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Wolfhart Pannenberg

The Collapse of the Pannenberg Project?

Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014)

Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014)

Recently I posted these remarks about the theological developments in the thought of F. LeRon Shults and Philip Clayton — two gifted theologians who were also students of Wolfhart Pannenberg:

This also seems to signal the total collapse of Wolfhart Pannenberg’s theological program. In light of the developments in the thought of his students, Philip Clayton and F. LeRon Shults, it now appears that it eventuates in either a flaccid Christian neo-liberalism (see: The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, and Faith) or outright atheism (Theology after the Birth of God: Atheist Conceptions in Cognition and Culture). What Pannenberg intended as a call for Christians to engage in the realms of science and learning has become either a strategic retreat or a complete reversal.

I got a little push-back on this (which I appreciate) and I thought it might be good to say a little more about what I mean by this. (more…)

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An Atheist Theologian

One of my (formerly) favorite writers on philosophical theology has become an atheist.

And, I’m not altogether sure how I feel about that.

411Rqlp-VNL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In the early part of June I was at a get together for a couple I know from the church we attend. There were a lot of people there and I got into conversation with some of them. In one of those conversations I recommended  (as I often have) the writings of F. LeRon Shults, who teaches theology in Norway and has written several books I have read and appreciated. (The ones I’ve read are: The Postfoundationalist Task of Theology, Faces of Forgiveness, Transforming Spirituality, Reforming the Doctrine of God.) I’ve got two more titles on my Kindle — which I was going to read — but now I’m not so sure. If I am remembering correctly, in Reforming the Doctrine of God Shults identified himself as being both “evangelical” and “reformed.” I’m okay with the “evangelical” part — especially since there is a rather broad tent for some of us who like that designation — and quite a bit less so with the “reformed” part. Nevertheless, I’ve never felt any hesitation recommending his writings.

The incident in June  struck me funny the next day — when I discovered that Shults had since written two (quite expensive) books advocating atheism. (They are: Theology after the Birth of God: Atheist Conceptions in Cognition and Culture and Iconoclastic Theology: Gilles Deleuze and the Secretion of Atheism.) It struck me funny because I figured either (1.) I’ll never be at a gathering of people I know from church where I recommend his books again (which is a bit sad), or, (2.) I’ll never again be at a gathering of people I know from church (that is to say: I may need new friends). (more…)

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Theology as Provisional

Conservative-Evangelicals-Misunderstood-MillennialsTheology is always an interim report. It is always learning, always growing, always being revised in light of new information.

The only knowledge of the world that is available to us is probable knowledge. Everything in the world we live in is based on probability. We are forced to base our day to day decisions on what is probably true, what will probably happen, and so forth. I’m sitting in a chair. I suppose it might collapse. Any number of things might happen. A meteorite might come crashing through the window and kill me in the next few minutes. But, since neither of these things are the least bit probable, I need not worry about them — or even think about them.

I can’t wait for absolute certainty. I must act based on what I believe is likely to be true, what is likely to happen, and so forth. The Cartesian reconstruction (or Lockean reconstruction) of knowledge — arriving at certainty based on “sense experience” — is a mistaken quest. That kind of certainty is simply not available. (more…)

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Gifts of Theology to Science

Time_in_EternityThe other day I attempted to tweet a link to the following quote using the Kindle app, but the quote is (of course) too long. So, I am posting it here. This quote is from Robert John Russell’s book Time in Eternity: Pannenberg, Physics, and Eschatology in Creative Mutual Interaction. It comes at the end of a chapter discussing Albert Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity.

Nevertheless, Einstein’s work leaves unresolved the underlying philosophical problem of the unity of spacetime. In response my proposal is that theology can offer the needed insight to resolve this philosophical problem . My beginning point is Pannenberg’s claim that the divine eternity receives and unites distinct and separate timelike events in the world into the co-presence of eternity. I then extend this claim by suggesting that the divine omnipresence unites distinct and separate spacelike events in creation by God’s ubiquitous presence to them. Thus , while it is God’s eternity that gathers up and unites separate events in time while preserving their distinctions, it is, in my view, God’s omnipresence to and in the world that gives to the world, fragmented into individual spacelike solitary events, the underlying differentiated unity that Clarke sought unsuccessfully. And if this holds true, it is surely a promising discovery about the gifts theology has to offer as it engages creatively with the natural sciences. And it in turn is particularly indebted to the theological writings of Wolfhart Pannenberg.

Russell’s book is a detailed attempt to show how science can contribute to the theoretical models used in theology, and how theology can contribute to the theoretical models used in science.

And, he is building on the work of Wolfhart Pannenberg — who was a trailblazer in the area of science and theology.

I think this is an exciting line of thought: science can contribute to theology and theology to science in what Russell calls “creative mutual interaction.”

In the chapter that follows this, Russell defends a concept of “flowing time” as an alternative to the common “block universe” interpretation of Special Relativity. The book is tough going — not because of the writing (actually Russell writes with remarkable clarity, given the subject matter) — but because of the complexity and non-intuitive nature of the topics discussed. But, I think Christians with a background in contemporary physics — or some knowledge of it — will find this fascinating.

 

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The Head of the Church – Colossians 1:18-20

christ_pantocrator_mosaic_hagia_sophia_656x800By virtue of his resurrection, Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. Christ is the supreme authority in the church. Christ is the source of our life and the basis of the connection between believers in the Church.

καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησίας· ὅς ἐστιν ἀρχή, πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, ἵνα γένηται ἐν πᾶσιν αὐτὸς πρωτεύων, ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ εὐδόκησεν πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα κατοικῆσαι καὶ δι᾿ αὐτοῦ ἀποκαταλλάξαι τὰ πάντα εἰς αὐτόν, εἰρηνοποιήσας διὰ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ σταυροῦ αὐτοῦ, [δι᾿ αὐτοῦ] εἴτε τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς εἴτε τὰ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

“He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (NRSV) (more…)

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On the Virgin Birth

nativityThere is a Religion News Service article by Kimberly Winston which is circulating around the Internet with the provocative title Can you question the Virgin Birth and still be a Christian?” I put it in my Twitter feed so that I could comment on it later, if I had some time.

Responding to it gives me a chance to say a little more along the lines of what I was saying (or implying) in my comments on Luke 1:26-38.

(1.) This article’s title assumes something that is not true: that Christians cannot question received teachings. The writer (or the editor) is making the assumption that questioning is incompatible with Christianity. In fact, Christians have been questioning and exploring and refining their beliefs since the very beginning of the Christian movement. Christians (Protestants especially) are encouraged to check out what they hear from their spiritual leaders against the original sources of the faith in Scripture. And though there are a few lonely voices saying Christians should not read the scriptures — most are strongly encouraged to do so. There are contemporary translations, Bible study helps, Bible reading plans, etc. to help them to do so. The apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (ASV.) (more…)

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Spirituality and the Spirit

I have previously written about spirituality in what might be called a generic sense: as a human capability. A simple way of understanding the spiritual side of human nature is to see it as the capacity for self-transcendence.

candle-tipI have explored this idea here:

As I say, it is possible to see all of this as “spirituality” in a generic sense. It’s a human capacity.

But, to go further in discussing this, I need to draw on ideas explicitly from Christian theology.  At this point, the Christian perspective gives us some help in understanding how human spiritual capabilities connect us with God and with the world around us. The helpful concept in this case is the idea of the Holy Spirit. Our human capacity — and yearning — to reach out beyond ourselves is answered by the reality of God’s Spirit reaching to us. This is only natural to expect. We have an desire to connect with a higher reality than ourselves. Our desire to breathe is answered by the air around us. Our desire for food and water are answered the reality of food and water. Our desire for a connection with God  — which would give a framework of meaning to our lives and our moral choices — is answered by the Holy Spirit of God. (more…)

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R.I.P. Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014)

Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014)

Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014)

Wolfhart Pannenberg is one of the first theologians that made any sense to me — and I never really encountered his theological writings until after I graduated from Seminary. I came into Seminary out of a background in the physical sciences. My undergraduate degree was in Chemistry. I attended Asbury Theological Seminary, and I am thankful for the education I received there — and for many of the professors that were teaching there at the time.

But, theology didn’t make sense to me. Instead of appealing to common criterion for proof and rationality it seemed forever attempting to avoid them. If that was the case, how could Christians claim anything that they said was in any sense “true” — or more true or right than anything anyone else said? Furthermore, it appeared to me that the Christian faith did not pay sufficient attention to inductive forms of reasoning. (more…)

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Quotes From Some Books I’ve Been Reading

I always have several books going all at the same time. Some I plow through quickly. Some I never finish. Some I lay aside to pick up later.

51g94tKvIFL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Tim Otto writes about the significance of the controversy in the Church over same-gender sex: “The conflict around same-sex relationships can either cause further division within the church, or, by faith, we can see the struggle as our teacher. By bringing up questions about family, social relations, church unity, and politics, this debate can help us think well and live more deeply into the dream God has for us and the world. It can help us, as God’s little flock, receive the kingdom that God is offering with so much pleasure. And if that happens, it will mean more gospel, more good news for everyone.” From: Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict over Gay Relationships.

Michael J. Quicke on preaching: “Preaching’s awesome task is about evoking an alternative community that lives for a different agenda — for God, for the wider community, and for the world. Preaching needs to be experienced as prophetic, transformational, incarnational, and diverse. Catalytic, life-changing preaching accomplishes deep outcomes in God’s purposes.” From: 360-Degree Preaching: Hearing, Speaking, and Living the Word.
(more…)

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Pannenberg on the Validity of Faith

Wolfhart Pannenberg

Wolfhart Pannenberg

Here are some thoughts on the nature and validity of faith by Wolfhart Pannenberg.

I found these in Systematic Theology, Volume 3. (There is no Kindle edition for that yet — sorry to say.)

Faith is a form of the way we relate to truth, and is comparable in this regard to knowledge. In Hebrew the terms for “truth” (’emet) and “faith” (he’emin) are linguistically related, deriving from the same root. Truth in the sense of ’emet is what is constant and therefore trustworthy, so that we can build on it. He’emin denotes the confidence that establishes itself on the basis of that which is constant, so that those who have it achieve steadfastness and constancy. But only God and his Word and works are fully stable and trustworthy (Ps. 111:7-8; 119:90-91; 146:6; etc.). Hence, those who would be firmly established themselves must be established in God.

(more…)

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Can the Church be a Credible Witness?

Wolfhart Pannenberg

Wolfhart Pannenberg

We know that the church is called to be a witness to Christ. To what extent is the church today a credible witness to Christ?

The church is called to attest the truth of the Gospel to the world. This testimony, however, stands related to the fact that even in this world the church is a sign of the destiny of the human race to be renewed in the future of God’s kingdom as a fellowship in freedom, justice and peace. The more the church — and the churches as a part of Christianity as a whole — actually show themselves to be such a sign to human eyes, the greater will be their authority among us.

— Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology (Volume 3) “Foreword” p xv.

Such witness is going on at the local level: here and there in churches that are faithfully seeking to live out their faith. They don’t make the news (maybe), but their life together is showing the world what freedom, justice and peace can mean — not as a political position, but as a lived-out reality. (more…)

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Some Quotes from the Internet

internet-wrldBoze Herrington gives us a heart-rending account of his involvement in a prayer group (associated with the International House of Prayer) that evolved into a dangerous cult. The account centers around the death of the cult leader’s wife (Boze’s friend) Bethany. He writes: “But it is clear that when Bethany died, she was part of a community shrouded in fear and hatred, a community where those who spoke out were treated as though they didn’t exist. Their loves, desires, opinions, feelings, and whole personalities were invalidated, all in the name of God.” At The Atlantic here: The Seven Signs You’re in a Cult.

Jonathan Merritt on the public’s response to Christian leaders: “The point is that people don’t like mean people and judgmental people and power-hungry people, regardless of their religion. Most people dislike Christian jerks because they are jerks, not because they are Christian. (According to a 2013 Barna poll, about 51% of self-identified Christians are characterized by having the attitudes and actions that are “Pharisaical” as opposed to “Christlike.”)” Here: What the Pope’s popularity says about American culture. (more…)

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The Ecstatic Structure of Human Spirituality

blessing-prayerLast week I posted on What is Spirituality?”. This was my attempt to get a handle on what it might mean to call something “spiritual.” While spirituality is certainly a subjective phenomenon, I believe there is a way of talking about it and analyzing it, to some extent. I said:

Human spirituality is self-transcendence. A spiritual experience is something that lifts us beyond our selves. The true essence of spirituality is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind; and our neighbor as much as we love our own self. (See Luke 10:27, etc.) There is both a vertical (God-ward) axis and a horizontal (other-ward) axis to this. But, spirituality is always being lifted out of ourselves. Spirituality connects us with God, with the community of faith and with the needs of other people outside the community of faith. These vertical and horizontal axes correspond roughly with the idea of God’s transcendence and God’s immanence. Traditionally, Christian theology has affirmed both God’s transcendence and God’s immanence.

Here is another way of saying it: there is an ecstatic structure to human spirituality. A spiritual experience is something that lifts us beyond ourselves. It may provide us a sense of connection to a higher reality or it may provide us with a sense of connection with other people. Or, it may do both. But, in any case, it lifts us beyond ourselves — outside ourselves.

I realize that this assertion (especially the language of “ecstasy”) is very much open to misinterpretation, so I feel the need to say more about it. (more…)

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Reflections on the Last Judgment

Reason_for_HopeIn the following paragraph from his book Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (1989) Stanley J. Grenz does a good job summarizing some themes in Pannenberg’s view of the final judgement:

On the basis of [the] function of Jesus’ message [as the criterion of God’s judgment]  and the New Testament emphasis on the all-encompassing love of God (e.g., Matt. 8:11; John 10:16), Pannenberg asserts that correspondence with the will of God as reflected in Jesus’ proclamation — that is, the command to seek first God’s kingdom and the double command to love — rather than an actual encounter with the Christian message, is the basis of final judgment (Matt. 25:41ff.). The step in this direction is prepared by a thesis, developed in the Christology and ecclesiology sections, that love for others entails participation in God’s love for the world. This understanding of the criterion for judgment means that persons who live in accordance with Jesus’ message will be included in the divine salvation, whereas nominal Christians may find themselves excluded. To the resultant question, If an encounter with Jesus is not the sole condition for salvation, what is the Christian’s advantage? he replies that Christians have the advantage in that they know what the standard of judgment is. Although he emphasizes the universality of the possibility of salvation in this manner and even moves the concept of eternal condemnation to that of a border situation, Pannenberg is unwilling to embrace universalism.

This resonates very well with the sense I remember getting from my initial reading of Volume 3 of Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology.

And, there is so much here to like. (more…)

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Holy Spirit, Self-Trancendence, Community

Reason_for_HopeThis conception of the Spirit’s relation to the human person and to human community rings true for me.

Pannenberg sees in the heightened exocentric capability of humans the basis for their uniqueness from other animal forms. In the being-with-others that characterizes their existence, they are able to transcend themselves — to look back on themselves again — and thereby to develop self-consciousness. This exocentrically based development of self-consciousness indicates [this] to him as well as the connection between humans and Spirit. Pannenberg credits the self-transcendence required for this process to the action of the Spirit, who lifts humans above themselves, so that when they are ecstatically with others they are themselves. For this reason self-transcendence cannot be accomplished by the subject itself. Rather, all knowing is possible only through the Spirit.

By extension, the same ecstatic working of the Spirit found in the individual is the basis for the building of community. In fact, community is always an experience brought by the Spirit, who lifts one above oneself.

 — Stanley J. Grenz, Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (1989).

I expect worship to be an experience that lifts me out of my pre-occupation with myself. (more…)

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