THE BLOG
09/09/2014 05:05 pm ET Updated Nov 08, 2014

Pannenberg's Passing

The twentieth century is now over. The giants are dead. Long live the giants!

I'm talking theologically here. In intense times the Holy Spirit raises up prophets to announce the divine word of judgment and grace. When genuine prophets are not available, the Holy Spirit gives us theologians who are prophetic. The Western world was blessed between the two World Wars, the depression, Nazism and Stalinism, and the rise of the nuclear threat of total annihilation. We were blessed by the hard-nosed no-nonsense analysis of theologs in Germany such as Karl Barth (actually Swiss), Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rudolf Bultmann, Karl Rahner, Paul Tillich; in America Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr; and in Sweden Anders Nygren and Gustav Aulen. This generation begat another in the 1960s with the Theology of Hope led by, among others, Wolfhart Pannenberg and Jürgen Moltmann. This ended the era of the great "theological systems" of the giants ; because after this time religious thought splintered into competing schools such as liberation theology, black theology, feminist theology, womanist theology, post-modern holism, post-modern deconstructionism, and post-colonial theology. Such new and revolutionary voices needed to be heard amidst the din of the clamor for freedom and justice. Even though Moltmann, born in 1928, still lives and so does his abiding influence, the age of the theological giants has passed.

So now also has the life of Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014). This Munich theolog who passed away this week dazzled the 1960s with his retrieval of the historical arguments on behalf of the resurrection of Jesus; and he provided rational grounds for trusting God to bring us a new creation, a new creation in which all the wounds of the present world will be healed. His distinguished career was crowned with a magnificent three volume Systematic Theology.

I will miss this man. So also will the modern theological mind. The giants may be passing, but I certainly hope their prophetic message will be abiding.