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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A Critical Review of Thomas Ice’s A Short History of Dispensationalism

Hello Readers, I want to preface this article by saying that this was an assignment for a class I am taking to earn my MA in Biblical Studies at Piedmont International University. It may be a little boring and dry to someone not interested in the subject of Dispensationalism but for the theology geek it should be an informative read. Enjoy and God Bless, Julian Pace.

Noted theologian, Thomas Ice, seeks to help us better understand the history of the theological system known as Dispensationalism in his article A Short History Of Dispensationalism which can be found at the website www.pre-trib.org.

Ice, one of today’s greatest proponents of Dispensational theology, begins his short paper by quoting George Ladd who was actually a critic of Dispensationalism. Ladd is quoted as saying

It is doubtful if there has been any other circle of men [dispensationalists] who have done more by their influence in preaching, teaching and writing to promote a love for Bible study, a hunger for the deeper Christian life, a passion for evangelism and zeal for missions in the history of American Christianity.[1]

By including this quote in the very beginning of his article, we get the sense that Ice is doing his best to rehabilitate the image of Dispensationalism which has sustained a heated assault in recent years by pointing out that Dispensationalists have given much to the kingdom of God in their ministries and work.

Ice begins by mentioning J.N. Darby who was unquestionably the first Christian theologian to codify the theological system now known as Dispensationalism. Ice credits Darby with producing a system of theology that took the scriptures literally and consistently and rightly distinguished between the destinies of the Church and Israel. Very quickly, Ice tries to distinguish what can legitimately be called Dispensationalism and what truly lays outside the realm of this system of theology. He lists a couple of important features of this system. Firstly, Dispensationalism is a system that requires a literal interpretation of the Bible, specifically in regard to the days mentioned in the first chapters of Genesis and in Revelation. Secondly, one must not hold that the Church has replaced Israel. The nation of Israel and the Church are separate entities with different destinies.

After a brief introduction to what Dispensationalism is, Ice does his best to show that Pre-Darby, there were in fact influential figures in the church who taught ideas very similar to those now codified within the system now known as Dispensationalism. Ice points out, by referencing the work of fellow Dispensationalist Larry Crutchfield, that Justin Martyr, Irrenaeus, Tertullian and others taught that God’s work with humankind should be viewed in different “ages” or “dispensations”.[2] Although the early Church Father’s early schemes were not as sophisticated as Darby’s, Ice thinks their insights clearly prefigure the work of Darby.

Ice then admits that during the Middle Ages we see very little that could be called Dispensational theology. However, the Reformation opened the door for Dispensationalism to gain a firm footing in the church. Ice points out some Christians like Pierre Poiret and Isaac Watts may have held and taught views that were very near Darby’s Dispensationalism which would appear 150 years after these individuals lived.

No discussion of the history of Dispensationalism would be adequate without a discussion of the life and theology of J.N. Darby. Ice reports that Darby was originally planning on entering the legal field but after becoming a Christian he entered the ministry instead. He was originally a parish priest in the Anglican Communion, though he later left and joined the Plymouth Brethren after finding himself at odds with some of the doctrinal teachings of the official church. In matters of Biblical interpretation, Darby was a strict literalist. Darby feared that introducing anything other than a literal hermeneutic to the scriptures might allow for the infiltration of humanistic ideas upon the text. With this in mind, Darby could by no means be considered a “wooden literalist” as he took into account the fact that the Bible utilizes genres like allegory and poetry. Following the lead of his early mentor Robert Graves, Darby was convinced that one day the Jews would be converted to Christ and that they would be restored to their historic homeland. These two points are cornerstones to Dispensational theology. Darby also became one of the first proponents of a pre-tribulational rapture as well.

In large part due to the work of Darby and his followers in the Plymouth brethren, Dispensationalism spread to the United States and was embraced by many people there. Darby was a popular speaker in the United States and he convinced many of the truth of Dispensationalism through his preaching there. His work was aided by figures like James Hall Brookes, Adoniram Judson Gordon (whom Gordon college is named after) and William Blackstone. However, Dispensationalism probably received its’ greatest exposure through figures like C.I. Scofield and Lewis Sperrry Chafer who for the first time systematized the theological system of Dispensationalism. Indeed, Ice makes it clear to us in his Short History, that by the twentieth century Dispensationalism had a wide following in the United States.

Ice’s Short History is for the most part a very useful document, though I think it does have a few, non-fatal, weaknesses. I will deal with these presently. Firstly, I found at least one aspect of the work’s literary structure a little baffling. On the first page of the article, Ice goes into some detail describing the theology of J.N. Darby. This section feels a little out of place as the paper flows chronologically, beginning in the second century and moving forward, and Darby did not begin his ministry until the first half of the eighteen-hundreds. The information Ice provides about Darby is essentially repeated later on in the article and its’ place at the beginning of the article feel unnecessary.

Furthermore, while it is clear that Ice does his best to build the case that Dispensationalism is not a historical novelty and has foundation in the theological writings of the Church Fathers, I felt that Ice did not deal with this section as well as he could. He relies heavily on a chart by Dispensationalist Larry Crutchfield that presents the theological opinions of several Church Fathers within a roughly Dispensational formula. Due to a very cursory discussion of their actual opinions, and reliance on only once source in Larry Crutchfield’s book, one wonders if the data is being forced. Indeed, this paper could have included more and better notes and it would have been more convincing.

Fortunately, these shortcomings are not fatal to Ice’s work. This paper is a good introduction to the subject of Dispensationalism for both lay people and even scholars just beginning a study on the subject. The article leaves us with a good understanding of how Dispensationalism developed and what separates it from other theological systems. Ice does a fine job of defining what Dispensational theologians actually find important namely, an adherence to a literal hermeneutic, a premillennial eschatological framework, and an insistence on keeping the role and destinies of the Church and Israel separate. Ice also does the study of theology a great service by doing away with the misconception that Dispensationalism teaches two different gospels and is simply characterized by an obsession with Eschatology. Finally, this work is at its’ best when discussing the father of Dispensationalism J.N. Darby. After reading this article we have a good understanding of Darby’s theology and influences. Indeed, Ice’s A Short History of Dispensationalism is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about Dispensational theology and its’ influence on the wider Christian church.

[1] Thomas Ice, A Short History of Dispensationalism . Www.pre-trib.org .

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[2] Thomas Ice, A Short History of Dispensationalism . Www.pre-trib.org .

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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)”

“Preparing for the Great Homecoming” a sermon by Julian Pace

Here is a sermon I preached at Woodlawn Baptist Church recently. If I had to boil this sermon down to one fine point it would have to be that “The church needs to be the church”. How do you think we can live this out practically fellow Christians? I hope you enjoy the sermon and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this important topic-Julian Pace