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Jesus (SCM Classics) Paperback – International Edition, November 15, 2002
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Wolfhart Pannenberg is one of the giants of twentieth century German systematic theology, and all serious students of Christian doctrine are obliged to take account of his work. In particular, his weighty but succinct single-volume systematics, "Jesus - God and Man" - which was first published in English in 1968, and which has since formed the basis of countless courses and seminars in the field (as well as the inspiration behind many dissertations) - is perhaps the single publication by Pannenberg that might be called indispensible and unmissable. For Pannenberg one can only talk about God when one at the same time talks about Jesus. Theology and Christology, the doctrine of God and the doctrine of Jesus as the Christ, are therefore bound together. This book develops the connection systematically, through a careful mode of biblical, dogmatic and philosophical exposition. Preface By Stanley J Grenz 'A model of how doctrine should be done.' Theology 'A masterpiece from one of the seminal minds of our era ... This monograph will, I predict, prove itself to be one of the finest books written in theology in our time.' Methodist Recorder
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I found this book much harder to digest and read then Bultmann's TTNT. It is very systematic and for me has become much more of a reference work as I continue to come across questions in my own understanding of Christian origins and contemporary faith. Because of the nature of this systematic work, it is very difficult to point out any one chapter that does justice to the whole. However, for me the effort has been worth it. I have come back to this book several times after beginning to read it all the way through and decided to take it much more piecemeal. I believe unless you brain works like Pannenberg, which mine does not, you will benefit from the same approach.
Reviewing a book of this scope always makes me pensively deliberate with myself how I could possible isolate key parts of the text to present a viable synopsis. This book is no different. One of the additional difficulties with Pannenberg is due to his systematic nature: it is hard to "isolate" pieces of his work, say a quote or an idea, without running the enormous risk of completely misrepresenting moments of Pannenberg's systematic flourish. Hence, and this is very important for those of you who stumble across this review: it is probably going to be long. So, without reading the whole thing, here: Buy this book! I wholly and totally recommend it for reading in Christology. It is a classic that should be in every theologians library. No one will agree fully with Pannenberg, but this book will nonetheless stimulate converstation and thought! With that disclaimer then, I begin.
As one can easily ascertain from the title, this monograph by Pannenberg is on Christology. Though to speak of this as "Christology proper," would be to overstate what Pannenberg is attempting to do. This is really a book of Christological methodology, rather than material conclusions (though, of course, these are present as well.) Pannenberg is attempting to put forth the program he hinted at in his very first publication Revelation as History, which runs decidedly obverse to the anti-historical leanings of Bultmann's demythologization, and the so called "neo-orthodoxy" of Pannenberg's mentor, Barth. Though the term is frequently misunderstood, especially in reference to Pannenberg's use of it (to which we shall return) one could roughly describe the program as "from below." Whereas in theology "from above," Jesus' divinity and the doctrine of the incarnation stand at the center, Pannenberg's is an attempt to show why the confession of Jesus as divinity is materially legitimated by Jesus' own life and from within the horizon of Jewish apocalyptic expectation. Indeed, one of the repeating themes that resonates throughout this book is a tireless drumbeat evaluating the evolution of Christian belief in Jesus through the history of traditions. If a belief in Jesus (say, Divinity) can be shown to be a foreign addition of Greek metaphysics (ala Harnack's thesis), or say, the idea of a descending and ascending redeemer to be a Gnosticizing tendency of the tradition, then the basis of authentic proclamation has been defeated.
This leads to another central theme of the book, in dialogue with the concern for material legitimation: the Resurrection as the center of theology. This is perhaps the most misunderstood part of the book, in my opinion, and so garners the largest portion of this review. What occurs here is a wholly unique and (at least in my opinion,) convincing "demonstration" of the hypothesis of Jesus' divinity, centered around his Resurrection. To understand the importance of the Resurrection, we must understand 3 things: 1.) Jesus' pre-Easter proclamation, activity, and commission 2.) What exactly was entailed in so called "apocalyptic eschatology" of the Jewish tradition(s) and 3.) how the Resurrection ties these first two together:
Jesus' pre-Easter proclamation, according to Pannenberg, was to proclaim that the Kingdom of God was near, and that the fate of men in relation to this coming kingdom was decided in relation to Jesus (e.g. the Son of Man sayings in Luke 12:8 and parallels) where people's current community with Jesus would determine their relationship to the coming Son of Man who would stand as Judge. On top of this, of course, Jesus also freely interpreted the law, which implicitly gave him authority higher than that of Moses. Jesus placed his "but I say to you..." (e.g. Mt. 5) in the center of the proclamations. Since in Jewish tradition the only authority that was higher than Moses was God, this is a claim to equality with God. Related to all this is Jesus' claim to forgive sin, which is an important part, but doesn't stand as an "isolated" or "immediate" claim to divinity as many conservatives have supposed, but stands in a meaningful relationship to the proclamation of the kingdom of God (which will be explained in a moment).
This brings us to the Jewish apocalyptic expectation. Only at the end of history, according to such expectation, could God be fully revealed: "In the Old and New testaments do speak of the subject matter (revelation) as a self-revelation of God, although it is not terminologically so designated. In the Old testatment this involves especially the so-called erweiswort ("word of demonstration") formulas that designate knowledge of YWHW's divinity as the purpose of the divine activity in history. The more all happenings were perceived in Israel as a single great historical unity, the more the full knowledge of YHWH became an event that would be possible only at the end of all happenings. YWHW would complete the entire course of world events, world history, in order that man might thereby know his divnity. Only at the end of history is he ultimately revealed from his deeds as the one God who accomplishes everything...correspondingly, Jewish apocalyptic expected God's full revelation as an event of the end of time." (p.128)
This sets up the relation of Jesus' proclamation of the coming kingdom (essentially the end of time) and his ability to forgive sins. What is salvation (i.e. forgiveness of sins)? Pannenberg defines it at its core as "openness to God," being open to God's future. This is in line with the Jewish apocalyptic understanding where salvation, and the ultimate "forgiveness of sins" in the judgement of God, is not only an "immediate, vertical" reality, but precisely is immediate because of the promise of God's coming at the end. Only in this way is it present: because it was beleived that God would judge justly *at the end*, already then his servants stand justified because God is Lord of the entirety of history, not the other way around. The presence of salvation has a proleptic, anticipatory structure: it is "now" because the "it will be" is present through the promise---the fulfillment being what retroactively confirms the presence of salvific reality "already" present. Hence in the proclamation of the kingdom, in Jesus' immanent expectation, because salvation, the fulfilled destiny of man, consists in the fulfillment of openness for God, it is already present for those who accept Jesus' message, and so are placed in a relation of immediacy and openness to the God-who-is-coming. For this reason Jesus could grant salvation directly: "Blessed are the eyes which see what you see!" (Lk 10:23) Jesus' claim to forgive sins is an *eschatological* concept that stands related to the proclamation of the kingdom (an insight lost to many evangelicals), and is an intimate effect or conclusion from Christ's eschatological consciousness. Moreover, stated in another way: "the nearness of the immanent Kingdom of God [calls men to repentance and obedience, and] puts all things into that relation to God which belonged to them as God's creatures from the very beginning. It is just this that demonstrates the universal truth of Jesus' eschatological message: it reveaals the 'natural' essence of men and things with an urgency nowhere achieved outside the eschatological light." (p.231)
Yet, as Pannenberg notes critically regarding several theologians, if we leave it here, what have we really "shown?" All of this up to now has remained at the level of assertion. How are Jesus' claims, his immanent expectation, verified? Indeed, as has been pointed out, the kingdom did not come, at least not in the way perhaps expected. This is where Pannenberg really shines. Jesus' immanent expectation was fulfilled in his own resurrection. We have to understand the the resurrection is not just an isolated or individual occurence, but one that stands in relation to the end of history, according to the apocalytpic expectation (e.g. Is. 26:7, Dan. 12:1-3 etc...) Pannenberg, from this, puts forward several thesis, a couple of which I will touch upon: If Jesus has been resurrected, then the end of the world has begun in him. This is the first closely related to a second: If Jesus has been raised, in the Jewish mind this could be nothing else than a verification by YHWH of Jesus' past life. No Jew would have thought such an occurance as happening outside the jurisdiction of their God. These two thesis interact: If Jesus' past life has been validated, not only through the validation of his immanent expectation of the end in his own resurrection, but also since Jesus' claim to forgive sins (an eschatological concept, remember) has been retroactively validated, this means that *the end is present proleptically in Jesus*. Jesus' resurrection verified his claim to authority, and hence it is also a confirmation of his proclamation that the kingdom of God is near. This is the basic structure of salvation, that Jesus proclaims the nearing kingdom and hence places everything in its `natural' relation to God, because at the end of all events in the eschaton the essence of things will be revealed to be what they are because of their standing in relation to the totality of all other things in light of God's revelation. Because the resurrection is a validation of this basic expectation, and also a validation of Jesus' understanding that he himself was inaugurating that kingdom and able as such to present salvation as already present, that it was present in himself, the material fulfillment of Jesus own expectation in the eschatologically significant event of the resurrection indicates that the kingdom actually IS present in Jesus' proclamation of the coming kingdom, that is, salvation is already occurring (proleptically) in the form of men's relation and belief in Jesus because this reorients them wholly to the kingdom.
But as such, since the kingdom can now be seen as actually present in Jesus' proclamation, that the eschaton is proleptically present in him, because the resurrection (given the apocalyptic connotations) is a material fulfillment of Jesus' basic expectations, then *God has been revealed in Jesus because in him the end has occurred*. Hence it is not JUST that Jesus has been resurrected that we can say the end has begun in him (though this is the epistemological and ontological locus of the decision) but the retroactive verification of Jesus' individuality through the apocalyptic act of God indicates that that Jesus was correct in his placement of himself as executor of the end, as able to eschatologically forgive sins in the immedate present and hence the end is present in Jesus. Just so, because the end is present in Jesus, Jesus is God's revelation as God can and will only be revealed at the end of all events. Hence Jesus' own claims to know God as father and to reveal him (e.g. Matt. 11:27) are related to this basic eschatological horizon which understood God as "near." God can no longer be thought without Jesus, in whom the end is proleptically present: Jesus is God's revelation of Himself.
Pannenberg then follows a line started by Barth: If Jesus is God's revelation, if God now, because He would only be revealed in total at the end of all events, is now revealed in Jesus then the following occurs: "Jesus' resurrection from the dead, in which the end that stands before all men has happened before its time, is the actual event of revelation. Only because of Jesus' resurrection, namely, because this event is the beginning of the end facing all men, can one speak of God's self-revelation in jesus Christ...The concept of self-revelation includes the fact that there can only be one single such revelation...When someone has disclosed himself ultimately in a definite particular event, he cannot again disclose himself in the same sense in another event different from the first...thus either there is always only a partial self-disclosure of God that is perceived under one-sided aspects, or there is in one instance a revelation that certainly is unique by definition, because a plurality again would abrogate its character as revelation...[and] the concept of God's self-revelation contains the idea the the Revealer and what is Revealed are identical...If this were not so, then the human event of Jesus' life would veilthe God who is active therein and thus excluse His full revelation...If God is revealed in Jesus Christ, who or what God is becomes defined only by the Christ event. Thus Jesus belongs to the definition of God, and thus to his divinity, his essence. The essence of God is not accessible at all without Jesus Christ." (p.129-130) "And in view of God's eternity, the revelatory character of Jesus' resurrection means that God was always one with Jesus even before his earthly birth. Were it otherwise, Jesus would not be in person the one revelation of the eternal God." (p.153) Hence "The representation of the Christ event as the descent and reascent of the redeemer hardly involves a Gnosticizing reinterpretation that misconstrued the Jewish tradition and that would be explained as a lack of understanding for the original...Christian message...Rather the resurrected Lord's essential unity with God leads to the idea of preexistence through its own intrinsic logic." (p.153-154). The fullest statement of this comes at the end of the book, and combines the various ideas here presented: "The transition from Jesus' announcement of the imminent Kingdom of God to the confession by his community of Jesus' own kingly rule is to be understood as a materially established step in the primitive Christian history of traditions, not to be judged as an arbitrary leap or even as falling away from Jesus' proclamation. Because Jesus' resurrection confirmed his earthyl claim to authority by the fulfillment of the eschatological future in his own person, he no longer just anticipated the judgement of Him with whom the eschatological reality begins as he did in his earhtly activity, but he himself has now become in person the reality of the future eschatological salvation...Differently expressed, through the resurrection, the revealer of God's eschatological will became the incarnation of the eschatological realit itself; the ultimate realization of God's will for humanity and for the whole of creation could therefore be expected from Him. Moreover, because Jesus' claim was eschatological in character, no other could be conceived alongside Him to bring in the eschatological consummation..." (p.367)
PHEW! Well that was a long winded explanation, and this is only a SMALL portion of the entire book (though I would argue the entire book is essentially an unpacking of this basic concept.) The book itself is longer than the pagination would have you believe due to the incredibly small print used. If one were to use the font size in Pannenberg's Systematics for this book, it would swell another 100 pages (give or take)! There need to be some disclaimers on Pannenberg's method as well, the first is short, the second long (ya I know, roll your eyes...well you don't have to read it): The first is that Pannenberg has often been criticized for his "from below " approach. There are many who argue that Pannenberg needed to supplement also a "from above" approach, a criticism that Pannenberg wholly agrees with. He never intended for this book to be read by itself, but in light of his entire project. The Systematic THeology represents more the "from above movement" (for an appraisal and summary of methodology, see: F. LeRon Shult's The Postfoundationalist Task of Theology)
The second disclaimer: , Pannenberg has occasionally been accused as being an Adoptionist. (See: Donald Bloesch, Jesus Christ Lord and Savior p.142, who accuses Pannenberg of seeing Christ as adopted at the time of His Resurrection). But this is simply not the case. Those like Bloesch (and others) that say Pannenberg believes Christ to have been adopted at the Resurrection have both 1.) missed explicit statements to the contrary (e.g. JGM pp.127-141, esp. p.135) but have also, in general, misunderstood Pannenberg's metaphysical philosophy. See: Wolfhart Pannenberg, Metaphysics and the Idea of God (Grand Rapids, Eerdman's Publishing, 2001)
Metaphysically speaking, any perception of finite parts, or the finite parts themselves (which Pannenberg terms "noetic" and "ontic" conceptions of the limit respectively) can only be understood in relationship to other parts. So to speak parts are parts only in their relationship to other parts. Every time we draw a border, says Pannenberg, we have thought, however vaguely, of something that lie beyond that border. This leads to the dialectical concept of "whole," because parts are parts, almost tautologically, in relation to a whole of the parts.
Every finite thought, then, borrowing from Descartes formulation, presupposes the infinite "unifying unity" that lay behind the whole. This Pannenberg calls a "nonthematic perception" or intuition of the infinite contained in every finite content of consciousness. So to speak, every finite content, both in our understanding of it (noetic) and in itself (ontic) has (to borrow Gadamer's expression) an expressed and unexpressed association to the rest of the totality of reality. What this does then, is to point to the future as the source of completion or totality, because only when (if) the future is completed (which Pannenberg later draws affinities to the Christian understanding of the eschaton) will objects be given to themselves their totality, and hence their essence.
This breeds a specific problem, however: if the preceding is true, then can it be really so that everything is not "what it is" yet? Pannenberg answers the affirmative while circumventing relativism or skepticism. He says that everything that is, exists in a mode of anticipation of its potential completion, and as such, everything's essence exists in relationship to a potential future completion, the future being the source of the wholeness of finite being. Pannenberg ends chapter 5 of Metaphysics with a particularly mind-bending statement: "the essence of events and forms within the natural world changes over the course of time; that is, what they are changes...only at the end of their movement through time, or at the end of more complex series of events, could anyone actually decide what makes up their distinctive character, their essence. At that time, one would have to maintain however that this [final state] had been the essence of the thing in question all along [emphasis mine]...the decision concerning the being that stands at the end of the process has retroactive power...if motion is understood as goal directed becoming, then the goal at which it aims, which will be 'completely' reached at its end, must somehow be already present and efficacious during the motion...if one allows this description (strange as it may seem) to sink it a bit, holding back the overused metaphor of seedlike predisposition and developement, it becomes clear that the presence of the entelecheia in the process of becoming has an anticipatory structure: it implies an anticipatory realization of the eidos before actual realization." (pp.105-106)
Pannenberg points to Jesus as a particular elucidation of this structure: Jesus Resurrection points to a general future resurrection from the dead, but in essence "the eschatological resurrection is viewed as already having broken into history as an anticipation of its final state. The final reality of the eschaton is present proleptically in Jesus as anticipation of its final consummation." (Ibid). But, more importantly, in JGM, Pannenberg writes "Nevertheless the idea that Jesus had received divinity only as a consequence of his resurrection is not tenable. We have seen in our discussion of the meaning of the resurrection event that the character of the confirmation of Jesus' pre-Easter claim is connected with the resurrection. To this extent the resurrection event has retroactive power. Jesus did not simply become something that he previously had not been, but his pre-Easter claim was confirmed by God. This confirmation, the manifestation of Jesus' `divine Sonship' by God, is the new thing brought by the Easter event. However, as confirmation, the resurrection has retroactive force for Jesus' pre-Easter activity, which taken by itself was not yet recognizable as being divinely authorized and its authorization was also not yet definitively settled. However, this has been revealed in its divine legitimation in the light of Jesus' resurrection." (p.135) He goes on to write that "Had Jesus not been raised from the dead, it would have been decided that he also had not been one with God previously. But through his resurrection, it is decided, not only so far as our knowledge is concerned, but with respect to reality, that Jesus is one with God and retroactively that he was also already one with God previously." (p.136) Hence this isn't just an epistemological retroaction, where Jesus is now just SEEN as always having been one with God, but Pannenberg would argue that the ontological state of the event is inseperable from any epistemology we derive from it. Hence Pannenberg is attempting to take seriously the actual course of history.
Well, for anyone who read the whole review, bravo! I recommend this book to anyone interested either in Pannenberg or Christology. Just be prepared for an intense read!
He wrote in the Foreword to the first edition (1964), “To account theologically for faith in Jesus Christ is rendered difficult today by many problems. The great questions in the development of Christological doctrine have remained without effective solution since the time of the ancient church… the confessional statements about Jesus in the church’s tradition either became strange and impossible for contemporary Christians to understand or sank into the undemonstrable subjectivity of so-called perceptions of faith… the thesis that God’s revelation can be known from its historical manifestation in the history of Jesus can find the necessary clarification only by carrying out the interpretation of the Christological traditions as the development of the significance inherent in the activity and destiny of Jesus.” (Pg. xiii-xiv)
He says in the first chapter, “Christology must go behind the New Testament to the base to which it points and which supports faith in Jesus… to the history of Jesus. Christology has to ask and show the extent to which this history substantiates faith in Jesus…Thus the task of Christology is to establish the true understanding of Jesus’ significance from his history, which can be described comprehensively by saying that in this man God is revealed.” (Pg. 11-12)
He cautions, “the danger… in this connection between Christology and soteriology [is]…: Has one really spoken there about Jesus himself at all? Does it not perhaps rather involve projections onto Jesus’ figure of the human desire for salvation and deification, of… the human duty to bring satisfaction for sins committed… and… projections of the idea of perfect religiosity, of perfect morality, of pure personality, and radical trust? Do not the desires of men only become projected upon the figure of Jesus, personified in him?” (Pg. 32)
He acknowledges, “To be sure, Jesus probably never expressed his claim in the forms of the traditional eschatological titles---Messiah, Son of Man, Son of God, etc…. However… Jesus’ community designated and brought to expression the claim of Jesus in the only way possible at that time by its confession of him as Messiah and Son of God.” (Pg. 43)
He admits, “The historical question of the appearances of the resurrected Lord is concentrated completely in the Pauline report, 1 Cor 15:1-11. The appearances reported in the Gospels, which are not mentioned by Paul, have such a strongly legendary character that one can scarcely find a historical kernel of their own in them. Even the Gospels’ reports that correspond to Paul’s statements are heavily colored by legendary elements, particularly by the tendency towards underlining the corporeality of the appearances.” (Pg. 83)
He suggests, “Paul himself apparently presupposed in 1 Cor 15 that the appearance that happened to him had been of the same kind as those imparted to the other apostles… Paul must have seen a spiritual body… on the road to Damascus, not a person with an earthly body… this did not involve an encounter taking place on earth, but an appearance from on high, from ‘heaven’; this element… corresponds completely to the fact that, for the oldest New Testament witnesses, the resurrection and Jesus’ departure to heaven coincide… That the completely alien reality experienced in these appearances could be understood as an encounter with one who had been raised from the dead can only be explained from the presupposition of a particular form of the apocalyptic expectation of the resurrection of the dead.” (Pg. 87-88)
He points out, “The possibility of the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection has been opposed on the grounds that the resurrection of a dead person … would be an event that violates the laws of nature… Yet it appears that from … modern physics judgements must be made much more carefully. First, only a part of the laws of nature are ever known… From another perspective… the validity of the laws of nature is itself contingent. Therefore, natural science … must at the same time declare its own inability to make definitive judgments about the possibility or impossibility of an individual event… The judgment about whether an event… has happened or not is in the final analysis a matter for the historian and cannot be prejudged by the knowledge of natural science.” (Pg. 94-95)
He argues, “Among the general historical arguments that speak for the trustworthiness of the report about the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb is… the fact that the early Jewish polemic against the Christian message about Jesus’ resurrection, traces of which have already been left in the Gospels, does not offer any suggestion that Jesus’ grave had remained untouched. The Jewish polemic would have had to have every interest in the preservation of such a report. However, quite to the contrary, it shared the conviction with its Christian opponents that Jesus’ grave was empty.” (Pg. 98)
He summarizes at the end of Part One, “The Christian Easter message itself rests on the absolute metaphor of the resurrection of the dead, as well as the proleptic element that provides the basis of doxological statements about the God revealed in Jesus, which are metaphorical in structure in their own way. The diverse metaphorical patterns of such statements… require more exact investigation, instead of the gross oversimplification that throws all metaphorical expressions into the pot labelled ‘mythological.’” (Pg. 204)
He suggests, “Jesus not only issued a call to repentance, but with full authority he granted to the men he met the salvation expected in the future… This distinguishes Jesus basically from [John] the Baptist as well as from all the prophets. Thus it may well have been that Jesus lived and thought in close relation to the apocalyptically influenced prophetic tradition… Bu the himself was neither a prophet nor an apocalyptic… Nevertheless, Jesus’ actual activity stands far closer to the prophetic tradition than to either of the other two ‘offices.’” (Pg. 240)
He acknowledges, “There is no doubt that Jesus erred when he announced that God’s Lordship would begin in his own generation… The end of the world did not begin in Jesus’ generation and also not in the generation of his disciples, the witnesses of his resurrection. Here, we stand before the notorious problem of the delay of the Parousia, the problem of the two thousand years that have elapsed without the arrival of the end of the world and God’s universal rule.” (Pg. 231)
He states, “The healing that [Jesus] performed demonstrated concretely that where the message of God’s nearness is grasped completely and in full trust, salvation itself is already effective.” (Pg. 254) “On Jesus’ tongue the name ‘Father’ expresses God’s nearness in a special way… The language of the Lord’s Prayer… shows a uniquely everyday immediacy in God expressed precisely in the address ‘Abba’… the nearness to God that is expressed in the address of God as Father is identical with the eschatological nearness of the Kingdom of God… one can converse with [God] in the language of everyday familiarity.” (Pg. 255)
He says that Jesus “probably rejected the title ‘Messiah’ [Mk 8:27-33]… Only later was Jesus’ earthly life interpreted messianically. This final step ran into difficulties because Jesus’ earthly behavior showed no explicitly sovereign elements. But from the perspective of Jesus’ resurrection, it was clear that no other Messiah was to be expected.” (Pg. 262)
He argues, “we can no longer share Jesus’ imminent expectation [of the Kingdom of God]. We can, however, live and think in continuity with it and thus with Jesus’ activity… this general expectation for the end is not related to a particular calendar date… for its fulfillment. Therefore, it does not become outdated with the passage of historical time … but like all traditional ideas is merely set in a different light in every new situation.” (Pg. 270-271)
He asks, “To what extent is Jesus’ crucifixion to be understood with Paul as the consequence of the power of the law’s curse against him?... We cannot accept as adequate the basis that Paul himself gives for his concept… the statement in Deuteronomy which said that persons hanged from crimes are cursed by God… were the presuppositions of Jewish exegesis in the time of the early church, but we no longer share them. For us, Paul’s idea … that the law itself with its curse was thereby nullified requires a verification for us in Jesus’ own history, namely, in the relation of his way to the cross to the traditional law.” (Pg. 279)
He asserts, “Paul links the Jewish law with the … relation between sin and death, thus making it possible to relate Jesus’ death to all humanity. Paul could express this most vividly by means of the analogy between the death of Jesus and that of a mystery deity. Like a mystery deity, Jesus shared men’s fate… and in return men receive a share in his life… In this sense, Paul presented the universal vicarious significance of the death of Jesus Christ for his time. Today such an explanation is no longer possible. The ideas of the mystery religions can no longer be presupposed as universally convincing truth.” (Pg. 294)
He observes, “In its details the concept of hell is fantastic… the decisive factor, exclusion from God, does not appear among the images of the bottomless pit. This is precisely the only element of the conceptions of hell that theology must retain and set free from the fantastica incrustations. To be excluded from God’s nearness in spite of clear consciousness of it would be hell.” (Pg. 304)
He explains, “The symbolic language of Jesus’ descent into hell expresses the extent to which those men who lived before Jesus’ activity and those who did not know him have a share in the salvation that has appeared in him. That is an extremely important question… Does only the person who believes in Jesus with a conscious decision have a share in the nearness of God that he has opened? Or must account be made for an unconscious participation ins salvation by men who never or only superficially came into contact with the message of Christ? The concept of Jesus’ descent into hell, of his preaching in the realm of the dead, affirms the latter. It asserts that men outside the visible church are not automatically excluded from salvation… Can such a universalism in the understanding of Jesus’ vicarious death be justified on the basis of the event itself?... Jesus could take into account in an explicitly universalistic way the participation of many Gentiles in the coming eschatological salvation [Lk 11:31, Mt 8:11]… the universal element of Jesus’ message and behavior also becomes important for understanding the vicarious significance of his death.” (Pg. 306-307)
He summarizes, “The real problem of the two-natures doctrine is its attempt to conceive what happened in the incarnation as the synthesis of the human and the divine nature in the same individual… Jesus is no synthesis of human and divine of which we can only see the human side in the historical Jesus. Rather, as this man, Jesus is God… It does not mean, naturally, that the universal human nature in Jesus was divine… But Jesus as THIS man, as man in this particular, unique situation, with this particular historical mission and this particular fate---as this man Jesus is not just man…he is one with God and thus is himself God.” (Pg. 367-368) Later, he admits, “we have here a degree of complexity in the matter to be expressed that brings us to the limit of what can be expressed at all and which, therefore… can no longer be described with a sufficient degree of concreteness…” (Pg. 394)
He argues, “Atheism only seems to be such a decision against God; it can affect only specific conceptions of God and in general rests on the atheist’s misunderstanding with regard to the openness of his own existence… [Men] come to the decision against God … as a consequence of their behavior. Here they live in fundamental error about themselves… but which could find fulfillment only in the openness of the self to God.” (Pg. 404-405)
He concludes, “Only the ‘eschaton’ will ultimately disclose what really happened in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Until then we must speak favorably in thoroughly legitimate, but still only metaphorical and symbolic, form about Jesus’ resurrection and the significance inherent in it.” (Pg. 458)
This is a very important work of contemporary theology, which should be read by anyone seriously studying the subject.
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This is the first book I have read by Pannenberg, I will be reading more because of it. It was thoroughly fascinating.Read more