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God After God: Jenson After Barth, Part #6

In our last post, (a while back!) I argued that Jenson had in fact compromised the creator creature distinction and I said that we would flesh that out a bit, which is what I plan to do here. So, if Jenson has damaged the crucial theological distinction between Creator and creature what are the implications?

First, let me identify the problem. When discussing the univocity of address between Jesus the man and the eternal God, Jenson cannot adopt the view that God is communication and man is communication, but their conversation is separate from one another. Quite the contrary, if the address of Jesus, the adopted Son, to the Father is univocal (as Jenson argued), then there must be an epistemological correspondence between the conversation of God and man. Moreover, if there is an epistemological correspondence then God is no longer hidden.

Now, before critiquing this apparent problem let us explore one way in which Jenson might free himself from this difficulty. He might appeal to Kant’s theory of transcendental unity of apperception as applied to the Godhead. According to Kant, self—consciousness is not really consciousness of self; rather a self—conscious person is merely identifying his experiences as his own. So, says Jenson, “If the ‘I’ is not primally identical with the focus of consciousness, then the self is not a ‘self’-contained or ‘self’-sustaining something.”[1]

Jenson applies this concept to theology. For him, “It should always have been apparent that Father, Son, and Spirit could not each be personal quite in the same way.”[2] Jenson’s conclusion is, for example, the Spirit, is then someone’s Spirit, so that he (the Spirit) cannot be an autonomous someone.[3] But the end of such reasoning is that the Persons of the Godhead are not fully self-aware.[4] That is, each person of the Triune Godhead could only identify their experiences ad extra, but not necessarily be aware of themselves individually. So, perhaps Jenson could argue that the hiddenness of God resides at just this point.

However, this seems an unlikely position due to the fact that Jenson seems to follow Barth’s model of the Trinity. For Barth, the Trinity was a threefold repetition of the divine ousia. Jenson, consistent with his understanding of being as communication, interprets Barth’s view by suggesting that the doctrine of the Trinity is merely a “set of identifying descriptions” to back up the name “God.”[5]

Thus, for Barth, God is a uni-conscious being. However, Jenson, sensitive to the criticism of Modalism that was leveled against Barth, asks if “we can interpret the differing personalities of the Father as the Father, and the Father as the Trinity, ontologically.”[6] His answer is alarming and consistent with Barth. He says, “All suggestions at this point must have an arbitrary air, as we again strain the limits of language.”[7] However, Jenson does attempt to strain the limits of language but in the end he can only affirm the “oneness of the one Trinity.”[8] Consequently, it appears that Kant’s theory of transcendental unity of apperception as applied to the Trinity cannot be sustained over against a God that is solely uni-conscious.[9]

Therefore, we return to our original assertion. When discussing the univocity of address between the man Jesus and the eternal God, Jenson cannot adopt the view that God is communication and man is communication, but their conversation is separate from one another. To do so would ontologically and narratively sever the Son from the Father, according to Jenson’s way of thinking.

Second, to posit that the univocal correspondence of conversation between the eternal God and the man Jesus would make Scripture more than what Jenson has alleged it to be. For example, if all that I have claimed thus far concerning Jenson’s understanding of language, per a cultural—linguistic model follows, then, for Jenson, the Bible is not a set of truth propositions that have cognitive correspondence between man and God. The statements found in Scripture are only ontologically true insofar as they are intra-systemically consistent.

Thus, whether Jenson would admit to it or not, the Bible is reduced to pious feelings set forth in speech. Therefore, to snatch a line from Cornelius Van Til with slight modification, Jenson’s “theology is anthropology still; the ‘cool smile’ of Feuerbach may perhaps now be thought of as a sardonic grin.”[10]

Though Jenson obviously believes that Scripture is simply pious feeling set forth in speech he is still unable to extricate himself from the difficulty Jesus’ univocal address creates. That is, if the man Jesus of Nazareth was adopted to be the Second Person of the Trinity, and that adoption is constituted by Jesus’ address to the Father, then Scripture must be more than pious feeling set forth in speech. Moreover, Scripture, at least the address of the Son in Scripture, must have a cognitive correspondence between man and God at that point, which pulls God out from His hiddenness and makes the unknown God knowable.

Therefore, we must conclude that although Jenson’s view of God and his revolutionized analogia entis lays the groundwork for the temporalizing of God, it is the incarnation (i.e. the adoption of Christ) that wholly temporalizes God. Furthermore, it is this wholesale temporalizing of the deity that raises a final point that we will address in the final post; our being enfolded into the Triune God or as Jenson puts it, our deification.

 

[1] Jenson, ST 1, 121.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] It’s interesting that Oliphint notes that ideas depicting Christ as schizophrenic have begun to surface in discussions of Christology and the incarnation. Cf. Oliphint, 287–88n14.

[5] Jenson, God after God, 98.

[6] Jenson, ST 1, 122, Cf. 119. Jenson also calls the Trinity “a conceptually developed and sustained insistence that God himself is identified by and with the particular plotted sequence of events that make the narrative of Israel and her Christ,” (ST 1, 60, Cf. 46). However, one must be sympathetic with Jenson’s attempt to free himself from the charge of Modalism because of the Biblical narrative itself (ST 1, 96–100).

[7] Jenson, ST 1, 122.

[8] Ibid., 123.

[9] Obviously, Jenson could say that God, as a uni-conscious being, is not self-aware. However, this does not seem to be the direction that Jenson wants to go due to his view of God as free act.

[10] Cornelius Van Til, The New Modernism: An Appraisal of the Theology of Barth and Brunner (Philadelphia, PA: P & R Publishing, 1947), 244.

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