Getting Jenson Wrong

In a brief discussion, Michael Horton ( Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology , 97) claims that for Robert Jenson “God [is] ‘a fugue, a conversation, a personal event’” and gives this rejoinder: “It is one thing to say that the triune God is three persons . . . engaged in an eternal fugue, and quite another to say that God just is a fugue, a conversation, a personal event . . . . If God just is a conversation, there is no reason to believe that the Son and Spirit are divine partners unless and until the Father freely wills to engage them. This is the logical conclusion that Jenson himself seems to adopt.”

On Horton’s interpretation, Jenson says there is a (potential) “moment” when the Father is silent, that there is a decision to be made to “engage” the other divine persons in conversation. It’s the beginning of a party, everyone drinking punch and looking thoughtfully at the ground “unless and until” someone “free wills” to talk. If that’s what Jenson says, it would be a heavy error indeed.

But it’s not what Jenson says.

Yes, Jenson says God is a conversation: “the Logos is at once with God and is God: the Word is both spoken by and to God, and is the God who speaks and hears.” On Jenson’s understanding, “the Spirit is the one who liberates the Father and Son for each other, and whose liberation is the gift of himself. The Spirit is that achievement of mutuality that is perfectly free-speaking; the Spirit proceeds also from the Word” ( Systematic Theology: Volume 1: The Triune God , 223 ).

But this conversation is not something God begins to do after some awkward interval of silence. It is the life of the God, and it is an eternal life. True, Jenson glosses “eternity” as “temporal infinity.” Whatever we think about that way of describing eternity, it is a form of infinity: He affirms Barth’s claim that the eternity of the Triune God is pure duration, and adds that purity means “not broken”: “Nothing escapes God by receding into the past or not yet having come into reach from the future” (217).

In short, Jenson does not imply that the Son and Spirit become God’s interlocutors only at some “second” moment. If conversation is the life of God, it is an eternal conversation.

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