Why Pietism?

Recently I published an article on my blog about the renewal movement called “Pietism” that grew out of German Lutheranism in the 1600s and 1700s. Lately I have been immersing myself in the writings of the great leaders of the Pietist movement such as Philipp Jakob Spener and August Herman Franke. Furthermore, I have been reading the work of modern scholars of the Pietist movement such as Roger Olson, Dale Brown, F. Ernest Stoeffler, and Christian Collins-Winn. With so much of my time being spent on this enterprise, and with it being the probable subject of my doctoral dissertation (God willing, I will begin doctoral studies this fall), my wife understandably asked me “why are you so interested in studying Pietism?”

Pietism in not a well-known term amongst Evangelical Christians even though it might be the most influential renewal movement of the Protestant tradition. Pietism as a movement emphasized the necessity of conversion, the importance of individual as well as small group Bible Study, and that authentic Christianity was more than mere mental assent to core Christian doctrines. The Pietists firmly believed that Christianity was a “heart” and not just a “head” faith. The Pietists were also people of great social concern. Something of a rallying cry of theirs was that they existed for “God’s glory and their neighbor’s good.”

Pietism as an ethos has influenced Lutheranism as well as the Anabaptist movement in Christianity. Indeed, the Church of the Brethren in the United States has been especially influenced by Pietism. The Evangelical Covenant Church (one of the fastest growing Protestant denominations in the United States) is a distinctly Pietistic denomination. John and Charles Wesley were profoundly influenced by the Moravians who were a Pietistic people. It is hard to find a Protestant tradition that has been entirely untouched by the Pietist tradition. It is remarkable that it is so little known when it’s influence has been so wide.

“Why am I studying Pietism?” I study Pietism in part because it brought revival to German Lutheranism when it was desperately needed. Mainstream German Lutheranism in the 1600s and 1700s had become a stale and arid thing. The Pietists did much to revive German Lutheranism. The Pietists cared for thousands of orphans, printed millions of Bibles, and sent out many effective missionaries all over the world. The idea that they lived for “God’s glory and their neighbor’s good” was more than just a slogan, it was a way of life.

I also study Pietism for greater self-understanding. Pietist ideas have deeply influenced Evangelicalism and I want to know more about this trans-denominational movement that has deeply shaped what I believe and how I live my life. Finally, I believe Pietism may contain valuable insights for renewal in Evangelicalism today. The Evangelical Church in the United States needs renewal. We need to mobilize for the 21st century and reach the one-third of the world that still has not heard the Gospel. Who better to draw inspiration from than the Pietists? Pietistic Lutherans were some of the first to send missionaries to the native peoples of Greenland and Canada. Pietists missionaries were the first people to translate the Bible into Tamil. A language spoken by many people in India.

In short, I believe that the Pietists can show Evangelicals what it truly means to live a life for “God’s glory and our neighbor’s good.” Is there a more authentically Christian way of life than this? Is any other kind of life even worth living?

“Love so amazing, so divine”

Playing music has often been one of my favorite ways to wind down after a long day and today was no exception. This particular evening I found myself at my piano playing odds and ends of various Gospel songs and hymns. After a few minutes of this I began to play through, and sing, the old hymn “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross.” This has always been one of my favorite hymns both melodically and lyrically and perhaps not incidentally, one of the first songs I ever learned to play on the piano. I have probably played this song hundreds, if not thousands, of times over my life. This time however, the final lyrics touched me more deeply than usual. If you are unfamiliar with the lyrics this is how they go. “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” Simple, but powerful lyrics they are.

As I began to reflect on the truth of these lyrics I was reminded of the power of the Gospel. The Gospel is fundamentally a story about God’s sacrifice. Indeed, the Gospel is the greatest picture of sacrificial love that people have ever been privy to. Despite our rebellion God did not abandon us, God loved us, God became human for us, God shed his blood on the cross for us and God even tasted death for us. “Love so amazing, so divine” indeed.

Love of this nature simply demands a response as the old song goes. If one thinks deeply on what Jesus, the God-man, gave up for us so that we might be redeemed, we will necessarily be moved. If Jesus really gave his life for us so that we might be reconnected with a holy God, then neutrality is no longer a viable response to such a display of sacrificial love. It most certainly “demands my soul, my life, my all.”

This kind of sacrificial love demands that I give “my soul” to him and trust him as Savior and Lord. If there is anyone I can trust my destiny with, it is Jesus. He gave his life for me, and he has conquered death through his resurrection. Thus, I can be confident that I too will experience resurrection.

This kind of sacrificial love demands “my life.” Easy-believism or a fire-insurance mentality about my relationship with Jesus simply will not do. Jesus’s example of self-sacrifice demands that I serve him and serve others. There is enough selfishness in this world, there are too many people who live as if the world exists only to bring them pleasure. Many are fine with attaining pleasure at other people’s expense. I don’t want to continue this trend.

This kind of sacrificial love demands “my all.” Jesus was willing to give his all on the cross. He not only shed his blood and gave his life, but he was willing to suffer separation from his heavenly Father by becoming the perfect sacrifice for our sins. This kind of love demands that I give every part of who I am to the cause of Christ without reservation. I must be willing to sacrifice comfort, reputation, wealth, and even my own will for the cause of Christ. This is a great and difficult calling, but a necessary one considering what Jesus has done for us.

“Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” As I close with the writing of this reflection, these lyrics remain deeply imprinted into my mind. I am reminded that the Christian call is a call to death, death to oneself that is. It is a call to sacrifice, but as Jesus’s example shows, sacrifice can bring about beautiful results. This week I will consciously try to live by these lyrics and give “my life” and “my all” to Jesus. It is the very least I can do.

The West must remember it’s Judeo-Christian history

Recently I was reading through the May/June 2018 edition of the Foreign Policy magazine Foreign Affairs. Although my professional background is in the pastorate and not in statecraft, I have always felt that every servant of the church should have a firm grasp of the current issues of our day. I am particularly interested in how theology, politics, and foreign policy intersect. I suspect that many people who work in the field of foreign policy might be surprised at how much their assumptions have been shaped by philosophies whose underpinnings are grounded in ancient Western theological concepts. Indeed, most people who work in the foreign policy establishment of the western world would affirm that people have certain human rights and that government policy should take into account the well-being of the people they serve. The Western foreign policy establishment tends to assume that people have human rights because all people have worth and dignity. This belief in turn stems from the Judeo-Christian principle that all people are made in the “image of God” and thus their lives have objective value and worth. Many people in modern Western culture fail to recognize the Judeo-Christian foundation of much of our thought, but it’s influence is undeniable.

In the May/June 2018 edition of Foreign Affairs, scholars Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa argue that the era of democratic ascendancy is over and that the world will increasingly be dominated by wealthy autocracies. Indeed, they note that the total wealth of autocracies already outweighs that of democracies. Their premise is a simple one, when the western democracies enjoyed unprecedented wealth and good governance it was no suprise that they dominated world affairs. It is also not surprising that much of the developing world aspired to follow their example. Now democratic societies increasingly suffer from inneffective governance and a lack of unity. Some are witnessing profound domestic strife. Government institutions are ineffective and show signs of marked strain. Many Western democracies are plagued by slow economic growth. On the other hand, many autocratic governments have embraced the economic models of the West while rejecting it’s societal distinctives. Have societies like China proven that economic freedom and autocracy can coexist, and even thrive together? Is their system the wave of the future? Should the West embrace such a way of life?

Some have argued that wealthy autocracies are the way of the future. They have also argued that autocracies are now proving that they can provide a high standard of living to their people without the problems often associated with unruly democracies. However, we must then ask the question, should a society be judged solely upon it’s ability to provide economic prosperity to it’s people? Even if autocracies prove they can produce more wealth than democratic ones, should we accept such a way of life for this reason alone? I am convinced that if Western democracies want to rediscover their vitality and provide a compelling vision for the world they must rediscover their heritage. They must demonstrate that life is not simply about accumulating things. Is life really worth living if you are supremely wealthy but can’t practice your religous beliefs without fear of reprisal? Autocracies may indeed be demonstrating that they can provide a high standard of living for their people, but they do so at a high cost to the human soul.

People in the West must demonstrate that there is a difference between a good society and merely an efficient society. It is time for the West to demonstrate that it’s values are not mere social constructs but are in fact grounded in the mind and heart of a benevolent creator God. Furthermore, due to their grounding in God, they are not merely “Western” ideas but are for all people. Only then will the West have a truly robust and consistent response to autocracies who can provide great economic benefits to their people, but often ignore their God-given human rights. Western democracies have their flaws to be sure. We often exhibit moral blindspots when it comes to abortion, euthansia, and issues related to cloning. However, it is also undeniable that Western ideals have proven beneficial to the world many times over. The West’s emphasis on human rights, which have lead to improvements in education, healthcare, and poverty reduction the world over, are to be celebrated. The West must remember that what we believe about the divine affects how we see everything else. The resources for a Western renaissance are available but we must look to our past. We must remember the spiritual underpinnings that made us great. We must remember that people deserve to be treated a certain way because they are made in the image of a loving God. Only then will the West truly regain it’s greatness and moral influence.

 

 

Has America lost it’s love for children?

Recently I read a rather troubling article in the New York Times that states that U.S. birthrates have continued to decline to record lows for two years in a row. You can read the full article here at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/17/us/fertility-rate-decline-united-states.html . Why is this a problem? Well for one, the article noted that it is only due to immigration that the United States’s population is continuing to grow. Praise God for immigration! Second, with fewer children being born the challenge of replacing older people in the workforce and caring for elderly parents and grandparents only becomes more accute. Finally, looking at the problem from a spiritual perspective I have to wonder if the decline in U.S. birthrates is indicative of a deeper and more profound moral problem. Has America lost it’s love for children?

Now it should be noted that the article suggests that some women are opting to have children later in life to focus on their careers. They want a family, they are simply delaying starting one. If this is correct then we could see birthrates rise in the next couple of years as these people attain their career goals and start having children. Then again, how many of us have said we would do something in the next couple of years only to find that tomorrow never comes? Let me just say that I am not against women having careers. Indeed, my wife Allison is beginning graduate school in the Fall of 2018 to pursue her goal of becoming a Liscensed Professional Counselor (and make twice what I do to boot!) I believe that women have a lot to contribute to our society and are better suited to many professions than men are. So my concern is not with women having careers at all.

My concern is that when you take into account the multiple realities of abortion on demand, absentee fathers, and continual declines in birthrates, have we reached a place in America where having children is simply not all that important anymore? Are children a nuisance, a burden to many Americans? Is this part of the reason that Toys R Us will be closing it’s doors soon? (Sure the high prices probably did’nt help either.) Psalm 127:3 tells us that “Children are a reward from the Lord (NLT)” but have many Americans lost sight of this and exchanged one of life’s greatest rewards for lesser joys? Finally, as Christians what is our responsiblity as we face this challenge in our culture? What do we do to demonstrate in a loving, winsome, and persuasive way that children are one of life’s greatest blessings? What do you think?

 

 

The Confident Christian

First Peter 3:15 says “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (NIV)”. Ever since the Pilgrims set out for the New World in 1620 in search of religious freedom, the Christian faith has played an integral role in shaping American culture. For many, the Christian faith was a stabilizing and positive influence in society. However, with the rise of secularism in the United States as well as the broader western world, many people increasingly look at the Christian faith with a skeptical, even hostile attitude. Will it be said of us that we as believers responded to this challenge with composure and grace, or that we shrank when skeptics asked the tough questions?

Many Christians live in fear of someone asking them a question such as: Why do you believe in God? Why do you call Jesus your Savior? Why is attending Church services so important to you? While we should always be ready to admit that we don’t have all the answers, we should also be equally confident of the fact that we serve a God who does. In James 1:5 we are given the promise that if we pray and ask God for wisdom he will give us the wisdom we so desire. Thus, we should always remember that before we set out to gather knowledge, we must first ask for wisdom from God. Only then will we know how to wisely apply the knowledge we gain from study and reflection.

Christians should receive a boost of confidence from the fact that the tradition we are a part of is filled with intellectual and spiritual giants. Indeed, great thinkers today still mine the words of Augustine, Anselm, Calvin, and of course, Jesus of Nazareth, for insight on topics as diverse as ethics, philosophy, history, and theology. Indeed, these thinkers ably defended the faith on intellectual grounds in the face of questions from skeptics from many different backgrounds. Leaning heavily on the thinking of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1, Christian apologists have often pointed out that the order and beauty of the universe points to the existence of a wise, master creator. Indeed, Psalm 19:1 proclaims “The heavens declare the glory of God (NIV)” Furthermore, the very existence of the disciples’ faith after Jesus’ crucifixion points to the truth that they actually saw their Savior resurrected on the third day. These are just a few of the arguments that have been put forth in favor of the reasonableness of our faith.

It should be noted that 1st Peter 3:15 is just as concerned with the spirit in which we defend our faith as well as the reasons we suggest for why we think our faith to be true. Christians are to be people who show love to all persons, in all situations. Indeed, the command to love our neighbor is given without qualification. When we share our faith with others we should always take care to be fair and respectful to those who disagree with us.

Perhaps it is only fitting that I should save what I believe to be the most important aspect of sharing one’s faith for last. While I do think Christians should be both intellectually and emotionally fit witnesses for the faith I think it is perhaps eminently more important, and probably more persuasive, for Christians to be ready to share at a moment’s notice what God has accomplished in their lives personally. Oftentimes, people will be more impressed by someone’s account of how God brought them through a battle with cancer, or how God healed them from bitterness and resentment towards a person who wounded them earlier in life. We should also be ready to share our testimony of how Jesus Christ drew us unto himself and brought us out of darkness into his marvelous light. All the knowledge and eloquence this world has to offer fare poorly when placed in juxtaposition with how God can transform people for the better. Indeed, this must be the most effective evidence for the truth and vitality of what we believe.

 

 

A Resurrection Reflection for Easter 2018

 

1st Corinthians 15:12-19 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

I must say that I have always been intrigued by the Apostle Paul’s candor in this passage. Paul does not hedge his bets on the doctrine of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and indeed he unapologetically states that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then all he has preached, all he has believed in, and all the hope he has placed in a future of eternal life, is futile and meaningless. If Jesus Christ did not rise, human beings are sure to sin continually and only suffering and death awaits us in the end. For Paul, if the Resurrection of Jesus is a myth then the whole structure of the Christian faith collapses. No Resurrection-No Christian faith! Paul’s candor about the importance of the Resurrection leads me to conclude several things. Things that I believe still have great import for us today…

  1. Without the Resurrection of Jesus, man’s age-old quest for immortality must begin again. Let’s get very real for a moment here. If Jesus was crucified by the Romans (a punishment experienced by thousands of rebels against the Roman regime) and was laid in a tomb to never rise again, then Jesus of Nazareth was perhaps a great moral teacher in the tradition of the Jewish rabbis of the past, but he was clearly not all that he claimed to be. In John 10:30 Jesus claimed to be the giver of eternal life. If Jesus died, to never rise again thereafter, then what reason do we have to be confident in him for eternal life? Christianity without it’s central offer of eternal life to all those who will believe in Jesus Christ, is a truncated faith robbed of it’s true power and greatness.
  2. The Resurrection cannot be “mythologized” and still retain its’ power. Some very liberal Christian theologians such as John Shelby Spong and John Dominic Crossan have concluded that the historical evidence is against Jesus Christ rising again in the flesh on the third day. However, in an attempt to salvage the Christian message, they will argue that the Resurrection can be viewed “metaphorically” and that the risen Jesus the early Christians experienced was a subjective one. This line of reasoning has lead to such jarring (and may I say foolish) affirmations such as “I believe in the risen Lord, but not the empty tomb.” Such an understanding will simply not do in Paul’s theology. For the early Christian church, the risen Jesus was someone who could be touched, who could eat with his disciples, who could be experienced just as really as before his crucifixion.
  3. There is no doctrine more central to the Christian faith than the Resurrection of Jesus. As I stated before, Paul does not hedge his bets on the doctrine of Jesus’s Resurrection. In Paul’s estimation, if Jesus did not rise again then Christianity is deprived of all of its’ truth value. Does Paul ever speak of any other doctrine in quite this manner in the New Testament? Now, let me say that this should not lead us to conclude that all doctrines outside of the Resurrection are not important. Indeed, all Christians ought to believe in the Trinity and the authority of the Holy Scriptures. However, it is undeniable that Paul thought that the doctrine of the Resurrection held a unique and central place in the corpus of Christian doctrine.

As I write this “Resurrection Reflection” for Easter 2018, the Apostle Paul reminds me of the centrality, the wonder, and the beauty of the Resurrection of Jesus. I am reminded of the historical evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection. I am reminded of the fact that his disciples were willing to give their lives for the cause of Jesus. Is it rational to conclude that they would die for a “metaphorical” Jesus, a product of their own imaginations? Perhaps most of all I am given comfort and joy because I know that my redeemer lives and because of that eternal life is sure. Thus I say, this Easter 2018, with the Christians of the past: He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed!

Why do Christians suffer?

The problem of human suffering is a real one that affects both Christians and non-Christians alike. It has lead many people to respond in bitterness to God and those around them. Indeed, the renowned Biblical Scholar Bart Ehrman (a graduate of the conservative Moody Bible Institute) has gone on record to say that it is the problem of human suffering which ultimately lead him to abandon his Christian faith.[1] While the atheist can only conclude that human suffering is ultimately meaningless, cruel, and final, the Christian can have a much more positive outlook. The scriptures teach that God is saddened by the sufferings of human beings and that human suffering can have redemptive value. That is precisely the message of Hebrews 12:4-14. This passage has much to teach us on why God allows his children to experience suffering and how we are to respond to our fellow men despite the struggles we face.

Hebrews 12:4-11 is best viewed as a unit. The theme of this short passage is certainly that of “discipline.” In this passage the word “discipline” is translated from the Greek noun “paideia” (or “paideutes” in verse nine) and connotes the idea of “the education of a child”[2] The passage also mentions how God, and competent and loving earthly Fathers, faithfully discipline their children. When used in this verbal sense, the Greek word behind the translation is “paideuo” and connotes the idea of “educating and bringing up child.”[3] The author of Hebrews wastes no time in demonstrating to us why God disciplines us by allowing us to face suffering and trials. Verses five and six are instructive “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives. (NASB)” The author of Hebrews makes an undeniably bold claim here to Christians: Oftentimes our suffering is a sign of God’s very love toward us!

Indeed, the author of Hebrews goes on to explain that God allows us to face trials because he loves us and wants to conform us to the image of his Son. Verse ten says “but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness (NASB).” John Wesley commented that the “holiness” that is being spoken of in verse ten is none other than a referent to “God and his glorious image.”[4] For Wesley, God wisely uses trials to draw us closer to himself and thus bring greater spiritual awareness and reward into our lives. The author of Hebrews soberly notes in verse eleven that trials and suffers are indeed unpleasant and bring much sorrow, but God can, and does, use them to make us righteous. On this passage Matthew Henry writes

By steadfastly looking to Jesus, their thoughts would strengthen holy affections, and keep under their carnal desires. Let us then frequently consider him. What are our little trials to his agonies, or even to our deserts? What are they to the sufferings of many others? There is a proneness in believers to grow weary, and to faint under trials and afflictions; this is from the imperfection of grace and the remains of corruption. Christians should not faint under their trials. Though their enemies and persecutors may be instruments to inflict sufferings, yet they are Divine chastisements; their heavenly Father has his hand in all, and his wise end to answer by all.[5]

Henry’s exhortation is twofold: When you are tempted to wallow in sorrow due to the difficulties you face, remember what Christ went through to redeem you and you will recognize the triviality of your own sufferings compared to his. Also, God has a deeper purpose for allowing you to face suffering in this life. Suffering is never pleasant or enjoyable, but the Christian can take solace in the fact that it is not meaningless nor is it the result of a cruel and unjust God. Rather, God can use suffering for his own redemptive purposes, and lest we forget, God is still a God of justice who will not allow evil to go unpunished and will one day right every wrong.

Now that the author of Hebrews has made it abundantly clear that God can use suffering for his own divine purposes, he now turns his attention to practical exhortation in righteousness. The author of Hebrews is not merely interested in probing why God allows us to suffer, but how the Christian should live when facing suffering. The author of Hebrews states in verse twelve: “Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble (NASB).” It is likely that the author of Hebrews is referring back to the “race” analogy he used earlier in the chapter. Indeed, Hebrews 12:1 says “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (NASB).” Here, we are being exhorted to stay in the “race” that is the Christian life and encourage others to do likewise. Now that the author has clearly demonstrated the purpose of trials in the Christian life, we should be motivated to press on with the full knowledge that we will now run stronger because of the chastening of God.

In verse thirteen the author of Hebrews continues with the “race” analogy and exhorts us: “and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed (NASB).” This passage synthesizes well with the teaching of Jesus in Matthew chapter seven where we are exhorted to walk the “narrow way.” Outside of the narrow, straight path there is only destruction, but by living out the commands that the Lord has given us we can “run the race” with success. The author of Hebrews’ thought develops further and reaches a kind of climax in verse fourteen. In this passage we are exhorted to “pursue peace with all men” and holiness as well. Indeed, we are told that without holiness we will not see God. It is probable that the author here is referring to the holiness that is imputed into our account when we are justified by God. Indeed, without accepting Christ as our Savior and becoming the beneficiaries of his life of perfection we will never make it safe to the heavenly shore (Romans 5:1-21). However, I think it would be premature to think that the thrust of this verse ends here. Indeed, the scriptures also clearly teach that the true believer will obey the commandments of Jesus Christ and will experience sanctification on some level (John 14:5). Commenting on Hebrews 12:14 Adam Clarke states “No soul can be fit for heaven that has not suitable dispositions for the place.”[6] Sanctification is not an “extra” of the Christian life, it is essential and it is a natural byproduct of justification.

In conclusion, the author of Hebrews points out for us that God chastens those whom he loves. God often uses suffering to make us stronger. This demonstrates to us that we do not have to view suffering as meaningless. Rather God can use it for his divine purposes. Hebrews chapter twelve does not answer, nor does it seek to answer, God’s reasons for allowing suffering in every circumstance, but it does leave us feeling confident that God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing human suffering. Finally, the author of Hebrews calls us to press on towards the prize that awaits us in glory, and pursue holiness with the singlemindedness of a dedicated athlete.

 

[1] Ehrmanblog.org, “Leaving the Faith.”

[2] Mounce, The Analytical Lexicon To The Greek New Testament, 348.

[3] Ibid, 348.

[4] Wesley, Parallel Commentary on the New Testament, 802.

[5] Henry, Parallel Commentary on the New Testament, 803.

[6] Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible, 1281.

Bibliography

Clarke, Adam, and Ralph Earle. Adam Clarkes commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979.

Ehrman, Bart. “Leaving the Faith.” Www.erhmanblog.org. July 19, 2017. Accessed February 17, 2018. https://ehrmanblog.org/leaving-the-faith/.

Mounce, William D. The analytical lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1993.

Water, Mark, C. H. Spurgeon, John Wesley, and Matthew Henry. Parallel commentary on the New Testament. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2003.

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.

 

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.