Monday 1 August 2005

Is theology true?

Last week I raised the question “Why is theology boring?” And a blog from the UK replied that the answer is simple: theology is boring because it is not true. This humorous reply is in fact very perceptive, and it should be taken seriously.

I think that the question whether theology is true is actually a fundamental theological problem. Among modern theologians, no one has grasped this problem more profoundly than Wolfhart Pannenberg. We might even say that Pannenberg’s whole theology is oriented around the question of truth (see for instance his Systematic Theology, Vol. 1; and Basic Questions in Theology, Vol. 2, pp. 1-27).

Pannenberg makes it clear that the truth-status of theological knowledge can by no means be taken for granted. We cannot simply assume that theology has something truthful to say, and then proceed without further ado.

How then does Pannenberg approach the problem of truth? He highlights both the historicity and the eschatological character of truth. In other words, he argues that truth is itself a historical process which can be known only from the end of the process. Only at the end of history will the unity of truth be fully realised.

But the end of history has not yet arrived—so does this mean that we cannot yet grasp truth at all? No—according to Pannenberg we really can grasp truth. For the end of history has in fact already arrived in advance (“proleptically”) in the resurrection of Jesus. Nevertheless, because the end of history has arrived only proleptically, our truth-statements must always remain open, always awaiting the full and final disclosure from the future.

So is theology true? We might answer: “Yes—and not yet!”

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