Pannenberg’s Eschatology part 1

Continuing with my posts on my comprehensive exam answers. Here’s the first part of my answer to the third question.

3) What is the role and shape of eschatology in Pannenberg’s systematic theology

Given Pannenberg’s ontological priority of the future in his method, the topic of eschatology is clearly more than just an issue of what happens in the supposed end times and instead gives meaning to all of reality, future and present and past. God observes the course of history from the perspective of the future and in reaching towards us from the future gives us a revelation of his fullness and a foretaste of the essence of heaven, in which the fullness of God’s revelation is hidden in our present.

This revelation of God’s fullness, and indeed the security of his future, is our hope and is this pervasive quality of eschatological hope that gave Pannenberg, along with Moltmann, the moniker “theologian of hope.” However, as hope often carries the meaning of an insecure wish it is important to develop Pannenberg’s eschatology more specifically in order to deepen the full meaning of hope in our contexts.

Often in popular contexts, the issue of eschatology is limited to the question of Christ’s return and who gets to go to heaven, and how long or if there will be a waiting period between judgments, and when it will happen according to predicted signs and wonders. In essence, this separates eschatology into its own sphere of discussion, isolated as a predicted moment of prophesy that has little integration with the rest of theology. Indeed, often this anemic picture of Christ’s return echoes back into Evangelical thought, orienting then the Christian life around getting into heaven, being among the chosen ones who get their ticket in contrast to the ones who are tossed into hell. There is a narrow dualistic perception of God’s work that then tries to figure out what it takes in order to be on the right team. That then defines church ministry and evangelism.

However, as Pannenberg’s whole theology is about a coherent theology oriented around God’s complete indirect revelation, limiting the full expression of God’s revelation to either a later moment where God comes in grandeur or limiting the idea of salvation to being on the right team is entirely off track. Pannenberg’s insistence on a coherent theology means that eschatology is not a separated topic, but is inherently integrated within the whole of his
Trinitarian proposals and intimately related to his overall anthropology, with its topics of sin and salvation.

God reveals himself as self-differentiating expressions, a trinity of persons united in a single essence that is eternally expressed through reciprocity and openness to each other. This identity is the source and foundation of all reality, which created the world in ecstatic relationality, enabling other created identities to be formed with the shared goal of exocentric unity. However, as relationality insists on freedom of identity and choice of interactions, there was an element of risk involved, as free identities could choose to establish their meaning in alternative sources of identity. However, as only God is the source of sustainable identity, putting one’s identity in anything else results in corruption and death. These attempts to derive meaning from alternative, insufficient sources is called sin.

The work of Christ is the foundation upon which a fallen humanity can be renewed in the identity of God, not trustworthy themselves but trustworthy in light of the work of Christ’s obedience on the cross, and in this trust becoming restored to fullness in the power of the Spirit, who recreates fallen identities back into the sustainable, life-oriented identities that God himself resonates. As God is an infinite essence of self-differentiated reciprocity, eternally exocentric as self, the revelation of this reality in our own experiences progresses according to God’s own self revelation in history.

The ontological priority of the future means that we are not simply awaiting a transformation of identity at a later point, but indeed as we enter into the trust relationship with God, our being even now is being defined, and thus transformed, into the identities for which God created us. We are becoming who we were made to be in light of the God who was, and is, and is to come.

Because God is, at essence, relational, this transformation does not and cannot mean an isolated salvation that enables us to be saved as an individual in contrast to others. Instead, this salvation and transformation by definition insists on a mutuality and participation with others, forming us into increasingly open participants with others in relationships of trust and exocentric identity. We become open to others because we are increasingly given our definition by God in his identity, thus do not need to live egocentric, isolated, defensive lives defining ourselves in contrast or in defensiveness from others.

This was part 1 of the long answer. Continue on to part 2.

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