Saturday, September 09, 2017

Robert Jenson, eminent Lutheran theologian, has died

Robert Jenson, one of the eminent Lutheran theologians of the past forty years, died on September 5. Jenson was a practitioner of systematic theology, a branch of the theological enterprise which, as the name implies, attempts to systematically understand God's self-disclosure to Israel and, definitively, to the world in Jesus Christ. Jenson was, simultaneously, audacious and orthodox (the latter, a Greek compound word, ortho=right, doxy=glory, a generic term used of Christians who espouse the God of the Bible, rather than the preferred version of God of any given moment) Christian theologians of the past fifty years.

Rein Zeilstra, the author of an appreciation of Jenson writes:
Initially an activist, Jenson and his wife Blanche—to whom he was married for more than 60 years, and whom he credited as co-author of all his books, indeed, "genetrici theologiae meae omniae"—marched and protested and spoke in the 1960s against the Vietnam War and for civil rights for African-Americans. His politics was forever altered, however, in 1973 with Roe v. Wade. As he wrote later, he assumed that those who had marched alongside him and his fellow Christians would draw a logical connection from protection of the vulnerable in Vietnam and the oppressed in America to the defenseless in the womb; but that was not to be. Ever after, his politics was divided, and without representation in American governance: as he said in a recent interview, he found he could vote for neither Republicans nor Democrats, for one worshiped an idol called "the free market" and the other worshiped an idol called "autonomous choice," and both idols were inimical to a Christian vision of the common good.

In 1997 and 1999, ostensibly as the crown and conclusion to 70 years' work in the theological academy, Jenson published his two-volume Systematic Theology, arguably the most read, renowned, and perhaps even controversial systematic proposal in the last three decades. There his lifelong interests came together in concise, readable, propulsive form: the triune God, the incarnate Jesus, the theological tradition, the nihilism of modernity, the hope of the gospel, and the work of the Spirit in the unitary church of the creeds. Even if you find yourself disagreeing with every word of it, it is worth your time. As my brother once told me, he wasn't sure what he thought about the book when he finished the last page, but more important, he felt compelled to get on his knees and worship the Trinity. Surely that is the final goal of every theological system; surely nothing could make Jenson more pleased.

Read the entire post by Zeilstra.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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