Saturday, May 13, 2006

Wisdom from Pannenberg

Recently I came across this from v2 of Pannenberg's Basic Questions in Theology, in an essay called "Faith and Reason" (pp. 51-2):

This insistence upon an authority that is no longer generally convincing as an authority takes on the character of external coercion, and an individual's acceptance of such a claim becomes an arbitrary decision--quite the opposite of what it was earlier [in the pre-modern period]....For in that case, no matter how much one may emphasize a prior authority, the believer turns himself into the ultimate ground of faith, as Hume incisively showed. For if an asserted authority is no longer able to prove itself convincing to our reason, then its acceptance can come about only be a sacrifice of the intellect and ergo as a work of man.

I've put the main point in bold-face. The authority of which he writes here is Scripture's. It seems to me Anglicans especially should pay attention to Pannenberg here when wondering what the role of reason comes to in our tradition.

With regard to my earlier post on Reconciliation and Same-sex unions, it seems obvious Pannenberg's quote implies mere divine command theory is an inadequate basis for articulating our moral obligations as Christians.


At 9:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a famous quote from Panneberg on this topic. "Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that allows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church." The whole article which is very pastoral in tone is here.

At 1:29 AM, Blogger Closed said...


It was good of you to quote Pannenberg; it seems he might read his own words. I see that Dr. Harding beat you to the reason I hold Pannenberg at a distance. My systematics professor was a Pannenberg disciple, and couldn't quite reconcile his love of Pannenberg with a man known among Protestant circles in Germany for his misgynism and homophobia to the point of not coming to Church conferences if women or homosexual leaders and theologians were present.

At 2:28 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thank you, Dr. Harding, for the link; Pannenberg's opposition to the blessing of same-sex unions is high-profile with very good reason.

It is, I think, a singular instance of cogntive dissonance--the principal exponent of reason in contemporary Christian theology falling into incoherence. Why?

On his opposition to the blessing of same-sex unions, he has become an object lesson. How do you suppose we should reconcile his thought on the issue? If what he has referred to as "the unequivocal witness of Scripture" has lost its authority, as Pannenberg must admit it has even on this issue, where do we go to argue for the prohibition? There is nowhere to go, save an appeal to divine command.

At 8:33 PM, Blogger bls said...

"It is, I think, a singular instance of cogntive dissonance--the principal exponent of reason in contemporary Christian theology falling into incoherence. Why?"

Why? Because this obsession with homosexuality (and, I guess, with women too) is non-rational, of course.

Even rationalists can be bigoted.

At 7:52 PM, Blogger Darius said...

I completely agree with the position you're saying that Pannenberg takes. Many Christians seem to feel that if we use our own hearts and minds all hell will break out in the form of the evils of "moral relativism" and "post-modernism" (from what I've read on blogs, the latter corresponds to an assorted list that might as well be titled, "The Stuff Evangelicals Don't Like.")

These fears assume that humanity lacks spiritual grounding in lived experience. Call it "the Holy Spirit," call it grace, call it the kind of person we all aspire to be deep down, but a good person is a good person. Any outstandingly sane human being lives and moves and acts like a "good Christian." We live and move and have our being in the same larger Reality which is the true ground and true test and true source of all true words about God.

At 11:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With regard to comment #2. The biblical argument has not lost its authority with the consensus of the teaching tradition both presently and historically. It is only in the those parts of the church which accept as a matter of course that the received tradition must be fitted into the paradigm of secular materialism and pluralism where there is a crisis of confidence. Such is not so in the Eastern churches, in vast swathes of Protestantism and in the Roman Catholic Church.

But for the sake of argument grant your point. A perfectly respectable argument can be made aganist the same sex blessings et all on social scientific grounds. Briefly if it is unsettled what the cause of this behavior is and then the novelties proposed may actually entail obscurantism about matters that can be established by scientific investigation. The church should of course be committed to a ministry of compassion for all people but to recommend and promote a "life-style" when it is not clear what causes someone to be disposed to this orientation would be imprudent simply from a social scientific point of view.

Even a divine command ethicist would take into consideration the actual social scientific evidence in proposing a pastoral strategy that stopped short of celebration and promotion. That homosexual behavior cannot be researched without exposing the researcher to intolerable social pressures is one of the tragedies of the current debate.

At 7:18 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

I must continue to disagree, Dr. Harding--the claim of Christianity to truth is Universal, extending over all domains of human inquiry; anything less is a betrayal of the Gospel (as Pannenberg would insist, e.g. throughout Ch 1 of V.1 of his Systematic Theology).

If the challenge of ECUSA cannot be answered, that doctrine's claim to truth can't be maintained in good faith. Numbers and time passed cannot decide truth with certainty; the truth in matters of morality is simply not of our making, no mater how long we try or how hard. This theisic realism about good and evil seems basic to Christianity, rooted in our oldest stories.

It may be that ECUSA is wrong; ideed, her theology is committed to epistemic humility. But then there must be more of an effort to explain why the traditional prohibiion on gay unions is true.

When Pannenberg announces his opposition to gay unions, he does a good job or stating old arguments concisely--but the debate has proceeded such that what he has to say is not cogent.

Debate would take time--I fear the AAC and its assorted allies do not want to take time to carefully pursue truth. They sense the iron is hot now, and if they do not push here, or in 2008, they will have lost the kairos, the moment of decision.

Some who really should know better like Philip Turner--a theology school Dean nowadays!--have the heedless audacity to openly and explicitly turn away from debate for something less--rhetorical persuasion of some species. That is a very, very dangerous road to take; let us turn back and contend together face to face.


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