Moltmann, Pannenberg, and the Future: Once More with David Congdon

I have posted about Congdon’s book before, and some of those posts have been rather weighty. This one is a little more lighthearted insofar as it deals with the relative merits of Jürgen Moltmann and Wolfhard Pannenberg when measured against the backdrop of Barth and Bultmann. Who’s better, Moltmann or Pannenberg?

David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Fortress, 2015).

I must begin by acknowledging that Congdon makes his comparative remarks about Moltmann and Pannenberg in a particular rhetorical context. At this point in his book, Congdon turns to a set of standard criticisms against Bultmann and identifies Moltmann, Oswald Beyer, and Robert Jenson as exemplars of these criticisms. This extended discussion (pp. 789–823) is one of the most interesting in the book insofar as it has a much more direct – or, perhaps I should say, tangible – bearing on contemporary theological conversations. In any case, while introducing his section on Moltmann, Congdon mentions Pannenberg and Käsemann as folks who – with Moltmann – were part of a shift from worrying about the theological relationship of the past to the present and to worrying about the future. It is while outlining this shift that Congdon stops to offer a footnote on “the differences between Pannenberg and Moltmann.” I give you the footnote below. As usual, bold is mine and italics are in the original.

The differences between Pannenberg and Moltmann are worth highlighting. While both offered sustained criticisms of both Barth and Bultmann, they carried out these criticism in distinctly different ways and with different understandings of eschatology. Pannenberg, whose views are strongly shaped by the German idealist tradition, understands the eschaton as the fulfillment of historical progress, so that salvation history is the universal goal of history as such. This is why he is so strongly attracted to the thinking of Jewish apocalyptic literature with its literal conception of the world’s imminent end and its cosmic, universal notion of redemption, and it is also why he connects his doctrine of revelation as history to the rehabilitation of natural theology, in contrast to Barth. Pannenberg’s eschatology is ultimately an exercise in apologetics, since he believes that the resurrection of Christ, as the proleptic inbreaking of the apocalypse, is historically verifiable. Moltmann shares Pannenberg’s claim that revelation is inherently future, meaning that the truth of God can only be known at the end of history, but he understands the eschaton as radically other than the history we experience or the history of the historians; it is a complete novum. This precludes any natural theology by which we could gain scientific access to revelation. Whereas Pannenberg’s eschaton is a chronological, quantitative future, Moltmann’s is a theological, qualitative future. In this regard, Moltmann is the more significant intervention in the theological scene, even if we must finally regard both as inferior to the still more radical and unsurpassed work of Barth and Bultmann. (790n232)



It occurs to me that Barth also thought his view of eschatology was superior to the eschatology he saw in Moltmann. In his letter to Moltmann, he explicitly refers to his discussion of Jesus as the Lord of time as superior to what he read in Theology of Hope, to the point where he puzzled why that was not enough for Moltmann. I agree with the difference between Pannenberg and Moltmann, although I disagree that it manes JM better. "I will make all things new" is the way the Book of Revelation ends, not "I will make all new things."
Wyatt said…
Oooh the A word (apologetics!) thems fightin words!
Juan C. Torres said…
A few thoughts:

1. German Idealism aside, It is evident to me that Pannenberg's views on eschatology are very much biblically rooted. Time and time again, Pannenberg says in his Systematic Theology that:

"According to the witness of the Bible the deity of God will be definitively and unquestionably manifested only *at the end of all time and history*" --Syst Theol Vol. 1, p.54

"Pannenberg’s eschatology is ultimately an exercise in apologetic." Well, perhaps. But again he finds much justification for this in Second Isaiah. The theodicy question looms large in WP's though and theology. I think this is right. This is even more true of Moltmann, of course.

2. Panneneberg stresses that the resurrection "has become promise" to us again. By this he means that although the physical resurrection of Christ best accounts for the historical data (according to him), we cannot verify it today and are thus awaiting for confirmation of the resurrection and validation of the life and ministry of Christ on the last day when he is revealed. Thus, to say that WP thinks thew resurrection is verifiable is suspect. It leaves out related claims that relativize his resurrection apologetics.

3. I like engaging WP precisely because I disagree with him on many things. While the case can be made that WP is a better theologian than Moltmann, I think Moltmann is unquestionably the better theodician end eschatologian. Yes, I think I just made up a word in the previous sentence;)
Wyatt said…
Juan has a point here. I cannot help agreeing

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