The Late Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014), one of the theological giants of the 20th century, was a formative maker of (Western) modern theology. Pannenberg, though not the first to do so but certainly one of the most recent and prominent exemplars, procured a theology ‘from below,’ contra ‘from above.’ This is evident in his Jesus-God and Man, which is a misleading title (translators have noted). Though it is a Christological work, it is more of a Christological methodology, specifically an example of Christology ‘from below.’ Pannenberg, at first, studied under the preeminent Karl Barth; however, after being turned off from Barth’s unrelenting protological, ‘from above’ approach, he transferred to under Otto Weber’s tutelage. Pannenberg is also known for his theological epistemology: Truth is and comes from the Eschaton (the end). His catchphrase, prolepsis (‘sign from the future’), succinctly encapsulates this idea. The foremost prolepsis being the (undeniable) historic event of Jesus’ resurrection: It is from here–and only from here–where one can understand the whole of ‘universal truth’ (how Pannenberg defines theology) and that Jesus is God and Man (Christology).
Throughout Jesus-God and Man, Pannenberg is relentless towards ‘from above,’ calling it unstable, problematic, and naive. In his later and masterful three volume Systematic Theology, however, Pannenberg tones down his rhetoric. This move was not only more inviting but also inevitable: Even in Jesus-God and Man, one can sense some ‘from above’ presuppositions underlying the pages (as a fellow student once said, “He [Pannenberg] can’t help but smuggle some ‘from above’ convictions”).
Jesus-God and Man was a product of its time. To appreciate this theologian’s first major book, we must come to grips with his context–the 1960s German theological guild–and they spoke very differently than us, today.