The Gospel as unconditional promise: Robert Jenson’s perspective

A helpful summary of Robert W. Jenson’s understanding of justification by faith and the unconditionality of God’s love.

Thoughts from the Catholic Cave

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Continuing my study on the sacramental action of the word of God, I decided to write one more post on Lutheran perspectives. My last blog entry focused on Martin Luther’s theology of the word of God and was a brief primer on Lutheran theology in relation to the topic. Today’s post will focus entirely on the perspective of contemporary Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson. I became acquainted with Robert Jenson’s work last year after reading a blog post discussing his ideas on the gospel as unconditional promise. The first of his books that I read is one he co-authored with Eric Gritsch called Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and its Confessional Writings. I will admit that of all his voluminous work, I own just three of his books and so far have read two of them. So I’m no expert on Robert Jenson by any means, but I will attempt here…

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3 Responses to The Gospel as unconditional promise: Robert Jenson’s perspective

  1. Iain Lovejoy says:

    If I am understanding this correctly, is Jenson saying that is the very fact of the good news that they are saved / justified having been preached to someone which unconditionally guarantees that they are indeed saved / justified, or am I getting this wrong?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      For Jenson, gospel is always first- second-person communication. He therefore resists the temptation to deal with these matters abstractly, as if the God-human relationship is something we can observe and analyze from a third-person viewpoint.

      So if you are asking about some Josephine over there and whether she is saved because her preacher spoke the gospel to her last week, Jens would probably say that your question cannot be answered. Only God knows.

      But if Josephine should ask you, “Am I saved because my preacher spoke the gospel to me last week?” that’s a different kind of question and requires a different kind of answer. I suspect Jens would encourage you to treat it as an invitation to speak the gospel of Jesus to Josephine in the mode of performative promise (1st- second-person communication). There is no end to the proclamation of the gospel.

      P.S. This by the way is why Jens found it so difficult to embrace universalism. The confession of universal salvation requires us to step outside the preaching event and to abstractly analyze the data of revelation.

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