on wolfhart pannenberg's view of faith and reason.
10/27/2006 09:17:00 AM
Pannenberg in his view on the relationship between faith and reason places reason above faith and justifies it with relationships between faith and reason to truth at particular points in history. He gives a high level view or on how truth has been given and shows how there has recently been a shift from faith being the sole arbiter of truth to reason being the dominant arbiter of truth. During the first 1700 years of Christianity, according to Pannenberg, biblical authority and tradition from which faith stems have been the sources for knowledge and truth. Pannenberg shows how some reformers, particularly Martin Luther, were staunchly opposed to the use of reason in finding truth.

But for Pannenberg times have changed. In essence, reason has caught up and surpassed with faith in its ability beget truth. Pannenberg rejects some evaluations of faith and reason that have tried to harmonize the two. Some have tried to show that faith delves in one sphere while reason delves in a completely different realm. Pannenberg says that this approach is irresponsible. Pannenberg says that something like the kyregma has to be carried further than dealing with salvation and ethics (a sin problem) and into a world of reason, because understanding one's self is strongly correlated with an understanding of the world. For this reason, it is up to faith to provided "not only ethical knowledge but also theoretical knowledge" (Pannenberg, 21). In other words, one's view of faith is fundamental to how one evaluates theoretical knowledge.

With these things in mind, Pannenberg makes the point showing that Scripture and tradition are no longer enough. He says, "Thus, the task if rational account of truth of faith has acquired an ever more acute urgency in the modern period. The appeal to the authority of Scripture and to a proclamation grounded in this is no loner sufficient to establish the legitimacy of faith." (Pannenberg, 22) Because reason has caught up with faith, it cannot be denied or "abridged" in some sense as he says (Pannenberg, 28). Therefore, faith has to be bolstered more and more with reason.

It seems that Pannenberg wants to remove faith from the realm of reason altogether and leave it to speculate about end times. These create a couple of problems in the relationship between faith and reason. First, Pannenberg's position allows man, not God to be authoritative. God under this view is subjected to the opinion of man, not the other way around. If God is up for interpretation, then God essentially becomes as convenient as one wants him to be or subjective according to one's liking.

The second problem stems from the same idea: there is no limit to Pannenberg's position. One might ask, why is God even needed? If one follows Pannenberg's argument to the logical extreme, then it would ultimately deny the existence of God, as many atheists have. This may not happen with everyone who adopts Pannenberg's view, it certainly is possible because there seems to be an inverse relationship between faith and reason here. The more understanding one gains from reason, the less one needs God.

It is undeniable that reason in the last two or three hundred years has mushroomed, but this does not mean that it has surpassed faith. One's understanding of faith doesn't have to be an inverse relationship between faith and reason. It is possible to have reason and faith coexisting without diminishing faith to nothingness, keeping God as an authority, viewing scripture as authoritative, and being able to understand the world through reason. First, it begins in revelation. Faith is based on a two part revelation: general and specific. Pannenberg seems to narrow his scope of faith as being solely based on sacred text and tradition; however it doesn't have to be this way. General revelation is revelation that is revealed to everyone. This revelation is enough to condemn one before God according to Paul in Romans 1. The question concerning salvific knowledge is another debate, and outside the scope of this work, but general revelation leading to knowledge of God is undeniable. Similarly, faith in Jesus doesn't bring one to believe in the resurrection, but that the resurrection brings one to believe in Jesus. Paul asserts in 1 Corinthians 15 that the facts of Jesus? resurrection bolsters the faith, and without the facts, the faith is useless. Simply stated, faith is girded with facts (phenomenon in world and history) such as nature and the resurrection, so faith can be girded with reason.

Reason isn't given to replace faith, but to better help understand that from which we get our faith, which is revelation. Pannenberg rejects the two sphere approach to understand faith and reason, but in the understanding presented here, there are two spheres. Pannenberg does good in pointing out that the two aren't mutually exclusive, but his understanding seems deny the purpose of revelation. It seems that Pannenberg wants to use scripture and revelation in an "as-is" fashion, in saying that the way the scriptures and the church say things happen are the way they do. The wonder of tradition is that it can be dumped or changed at any point, but revelation in the form of scripture and nature does not change. In regards to scripture, one has to understand the purpose and culture in which it was written. Take for instance the Genesis 1 account of the creation of the world. Genesis 1 gives a creation account. The account goes from the Big Bang to the origin of man in one page using terms that could be understood by 14th century BCE Bedouins. The point of the document is not to give a scientific account for creation but to give a theological account. It says in the summary statement: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and one can leave it there. A reader shouldn't try to extrapolate meaning that is not there from it nor impose meaning to bolster as particular theory. If one understands that God created it, then reason can figure out the particulars of creation. Faith (God created it) still remains the point and reason is still allowed to exist.

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