Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Robert Jenson on Atonement: Part 1

Here's part of my discussion of Robert Jenson's Christology and doctrine of atonement from the book.  Enjoy.

We will now turn to the theology of the American Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson (1928-present).[1]  Jenson has a very long publications record over many decades.  Nevertheless, instead of describing each of his works in detail we will primarily focus on the ultimate synthesis of his thinking in his Systematic Theology (1997-1999).  Examining this work will suffice insofar as Jenson thought has remained relatively consistent over the decades.  Also, his treatment of the issue of atonement in his Systematic Theology constitutes one of the longer discussions of the subject present in his writings. 

Much like Pannenberg’s theology, Jenson’s theology is focused on a quasi-Hegelian concept of divine self-actualization within the history of salvation.  By contrast to the former though, Jenson emphasizes that theology is an inherently ecclesial task.[2]  That is to say, Jenson wishes to find the internal, ecumenical coherence of the historical proclamation of the Church with the foundational biblical narratives of redemption.  As we might recall, Pannenberg is primarily concerned with the coherence of Christian truth claims with those of the wider human community.  For Jenson, Christian theology operates within the communal narrative of the people of God, founded in the biblical history of Israel and the Church.[3]  The people of God engaged in the theological task are able to identify and explain the reality of the one God through their participation in his ongoing narrative.  Foundational to this ongoing narrative is God’s self-definition and identification through the exodus of Israel from Egypt and the resurrection of Jesus.[4] 

Since for Jenson the structure of being is itself inherently narrative, the fullness of God’s being and life only possess their proper character from the standpoint of the total story of creation and salvation: “Since the Lord’s self-identity is constituted in dramatic coherence, it is established not from the beginning but from the end . . . .”[5]  For this reason: “The biblical God is not eternally himself in that he persistently instantiates a beginning in which he already is all he ever will be; he is eternally himself in that he unrestrictedly anticipates an end in which he will be all he ever could be.”[6]  Oliver Crisp describes concept of Jenson’s God thus: “It is rather as if God exists through time by projecting himself backward in time from his future to his past and present.”[7]  For this reason, the knowledge of the Triune God is properly discerned from the biblical narrative itself wherein God has actualized his being through projecting its reality backward from the fullness of its completion form present in the future eschaton.

The biblical God identifies himself with Israel to the extent that he becomes an actor within its ongoing historical drama.[8]  The Israel’s history under the old covenant already anticipated its eschatological fulfillment in Christ.  Indeed, Christ was already present as the “narrative pattern in the history of Israel.”[9]  God chooses to be the God that he is by eternally willing himself to be the man Jesus.  Therefore the pre-incarnate Christ is less defined as a hypostasis subsisting within the relations of timeless Triune life, and more as an eternal movement of God towards of the terminus of the earthly life of Jesus.  This movement is determinative for the whole structure and coherence of the Triune being: “What in eternity precedes the Son’s birth to Mary is not an unincarnate state of the Son, but a pattern of movement within the event of Incarnation, the movement to incarnation, as itself a pattern of God’s triune life.”[10] 

In light of the fact that the movement towards Incarnation eternally defines the very being of the Son, it logically follows that the Son finds himself exhaustively defined by the narrative of Jesus’ earthly life.  In Jenson’s theology, there is no room for the extra calvinisticum, or even (it would seem) for a logos asarkos existing for himself apart from any consideration of the Incarnation.  In keeping with this theological proposal, Jenson follows Luther and the Swabian Lutherans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in ardently supporting of the absolute omnipresence of Christ’s humanity.[11]  It nevertheless must be stressed that Jenson only affirms certain aspect of classical Lutheran Christology.  In other areas he significantly deviates from the earlier tradition, as for example in his aforementioned in rejection of aseity of the Son apart from the Incarnation. 

Moreover, Jenson’s Christological proposals are somewhat ironic insofar as it is his stated intention from the beginning of the work to create an ecumenically oriented theology.[12]  Contrary to his intention though, he has in respect to his Christology reproduced the accent of his particular tradition in an even more pronounced and less ecumenically-friendly form than many his co-religionists.  Recognizing this point, his student Colin Gunton has suggested that he might consider drawing up a Christology along more ecumenical lines.[13]

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pneumatological Arianism in the Reformed Tradition.

More on Horton.

Reading Horton and other Reformed systematic theologies this year, I've noticed something that I think one could refer to as "Pneumatological Arianism."  The Reformed paranoia is that if the Son were really present in Word and sacrament, then God's power and transcendence would be lost.  God would be under our power, he would be objectified.  This would prevent us from looking upon God's bigness, power, and glory with proper respect.  

The problem is then: How does God's grace come to humans?  Answer, although Jesus is gone, the Holy Spirit serves as his mediator.  The mediator then needs a mediator and we are stuck with an pneumatological Arianism.  In other words, for the Reformed, the Holy Spirit can come to us without somehow abrogating the transcendence and power of God.  But why can't the Son simply come to us?  Setting aside the question of real presence of the humanity of Christ, Horton seems to deny that the second person of the Trinity can have any direct union with us.  Nevertheless, both the Son and the Spirit are equal in divinity, so what gives?  Unless they weren't!  Though in theory the Reformed hold to the Nicene creed like the rest of us, in practice they treat the Spirit as a sort of lesser go-between with the rest of the Trinity and us.  Again, Horton inadvertently seems to say something like this when he says "The Son is not in direct union with us, but rather dwells in us by the Holy Spirit."

In effect, both position spring from the same soil.  Arius was also afraid that God's would lose his otherness if the Son were really God and he really became incarnate.  The Reformed simply move things down the line: the humanity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the new go-betweens.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Horton on Divine Causality.

Horton makes a good observation.  Historically, many Christian theologians have been struck by the false dilemma of divine determinism or quasi-deism.  This arises from Christians taking over Aristotelian concepts of cause.  God is conceived of as a cosmic mechanic, pulling the gears and levers of creation.  God is either applying force (wherein you are unfree and determined) or he is letting the machine run by itself (deism).  A more biblical manner of conceiving human freedom and divine causation is to conceptualize it as God's effective speech.  God speaks forth his Word and it gives creature their own capacities which they act out of.  The Word is creative and formative of freedom, while not coercing the creature.  For example, in Genesis 1 God states that vegetation of the earth should bring forth fruit and so they do.  The Word creates plants as beings that do this sort of thing.  They do so spontaneously out of their own nature.  Nevertheless this nature is created and formed by God's creative address.  We can see the same principle at work in the question of free will and grace.  Rome, thinking in mechanical terms, always insisted that the Reformation's monergism was coercive and destructive of the human will.  The Reformers (Luther in particular) always conceived the Word as living and effective.  Human beings are determined in their freedom so that they are re-created by God by his effective address as beings who out of their own spontaneity trust and love God.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gustaf Wingren on the Work of Christ.

More from my Forde book.

Among moderate revisionists, we will lastly turn to the theology of the Swedish Lutheran theologian Gustaf Wingren (1910-2000).[1] While Wingren’s main interests centered on the doctrine of creation, he nevertheless had many valuable things to say regarding the work of Christ and its relationship to the article of creation.  One of Wingren’s consummate concerns was the denigration of the doctrine of creation within twentieth-century continental Protestant theology.  In his classic work Creation and Law, Wingren blames Karl Barth and Dialectical theology in general for persistence of this trend.[2]  Within the articles of the creed and narrative presented to us in Sacred Scripture, creation comes before redemption.[3]  If therefore it is the task of Christian theology to properly describe God and his works based on the revelation presented in the Bible, God is known first as creator and only secondly as redeemer.  By contrast, on an existential level, humanity receives knowledge of God as redeemer through the preaching of the gospel and then only subsequently is God known as creator.  The irony of theology taught by Barth and the other Dialectical theologians is that by placing the second article first in their exposition of dogma, they continue the tradition of theological Liberalism by placing the human subject’s experience of redemption first: “Man, and his knowledge determine the Creed, and not God and His works.”[4]  Ultimately then, for Barth and theologians like him: “. . . the anthropocentric character [of their theology] is unbroken.”[5]

This nevertheless provokes the question: How does placing the article of creation first place the work of redemption in its proper light?  Much like Luther, Wingren understands the law as functioning through the medium of the created order.  God works via his creaturely masks (larva Dei) in accordance to his will of law.  The reality of the law present in these masks has the positive role of preserving creation by way of the created orders (family, state, Church).[6]  Nevertheless there is also a negative side to God’s activity in these means, namely, the inexorable and unrelenting experience of divine judgment by his creatures.  When a person is forced by the authorities to perform certain acts in accordance with God’s law, his conscience is necessarily accused.[7]  When humans are deprived of certain things that they in their egocentricity desire then accusation is also felt.[8]  Indeed, the human person in his or her everyday conduct “. . reveals that his [or her] heart is godless.  We might say that man’s conscience has a continual foretaste of the Last Judgment.”[9]  In this sense also, the emphasis of Barth and the Dialectical theologians upon the unknowability of God apart from revelation is meaningless.  The real issue is not the knowledge of God, but rather whether or not saving knowledge of God is attainable.

In spite of the fact that the world has become a realm of unrelenting judgment, creation in and of itself remains good, and is an object of God’s redemptive love.  Redemption is necessary because fallen humanity suffers the enslavement of sin, death, the Devil, and the law. Ultimately the human race must be freed by God’s conquest of the demonic forces of the old creation.  In his book The Living Word, in a similar manner to AulĂ©n, Wingren frequently uses the motifs of conquest and new creation to discuss the work of Christ.  Early in the work, our author argues that the “Bible’s theme is the conflict of God and the Devil.”[10]  Some, of course, might object to this idea on the grounds that the Devil is not mentioned in the earlier books of the Bible and only becomes a universally accepted figure in intertestamental Judaism. Wingren insists that the absence of Satan has little to do with lack of the presence of the demonic in the Old Testament, and more to do with the limited horizon of national conflict and apostasy within which early Israel operated.  Early Israel’s experience of conflict and temptation by idols of the pagan nations surrounding them was but a microcosm of the macrocosm of the cosmic battle between God and the Devil.[11] With the advent of the universal horizon of apocalyptic, Israel (and the Church after it) could finally properly understand the saving work of God was directed against a single demonic force behind the masks of the idols.  Hence Jesus is seen throughout the New Testament as a second Adam and restorer of creation, who has come to enter into conflict with the universal destroyer of creation, Satan.[12]

Therefore Christ’s task as the self-donating God is to free creation, thereby restoring and fulfilling God’s original purpose: “Christ’s task is to enter human life, destroy satanic might and free man.”[13]  For Wingren, this is the real meaning of the Lutheran understanding of the communicatio idiomatum.  Christ’s humanity does not simply echo to us God’s pre-temporal decrees (contra Barth), but is itself the very presence of divinity entering into the fray of the battle for creation as our champion: “Christ’s humanity is no limitation of the majesty of God, as Barth argues.  Christ’s humanity is the conqueror’s-God’s-presence on the field of battle where Satan is to be laid low in the conqueror’s death and resurrection and forced to let go his grip on men.”[14] 

Freedom from Satan and the wrath of God necessarily means the death and resurrection of the sinner.  God’s own presence is manifest not only in the flesh of Christ, but in the word of judgment and grace that he has given the Church to proclaim: “Even in the passage and even in preaching, the communicatio idiomatum holds sway.”[15]  The activity of the Word is divine: “The Word of the Bible, carries within itself Christ’s coming as its general aim, to which all tends . . . It is in the simple words, in what is human in the Bible, that God’s power is hidden; divine and human must not be separated.”[16]  Therefore, through God’s two words of law and gospel the battle of Christ for creation is continued.  By God’s effective Word, old sinners are killed and resurrected as new beings of faith.  This is because “. . . ‘law and grace’ is ‘death and resurrection.’”[17]

Nevertheless, this explanation of the saving power and presence of God does not specifically describe of the means by which redemption is accomplished.  Wingren’s answer to the question comes in his seminal work, Gospel and Church, where he develops a doctrine of recapitulation.  Wingren not only favors this idea because of his engagement with Irenaeus of Lyon (the fruit of which was his masterful study Man and the Incarnation[18]) but because of his earlier use of Luther’s theme of the unity of law and creation.  If the biblical word of law expresses the pattern, and order of God’s judging and coercion activity in creation, then a redemptive fulfillment of the law on behalf of humanity must also logically means the recapitulation and renewal of creation.  Similarly, if the demonic forces that enslave creation are God’s masks and instruments of his wrath against sin, then logically fulfillment of the law would conqueror the tyrants who hold creation in their sway.

Recapitulating Adam, Jesus enters into the place of sinful humanity: “As man Christ stands under the law.  Under the law and under wrath Christ lives the life of Adam, i.e. our human life, which means that he is tempted.”[19]  This descent to human existence did not merely assuming human nature, but also entering into all the terrors face humans under the tutelage of the hidden God: “In His temptation He is divested of His divinity in such a way that in the end it is His dread in the presence of God which binds Him to God.”  Indeed, he was tempted like Adam to seek divinity and not to take upon himself the form of the servant.  Perpetually confronted by temptation, Christ’s obedience to the Father grew ever deeper throughout his temporal life: “His temptations come to a climax in Gethsemane and on the cross.” His obedience actualizes what Adam should have been as a creature and as such breaks the power of wrath and of the law: “In the life which He lived as a man Christ succeeded in rendering obedience, even though he had ‘’emptied Himself.”  And this obedience broke the power of the law and did away with wrath.”  Such a victory is manifested in the resurrection: “The uncorrupted life is free from the law and therefore from death.  But this life has been realized only in the resurrection of Christ.  Humanity is to be found only in the one who rose on the third day, and if we would attain humanity we must seek it from Him.”[20]

Christ’s obedience is salvific precisely because he himself is the presence of God.  Wingren coordinates his description of Christ’s human obedience with the Lutheran doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum.  It is from within Jesus’ human ministry that God acts: “The power of His divinity to destroy the dominion of the law is effective even in his humiliation, for His humiliation is obedience that puts an end to the law and to wrath.”[21]  Indeed, “God’s freedom from the law and His power to create are not in effect apart from Christ’s human conflict.”[22]  Hence God manifests his divinity in, under, and with Christ’s humanity by redeeming, recapitulating and recreating the world from within it.  For “[a]s God Christ is at work in begetting and creating in others the life which they themselves do not possess.  Adam did not have the power to create even in his God-appointed state of purity.”[23]  He re-creates humanity by his effective word of forgiveness: “Since the dominion of death and the destruction of human life arose in man’s disobedience and yielding to temptation, Christ brings His creative power to bear at the critical point when He forgives sins.  His divinity was to be seen in his earthly life in His forgiving of men their sins.”[24]  Therefore it was his divinity immanent in his humanity (genus majestaticum) that broke the power of the law: “And it is manifest that His offer to forgive sins annuls the judgment which the law passes against man.  But He began to break the power of the law even before His death, and in this we see His divine nature revealed.”[25]  In the power of his resurrection then enacts freedom of the new creation.  This freedom is freedom from the condemnation of the law: “His resurrection has an added factor which marks it off from the resuscitation of others who were dead, viz. the offer of forgiveness.  This is the heart of His resurrection.”[26]



[1] See the following works by Gustaf Wingren: Gustaf Wingren, The Christian's Calling, trans. Ross MacKenzie (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1958);  idem,Creation and Law, trans. Ross McKenzie (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press,1961);  idem, Credo: The Christian View of Faith and Life,  trans. Edgar Carlson (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1981);  idem, An Exodus Theology; Einar Billing and the Development of Modern Swedish Theology, trans.  Eric Wahlstrom  (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969);  idem, Gospel and Church, trans. Ross MacKenzie (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1964);  idem, Luther on Vocation, trans. Carl C. Rasmussen (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957);  idem, The Living Word: A Theological Study of Preaching and the Church, trans. Victor C. Pogue (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960);  idem, Man and the Incarnation: A Study in the Biblical Theology of Irenaeus, trans. Ross MacKenzie (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1959); idem, Theology of Conflict: NygrenBarth, Bultmann, trans. Eric Wahlstrom (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1958).  See the following secondary works on the theology of Wingren: Mary Elizabeth Anderson, Gustaf Wingren and the Swedish Luther Renaissance (New York: Peter Lang, 2006); Jonny Karlsson,Predikans samtal : en studie av lyssnarens roll i predikan hos Gustaf Wingren utifrån Michail Bachtins teori om dialogicitet (Skellefteå, Sweden: Artos, 2000); Tomas Nygren, Lag och evangelium som tal om Gud : en analys av synen på lag och evangelium hos några nutida lutherska teologer : Pannenberg, Wingren och Scaer (Skellefteå, Sweden: Artos, 2007); Arne Rasmusson, "A Century of Swedish Theology" Lutheran Quarterly 21, no. 2 (2007): 131-38.

[2] Wingren, Creation and Law, 12-14.

[3] Ibid., 12.

[4] Ibid., 12.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 149-73. Also see his aforementioned  Luther on Vocation, trans. Carl C. Rasmussen (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957). 

[7] Wingren, Creation and Law, 174.

[8] Ibid.    

[9] Ibid.

[10] Wingren, The Living Word, 42.

[11] Ibid., 42-44.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 32.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 208.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 137.

[18] See the aforementioned Gustaf Wingren, Man and the Incarnation: A Study in the Biblical Theology of Irenaeus, trans. Ross MacKenzie (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1959).

[19] Wingren, Gospel and Church, 95.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., 96-7.

[22] Ibid., 97.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., 96.

[25] Ibid.  Emphasis added.

[26] Ibid.