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Systematische Theologie: Dogmatik
Die Glaubwürdigkeit des Christentums. Die Theologie Wolfhart Pannenbergs als Herausforderung.
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2017. 652 S. = Forschungen zur systematischen und ökumenischen Theologie, 160. Geb. EUR 150,00. ISBN 978-3-525-56456-1.
Paul Silas Peterson
Wolfgang Greive, who worked as Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Assistant in Munich from 1972 to 1975, has provided the academic community of theologians with an invaluable resource: A full-scale summary, analysis and contemporary deployment of Pannenberg’s theology. There are, of course, many other studies on Pannenberg’s work, such as Gunther Wenz’s Wolfhart Pannenbergs Systematische Theologie. Ein einführender Bericht (2003), or more recently Theo-dore James Whapham’s The unity of theology: The contribution of Wolfhart Pannenberg (2017). In fact, there are a growing number of studies in English that focus on his work. Yet the breadth and depth of G.’s study are truly unique by any comparison. It is an indispensable resource for understanding Pannenberg’s theology in a comprehensive way, and especially with view to Pannenberg’s intellectual emergence and his earliest theological influences. The fact that G. has also drawn upon many new sources, including many unpublished works, also puts the 652-page volume in a league of its own. The book is organized in four parts. Part one is concerned with the relevance of Pannenberg’s approach to theology and philosophy. The second part offers a summarizing presentation of Pannenberg’s own theological development. The third part analyzes Pannenberg’s magnum opus, the three volume Systematic Theology. The fourth part dedicates a hundred pages to the credibility (or plausibility) of Christianity in Pannenberg’s thought; this is the central issue that is returned to throughout the entire monograph. According to G., Pannenberg has offered us a »philo-sophical-theological conception which attempts to give a credible response to the questioning of Christianity in the modern age« (17). Yet G.’s study is more than a summary of Pannenberg’s work. G. brings Pannenberg’s thought into direct conversation with many contemporary philosophers and cultural theorists, such as Habermas, Koselleck, Rorty, Terry Eagleton, Günter Grass and Markus Gabriel. G. also offers a very instructive presentation of the discussion in philosophy that Pannenberg was both responding to and building upon. As he shows, the debates about the philosophy of history in the 1950s and 1960s were extremely important for Pannenberg’s own development and the nature of his theological profile, especially as this relates to conceptions of truth in history, or truth as a part of historical development. One especially insightful part of the book is found in G.’s analysis of Pannenberg’s understanding of the theology of reason (in the fifth section of the second part, 203–239). Here G. draws upon a lecture that Pannenberg gave in the 1960s. Most impressively, G. analyzes these lectures drawing directly upon Pannenberg’s own lecture notes (which are now in the Archiv der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften) and, in addition to this, G.’s own personal notes, which he took on the lectures when he attended them in the 1960s. This part of the volume is special for this reason alone, but also because the subject matter is so critical for understanding Pannenberg. As G. demonstrates, the question about the rationality of theology and the interrelationship of reason and theology were critical for Pannenberg’s theological journey. In these lectures, as G. remarks, Pannenberg criticized the »strategies of immunization of modern theology against the claims of reason« (205). The lectures analyze various types of reason.
In this context, Pannenberg builds upon his well-known concept of theological rationality in terms of a »Vorgriff« (preliminary conception in »anticipation« of certainty) as opposed to a final »Begriff« (grasped »concept« at a higher level of certainty). The rationality of historical reason and the historicity of truth – concepts that are potentially dangerous for religious faith – can thus be embraced from a theological perspective and integrated into the articulation of key Christian themes. This is possible, according to Pannenberg, because the ultimate revelation of truth will be estab-lished at the end of history. These insights, which draw upon conceptions of the wholeness of history at its end, and the full revela-tion of the truth at the culmination of its historical realization, seem to have been developed in large part through Pannenberg’s encounter with Gadamer’s philosophical responses to Dilthey and Heidegger. In Pannenberg’s work, the concept of eschatological anticipation is thus worked down into the fundamental substructure of the Christian faith in all its particularities. If philosophical rationality is to be concerned with a comprehensive understanding of the whole, which can only be grasped in the anticipatory sense, the Christian faith must not be left out of this process. Indeed, it has an analogical framework of anticipation in its own eschatological hope. Both discourses (philosophy and Christian faith) then have a shared foundation in encountering and interpreting the same real-ity within preliminary frameworks of interpretation. This was one of the key philosophical and systematic theological concepts that Pannenberg introduced into the theological discourses in the latter part of the 20 th century. It has often been called a new form of apologetics. Yet it was also more than this in its attempt to return to the big questions of God, world, human life and meaning. In a sense, as G. demonstrates, it allows theology to engage philosophy and na-tural science without concealed »strategies of immunization.«
While Pannenberg is certainly on the shortlist of the most influential and most important theologians of the second half of the 20th century, there are still many avenues of research into his work that have not yet been explored. G. shows us how this research can be continued today in his deeply informative study and thereby provides the church with an example of an articulate and intellectually coherent faith. This is all the more important given the rise of secular trends in Western societies and especially with view to newer forms of materialist-naturalistic philosophy. G. outlines Pannenberg’s development as one deeply influenced by the intellectual crises of the 20 th century and the revision of theology after World War II. The initial post-war philosophical responses to these philosophical problems concerning the meaning of history and the capacity and power of human rationality, and especially the de-velopment of a hermeneutical philosophy of history, were key intellectual streams of thought that guided his theology. G.’s book provides a good presentation of Pannenberg’s intellectual development while also demonstrating the continuing relevance of his thought, and for this it is worthy of very high praise. However, a caveat is in order here: Readers must be prepared to engage G.’s study with an ardent commitment. Its length, structure and subject matter are not for the faint hearted.
Like Pannenberg’s own work, G.’s study shows all the marks of wrestling with an anticipated universality, one which confirms both faith and reason in the fullest sense.