Wolfhart Pannenberg: Theologian of the Resurrection

With Easter Sunday rapidly approaching it is only fitting to recognize one of the greatest defenders of the historicity of the Resurrection in the twentieth Century, Wolfhart Pannenberg. Pannenberg felt that the study of Theology should be undertaken like other Academic disciplines and in his lifelong quest for truth he found that the Christian faith was deeply intellectually satisfying. I hope you enjoy reading about one of the greatest theological minds of the twentieth century, Wolfhart Pannenberg. Blessings and peace to all, Julian Pace.

He vehemently defended the Resurrection but denied the Virgin Birth. He was hugely influential but leaves few disciples. – Fred Sanders writing for Christianity Today upon the death of Wolfhart Pannenberg

It would not be implausible to say that one day church historians will include Wolfhart Pannenberg, along with Karl Barth, Thomas Oden, and J.I. Packer, as one of the greatest theological minds of the twentieth century. Pannenberg’s prowess in the fields of theology, philosophy, history, and the natural sciences set him apart from his contemporaries. In his lifetime, he molded a unique theological system that on the one hand was generally traditional and Lutheran, yet probing and rational in a way that placed him squarely within the tradition of the Enlightenment. It is probable that his most important contribution to Christian theology was his stirring defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and how he saw this event as the key to all of history, indeed the key to all revelation as well.[1]

Wolfhart Pannenberg was born in Stettin, Germany (now Szczecin, Poland) in 1928, and though he was baptized as an infant into the established Lutheran church he was raised in a secular household. Despite his unchurched and secular background, Pannenberg was apparently a spiritually sensitive person and at sixteen was privy to what he would later call his “Light Experience”.[2] This powerful experience led Pannenberg to critically investigate the world’s religions in light of their philosophical and intellectual merits. The results of this intellectual quest, combined with the guidance of Pannenberg’s literature teacher who was a member of the Confessing Church during the second World War, led Pannenberg to conclude that Christianity was the most reasonable faith system available and therefore he became a Christian.[3]

For virtually his entire career, Pannenberg was a creature of the academy and it is in the field of academic theology that he produced the most written work. However, it should not be overlooked that his contributions in defending the historicity of the Resurrection have influenced and continue to shape the thinking of Evangelical theologians and New Testament scholars to the present day.[4] Indeed, this aspect of his theological output is probably his most enduring legacy. While Pannenberg’s staunch defense of the historicity of Jesus’ Resurrection has won him many admirers in the Evangelical and Roman Catholic world, his liberal German peers were shocked at his findings. While Pannenberg was undoubtedly shaped by the liberal biblical criticism that was, and remains, rampant in German universities, this did not stop him from making the case that the evidence from the Pauline epistles and the existence of the church itself plausibly leads to the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth did indeed rise from the dead.[5]

Dean of Beeson Divinity School Timothy George, is right to point out that Pannenberg’s thinking on several critical theological issues present some problems for Evangelicals.[6] Pannenberg rejected the Virgin birth, Chalcedonian Christology, as well as the concept of biblical inerrancy. However, this did not stop Pannenberg from taking the scriptures seriously and he felt that since the Bible was the record of God’s dealings with man it should be studied vigorously. In conclusion, Evangelicals should approach the work of Wolfhart Pannenberg critically but also with an eye to learn. Despite his errors on important theological issues, Pannenberg’s work on the Resurrection has inspired many other Evangelical theologians and scholars to defend the Resurrection’s historicity with an even greater level of sophistication. Indeed, one cannot help but wonder how many have been persuaded to accept the claims of Christ in part due to the work of Wolfhart Pannenberg. Pannenberg demonstrated that Christianity is a belief system that is firmly grounded in historical events and therefore one need not sacrifice rational thinking and critical investigation on the altar of blind faith. For this reason alone, Pannenberg deserves our enduring respect and admiration.

References

[1] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: (The Westminster Press, 1977), 67-69.

[2] Michael Root, “The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg.” First Things (March 2012): 3-4. Accessed April 5, 2017. https://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/03/the­achievement­of­wolfhart­pannenberg.

[3] Michael Root, “The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg.” 3.

[4] William Lane Craig, “The Resurrection of Jesus” Accessed April 5, 2017. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-resurrection-of-jesus. It is evident when reading Craig that the influence of Pannenberg is present. This is only reasonable as Craig did doctoral work under Pannenberg in Germany. Other Evangelicals like Gary Habermas and Michael Licona have built on Pannenberg’s work on the Resurrection.

[5] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man. 88-106.

[6] David Roach “Dean George on Wolfhart Pannenberg.” Accessed April 5, 2017 http://www.beesondivinity.com/fromthedean/posts/dean-george-on-wolfhart-pannenberg.

For Further Reading

Braaten, Carl E., and Philip Clayton, eds. The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg: Twelve American Critiques with an Autobiographical Essay and Response. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1988.

Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1983.

Olive, Don. Wolfhart Pannenberg. Makers of the Modern Theological Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: Word Publishing, 1977.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus-God and Man. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1977.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. The Apostles Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1972.

 

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You Keep The World (I’ll Take The Cross)

Hello everyone! I am excited to announce that my original song, “You Keep The World (I’ll Take The Cross) will be released to national radio January 2017! Pray that God will use this song to draw people unto Himself. You can listen to the song right here on my Reverb Nation page.

Have you prayed for our President (and President-Elect) today?

I have a knack for picking losers in presidential elections. In 2012, I voted for Mitt Romney and most recently, in 2016, I voted for Evan McMullin. I voted for these men, not because I necessarily thought they were certain winners (they obviously weren’t.) I voted for them because I thought they best reflected my values. Needless to say, you could probably guess that I find neither Barack Obama nor Donald Trump particularly stellar choices for the office of president. Indeed, I have had a number of disagreements with our current president (on issues like abortion, the deficit, and defense) and I have had a number, though fewer, disagreements with Mr Trump (ala defense, trade, and his defense of his complicated and sordid moral past) But, the American people have cast their votes and what’s done is done. At this point we need to be asking what is our responsibility as Christians towards our elected (and newly elected) officials.

In 1st Timothy 2:1-4, the Apostle Paul writes these words to his young protégé and pastoral associate Timothy- “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” In light of other topics, the scriptures don’t have a great deal to say about political issues but here and there we receive poignant advice. In this passage, we are told to pray for all who are in power. No matter who they are, or whether we agree with them, or ever like them! We need to pray for them. We need to be praying that they will make wise decisions. We need to be praying they will make decisions that are pleasing to God. We need to pray that they will be blessed by God. Why? Because no one wants to live in a land wracked with strife and gross misrule and those in authority have the ability to make our lives very difficult if they wish.

I think this verse has a manifold number of practical implications for our day and age but I will only mention three. Firstly, we need to be praying for Barack Obama as he is entering his final two months in office. Oftentimes, presidents will use their final days in office to issue up to hundreds of executive orders and presidential pardons. With no fear of having to justify controversial decisions to an angry electorate, presidents often feel unchained to do what they wish in their final days in office. We need to pray that the President uses his power judiciously as his time in the White House draws to a close.

Secondly, Donald Trump will desperately need our prayers come February as he will enter the presidency facing many incredible challenges. He will not only have to figure out how to deal with an increasingly unstable and violent Middle East, but he will also have to grapple with the challenge of uniting a deeply divided nation. With these issues to deal with, not to mention the economy, immigration, and our national debt, Donald Trump will need all the prayer we can possibly give him. We also need to pray that Donald Trump, who was for a long time staunchly pro-choice, remains committed to creating a culture of life in this country. He has promised to appoint conservative judges to the bench who will review Roe v. Wade. As Christians, we must pray that Mr. Trump will not waver on his promises on this issue.

Thirdly, we must pray for our leaders because the proclamation of the Gospel depends on it. As Americans, we are blessed to live in a free and (mostly) tranquil society. We have an untold number of opportunities to share the Gospel every day without fear of reprisal. We also have the freedom to coordinate international mission work on an incredible scale. Despite the decline in Christian culture in the United States in recent decades we still send more missionaries abroad than almost any other nation. While it is absolutely true that the church is thriving in countries where it faces persecution (particularly China) Christian communities are also being obliterated in places like Syria (that not incidentally, has terrible leadership). Good leaders who foster the development and preservation of free and open societies are a boon to the proclamation of the Gospel.

For these reasons, we need to earnestly pray for President Obama and President-Elect Trump, not to mention the many other people in elected office in our country as well as abroad. Although people in power can often seem unmovable and set in their (sometimes wicked) ways, we must not shirk the command of our Lord and we can always draw inspiration from the truth that “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. (James 5:16)”

The Gospels as Greco-Roman Biographies

Here is a short video of me explaining why I concur with the current scholarly consensus that the Gospels are indeed Greco-Roman biographies. I know probably only the most egg headed will enjoy this but here ya go! -Julian Pace

 

The day Psalm 127:3 finally made sense to me.

It is hard to believe that almost seven months have passed since that day. A day I will never forget. For most people February, 21, 2016 was probably a day much like any other. For me it was unusual as it was one of the very few Sundays when I did not attend church services. Waking up at almost nine o’clock on a Sunday-weird. But we were told to be at the hospital at eleven o’clock sharp to prepare for surgery which of course left attending services out of the question. You see, today was the day my baby boy, Josiah, would draw his first breath and be born via Caesarian section.

To say that I am a stoic fellow would be laughable but I have always liked to think that I am a man of some composure. Certainly, there are always risks when your wife has a baby but I knew she was in the hands of good surgeons who would do their best to keep her and my little boy safe. Besides, it’s not like this was a path I had never been down before. My little girl Gabriella had been born almost a year prior and God had brought us through this process. There were complications but now Gabby was a happy, healthy, and inquisitive little one year old. In fact, these things were all in the back of my mind as I prepared to welcome my son Josiah into the world.

While on the way to the hospital I found myself asking a multitude of questions. What if having your second child is simply not as exciting as when you had your first? Would this time be as special? Would I love this little boy as much as I loved my little girl? All these questions raced through my head and I truly wondered if I was up to the challenge of raising another little youngster.

As a nurse helped me prepare for surgery I felt like I was about to star in a medical drama as I was bedecked in disposable scrubs complete with gloves, mask, and all the necessary accoutrements. With my lovely wife Allison already prepared for surgery I was ushered into the operating room and the doctors set about their work and in just about ten minutes I heard my son cry for the very first time!

It was at this moment that all the veneer of bravado broke down. I was the father of a baby boy! His cries had brought me tears of joy and I could barely contain the feelings of happiness that welled up inside of me. When the nurses informed me he was nearly nine pounds and they joked that “we have a little football player” I could not help but feel a small sense of pride as I thought about my little boy’s future. In just a few minutes I held my little boy in my arms for the very first time. His little hands grasped my thumb as if to hold on for dear life. His every soft, moist breaths forced the hair on my arms to tingle just slightly. It was at this moment I realized that my son, even though I had known him only a few moments, already had a special place in my heart that no one could ever fill quite like he did. It was also at this time that I really began to grasp the truth of Psalm 127:3. This verse says “Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. (NIV)” As a Christian I had always known the truth of this verse but I believe it was in that little hospital room, just Josiah and I, when I began to really experience this truth. Yes, children really are rewards. Precious, tiny, little gifts from God above.