Why dogmatics?



Alright, that's out of the way. Why dogmatics? Pannenberg suggests that historical-critical scholarship of the Bible has made dogmatics, and not exegetics, the place for the "truth of Christian discourse about God" (ST vol. 1, p. 8). Old way was exegesis of scripture --> exposition of dogma. You can see it in the Augustana. But we have essentially deconstructed the truth of scripture to the point where its nature is not sufficient as a basis for doctrinal truth. Therefore dogmatics bears the entire weight of "the question of the truth of talk about God." Which looks a heck of a lot like "dogmatics is self-supporting" if you tilt your head just so. To the clarification of which Pannenberg then launches into a differentiation of dogmatics-as-science and dogmata (or dogma in general).

The basic point winds up at the eschatological nature of truth. Hegelian progressivism isn't necessary, but what is necessary is the fact of cumulative history. Repristination doesn't work for the simple reason that we've gone that route already. You can't do it again without acknowledging the failures of the first time around. It is naive to suggest that we can reclaim a past position uncritically. Truth here is relative, and keeps moving, but always remains relative to absolute truth. The state of the art is the current relationship between our truth and the truth. We've learned something between then and now that makes then a nonrepeatable event.

Dogmatics is the location of validation of God-talk because we've learned things about scripture that we can't unlearn. It is historical, literary, one textual component of a discursive formation, &c. The orthodox position of literalism was always a hedge against the growing realization of this fact of our separation from scripture. Pannenberg goes into a concise history of the development of exegetical strategies for dogmatics, leading up to the calcification of protective interpretive strategies around scripture and dogma -- rigid formations that attempt to preserve their truth. And fail because truth cannot be presupposed, nor can it be sheltered privately, away from all other truth. Truth here is relative, and moves. Absolute truth will only be had at the eschaton, the end of the line. You can't make a provisional result into absolute truth by walling it in.

And here is a break with Barth. Barth, coming out of Anselm, found that he had to presuppose the church as the place where dogmatics could be true. It was impossible that he should defend the articula fidei against reason and natural philosophy on their own grounds. To do dogmatics right was, for Barth, to do it in the presence of faith, in the presupposition of faith, as exposition and ordered presentation of that which is believed. Pannenberg, on the other hand, cannot presuppose the truth of Christian God-talk (or any other God-talk) and do systematic theology as science. Note well that Barth is doing dogmatics because he cannot abide the mandatory conformity to a logic outside of theology -- a system -- while Pannenberg is doing systematic theology because he cannot abide the exclusive interiority of theological truth -- dogma -- separate from global logic.

Why dogmatics, then? For Pannenberg, dogmatics is the locus of validation for God-talk because of its conformance with all other human quests after truth. As systematic theology, it is capable of taking the truth of God-talk as an open question, and making that truth its theme (48). It is capable of taking the things we believe and structuring them in ways that demonstrate the comprehensive and coherent nature of our discourse about God (18). And it must do so for the simple reason that it is a science. It structures in order to progress beyond its structures. It keeps reaching for better truth. It cannot sit still or it will die. Scripture is valuable in this effort, and perhaps even normative, but it is not, itself, capable of validating the truth of statements based on evidence of which it is part. It is, itself, a compendium of theological product. It is necessary to the realization of present truth, but no longer sufficient to it.


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