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Christ and Reconciliation

A Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World
Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen
** Copyrighted material **

To be published by Eerdmans


Christ and Reconciliation i

Contents iii

Abbreviations vii

Foreword ix

Introduction 1

A Methodological Vision in a New Key 1

On Doing Theology in a “Post-” World 1

Changing Visions of Theology and the Question of the Truth of Christian Claims 5

Constructive Theology in Search of a Coherent Vision 14

Theology in Search of an Inclusive Vision 18

Theology in Search of a Dialogical Vision 24

Theology in Search of a Hospitable Vision 33

Part I Christ 41

Orientation to Part I 42

1 45

How to Do Christology? 45

On the “Method” 45

Toward a More Dynamic Christology 51

2 63

“A Prophet Mighty in Deed and Word”: Jesus’ Ministry 63

Earthly Ministry in Theological Perspective 63

Teacher with Authority—and Parables 69

Miracle-Worker 73

3 85

Jesus in the Matrix of Diverse Global Contexts and Challenges 85

The Emergence of “Global” Testimonies to Christ 85

Rediscovery and Reconstruction of Titles of Jesus Christ 87

Christ as Ancestor 90

Jesus, the Liberation, and Empire 94

Christ and Empire 110

4 117

Messiah and the Kingdom 117

The Reconfiguration of the Messianic Hopes 117

Messianic Awareness 122

5 127

The Chalcedonian Tradition: A Horizon for Understanding Christ 127

The Liabilities and Problems of Chalcedonian Tradition 128

The Continuing Relative Value of the Christology of the Creeds 134

6 141

Resurrection and the Identity of Jesus Christ 141

Resurrection as the Confirmation of Jesus’ Deity 141

Resurrection as Historical and Eschatological Metaphor 147

The Unity of Jesus Christ with Humanity 157

7 169

“The Word Became Flesh”: Incarnation and Preexistence 169

The Divine Embodiment 170

Incarnation, Creation, and Humanity 175

Two “Natures” in One “Person” 183

He “Emptied Himself” 193

“Yet Was without Sin”: Sinlessness 199

“He Came Down from Heaven”: Preexistence 210

“Born of the Virgin Mary” 220

8 231

Jesus and Spirit: “Logos-Christologies” and “Spirit-Christologies” 231

The Tradition of Spirit-Christology 231

Contemporary Spirit-Christologies 236

An Integral Linking of Spirit and Christ 240

9 247

Contra Pluralism 247

Revisionist Interpretations of Incarnation 247

The Uniqueness of Christ Revisited 263

Liberation and Religious Pluralism 272

10 277

Jesus Christ among Religions 277

For Orientation to the Interfaith Investigations 277

The Jewish Messiah—The Christian Messiah 279

Jesus in Light of Islamic Interpretations 293

Jesus and Buddha 310

Christ and Avatars 324

Part II Reconciliation 341

Orientation to Part II 342

11 347

Atonement Traditions 347

Biblical Metaphors and Symbols 347

Historical Interpretations of Atonement 352

An Assessment of Atonement Traditions 363

12 373

Violence, Cross, and Atonement 373

Criticism against the Violent Notions of Atonement 373

Overcoming Violence 377

13 383

Toward a Contemporary Trinitarian Theology of Reconciliation 383

Many Metaphors of Reconciliation 383

Incarnation and Reconciliation 386

Suffering God and Crucified Messiah 391

Christ as Sacrifice and Our Representative 400

The Trinitarian Work of Salvation 407

Raised to New Life 416

Ascension, the Cosmic Rule, and Consummation of Salvation 421

14 429

Reconciliation as the Church’s Mission in the World 429

Reconciliation and the Restoration of Relationships 429

Missionary Proclamation of the Gospel of Reconciliation 434

Reconciliation and Liberation 438

15 449

Christian Salvation among Religions 449

The Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the Nations 449

The Christian Theology of the Cross in Light of the Islamic Interpretation 457

Salvation and Savior in Buddhist Perspectives 464

The “Spiritualization” of Sacrifice in Hinduism 468

Epilogue: Continuing Methodological Miscellanea 475

Bibliography 479

ANF The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. 9 vols. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson et al. Edinburgh, 1885-1897 (public domain; available at

CD Barth, Church Dogmatics. Edited by Geoffrey William Bromiley, Thomas Forsyth Torrance, and Torrance, Torrance. Translated by G. W. Bromiley. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1956-1975. (Online edition by Alexander Street Press, 1975.)

DEHF Divine Emptiness and Historical Fullness: A Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation with Asao Mabe. Edited by Christopher Ives. Valley Forge, Penn.: Trinity Press, 1995.

GDT Global Dictionary of Theology. Edited by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen and William Dyrness. Assistant editors, Simon Chan and Juan Martinez. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2008.

JBC Jesus Beyond Christianity: The Classic Texts. Edited by Gregory A. Baker and Stephen E. Gregg. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

JWF Jesus in the World’s Faiths: Leading Thinkers from Five Religions Reflect on His Meaning. Edited by Gregory A. Baker. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 2008.

LW Luther’s Works. American ed. (Libronix Digital Library), 55 vols. Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehman. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

NPNF1 A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. First Series. 14 vols. Edited by Philip Schaff. Edinburgh, 1886-1880 (public domain; available at

NPNF2 A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Second Series. 14 vols. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Edinburgh, 1886-1880 (public domain; available at

ST Wolfhart Pannenberg. Systematic Theology. Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. 3 vols. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991, 1994, 1998.

ST The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. Second and Revised Edition, 1920. Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province.
Online Edition Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Knight.

WA Weimarer Ausgabe (The Weimar edition of Luther’s works)

Unless otherwise indicated, all citations from patristic writers come from the standard series listed above.

Bible references are from Revised Standard Version unless otherwise indicated.

The Qu’ranic references are from The Holy Qur’ān: A New English translation of Its Meanings © 2008 Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, Amman, Jordan. This version of the Qur’ān is also available online at

The current book is one of the five volumes in the series titled Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World. This series conceives the nature and task of Christian systematic/constructive theology in a new key. Living as we are in the beginning of the third millennium in a world shaped by cultural, ethnic, socio-political, economic, and religious plurality, it is essential for Christian theology to tackle the issues of plurality and diversity. While robustly Christian in its convictions, building on the deep and wide tradition of biblical, historical, philosophical, and contemporary systematic traditions, this project seeks to engage our present cultural and religious diversity in a way Christian theology has not done in the past. Although part of a larger series, each volume can still stand on its own feet, so to speak, and can be read as an individual work.

The introductory chapter lays this methodological vision in a more detailed way. That discussion will continue in a shorter form in the epilogue to this volume. Each subsequent volume continues honing the methodological approach, including specific issues related to specific topics at hand such as “method” in Christology in this volume.

For the constructive Christian theology to be able to speak to the issues, questions, and challenges of the pluralistic world, it has to open up to a dialogue with diverse voices from both inside and outside. On the one hand, the hegemony of aging White European and North American men—to which company I myself belong!—must be balanced and corrected by contributions from female theologians of various agendas such as Feminist, Womanist, Mujerista, and women from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and from other Liberationists, including Black theologians of the USA and socio-political theologians from South America, South Africa, Asia, post-colonialists, as well as others. Rather than considering the insights from these and similar traditions as “contextual” in the sense that they are shaped by the context—whereas “mainstream” views are not—and can therefore be incorporated into the conversation at the author’s wish, as “ornaments” or means of enrichment, this project engages these contributions as equal conversation partners with traditional and contemporary systematic views. On the other hand, it is about time for Christian theology to break out from its ghetto and engage insights and contributions from other faiths. However, unlike naive pluralisms of Enlightenment traditions, this project believes that in order for the conversation to be meaningful, it is of utmost importance for each tradition to remain faithful to its core values, convictions, and beliefs. One does not have to be a postmodernist of any particular strand to realize that it is in the freedom and safety of a diversity of views—rather than in an artificial consensus—that personal testimonies and truth claims can be best presented and compared. That one remains faithful to one’s own tradition does not of course mean unwillingness to learn. A mutual dialogue is just that, mutual dialogue in which one listens to and speaks with the Other. Authentic dialogue does not seek to subsume the Other under one’s own way of understanding the world but rather, in the spirit of hospitality, makes room for the Other.

The series plans1 to include the following volumes: Christ and Reconciliation, Revelation and Trinity, Creation and Humanity, Spirit and Salvation, Church and Hope. The ultimate goal of the series is to provide a fresh and innovative vision of Christian doctrine and theology in a way that roughly speaking follows the outline, if not the order, of classical theology. Among the contemporary constructive theologies, the German systematician Jürgen Moltmann’s six-volume series Contributions to Theology shares some common interests in its approach. Rather than attempting a theological summa in the long and honored tradition of Christian theology, this multivolume series seeks to focus each volume on particular topics and look at them in the matrix of the whole.

While roughly following the typical systematic outline, theological argumentation in this series also engages a number of topics, perspectives, and issues that are missing by and large in traditional and even in most contemporary theologies. These include topics such as violence, race, environment, ethnicity, inclusivity, and colonialism. A constant engagement with religious and interfaith studies is a distinctive feature of this series. Depending on the specific topic, discussion may include sustained dialogues in other kind of interdisciplinary settings including natural sciences, cultural studies, and behavioral sciences. The discussion of Christological topics in the present volume calls for a sustained engagement of the current New Testament scholarship.

While it is clear without saying that no one single theologian possesses the needed learning and breath of knowledge to execute this kind of project in the most ideal way, I am convinced that attempting such a project in itself may make a contribution to Christian theology. To no lesser a writer than G. K. Chesterton do we owe the famous—or infamous—saying, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” This line of Chesterton comes from his book What’s Wrong with the World (1910)—a telling title also for a theological work! With this statement, Chesterton was not of course attempting to lower standards. The saying’s wit lies elsewhere: Chesterton constantly defended the “amateur” over against the professional. The amateur, however, for Chesterton did not mean a person who doesn’t know how to do something but rather a person who is totally dedicated to his or her cause. The British literary master speaks in this context about the dilemma of the working mother, whether to have her children be brought up by “professionals” such as day-care providers or by the mother who pours out love to the child; not for nothing, the saying happens to be in part four of the book, entitled “Education: Or the Mistake about the Child”! Mother loves and takes care of her child out of love, not for money. That makes the real amateur. Mother does the things “worth doing”—even when perfect standards are not met!

As with so many other books, I owe greater gratitude than I am able to express to my Fuller Theological Seminary editor Susan Carlson Wood. Suffice it to say that her impeccable editorial skills have again helped transform my “Finnish-English” into American English!

I dedicate this volume to the “so great a cloud of” students from all five continents, men and women from all Christian traditions: those at Fuller Theological Seminary, a “theological laboratory” to learn from and engage global diversity and plurality, and also my students, past and present, in Thailand and Finland—and beyond.

As with so many other books, I owe greater gratitude than I am able to express to my Fuller Theological Seminary editor, Susan Carlson Wood. Suffice it to say that her impeccable editorial skills have again helped transform my “Finnish-English” into American English! I also want to thank sincerely all of my research assistants who have co-labored in this project: Getachew Kiros, Leulseged Tesfaye, and Naoki Inoue helped identify some key sources in the beginning part of the work. Amy Chilton Thompson and David Hunsicker finished the meticulous checking of the accuracy of all references. Without the help of these doctoral students, representing three continents, the writing process would have taken much longer.


A Methodological Vision in a New Key
On Doing Theology in a “Post-” World

Post-modern, post-foundationalist, post-structuralist, post-colonial, post-metaphysical, post-propositional, post-liberal, post-conservative, post-secular, post-Christian, post- ? While contemporary theologians and philosophers share the deep desire of attempting to go beyond the old, they also are confused and ignorant about what that “beyond” might be! Leaving behind the “modern” does not necessarily take all postmodern theologians in the same place. Not every post-structuralist speaks of the “place” on the other side of the “structure” (of the language) in the same way. Most all post-colonialists remind us that the forces of colonialism are still at work in our world, they have just taken a different, and at times, more subtle and pervading, form. And so forth.

In light of this persisting confusion and desire “for beyond,” it may not come as a surprise that much of the energy in contemporary theology is devoted to the consideration of “method,” whatever that term may imply in the beginning of the third millennium. Again, there is an irony here. Differently from our forebears—say the medieval writers of world-embracing theological summas—most everybody agrees that there is no single method available for systematic and constructive theology. However, as Jeffrey Stout ironically puts it, theologians are prone to clearing their throat to the point they are losing their audience.2 Hence the “voice of theology” is not heard in the public sphere, nor even in church at times!3 “Academic theology seems to have lost its voice, its ability to command attention as a distinctive contributor to public discourse in our culture.”4 The Yale theologian Miroslav Volf echoes the concern of the Princeton philosopher-ethicist in complaining that “theologians have increasingly turned into methodologists.”5

Like the poor, methodological concerns will be with theologians until the end! That doesn’t, however, mean that all theologians vision similarly the task of tackling methodological issues. The two “mainline” German theologians, Lutheran Wolfhart Pannenberg and Reformed Jürgen Moltmann serve as representative examples. Whereas Pannenberg devoted the best part of his long productive career to honing the method, before launching his summa, the three-volume Systematic Theology (ET 1991-1998), Moltmann produced a number of important monographs on various topics of constructive theology and only at the end focused on methodological issues in his Experiences in Theology (ET 2000). Whereas Pannenberg crowned his theological work with a most tightly argued, comprehensive systematic presentation, Moltmann from the beginning resisted that kind of enterprise and only wanted to write individual “Contributions to Theology” (ET 1980-2000). Not only that, but the accounts of method by these two leading constructive theologians couldn’t be more different. Pannenberg’s massive Theology and the Philosophy of Science6 sets out a coherent and rational argumentation for theology as “the science of God,” in the tradition of the medieval masters. In contrast, Moltmann’s methodological work makes it clear that he never had a particular method to follow. Rather, for him, “theology was, and still is, an adventure of ideas. It is an open, inviting path.”7 Whereas for the Munich theologian only the rational arguments matter in theology,8 for the Tübingen colleague, “The road emerged only as I walked it.”9 Whereas Moltmann delights in experimenting with ideas with no desire to establish any kind of universal truth, but rather engage a continuing dialogue,10 Pannenberg argues that truth by definition has a universal orientation and thus, truth that is truth to one person only cannot be truth to anyone.11 And so forth.

A number of other differences and diversities with regard to “method” complicate any presentation of constructive Christian theology in our times. Thinkers drawn to various stripes of postmodernism, whether “deconstructive” as in much of the Continental traditions or (more) constructive, as in Anglo-American approaches,12 are wondering if any kind of pursuit of Christian vision is ultimately foundationalist in its epistemology, power-driven in its agenda, and hence, not only a useless enterprise but also counterproductive. Feminists, Womanists, Mujerista Latinas, and other female theologians from Asia, Africa, and Latin America have raised important questions of inclusivity and equality. Some wonder if traditional theology in any form is redeemable, especially when it comes to talk about God as “father” and Jesus as “son.” Post-colonialists from different global contexts echo these concerns but are also voicing the opinion that the “power-play” goes beyond the issues of sexism and has to do with all kinds of explicit and implicit abuses of power. For some of them, any presentation and argumentation of one religion’s truth is entrapped with a colonialist hegemony. Other Liberationists have already for long time attempted to expose the various kinds of structures of oppression behind the Christian (and other religious) discourses. Liberationists tirelessly remind us that any theology that doesn’t take a particular human experience, for example the experience of the Black or of the poor, as the beginning point, is not only not worth its name but serves the interests of the powerful.

Add to the matrix of these kind of challenges the pervasive and intense plurality of cultures, religions, ideologies, and worldviews and one begins to fathom the uttermost difficulty of doing theology in and for the “post-” world. How could one even imagine arguing for the uniqueness of one Savior among many savior figures? How dare one present a particular vision of “salvation” as the only one? On what basis could one book of revelation be the key to ultimate questions of life and death in the midst of countless similar books? Religious identities are interwoven with national and ethnic ties. To be a Serbian is to be an Orthodox Christian—or a Muslim! To be an American is to confess Christian faith in endless number of its denominations—or, as has become evident in recent decades, to put one’s trust in Jewish faith, either “orthodox,” or “moderate,” or “progressive.” And so forth.

Yet another challenge—or an opportunity, one can take it either way—is the vastly different worldview of our day when compared to any previous epoch in Christian history. We have moved a long way from the semi-mechanistic understanding of the world with fixed laws of nature governing the universe and substance-ontology with built-in dualistic explanations, including radical difference between subject and object, matter and spirit, and so forth. Our worldview is dynamic, interrelated, evolving, in-the-making. It relies on subtle and humble explanations, seeks to discern the relationality and mutual conditioning, and envisions holistic ways of understanding.13 Not only has the worldview changed radically, but it seems to many that so has the philosophical and religious outlook that opens doors for “the new integration,” as Philip Clayton puts it, which includes features such as the following:14

• multiple religious traditions

• diverse cultural traditions

• science and religion

• complicated ethical questions, from bioethics to new forms of human relationship

• the continuing struggle to integrate faith and politics

• the new opportunities for constructive dialogue between liberals and evangelicals within the one church

• the “lived integration” of one’s corporate beliefs with one’s corporate practice

So, how to do theology in a “post-world”? Or better: whether to do theology in this kind of environment? Rather than attempting a full-scale discussion of the account of the possibility, ways, and forms of Christian theology, this series continues developing “theological method” incrementally, step by step, as part of the material presentation of various themes and issues. In this introductory section, before a focused and specific orientation to the issues in the “method” of Christology, a brief outline of the vision of systematic/constructive theology at large will be attempted.

Changing Visions of Theology and the Question of the Truth of Christian Claims

In pre-Christian usage, the term theology appeared in three different types, namely, as “mythical” theology of the poets concerning the deities, as “political” theology of public life, and as “natural” theology as the inquiry into the nature of the deities.15 Whereas the mythical talk about the divine things was embedded in myths and nonreflective beliefs and the political theology served the interests of the rulers, philosophical (natural) theology sought to speak of the deities in a way that would be in keeping with their true nature. Early Christian tradition, while for long time suspicious of adopting the term theology, took the developed Stoic meaning in which the theologian “is the divinely inspired proclaimer of divine truth and theology its proclamation”16 instead of fables and myths.

In early Christian tradition and indeed up until the falling apart of the Scripture Principle17 as the result of the Enlightenment and subsequent modernity,18 the truth of Christian theology and doctrine was taken for granted. It was based, on the one hand, on the divine revelation as transmitted in the Bible and, on the other hand, as St. Augustine established it conclusively, in God as its locus.19 It was also agreed that the authority of the church and Scripture basically agree with each other and thus can be taken as “foundation.” With the rationalism(s)20 stemming from the Enlightenment with its introduction of the historical-critical methodology, theology lost its role as the “queen” of sciences. It sounds almost unbelievable to contemporary intuitions to be reminded that indeed, there was a time when theology occupied the highest place of honor and authority in the academia! With the rise of modern universities beginning from the thirteenth century, theology was not only the highest academic discipline but also the normative one that told natural and other “secular” sciences what their presuppositions and results were.21

In the changing situation theology reacted in more than one way. Those who were not content to merely hold on to the lost precritical mentality of the past after Fundamentalism influenced greatly by the post-Reformation Protestant Scholasticism (both Reformed and Lutheran), opted for a strategy in which the mere affirmation of truth and thus conflict with science and growing secularism could be avoided. Classical Liberalism turned to “experience” and, under the tutelage of Friedrich Schleiermacher, defined the theological task as a human interpretation of human religious experience. The question of the truth of theological statements was thus set aside and theology became hermeneutics of “piety.” Along with this, God as the theme of theology was replaced by religion.22

In the twentieth-century theological landscape, some, most prominently Karl Barth, sough to redeem “neo-orthodoxy” by leveling a massive critic against Classical Liberalism (albeit, ironically, sharing some of its agenda, including the view of Scripture). Again, the question of the basis of the truth of Christian claims could be circumvented with appeal to divine revelation.23 Post-Liberals saw promise in both Classical Liberalism and Barth—and were vehemently opposed to all forms of Fundamentalism. Associated with Yale University, several theologians, most prominently the biblical scholar Hans Frei and historian of dogma George Lindbeck, sought to establish Christian faith as a unique form of rationality that would be accountable merely to its own conditions.24 Hence, replacing the “cognitive-propositionalist” model that takes theological statements as truth claims about objective realities and “experiential-expressivist” model, which “interprets doctrines as noninformative and nondiscursive symbols of inner feelings, attitudes, or existential orientations,” a “cultural-linguistic” model is proposed.25 Taking a cue from the later Wittgenstein’s turn to language, this model regards church doctrines neither “as expressive symbols or as truth claims, but as communally authoritative rules of discourse, attitude and action.” Hence, it can be called a “regulative” or “rule” theory.26 Frei’s main contribution to the project is the refusal to seek for the meaning and significance of biblical teachings “behind” the text as in historical-critical method’s endless probing into the socio-cultural and historical background as the key. This attempt has led, Frei opines, to The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative.27 Rather than letting the world take over the biblical narrative, these Yale theologians “desire to renew in a posttradtional and postliberal mode the ancient practice of absorbing the universe into the biblical world.”28 The doctrinal “rules” aim merely—or at least predominantly—at the inner coherence of Christian thought. They are not interested in extratextual references.29

The obvious question to this post-Liberal approach is of course whether there is any way to negotiate between different—and at times deeply conflicting—traditions and their narratives. An important attempt to address that liability and also build bridges between what used to be called “liberal” and “conservative” orientations, is Kevin J. Vanhoozer’s “canonical-linguistic” proposal. His The Drama of Doctrine seeks to defend the principle of sola scriptura in a way that would fully affirm the linguistic turn—and, as the title expresses—envision Christian doctrine as a dramatic event. His leading thesis is that “the canonical-linguistic approach maintains that the normative use is ultimately not that of ecclesial culture but of the biblical canon.”30 Vanhoozer charts his epistemological course in the waters of postmodern rejection of foundationalism, critique of propositionalism, and celebration of plurality of meanings—and at the same time, doing everything in his power not to steer away from the primacy of canon and sola scriptura as well as the existence of “objective” realities “out there” to which metaphors refer to ultimately. Vanhoozer chooses three nomenclatures that encapsulate his epistemological orientation: “postpropositionalist,” “post-conservative,” and “postfoundationalist.” This approach allows for metaphors as metaphors say “more” rather than “less” than propositions. This is to say that metaphors convey some information but not only that—or that they convey information in a way propositions cannot. The use of metaphors fosters the possibility of “polyphonic truth,” multiple meanings and imagination. It seeks actively to be contextual. Differently from many postmodernist and cultural-linguistic models, metaphors do not lose some kind of cognitive content. Furthermore, the meaning of the text is first of all the meaning intended by the author (in the case of Scripture, the divine author?). In sum: there is an “extratextual” reference to realities outside, such as the resurrection of Christ, in the midst of many meanings and many metaphors.31

While oddly enough Vanhoozer misses the dialogue with Pannenberg, it seems to me that, even with their in many ways disconnected and vastly different approaches to the task of theology, they share some common orientations. As the “science of God,” theology for Pannenberg presupposes the existence of truth apart from human beings and human beings’ social construction thereof. Sure, usually faith precedes theological reflection, but that does not establish the truth: “Personal assurance of faith always needs confirmation by experience and reflection.”32 That said, it is essential for the understanding of Pannenberg’s approach to note that even though God, as in classical tradition,33 is the “object” of theology—and everything else in the created order sub ratione Dei (in relation to God)—God can only be approached indirectly, through humanity. We do not have a direct access to the divine because God is infinitely incomprehensible.34 In keeping with human limitations, our grasp of truth is only provisional, as the biblical conception of truth—differently from the Hellenistic view. which posits a fixed “truth” just to be discovered—is historical and thus evolving.35 Consequently, only at the end of the process of history, at the eschaton, the biblical God manifests himself as the One he promised to be.36 The resurrection of Christ as a historical event is a major “proleptic” assurance but not yet certainty. Pannenberg rightly sees the deep dilemma, namely, that while “[t]heology deals with the universality of truth of revelation,”37 human knowing is finite, partial, and provisional. As a result, this dynamic is built in with the task and matrix of theology.

Since other theological disciplines, most profoundly exegetical ones, have left out the pursuit of the question of truth and attune merely to the texts’ historical and critical meaning, it is left for systematic theology to pursue and if possible, establish the truth of Christian claims. Hence, for Pannenberg, systematic statements function in the forms of scientific hypotheses, to be tested, tried, and hopefully confirmed. Doing so means highlighting the importance of the category of anticipation.38 Although subjective certainty or human experience cannot serve as final arbiter, Pannenberg is not dismissing the importance of either39 because, as said, having no direct access to God, theology must proceed via human experience of the world. Furthermore, everywhere in his methodological reflections, he speaks of the provisionality, fallibility, tentativeness, historicity, and limitations of human knowledge—so much so that at the end, he sees doxology as the ultimate “knowledge” of God as therein the “speakers rise above the limits of their own finitude to the thought of the infinite God.” Then he adds, however, something essential, that “[i]n the process the conceptual contours do not have to lose their sharpness. Doxology can also have the form of systematic reflection.”40 In other words, with all his pursuit of “The Truth of Christian Doctrine as the Theme of Systematic Theology,”41 Pannenberg “accepts the contested nature of theological truth claims.”42

Rightly, then, F. Leron Shults, against common suspicions, calls Pannenberg’s epistemology postfoundationalist rather than foundationalist. A postfoundationalist approach, differently from nonfoundationalist43 epistemology, seeks

to engage in interdisciplinary dialogue within our postmodern culture while both maintaining a commitment to intersubjective, transcommunal theological argumentation for the truth of Christian faith, and recognizing the provisionality of our historically embedded understandings and culturally conditioned explanations of the Christian tradition and religious experience.44

Building on the work of the Princeton theologian J. Wentzel van Huyssteen,45 the postfoundationalist approach hence attempts to critique the foundationalism of modernity, placing emphasis on the provisional and historical nature of human knowing, without leaving behind the goal of the truth as something that goes beyond one’s own ghetto as is the danger in some forms of nonfoundationalisms. It calls for a nuanced and mutually conditioning negotiation between various “couplets,” as Shults names them:46

• Interpreted experience engenders and nourishes all beliefs, and a network of beliefs informs the interpretation of experience.

• The objective unity of truth is a necessary condition for the intelligible search for knowledge, and the subjective multiplicity of knowledge indicates the fallibility of truth claims.

• Rational judgment is an activity of socially situated individuals, and the cultural community indeterminately mediates the criteria of rationality.

• Explanation aims for universal, transcontextual understanding, and understanding derives from particular contextualized explanations.

The present work argues that it belongs to the nature and inner structure of Christian theology to pursue the truth of its statements if it is based on the conviction that its “object” is God and everything in relation to God. If so, then it means that unlike Classical Liberalism, theology cannot suffice to be merely a hermeneutics of human experience of religiosity, even though that kind of analysis is part of the wider theological task. Similarly, in contrast to post-Liberalism but in keeping with the stated goal of the canonical-linguistic approach, theology must be interested in both the intra-textual and extra-textual “basis” of its claims. This is to say that doctrinal statements are more than just “rules” that express the ecclesiastical practices. Certainly doctrinal statements function as rules, but not merely in that capacity. At the same time, theology may at times critique and deconstruct given ecclesiastical practices and “ways of speaking.” The ultimate authority of such a theological task is the canonical Scripture, not only in the way Scripture is used in the church,47 but based on the “authorial intention.”

The epistemological vision of postfoundationalism as outlined above will guide the present project, accepting the provisional, historical, limited, and perspectival nature of knowledge—yet, in pursuit of God’s truth that precedes such an inquiry. That kind of epistemological attitude is appropriate in correlation with God’s truth, which will be fully manifested only at the end of history. The historical process does not establish the truthfulness of Christian claims (after Process theology) but rather manifests and brings to light the eternal purposes of the Triune God towards the reconciliation and eschatological fulfillment of the divine promises.

While pursuing the truth of Christian doctrine, theology can no longer rely on mere assertion or ecclesiastical authority as in Christendom,48 nor on the “retreat to commitment”49 as in much of Barthianism. What about the vision of (the British) Radical Orthodoxy in this respect? Rather than attempting a Tillichian correlational approach in which the “secular” philosophy and culture sets the questions and theology provides answers on the basis of Christian tradition, Radical Orthodoxy—if I correctly understand their (intentionally?) obscure writings—rather robustly seeks to present the Christian “worldview” as the only alternative, and consequently theology as the “queen of sciences.” While I applaud the desire to rediscover the public nature of Christian theology and the refusal to let social theory (Milbank) or other disciplines to set the “foundation,” I also find the unwillingness to engage mutual dialogue with either “secular” academic disciplines or other living faiths an exercise in futility. Perhaps I do not grasp fully the movement’s vision, but it seems to me that with all its distinctive features, materially it does not differ essentially from that of Barth or the Yale School, or even of Stanley Hauerwas, whose approach in some important ways resembles that of Lindbeck and Frei. In contrast, this current project agrees with Philip Clayton’s listing of the conditions of the pursuit of truth as one of the major theses for the program of “critical faith” for the third millennium: “Theologians cannot simply presuppose the truth of the Christian tradition but must be concerned in an ongoing way with the question of the truth of their central assertions.”50 In order to do this task well, theology must engage in continuous ecumenical and interdisciplinary dialogue.

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