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Systematic Theology, vol. 1.

Systematic Theology 1. By Wolfhart Pannenberg. Translated from the German by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991. Pp. xiii + 473. $39.95.

This work is a major contribution to contemporary theology by one of its foremost living practitioners. In this first of three volumes, Pannenberg here deals with the fundamental theme of all Christian theology, the idea and reality of God.

Systematic theology for P. has as its purpose the establishment of the truth of Christian doctrine as discourse about God authorized by God. It accomplishes this by the systematic reconstruction of Christian doctrine and the ascertaining of its coherence, both internally and with relation to all other knowledge. However, theology must first establish a starting point by showing that religion is relevant to human self-understanding. Hence P. begins with the "natural" knowledge of God through creation. The metaphysical concept of the Absolute has for P. a regulative function in all discourse about God; nevertheless, only the dialectic of concrete religious understandings can provide a final judgment on God's existence and nature.

The criterion for judging among the conflicting truth claims of religions is their ability to establish and explain cosmic and human reality. At this point P. turns to the development of the scriptural idea of revelation, in which the express claim in made that the God of the Bible is (or will be) proven in human historical experience to be the one God of all people. One can then ask whether this claim is made coherently, and test it through a systematic reconstruction of Christian teaching from its starting point in historical relevation.

The final two-fifths of the volume begin this reconstruction with a treatment of the doctrine of God. For P. the revelation of God in Christ is the starting point even for the consideration of the divine nature. Hence the doctrine of the Trinity, which formulates the relation of God to history, precedes the consideration of the divine "essence" and attributes, including the oneness of God.

Following Jungel and Moltmann, P. holds that the Father is not to be conceived as the sole and independent "font" of all deity, but that the rule of the Father, established historically by the Son and in the Spirit, is intrinsic to the Father's very divinity. Nevertheless. P. rejects the idea that the divine Trinity is the result of history. Relationship to the world is constitutive for God's eternal essence, but the latter is also complete in itself "prior" to the world's creation. These two affirmations are reconciled through the concept of the divine action, whose goal is the free "reiteration" (in Barth's sense) of God's eternal deity in a creation distinct from God.

P.'s view of the Trinity requires him to see relation as the primary ontological category, and hence to conceive the unity of the divine "essence" as including the God-world distinction. This essence is conceived as Infinity, which P. associates with the biblical notion of holiness, i.e. "otherness" that nevertheless encompasses the world. Eternity, omnipresence, and omnipotence are the meaning of infinity with regard to time, space, and power. Finally, in the light of 1 John 4:8, the divine essence or Spirit is identified as love. This notion explains the intrinsic link between the immanent and economic Trinity: having freely created, God as love does not have existence without the world, but in its process of consummation.

Among the merits of P.'s streatment are his methodological precision and his historical contextualizing of problems. A major portion of each chapter is devoted to the evolution of the question at hand, and each ends with a brief methodological reflection setting the stage for the next step. To his retrieval of classsical theology. P. brings enormous erudition and synthetic insight, as well as wide and ecumenical sympathy. He is especially strong in the presentation of exegesis and of classical and modern Protestant theology; but he also makes frequent reference to the Fathers and Scholastics, as well as to post-Reformation Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology.

Although P. warms against linking this presentation to any particular philosophical system, including his own, both the project as a whole and its execution are inevitable informed throughout by his philosophical convictions, which are marked by a preference for the conceptualist tradition. Related this are his rejection of analogy and his location of "truth" in the coherence of ideas rather than in judgments of being. Even if one agrees with P.'s subsuming of fundamental theology into systematics, there is a need for a more protracted treatment of such logically prior cognitional issues. Naturally, P.'s positions on particular questions will also raise questions and objections; but even those who disagree with him will find him an engaging and fruitful dialogue partner.

The translation is on the whole both accurate and readable, although there are flaws on both counts. Most works (with the curious exception of Kasper's The God of Jesus Christ) are cited in their English translations. It is understandable that P., writing in German, should consistently use the masculine pronoun for Gott and Geist. The retention of this usage in English, will be distressing to many readers. The footnotes of the German edition are with lengthy quotations (frequently in Latin) from the classic sources referred to in the text; in the English version these have generally either been eliminated or reduced to summary paraphrases--a regrettable loss.

Fordham University Richard Viladesau
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Author:Viladesau, Richard
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Church and Culture: German Catholic Theology, 1860-1914.
Next Article:Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives, 2 vols.

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