Reading Jenson, I came across this bit and thought it a particularly helpful glimpse of the development of Trinitarian teaching. I’d tried to gesture toward something of this sort in comments on an earlier post.
“Typical of the titles is ‘Lord.’ Initially the disciples’ unproblematic form of address for their rabbi, it was naturally resumed after the Resurrection. But now their Lord was enthroned at the Father’s right hand and was the giver of the Spirit. In these circumstances, the address could not but resonate with the Bible’s use of ‘Lord’ for God himself—to whom is one speaking when one says ‘Lord’ to the heavens? This resonance is itself the doctrine. Only when Greek theology appears as interlocutor will or need it be asked what kind of ‘being’—divine, human, or mediating—the risen Jesus must have to be truly addressed as Lord.”
Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology: The Triune God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 92.
I was reading two books yesterday (not at the same time, though that would be a nice skill to develop). In a striking bit of serendipity, the one book denounced the other. I suppose that this is the reader’s version of the “small-world” encounter in which a total stranger turns out to know all your best friends.
At any rate, it was the tone of the denunciation that caught my attention as being particularly tacky. Robert Jenson, in a footnote, warns about Marcionism as a particularly dangerous form of idolatry, and then adduces the Nazi regime as a particularly virulent example of this idolatry. So far so good. He then appends one more sentence suggesting that the “apostasy” of those who speak of God/ess (which is, of course, primarily Rosemary Radford Ruether—whose Sexism and God-Talk I’d just finished) is no less serious, and presupposes no less thorough a rejection of Israel’s scriptures than that of the Third Reich.
Unfortunately, even if someone wants to make the argument that Ruether has traveled beyond the bounds of orthodoxy in speaking of God/ess, it’s unhelpful to ascribe a rejection of the Hebrew scriptures to someone whose writings are quite full of appreciative references to those scriptures. Further, when making mention of the holocaust in a footnote, it ought to be universally agreeable that one ought to avoid mentioning contemporary colleagues as guilty of the same theological errors. Even polemic theology ought to strive for a charitable measure of accuracy; this is slander, not dialogue.
The unjustified vitriol was particularly disappointing to me because on any given page, I’m much more likely to find myself in agreement with Jenson than Ruether (gender issues excepted). I’ve also seen Jenson handle similar slander with dignity and good-humor, so I had hopes that he was less likely to dish it out.
Robert Jenson’s On Thinking the Human: Resolutions of Difficult Notions  is, at 86 pages, a deceptively short book for the depth it contains. Yet even given the density of its insight, the text itself is not laboriously terse or overwrought. The concept of the book is simple: take six concepts concerning human experience about which thought is notoriously contradictory, intractably ambiguous, or frought with persistent dispute, and consider each by transporting the conversation from one that is thought “in” the human experience, to one that is thought outside being-human. The outside perspective from which these concepts receive critical light is, time and again, that of the relation of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as one God.
After this introduction, the volume’s subtitle is strikingly ambitious, if not arrogant, but Jenson does not shy from the task of “resolving.” And in this, Jenson hopes to be no less arrogant than the New Testament itself (85), which is to say sufficiently confident to assert his belief that the universe can only “be thought” coherently in obedience to the Trinity. Indeed, by the denouement of each of the six chapters he has worked his way to a resolution. I am reading Robert Jenson for the first time, and am enormously impressed. It may be naïvely provincial affection for a fellow Lutheran with Barthian sensibilities, but both his statements of the “difficult notions” and his “resolutions” are strikingly elegant.
Continue reading “review :: robert jenson on six difficult notions”
In God, therefore, that reality is known and reality is loved are aspects of the one fact of the triune intersubjectivity….We, to be sure, are not God and do not create what we know and love by our knowing or loving it. Thus we do seem to some extent able to be indifferent to something we know, and to be ignorant of something we love. But this “ability” is a character of fallen humanity, and it is our attempt to act on it that posits the gulf between our knowing and what we know, which modernity has otiosely labored to bridge…
There is, as we learned from [Jonathan] Edwards, no “substance” to creatures but God’s grasp of them, whether we think of that grasp as his loving or his knowing. If creatures existed in any way independently of God’s grip on them, they could perhaps be grasped otherwise than as God does it. But as it is, if others than God are to know or love creatures, those others must act in some analogy to the way in which God does this. Thus any attempt to know a creature disinterestedly can at best be only a temporary tactic, such as that for the moment adopted by the sciences, and at worst and more likely a sinful objectification. And any attempt to love a creature ignorantly can at best be only amusing play, and at worst and more likely sinful egotism.
Robert W. Jenson, On Thinking the Human: Resolutions of Difficult Notions (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 54-55.