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Interview by Thomas Jay Oord
One of the most influential Protestant theologians of the post-World War II era, Wolfhart Pannenberg has contributed to many different areas of theological inquiry. He was among the first in his generation to think theologically about the modern scientific picture of the universe. His work in theological anthropology—understanding what it means to be human in Christian terms—has been extremely influential. His summa, the three-volume Systematic Theology, is available from Eerdmans. Thomas Jay Oord interviewed Pannenberg in St. Paul, Minnesota, in March of this year.
As you've entered the latter stages of your career, you've probably reflected on your contributions as a scholar. What experiences in your childhood or youth do you now see as particularly influential in shaping these contributions?
As you may know, I was not raised in a Christian family. Although I was baptized as a child, I did not have a Christian education. But in 1945, I had a visionary experience at the occasion of a sunset. Light flooded all around me and through me, and I didn't know where I was or how long the experience lasted. It may have lasted for an eternity. Afterward, I found myself a humble human being and was just puzzled.
I thought I had to come to terms with that event and what it really meant to me. It happened on the 6th of January, 1945. I didn't know at the time that the 6th of January is Epiphany, the feast of Christ's glorification. Later on, I thought it was significant that it was on this particular day. I became, so to speak, metaphysically awakened. But I didn't yet know the purpose of this awakening.
I had read Nietzsche and Kant before I was 16—even before I had read the first line of the Bible. From my reading of Nietzsche, I thought that I was perfectly informed about what I should think of Christianity. But I met some people who didn't fall under that specter of guilt or obsessed parrotism. I met Christians who seemed to be quite jolly and joyous human beings, ...