The Working Of The Spirit Of God In Creation And In The People Of God The Pneumatology Of Wolfhart Pannenberg

The Working Of The Spirit Of God In Creation And In The People Of God  The Pneumatology Of Wolfhart Pannenberg

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Pentecostal Theology, Volume 26, No. 1, Spring 2004

The Working of the Spirit of God in Creation and

in the People of God:1 The Pneumatology of

Wolfhart Pannenberg

Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen

Spirit and Truth: The Perils of the Subjectivization of the Spirit

Even in the beginning stages of his extensive career, Wolfhart Pannen- berg sounded a note that has come to guide his theology in general and pneumatology in particular, namely, to avoid the privatization of Christian doctrine and faith:

The Spirit of which the New Testament speaks is no “haven of ignorance” (asylum ignorantiae) for pious experience, which exempts one from all obligation to account for its contents. The Christian message will not regain its missionary power…unless this falsification of the Holy Spirit is set aside which has developed in the history of piety.2

No other theologian since Barth has produced such a massive, full-scale systematic theology as Pannenberg with his three-volume Systematic Theology. In an age when the prophets of the academy swear in the name of postmodernity—and thus abhor world-embracing systems—Pannen- berg is a stalwart defender of the historical-critical methodology and the rationality of Christian faith and its truth claims vis-à-vis competing reli- gious and philosophical claims.3 Pneumatology is no exception to his pro- gram: it is only to the detriment of Christian doctrine that pneumatology


The first part of the title is taken from Wolfhart Pannenberg, “The Working of the Spirit in the Creation and in the People of God,” in Spirit, Faith, and Church, ed. W. Pannenberg, A. Dulles, and C. E. Braaten (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970), 13-31.2

Pannenberg, “The Doctrine of the Spirit and the Task of a Theology of Nature,” Theology 75, no. 1 (1972): 10.3

Cf. the title for the first chapter of Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1991): “The Truth of Christian Doctrine as the Theme of Systematic Theology.” Thus, for him, the task of systematic theology is the exposition of Christian doctrine in a way that leads to a coherent presentation in harmony with what we know of God and reality as a whole. In that sense, theological claims have the nature of hypotheses to be tested and, if possible, confirmed. The truth of Christian claims cannot be presupposed but is the goal of the presentation (Systematic Theology 1:50-60 esp.).

© 2004 Brill Academic Publishers, Inc., Boston pp. 17–35


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has too often been relegated to the interior life of an individual believer4 apart from creation, science, and the consummation of God’s Kingdom.

Although Pannenberg is undeniably one of the most noteworthy pneumatologists for the third millennium, he has not produced a separate pneumatology.5 Rather, his doctrine of the Spirit is integrated with his ambitious theological program. This is no coincidence, since for him it is a methodological choice: the doctrine of the Spirit is interwoven with every major locus of his systematics, especially with God, creation, human beings, Christology, the Church, and eschatology. He also has a rich discussion on the Spirit with regard to salvation, as typical Protestant pneumatologies have, but he tries to avoid the dangers of privatizing the Spirit to subjective areas only. Understandably, he is critical of the sec- ondary place given to pneumatology in theology since the Middle Ages, and of the restriction on the action of the Spirit to soteriology in Refor- mation theology.

In this essay I will offer a critical dialogue with Pannenberg’s pneuma- tology, first outlining its major themes and then assessing its strengths and potential, with a view to implications for Pentecostal theology. After con- cluding this introductory section with its focus on the question of truth in Pannenberg’s pneumatology, I will then discuss his view of the Spirit as force field. There follows a discussion of how Pannenberg casts his doc- trine of God and creation in a pneumatological framework. Then I will relate the Spirit to salvation and the Church and highlight how this points to the eschatological consummation. While I offer critical notes during the treatment of main pneumatological themes, I will offer a more sustained critical assessment at the end of the essay.

The way Pannenberg depicts the relationship between the Spirit’s min- istry and truth arises out of his theological method, described above. The truth of the Christian message is “provisionally…[established] in human hearts by the convicting ministry of the Spirit of God.”6 This sentence,


Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1:47-48.5

He has only written a few articles distinctively on pneumatology: W. Pannenberg, “The Doctrine of the Spirit and the Task of a Theology of Nature,” in Beginning with the End: God, Science, and Wolfhart Pannenberg, ed. C. R. Albright and J. Haugen (Chicago: Open Court, 1997), 65–79 (first published in Theology 75, no. 1 [1972]: 8–20); and “The Working of the Spirit in the Creation and in the People of God.” For a brief presentation of his pneumatology, see Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Books, 2002), 117-25.6

Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1:56.



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The Working of the Spirit of God in Creation and in the People of God

however, has to be read in context, otherwise it could be read as saying the opposite of what Pannenberg intends. In contrast to the way the issue is usually depicted, namely, as seeing the Spirit providing a subjectivist assurance of a pietistic nature (or of Classical Liberalism for that matter), for Pannenberg the Spirit is not invoked to “establish” the truth in the heart of the believer in the sense that otherwise the truth would not be evident. We have to keep in mind that for Pannenberg, the final verdict of the truth is awaiting the eschatological fulfillment. The truth of Christian claims to God—and thus of theological claims—awaits the final confirmation (or lack of it) at the end times.7

Working primarily with the concept of the truth as coherence (i.e., the truth of Christian message is to be established both internally and exter- nally, in relation to all that is), Pannenberg maintains that the Spirit cannot “add” anything to the truth—thus, his highly disputed notion according to which revelation is “open to anyone who has eyes to see” and in no need of a “spiritual” illumination.8 Personally, I think that here Pannenberg is a bit confusing: in my reading of his systematics, he has not provided a clear analysis of what exactly is the relationship between the convicting min- istry of the Spirit and truth (and/or revelation), and, of course, I am not the only one who has raised the question.

The Spirit, Life-Giving Principle, and Force Field

The starting point for the development of a theologically sound pneu- matology for Pannenberg is to retrieve the biblical notion of the Spirit as the life-force sustaining all life. Even though Pannenberg works indepen- dently, he is, of course, paralleling what many others have done recently, Moltmann and Welker being the prime examples. In the Bible, the Spirit is depicted as the life-giving principle to which all creatures owe life, move- ment, and activity. This is true of animals, plants, and humans: “When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:30). In keeping with this, the second creation account says that God “formed man from the dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). Conversely, all life perishes when God withdraws the Spirit (Ps. 104:29; Job 34:13–14). “The souls of all living things and the breath of all people are in the hands


Ibid., 1:54.8

Ibid., 1:249–50.



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of the Spirit (Job 12:10).”9 For Pannenberg, the Spirit is “the principle of the active presence of the transcendent God with his creation” and “the medium of the participation of created life in the trinitarian divine life.”10

Now Pannenberg asks, how can this biblical view of life be reconciled with modern biology in which life is a function of the living cell of the liv- ing creature as a self-sustaining and -reproducing system? The way he addresses this crucial question is to utilize the field concept, borrowed from modern physics (Michael Faraday).11 This relating of the Spirit to a force field is perhaps the most distinctive idea of Pannenberg’s pneuma- tology.12 He maintains, “The Spirit of God can be understood as the supreme field of power that pervades all of creation. Each finite event or being is to be considered as a special manifestation of that field, and their movements are responsive to its forces.”13 Pannenberg is convinced that the use of the field concept is biblically appropriate in light of the meaning of ruach as not opposing the corporeal and thus creaturely. It also carries the potential of a more holistic theology of the Spirit, since field theories “claim a priority for the whole over the parts.”14

For all his sympathies with scientific field theories, however, Pannen- berg is no naïve user of nontheological concepts: “In the working of the


Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994), 76-77.10

As paraphrased by Christoph Shwöbel, “Rational Theology in Trinitarian Perspec- tive: Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology,” Journal of Theological Studies 47 (1996): 509.11

With Pannenberg, several modern systematicians and pneumatologists have come to speak about the Spirit as field of force or force field, using a standard concept of modern physics: Michael Welker, God the Spirit (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994); Bernd Jochen Hilberath, Pneumatologie (Düsseldorf: Patmos, 1994); even Karl Rahner already in the 1970s referred to the concept of “energy field” in his “Experience of Self,” in Theological Investigations 13 (New York: Seabury, 1975).12

Pannenberg sees this in consonance with the biblical usage of ruach/pneuma, and he sees “surprising possibilities” for agreement between the newer scientific theories and theo- logical conceptions. This is so in view of the changes in contemporary physics from a “phys- ical” to more a “spiritual” view; even bodies themselves are forms of forces that are no longer qualities of bodies but independent realities. Pannenberg also notes that the field con- cept has a metaphysical origin in pre-Socratic philosophy (Anaximenes: air is in the arche), and so the modern scientific concept is not so foreign to religious interpretations (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 2:79-83). Illustrative of Pannenberg’s creative theologiz- ing is his application of the Spirit as understood by the field concept to several philosophi- cal and theological topics, such as “Space and Time as Agents of the Spirit’s Working” (2:84-102) and the doctrine of angels (2:102-9).13

Pannenberg, “The Doctrine of Creation and Modern Science,” in Cosmos as Creation, ed. Ted Peters (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1989), 46.14

Ibid., 164.



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Spirit, as in that of the divine Logos, the future of the consummation in the Kingdom of God predominates. Theological talk about the dynamic of the Spirit of God in creation differs in this regard from the field theories of physics that work in terms of natural laws.”15

A debated question among Pannenberg’s critics is whether he really identifies the Spirit as a field or just uses the language analogically. I think Pannenberg is fussy about that. On the one hand, he seems not to make such an identification; instead, the Spirit is “a unique manifestation (sin- gularity) of the field of the divine essentiality.”16Yet, one wonders whether Pannenberg goes beyond the analogy, especially when he defines his doc- trine of God as spirit with the help of the field concept. Even critics as sym- pathetic as Ted Peters, after acknowledging the advantages of the field concept to the doctrine of the Spirit in Pannenberg’s theology (such as holism, trinitarian approach, and avoidance of “body” language so preva- lent in various current languages of creation), wonder whether the Münich theologian “rushes in where two-language angels have feared to tread.” Peter’s gravest concern is that Pannenberg not only uses the term analogi- cally but indeed regards the Spirit as a field and thus brings himself to the “dangers of trying to float a theological assertion aboard a scientific ship” in the waters where “intellectual weather can change suddenly.”17 We will come back to this issue, but in the meantime let us ask why Pannenberg introduces the field concept into his theology and pneumatology. This question brings us to his doctrine of God. The main reason, we may legit- imately surmise, is that—in a proper trinitarian framework18—this notion gives him an opportunity to arrive at a more satisfactory doctrine of God.


Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 2:109.16

Ibid., 2:83; cf. pp. 105, 109, 110. Elsewhere he calls the “field theories of science… approximations to the metaphysical reality of the all-pervading spiritual field of God’s cre- ative presence in the universe” (Pannenberg, “The Doctrine of Creation and Modern Science,” 47).17

Ted Peters, “Pannenberg on Theology and Natural Science,” in Toward a Theology of Nature, ed. T. Peters (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1993), 114. Similarly, the scientist-theologian John Polkinghorne warns seriously about going beyond the analogical language (see further, Mark William Worthing, God, Creation, and Contemporary Physics [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1996], 20). Cf. Colin Gunton, The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998), 175.18

One of the most distinctive features of Pannenberg’s treatment of the doctrine of the triune God is that the doctrine of the Trinity precedes that of the unity of God. Almost always the opposite is the case. This reversal is significant also in view of the fact that trinity is not something added to the unity of God, but God in fact exists as trinity.



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God as Spirit

Defending his approach, in which he treats the traditional description of God-as-spirit alongside God-as-love, he writes:

Criticism of this traditional way of speaking about God as though the refer- ences were to subjectivity (nous [reason]) led us to the insight (vol. I, 372ff.) that it is more in keeping with what the Bible says about God as Spirit, or about the Spirit of God, to view what is meant as a dynamic field that is structured in trinitarian fashion, so that the person of the Holy Spirit is one of the personal concretions of the essence of God as Spirit in distinction from the Father and the Son.19

Pannenberg lays aside the typical ways of looking at God as either rea- son or will that have guided theological reflection since Origen, and chooses instead to view God’s relational essence as “spirit.” When the Fathers wanted to describe the infinite spiritual essence of God, they did so in terms of “reason” (or will) to escape the absurd implications of another option, namely, God as corporeal (thus including attributes such as divisi- bility, composition, extension, and so on), because of Stoic philosophy’s idea of “spirit” (pneuma) as some type of fine matter. Today those fears are no longer with us, and so—rather than viewing God as the highest rea- son, which takes us down a path alien to the biblical view of God that does not set “spirit” and “body” in such an antithesis—to speak of God as Spirit is both biblically and theologically more adequate. Furthermore, “spirit” in the Bible (as already shown) does not stand for reason but for the “source of life.”20

Thus, Pannenberg understands divine essence as the “incomprehensible field” and maintains that “the presence of God’s Spirit in his creation can be described as a field of creative presence, a comprehensive field of force that releases event after event into finite existence.”21 In this sense, God “is the ‘field’ in which creation and history exist.”22


Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 2:83.20

Ibid., 1:370-74 esp.21

Pannenberg, Introduction to Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1991), 194.22

Stanley J. Grenz and Greg Olson, Twentieth Century Theology: God and World in a Transitional Age (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 194. Pannenberg also applies the concept of spirit as field to anthropology. The human person is not to be seen in terms of an “I” who exists prior to experience of the world. The immediate perception of the totality of a person’s existence is important for his or her identity development. For Pannenberg, this perception is the “field” (or “feeling”) in which a person lives. See further,



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The notion of God as spirit also helps Pannenberg highlight the omnipresence and omnipotence of God within and over God’s creation: “God’s presence permeates and comprehends all things.”23 God incom- mensurably transcends his creation, but at the same time God is still pre- sent to even the least of the creatures.24 For Pannenberg, “Omnipotence and omnipresence are very closely related and are also closely related to God’s eternity. As all things are present to God in his eternity, and he is present to them, so he has power over all things. His omnipresence for its part is full of the dynamic of the Spirit.”25

Pannenberg is excited about the possibilities for opening up a new understanding of the relations between the trinitarian persons and the divine essence that is common to all of them. He explains the potential of using the field concept in relation to his doctrine of God:

The autonomy of the field demands no ordering to a subject such as is the case when the Spirit is understood as nous [reason]. The deity as field can find equal manifestation in all three persons. Even a number of human per- sons can be brought together in a living fellowship by a common spirit. In the human fellowship, of course, each individual can evade the common spirit…. The trinitarian persons, however, are not independent of the Spirit of love that binds them. They are simply manifestations and forms—eternal forms—of the one divine essence. Herein the one God is the living God, as the Bible calls him.26

The idea of the divine life as a dynamic field sees the divine Spirit who unites the three persons as proceeding from the Father, received by the Son, and common to both, so that “precisely in this way he is the force field of their fellowship that is distinct from both of them.”27

Herein lies, Pannenberg believes, a solution to the ancient problem of the doctrine of the Trinity that has tried to make sense of John 4:24, “God is spirit.” On the one hand, the Spirit has been conceived of as the divine essence common to all three persons; on the other hand, as the third per- son alongside Father and Son. As a divine field, of course, the Spirit would be impersonal, a view totally alien to Christian theology. It is also clear

Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985), 226-39, 235-36, 240, 384, and Pannenberg, “Spirit and Mind,” in Mind and Nature, ed. Richard Q. Elvee (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), 137, 143.23

Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1:411.24

Ibid., 1:412.25

Ibid., 1:415.26

Ibid., 1:383.27




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that the Spirit as person can be thought of only as a concrete form of the one deity like the Father and the Son. Pannenberg explains how we can view the Spirit both as person and as the essence of the common deity:28

But the Spirit is not just the divine life that is common to both the Father and the Son. He also stands over against the Father and the Son as his own cen- ter of action. This makes sense if the Father and the Son have fellowship in the unity of the divine life only as they stand over against the person of the Spirit. Precisely because the common essence of the deity stands over against both—in different ways—in the form of the Spirit, they are related to one another by the unity of the Spirit.29

In other words, although both the Father and the Son are differentiated from the essence of the Godhead that is spirit, they are bound together through the Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. Likewise, in that the per- sonal Spirit glorifies the others, that is, differentiates himself from them, he knows himself also to be connected to the Father and the Son.

The Spirit in Creation

By now it should be evident that the doctrine of creation in Pan- nenberg’s theology is cast in pneumatological (and trinitarian) terms. Pannenberg calls for a “new understanding of the Spirit in relation to the


Ibid., 1:383-84.29

Stanley J. Grenz, Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 61. At the heart of Pannenberg’s doctrine of the Trinity is his concept of “self-differentiation” (in line with Hegel), namely, that the essence of person lies in the act of giving oneself to one’s counterpart and thereby gaining one’s identity from the other. This is a correction to the traditional notion of trinitarian “self-dif- ferentiation,” which refers to the bringing forth of the second and third trinitarian persons through the Father and so implies the priority of the Father. In Pannenberg, the one who dif- ferentiates oneself from another is dependent on the other for one’s identity. In that sense, the Father’s fatherhood is dependent on the activity of the Son and the Spirit and vice versa (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1:308-19 esp.). This paradigm also explains the differen- tiation of the Spirit from both the Father and Son. Pannenberg appeals to the Johannine state- ments concerning the glorifying of the Son by the Spirit. He notes that the trinitarian conception of the Spirit likewise developed from the coming of Jesus; the early Church viewed the Spirit of God as the mediator of Jesus’ community with the Father and of believ- ers’ participation in Christ. This act constitutes the Spirit as a distinct person alongside the Father and the Son; as Jesus glorified the Father, not himself, and thereby is one with him, so the Spirit glorifies the Son and with him the Father (2:314-16 esp.; see also pp. 304-5). It has now become evident that Pannenberg rejects the filioque view (that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son). This is wrong since it presupposes that Father–Son is a primary relation of origin to which the spiration of the Spirit is added. This makes the Spirit secondary and represents subordinationism of the Spirit (2:317-19).



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biblical statement of his role in creation.”30 Again, the field theory of the Spirit lies in the background of Pannenberg’s idea of creation.31

He presents a trinitarian doctrine of creation in which the Spirit plays a crucial role. The Son is the model of an “otherness” different from the Father. The Son’s self-differentiation from the Father is the basis for the ex- istence of the world as independent from the Father. In that sense the Son is the mediator of creation. The Spirit is the principle of the immanence of God in creation and the principle of the participation of creation in the divine life. There is an interesting paradox here: the goal of creation is the independence grounded in the Son, but participation in God—in the divine life—is likewise necessary, and the latter is the role of the Spirit.32

The biblical idea of the Spirit as the life-principle comes to the fore in Pannenberg’s pneumatology against the background idea that “life is essentially ecstatic.” This means that each organism lives in an environ- ment that nurtures it and each organism is oriented by its own drives beyond its immediate environment, on which it is dependent, to its future and to the future of its species. The Spirit is the environmental network or “field” in which and from which creatures live. By virtue of the fact that they are alive, creatures participate in God through the Spirit. The Spirit is the “force” that lifts creatures above their environment and orients them toward the future. So the Spirit as force field is the most comprehensive and powerful field in which creatures move.33This foundational idea of life as “ec-static” also carries over to Pannenberg’s vision of salvation in the Christian community.34

The Spirit, Salvation, and Christian Community

The most characteristic feature of Pannenberg’s theology and pneuma- tology is its holistic, comprehensive approach. Creation, salvation, the Church, and eschaton belong together. Methodologically, Pannenberg makes this obvious by reversing the order of the treatment of systematic


Grenz, Reason for Hope, 82.31

It comes as no surprise that Pannenberg strongly supports the evolutionary view of creation and regards the earlier, widespread opposition of the Christian churches, both the Catholic and Protestant, as a serious mistake in that it has hindered dialogue between faith and science. See further, Systematic Theology 2:118-23 esp.32

Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 2:20-34.33

Ibid., 2:198-99; 451-52.34

See further, V.-M. Kärkkäinen, “Spirit, Church, and Christ: An Ecumenical Inquiry into a Pneumatological Ecclesiology,” One in Christ 4 (2000): 343-46.



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topics. Usually the doctrine of salvation is discussed after Christology (and pneumatology) and before the Church. In Pannenberg, the doctrine of sal- vation is part of the doctrine of the Church, since salvation is available in and through the Church.35 Out of this methodological choice emerge four distinctive features relevant to our concerns here, the last one being pro- grammatically most significant in light of his overall theology of the Spirit.

First, the gift of the Spirit is not just for individual believers but aims at the building up of the fellowship of believers, “at the founding and the constant giving of new life to the church.”36 The Spirit thus unites believ- ers with Christ and into fellowship with others. The story of Pentecost (Acts 2) expresses the fact that the Spirit does not simply assure each believer individually of his or her fellowship with Jesus Christ, but that he thereby, at the same time, founds the fellowship of believers.37

Second, there is an integral connection between Christology and pneu- matology in his trinitarian vision: “The christological constitution and the pneumatological constitution do not exclude one another but belong together because the Spirit and the Son mutually indwell one another as Trinitarian persons.”38 Everywhere the work of the Spirit is closely related to that of the Son, from creation to salvation to the consummation of cre- ation in the eschaton. The reciprocity, rather than asymmetry (usually in the form of Christology taking precedence), is accentuated by the fact that in the New Testament39 Jesus Christ himself is seen as a recipient of the Spirit and his work in conception (Luke), baptism (Mark), and resurrection


Pannenberg writes, “[T]he fellowship of individuals with Jesus is always mediated by the church, by its proclamation and its administration of the sacraments” (Systematic Theology, vol. 3 [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998], 24). The same order is fol- lowed in the recent massive Catholic doctrinal manual, Mysterium Salutis (with the subtitle, Grundriss heilsgeschichtlicher Dogmatik, ed. J. Feiner and M. Löhrer, vols. IV/1, 2 [1972] and V [1976]), which offers a salvation-historical approach to theology (as the subtitle implies). A further reason why Pannenberg places salvation as part of his discussion of the Church is that, different from Augustinian and Calvinistic traditions, for him election relates first of all to community and via community to the individual, not vice versa.36

Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 3:12.37

Ibid., 3:13.38

Ibid., 3:16-17 esp.; this emphasis is evident throughout his discussion of the founda- tions of the Church in the earlier part of vol. 3.39

Pannenberg (Systematic Theology 3:6-7) rightly notes that the concepts of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament are by no means uniform. While Paul (but also 1 Pet. 3:18) traces the resurrection of Jesus to the Spirit, Luke and John say nothing on the theme. Other differences could be added; suffice it to say here that according to Pannenberg the different concepts of the Holy Spirit simply express different aspects that have their basis in the Old Testament and obviously belong together in this context.



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(Rom. 1:4; 8:11).40 According to John, the Spirit is given to Jesus Christ “without measure” (John 3:34), whereas for believers the Spirit is a gift related to their becoming sons and daughters by fellowship with Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:15; 6:3ff.).41 Since the risen Lord is wholly permeated by the divine Spirit of life, he can impart the Spirit to others insofar as they have fellowship with the Lord.42 In short, the Church is thus the creation of both the Spirit and the Son. Therefore, Pannenberg argues, a one-sided christological grounding for the Church has to be judged as missing and distorting its full reality. It leads, as the history of the Western Church shows, to an overemphasis on official Church structures derived directly from Jesus Christ.43 Christology, on the one hand, and the integral relation of pneumatology to creation and to eschatology, on the other hand, together help to avoid a defective constriction of pneumatology from a christological angle that finds the Spirit’s work only in the fellowship of believers. Pannenberg further sees this limitation of the Spirit’s work as an exaggeration that manifests itself in a harmful enthusiasm evident through- out Church history.44 Pannenberg joins in the classical twofold description of the Church as the body of Christ,45 which highlights the christological orientation, and as the fellowship of believers, which highlights the pneu- matological.46 It is the Spirit who, by his work, builds up the body of Christ as he testifies to Jesus Christ in the hearts of believers.47 The Holy Spirit is the agent who makes possible for individual believers the immediacy of


Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1:316; 2:84; 3:4-5.41

Ibid., 3:9.42

Ibid., 1:269. Pannenberg rightly notes that in Paul Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Church (1 Cor. 3:11), whereas in Luke the Church seems to be founded by the “power” of the Holy Spirit. In constructing a systematic appraisal of the New Testament teaching it is important not to see alternatives in these various ideas or to suppress the differences by harmonizing. Each theological concept of the Church must integrate into itself the material aspects articulated in these different orientations in the same canon. To this effect the Johannine statements are helpful because they share with Luke an interest in the Spirit as an independent entity, and yet at the same time they deal with the theme of the link between his work and Jesus Christ. The Spirit’s work is to glorify Jesus (John 16:13-14), but as that takes place Jesus himself through the Spirit’s work is one with the Father (John 14:20) (Systematic Theology, 3:15-16).43

Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 3:17-19.44

Ibid., 3:19-20.45

For Pannenberg, the body of Christ is no mere metaphor, nor is it just one of the bib- lical ways of depicting the nature of the Church. Instead, it reveals the realism of the insep- arable union of believers with Christ (Systematic Theology 3:102).46

Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 3:99-110.47

Ibid., 3:151.



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Jesus Christ in the Church that is his body.48 The same Spirit is not merely the basis of their immediacy, but also the basis of the fellowship of believ- ers in the unity of the body of Christ.

Third, Pannenberg draws on the points raised thus far to arrive at an all- important ecclesiological principle, namely, that the work of the Spirit releases and reconciles the tension between the fellowship and the indi- vidual in the concept of the Church, and hence, the underlying anthropo- logical tension between society and individual freedom. The work of the Spirit lifts individuals ecstatically above their own particularity, not only to participation in the sonship of Christ, but also, at the same time, to the experience of the fellowship in the body of Christ that unites individual Christians to all other Christians. Furthermore, the Spirit’s work is ecstatic not merely in individual Christians, but also in the life of the Church.49 The Spirit’s role in the Church is also accentuated in the Lord’s Supper, in which the Spirit mediates Christ’s presence among his people gathered at the table.50

Fourth, there is integral continuity between the work of the Spirit in cre- ation, salvation, the Church, and eschatological consummation. This is, in my opinion, the leading thematic feature of Pannenberg’s pneumatology. It is the same Holy Spirit of God who works united in all of these spheres: “the doctrine of the Spirit as an eschatological gift…aims at the eschato- logical consummation of salvation.”51 The Spirit who is active in salvation is active in creation and in the consummation of God’s eternal plan:

the same Holy Spirit of God who is given to believers in a wholly specific way, namely, so as to dwell in them (Rom. 5:9; 1 Cor. 3:16), is none other than the Creator of all life in the whole range of natural occurrence and also in the new creation of the resurrection of the dead…. The work of the Spirit of God in his church and in believers serves the consummating of this work in the world of creation.52

This consideration takes us to the focal point of Pannenberg’s pneuma- tology, namely, the role of the Spirit in the coming of the Kingdom and the consummation of God’s original purposes for creation.


Ibid., 3:122ff.49

Ibid., 3:130, 133-34.50

Ibid., 3:304-24.51

Ibid., 3:xiii; see also esp., Pannenberg, “The Working of the Spirit in the Creation and in the People of God.”52

Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 3:2.



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The Spirit as the Agent of the Eschatological Consummation

Notwithstanding the basic difference between the work of the Spirit in believers/the Church vis-à-vis his creative activity in the bringing forth of life in general—an eschatological gift53 given to all believers—in some measure the dynamic of the Spirit imparts itself also to what it brings forth, to that which is outside the Spirit’s own existence. This means that one of the roles of the Spirit is to glorify God’s creation.54

The same Spirit who brings forth life in God’s creation also raises the Son from the dead, dwells in believers, and finally glorifies God’s creation. The distinctive nature of the eschatological gift of the Spirit consists in the fact that the conferring of the Spirit as a lasting possession of believers makes possible their participation in the eternal life of God and conse- quently also their resurrection to new life.55

The task of the eschatological Spirit is not only to glorify God’s cre- ation but also to serve as an agent of judgment56 and transfiguration. Of course, these two works do not oppose each other, but rather are comple- mentary: that which is judged will be transformed to be in conformity with God’s holy will. Finally, God will be glorified in all.57 It can be said that the coming again of Christ and the establishing of his Kingdom is but the completion of the work of the Spirit that began in the incarnation and with the resurrection of Jesus.58

According to Pannenberg, the integral relation between pneumatology and eschatology is secured by the fact that it is the from the Spirit of Jesus Christ that Christians expect the eschatological fulfillment of believers


When speaking about “gift” (donum), Pannenberg distinguishes himself from the Augustinian usage in which the Spirit as a gift is depicted in impersonal terms. To under- stand the sense in which Pannenberg uses the term gift, one has to take into consideration his trinitarian schema whereby the Father gives the Spirit who proceeds from him, and the Son gives him back and in this way manifests his self-distinction from the Father as the Son who in eternity receives from the Father the Spirit who raises him to life (see Systematic Theology 3:11).54

Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, 3:7ff.55

Ibid., 3:12.56

So also Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 142ff.57

Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, 3:622-24.58

Cf. ibid., 3:627. Another theologian who has highlighted the eschatological role of the Spirit along the same lines—even though independently from Pannenberg, as far as I know—is the Catholic Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theologik, vol. 3: Der Geist der Wahrheit (Basel: Johannes Verlag, 1987), 384ff., esp. 385.



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(Rom. 8:11) and creation (Rom. 8:19–22).59 That the subject of eschatol- ogy has a special relation to the work of the Spirit becomes plausible when we consider that the Spirit is at work in both individuals and the commu- nity as well as in the whole of creation. Pannenberg rightly notes that the consummating work of the Spirit integrates individual and social aspects of eschatological hope, “which on the one side aims at the totality of indi- vidual life and on the other side at the consummation of fellowship through peace in righteousness.” In this way the redemptive work of the Spirit “overcomes the antagonism between individuals and society that holds sway in this present world.”60 Furthermore, the work of the Spirit links the future to the present: “By the Spirit the eschatological future is present already in the hearts of believers. His dynamic is the basis of anticipation of eschatological salvation already in the as yet incomplete history of the world.”61

Pneumatology and eschatology belong together because the eschato- logical consummation itself is ascribed to the Spirit, who, as an end-time gift, already governs the historical present of believers. Consequently, eschatology does not merely have to do with the future consummation; it is also at work in the present by the Spirit. According to Pannenberg, we are to view the presence of the eschatological future by the Spirit as an inner element of the eschatological consummation itself, namely, “as pro- leptic manifestation of the Spirit who in the eschatological future will transform believers, and with them all creation, for participation in the glory of God.”62


Moltmann correctly notes that it is pneumatology that brings Christology and escha- tology together. Furthermore, “There is not mediation between Christ and the Kingdom of God except the present experience of the Spirit, for the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and the living energy of the new creation of all things” (The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, trans. Margaret Kohl [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992], 69; see also p. 73). In addition, Moltmann calls the Spirit the auctor resurrectionis Christi (following Calvin); consequently, “it is from the Spirit that we expect the gift of eternal life, the raising of the dead, the rebirth of everything living, and the new creation of all things” (ibid., 67).60

Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 3:551-52; quotes p. 552.61

Ibid., 3:552. Cf. Welker, “In the Spirit and through the Spirit, the creation is also pre- sent and effective in God’s life. Through the resurrection of the flesh and through participa- tion in eternal life, creation that has been rescued from corruption receives an importance of the highest order. In the Spirit, creation receives an unimpeachable dignity and validity” (God the Spirit, 340).62

Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 3:553; see also 2:98.



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Taking Stock of Pannenberg’s Pneumatological Proposal

Pannenberg’s pneumatological vision has a number of advantages that can be classified under four themes. First of all, he has shown us more clearly than anybody else the integral connection of pneumatology to the rest of the systematic topics, and thus the critical role of the Spirit of God in all God’s dealings with us from creation to sustenance to life to salvation to Christian community to the consummation of creation at the eschaton. He has also been quite successful in approaching several key systematic topics from a distinctively pneumatological perspective, the doctrine of God being the prime example, and anthropology, Christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology other obvious instances.

Second, he has established the principle of continuity so badly needed as a corrective to both Protestant and Catholic pneumatologies. According to Pannenberg’s program, there is an integral connection between God’s original purposes (creation), present work (providence and salvation), and future consummation (eschatology). Seen from another perspective, there is continuity between what God is doing in “nature” (creation) and “grace,” even if currently no artificial difference can be sustained (since creation, and thus “nature” in itself, is a wonderful act of God’s grace and all nature is graced in that sense). In other words, what God is doing in cre- ation bringing forth and sustaining life, animate and inanimate, is not un- related to what God is doing in the Church and individual lives on the way to the ultimate consummation.

Third, Pannenberg (like Moltmann and Welker, among others) has saved the doctrine of the Spirit from being limited to the narrow portals of individual salvation. He has revived the biblical idea of the Spirit as life- force underlying and sustaining all life, rather than considering the Spirit as divorced from the corporeal or creaturely. A corollary advantage here is that Christian theology once again is able to talk to the issues of contem- porary science, which, with its post-Newtonian mindset (and significant advances especially in the new physics’ understanding of matter approach- ing the spirit/spiritual), is again turning to philosophy and perhaps to some kind of religious discourse to explore the mystery of life. Pannenberg’s vision of theology as a public discipline, while out of vogue among the Postmodernists with their own private discourses, is a powerful call to Christian theology to engage the public arena. Pannenberg’s bold attempt to utilize the field concept of modern physics and his dialogue with science to penetrate the origins of the cosmos are most welcome advancements.



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Fourth, with his use of the concept of “ecstatic,” Pannenberg has advanced the perennial problem of “one and many.” While critics may not be as satisfied as Pannenberg himself, there is no denying the fact that both in his doctrine of the triune God as well as in his ecclesiology and escha- tology, his specific formulation of the doctrine of the Spirit has helped us to grasp the dynamic relationship between the individual and community (be the latter Christian or “secular”).

Many other praises could be added to Pannenberg’s credit, such as a healthier way of relating Christ and the Spirit to each other. But the rest of the essay delves into critical questions and points to further tasks. Finally, I will highlight some issues for Pentecostals/Charismatics in particular.

It does not take too much thought to raise the critical question of the appropriateness of the field concept to theology. While few would be ready to write off its use, it has met with a mixed reaction from respondents. Experts in the sciences have expressed doubt concerning the adequacy of Pannenberg’s interpretation of the meaning of “field” in Faraday and con- temporary physics.63 Since I am not a scientist, I cannot comment on that charge and so leave it to the specialists. More to our point is a related ques- tion: How adequate theologically is it to take a major concept from the sci- ences and use it to explain theological realities? Pannenberg, as noted, borders on crossing the boundaries of analogical language and thereby takes us into troubled waters. One could also put the question like this: Is a concept borrowed from the physical sciences the most appropriate in describing the essence and ministry of a divine life-force?

A corollary question is necessarily even more pointed: How can one avoid making the Spirit impersonal? As a recent textbook summarizes, Pannenberg’s view of God as spirit is “a God who is the whole that is greater than the sum of the world’s parts but not a gracious, completely free and self-sufficient divine person.”64 Pannenberg is, of course, too good


See further, Worthing, God, Creation, and Contemporary Physics, 124. I agree with Worthing’s balanced judgment. After raising some critical issues, he concludes: “This does not imply that field theories are irrelevant for understanding God’s sustaining presence in the world. In fact, Pannenberg is certainly correct in his assessment of their importance in this regard. Likewise, as models of the contingency of all matter they are very fruitful. Field the- ory certainly has value as a metaphor for God’s continuing sustenance of the universe and may well influence the way in which theology confesses this continuing ‘creative’ presence of God. It would be a mistake, however, to build any part of our theology on a specific phys- ical theory in such a way that the theory provides more than metaphors of meaning but becomes necessary for our theological formulations” (ibid.).64

Grenz and Olsen, Twentieth Century Theology, 199.



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a theologian to ignore this obvious danger in his system, but it seems to me that he does not offer sufficiently clear arguments to address it other than to insist that the Spirit about whom his pneumatology speaks may denote both the (impersonal) life-force and the (personal) third person of the Trinity. My own proposal would be to pick up an idea that Pannenberg points toward but does not take further, namely, the analogy between human communities (“common spirit”) and divine life. Would not a hu- man, interpersonal analogy be more appropriate for speaking about the divine life? That kind of exercise would also glean from the recent com- munion-theologies in various nuances. What I am saying here is not that we should leave behind the field language, since its potential for building bridges between science and the public sphere is undisputed; what I do insist is that field language has to be seen as only one of the analogies for speaking of the Spirit. It seems odd to me that Pannenberg is so excited about the field analogy that even his treatment of soteriology and espe- cially ecclesiology (which utilizes the category of communion) does not develop the more interpersonal analogies.

Some other questions could be posed to Pannenberg’s pneumatology: How exactly does the field pneumatology recast the classical doctrine of salvation? In my reading of Pannenberg, I sense that he is moving toward a pneumatological doctrine of salvation, but then again, he is quite bound to classical Protestant language for justification and does not set forth in sufficient detail what pneumatology would mean there. Also, even though his soteriology—I guess—would lean towards the idea of theosis (deification) with its pneumatological potential, he almost dismisses the topic. Whatever advances on the topic of justification the current Catholic- Lutheran talks bring about, as long as justification is being taken as the soteriological metaphor, it limits our understanding. Unfortunately, Pannenberg—even though he had all the resources in his hand—is not able to move beyond it.

An even more serious flaw—and here I am already moving toward my final comment, namely, Pannenberg’s relevance specifically to Pente- costals/Charismatics—is that his pneumatology completely dismisses the topic of physical healing. I am not mentioning this simply in order to say something appropriate for the readers of Pneuma, but raising a more foun- dational limitation in much of traditional theology. With all his insistence on expanding the concept of the Spirit toward a more holistic, more inclu- sive, more “corporeal” view (consistent with the biblical, especially Old Testament traditions), Pannenberg fails to relate this to the most relevant



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idea of salvation in the Bible as encompassing wholeness. Pannenberg’s pneumatology, if anybody’s, invites us to inquire into the role of the Spirit—the dynamic force field, life-force, sustainer—in restoring God’s creation with regard to our physical bodies. That he fails to do so is a sad testimony to the strictures of classical theology.

So, finally, how does Pannenberg’s pneumatology fare in a Pentecostal/ Charismatic perspective? All the praises mentioned before should be set in bold letters before the eyes of Pentecostal theologians: they can really learn what a holistic, all-embracing, historically anchored doctrine of the Spirit may bring about. But when we ask what, if any, is the specifically Pentecostal/Charismatic learning experience in his system, I fear that he does not have much to offer besides what he has for the rest of Christians. Indeed, Pannenberg seems to live in a theological/ecclesiastical world occupied by only the old, established churches and their traditions.

Pannenberg is daring enough to dismiss almost completely the voices from outside the classical European traditions (he does not even dialogue extensively with North American contributions!) and so does not engage in any kind of meaningful exchange with feminist, non-Western, or other contextual voices. As unbelievable as it sounds, he is able to finish a major systematic theology for the third millennium, focusing on pneumatology in all crucial topics, and does not even seem to know about the existence of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements. His historical surveys are tir- ingly meticulous—and selective, so much so that, even though he speaks of the ministry of the Spirit in the Church or individual life, the concept of “charism” is almost unknown to him, let alone specifics such as speaking in tongues (which he almost dismisses in an otherwise helpful theological exegesis of the Pentecost account). Even where he argues for an appro- priate balance between pneumatology and Christology as a proper founda- tion for the Church, he is curiously unaware of the charismatic structure of the Church, a topic well received by ecumenical theologians apart from the Pentecostal/Charismatic constituency. Unfortunately, in this regard Pan- nenberg seems to be a child of his own time, that is, the German-speaking theological academy. Even Moltmann and Welker do not do much better, but at least they are ready to acknowledge the existence of Pentecostal/ Charismatic Christianity and are humble enough to apologize for their lack of interaction with it!

Recently, a major theological bookseller called Pannenberg the only living theologian “who knows everything about everything.” To be sure,



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his scholarship is both admirable and humbling to the rest of us, but even then the “everything” is to be qualified when it comes to the new develop- ments in pneumatology. What would a genuine dialogue between “Pan- nenbergians” and Pentecostals look like? This essay can be regarded as a modest opener to that discussion.



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