Here are some notes on the final lecture from Robert Jenson.
Jenson focused on two topics today – the Holy Spirit in particular, then the New Testament.
The Holy Spirit:
He began by agreeing with Bultmann that God is the “uncontrollability of the future,” and that “the Spirit is God’s freedom.” It frees the Father and the Son to live for each other and to love each other.
[an aside: Jenson talked about the idea that two individual things can never just love one another. It always takes a third to love. If there are only two, Jenson says, what results is merely a contest – each trying to subject the other to their own will. The presence of a third frees the two to join in love.]
If the Spirit is God’s freedom, it is the freedom of the Son to love the father and vice versa. Thus he says God is not immobile because of the Spirit. “Whereas immobility is an impossible possibility for God, it is in fact, our condition…the Spirit acts as our liberator…where the Spirit is among us there is freedom.”
So: if the Spirit comes to the creatures, we love God and each other. “Freedom and love, when it comes down to it, are hardly distinguishable from one another.”
“So if we are in the Spirit, then we and God are one. So we are one with God and one with each other. This seems to coincide with Paul’s teaching that the Church is one Body…A person’s body is simply ‘me’ insofar as you can see me, hear me, etc…a person is himself in that this person is available to others. If the church is in Christ, the church is the body of Christ only to the extent that Christ is available to the world. So I am a person insofar as I am identified first with Christ and then with each of you.”
Back to the role of the Spirit as it concerns prophecy:
“The Spirit makes a prophet by so opening him/her to the person of the Word, and by so binding the person of the Prophet and the person of the Word in love that the Prophet and the Word can speak for each other. ‘Thus says the Lord,’ the prophet begins and what the Prophet says, then, is what the Lord says or what the Word says because the prophet is saying it…in the mouth of the prophet the claim, “Thus says the Lord,’ is true because of the relationship of that person to God.”
Then he talked about how this concerns the church:
“When the Spirit binds the Word and the Prophet together, he does this from within the Prophet not from without. The Spirit prays within us even when we do not know it. The Prophet is just a specific application of that.” Jenson points out that in Ezekiel there is a telling of the prophet where he is given the Word to eat – a clear allusion to the act of the Eucharist.
This idea must have some effect on our conception of the inspiration of scripture. “The Prophet does not need to have the words dictated to him. The Prophet speaks. And what the Prophet says simply is the Word of God because the Prophet and the Word are in this sense, one speaker.”
Now to the New Testament:
Jenson started with a bold statement: “The New Testament is not essential to the existence of the church, since for decades of the early church, the Church got along quite well without it. The relationship between the Church and the New Testament is not timeless. The relationship of the Church and the Old Testament is sort of timeless. The Old Testament was sort of just there in the history of the people. The New Testament is not ‘just there,’ it is an historical phenomenon in a way that the Old Testament is not.”
In what sense is Jesus Christ a prophet?
The relationship of the Word and the Spirit and the New Testament is mediated through history. The church is something like a Prophet, but a peculiar one. “For Jesus to speak the Word of God he does not need the Spirit at all [to bind him to the Word as in the case of the OT prophets], he is the Word. What he needs the Spirit for is to remain the Word. Jenson points out that in the incarnation, we must remember that there is a prophet who is a prophet in the proper sense. “There is a Prophet in the picture and her name is Mary. She simply bore the Word of God.” It was the Spirit who so joined her to the Word that what she brought forth simply was the Word because she bore it. This is stunning. In my opinion this is an incredible microcosm of how we must view the New Testament as scripture.
“The movement in the new Testament is to end distinction between the Prophets and those who hear the Prophets. In the New Testament it wasn’t so much about the individuals within the Church who were Prophets. It is Christ who is the head of the Church and unites it. It is the new community as such that has the gifts of Prophecy. The person whom the Spirit so unites with the Word such that what that person says is the words is the totus christus – it is the Body of Christ.”
Thus he says, “It is the Spirit’s work to make the final prophet the communal Prophet which we inhabit…the Church.” The whole Church it to be considered one big prophet, joined to the Word born by the prophet Mary, and through the action of the Spirit. Thus, as a prophet, the church must be a unity. Which raises the question, “Can the Church speak for God at all if it is divided?” [Another proof of this view of the Church is that when Christ confronted Paul on the road to Damascus, he said “why do you persecute me?” Paul was persecuting the Church. Jesus thereby identifies himself so totally with the church, that when speaking of the church he uses personal pronouns. In saying, “Why do you persecute me,” Jesus proves the church is in fact his own body.
That’s it for now. I’m still reflecting on all that I heard Dr. Jenson say. I’ll probably bring it in more again later on.