Hermeneutics and The Shape of the Future - Edited by Frank K. Flinn

Unification Theology as History -- Dagfinn Aslid

The greater part -- about four-fifths -- of Divine Principle is devoted to history. Although it is true that history should never be understood apart and in isolation from the doctrines of creation and the fall, we nevertheless understand God historically rather than metaphysically.1

In an age of pluralism, it is not without surprise that we read this bold proposal: "In our lecture we will prove the existence of God by studying facts and historical phenomena and systematically explaining them."2 If nothing else, this shows a lot of theological nerve.

Where history is concerned, the grand speculative schemes of a Hegel or a Toynbee have become, for many, paradigms of how not to theorize about the past.3 Toynbee, although praised for his tremendous erudition, is often excused as a poet, a prophet, a mystic.4 It may be in order, therefore, to consider the hermeneutic principles that serve as a foundation for the Unification view of history, and also to attempt to locate these in the scholarly landscape.

First, as regards the emphasis on history as a vehicle for divine revelation, the Hegelian heritage is prominent. Among contemporary theologians this theme is found thematized in the most detail by Wolfhart Pannenberg, a German theologian who also may be said to share the Unification view that biblical history is a paradigm for understanding universal history, thus refusing to sustain the segregation of Heilsgeschichte and Historic5

At the core of both Unification theology and Pannenberg's theological program we find the conviction that God is the all-determining ground of reality, and consequently that any reflective account of our experience with reality that ignores the presence of God will be exposed as inadequate.6 Both take up the challenge of coming to terms with secularity, rather than turning to "ivory-tower theology." Furthermore, Christianity can only come to terms with its historical challenges by successfully widening its own horizon to include ever changing situations. Any perennial expression of truth is thus doomed to be left behind as outdated and irrelevant when it rigidities as dogma rather than embracing and absorbing new ideological currents and political power-flows. The challenge is thus not only one of rationally interpreting history, bur, even more importantly, of acting as a host for history, creatively transforming it from within. Hermeneutics here becomes the mediating factor between stability and adaptability.

The theme of constancy and change is central in this evolutionary scheme. On one hand we have a metaphysics of creation including certain "inviolable" principles that are integral to God's unchanging purpose. On the other hand an ever-changing providence where we, "sharing the benefit of the age in God's providence of restoration, are gradually being elevated in our spiritual and intellectual standard as history progresses."7 In terms of hermeneutics, this tension is reflected in a tension between "the overwhelming conviction that this is the conclusive insight into divinity,"8 and the open concession that "the Divine Principle revealed in this book is only par of the new truth.... We believe with happy expectation that, as time goes on, deeper parts of the truth will be continually revealed."9 It would thus appear that there is both an ever changing and self-relativizing "Principle," as well as a perennial and absolutized "Principle within the Principle."

This raises the further question of tradition and supersession. From one point of view it would appear that any emergent interpretation of history is necessarily an appearance of "the vertical in the horizontal," a resignification of the past in a new context of meaning, and that the human way of being in the world therefore is intrinsically historical.

This viewpoint would share Pannenberg's appropriation of von Rad's notion of Uberiieferungsgeschichte (history of the transmission of traditions). Here the past cannot be kept at arm's length, but is always at work in the present, "perhaps even in the work of the historian himself."10 From a supersessionist viewpoint, however, the advent of a new age renders the old aeon outmoded in light of the providential division of the ages that avowedly progress inexorably toward truth and goodness.11 The task of the Messiah in both cases is peculiarly hermeneutic: it is the Messiah's role to fully grasp and indemnify the whole of human history in the context of the present. This is thesinequa non of the consummation of human history. I would suggest that a distinction may be made here between the ignorance caused by the fall, which is fully overcome at the "end of time," and a perpetual and open-ended revelation extending beyond the eschaton. Perfection of knowledge is therefore not the end of knowledge. Whereas the church, even the Unification Church, is doomed to wither away at the advent of the kingdom of heaven on earth, science and art will still continue to progress. Theologians, how ever, will not be much in demand, at least not as practitioners of a parochial discipline.

It is relevant here to note that both attitudes, both that of supersession and that of "midrashic" resignification of tradition, may be evidenced in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The newer canonical criticism has thrown some interesting new light on the prophetic literature in particular.12 The emphasis here is on hermeneutics as the mediating principle between text and context. The main consequence is that canonization can only be understood as an ongoing and open process: what remains canonical is that which has the symbolic power to preserve the integrity of reality for the people that find themselves threatened at the roots of their identity by the power-flows of history. The book of Jeremiah is a particularly pertinent example of this, as an example of radical monotheizing. Whereas the earlier Davidic theology was exclusivist in its affirmation of the nation of Israel, Jeremiah dares ask the exiles to serve Nebuchadnezzar, "the king of Babylon, my servant" (Jeremiah 27:6). Hananiah, who stuck rigidly to a Davidic hermeneutic, arguing that the God of Israel would break the yoke of the king of Babylon (Jeremiah 28:2) has become a paradigm of the false prophet, unable to keep up with God's changing agenda.13 Jeremiah, however, who has survived as the canonical prophet, was able to affirm a monorheizing pluralism and a move towards universal history. His was a timely theology that dared to find new richness of meaning in the traditions, and to grant God the freedom to work a new providence, detecting providence in the current power-flows instead of closing it up in a Davidic narrowness. It is a similar canonical hermeneutic that the Principle argues in the case of John the Baptist and Jesus.

The other attitude, that of supersession, may be seen most clearly in the Pauline literature. It is particularly evident in the Letter to the Galatians. Spurred by his Judaizing opponents, Paul here repeatedly argues that to turn back to existence under the law of Moses is like giving up sonship for slavery (Galatians 4:6-9; 5:1; 3:10-14). In his heurisric allegory (4:24-31) Paul dramatically resignifies the ancient covenant: now it means only slavery, whereas the "Jerusalem above," the liberated existence in Christ, means inheritance of the Abrahamic promise. It is interesting to see how Paul has modified and toned down his arguments against the law by the time he writes the letter to the Romans; already he is less exclusivistic.

As to Unification theology, it might well seem unrealistic to expect an attitude other than of supersession given the young age and eschatological fervor of the Unification Church. Bur it is my contention that both the theology and the ecclesiology of the movement are able and apt to self-relativize as time goes by. It would seem that neither providence nor God is likely to run out of surprises, and anyone who wants to do the work of the Lord in the "heavenly war" needs to get used to an undomesticated God. When it comes to hermeneutics, persistency is more likely to be vicious than virtuous. Similarly, I would argue that the Principle in its present literary shape might tend a bit too far towards identifying the rational and the real. In his mode of theologizing I find Rev. Moon to be less an egghead than a muse. His is an enchanted way of theologizing, playful, imaginative, and pragmatic. He is nor the man to "eff the ineffable" with rigid logic; truth is in the heart rather than in the head. The study of history, then, is done less out of intellectual curiosity than out of a need to "find the way of life."14 The past is dead unless it can be brought to bear upon our present situation, or, more dramatically, unless we get it, it will get us! Ours is the challenge not only of interpreting, but also transforming history, the perplexing existence of being both a product of, and a host for history.

In this polarity between rationalism and praxis the Unification view of history balances between Pannenberg's theology of world history and Moltmann's theology of hope. With Pannenberg we propose to make God the all-determining reality revealed in history in a manner clear "for all who have eyes to see." History is the most comprehensive horizon of Christian theology, and the totality of history is taken as a frame of reference for both historical and theological work. Pannenberg has had to contend with severe charges from the kerygmatic camp, in the heat of the debate finding his theology labeled as "historical fetishism."15 It would seem that Unification historiography is more bent on biblical "archetypes" and "typologies" as heuristic and analytical tools for grasping the inner thread of history, and less insistent on the verification of these paradigms by the historical-critical method.16 In this it is able to see revelation both as history and cosmology. The affinities with the Moltmannian theology of hope are evidenced mostly in Rev. Moon's style which is that of a passionate prophet, a preacher, and a poet. Sociologically, this quote from Theology op Hope may well characterize the Unification movement:

From the first to the last, and not merely in epilogue, Christianity is eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present... Eschatology is the passionate suffering and passionate longing kindled by the Messiah.17

Needless to say, however, Unificationists do not share Moltmann's anti-rational bias, nor his Marxist affinities.18 Similarly, we would share Pannenberg's opposition to existentialist theology in its tendency to dissolve history into the historicity of existence, while nevertheless espousing a historical existentialism, as it were. I am thinking here of the inevitable resurgence of the past into the present, thematized as "The Vertical Condition of Indemnity and Horizontal Restoration through Indemnity."19

Having discussed this inherent epistemological polarity between a Hegelian rationalism and existential praxis as we see it in the Unification philosophy of history, let us go on to another polarity, that of promise and fulfillment. Time and again, as we tread the stepping stones of the providential history of restoration, we notice that the stones are not what they "were supposed to be." There seems to be a perennial discrepancy between the "will of God," and the "fulfillment of the will of God." With Pannenberg we are thus brought to bid farewell to the classical biblical notion of history as that which takes place between promise and fulfillment,20 and venture on a providence where "history has overtaken promises."21 Instead of interpreting history in light of the Word of God, we find history honing our hermeneutics.

The God of the coming kingdom is thereby understood not only as the author of historical change -- as was already the case in ancient Israel -- but also the power for altering his own previous manifestations.22

God is here understood as the author of constant newness, not only in the present and in the future, but even in the past! The challenge of responding to God's unpredictable ways of fulfilling God's promises demands an adaptable hermeneutics. Face to face with the contingencies of salvation history our religious texts and our religious traditions are challenged to the core. Pannenberg has expressed this dialectically:

Political and social changes can hardly ever automatically produce religious transformation; rather, they signify a challenge, whose mastery or non- mastery remains a matter of the inner strength, the inner health, and the adaptability of the religious tradition itself at that time.23

It is here, in its tenacious determination to make the whole human drama, in all its aspects, "transparent to the divine intention,"24 that the Unification Principle deserves to be taken seriously and watched carefully as it enters the challenge of secularity. The outcome of this challenge largely depends on whether Unification hermeneutics is strong enough and flexible enough to absorb the perplexities of our confused age, to render them intelligible in light of divine providence, to transform them and refine them from pseudo-expressions to substantial expressions of the divine ideal, to usher in an age where God's promises finally catch up with history. It is only in the light of the end of history that history can ultimately be grasped.

In the assimilation of Historic to Heilsgeschichte Unification historiography faces the subtly dichotomous twins of secularity and secularism.25 We find that our historical hermeneutics permits us to see secularity as the legitimate child of God's history of restoration, whereas secularism, in denying religion by stern materialism, is that which represents the most serious challenge to theistic ideology in its effort to maintain the integrity of reality. Pannenberg has worded the challenge thus:

In our present world, Christianity can no longer be taken for granted. Many people nowadays feel that the Christian churches are the relics of a past which has otherwise vanished without a trace. Has the modern age broken away again from Christianity, or is the Christian heritage in some hidden way constituent in the way of life, which seems so completely secular... either as the hidden capital on which it is living in spite of all the secularization it puts on display, or as the factor which makes this secular life a possibility?26

In the sense that the history of Christianity may be seen as a precursor to and as a prolepsis of developments in secular history (politics and economics), Unification theory of history joins with Pannenberg in seeing Christianity as the legitimation of the modern age.27 However, the dichotomy of secularity and secularism in Unification thought is ontologically rooted and explained as sung-sang culture and hyungsang culture that remain in disharmony due to the fall.28 It is noteworthy, however, that the chapter ends with a vision of a "New Renaissance" in which these quarrelsome twins, the cultural Cain and Abel, are reconciled in a "wonderful new cultural age which is beyond our imagination."29 It is just this vision of the fusion of new horizons that brings strength and joy to Unification people.


1 Cf. Frederick Sonrag, "The God of Principle: A Critical Evaluation," in Ten Theologians Respond to the Unification Church, ed. Hebert Richardson (Barrytown, N.Y.: Unification Theological Seminary, distributed by The Rose of Sharon Press, Inc., 1981), pp. 111-12.

2 Young Whi Kim, The Divine Principle Study Guide, Part I (Tarrytown, N.Y.: Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, 1973), p. 2.

3 William R. Dray, Philosophy of History (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1964), p. 2.

4 Whereas some historians admire Toynbee for his daring and brilliance, others see his Study of History as a "blasphemy against Western Culture." Dray, p. 83

5 This theme pervades most of Pannenberg's writings, but is found in its clearest and most uncompromising form in the programmatic book of the Pannenberg circle, Wolfhart Pannenberg, et al., eds., Revelation as History, (London: Macmillan, 1968), especially pp. 125-58.

6 Ted Petets, "Truth in History: Gadamer's Hermeneutics and Pannenberg's Apologetic Method," Journal of Religion, LV (1975), p. 37.

7 Divine Principle, pp. 130-31; hereafter cited as Divine Principle.

8 Sontag, p. 114.

9 Divine Principle, p. 16.

10 Petets, p. 47.

11 Divine Principle, pp. 232-37.

12 The newer canonical hermeneutics is discussed in James A. Sanders, Torah and Canon (Philadelphia: Forttess, 1972).

13 God is portrayed as being freelance, as being innovative. That is what bothered Hananiah so. God is constantly changing the agenda. William L. Holladsy, Jeremiah, Spokesman Out of Time (Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1974), p. 146.

14 Divine Principle, p. 238.

15 Pannenberg responds to these charges in an appendix to the German Offienbarung als Geschichte (Gottingen: Vandenhoek, 1970). Unfortunately, these helpful remarks are missing in the English translation.

16 M. Darrol Bryant, "Unification Eschatology and American Millennial Traditions" in A Time for-Consideration, eds. M. Darrol Bryant and Herbert "W Richardson, (Toronto: Mellen, 1978), p.266.

17 Jiirgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), p. 16.

18 "We find that the definition, comprehension, and understanding of history inevitably brings about at the same time an abrogation, a negation, and an annihilation of history." Moltmann, p. 258.

19 Divine Principle, p. 378. See Divine Principle, p. 237: "T must stand for the will of history. In order to do this, "I" must set up horizontally, centering on 'myself,' all the conditions of indemnity which ate demanded by the history of the providence of restoration through a long period."

20 Moltmann, p. 78.

21 "Because as a rule the promises do not enter so literally into a fulfillment as one would assume that they would if they were the word of God affecting history, in accord with the Old Testament self-understanding. Rather, history has 'overtaken' promises understood in this sense." James M. Robinson and John B. Cobb, Jr., Theology as History (New York: Harper and Row, 1967) p. 259.

22 Wolfharr Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology (London: SCM, 1970), I, 114.

23 Pannenberg, Basic Questions, p. 111.

24 Bryant, p. 265.

25 This theme is further developed in Schubert M. Ogden, The Reality of God (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), pp. 6-12, 14-16, 25, 40ff, 44ff.

26 Wolffian: Pannenberg, The Idea of God and Human Freedom (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1973), p. 178.

27 See Unification Thought, (New York: Unification Thought Institute, 1973), pp. 431-44.

28 Unification Thought, pp. 297-300.

29 Unification Thought, p. 300. 

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