20 September 2017

Robert W. Jenson (1930–2013)

I heard last night that Robert Jenson died on 5th September. The report on Christianity Today is here, and here is an appreciation by Carl Braaten, a long-time friend and colleague of Jenson’s.

Jenson was the last survivor of my ‘authoritative others’ – the theologians who most shaped my own approach to theology. I always thought of him as my Doktorgroßvater, partly because he supervised the PhD of my Doktorvater Colin Gunton, but mainly because it was his little book Story and Promise that first gave a shape to my efforts to teach myself theology and because his The Triune Identity played an important part in the final, constructive part of my PhD thesis.

Here is his definition of theology from Story and Promise:
Theology is the persistent asking and disciplined answering of the question: Given that the Christian community has in the past said and done such-and-such, what should it do now? The question may be divided: (1) What has the Christian community in fact said and done? and, (2) What should it say and do in the future? The first sub-question, pursued within the context of the whole question, gives historical theology. The second sub-question, likewise only when pursued within the context of the whole question, gives systematic theology. (p. vii)
And, of systematic theology specifically he says,
Systematic theology is called ‘systematic’ because the church's message is about everything in life, and yet is somehow one message. To say what the church’s message shall be, one must grasp this comprehensive unity. This grasp will not always be the the construction of ‘a system’ in the more specific sense of the word; systematic theology can even be fragmentary and aphoristic in its form. (pp. vii–viii)
And, finally, from The Triune Identity, a warning against the besetting sin of conservative evangelicals:
Returns to the ‘simple gospel’ seldom land at their intended destination; they land instead at whatever interpretation of reality is currently most hallowed by familiarity. (p. 161)

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