of the story cannot be presumed to constitute God. They constitute, if nothing else, our identity as those who witness in this dramatically coherent way. "The story of God" is always potentially only a story about God, and always definitely a story of ours. God must take it up to make it true, and that cannot be presumed because it is not God's text. And so divine identity cannot be predicated uncritically upon it; all that says is that we prefer to imagine a god whose being is supposedly superior to other supposed gods by virtue of a story that says our god is immune to future-shocks. This is something we want as people who are not immune to future-shock, and something scripture developed over the course of a people's lives in the world across centuries of time. It is not in that way different from positing God's immutability as creatures who fear change, or impassivity as creatures who fear patheia, or omniscience as creatures whose knowledge is limited, etc. None of these things are necessarily true; their derivation does not prove them so, nor does the material in which we find them. Only direct comparison with God will do!

My problem with Pannenberg's apologetic "openness to the world" is that it is the one point on which his general theological skepticism fails to apply. He lets the demands of convincing public discourse determine what he can say. Bultmann had the same problem, if to a lesser degree, as I've suggested, and both found Barth problematic because his skepticism of sources in Christianity was paired with an equal skepticism of the world. Pannenberg has no ground to stand on for testing claims to revelation if he bases it on empiricist epistemology. He fights Barth's assertions of definiteness because he refuses to see revelation as something only God can do, something that cannot be predicated on openness to the world—something that is instead the criterion for handling the world. Revelation has no such need to cohere with anything except the thing revealed, and that thing isn't the world!

And third, "universal history" doesn't seem abstract to me at all. To the contrary: it's a construction of European colonial whiteness as the ground of Modernity. His posit of Christ as the end of history presumes that history is continuous with God, and that the world should be understood as affirming God (if only we're in on the secret, of course). This is classical Germanic Protestantism, in its optimistic view of culture and its development! His Hegelianism, his view of history as a process of testing truth values and progressing dialectically upward, is far more of a leap of faith in humanity than any faith Barth asks for in the God who self-reveals. There is no way to move this beyond being an assumption about the world; having the conviction of his assertion that it is true doesn't make it so! Pannenberg directs his willing reader to a vision of a world in which it were so. You may be such a reader, but proof is a higher bar.

Matthew Frost said...

And now, a little conciliation! But only a little... ;)

For his part, Barth is perfectly willing to agree that redemption comes from the future, and that in God's post-temporality as correlated with God's pre- and supra-temporality from our perspective (they aren't really divided into hypostases), God is the god of the future who always meets us from beyond history. But because history is what we have done, what we have made—because, in short, Barth has listened to what scripture has to say in witness, instead of attempting to dismiss it in whole or in part—God's futurity cannot ever be presumed to condition history. God's future remains beyond any of our futures. It is a future we cannot make, and a future we will not develop towards. It meets us eschatologically, not teleologically. To speak of its influence on history is to speak, not of redemption, but of reconciliation. Our atonement with God and one another is the historical reality that stands between creation history and redemption history—yet without being directly continuous with either. Our world is being reconciled, actively, all the time—but it is not controlled by God's truth. It is the product of our freedom, and in God's gracious freedom God deigns not to force the matter because nothing depends on the end of history. Our future remains to be given beyond it.

Matthew Frost said...

I don't see this as a dispute that can be resolved. It's really a foundational disagreement, by which Pannenberg turns back to post-Ritschlian Liberalism because he didn't have the experience of its disconfirmation. His conversion took place as the war was ending, and he got the benefits of anti-war theological developments without the gut-level and diagnostically confirmed awareness of the problems from which they stemmed. He is fundamentally incapable of the breaks made by the prior generation, because nothing in his life ever forced them upon him, and so he sees nothing wrong with consolidating these developments back into the normal course of theological development and ironing out the intervening discontinuity. It's not surprising that Americans took to his work so strongly, and still do, as we have never had that kind of forcible disconfirmation of our intellectual capability because of our utter societal failure before God and neighbor. We have always managed to keep it at a distance, and to engage only in conflicts where we can win. Even Vietnam didn't do it for long, and you can see for yourself that the interminable conflict we have created and sustained in the Levant is teaching us as a people very little about our limitations.

George Plasterer said...

If I am "credulous" of Pannenberg, it may be that you are as deeply "credulous" of Barth? I do agree that it is unlikely to find resolution, but, I will say, and I do mean this, you have given me much to ponder.

I tried to leave a post on the blog to which you referred me. It did not seem to take. I hope you do not mind if I leave it here.

Thank you for your comments. You have opened up the first part of III.1, helping me to see it a different way.

I would comment on a couple of things in particular.

Revelation, likewise, is not a kind of special pleading for the supernatural in the face of the natural, something that can save the utterly irrational.

This statement is questionable, in light of what I think is a reasonable reading of Barth. He has confidence (faith) in the object of revelation (Christ), which arises out of the pull of the Holy Spirit. To the outsider, the one who does not participate in the truth, as Augustine put it, it will appear as special pleading.

Here is the other statement:
Apart from pious platitudes, I have seen no proof that the world is deterministically ordered by God, much less that it is directed toward recognizably good ends and away from the other sort.

This may also be a point of some conciliation. Pannenberg, in Chapter 7, Part 1, section 4, comes largely to the same conclusion. The Incarnation in particular shows that creation has a good goal and that humanity has a unique role in accomplishing that goal. Of course, he will get by going down a very different path of engaging science.

George Plasterer said...

Now, I do get your point, but ... For me, to repeat something I had hoped you might comment upon, the impact of the approach of Barth is III.1, where he has no engagement with science and the impact of the method of Pannenberg is his expositions in Chapters 7 and 8. I am finding, from a pastoral perspective, that people in the pew are no longer content with pastors avoiding science. For Pannenberg, theology must not become prey to the comfortable escape of the idea of creation on a special or exclusively theological level that is inaccessible to any critique by the natural sciences. He is not offering a proof for the existence of God. He is not saying one can read off the scientific description of the world and discover God. What he wants to do from an apologetic perspective is to argue that one can read the scientific description of the world as a work or action of God. He thinks we have here a theme of the utmost importance for the question of the truth of the Christian faith. Theology cannot avoid describing the world of nature and human history as the creation of God. Theology can do this only in dialogue with the sciences. For him, a failure to claim that the world that the sciences describe is the world God has made is a conceptual failure to confess the deity of the God of the Bible. In the process, theology cannot ignore what the sciences have to say about the world.

I will say that III.2 is, to my mind, the best of CD, and Barth does interact with philosophy there, especially Heidegger, Sartre, and Jaspers. Very impressive.

George Plasterer said...

Since you refer to Pannenberg going back to Ritschl, I should say that he thinks of Barth doing the same thing in one area, that of Election, without Barth referring to the dependence. However, more importantly, you probably know of the correspondence between Barth and Pannenberg. Of course, Barth was disappointed in Jesus -- God and Man. The response of Pannenberg was that he had hoped that Barth would see that he was responding to a post-war situation, the rising secularity of the West. He viewed himself in many ways as continuing the emphasis upon the importance of revelation in knowing God in Christ. So, while you may view Pannenberg as going back, I view him as moving forward dealing with the new concerns of a post-war world.

George Plasterer said...

J. Scott Jackson, I suppose I would say that God is ontologically different from all other objects of inquiry. Yet, God made humanity in the image of God. This suggests the immanence of God in humanity and in all that God has made. The tribunal of reason is simply our frontal lobes in the brain doing their work. I do not mean to be flippant, but "reason" is part of what makes us human. Of course, the "confessional" approach is one way to engage in the theological task, one for which I have great respect. However, the increasing secularity of our age, it seems to me, might call us to another way of engaging the intellectual world. At least, I think it worthy to explore such a possibility. As to the idea that one could be misguided in following Barth, I do not think that possible. Barth is a worthy theological mentor and guide. One could do much worse! I am sure you will continue hat path, and I hope I hear further of how you apply the Barthian framework to the issues you and the church face today!

George Plasterer said...

Matthew Frost, I hope you do not mind, but I have had some time to work through your comments on this blog.

"Barth simply recognizes that rationality is a thing we impose upon reality, and not a universal key to it." - If that is the case, I may be further away from Barth than I knew. In any case, "rationality" arises out of our evolution and is the unique gift we have as creatures. I think of science of the brains studies here. This sentence reads like a post-modern skeptic. I can only assume that is not what you intend.

""fideism" belongs to a hidden claim that belief can only be valid on the terms of empiricism. Modernist to a fault!" - Interestingly, Pannenberg is very critical of empiricism and especially Locke and Hume. The philosophical purchase of Pannenberg belongs far more with Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, and Hegel. Since you are referring to "modernist," maybe you are post-modern thinker?

"Your "frustration that science and philosophy have with Christianity" is an apologetic holdover from the 19th century, and the fact that it has served to date as the key bogeyman standing between "science" (defined in terms of the "hard" or "natural" physical sciences) and "religion" (as the squirrely irrational insistence on articles of faith that can't be proven without sacrificium intellectus) has only served to keep both sides bound to those stereotypes of each other. Meanwhile, many others of us are having productive dialogues in which we pierce that veil. I'd appreciate it, as would many of my colleagues—both scientists and theologians—if you'd quit trying to reinforce it!" - I grant that I take it as self-evident that science and philosophy have difficulty with religion, largely due to the reliance of religion upon testimony. Backing up, authors like Dennett, Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, Dawkins, were in my mind. I do assume the tension is there. I am glad one so devoted to Barth is in conversation with both science and philosophy! It sounds like Pannenberg is having a hidden effect here.

George Plasterer said...

Again, in reply to Matthew Frost on this blog.

"But the truth one seeks in Christian teaching cannot therefore be sought in coherence with everything that is true, unless we first posit that all truth coheres. That is not a demonstrably valid posit, and as a leap of faith it involves faith in the world more than faith in God. For Barth, we should prefer to speak truth about God, and from it understand what is true about us, and from that understand what is false about the realities of the world." - I suppose my counter here is an appeal to your own experience. Is there not something in you that wishes Barth would have brought to completion his CD? Even when your life feels fragmented, do you not seek wholeness? When you encounter an intellectual puzzle, do you not struggle to put the pieces together? My point is that it seems to me that we naturally long for coherence and wholeness. It may be a "posit," but I think it reasonable. As to "faith in the world," I would simply add, "that God has made." God has made us in the image of God. This suggests to me the immanence of God in creation. Creation itself, as humanity is part of that creation, suggests coherence is a reasonable "posit."

"You have the need for coherence of truths exactly backward for this reason. There is no need whatsoever for the truth about God, whether in immanence or economy, to cohere with what is true about the world. Only if there were no Fall, only if what the Fall signified were not in any way an issue, would such a coherence be possible—and we do not live in such a world. We have arranged the world, ourselves, for its entire history. The world represents our truth. It is nothing but God's creature, to be sure, as are we, but we have laid our hands on it to control its fate in difference from God since the very beginning. Insistence on God's coherence with the world is "fideism" if anything is!" - This statement assumes a Calvinist notion of the Fall. Pannenberg will make it clear that our creation in the image of God and the structural misery of human existence, belong together. We cannot expect full coherence, given the eschatological reality within which we live, but the striving for that coherence is a hint of both our creation in the image of God and of our divinely appointed destiny. You admit that the world "is nothing but God's creature." True, the Fall represents the turn of humanity from God and therefore the life that is truly life. As I understand Pannenberg, God does not cohere with the world, for that is something for which one can only hope in terms of divinely appointed destiny.

"And so in the study of God, we wait on knowledge of the one who is not subject to us. We accept what we have, and accept it skeptically, seeking always to compare it to an object of our study that we cannot control. Good theology is profoundly skeptical, and as such cannot be interested in a portrayal of the unity of Christian truth in accordance with reason. Such a portrayal is the opposite of the truth we seek!" - Except for the statement that "good theology ... cannot be interested in a portrayal of the unity of Christian truth in accordance with reason," I agree with this statement, and I think Pannenberg would as well. Of course, the "except" is important. I think the re-thinking of Christian teaching in light of the knowledge of the time is a valid project is in fact what theology does. Barth had Kierkegaard and Kant, I think. Augustine had Plato, Aquinas had Aristotle, and so on. Pannenberg allows his reading of science, psychology, sociology, and philosophy, to inform his re-thinking of the notions of the Trinity, Creation, humanity, the church, and so on. I suspect you are doing some re-thinking of Christian teaching as well.

George Plasterer said...

W. Travis McMacken, I should say that your reference to "supposed Hegeliansm" in Hegel puzzled me. Pannenberg has written extensively on this. He is clearly operating within the Hegel school. I am not sure what the debate would be here. Of course, he does not just bring Hegel into theology. He has many areas where he disagrees with Hegel, but he always takes what Hegel seriously. However, as I recall, you have said that Barth takes Kant seriously. Barth started out with Kierkegaard, and I do not think the Dane was ever much out of him.

Matthew Frost said...

George, my apologies for not being awake to respond earlier. (And as to your comment on my blog, it's an older post, and to cut down on spam I moderate comments on older posts by default. I let it past as soon as my phone woke me with the email!) You've certainly had a lot to say, and I'm not going to respond to all of it by any means.

As to Pannenberg and Jesus—God and Man, I'm going to keep holding down my suggestion of regression, because if your German's good enough you can see Barth having basically the same argument with Paul Althaus about his eschatological response to the problem of mass war deaths after WWI. It opens Barth's Münster eschatology lectures from Winter 1925/6, which are in the third volume of his Göttingen dogmatics lectures in the Gesamtausgabe. The concerns of a post-war world were hardly new after 1945!

To continue the regression theme, I could respond to your "people in the pew are no longer content with pastors avoiding science" with Wilhelm Herrmann's 1901 Ethics. Barth doesn't in any way deny that we live in a world adequately described—in its own terms—by the natural sciences. But he shares Herrmann's deep embarrassment at pastors who entertain the desires of their parishioners for engagement with science by scientizing theological realities, clothing them in ersatz legitimacy (and denying their innate legitimacy) by accounting for them with naturalisms that deny the witness to God's otherness and from-without-ness relative to the creature God has made. This is an old, old problem, and you're far from the first to suggest that pastors have a duty to do that for which they have never been adequately trained as intellectuals! At best, you risk appearing as a dilettante. Interdisciplinary work involves professional competency in both (or each of the several) fields, as well as the humility of awareness of one's limitation by the necessary narrowness of expertise.

Matthew Frost said...

If theology is a science, it is a science of its object, and only apologetically related to discussion of the world in its own terms. Your parishioners will be better served if you tell them to ask experts in the sciences about the best of what we know about the world today. Relating the best of our theological science, our study of God and God's relationship to us, to how the world actually is poses no conflicts once we become aware that the creature is a distinct agent with its own full range of responsibility for its reality. And that is the level at which this is an important argument between Barth and Pannenberg, or Barth and Brunner in its earlier form—or Barth and Aquinas, for that matter.

In this corner: the world continuous with God and its origin, directed toward its end, with the concomitant necessity of negotiating the determinism vs free will problem, on the one hand. Sin as small, as irrational, as the error bars on a world somehow still under divine control in its good aspects. The world under law, with grace as relief that remains directed toward conformity.

In the other corner: the world as we have made it, in our chosen discontinuity with God. The self-ordering creature out of correspondence with God, cut off from its original order and given into its own ways. Sin as real, as a complete self-estrangement of the creature, as the loosing of its total and undiminished capacities in stolen autonomy. The world under grace, with obligation grounded only in the free lovingness to which God is constantly repairing us.

Rationality does not favor one or the other of these. They both fully account for our capacities as reasoning creatures. They both allow that science is a valid approach to how the world in which we live functions. And they both allow that a scientific approach to theology is possible and potentially even beneficial. But Pannenberg's "science" brings along a cargo cult of material from the natural sciences on the optimistic assumption that the doctrine of creation means everything goes together, where Barth's is determined skeptically and architectonically as a science of its only proper object, just this one very particular science standing among others that handle their own proper objects by methods appropriate to them.

For all that the religion and science folk I deal with love Pannenberg because he encourages them to integrate the topics they are interested in, combining theological and natural topics and attempting to work out an approach that correlates them, Barth is more like the real scientists I know, who are cautious and controlled and skeptical by nature, and interested above all in being sure that the data on which they base their conclusions comes only from the object they meant to study, and isn't corrupted by other phenomena not separately and appropriately accounted for.

Matthew Frost said...

And with that, I'm going to step out for a while, and hope that perhaps Travis or Scott will jump in. It's possible that I will later attempt to defend—yet again, for me—III.1 as perfectly valid theological science ... but I was of the opinion that I had done that in the linked blog post, and I'm not about to apologize for scripture being exactly what it is, and all that it ever needs to be. It is not science, and it is not in conflict with scientific accounting for the world as exactly what it is—except where our naturalism stretches into trying to do theology on the basis of the creature rather than the Creator.

George Plasterer said...

Yes, it would be great if Travis or Scott would jump in. I It is sufficient if you want your blog to stand as your defense of III.1. I guess I am just not comfortable that approach, and you are. When parishoners ask about big bangs and evolution, not just in a cursory way, but in a faith seeking understanding way, I am not sure your counsel is sufficient. As you say, it is a foundational difference.

I hope you do not mind a few notes, to which, I think, you ought not to feel a need to respond to your previous posts.

You used terms “Credulous” and “I find this credible.” – I suppose I am not sure in the more complex matters of human life, politics, economics, and religion, I am not sure we ever have anything more. We then put it out there, and see if it persuades. Obviously, Pannenberg has not persuaded you. Barth has persuaded you. For me, it is the opposite. Yet, the dialogue is important as we make our through this dimly lit course called a human life. Even learning what foundational differences are is helpful for our intellectual growth.

You said: “the qualities of the story cannot be presumed to constitute God. They constitute, if nothing else, our identity as those who witness in this dramatically coherent way. "The story of God" is always potentially only a story about God, and always definitely a story of ours. God must take it up to make it true, and that cannot be presumed because it is not God's text.” – Pannenberg himself says that potentially, all our talk of God is only talk of ourselves, as Feuerbach said. So, I guess I agree with you. However, it seems to me that if we are looking for signs of the image of God, or signs of what Methodism would call prevenient grace, these are the kinds of human experiences to which we turn. Of course, none of this constitutes proof, as our independence as creatures and the depth of suffering will always make atheism a possible conclusion.

You said: “Pannenberg has no ground to stand on for testing claims to revelation if he bases it on empiricist epistemology. He fights Barth's assertions of definiteness because he refuses to see revelation as something only God can do, something that cannot be predicated on openness to the world—something that is instead the criterion for handling the world. Revelation has no such need to cohere with anything except the thing revealed, and that thing isn't the world!” – I may need to have a better understanding of empiricist epistemology. He argues against Locke as being the origin of the “turn toward the subject” rather than finding this in Descartes or Kant. For Pannenberg, truth criteria involves consensus and coherence. Forming judgments involves the testing of truth claims. The formation of judgments should always be open to better future insights. Even here, however, the priority is the revelation of God over all human opinions and judgments. Contrary to your understanding of his difference with Barth, he thinks theology can no longer make an innocent appeal to scripture or to an affirmation or confession of faith as if that will be sufficient reasoning. This view recognizes that the biblical witness itself is neither systematic nor coherent in itself. My point is that God has given us the gift of the world and of revelation. We need both! To say that revelation only needs to cohere with itself is a path I do not want to travel. The biblical text and the theological tradition are far too diverse for me to go there.

George Plasterer said...

One further comment on what Matthew Frost said:
Universal History – Your comment that the thought is a hold-over from European colonialism may reflect a perspectival or power critique that emerges occasionally as you write. I may be so wrong about that, but that is what I am inferring. In other words, to make the obvious statement that it comes from Hegel, Germany, and Europe does not mean that, modified, it may not have a degree of truth. Of course, Pannenberg does not just adopt it. He places the notion within the context of the wholeness and coherence of truth. Now, the theological tension between the immanence and transcendence of God finds resolution for Pannenberg within the Trinity. Of course, given the historical revelation of the Trinity in Christ, the immanent and economic Trinity seem to come together. I realize that is an entirely other discussion, but that is the direction Pannenberg goes. So, to say that history is “continuous” with God might be one way to put it. God has put deity at risk in the course of history. However, another way to say it is that God providentially guides history to its divinely appointed goal. One could also critique it for being optimistic and that the dialectic is always an upward movement. On the other hand, I suppose I can think of worse approaches to human history. I also think you treat far too lightly the notion in Pannenberg that God is the one who preserves and guides nature and history to their divinely appointed end. That is a statement of eschatology and of hope, so I suppose optimism, not in a human generated future but in a future determined by God, does make it optimistic, and he clearly finds something like the upward movement of a dialectic helpful in showing this. I also think you are treating far too lightly his faith, namely, that Jesus Christ is the provisional disclosure of the divinely appointed end of humanity and nature. Thus, this is not an assumption so much as a reasonable conclusion drawn from the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. At least, I would say that he is not making an assumption any more than is Barth. In fact, I am not so sure, given his description of the dignity and misery of humanity, that one can say he has all that much faith in humanity at all.

W. Travis McMaken said...

Why would I want to jump in when you two are having such a great conversation?!?! Besides, I'm grading final essays on Chinese religion, so, in a completely different head-space. :-)

But by all means, continue. It is a wonderful diversion between essays.

George Plasterer said...

Just one final brief note for Matthew Frost. Concerning your post on conciliation, agreed.

Thank you so much for you reflections. Just for you to know a bit of personal history, I had the privilege of reading Church Dogmatics with William Placher, just a few years before he died. He also learned Pannenberg, but decided that Barth was a better mentor. In any case, it was such a treat to read a volume and discuss with him. Now, I have a pastor colleague to whom I gave a set of Church Dogmatics meeting with me for lunch about every six weeks. What a treat to go through it again. I have written my own summary of each chapter of CD, along with the criticisms from Pannenberg. In my preaching and teaching over the past decade, one of the things I have done is looked up passages of Scripture from which I am preaching and teaching in both CD and ST. I may look at the two men differently than do you. I think both are wrestling with the uniqueness and universality of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. I view both as great mentors. Clearly, Barth is the superior in terms of being a "teacher of the church." However, the distinction between the confessional approach of Barth and the apologetic approach of Pannenberg is helpful in that both can carry out there projects and address quite different needs of the church. I guess from early in my intellectual journey, it has never been sufficient for me to simply offer a theological account of a biblical text. Pannenberg has had a way of integrating with psychology, sociology, and philosophy in a way that Barth does not do, at least overly. As I said in another post, CD III.2 is one of the best pieces of theological literature anywhere, one with which Pannenberg has little problem, in fact. I suppose what puzzles me is that Barth interacts in that volume with philosophers, but he is unwilling in III.1 do interact with science. That is just strange to me.

Your comments have helped put the dialogue between Barth and Pannenberg in a much batter light and context. Thank you so much for making the time to respond.

J. Scott Jackson said...

Theology is like a stop-gap in my disordered cosmos, and I'm putting out fires elsewhere just now. Carry on. It's a delightful convo.

Matthew Frost said...

Contrary to Pannenberg's assertion, Barth is not making anything like "an innocent appeal to scripture," or "an affirmation or confession of faith" as though it were sufficient reasoning. I have explained this over and over again, and you are not hearing me. Once more: the question is what material is appropriate evidence, what source material is valid, what witnesses are actually witnesses to some evaluable extent of this object, and how critically—using reason, because critique is far more of a demonstration of rationality than uncritical belief—to approach that material in order to seek the true object that lies beyond it. The question is also how critically to approach ourselves so that we do not contaminate our analysis with internalized false assumptions, about God or the world.

We cannot use nature as source material for theology without seeking critically to invalidate the wide range of assumptions that link nature and God. Its greater accessibility to people in the world is not something that overcomes the fact that it is not the proper object of theology! The question must always be asked: how is the creature dependent upon its Creator? In what ways are these two different objects related? We must be critical of this relationship, skeptical until overwhelmingly shown that the correlations we see are real and pertain to these two objects properly understood, and so are not a product of some other object or some other relation.

It is as though I were to complain that the results of high-energy particle physics were not accessible to me because I refused to believe in the object as approached in this way, and insisted upon approaching it in the more accessible terms of chemistry. "I lost my key over there, but I'm looking here because the light is better, and this lamp won't reach over there."

I can explain chemistry at the subnucleonic level, but I can't explain high-energy particle physics in terms of chemistry. One of these is therefore the stronger theory, even if less accessible to public discussion and less apparently natural. The same theory is also the more skeptical one, less based in generalizations. This is the way of things: better science inevitably becomes specialized the closer we get to a particular object, and requires more and more specific approaches, demanding conformity to that object in its own terms in ways the generalist—and specialists from any other cognate science—simply has to accept. Expertise is hard.

Forming judgments does indeed involve the testing of truth claims. This is what Barth is doing with all of the material of scripture and tradition and theology at his disposal. His formation of judgments remains open to better future insights—as his development across his life shows. And his epistemology is nothing other than the priority of the revelation of God over all human opinions and judgments. But it must be God's revelation, and revelation of God, not something else. We must be sure, and since we cannot be sure, we must be as rigorously and critically skeptical as we are able. It must cohere with itself before we can ever examine its coherence with other things. To presume its coherence with anything else is to fail to be sufficiently skeptical. Apologetics always has to follow dogmatics; it cannot appear earlier without contaminating the work with outside assumptions.

You keep calling Barth a fideist, and it takes a lot for me to keep being civil with you when you do it, because clearly you haven't learned any better. You have absorbed the polemic and treated it as though it were obviously true, and it isn't my job to give you the entire current state of the field of Barth studies, or to read Barth to allay your misguided third-hand impressions of him. You owe me, and Barth, that debt of scholarly good-faith, not vice versa! Pannenberg also owed this debt, but he's beyond paying it now.

Matthew Frost said...

In CD III.1, Barth is not unwilling to interact with scientists. And if they had anything theologically valuable to say, he would be. But his interaction with them in that volume is limited to their various avocational suggestions about creation as world-origin, and Barth refuses to see the doctrine of creation as merely etiological. Natural science is not wrong about world-origin—and to the extent that it is, it has the tools to make better predictions. Barth is, in point of fact, unwilling to compete with them when it comes to their objects, and expects the same respect from natural scientists. And he gets it!

But creation is not the doctrine of the origin of the world. Creation is not about making God the world-cause, the explanation for how things are around us. If it were, we could simply put a name "God" behind nature as the backing justification for the way things are. And for most of the tradition we have, because we like how things are in our cozy dominance of social orders. But then we would also have to be consistent with the world, and say of every one of its ways, "God is behind this." Or we would have to posit other Powers in opposition to God, and make of the world a playing field between them. And in all such explanations we would be doing theology from the creature, not the Creator.

Matthew Frost said...

Barth has been called Marcionite, ironically enough, for denying theologies of the orders of creation that require exactly this from us: that we look at what the world is, and call it good, and then seek redemption from another god who is not the demiourgos. This is why he separates these objects so rigorously.

Matthew Frost said...

To say only slightly the opposite of what Marcion said, to say that God is the creator and origin of order in the world, and our only hope of redemption, inspires faith in God only by those on the good side of world orders. It cannot inspire those we oppress, except by showing them salvation in becoming like us.

J. Scott Jackson said...

George, perhaps this thread is already dying down and I wouldn't want to belabor it. I don't have much to add to what Matt has said. His comment nails my take on the matter. "I don't see this as a dispute that can be resolved. It's really a foundational disagreement..." Just so. Barth and Pannenberg here are like matter and anti-matter (I thought y'all might appreciate a physics metaphor, in light of the present conversation). It seems to me Barth has laid down his position already in CD I/1 most emphatically, and the follower of Pannenberg simply disagrees. I think it is easy to overly formalize what Barth understands to be the incommensurability between theology and the human sciences (including philosophy and the humanities too). My use of the phrase "tribunal of reason" is a little rhetorical and risks overly reifying human knowledge. I just don't happen to think there is a tribunal of reason, a singular vantage for what constitutes the rational. If you perceive in this a gesture toward postmodern thought, perhaps you're not so far off the mark. Thus, philosophers who agree on rules of formal logical construct radically different systems of epistemology and metaphysics. So I don't think there is unified vantage point among the sciences to which the theologian can appeal directly to legitimate her distinctive claims. The happy thing, if we follow Barth here, is that we don't have to. For example, we don't have to hold our statements about creation in abeyance until the physical sciences find a unified theory of everything. Maybe they will, maybe they won't. Who knows? So what is reason, then, theologically speaking? Of course, I affirm reason, as does Barth -- we should use the best tools we have toward the ends for which they were created. Reason, though perhaps stretching toward capacities for infinite self-transcendence, is limited and broken. At the very least, it is perspectival. As a layperson, I find hints of this perspectivism in what (little) I understand of contemporary scientific theory. I have no problem affirming that the sciences imply something like a unified, intelligible reality. I'm no philosopher of science, but this makes sense to me at a basic level. Nonetheless, it seems to me to be a transcendental move to affirm this: I'm not sure how it could ever be established. When it comes to theology, however, the incommensurability between reason and theological claims is even more radical, both because of the finitude of the knower but also because of sinfulness. Relating humanities rational capacities to the imago dei is a complicated matter, and I'm going to punt on it for now.

The only other thing I have is a question -- only partly rhetorical: If Pannenbergians (and other Christian apologists) want to talk, who's listening? What is the likelihood that Pannenberg's metaphysically informed theology is persuading secularists who practice the sciences? It seems to me, from perusing the trade bookstores, that modern physicists who dabble in religion and metaphysics are just as interested in engaging Buddhism or Taoism as they are drawn to an Hegelianized Christian theology. Again, if the proponent of apologetics can give evidence of positive fruit from these endeavors, I will gladly consider it.

J. Scott Jackson said...

Finally (I hope) I affirm the pastoral intent to engage the sciences and learn more of them. "The heavens declare the glory of God." I have no problem with the attempt to reflect theologically on the world as we have come to understand it, according to the best methods and results currently on offer. I just don't see how those investigations, though, constitute a metric or a foundation from which to preach the Gospel.

George Plasterer said...

Matthew, I did a little word search on fideist and found only one reference in my comments, so I am not sure what you are seeing in my comments on that point. It is how this blog got started, but think we have left that notion far behind. I understand that you do not think he is doing this. It is not my intent to get you to be uncivil, of course, and you may be right that I am not following your train of argument. As I said, I find III.1 powerful in many ways. I also find it unfulfilling, which is why I prefer Pannenberg, I suppose. However, I find his explorations in III.2 far more fulfilling and rewarding.

J. Scott Jackson, in response to your question, I suppose I could say ask the same about Barth. If the point is to present the Word of God in such a way that others come to believe, I am not so sure that Barth has been any more successful. I would say that Peter Hodgson, Robert Jensen, and Paul Tillich are other theologians who have travelled the path of Pannenberg rather than Barth on the narrow point of considering part of the material of theology to be science, psychology, sociology, and philosophy. I would also add that the one who began this blog has written elsewhere of the importance of Kant to Barth. Kierkegaard is equally influential. In fact, once could argue that the Trinitarian discussion in Volume I has a connection Hegel. My only point is that the material of theology is far broader than the Word, even if ultimately, all any of us can do, after all our explorations, is present it in the hope that it properly explicates that Word.

George Plasterer said...

I should say, Matthew, that although some notion of fideism occurs 21 times, and some do occur in my comments, most of those occurrences were in the original post, in your posts, and in my quotation of your posts. My original count must have been too narrow. That is why your comment took me off guard.

George Plasterer said...

J Scott Jackson, I should also add that many other theologians find the approach of Pannenberg worthwhile. I just read God in Creation by Moltmann, and he arrives at many of the same conclusions as does Pannenberg, even if he arrives at them in a very different way. I should also say that writers like Robert Jensen and Peter Hodgson as well as Stanley Kaufmann take the same approach. I think the effort of theologians like this is the same as Barth - to serve the church. In this case, the service is to provide pastors and teachers the tools to understand the secular and scientific context within which the carry out the ministry.

I should also say that as I reflect upon the dialogue here, Barth showed great respect for theologians with whom he disagreed. The most obvious example is Schleiermacher. While he disagreed at almost every level with him, do you not think it also showed high regard for the influence and thinking of Schleiermacher to give him so much attention? Pannenberg interacts with Barth in a similar way, I think. He viewed himself as continuing the project of Barth, in his emphasis upon eschatology and revelation of God in Christ. Yes, he does go back to Schleiermacher and Ritschl to correct what he things were over-reactions from Barth on natural theology. However, he was also moving forward to the new secular and scientific setting that he faced. Further, Pannenberg has many places in his Systematic Theology where is in agreement with Barth, for the most part. Obviously, their view of the theological task varies, and it has a very practical effect in the way they approach the key themes of creation, anthropology, Christology, church, and eschatology.

J. Scott Jackson said...

George, I appreciated the passion and challenges you've brought to this conversation. I think it is possible to disagree about something -- even vigorously -- and still be respectful. For my part, I would not dream of offering some sort blanket assessment of Pannenberg's extraordinary contributions to contemporary constructive theology. Nor would I say that cross pollination is possible between Barth's work and Pannenberg's. I do think though, as I have read him -- and clearly it's much less than you have -- I still see his basic attempt to replace Barth's conception of revelation as sui generis with an expansive critical interpretation of universal history to be a fundamental repudiation of what Barth is trying to do. It seems to me a basic decision here is required, whatever else one might say about material similarities or differences between the two thinkers (of which there might indeed be very much to say). It's important to me to keep this basic difference in mind. But certainly, it's always fair game to say a reading of a thinker should be as charitable as possible, so I hope we don't violate that if we insist on the difference.