Robert Jenson on resurrection

Robert Jenson on resurrection

We must ask, What are we necessarily affirming about Jesus when we say that he, unexpectedly, lives? What is the basic difference between a living person and a dead one? And surely we must say: the decisive difference between a living person and a dead one is that the former can surprise us as the latter cannot. Socrates, although he remains dead, is still powerful. But if I am surprised by him, this is because of previously inadequate knowledge. Whereas if Jesus lives, he is an agent in my life, and one whom I must expect to act freely, whom I could know perfectly and yet not always anticipate. […]

That Jesus lives means that his love, perfected at the cross, is now active to surprise us. That Jesus lives means that there is a subject who has us as his objects, and who wills our good in a freedom beyond our predicting.

from Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, (OUP, 1997): 198-9.

On scripture’s role as theological authority

On scripture’s role as theological authority

A. Robert Jenson

There is no mandate to reproduce all apostolic theologoumena. Indeed, they are not guaranteed to be especially felicitous; we turn to the apostolic church not for the certainly best thought-out instances of gospel-speaking but for unchallengeable instances. … apostolic reflective activity — however profoundly or superficially done — must have been the right sort of thing to be doing.

from Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 The Triune God, (OUP, 1997), 32.

B. David Kelsey

As its “authority,” scripture is “normative” for a proposal’s Christian aptness, not for its origin.

from Proving Doctrine, (Bloomsbury, 1999), 193.

C. John Webster

Scripture is not so much a source or norm of theology as its idiom.

from “Authority of Scripture,” Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, (Baker, 2005), 724.

D. Rowan Williams

Revelation is addressed not so much to a will called upon to submit as to an imagination called upon to ‘open itself.’

from “Trinity and Revelation,” Modern Theology vol 2, no 3, (1986): 209.

The New Testament is less a set of theological conclusions than a set of generative models for how to do Christian thinking.

from On Christian Theology, Oxford, Blackwell, 2000, 22.

Robert Jenson on humanization

Robert Jenson on the enterprise of humanity

[…] men are those of God’s creatures who have their own true selves not as possessions but as challenges. My humanity is not a set of characteristics that I may be counted on to exemplify: like being vertebrate or brown haired or sapient. My humanity is rather something that happens, and happens exactly as the event of choice and action in which I become something that I was not before. […] that I am not yet myself and must become it, is after all something I cannot very well say to myself. Where would I get the location from which to say it? If I am to discover this peculiar sort of fact, if I am to discover that my selfhood is an opportunity and not a given, somebody else will have to tell me. The challenge to find what I am by becoming other than I am can only come from someone other than me, by some person who is new and strange to me and communicates that strangeness. My humanity is our mutual work. […] Being man, therefore, is an enterprise rather than a condition. It is, moreover, an inescapably joint enterprise. I am man only in that I become it; and this enterprise requires more than one in the same way as marrying and playing football requires more than one. Moreover, the enterprise of being human is also a fearsome enterprise — again like marrying or playing football. For who, after all, is to speak this word that can call me to my true self? You are — and that is what is fearsome. I am dependent on you. I am dependent on your sensitivity to perceive when I need your word; on your judgment to find the right one; on your compassion to risk speaking it. That is, I am dependent for my humanity on yours. And that is a risky bet. There is not only risk here, there is mystery. For if I am dependent upon your humanity for mine, on whom are you dependent for yours? On me. No matter how many members we bring into this circle, it remains a circle. How does it ever begin to turn? The common enterprise seems to hang in time by its own bootstraps. It is obviously impossible that it should ever have begun, and yet it happens.

from “On Becoming Man; Some Aspects,” in Essays in Theology of Culture, (Eerdmans, 1995), 28-29.

On the progress to be made in the Christian life

On the progress to be made in the Christian life

A. Robert Jenson

After baptism, what do we go on to next? Answers are generally advanced with a bad conscience, since the eschatological nature of the gifts biblically ascribed to baptism, if they are taken seriously, plainly leaves no space for progress or development in faith or holiness themselves. Luther finally said what has to be said: We do not go on to anything at all; rather, Christian life has as its one essential content that we “daily” “return” to baptism.

From Christian Dogmatics, Vol. II, (Fortress, 1984), 331.

B. Gerhard Forde

Sanctification is simply the art of getting used to justification.

From The Preached God, Eds. Mark Mattes & Steven Paulson, (Eerdmans, 2007), 226.

C. Austin Farrer

Progress in the Christian way should mean this, that we learn more and more to experience our life as the saving work of God.

From The Essential Sermons, Ed. Lesslie Houlden, (SPCK, 1991), 152.

D. John Webster

Growth in the Christian life is simply growth in seeing that the gospel is true.

From The Grace of Truth, (Oil Lamp Books, 2011), 33-34.

Robert Jenson on sacraments

Robert Jenson on sacraments

The Western catholic tradition has insisted above all on two propositions about sacraments. First, sacraments are signs; they mean something, and that something is the gospel. This proposition has been established above all by the dicta of Augustine. Second, sacraments are events of grace; they accomplish something, and that something is the new reality of which the gospel speaks.

From Christian Dogmatics, Vol. II, (Fortress, 1984), 305.

Robert Jenson on the homiletic implications of justification

Robert Jenson on the homiletic implications of justification


The Reformation doctrine of justification is not a new attempted description of a process of grace—and when it has been taken for such, sometimes also by would-be champions, the difference between the Reformation and the standard tradition has always promptly become obscure. The doctrine is rather an hermeneutical instruction to preachers, teachers, and confessors: so speak of Christ and of the life of your community that the justification for that life which your words open is the kind grasped by faith rather than the kind constituted in works. […]

The instruction is not to induce, or manipulate, conversion by our discourse; the hearer’s conversion is to be accomplished as the act of gospel-speaking itself. Conversion is a change in the communication situation within which every person lives; a proper sermon or baptism liturgy or penance liturgy just is that change. Using penance as the simplest paradigm, when the confessor says, “You have confessed cheating and coveting. Now I forgive all your sins, in Jesus’ name,” these words do not seek to stimulate conversion as an event external to their being said. Rather, this utterance is a conversion of the penitent’s life, from a situation in which the word he or she hears and must live by is “You are a cheat and a coveter,” to one in which the word he or she hears and must live by is “You are Jesus’ beloved.” […]

When someone speaks to me the promises made by Christ’s resurrection, that event is the event of God’s choice about me. […]

It is indeed the human Christ’s temporal address to us that is the event of God’s eternal choosing about us, as the Lutherans and Barth have said. But the eternity of this moment must be established not by the prefix “pre-” but the prefix “post-”: it is in that the man Christ will be the agent and center of the final community, that his will for us is the eternal determination of our lives. The Trinitarian dialectics can be the appropriate conceptual scheme of predestination only if the whole scheme—of Father, Son, and Spirit—is used and only if the Spirit’s metaphysical priority is affirmed. The speaking of the gospel is the event of predestination in that the gospel gives what it speaks about, but this eschatological efficacy of the gospel is the Spirit. We must parody Barth: the Holy Spirit is the choosing God.

From Christian Dogmatics, Vol. II., (Fortress, 1984), 130 134, 137, 138.


A faithful sermon … will not be a sermon about [for example] predestination; it will be a predestining sermon. One may even imagine a pastoral dialogue:

Seeker: Am I among the elect?

Pastor: Yes.

Seeker: How do you know?

Pastor: You are elect because in Jesus’ name I now promise that you are.

Seeker: But it’s plain that I am barren soil!

Pastor: When Christ comes sowing, all things are possible.

Seeker: When will that happen to me?

Pastor: I just told you. This is it.

From Canon and Creed, (WJK, 2010), 61.


Robert Jenson on good works

Robert Jenson on good works

Most ethical theories and all sensible persons have known that a good act cannot appropriately be done for an ulterior egocentric reason. If I feed my hungry neighbor in order that I may acquire stars for my crown, I thereby lose the claim to any stars. But the mere injunction, “Do good to your neighbor for his sake, not for yours,” does not itself make a way out of our egocentric predicament. If, in order that I shall not be egocentric and so lose the value of my deed, I try to act purely for my neighbor, this is only a new egocentricity. The radically proclaimed gospel frees me from moral egocentricity in that it does not merely tell me I ought not try to get anything out of my act for my neighbor, but that I cannot get anything out of it, that I will not in fact be rewarded at all. Only the word, “You have nothing whatever to gain from your efforts on behalf of your neighbor’s belly,” frees me to attend to his belly. To the question, “Why should I do good?” the radical gospel replies, “If you put it that way, no reason.” Just so the radical gospel frees me to do good in the only way in which good can – by the unanimous testimony of human wisdom – be consistently done at all. […]

Thus the doctrine of justification by faith effects a particular secularization of morality. On my side, the chain of reasons cannot reach past the temporal consequences of the act into eternity or the eschaton. If I feed my neighbor in order to gain a vote for my party, there is nothing the matter with that, if it is legal. And I can go on: in order to bring my party to power, in order to enact my party’s social-welfare program, and so on – but if the gospel is true, the chain can never legitimately reach to any supernatural or eschatological reasons. On the neighbor’s side, there is no restriction. My reasons may well extend into the eschaton: “Whyshould I feed my neighbor?” “In order that his belly may be filled.” “Why should his belly be filled?” “To make a sound body for god’s resurrection!” […]

A believer, we may say, is someone who knows he does not need to care for himself, since God will do that, and so has all that time and energy left to care for other people.

from Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and Its Confessional Writings, (Fortress, 1976), 146, 147, 152.