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Systematische Theologie: Dogmatik


Molnar, Paul D.


Incarnation and Resurrection. Toward a Contemporary Understanding.


Grand Rapids-Cambridge: Eerdmans 2007. XIV, 418 S. gr.8°. Kart. US$ 35,00. ISBN 978-0-8028-0998-8.


J. M. Burger

Paul Molnar is well-known from his book Divine Freedom and the Doctrine of the Immanent Trinity, in which he pleads for the use of the distinction between the immanent and the economic trinity, to safeguard God’s freedom. In Incarnation and Resurrection, M. presupposes this distinction and builds upon it further. Now he moves from the doctrine of the trinity to Christology and soteriol­ogy. Karl Barth and Thomas F. Torrance are central to his position in this book.
Starting point of M.’s book is his defence of the ›traditional view‹ of the resurrection (preface). According to M., the resurrection is ›an event in the life of Jesus that gave meaning to‹ faith (XI, 136). Jesus is bodily risen from the dead and his grave was empty. This ›actual physical resurrection from the death‹ and Jesus’ ›definite coming again‹ (136) constitute the basis of the Christian hope. The resurrection has to be ›an event in the life of Jesus which gives meaning to the Christian faith‹ (311), or the church will be left alone with faith but without a risen Lord. The resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith, although the risen Lord enables the faith of his followers by the Holy Spirit. Christ is not risen because I believe, but Christ is risen and therefore I believe.
His understanding of the resurrection is connected to two other theological doctrines. The first was defended in his book on the trin­ity. If the church is not to be left alone with its own faith, we need to differentiate between economic and immanent trinity. The free acts of the triune God, in incarnation, resurrection and the gift of faith, make that the Christian faith really has ground under her feet be­lieving that God saves. The second is the central thesis of this book. Christology has to start with Jesus Christ himself, the incarnate Son of God and the risen Lord. If Christology starts differently, the mean­ing of both the incarnation and the resurrection are undermined. His entire book is an attempt to prove this central thesis.
M. gives an analysis of ten (!) theologies. He is interested in their theological method and especially the starting point of Christology, views of the trinity, of the incarnation, and of the resurrection and the empty grave. Finally he asks for the ethical implications of the views of the theologian under discussion. This makes it possible to show that wrong decisions with regard to Christology, incarnation and resurrection result in self-justification and leave the church more or less alone, without a risen Lord who saves.
In the first part of his book (ch. 1–4) he describes Karl Barth, Karl Rahner and Thomas Torrance (ch. 1–3). In these chapters, the big decisions are made. Barth and Torrance are M.’s heroes. Many sharp questions are addressed to Rahner, who is criticised for his a priori anthropology (his concepts of the obediential potency and the supernatural existential), his ontology of the symbol which causes problems in his doctrine of the trinity, and his evolutionary view of the world which compromises God’s freedom towards his creation. M. shows that this causes problems in Rahner’s views of the resurrection and the incarnation, and results in some form of self-justification. After these three important theologians, he summarizes his findings for the first time (ch. 4).
In the next three chapters, M. deals more briefly with six other theologians: John Macquarrie, Paul F. Knitter (ch. 5), Gordon Kaufmann and Sallie McFague (ch. 6), as well as Roger Haight and John Hick (ch. 7). In these chapters, M. has a relatively easy job to prove that his position is stronger than that of his six opponents. The more interesting test of his thesis is given in the eighth chapter, which deals with Wolfhart Pannenberg. M. deals critically with several features of Pannenberg’s theology, such as the horizon of apocalyptic expectation which, according to M., Pannenberg views as the real basis of faith instead of the risen Christ himself; the empty tomb which can be proven to be historically very probable; his view of the incarnation which cannot escape conceptually the charge of adoptianism; and his doctrine of the trinity which is ›on the road toward a dependent deity‹ (298). According to M., anthropology dictates Pannenberg’s thoughts (296, 299). In the final chapter, M. presents his conclusions.
M. has made an important statement with this book. He has claimed that the Christian view of salvation cannot stand without the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the death and from his grave, and without Jesus Christ who is both the incarnate Son of God and our risen Lord. His analyses of the different theologians are often sharp and convincing. The name and subject index makes the book even more useful.
At the same time, M. does not convince me entirely. To mention three issues: First, his interpretation of Karl Barth results in a Karl Barth read too much in the light of classical theology. The recent discussion between M. and McCormack about God’s freedom shows that M. tends to leave more room for abstractions from God’s concrete revelation in Jesus Christ than Karl Barth wanted to be true. Where do we in Incarnation and Resurrection, for example, read about Karl Barth scepticism regarding abstract concepts like the logos asarkos? And is Karl Barth the end of Christology as he seems to be for M., or did Barth’s proposal, a Christology from above, cause new problems?
Second, M. is justified in his criticisms of an a priori anthropology. According to M., Rahner and Pannenberg both are guilty of such an anthropology. Accordingly, M. criticises Pannenberg who shows the importance of the Jewish apocalyptic expectations for understanding the resurrection. But M.’s alternative is a Christ who cannot be understood, for the resurrection was ›utterly new and inexplicable from any prior knowledge or experience, Jewish or other‹ (267). As a result, Jesus Christ is separated from the story of his people Israel, of which He is the fulfilment. But if God already acts in the history of Israel (cf. the Christologies of Robert Jenson and A. van de Beek) it is essential to understand Jesus Christ within the horizon – not of an a priori anthropology but – of this history: his message of the kingdom of God, his eschatology, his resurrection, and the interpretation given by his followers to his message, his person, as well as his death and resurrection.
Third, M. is not very clear about his own christological method. What does he, for example, understand by the starting point of Christology? What does it mean for Christology to start with Jesus Christ himself and how does it work? More hermeneutical clarity is necessary here.
Fourth, although I value his attempt to show that a wrong Chris­tology leads towards a church left alone with its own faith and to self-justification, I doubt whether self-justification is always a necessary result of a wrong Christology in M.’s eyes. A Lutheran theologian, for example, who starts his Christology with the resurrection might very well be ›prevented‹ from self-justification by his Lutheran heritage. Further, I regret that M. chose the doctrine of justification to show that the Christian is left alone without the right views of resurrection and incarnation and not another point of doctrine: the resurrection of the believers when Christ comes again (324.326). However, it is important that M. shows that a wrong Christology has consequences for soteriology. Therefore, his book is worth reading.