Pannenberg, Systematic Theology (Vol. 1)

Some important sections. Largely eclipsed by his student Robert W. Jenson. Outstanding remarks on the Vincentian canon, the spirituality of God, and Gregory Palamas. He gives critical reflection on the Cappadocian fathers.

Evaluation: Hard to recommend to most students and pastors. WP is certainly not an evangelical, and while he affirms creedal conclusions, he perhaps surrenders to much to historical criticism. Further, even when he is right, as in his discussion of God as ruach, he mutes these victories by reverting back to German idealism.

He Gives the standard arguments against liberal Protestantism (See Feuerbach) and shows Barth’s own limitations.

Natural theology: does a good job in carrying the discussion back to pre-Christ Roman theorists, all of which highlights the various strands of natural theology. I have no problem with a natural theology of sorts, provided we understand that the term is by no means universally understood as meaning the same thing (of course, which sort of defeats the purpose of modern natural theologies). Pannenberg points out that older divines, both Protestant and Catholic, saw natural theology as meaning “in accord with the nature of God” and the God-world relation (81). Now it means in accord with the nature of the world.

Natural knowledge of God: He is not entirely clear. WP hovers around Romans 1:20and suggests something like “infinity” as the natural knowledge of God. He develops this thought more in Metaphysik und Gottesgedank.

Revelation: WP tries to steer between the Barthian claim that God reveals himself as revelation and other claims. Eventually settles on the claim that revelation is the announcement and event of the future in the first coming of Jesus. I have no problem with that–I think there is some truth to it; I just don’t see how that is more plausible than some of the views WP criticizes as “implausible.”

The God of Jesus and the Trinity: The Spirit is the presence of mediation between the Kyrios and God the Father. WP notes the very close similarity (yet not identity) of pneuma and Kyrios (drawing heavily on 1 Cor. 15:45 and 2 Cor. 3:17). This ties in nicely with this discussion of pneuma and ruach. If pneuma means “ghostly stuff” ala Middle Platonism and today’s jargon, then we are in theological trouble when Paul calls the second Adam a life-giving pneuma. But if we anchor Paul’s thought in Hebrew, this problem perhaps answers itself.

The Kyrios is the risen and exalted Jesus whose return the community awaits. The Spirit is the form and power of his presence and of the relation of believers to him (I: 269)

Interestingly, WP notes that early Christian reflection on the Trinity (though they didn’t call it that) was not dissimilar from late Jewish reflection on God’s transcendence and immanence (277).

Pace the Cappadocians:

Distinction and Unity of the Persons: The Son is posited as a self-distinction from the Father (310-311). Fine, but I don’t see how this is different from Athanasius. And then, one wonders how stable is Athanasius’s argument.

On another note, WP advances the argument that the self-distinction of the Son is not merely in his being begotten, but in his “handing over the kingdom to the Father.” This doesn’t solve all of the problems but it is a superior move in that it roots the Trinitarian movement in eschatology.

WP raises a point I’ve always wondered: can we honestly speak of mutual self-distinction of the three persons if no distinction is made between subject and object in God (320 n. 184)? In other words, how many subjects are in the Godhead?

~Palamas: much to commend his project; quite beautiful, really, when we see the energies as the power-glory and the kingdom of God. Something like that should be retained, whatever critiques may follow. However,


Is there a connection between Dionysius’s construction of the qualities via delimitation and elevation and the critique of Feuerbach that we are projecting our views onto God (363 n. 58; cf. Barth CD II/1, 339).

What does the Bible call God?

When Paul calls God pneuma does he mean it in the sense of Middle Platonism’s understanding of God as nous?

But what is ruach? “Ruach is decribed as a mysteriously invisible natural force which declares itself in the movement of the wind” (373). “The breath of Yahweh is a creative life force.” Very seldom does this relate to what we call “spirit,” the thinking consciousness. Ties it in with Psalm 139:7 as the field of God’s activity.

Capitalizes on these insights into Trinitarianism. There was always the difficulty of seeing the divine essence–Spirit–as a subject alongside the three persons. WP, while not going into great detail, suggests his models gets beyond this impasse (386).

WP does say that the three persons are the one subject of divine action (388). This means he cannot be accused, pace Letham, of Social Trinitarianism. I think it is easier to follow Jenson’s reading of the Cappadocians via the essence as the divine life.

The future of the world is the mode of time that stands closest to God’s eternity…The goal of the world and its history is nearer to God than its commencement (390).


About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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1 Response to Pannenberg, Systematic Theology (Vol. 1)

  1. Pingback: Systematic Theology, volume 2 (Wolfhart Pannenberg) | Blog of the Wars of the Lord

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