The End is Music

A Companion to Robert W. Jenson's Theology

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Chris E.W. Green
Cascade Companions
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Cascade Books
    , March
     2018.
     118 pages.
     $17.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781498290821.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Offering an introduction to a theologian’s work is a daunting task, marked by the difficulties related to the development of the subject’s thinking over time and by the struggles of fitting volumes of nuance into a handful of pages. Introducing Robert Jenson’s scholarship reflects these challenges in addition to those unique to his work. This is the task undertaken by Chris E.W. Green in The End is Music: A Companion to Robert W. Jenson’s Theology. Jenson, who died in 2017 after an illustrious academic career, was a Lutheran theologian whose theological encounters extended beyond those confessional boundaries to gain a broadly ecumenical audience. His work bore a specific shape that excited some and confounded others, making an introduction of this sort a promising text for a variety of theological scholars and students.

After a preface and introduction in which Green describes his history with Jenson’s work as well as his approach to the book, he establishes six foci that serve as centers of gravity for Jenson’s theological project: God, truth, creation, salvation, church, and kingdom. These categories aid the reader in navigating Jenson’s thought better equipped to grasp the significance of his work as a whole. 

Green’s explanations and descriptions are well-phrased. For example, he discusses Jenson’s theology by underscoring Trinitarian relations and christocentricity. God as Trinity makes possible the narrative structure of God’s own life, and through this, our own history becomes storied, moving toward its particular eschatological end. Furthermore, Christ stands as a radical paradox where “the enfleshed Word is not only God but also another than God,” opening God’s life to human participation (20).

Green explains Jenson’s account of God’s relationship to time and eternity, centered in the understanding of God’s being as event. God’s identity and God’s faithfulness are grounded in God’s involvement within time. Therefore, time and eternity have an analogous relationship. As Green writes, “God is not in time as we are; but Jenson wants to add that time is truly in God” (52). Drawing on Jenson’s conception of truth as speech (another time-full and dramatic category), Green states, “God speaks and by speaking awakens response-ability” (43). As creator, God’s speech takes shape as a conversation where God’s life turns toward creatures, effecting creation but also drawing it into this same conversation.

Green offers several helpful observations about Jenson’s relationship to the wider Christian tradition. Indeed, this is complicated: “[Jenson] aims to think along with that tradition, even while at points he finds it necessary to critique and rework aspects of it deeply” (28). Given the sometimes controversial nature of Jenson’s theology, Green must defend him against critics who argue that he does not maintain the distinction between Creator and creation. Green accomplishes this by pointing to Jenson’s emphasis on the incarnation, where the union of human and divine also highlights the difference between the two, such that “God is God in Christ. Creation is creation in Christ” (57). Green notes that Jenson, in his understanding of salvation as participatory and as theosis, follows the Finnish interpretation of Martin Luther. Similarly, sacraments are effectual and signify the reality of the kingdom promised by God. The church—as a culture of revolution—anticipates this reality when all of creation is invited to “sing their song in ever more glorious, ever more beautiful harmony with God’s own singing” (100).

Green’s introduction accomplishes its task admirably, offering a cohesive summary for those familiar with Jenson and a thumbnail sketch that can aid those less familiar as they read Jenson’s work for the first time. Unfortunately, the size of the volume makes it difficult to both summarize Jenson’s thought and give a historical account of its development. Green recognizes development in Jenson’s thinking (with Story and Promise marking the beginning of the “mature Jenson”), but there is nothing else discussed concerning Jenson’s life and its intersection with his work (especially the relationship of his theological work to his participation in several ecumenical endeavors). While this is not an unexpected observation for a book of this size, it does mean that new readers of Jenson will leave Green’s text with further questions of an introductory nature. Overall, Green’s text offers an appreciative yet critical introduction to the work of Robert Jenson that will help ensure that one of the 20th century’s most creative theologians will continue to speak to the church in the future.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Derek C. Hatch is Associate Professor of Christian Studies at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, TX.

Date of Review: 
February 15, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Chris E.W. Green is Professor of Theology at Southeastern University.

Keywords: 

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