The Origins And Limitations Of Pannenberg’s Eschatology -- By: David J. Zehnder

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 53:1 (Mar 2010)
Article: The Origins And Limitations Of Pannenberg’s Eschatology
Author: David J. Zehnder

The Origins And Limitations Of Pannenberg’s Eschatology

David J. Zehnder

David Zehnder is a Ph.D. candidate at Concordia Seminary, 801 Seminary Pl., St. Louis, MO 63105-3196.

With the close of the twentieth century and opening of the twenty-first, time is opportune for theologians to shore up the last century’s results and determine their value for today’s theology. Because of his importance to late twentieth-century theology, this essay discusses Wolfhart Pannenberg and his rather novel contribution to eschatology in which he conceived the entire truth of God. Despite pressures to relegate theological insight to subjective values, Pannenberg uniquely substantiated Christianity’s historical truth in an ambitious defense of universal, public theology.1

In contrast, Protestant theology in Germany’s modernity had largely taken flight and hid its truth from critical dissenters within academic science. The scrutiny of reason and science against religion precipitated a series of hiding techniques with which theologians have shielded religion. Kant placed it within the limits of ethics; Friedrich Schleiermacher placed the truth of religion in the feeling of absolute dependence (das Gefühl schlechthiniger Abhängigkeit) or “God-consciousness.”2 Later, Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann, in their peculiar ways, hid God in his transcendent otherness, denying natural theology, while Paul Tillich hid God in the mystery of Being (Sein) itself and nearly forfeited claims to Christian particularism. With this legacy behind him, Pannenberg’s attempt to uphold traditional Christian claims against competing gods and worldviews is, for all of its subtlety of presentation, audacious. But he sees universality as constitutive of theology itself and cannot imagine talk of God—the creator and source of all life—without these absolute claims.

His system requires a specific understanding of world history as the history of God’s reign. Because time still marches on and God’s reign is not yet consummated, knowledge of him is incomplete. But God is still accessible from the context of history’s end. Indeed, the future is the theme in Pannenberg I wish to scrutinize because it is a unique, last-century idea whose usefulness is still unclear for the current century. Pannenberg maintains that all true knowledge of God flows from the context of universal history as completed

in the future. To explain this concept, I found it necessary to trace its development within the formative years of his thinking, only there comprehending his thesis that...

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