Jungel (1934 - )
Despite the relative recency of Jungel's work, he remains
representative of a theological school which derives its thought primarily
from Karl Barth, who was ascendant in the earlier part of the 20th century.
Jungel has helped perpetuate a perception of reality as essentially
two-tier, consisting of the supernatural and the natural. He has also
reinforced those who look to Jesus as an archetype - one from whom we can
obtain a blueprint of reality and therefore a template for our behaviour.
Brought up in Communist East Germany, he was denounced as an enemy of
the Republic while still at school. Jungel eventually moved to teach
theology in Zurich and then at the Protestant Faculty at T�bingen
University. He showed a keen interest in the work of both Barth and
Bultmann. Some perceive him as attempting to cross the divide which
apparently separates the two.
Jungel's work spanned a wide variety of subjects, including the
philosophy of religion, religious language, Christology, doctrines of God,
the trinity, anthropology and religion, and natural theology.
His approach to the latter subject, which was particularly at issue in
the 1980s, is revealing of the central conclusions which inform the rest
of his work. The latter part of the 20th century is characterised by
efforts to move away from the idea of the supernatural. As the idea that
the universe is an unbounded system gains wider acceptance, so the
likelihood of a detectable "other" dimension which is (a) perfect and (b)
is the home of God and various heavenly spirits seems more and more
Natural theology is the search for evidence of God in the natural order
which can be discerned without the help of the concept of revelation -
that is, the passing of knowledge from the "other" dimension to the
natural order by various means. Jungel rejects natural theology in this
sense. In his view, this sort of natural theology compromises the
"particularity" of the Christian revelation. It does so because Jesus thus
becomes only one instance of a more generally available knowledge of God.
Jungel appears to insist that a Christian revelation focused in Jesus has
delivered a set of absolute truths to mankind, applicable to all people
The traditional language of Christianity insists ... on the fact that
we must have said to us what the word "God" should be thought to mean.
The presupposition is that ultimately only the speaking God himself can
say what the word "God" should provide for us to think about. Theology
comprehends this whole subject with the category of revelation.
If revelation is rejected then the created order has not been
penetrated or disturbed by God over the ages. Rather, it has been subject
to an historical process only. This contradicts what Jungel perceives as a
crucial intervention in our world by God. For him, Jesus is an "elemental
interruption" in the natural order and in that sense is the
revelatory "Word" of God - the way God has spoken to us. "Natural
theology" in its usual sense changes to become for Jungel human thought
concerned only with the implications
of revelation through Jesus.
It's not surprising that Jungel's conclusions about the nature of man
propose that the only way of discovering the purpose of mankind is to
search the nature and purpose of Jesus. This is because Jesus determines
the humanness of everyone. This is in turn because he is to be defined as
"God's humanity" - the primary decisive way in which God has transformed
In other words, our humanity is defined through Jesus as God entering
the world from outside the universe. If we want to know how to behave,
Jesus is our primary source of such knowledge. So, for example, we can
survey the life of Jesus and conclude that it is truly human to strive for
righteousness. To know Jesus is to know God.
Because in line with Barth and others he holds that God is wholly
different from humanity, Jungel needs to assert that we know God only
through Jesus. God is completely "other". Therefore we can know God only
through revelation. That is, God reveals himself through Jesus, and Jesus
through the scriptures. Thus Jesus is the only source of faith.
The cross is a focal point of Jungel's theology. God transforms
humanity in and through the person of Jesus on the cross, and hence
determines how we think of God. In this sense human thoughts of God are
not spontaneous but are stimulated indirectly by an external agency
revealing itself in an historical event. We experience the "death of God"
on the cross. Jungel thinks this is how we can explain a suffering God
(insofar as language can capture any such concept). Jesus suffering on the
cross is God suffering without becoming finite or himself subject to
external cause ("contingent"). In the early Church this teaching might
well have been regarded as heresy since it was thought and taught that God
cannot suffer ("impassibility").
Thus the cross is our primary way of knowing what God is like. And
because it is God who suffers, the cross can become a way to life through
the resurrection. As Jungel puts it, God is "... the unity of life and
death in favour of life" - an interesting juggling of words which appears
to convey a sort of truth. But then, it seems to me, Jungel's talent is
precisely for that: the ability to weave an intricate web of theological
language, largely derived in his case from reworking the conclusions of
Jungel did a considerable amount of work on the New Testament. But his
primary conclusions don't seem to take seriously the substantial
differences between a historical Jesus (insofar as we can recall such a
person) and a "kerygmatic" or "preached" Jesus of the early Church, Paul
and the gospels. Nor does he consider the impact upon science, history and
other modern disciplines of his essentially supernatural approach.
Jungel did not like traditional terms for God - transcendent,
immutable, impassible and the like. He preferred to describe God through
Jesus who "... is as it were the material definition of what is meant by
God." This seems to mean that insofar as anyone can know God at all, a
particular person, Jesus of Nazareth, is the highest means.
It follows from the above emphasis that the person of Jesus looms large
in Jungel's theology. It is the preaching of Jesus, especially his
parables, which impacts decisively upon us. Jesus is unique - and becomes
in himself an "elemental interruption" in the normal processes of the
natural world. "Jesus is not himself apart from God " - an example of yet
more clever word-play.
Jungel is known for his work on the philosophy of religion. One thing
underpins this work - that God's "self-announcement" in Jesus is
normative. Like Luther and Barth, he thinks that it is revelation which
provides both norms and sources for any philosophy of religion. Reason is
therefore not foundational in our conclusions about ourselves and our
natural environment. They can't be set apart from Christian belief and
they follow from it.
The theologian's job is therefore to study philosophy, not as a means
of arriving at even tentative conclusions about the nature of reality, but
in terms of its compatibility with the primacy of Jesus as God's
self-manifestation in the world. Philosophy's role is "instructive" in
that it is meant to help to clarify the Christian confession. It
explicates the Christian faith. It furnishes arguments and concepts for
the "positive language" of scripture and confession when they speak less
clearly than they should. As Jungel wrote: "One must cease to be a
philosopher if one believes in the God who only comes to speech in the
In terms of trends in the 21st century Jungel's case would seem to some
to fail in its complete reliance on Jesus as the source of all knowledge
of God - indeed as the source of everything foundational in life. Study of
the New Testament over the past 200 years or so has revealed that we don't
have sufficient information about the Jesus of history for him to be a
behavioural and philosophical model in the archetypal sense that Jungel's
Jungel himself avoids this problem by asserting (with Bultmann) that
the nature of Jesus is "kerygmatic". That is, the essence of Jesus is
defined not by an historical person but by the interpretations and
preaching of the early Church.
 God As the Mystery of the World, T&T Clark, 1983