The theological possibilities that are opened up by such a consistently trinitarian account are clearly demonstrated in Pannenberg's exposition of the doctrine of creation.9 It follows from this approach that the relationship of God to what is not God is seen as rooted in the immanent relations of the Trinity. Pannenberg follows the Western trinitarian tradition of describing the immanent Trinity in terms of immanent actions, which are the ground of God's action in relation to the world. It is the emphasis of God's creating as a free and sovereign act which leads in Pannenberg's view to the understanding of creation as creatio ex nihilo. God's freedom in creating, however, must be understood as the freedom of love, which includes difference and communion, if God grants creation its own relatively independent being and its own relative permanence. Like Hegel, Pannenberg sees the Son as the principle of difference in the Trinity and so as the generative principle of created reality existing in relative independence from God. Unlike Hegel, Pannenberg does not interpret the Son as a logically necessary stage in the history of the Absolute, but sees the free self-distinction of Jesus from the Father as the ratio cognoscenti, the foundation of knowing, of the eternal Sonship of Jesus, and this as the basis for the claim that the corresponding eternal self-distinction of the Son from the Father is the ratio essendi, the ground of being, for the existence of creation. The Son is therefore the structural archetype of the destiny of creation to achieve communion with God. This, however, can only be achieved through the Spirit, who is the principle of communion in the immanent Trinity and so the medium of the participation of created life in the divine trinitarian life.
It is for Pannenberg an essential aspect of the task of a theology of creation to relate its assertions to the findings of the scientific investigation of the world. His own proposals for a dialogue between theology and the sciences concentrate on his understanding of the Spirit and the Spirit's activity in terms of a field of force, but others include his notion of "beginning" in relation to eschatology, which he works out in dialogue with scientific cosmology.
The trinitarian framework also shapes Pannenberg's anthropological reflections. In contrast to the mainstream of tradition which identified pneuma with nous, Pannenberg distinguishes them. This means that human reason just as much as the material existence of humans depends on the life-giving Spirit. While reason, with its capacity for discerning differences, reflects the self-differentiation of the Son from the Father as the ground of all difference, the unity of consciousness, located in the imagination, and the unity of personhood, the disclosure of the totality of a personal life in its existence, are both mediated by the Spirit, the principle of unity in its eschatological fulfillment. Rejecting both the notion of an original perfection of humans and of the fall as the loss of the image of God, Pannenberg interprets the image of God as a dynamic notion for the human destiny to live in communion with God, which is realized in the Incarnation. However, human beings can only achieve their destiny in conformity with the self-distinction of the Son from the Father. Sin is therefore defined as the refusal of humans to accept their created finitude by distinguishing themselves explicitly from God. In this way they attempt to assume the place of God.
In his Christology in the Systematic Theology,10 Pannenberg offers an extensive discussion of the relationship of a Christology "from below" to a Christology "from above." In the context of the Systematic Theology, which interprets the history and destiny of Jesus as the action of the trinitarian God for the salvation of humankind, Christology "from below" and "from above" are complementary insofar as the former offers a reconstruction of the foundation of the statements the latter develops systematically. The starting point of Christology is, for Pannenberg, the distinctive humanity of Christ in which the destiny of humanity to live in communion with God becomes reality in Jesus' filial relationship to God. Rooted in his self-distinction from the Father by becoming obedient to him, the divinity of Jesus is therefore not a foreign element added to the reality of Jesus' humanity, but the reflection from Jesus' relationship to the Father on his being and on the eternal being of God. The resurrection is in Pannenberg's interpretation the justification of Jesus' claim to filial authority by God the Father and in this way validates Jesus' message. This implies that God is eternally as Jesus proclaimed God to be: God is eternally the Father revealed in the Son and therefore the Son is eternally in relation with the Father and in this sense preexistent.
In this trinitarian framework humanity is conceived to be essentially in relation to God because it is a specific expression of the Son as the generative principle of difference and of created independence. It therefore has the capacity of becoming the medium for expressing the self-distinction of the Son from the Father and so their communion-in-difference. Since living in communion with God is the created destiny of humanity from the beginning, the Incarnation is not an alien intrusion into humanity but the actualization of its destiny. However, this is only possible where the Spirit elevates humanity ecstatically above its finitude and so enables it to accept its finitude and so to become the medium of the expression of the relationship of Father and Son. Conversely, the Incarnation is the self-actualization or self-fulfillment of God in his relationship to the world, though not - and here Pannenberg differs from Barth - in the eternal immanent trinitarian relations.
For Pannenberg, soteriology is a function of Christology. The reconciliation of God and the world in Christ is exclusively God's work. Nevertheless, it has the "form" of representation, since humanity participates in this process by being represented in Christ. Jesus' death discloses this representation, since he dies for those who condemned him and so brought God's judgment upon themselves. Jesus' representation of humanity, not only through the cross but also in his whole history and destiny, has an inclusive significance for all humankind, though only in an anticipatory sense which is worked out through the apostolic ministry of the church. Therefore, Pannenberg discusses the theological significance of the gospel and the doctrine of the inspiration of scripture in the context of the doctrine of reconciliation.
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