A traditionalist in some regards and an innovator in many others, Robert Jenson has frustrated conservative and liberal alike in his efforts to proclaim the God of the gospelTo the accusation that he’s conservative, Jenson has no qualms with challenging traditional assumptions. To the accusation that he is a revisionist, Jenson would reply that he has only revised our understandings in light of Scripture. To know who God is — and, consequently, who we are — is to receive God’s speech. Our grasping of God’s identity, what God has done, and what he will do only occurs as we are grasped by that same God giving himself to be known.

The Triune Story: Collected Essays on Scripture: Jenson, Robert W., East, Brad, Marshall, Bruce D.: 9780190917005: Amazon.com: Books

The Triune Story posthumously collects four decades of Jenson’s writings on Scripture, providing documentary evidence of a mind returning again and again to the Word God has spoken and continually speaks anew so as to ensure the gospel is properly expressed. The chief value of The Triune Story lies not in the insights into various texts but in the way it shows a fertile imagination unleashed upon God’s narrative in the canon of Scripture.

Jenson’s development in the final thirty years of his career witnessed him moving toward a greater appreciation of Scripture. Scripture was never not important for Jenson, but its centrality grew as he came to recognize the interconnectedness of this collection of texts and the narrative shape of the gospel he had espoused in his teaching. 

Theology is the disciplined thought which strives to hear the Word of God in such a way that the discursive effects of that hearing can be brought back to Holy Scripture to aid its faithful reading. As Jenson writes, “‘Theology’ that leaves daily exegesis unaffected is no theology; it is ideology. Theology that regularly fights texts is in process of refutation. Right theology constantly liberates us to exclaim that ‘“Of course! That’s why Isaiah could say …’” (20). Theology and Scripture forever interlace within one another, each guiding the other towards understanding, towards depth, and towards freedom.

Jenson was self-critical and honest enough a thinker to admit in print that he had inadequately come to grips with the inspiration of Scripture. In humility he followed the Spirit’s guidance through the matrix of saving word, sacrament, and canonical text and came to recognize something necessary that was lacking: a doctrine of inspiration.

Inspiration is not authority. And the litmus test of a community’s adherence to Scripture’s authority isn’t the number or intensity of statements it makes affirming that authority. Instead, it consists in that community’s ordering of its life to the Christ mediated through and made present by these texts. Inspiration names the origin of these texts — they are breathed out by God — and explains the basis of the authority they hold; not that of a timeless legal code, but of daily nourishment, of guidance, of resurrection given again and again. 

The gospel identifies the God who saves: he is the One who raised Jesus from the dead. But this God has a history stretching beyond the passion and resurrection of Christ, and he is the same One who also rescued Israel out of Egypt. The specificity of this man dying on this cross to save sinners coheres with the specific God who pledges himself in covenant with this nation, joining his destiny to theirs. In Jesus Christ that destiny meets the extent of its human possibilities and overcomes its own defeat, securing impossible possibilities out of nothing at the price of his own life. These historical acts are attested by the community of faith, which is created by these acts and, most fundamentally, by the God-given texts which sustain the ongoing life of that community.

According to Jenson, Christian theology is no less than faithful, communal attendance upon Holy Scripture as led by the Spirit of Christ. The hermeneutical pressures of the Spirit, who breathed out these words, guide the community into the mystery of the God who takes on flesh to justify the ungodly. But why? Because the story of this God is our story: “The canon itself establishes the continuation of its story to include us,” he writes (114). Scripture is not, therefore, about something which takes place outside of us, for the church which received and preserved these words is the same church of which we, in the present, are members.

Jenson contends, “If God chooses to have a history with a people, and therewith chooses that people indeed to have a history, and if that history is to be driven by prophecy, by his Word spoken into the life of the people, then prophecy must itself have a history” (211). The distance between then and now, them and us, can be overcome because the Spirit who inspired these texts can and does intrude into the life of the community. “Scripture’s self, the narrative content of its promises, is Jesus Christ,” Jenson writes, “and it is the risen Christ’s Spirit that is the Church’s communal spirit” (38).

In memory and anticipation of Robert W. Jenson – Covenant

“Insofar as the gospel is Jesus’ own word, therefore, its self-identity is that it does to its hearers what Jesus does” (25). The gospel is Jesus Christ, the Word of God, spoken from all time, given and made present in the words of creatures. The gospel is a saving word because it is Jesus Christ’s person and work verbally expressed. The gospel saves, and in saving discloses the only true God to creatures, and in disclosing writes an awe-inspiringly new future for them in which they share in his glory. That future is the story of humankind, and insofar as it is humanity’s story it is the God of the gospel’s. Scripture isn’t peripheral to these things: they are mediated through the canon of Scripture. 

That the One who sent Jesus Christ into the world to be the savior of sinners is named by Jesus “Father” and that he, in turn, invites us to call him “Father” reveals at least two things. First, that the heart of reality is not an un-nameable nebula of alien being utterly unlike the creatures it is responsible for having created. There is no anonymous divinity idly allowing the cosmos to blunder its way to annihilation. The uncanniness we feel in this world is not due to its not being our home, but to the distortion and degradation of sin. This world’s creator is its redeemer and he seeks to relate to us as a father, not as a despot over vassals.

Second, it reveals that this One suffers no diminishment in becoming one with his creatures, in becoming subservient, and in sharing his privileges with his creatures. He suffers no embarrassment in giving himself to be handled and invoked by creatures in the contingency of their language. The One who spoke all things into existence gave himself, in time, to be spoken by his creatures as a saving Word. This Word breaks and reorders fallen creaturely grammar so as to narrate an entirely new future, one impossible within the old, distorted grammar by which his creatures are bound.

Chagall's Jewish Jesus | September 20, 2013 | Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly | PBS

We are compelled, then, to reflect on our words. Faith and theology always arise out of words. What words do we hearken to? What words do we allow to interrogate us and our aims? What words do we ignore? The words we share with one another, that anchor us to the truth of the world are bound up with a story being told. More than that, certain words — Scripture, creeds, liturgical formulas — are, in the wisdom and mercy of God, vehicles of God’s activity without ever ceasing to be creaturely words. What are we enacting day by day without recognizing it?

We are rightly suspicious of many of the stories clamoring for our allegiance but also ignorant of many of the stories in which we already hazily participate. The story that makes all such creaturely stories possible is the drama of this world, the one gifted with existence by the God who includes us in his speaking from the very beginning, who deigns to become one of us. We must weigh the rival stories of this age against the triune story attested by Scripture so as to cling to the only promises we can be assured will be kept, now and for all time.