Monday, 6 February 2006

The worst theological illusion

“The worst illusion to which the theologian can fall prey is imaginary certainty.”

—Gerhard Ebeling, The Study of Theology (London: Collins, 1979), p. 131.

5 Comments:

T.B. Vick said...

Now that is a very good quote!

steph said...

Hi Ben!

Shouldn't he have said: 'the worst illusion is certainty' - not 'imaginary certainty?

Ben Myers said...

G'day Steph. I was wondering if someone would ask this question -- it's a very perceptive point.

Ebeling would disagree with you: he thinks that theology is characterised by the fact that it formulates statements of certainty (in contrast, say, to historical disciplines, which deal only in hypotheses). And this makes it all the more important for theologians to distinguish rigorously between true certainty and "imaginary certainty" (since there is obviously a great deal of the latter, and a very limited degree of the former!).

Pannenberg, on the other hand, would agree with you: for Pannenberg, all theological statements are hypotheses which can never achieve true certainty.

steph said...

I did wonder about that. I can think of a few biblical historians who would say the worst illusion to which the historian can fall prey is imaginary certainty....

Anyway I'm not a theologian but I think I prefer Pannenberg's theology!

Ben Myers said...

Of course, Pannenberg also believes in certainty (perhaps even more than most theologians) -- but he believes that theological statements must await their eschatological verification at the "resurrection of the dead".

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