Resurrection, Pannenberg and Aaron Chidgzey

Posted by on Sep 18, 2015 in Blog | 5 comments

Aaron is married to Amy, who just so happens to be my daughter. Some people say that she married her father.

Aaron is married to Amy, who just happens to be my daughter. Some people say that she married her father.

Aaron Chidgzey, a Vose Seminary graduate, is currently a PhD student at Murdoch University where he is engaged in research that compares the views on the resurrection of German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg and NT Wright. Pannenberg died in Sept 2014, having been one of the theological giants of the 20th century. He is well known for his conviction that faith is reasonable – indeed, that it is more reasonable to believe than not to believe. He places special emphasis on the resurrection. I asked Aaron about his research, and thought you would enjoy his insights.
Aaron, tell us a little about Pannenberg. Who was he and why does his thinking matter enough for you to want to do a PhD on it?

First, thank you for inviting me to be a part of your blog!

As you mentioned, Pannenberg was a theological giant of the 20th century, and was so largely because of his insistence that faith was reasonable. But he was also influential because of his holistic view of theology and reality, incorporating history, science, and philosophical reflection into his theological method, especially reclaiming the importance of rigorous historical research. He discussed the relationships between history and revelation, metaphysics and our knowledge of God, and theology and science, applying a careful, detailed and meticulous approach to the task of theology. This resulted in a legacy of publications and work covering a vast array of topics.

This holistic worldview is precisely what attracted me to studying his work. I believe that if Christ is in all things and that all things are held together by him, then all things must intrinsically point back to Christ. I have encountered many Christians who seem to be hesitant or nervous about linking theology with topics such as history and science, but I love the way that Pannenberg managed to incorporate these topics into his understanding of God, all the while exuding a sense of worship and of deep love for God. As such, I think his methodology is extremely helpful and important, and his conclusions profound, as we make our way through the difficulties of the 21st century.

People often think that Pannenberg is a very difficult theologian to understand. Why is that, and do you have any clues to help us understand him better?

He certainly is! I think a major reason is how meticulous and detailed he is. Like many German theologians, he refuses to leave any stone unturned, whether that stone is a boulder or a pebble. He is extremely careful and rigorous, and as such reading his work can often be slow and arduous. But another reason could be his breadth of knowledge. His mind was encyclopaedic! I have found reading him very difficult, but extremely rewarding.

I think the 3 best clues I can give to help understand him better are these: First, for Pannenberg, everything centres on God’s self-revelation in Christ’s resurrection; allow that to be your yardstick. Second, the more you read, the easier it gets! His work is dense and takes a while to get used to, but if you keep at it, it becomes a lot easier to navigate. Third, have a phone open to Google next to you at all times – it’s amazing how helpful the internet can be when trying to understand a difficult word or phrase, understanding a concept, or translating German or Latin words.

Recent blog posts have been a kind of apologetics 101. What is Pannenberg’s contribution as an apologist?

Pannenberg doesn’t explicitly discuss apologetics often, but the entirety of his work is thoroughly apologetic in nature. He approaches every topic from a wide variety of views, incorporating science, history, and philosophical discussions such as metaphysics and epistemology. Also, he builds each topic up from ground level, considering any and all methodological concerns and possible rebuttals. His entire methodology is apologetic and everything he does is systematic, and logical.

Pannenberg’s major contribution as an apologist is presenting Christian theology as a reasonable enterprise. When he was young, he was an avid reader of Nietzsche and Marx, but found their philosophical assertions wanting. He eventually concluded that Christianity was the most logical philosophical and religious position. Hence, he became a Christian largely for intellectual reasons.

In arguing for the reasonableness of Christian theology, he began by arguing against the philosophical position of positivism (the view that the only things that can be considered real, or facts, are those things which are repeatable, demonstrable, and can be empirically measured and verified), insisting that such a position cannot work for it denies the possibility of an outlying occurrence and thus demands absolute knowledge. In other words, just because something doesn’t normally happen shouldn’t mean that it cannot happen. We can only say that something cannot happen if we have absolute knowledge that it will never happen anytime in the future, and because we can’t see the future, we cannot be absolutely sure that any event is impossible. With regard to the possibility of God, because we cannot be absolutely sure that he won’t reveal himself in the future, we cannot say that he does not exist. This also means that God will be ultimately demonstrated only at the eschaton (the end of history).

But Pannenberg argues that God’s existence can indeed be demonstrated: God is revealed in the public sphere of history. He especially appeals to Jesus’ resurrection, which he argues can be proved using historical methodology, which he spends some time doing in his Jesus – God and Man, and Systematic Theology. He argues that the empty tomb and the appearances of Jesus to his disciples are historically viable, and that together, the most likely explanation of all the historical evidence (including the surprisingly rapid growth of early Christianity) is that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

Now, this doesn’t prove that it was God who rose Jesus from the dead. But for Pannenberg, the religious context and the significance placed on Jesus’ resurrection by the early Christians demonstrate that the most likely cause of the resurrection was indeed God. Therefore, God must exist, and Christian theology must be reasonable. There are lots of other ways he approaches this topic, arguing for the possibility of God in many other works and essays, but appealing to history and especially Jesus’ resurrection are significant arguments in his theology.

The resurrection is key in Pannenberg’s thought. Why, and what is his special emphasis on this?

This is a huge question! The resurrection is absolutely central to his theology. His argument is quite long, but I shall try to summarize. In Jesus’ life, he made many claims which implied divinity and required confirmation. Any confirmation would thereby be the self-revelation of God. Jewish expectation held that God would ultimately reveal himself at the eschaton, which would be accompanied by a resurrection of all (or at least many) people. In Jesus’ resurrection – the reversal of his shameful crucifixion – the eschaton is therefore present, God is fully revealed in Jesus, and Jesus is established as divine. The resurrection is the ultimate self-revelation of God and thus also the establishment of his kingdom on earth. Because of the revelatory nature of the resurrection, it is the starting point for any talk about God and hence central to theology. Everything else only makes sense in light of this.

We will probably have a separate blog post on NT Wright some time in the future, but any quick insights into why you are comparing Pannenberg and Wright?

I described their likeness to my supervisor as comparing apples and oranges that have grown on the same tree. In some regards they are almost identical, yet diametrically opposed in other regards. Regarding the historical nature of the resurrection, they both insist it happened in real space and time, and can therefore be analysed and proved using normal historical methods. Yet when it comes to the theological significance of this historical resurrection, Pannenberg argues it has everything to do with Jesus’ divinity and Wright argues it has nothing to do with his divinity. I find this an extremely interesting difference and I want to know what causes them to separate. And I think it’s important, because, as Paul says, without the resurrection our faith is in vain, so I want to discover the most appropriate method for thinking about the resurrection, especially considering the fact that there are so many differing views out there today.

Any final comment for budding apologists?

Apologetics should never be about winning an argument. Don’t try to win the debate “at all costs.” How we present ourselves is just as important (if not more!) than what we say.

 

5 Comments

  1. Interestingly NTWright in his book “Surprised by joy” makes no mention of hell either.

  2. Wonderful, clear exposition Aaron – you make Pannenberg look easy!

    • Thanks Michael! 🙂

  3. Thanks Aaron. Always enjoy a good read on this blog.
    Maybe I should attempt Pannenberg?

    Regards
    Mark

    • Well I’ve always enjoyed Pannenberg, so I would always recommend him! Maybe next time I see you in Timber you’ll be reading some Pannenberg 😉

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