History, Language, And Hermeneutic: The Synthesis Of Wolfhart Pannenberg -- By: Jim S. Halsey

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 41:2 (Spring 1979)
Article: History, Language, And Hermeneutic: The Synthesis Of Wolfhart Pannenberg
Author: Jim S. Halsey

History, Language, And Hermeneutic:
The Synthesis Of Wolfhart Pannenberg

Jim S. Halsey

Viewing and conceiving certainly means encompassing, and we are superior to, and spiritually masters of, what we can encompass.”1 The dialectical theologian Karl Barth applied the above notion to the doctrine of God, and, by implication, to the Scriptures as the Word of God. The “proposition”, according to Barth, circumscribes and defines; it transforms its subject matter into a. mere object which can thus be manipulated and controlled by the mind of the knowing subject. For Barth, however, God and his authentic Word can never be “pinned down” by any sort of conceptual net. Human words, when applied to God, do not actually tell of God directly, because, as finite, they must necessarily “break apart” before the Infinite, “the lines which we draw to describe formally and conceptually what we mean when we say ‘God’ cannot be extended so that what is meant is really described or defined but they continually break apart so that it is not actually described and therefore not defined.”2 The result of Barth’s theology is a dualism between what the later Barth labelled Historie and Geschichte. Historie is that which is subject to the dictates of the critical method -it is the realm of past events. The Word of God as contained in (but not identical to) the Scriptures (as written document) has nothing to do with this sort of history: “God and His Word are not presented to us in the way in which natural and historical entities are presented to US.”3 Geschichte is the region where God’s genuine Word is found. This Word; the Word which cannot be manipulated or conceptualized, comes directly to the believer. In the realm of Geschichte, historical-critical methods are of no use.

While such a bifurcation of history certainly immunizes the claims of the Christian message from the methods of critical historiography, it also tends to isolate them as well. With such an equivocal notion of theological predication as that expressed by Barth, it is difficult to understand how any sense could be made of doctrinal statements. It is for this very reason, i.e., the literal senselessness of the Barthian revelation, that a powerful challenge to dialectical theology arose in the early 1960’s in the theology of the so-called “Pannenberg circle.” A concerted effort is being made by Pannenberg and his associates to join what Barth split asunder (history and revelation). However, their task is not an easy one. After all, Barth’s c...

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