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Systematische Theologie: Dogmatik


Mattes, Mark C.


The Role of Justification in Contemporary Theology.


Grand Rapids-Cambridge: Eerdmans 2004. XVIII, 198 S. gr.8° = Lutheran Quarterly Books. Kart. US$ 25,00. ISBN 0-8028-2856-6.


J. M. Burger

Because justification is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls, this doctrine should bear upon the second-order dis course of theology and affect all of its aspects. This is the central thesis of M.s book. It does not give an analysis of the doctrine of justification itself. Instead, M. analyses the role of the doctrine in the work of five theologians: E. Jüngel, W. Pannenberg, J. Moltmann, R. Jenson and O. Bayer.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part deals with Jüngel, Pannenberg and Moltmann, who are said to follow strategies of accommodation. Seeking a public voice, they do so under the conditions of modernity, transforming the promise into feeling (Jüngel), theory (Pannenberg), or ethics (Moltmann). For Jüngel the gospel involves a transcendental depth dimension to life in a unique experience with experience, comparable to Schleiermacher’s feeling of absolute dependence. Pannenberg conforms to scientific method and suggests that the gospel offers a better cartography of the cosmos, like Hegel did. Moltmann finally follows a Kantian strategy as if truth is to be found in an ideal just society. Thus existentialising, theorising or ethicising the gospel, its linguistic character as promise is lost.
In the second part M. evaluates the other two theologians, both following non-accommodating theological strategies. Although Jenson’s critique of modernity is valued, his solution is not: the catholic community of the church, which is an extension of the trinity. The external word which creates the church is lost in favour of a law-ordered community.
Finally, Bayer’s theology of the promissio provides M. with a position that really focuses on justification as basis and boundary of theology, which is decisive in this book. Following Bayer, M. states that our knowledge is fragmentary and theology should not try to construct a unifying system. Features like the difference of law and gospel, Anfechtung, and the hiddenness of God hinder this attempt. Further, M. is very critical of a Hegel ian influence which he detects in all theologians he deals with, except Bayer. He rejects a Hegelian ›natural theology of the cross‹ as well as Hegel’s interpretation of the finitum capax infiniti doctrine. The cross should not be used to unmask the hidden God. Theology’s task is to deliver the promise of the gospel. It would have made it easier to follow the evaluation of the other theologians, if M. started the book with the chapter on Bayer. The book pretends to evaluate the role of justification in theology. However, I wonder whether M.s position is determined by the doctrine of justification alone; it seems that more theological themes influence his views. – Evaluating the different theologies, M. raises interesting questions.
With regard to Jüngel, he signals a tension in his theology. On the one hand, Jüngel values secularism positive. The human can be human apart from God. On the other hand, Jüngel shows that a sinner is trapped in incurvation. The self lives with self-deceptions, trying to secure itself. Faith makes it possible to live exocentrically in God. This human life is more authentic, with a self which is grounded not in itself but in another. How is it possible to expose modernity’s self-grounding as incurvation, while at the same time valuing modern secularism positively?
Dealing with Pannenberg, M. shows another tension. Pannenberg emphasises the exocentric form of human life, resting on something outside ourselves. In his doctrine of justification however, Pannenberg defends that the judgment of justification is wholly analytical: it acknowledges Christ’s prior indwelling. But now it is not clear any more that we receive our being from outside ourselves. M.s proposal is that the judgment of justification gives Christ and his gifts.
Following Bayer, M. stresses the importance of the promise and its performative character. What I missed in his book is more reflection on the content of the promise: participation in Christ, like Pannenberg and Jenson deal with it. Would he have done so, he could have been less critical in his evaluations. While participating in Christ, the renewal of our lives begins, taking form in a renewed self (Jüngel), a renewed thinking (Pannenberg), a renewed life (Moltmann) or a renewed communion (Jenson). Moreover, reflection on the relation between Christology and eschatology could have made him less critical of ›thinking from the end‹. Not all telos-oriented thinking is Hegelian.
Nevertheless, M.s drive that the gospel should determine the entire fabric of doing theology, and that theology is for delivering its promise, is an important one. From a typical Lutheran perspective, this book provokes thinking.