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God After God: Jenson After Barth, Part #5

In the last post we asked if Jenson had gone beyond Barth. Has he temporalized eternity? Jenson is certainly bolder in his assertions linking eternity and time, but has he really achieved a consummation between the two? Frankly, at this point his theology appears no more threatening than that of Barth. However, we may not see a storm cloud in the sky but we sure can smell the rain. Therefore, we must now consider the person of Jesus Christ in Jenson’s thought. Because, according to Jenson, this is the epitome of God’s temporality and so to this we now turn.

To begin, let us return for a moment to our discussion of Jenson’s revolutionized understanding of the analogia entis as it relates to his archetype ectype distinction. Again, it is vital to remember that God’s being is utterance, which is in contradistinction to “an unspoken mental form.”[1] Thus, “being itself must be such as to compel analogous use of language when evoking it.”[2] So, again we are to understand that being is an irreducible grammatical construction.

Following Jenson’s logic, we may conclude that God has being in precisely the same way that creatures have being. Whatever God means by “be” is exactly what it means for Him or a creature to be.[3] “Therefore,” says Jenson, “insofar as ‘being’ says something about God or creatures, ‘being’ must after all be univocal rather than analogous.”[4]

But what does Jenson mean by saying that being, as shared by God and creatures, must be univocal? Again, let us remember that for Jenson “being is conversation.”[5] But how can the conversation of God and man be shared univocally when the word of God is hidden behind the word of Scripture? In order for God’s word in conversation to be univocal with our word in conversation, and vice versa, what is attributed to one thing must be identical when attributed to another.[6] Thus, the question is; what is identical in the conversation that God shares with man?

Before pursuing this question further I will demonstrate what Jenson does not mean. Jenson does not mean that the statement “God is good” and the statement “Paul is good” share a univocity, and the reason is simple. According to Jenson, “good” is not an essential element of the nature of God or man. Hence, Jenson is clearly defining the parameters of what may be considered univocal and what may not be. Therefore, the only thing that can be considered univocal between God and man is being, and being is conversation. So again, what univocal element does the conversation between God and man share?

It seems that Jenson has become entangled in a difficulty. If he says that the language of God and the language of man coincide at any given point then some type of cognitive knowledge between God and man must exist, which is exactly what Jenson does not want to maintain. But if he says that God and man share univocally in being, in the sense that God is communication and man is communication but their conversation is separate from one another, then he has really said nothing about the univocity that supposedly exists between Creator and creature. Perhaps this is the position that Jenson wants to maintain, for prior to this he has maintained that our conversations are surely not identical with one another, though he would certainly disagree that this univocity says nothing about God’s relationship to man.

However, Jenson’s view of analogy, as applied to the incarnation, brings a new dimension to the discussion. Jenson begins his discussion of the Persons of the Godhead by affirming an adoptionist Christology. Thus, Jesus of Nazareth was the adopted Son of God. He became what He was not.[7] Jenson claims that the Nazarene was merely a man as set forth in the narrative of Scripture. Moreover, this man from Nazareth was adopted to be the eternal Son of God. But what constitutes the adoption of Jesus?

For Jenson, “Primally, it denotes the claim Jesus makes for himself in addressing God as Father.”[8] In fact, posits Jenson, “This Son is an eternally divine Son only in and by this relation” of address.[9] So, for Jenson, the adoption of Christ is established in the univocal address of the Son to God as Father. Let me say it another way. The utterance of Jesus, the man from Nazareth, addresses the Father, and both man and God understood that conversation in a univocal manner.

This appears to create a difficulty for Jenson but he puts off answering the crucial point for the time being. He says, “When trinitarian reflection recognizes the Son as an eternal divine Son, a question will indeed arise about the relation of his divine identity to his reality as creature, but this is a question of secondary reflection, whose systematic place is further on.”[10] However, this particular topic is not taken up again. Jenson does deal with pre-existence in light of the birth of Christ, but the notion of the univocal address that constitutes Sonship does not appear again.

Yet, the relation of the Son’s “divine identity to His reality as a creature” is no secondary matter, especially as it relates to the univocal relationship of being between God and man. It is at this very point that Jenson can no longer maintain his distinction between Creator and creature. In our next post we will flesh this out.


[1] Jenson, ST II, 38.

[2] Ibid., 37.

[3] Ibid., 38.

[4] Ibid. Following Thomas, “being,” says Jenson, “used simultaneously of God and creatures must, as we use it, mean in the case of God ‘first archetypical causation of created being’ and in the case of creatures just ‘being.’”

[5] Ibid., 49.

[6]Oliphint, Reasons {for Faith} (Phillipsburg, NJ: P& R Publishing, 2006), 98.

[7] For Jenson there is no pre-existence of the Son in any traditional sense, Cf. Jenson, ST 1, 141.

[8] Jenson, ST 1, 77.

[9] Ibid, emphasis mine.

[10] Ibid., 78.


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