Saturday 19 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.


Chris Tilling said...

Ben, what do you think of Trevor Hart's take on Barth in Regarding Karl Barth: Toward a Reading of His Theology (Paternoster 1999/IVP 2000)?

Ben Myers said...

It's quite a good little book, really just a collection of essays on different aspects of Barth's theology. The book doesn't really contribute anything new to Barth studies, but it's useful as an introductory work. From memory, the chapters on Barth's view of history and on the Barth-Brunner debate are the best ones. (And I liked the fact that Hart sided with Barth instead of Brunner.)

T.B. Vick said...

I have just recently been introduced to Robert Jenson and have liked the few articles/books I have read thus far. Thank you for the suggestion and the blurb about this book. Here's another one to add to my already growing Jenson library.

Ben Myers said...

Hi there -- glad to hear you've discovered Jenson. I reckon all his books are worth reading, although unfortunately some of the early ones can be a little hard to find (especially God after God and Knowledge of Things Hoped For). His recent systematic theology is a very fine work too.

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