|Born||2 October 1928|
|Died||4 September 2014 (aged 85)|
|School or tradition||Lutheranism|
|Notable students||Gunther Wenz|
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Wolfhart Pannenberg (2 October 1928 – 4 September 2014) was a German Lutheran theologian. He made a number of significant contributions to modern theology, including his concept of history as a form of revelation centered on the resurrection of Christ, which has been widely debated in both Protestant and Catholic theology, as well as by non-Christian thinkers.
Pannenberg was born on 2 October 1928 in Stettin, Germany, now Szczecin, Poland. He was baptized as an infant into the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church, but otherwise had virtually no contact with the church in his early years. At about the age of sixteen, however, he had an intensely religious experience he later called his "light experience". Seeking to understand this experience, he began to search through the works of great philosophers and religious thinkers. A high school literature teacher who had been a part of the Confessing Church during the Second World War encouraged him to take a hard look at Christianity, which resulted in Pannenberg's "intellectual conversion", in which he concluded that Christianity was the best available religious option. This propelled him into his vocation as a theologian.
Pannenberg studied in Berlin, Göttingen, Heidelberg, and Basel. In Basel, Pannenberg studied under Karl Barth. His doctoral thesis at Heidelberg was on Edmund Schlink's views on predestination in the works of Duns Scotus, which he submitted in 1953 and published a year later. His Habilitationsschrift in 1955 dealt with the relationship between analogy and revelation, especially the concept of analogy in the teaching of God's knowledge.
Pannenberg was a professor on the faculties of several universities consistently, after 1958. Between the years of 1958 and 1961 he was the Professor of Systematic Theology at the Kirchliche Hochschule Wuppertal. Between 1961 and 1968 he was a professor in Mainz. He has had several visiting professorships at the University of Chicago (1963), Harvard (1966), and at the Claremont School of Theology (1967), and since 1968 had been Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Munich. He retired in 1993, and died at age 85 in 2014.
Throughout his career Pannenberg remained a prolific writer. As of December 2008, his "publication page" on the University of Munich's website lists 645 academic publications to his name.
Pannenberg's epistemology, explained clearly in his shorter essays, is crucial to his theological project. It is heavily influenced by Schlink, who proposed a distinction between analogical truth, i.e. a descriptive truth or model, and doxological truth, or truth as immanent in worship. In this way of thinking, theology tries to express doxological truth. As such it is a response to God's self-revelation. Schlink was also instrumental in shaping Pannenberg's approach to theology as an ecumenical enterprise – an emphasis which remained constant throughout his career.
Pannenberg's understanding of revelation is strongly conditioned by his reading of Karl Barth and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, as well as by a sympathetic reading of Christian and Jewish apocalyptic literature. The Hegelian concept of history as an unfolding process in which Spirit and freedom are revealed combines with a Barthian notion of revelation occurring "vertically from above". While Pannenberg adopts a Hegelian understanding of History itself as God's self-revelation, he strongly asserts the resurrection of Christ as a proleptic revelation of what history is unfolding. Despite its obvious Barthian reference, this approach met with a mainly hostile response from both neo-orthodox and liberal, Bultmannian theologians in the 1960s, a response which Pannenberg claims surprised him and his associates. A more nuanced, mainly implied, critique came from Jürgen Moltmann, whose philosophical roots lay in the Left Hegelians, Karl Marx and Ernst Bloch, and who proposed and elaborated a Theology of Hope, rather than of prolepsis, as a distinctively Christian response to History.
As disciple of Karl Löwith, Pannenberg has continued the debate against Hans Blumenberg in the so-called 'theorem of secularization'. "Blumenberg targets Löwith's argument that progress is the secularization of Hebrew and Christian beliefs and argues to the contrary that the modern age, including its belief in progress, grew out of a new secular self-affirmation of culture against the Christian tradition."
Pannenberg is perhaps best known for Jesus: God and Man in which he constructs a Christology "from below", deriving his dogmatic claims from a critical examination of the life and particularly the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This is his programmatic statement of the notion of "History as Revelation". He rejects traditional Chalcedonian "two-natures" Christology, preferring to view the person of Christ dynamically in light of the resurrection. This focus on the resurrection as the key to Christ's identity has led Pannenberg to defend its historicity, stressing the experience of the risen Christ in the history of the early Church rather than the empty tomb.
Eschatological views of Pannenberg discount the importance of temporal process in the New Creation, time being linked with the sinful present age. He preferred an eternal present to limited concepts of past, present and future and an end of time in a focused unity in the New Creation. Pannenberg has also defended the theology of American mathematical physicist Frank J. Tipler's Omega Point Theory.
Central to Pannenberg's theological career was his defence of theology as a rigorous academic discipline, one capable of critical interaction with philosophy, history, and most of all, the natural sciences. Pannenberg was an outspoken critic of the approval of homosexual relations by the Evangelical Church in Germany, going so far as to say that a church which approves of homosexual practice is no longer a true church. He returned his Federal Order of Merit after the decoration was awarded to a lesbian activist.