Systematic Theology: The Triune God by Robert W. Jenson
This is the first volume of Jenson’s 2 volume systematic theology. I started it a few months ago and then put it down and have had to restart today so I’m only a few pages in. Jenson begins by dismissing the notion of lengthy prolegomena that attempt to justify or enable the theological enterprise. He goes so far as to say that:
The most prolegomena to theology can appropriately do is provide readers an advance description of the enterprise. Even this cannot be a pre-theological beginning, for every attempt to say what sort of thing theology is implies material theological propositions, and so is false if the latter are false.
Jenson proceeds to define theology as contributions to the church’s “discourse about her individuating and carrying communal purpose”. The issue is now to define what is meant by “the church” and thus already in our very first prolegomenon we must deal with an issue of theological, and not merely pre-theological, import.
His definition of what he means by “the church” is captured in the following excerpts:
The purpose that constitutes and distinguishes the church and in service of which the church needs to think is maintenance of a particular message called “the gospel”.
“Church” and “gospel” therefore mutually determine each other.
While this seemed sensible to me when I first read it I’m beginning to think now that this equation of the message the church carries and the church itself ties the idea of “doctrine” a little too closely to the conception of the church. The church becomes that body which is the carrier of `correct doctrine’ and so the church is defined in terms interior to itself (the messages it proclaims) rather than in terms of some act of God exterior and antecedent to it (the Christ event which gave birth to the gospel, the sending of the Spirit, etc.) Of course the gospel is in a very real sense antecedent to the church but Jenson does seem to equate church and message a little too strongly. I haven’t made my mind up on this yet: I’ll have to think more on it. As Jenson himself says later, the proof of a system of theology is in its ability to act as a hermeneutic to the reading of scripture so it would be unwise to pronounce judgement before going back to scripture and seeing if it helps to make sense of the whole.