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6 God’s “Liveliness” in Robert W. Jenson’s Trinitarian Thought Christophe Chalamet Robert W. Jenson and Theological Existence Robert W. Jenson is a major figure in anglophone contemporary theology. Whether one agrees with him or not, ignoring him is not an option. Born in 1930 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to a Lutheran family, he embarked on the study of theology at Luther College, in Decorah, Iowa, in 1947, before going to Luther Seminary in 1951, returning to Luther College in 1955 as an instructor in religion and philosophy (1955–1957). He then traveled to the University of Heidelberg in order to pursue his studies at the doctoral level. Mentored by Peter Brunner, Jenson studied Karl Barth’s doctrine of election and became acquainted with a young Privatdozent named Wolfhart Pannenberg. “My agreement with Pannenberg dates from then and is fundamental,” Jenson wrote in 2007.1 Another important collaboration began in Heidelberg, with Carl Braaten, with whom he would eventually publish an ecumenical journal and many edited volumes. Members of the jury for his doctoral examinations were the distinguished scholars Edmund Schlink, Gerhard von Rad, Hans von Campenhausen, and Günter Bornkamm.2 Thanks to Bornkamm, Jenson took part in a daylong seminar given by Martin Heidegger. Several years later he joined a study group with Hans-Georg Gadamer. Upon the completion of his doctoral degree in 1959, having successfully submitted his dissertation, which he had written in part in Basel, 1. Robert W. Jenson, “A Theological Autobiography, To Date,” Dialog 46, no. 1 (2007): 46–54, at 49. I rely in great part on this article for this biographical section. 2. Ibid., 49. 141 and which had received the stamp of approval from Barth himself, Jenson returned to the United States. His dissertation was published in 1963.3 From the early 1960s on, he taught at Luther College, where some of his colleagues sought to get rid of him because of what they took to be liberal views on historical-critical methods of exegesis and on evolution. He did not share their fear of such approaches. When it turned out Jenson would retain his position, several colleagues from the religion and biology departments resigned en bloc. After several years at the University of Oxford (1966–1968), where he discovered Anglicanism, Jenson began teaching at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In 1968, he became involved in the bilateral official dialogue between Lutherans and Episcopalians and then, a bit later, the dialogue between Lutherans and Roman Catholics (George Lindbeck was part of this, too). Twenty years later, in 1988, returning from a year at the Center for Ecumenical Studies in Strasbourg, Jenson continued his teaching career at St. Olaf College, in Northfield, Minnesota. He founded Pro Ecclesia, a theological journal with an ecumenical vision, and eventually began to work on his Systematic Theology, which appeared in two volumes, in 1997 and 1999.4 In 1998, after ten years at St. Olaf, he was about to retire from teaching when Wallace Alston, the director of the Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI) on the grounds of Princeton Theological Seminary, invited him to join the CTI. Jenson accepted and became “Senior Scholar of Research,” a position he kept for seven years, advising resident scholars at the Center. There is no doubt that Jenson has contributed (and continues to contribute!) to the trinitarian renewal of the past decades in the anglophone world. In what follows I seek to present and evaluate certain aspects of his thought that seem particularly decisive in his overall theology. Much more could be said of Jenson’s trinitarian theology; indeed, his entire theology is centered on God’s trinitarian life.5 3. Robert W. Jenson, Alpha and Omega: A Study in the Theology of Karl Barth (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1963). 4. Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology, vol. 1: The Triune God (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); vol. 2: The Works of God (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). Hereafter ST I and ST II. 5. I was unable to read Timo Tavast’s dissertation, titled Ajassa identifioituva Jumala: Robert W . Jensonin Triniteettioppi (“God who Identifies Godself in Time: Robert W. Jenson’s Trinitarian Doctrine,” University of Joensuu [Finland], 2006). But one may read, from the same author, “The Identification of the Triune God: Robert W. Jenson’s Approach to the Doctrine of the Trinity,” in Dialog: A Journal of Theology 51, no. 2 (2012): 155–63; and “Challenging the Modalism of the West: Jenson on the...


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