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History, Cosmos and Field Theory: A Critically Constructive Re-examination of Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Theology of History with a View to the Question of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

With a view to the more ultimate goal of providing fresh perspectives to address the perennial theological problem of the compatibility of divine sovereignty and human freedom, this thesis undertakes a critically constructive re-examination of fundamental orientations guiding Wolfhart Pannenberg’s thought, arguing that, when properly read through the far-reaching and decisive influences of Duns Scotus and Friedrich Schelling, influences hitherto only scantily acknowledged, Pannenberg’s overarching theology, from very early in his career to his latest writings, must be understood throughout as a ‘theology of history,’ and that when so understood, can also be seen as manifesting a previously unacknowledged unity and consistency. The critical demonstration of the deep influences of Scotus and Schelling, most notably for my purposes, on Pannenberg’s understanding of history and contingency crucially also makes possible a re-evaluation and a particular modification of Pannenberg’s use of field theory, which will contribute significantly to the goal of showing in new ways the compatibility of divine sovereignty and human freedom.
The thesis begins with an examination of Pannenberg’s earliest works to establish the importance of contingency, understood in Scotist terms, and the influence of Schelling on Pannenberg’s view of history. Building upon a view of history as contingent and purposed, the thesis demonstrates that Pannenberg’s concept of history encompasses all of cosmic history and dismisses any distinction between histories, such as Historie and Geschichte, as artificial. The thesis shows that to affirm the sovereignty of God, Pannenberg maintains that the end of history is so assured as to have been seen proleptically in the historical resurrection of Christ. Likewise, in order to maintain the freedom of humanity, Pannenberg argues that, in one sense, God is not yet fully manifest in his sovereignty, yet he continues to interact within and create history as a manifestation of himself within which his creation moves contingently and freely. However, the thesis argues that the simultaneous affirmation of both positions is possible only when channelled through vital aspects of the influence of Scotus and Schelling and through a crucial reframing of Pannenberg’s use of field theory, which must be understood in temporal rather than material terms. By presenting himself as the defined end of history to the present moment, God is shown to give the temporal field into which creatures respond ‘ecstatically’ to such an end in a way that affirms the present and future contingency and freedom of human action, without denying the sovereignty of God.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2018

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