Pannenberg, the Positioning of Academic Theology and Philosophy of Science

An Evaluation of his Work in the German Context

by Katrin Gülden Le Maire (Author)
©2022 Thesis 284 Pages


This book offers a bright and learned contribution on the famous German Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg. Centering on his work Wissenschaftstheorie und Theologie (1973) it deals with his passion for an academically sound and respected theology, its radiation in an interdisciplinary university context in general and in the science-and-theology-dialogue in particular. Dr. Gülden Le Maire illuminates the role and function of theology in the German and Anglo-American educational-political landscape in the last decades of the 20st century. But she also offers a vision for the future of a healthy and fruitful academic theology in the German Academy and beyond.
Michael Welker, Senior professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Heidelberg

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • Remarks
  • Chapter 1 Introduction
  • 1.1 A rational mind in turbulent times: first impressions
  • 1.2 Approaching Pannenberg: theology on the basis of philosophy
  • 1.3 Arguments and terms
  • 1.4 Concluding remarks
  • Chapter 2 A personal sketch of Wolfhart Pannenberg
  • 2.1 The historical backdrop
  • 2.2 Pannenberg’s main theological and philosophical influences
  • 2.3 Deutsche Gründlichkeit: Pannenberg’s academic style
  • 2.4 Concluding remarks
  • Chapter 3 The making of the book
  • 3.1 The initial, life-long academic and spiritual goal: Revelation as History
  • 3.2 The German theological philosophy of science debate in the 1960s and 1970s
  • 3.3 The curious absence of I. Barbour and T. F. Torrance
  • 3.4 Concluding remarks
  • Chapter 4 Theology as a university subject
  • 4.1 The educational-historical and denominational backdrop
  • 4.2 The educational-political landscape in the 1960s and 1970s
  • 4.3 German academic particularities
  • 4.4 Concluding remarks
  • Chapter 5 Theology as the science of God
  • 5.1 Pannenberg’s theological and philosophical context
  • 5.2 Pannenberg’s theorem
  • 5.3 The internal classification of theological subjects
  • 5.4 Concluding remarks
  • Chapter 6 Pannenberg’s theological heirs
  • 6.1 The contemporary theological debate on method
  • 6.2 The contemporary academic backdrop
  • 6.3 A parity relationship: the German constitutional law on state-church relations
  • 6.4 Concluding remarks
  • Chapter 7 The future of theology in the German Academy
  • 7.1 The public nature of the discipline
  • 7.2 Epistemology as the basis of scientificity
  • 7.3 The self-conception of practitioners
  • 7.4 Concluding remarks
  • Bibliography
  • Series index

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All German quotes are taken from the soft copy edition Wissenschaftstheorie und Theologie, published in 1987.7 Where possible I have avoided quoting from Theology and The Philosophy of Science8 as in close comparison the English version lacks considerable accuracy and indeed, correct wording. My own translations are highlighted in the footnotes with TM; nevertheless, all references in the English translation are correspondingly marked with ETR. Similarly, GR marks the German reference page where the English translation is quoted. Cross references to other pages within this book are marked in those footnotes that refer to ‘page/s’ only.

The exchange between religion and science is described by various idioms (science-religion debate, science and religion discourse/dispute). It is referred to throughout the book as the religion-science dialogue for reason of continuity and as a way of establishing that the ongoing discussions constitute a serious academic dialogue that has been initiated by practitioners of the theological discipline.

Throughout the book, I also refer to the scientific nature of theology as scientificity as it is the closest corresponding term to the German noun Wissenschaftlichkeit. Just as scientificality, the substantive defines ‘the property or quality of being scientific’, as laid out in the Oxford Dictionary.9 The term ‘Anglo Saxon’ is widely used and generally incorporates various Western English-speaking countries. For the sake of argument when referring to Anglo Saxon, my focus has been mainly reduced to the US. In this sense, the term US predominantly refers to the geographical location of the relevant centres of research, journals and debate, rather than to the nationality of participating experts only (who, in fact, are also Canadian, Danish, South African, etc.). Scholars are ←13 | 14→introduced with their abbreviated first names and full family names and thereafter only referred to by their family names.10

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Chapter 1 Introduction

As the 45th anniversary of the publication of Wissenschaftstheorie und Theologie11 passed in 2018, critics of W. Pannenberg continued to miss the educational-political relevance not simply of the work but of the overall subject within the Academy. The book remains a classic to be quoted and is included in relevant works and bibliographies, most notably within the vast field of the religion-science dialogue, especially in the US. Yet, its overall use remains limited, a detail referred to by P. Clayton 15 years ago:

[There are] factors [that] may have slightly muted Pannenberg’s influence on the subsequent religion-science debate. But if so, their role was slight; Theology & the Philosophy of Science remains one of the great classics of the field up to the present day.12

In fact, when G. Newlands reviewed the English translation in 1976, he pointed out, even then, a perceived challenge for the subject matter:

In assessing the book, I find myself torn between admiration for the intellectual feat of bringing into a coherent pattern the fruits of so many widely diverse philosophical, sociological, and theological debates, and scepticism about the concrete results for theology which emerge. Everything has been put in its place … but it is not clear that such organization of the data in fact advances discussion of the issues. Indeed, the cutting edge of some of the problems posed for theology by philosophy and the social sciences may in this way be avoided.13

Newlands may well have been right. Theologians reflecting the scientificity of their own trade have, in the last 45 years, been largely occupied with various aspects concerning the relationship of theology with several sciences: in particular, the overarching and now highly fragmented discourse of theology with the natural sciences. They have been less vocal in expressing theoretical method for their discipline and a unanimous definition to the question: What is theology?

Two aspects especially are missing when Pannenberg’s work Wissenschaftstheorie is cited. The first concerns a particular content matter. Surprisingly, the epistemology regarding the scientific status of theology is a ←17 | 18→subject that, on the whole, is no longer articulated widely.14 While it is true that the subjects of philosophy of religion and philosophy of science deal with this matter, it is also equally true that these are mainly separate debates which, on the whole, are neither led nor driven by theologians. Indeed, in most academic publications the theory of knowledge (epistemology) or, indeed discussions on the nature of reality (metaphysics) of theology are now obsolete and declared a modernist relic such as, for example, by A. McGrath:

As James Barr pointed out, Pannenberg’s entire approach seemed to rest on the notion of ‘plain history’ being ‘revelatory’. This is a characteristically modernist approach which I criticized earlier for failing to appreciate the difficulties created by the collapse of the Enlightenment project.15

Instead, contemporary theologians have strongly focused on contextualized approaches when applying theological insight to other scientific disciplines and subjects.

The second aspect concerns the context in which those theological debates take place; indeed, in which any academic material is produced. Theology, as with other academic sciences, is not conducted in isolated intellectual research but is bound to academic standards, guarded by science policy and dependent on socio-cultural, historical and financial developments affecting its university ←18 | 19→environment. Nevertheless, theological debates on the subject of theology as a science are largely confined to the academic exchange;16 higher ranking issues concerning the university research environment, policies, financing and structures are generally not touched upon. On the whole, theological contributions are interdisciplinary but not transsectoral for reasons that are not entirely clear. In fact, those reasons are open to speculation rather than deductible from factual evidence. Surprising, though, is the fact that Pannenberg already addressed the necessity to include those facets in his work on theology as a science in 1973. He himself clarified the timing of the book:


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (April)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 284 pp.

Biographical notes

Katrin Gülden Le Maire (Author)

Katrin Gülden Le Maire finished her PhD in 2019 at Middlesex University and received the prize for the most outstanding PhD research graduate for her subject. She is a member of the board of the Research Center International and Interdisciplinary Theology at Heidelberg University (FIIT). She conducts interdisciplinary research and is also a strategy consultant with 20 years experience.


Title: Pannenberg, the Positioning of Academic Theology and Philosophy of Science
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286 pages