Pannenberg on the Trinity, part 2

Continuing my posts on my comprehensive exams answers. Here’s the second part of my answer responding to the topic of Pannenberg’s doctrine of the Trinity. Part one can be found here.

The Spirit who is the medium of participation in God, works broadly to enable a mutuality and reciprocity among all people, orienting them towards a full expression of life that is not closed off to others but in finding identity in the essence of God’s identity becoming full in who they are and thus able to sustain an openness to others in their contexts. God’s sustaining identity at Trinity is the only sustainable identity for any spirit, insisting on a right relationship towards God in order to find coherence throughout eternity.

However, because sin is a distortion, an attempt to define identity in a source other than God, there is an inability for a fallen humanity to enter fully into the openness of God’s essence. The work of Christ, this corporeal expression of theology, enables humanity to participate with the fullness of God, in the medium of the Spirit, as Christ’s work as the new Adam forms a work of trust and obedience within which we can be trusted by God.

The trusted son pursues a work of absolute obedience, and by joining to him in light of his obedience we become sustained by that trust, allowed participation in the relationality of the Triune God, and in this becoming increasingly exocentric in our own relationships, both with God and with others. This is the very essence of salvation, and the hope of the future, that we are sustained and included with the relationship of the Triune God, not becoming absorbed by God’s essence, but instead eternally exhibited our own forms of self-differentiation and reciprocity.

In approaching the topic of the Trinity in this way, Pannenberg argues that he finds a middle way between the dangers of a modalistic God and a tritheism. This approach then enables a holistic and coherent theology that sees the formation of identity as exocentric relationality as the key element in the work of God in this work, a work which derives from God’s own identity as self, and in this self orienting all of reality towards God’s entire and enlivening revelation. It is in this way that Pannenberg’s status as a postfoundationalist theologian might be questioned, as he clearly orients his whole theology around the defining, indeed foundational aspects, of God’s Trinitarian identity.

Any yet, this is not entirely foundationalism but rather the Triune God serves as the center, the essence, from which the web of a coherent theology develops. This indirect revelation of God gives indications of the fullness of God’s identity, and God’s identity is the defining essence of all reality. It might, then be said, that Trinity is less the foundation and more the central orb, radiating a gravity to all other elements, around which all other particular identities and issues and meanings are oriented. One issue is not built upon another, but rather all reality orients itself towards the essence of God, relativity not relativism.

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