Academic journal article Theological Studies

Lonergan and Pannenberg's Methodologies: A Critical Examination

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Lonergan and Pannenberg's Methodologies: A Critical Examination

Article excerpt

ROBERT DORAN'S MUCH DISCUSSED What Is Systematic Theology? has stimulated a renewed interest in systematics. (1) Building on an earlier work in which he developed the notion of psychic conversion as a theological outcome of Lonergan's intentionality analysis, (2) Doran treats the nature of systematic theology, raises some critical methodological questions, and through these sets the objectives and grounds of systematic theology. In this work--in the tradition of George Lindbeck's and Alister McGrath's (3) classics--Doran essentially agrees with Lonergan about the nature and function of systematic theology. Although he insists that Lonergan's distinct emphases be preserved, Doran sees a need to refine Lonergan's explication of systematics and suggests several ways of developing that understanding, (4) arguing that the development is "required by the very dynamic exigencies that gave rise in the first place to [Lonergan's] developed account of theological method." (5)

Doran brings Lonergan into conversation with Wolfhart Pannenberg by contrasting Lonergan's emphasis with Pannenberg's methodological procedures in his multivolume Systematic Theology. (6) Doran does not develop the kind of result a conversation between Lonergan and Pannenberg would yield because, for him, Pannenberg is not doing what Lonergan does in systematics (the seventh of his functional specialities). (7) However, the conversation between Lonergan and Pannenberg could be fruitfully explored around their mutual concern with what Maurice Blondel long ago described as "the relation of dogma and history, and of the critical method and the necessary authority of doctrinal formulae." (8) Dogmas are, for Pannenberg, "eschatological" and "provisional." (9) He also speaks of dogmatic statements and the theses of Christian doctrine as "hypotheses" because systematic theology, in his view, attempts to develop models about the world, humanity, and history as they are grounded in God. (10) By contrast, for Lonergan and his method, which is rooted in modern science, systematic theology is "to be taken as a model. By a model is not meant something to be copied or imitated. By a model is not meant a description of reality or a hypothesis about reality. It is simply an intelligible, interlocking set of terms and relations that it may be well to have about when it comes to describing reality or to forming hypotheses." (11)

My aim here is to show that the methodological approaches of Lonergan and Pannenberg are potentially complementary, once it is acknowledged that Pannenberg's work is closer to what Lonergan means by "doctrines" rather than by "systematics." Still, there are differences in cognitional theory that need to be addressed: the criterion of truth, realism versus idealism, proof or argument (Pannenberg) versus conversion (Lonergan) as ground of theological doctrines. Thus I will show how a clarification of methods proper to systematic theology advances an understanding of the mysteries of faith by comparing the seventh of Lonergan's functional specialties, systematics, with Pannenberg's Systematic Theology, volume 1. I will work with this hypothesis; although the two systematicians present a more nuanced and elaborate position in chapters prior and subsequent to the ones under examination (in addition to a more elaborated position in their later works), Lonergan in systematics and Pannenberg in Systematic Theology, volume 1, say essentially what they want to say about systematic theology. This hypothesis is supported in part by Pannenberg's clear statement that the methodology of the individual chapters of his trilogy varies according to the topic pursued. (12) His general starting point is the theoretical enterprise of logic and the authority of Scripture. Lonergan, on the other hand, began with the same science as mediated to him through his study of Aquinas and medieval Scholasticism, but effected a shift from logic to method by the time he worked out the functional specialties. …

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