In contrast to the classical tradiiton, he [Pannenberg] declares that truth is not found in the unchanging essences lying behind the flow of time, but is essentially historical and ultimately eschatological. Until the eschaton, truth will remain provisional and truth claims contestable. Therefore, theology, like all human knowledge, is provisional. It simply cannot pack into formulas the truth of God. The future alone is the focal point of ultimate truth. As a result, all dogmatic statements are hypotheses to be tested for coherence with other knowledge. This, he claims, is in accordance with the Scriptures, which declare that only at the end of history is the deity of God unquestionably open to all-an event. However, that is anticipated in the present.My immediate reaction upon reading this is disbelief that a man of Pannenberg's stature could be so confused. After all I've seen good things he's written. I feel constrained, then, to at least try and give him the benefit of a doubt. Still, I find this difficult.
Okay, it is true that from a human vantage point we do not have the omniscience of God. That is a given. It is also true that we do not have the fullness of what will be revealed when we see Him face-to-face, deo volente. But is it not true that "David the son of Jessie was King of Israel?" Do we not have the capacity, even with our puny finite minds, to know that? Is this not a fact for us as it is also for God? God may know it more fully--viz, in all of its exhaustive implications--but do we not also know, even if in some lesser sense, this same fact? There are no degrees of truth, though there are degrees of comprehension of the implications of a truth. But do we not know the same truth that God knows in this case?
Let me comment on Pannenberg:
In contrast to the classical tradiiton, he [Pannenberg] declares that truth is not found in the unchanging essences lying behind the flow of time, but is essentially historical and ultimately eschatological.It seems to me that Pannenberg here confuses truth with knowledge of truth. Truth is immutable fact. God knows it exhaustively. OUR knowledge of truth is only partial because WE are immersed in the historical flow of time; and therefore it is accurate to say that FOR US our KNOWLEDGE of truth has an eschatologically anticipatory dimension, yes. But this doesn't mean that truth itself is in process, except in the equivocal sense that what we TAKE TO BE "truth" is only partial, perhaps.
Until the eschaton, truth will remain provisional and truth claims contestable.I would rather put it thus: until the eschaton, our knowledge of truth will remain provisional and our truth claims contestable.
Therefore,theology, like all human knowledge, is provisional.Depending on what one means by "theology." What Jesus tells us about God in the Gospels may be understandable by us only in a limited and provisional way, but I would not want to say that the truths He spoke in the Gospels is in any way provisional. There is nothing "provisional" about even the mundane truth that David was king of Israel.
It simply cannot pack into formulas the truth of God.No? Come on: this is nonsense. "God is spirit." "God is one." "God made us." Call those "formulas," if you like. What's impossible about them? What's provisional about them? Nothing. My understanding of those propositions may be limited and provisional. But there's NOTHING provisional about the truths they express.
The future alone is the focal point of ultimate truth.So is the past: "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins." (I Cor. 15:17) It may be true that the full implications of that are only known to the mind of God, and that we humans will only begin to grasp the fullness of its meaning in the eschaton. Yet I would be loath to think that this truth is unknown to me from St. Paul's epistle, or that there is anything provisional about the truth.
As a result, all dogmatic statements are hypotheses to be tested for coherence with other knowledge.Well, of course, that's the Church's job, if one means that the Church refines and further defines our understanding of those dogmatic statements in response to challenges from skeptics, heretics, and, well, inquirers. But it would be absolutely wooly-minded to think that the Church's job is to suspend belief her own defined dogmas and treat them as tentative hypotheses. For example, it would be utter nonsense and heresy for a priest to tell his congregation: "Well now, we have always taught that God is personal and loving, but it may turn out 6.5 billion years from now, as the Church's understanding deepends, that we learn that God is more like an
impersonal force-field and that the notion of its having something like "love" for us was pure anthropomorphism. Sorry, folks!"
This, he claims, is in accordance with the Scriptures, which declare that only at the end of history is the deity of God unquestionably open to all-an event. However, that is anticipated in the present."Again, I have no quarrel with the language of Scripture on these points, because Scripture never casts into doubt the assumption that our partial knowledge refers to unalterable truths of fact. Hence, the most charitable thing I can say here of this statement of Pannenberg, for whom I otherwise have considerable respect, is that it involves a careless confusion of truth with knowledge of truth.
Pannenberg's own discussion of truth can be found in his 2 volume Basic Questions in Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), under "Basic Questions," pp. 1-27.