SOURCE: R. Rook, “Jenson, Robert W. (b. 1930),” ed. Martin Davie et al., New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic (London; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press; InterVarsity Press, 2016), 465.
JENSON, ROBERT W. (b. 1930)
Robert Jenson has been described as ‘America’s theologian’. Influenced by Jonathan Edwards, the American Norwegian is among the foremost theologians of his day. A ‘theologian of culture’, Jenson’s theology covers a wide array of disciplines, issues and art-forms.
First trained at Luther College, Jenson taught in Oxford, Gettysburg, Minnesota and Princeton, publishing over twenty-five monographs and hundreds of essays and articles. Describing himself as a ‘theologian of the one church’, he co-founded Pro-Ecclesia, a journal dedicated to Catholic and Evangelical theology.
Having completed his doctoral research on Karl Barth, under Peter Brunner, the systematic style and scope of Jenson’s work reflect the grand tradition of G. W. F. Hegel. Refusing to blindly accept the language of Western philosophy, particularly when influenced by Greek religion, Jenson’s metaphysics are rooted in the biblical narrative and gospel story.
‘Who is God?’ Regularly returning to this question, Jenson’s answer proves persistent. God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead. This discovery leads to a triple identification. As Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the triune God assumes the revelatory lead role in the biblical drama. The coalescence of biblical exposition and trinitarian doctrine comprise Jenson’s contribution to twentieth-century theology’s trinitarian revival.
Jenson’s trinitarian commitments and systematic approach are evident in his treatment of time and the church. Dismissing the notion of ‘timelessness’ as the erroneous import of Greek philosophy, Jenson posits a biblical alternative. Not timeless but eternal, God’s triune life comprises a unique and unending temporality. Thus, in creation, God makes time for us. Certain critics allege that this leads to pantheism, or panentheism.
Unperturbed, Jenson’s ecclesiology proves similarly immanent. In his radical ecumenist rendition of Luther’s totus Christus, Jenson proclaims the church as the presence of the resurrected Christ in time and space. This claim alone underlines the courage, drama, relevance and importance of Robert Jenson’s work.
- Story and Promise: A Brief Theology of the Gospel about Jesus (Philadelphia, 1973);
- Essays in Theology of Culture (Grand Rapids, 1995);
- Systematic Theology: The Triune God, vol. 1 (New York, 1997);
- Systematic Theology: The Works of God, vol. 2 (New York, 1999).
- C. E. Gunton, Trinity, Time, and Church: A Response to the Theology of Robert W. Jenson (Grand Rapids, 2000).