Wolfhart Pannenberg (2 October 1928 – 5 September 2014) was a German theologian. He has made a number of significant contributions to modern theology, including his concept of history as a form of revelation centered on the Resurrection of Christ, which has been widely debated in both Protestant and Catholic theology, as well as by non-Christian thinkers.
Life and views
Pannenberg was born on 2 October 1928 in Stettin, Germany, now Szczecin, Poland. He was baptized as an infant into the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church, but otherwise had virtually no contact with the church in his early years. At about the age of sixteen, however, he had an intensely religious experience he later called his "light experience." Seeking to understand this experience, he began to search through the works of great philosophers and religious thinkers. A high school literature teacher who had been a part of the Confessing Church during World War II encouraged him to take a hard look at Christianity, which resulted in Pannenberg's "intellectual conversion," in which he concluded that Christianity was the best available religious option. This propelled him into his vocation as a theologian.
Pannenberg studied in Berlin, Göttingen, Heidelberg and Basel. In Basel, Pannenberg studied under Karl Barth. His doctoral thesis at Heidelberg was on Edmund Schlink's views on predestination in the works of Duns Scotus, which he submitted in 1953 and published a year later. His Habilitationsschrift in 1955 dealt with the relationship between analogy and revelation, especially the concept of analogy in the teaching of God's knowledge.
Pannenberg's epistemology, explained clearly in his shorter essays, is crucial to his theological project. It is heavily influenced by Schlink, who proposed a distinction between analogical truth, i.e. a descriptive truth or model, and doxological truth, or truth as immanent in worship. In this way of thinking, theology tries to express doxological truth. As such it is a response to God's self-revelation. Schlink was also instrumental in shaping Pannenberg's approach to theology as an ecumenical enterprise – an emphasis which has remained constant throughout his career.
Pannenberg's understanding of revelation is strongly conditioned by his reading of Karl Barth and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, as well as by a sympathetic reading of Christian and Jewish apocalyptic literature. The Hegelian concept of history as an unfolding process in which Spirit and freedom are revealed combines with a Barthian notion of revelation occurring "vertically from above". While Pannenberg adopts a Hegelian understanding of History itself as God's self-revelation, he strongly asserts the Resurrection of Christ as a proleptic revelation of what history is unfolding. Despite its obvious Barthian reference, this approach met with a mainly hostile response from both neo-Orthodox and liberal, Bultmannian theologians in the 1960s, a response which Pannenberg claims surprised him and his associates. A more nuanced, mainly implied, critique came from Jürgen Moltmann, whose philosophical roots lay in the Left Hegelians, Karl Marx and Ernst Bloch, and who proposed and elaborated a Theology of Hope, rather than of prolepsis, as a distinctively Christian response to History.
As disciple of Karl Löwith, Pannenberg has continued the debate against Hans Blumenberg in the so-called 'theorem of secularization'. "Blumenberg targets Löwith's argument that progress is the secularization of Hebrew and Christian beliefs and argues to the contrary that the modern age, including its belief in progress, grew out of a new secular self-affirmation of culture against the Christian tradition."
Pannenberg is perhaps best known for Jesus: God and Man in which he constructs a Christology "from below," deriving his dogmatic claims from a critical examination of the life and particularly the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This is his programmatic statement of the notion of "History as Revelation". He rejects traditional Chalcedonian "two-natures" Christology, preferring to view the person of Christ dynamically in light of the resurrection. This focus on the resurrection as the key to Christ's identity has led Pannenberg to defend its historicity, stressing the experience of the risen Christ in the history of the early Church rather than the empty tomb.
Central to Pannenberg's theological career was his defence of theology as a rigorous academic discipline, one capable of critical interaction with philosophy, history, and most of all, the natural sciences. Pannenberg has also defended the theology of American mathematical physicist Frank J. Tipler's Omega Point Theory.
Pannenberg was an outspoken critic of the approval of homosexual relations by the Evangelical Church in Germany, going so far as to say that a church which approves of homosexual practice is no longer a true church. He returned his Federal Order of Merit after the decoration was awarded to a lesbian activist.
Pannenberg has been a professor on the faculties of several universities consistently since 1958. Between the years of 1958 and 1961 he was the Professor of Systematic Theology at the Kirchliche Hochschule Wuppertal. Between 1961 and 1968 he was a professor in Mainz. He has had several visiting professorships at the University of Chicago (1963), Harvard (1966), and at the Claremont School of Theology (1967), and since 1968 has been Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Munich. He retired in 1993.
Books by Pannenberg in English
- 1968. Revelation As History (edited volume). New York: The Macmillan Company.
- 1968. Jesus: God and Man. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
- 1969. Basic Questions in Theology. Westminster Press
- 1969. Theology and the Kingdom of God. Westminster Press.
- 1970. What Is Man? Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
- 1972. The Apostles' Creed in Light of Today's Questions. Westminster Press.
- 1976. Theology and the Philosophy of Science. Westminster Press.
- 1977. Faith and Reality. Westminster Press.
- 1985. Anthropology in Theological Perspective. T&T Clark
- 1988–1994. Systematic Theology. T & T Clark
- 1996. "Theologie und Philosophie. Ihr Verhältnis im Lichte ihrer gemeinsamen Geschichte". ￼Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
- "God of the Philosophers," First Things, June/July 2007.
- "Letter from Germany," First Things, March 2003.
- "Facing Up: Science and Its Cultural Adversaries," First Things, August/September 2002.
- "Review of Robert W. Jenson's Systematic Theology: Volumes I & II," First Things, May 2000.
- "When Everything is Permitted," First Things, February 1998.
- "The Pope in Germany," First Things, December 1996.
- "How to Think About Secularism," First Things, June/July 1996.
- "Christianity and the West: Ambiguous Past, Uncertain Future," First Things, December 1994.
- "The Present and Future Church," First Things, November 1991.
- "God's Presence in History," Christian Century (11 March 1981): 260–63.
- Bradshaw, Timothy, 1988. Trinity and ontology: a comparative study of the theologies of Karl Barth and Wolfhart Pannenberg. Edinburgh: Rutherford House Books.
- Case, Jonathan P (2004), The Death of Jesus and the Truth of the Triune God in Wolfhart Pannenberg and Eberhard Jüngel, Journal for Christian Theological Research 9: 1–13.
- Fukai, Tomoaki, 1996, Paradox und Prolepsis: Geschichtstheologie bei Reinhold Niebuhr und Wolfhart Pannenberg (in German), Marburg.
- Grenz, Stanley J (1990), Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, New York: Oxford.
- ——— (30 September 1987), Pannenberg on Marxism: Insights and Generalizations, The Christian Century (Religion online): 824–26.
- ——— (14–21 September 1988), Wolfhart Pannenberg's Quest for Ultimate Truth, The Christian Century (Religion online): 795–98.
- Lischer, Richard, "An Old/New Theology of History," The Christian Century (13 March 1974): 288–90.
- Don H. Olive, 1973. Wolfhart Pannenberg-Makers of the Modern Mind. Word Incorporated, Waco, Texas.
- Page, James S., 2003, "Critical Realism and the Theological Science of Wolfhart Pannenberg: Exploring the Commonalities," Bridges: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, Theology, History and Science 10(1/2): 71–84.
- Schwarz, Hans, 2012. 'Wolfhart Pannenberg' in The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity J.B. Stump and Alan G. Padgett (eds.) Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
- Shults, F. LeRon, 1999. The Postfoundationalist Task of Theology: Wolfhart Pannenberg and the New Theological Rationality. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
- Tipler, Frank J (1989), The Omega Point as Eschaton: Answers to Pannenberg's Questions for Scientists, Zygon 24: 217–53. Followed by Pannenberg's comments, 255–71.
- ——— (1994), The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead, New York: Doubleday.
- ——— (2007), The Physics of Christianity, New York: Doubleday.
- Tupper, E. F., 1973. The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg. Philadelphia: Westminster press.
- Woo, B. Hoon (2012). "Pannenberg’s Understanding of the Natural Law". Studies in Christian Ethics 25 (3): 346–66. doi:10.1177/0953946812444686.
- Pannenberg, Wolfhart (11 March 1981), God’s Presence in History, The Christian Century: 260–63.
- Pannenberg, Wolfhart (1973) . "Christianity as the Legitimacy of the Modern Age". The Idea of God and Human Freedom 3. London: Westminster Press. pp. 178–91. ISBN 978-06-6420-971-1.
- Buller, Cornelius A (1996). The Unity of Nature and History in Pannenberg's Theology. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 95. ISBN 978-08-2263-055-5.
- Tipler 1989.
- Tipler 1994.
- Tipler 2007.
- Root, Michael (March 2012). "The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg". First Things.
- Brief biography (in German), University of Munich.
- Roger Olson, The Journey of Modern Theology, 479
- Pannenberg, Publications, University of Munich.
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- Neuhaus, Richard John (1982), Pannenberg Jousts with the World Council of Churches, The Christian Century (Religion online).