Time in Eternity
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Time in Eternity

Pannenberg, Physics, and Eschatology in Creative Mutual Interaction

Robert John Russell

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Time in Eternity

Pannenberg, Physics, and Eschatology in Creative Mutual Interaction

Robert John Russell

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About This Book

According to Robert John Russell, one of the foremost scholars on relating Christian theology and science, the topic of "time and eternity" is central to the relation between God and the world in two ways. First, it involves the notion of the divine eternity as the supratemporal source of creaturely time. Second, it involves the eternity of the eschatological New Creation beginning with the bodily Resurrection of Jesus in relation to creaturely time. The key to Russell's engagement with these issues, and the purpose of this book, is to explore Wolfhart Pannenberg's treatment of time and eternity in relation to mathematics, physics, and cosmology.

Time in Eternity is the first book-length exposition of Russell's unique method for relating Christian theology and the natural sciences, which he calls "creative mutual interaction" (CMI). This method first calls for a reformulation of theology in light of science and then for the delineation of possible topics for research in science drawing on this reformulated theology. Accordingly, Russell first reformulates Pannenberg's discussion of the divine attributes—eternity and omnipresence—in light of the way time and space are treated in mathematics, physics, and cosmology. This leads him to construct a correlation of eternity and omnipresence in light of the spacetime framework of Einstein's special relativity. In the process he proposes a new flowing time interpretation of relativity to counter the usual block universe interpretation supported by most physicists and philosophers of science. Russell also replaces Pannenberg's use of Hegel's concept of infinity in relation to the divine attributes with the concept of infinity drawn from the mathematics of Georg Cantor. Russell then addresses the enormous challenge raised by Big Bang cosmology to Christian eschatology. In response, he draws on Pannenberg's interpretation both of the Resurrection as a proleptic manifestation of the eschatological New Creation within history and the present as the arrival of the future. Russell shows how such a reformulated understanding of theology can shed light on possible directions for fundamental research in physics and cosmology. These lead him to explore preconditions in contemporary physics research for the possibility of duration, copresence, retroactive causality, and prolepsis in nature.

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Year
2012
ISBN
9780268091774
SRP → TRP
Revising Pannenberg’s Trinitarian Conception of Eternity and Omnipresence and Its Role in Eschatology in Light of Mathematics, Physics, and Cosmology
The Trinitarian Conception of Eternity and Omnipresence in the Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg
The relation between time and eternity is the crucial problem in eschatology, and its solution has implications for all parts of Christian doctrine.
—Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology
In this first chapter I provide in detail what can be broadly called Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Trinitarian conception of eternity and omnipresence. This chapter serves as a basis for the developments of the rest of this volume, all of which follow and exemplify my interdisciplinary method, Creative Mutual Interaction, or CMI. Given its culminating role in his lifetime of theological research, Wolfhart Pannenberg’s massive three-volume Systematic Theology is my primary focus here.1 However, I also use material from Pannenberg’s Metaphysics, from his early work Theology and the Kingdom of God, from a chapter in his recently published The Historicity of Nature, and articles from various journal sources.2 These sources are in no way meant to be exhaustive of Pannenberg’s writings on the topic of eternity and omnipresence, but I do see them as representing his main position and as offering fertile grounds for new directions of inquiry. Hopefully the clear limitations on the scope of this present volume can be superseded in future research, using this work as a point of departure. Again, my approach is an effort to give a careful, detailed, and “friendly read” of Pannenberg’s work in order to discover the profound insights that can be gleaned from this “pearl of great price” (Matt. 13:45–46) and to place them within and reformulate them in light of the ongoing interdisciplinary conversations between theology and natural science.
1. God’s Eternity as the Source of Time
According to Pannenberg, the Old Testament depicts the eternity of God through a series of four claims.3 First, God endures forever, “from everlasting to everlasting.” Second, as opposed to all created things, God is incorruptible and unchangeable. Third, God is “the source of all life and thus has unrestricted life in himself.” Fourth, God is eternal in that all of time, past and future, is present to God. That which fades into the past for us, or that which lies in our remote future, is present in the limitless duration of God’s eternity.4 In the New Testament, God’s eternity includes all of creaturely time. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus affirms God’s eternity as including all of the past and the future. The book of Revelation asserts that Jesus Christ shares in the eternal life of the Father.5 I summarize Pannenberg’s understanding of the biblical concept of the eternity of God as follows: the eternity of God is duration as unlimited and unending time, and the eternal God is unchangeably the same God throughout the unlimited and unending duration of eternity.
Turning to early Christian theology, Pannenberg first describes how Greek Platonism offered crucial conceptual resources for interpreting the biblical conception of eternity. “Platonic teaching about the eternity of the ideas and the deity . . . seemed to be closely akin to Christian beliefs.”6 While Plato derived time in part from the motion of the planets and described time as the “moving image of eternity,” his basic view was that eternity is timeless and unchanging, the antithesis of all that is temporal and changeable.7 The result was consistency between the changelessness of Platonic eternity and the biblical idea of the changelessness of God, but inconsistency between Platonic eternity as timeless and the biblical insistence that all moments in time are present to God.
Plotinus and Boethius are even more pivotal sources for Pannenberg’s view of time and eternity.8 Plotinus understood eternity not as timeless but as “the source of time” and “the presence of the totality of life.”9 Eternity is not Plato’s antithesis of time; instead, eternity is “the whole of life” and “the presupposition of understanding it.”10 Because eternity includes temporality, the moments of our life, which we experience as separate and transitory, can be related to each other and become part of the whole of time “if we refer them to the totality of eternity.” Unlike our experience of time, in which the momentary present divides time into a vanished past and a not-yet future, the eternal present is a present that “comprehends all time, that has no future outside itself. . . . A present can be eternal only if it is not separate from the future and if nothing sinks from it into the past.”11 It is a present that includes all that is past and all that is future, and it is this temporal unity which provides the linkage for what is separated in time. In short, the sequence of events we experience in time proceeds from eternity and is “constantly comprehended by it.”12
What, then, caused the difference between the temporal unity of eternity and the temporal fragmentation of ordinary experience? According to Pannenberg’s reading of Plotinus, the World-Soul could, in principle, mediate the temporal unity of eternity to us.13 However, because of the fall of the World-Soul from eternity, the unity and totality of life is dissolved into the separate moments (diastasis), which we experience as the passage of time.14 As a consequence, the totality of time is only a future goal of life and “the path to this goal is time.”15 As Pannenberg writes, “the future thus became constitutive of the nature of time because only in terms of the future could the totality be given to time which makes possible the unity and continuity of time’s processes.”16 This, in turn, leads to one of Pannenberg’s trademark theses: “when the theory of time is oriented toward the eternal totality, the consequence is a primacy of the future for the understanding of time.”17
Pannenberg then points out the influence of these philosophical views of time on the theologies of Augustine and Boethius. In developing the doctrine of creation, Augustine rejected Plotinus’s idea of the World-Soul, its role in Christian Gnosticism, the fall of the World-Soul, and the basis the fall offered for the distinction between moments of time. Instead, “if God positively willed the world and all its creatures, the same applies to the temporal form of their existence.”18 Augustine then incorporated the Platonic antithesis between time and eternity into his doctrine of creation. Hence time is created along with the finite world out of God’s timeless eternity. “For Augustine, there was no time before bodily movement in the world of creatures. There was thus no time in God’s eternity.”19
Boethius, however, worked with Plotinus’s concept of eternity as “the simultaneous and perfect presence of unlimited life.”20 It is Boethius’s view of eternity that has been of enormous consequence for some sectors in twentieth-century theology. Pannenberg tells us that there is now “widespread agreement . . . that eternity does not mean timelessness or the endlessness of time.” Following Boethius’s view, the divine eternity must instead be such that all created things are present to God “at one and the same time” and in a way that preserves their intrinsic temporal differences. He then makes a crucial claim: “This is possible only if the reality of God is not understood as undifferentiated identity but as intrinsically differentiated unity. But this demands the doctrine of the Trinity.”21 Pannenberg particularly applauds Karl Barth for supporting Boethius’s understanding of eternity not as the antithesis of time but instead “as authentic duration and therefore as the source, epitome, and basis of time.”22 Barth “bewailed” the way Boethius’s view was overlooked by earlier theologians. He criticized Schleiermacher in particular for viewing eternity as completely timeless in order to free God from every aspect of temporality. Instead Barth argued for an “order and succession” within the divine life and with it a “before” and an “after.”23 Pannenberg then breaks into his commentary on Barth to make a second crucial point: The claim that there is order and succession, or before and after, within the divine eternity “can only be made with reference to the manifestation of the Trinity in the economy of salvation. It corresponds to the realization that the immanent Trinity is identical with the economic Trinity.”24
Returning to Barth, Pannenberg states that God’s eternity can then be understood to include the entire span of creaturely time from creation to eschatological consummation, and he coins the terms “pre-, super-, and post-temporality” to refer to the differentiated temporality of God’s eternity in relation to creation. Our creaturely temporality is based on God’s eternal temporality, and creaturely temporality moves toward the future which is God, the “source, epitome, and basis” of all time.25 Barth even says that our time is “embedded” in God’s eternal present.26 Because of this, the past does not dissolve away but remains in the eternal present of God.27 Pannenberg claims that underlying Barth’s use of Boethius is Plotinus’s understanding of eternity as the “simultaneous presence of the whole of time.” Our experience of time is that of a succession of moments. Because of this, “we can understand the nature of time only in relation to [Plotinus’s view of] eternity, since otherwise transitions from one moment of time to another make no sense.”28
As I read him, Pannenberg makes the case, drawing primarily on his reading of Plotinus and Boethius, that eternity is the source of the temporality of creation while also overcoming the loss of the present into the past and the unavailability of the future to the present that characterizes the temporality of creation. Pannenberg begins with the straightforward assumption that every present moment has a unique past and a unique future, a past and future that we could say define, to a large extent, the distinctive meaning of this present moment and distinguish it from all others. But on a deeper level, the present not only distinguishes but radically separates and divides time into a set of past events that once were present but will never again be experienced as present and a set of future events that one day may be present but that are never experienced in this present as present. The key point is this: it is this latter separation and division of time by the present into past moments and future moments that is overcome in eternity, but not the fact that each present moment has associated with it a distinct past and future.29 In eternity, the present, along with its distinctive past and future, is brought into a differentiated temporal unity with all other present moments, each with their own unique pasts and futures, and this differentiated temporal unity provides the reconnection for what is separated and divided in our ordinary experience of time. Finally, it is the Trinitarian character of God that provides the basis for the intrinsically differentiated unity of eternity (more about this below). In short, the passing and irreversible sequence of separated events that we experience in time is constantly comprehended by eternity as an attribute of the differentiated unity that is Trinity.
In closing this section I should note that these key concepts—the present as having a distinctive past and future, the present as separating time into a past of once present moments and a future of one day to be present moments, and eternity as overcoming this temporal separation while retaining the unique past and future for each moment in time—wi...

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