Sunday, 20 November 2005

Robert W. Jenson on the doctrine of God

One of the most creative and penetrating studies in the doctrine of God is Robert W. Jenson’s early book, God After God: The God of the Past and the God of the Future, Seen in the Work of Karl Barth (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969). Although the title suggests that this is an exposition of Karl Barth’s thought, it is really Jenson’s own provocative interpretation of the doctrine of God, using Barth as a dialogue-partner and foil.

This is one of my own favourite works on the doctrine of God. One can’t always agree with Jenson’s reading of Barth; and it was not without some justification that George Hunsinger (with tongue in cheek) called Jenson’s book “the most provocative, incisive and wrong-headed reading of Barth available in English” (Hunsinger, How to Read Karl Barth, p. 15). Still, the book should be read chiefly as Jenson’s own creative proposal.

It would be impossible to summarise the book adequately: but some of the main themes include God’s futurity, God as an event, God’s being-as-narrative, God’s being-as-Word, and God’s triunity-as-history. Above all, Jenson emphasises the “absolute priority of Jesus’ existence” (p. 72) as the core of Barth’s theology and as the basis of the doctrine of God. This “absolute priority of Jesus’ existence” has always struck me, too, as the most exciting theme of Barth’s theology.

Jenson’s God After God is a superb theological achievement. For my money, you’ll hardly find anywhere a more exciting and more stimulating analysis of the doctrine of God.


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