A few years back, I met with a good friend over coffee to talk theology and just catch up on life. He was reading Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology at the time and had just finished Mclendon’s Systematic, shortly before that. He threw in some philosophy and Jonathan Edwards to the mix, and I felt ill prepared for this conversation. All I had read as far as Systematic Theology up until that point was Robert W. Jenson’s 2 part Systematic, a work that I loved and was rereading again at the time of our meet up.
Having little to say, I worked with what I knew and told him how Jenson was my favorite systematic theologian. (It’s easy to be one’s favorite Systematic theologian when they have only read your Systematic.) My friend didn’t have fond memories of Jenson, but I assured him his memories were faulty, and he needed to give Jenson another shot. To make a long story short he ended up giving Jenson another shot, we began a bit of a Jenson reading club, and now my friend is going to get his doctorate at Cambridge engaging with the works of Jenson! So basically I take all the credit for his hard work and awesome dissertation proposal as it is only fair that I do so.
One frustrating element of Jenson, and a reason his books have not made for a blog post of yet, is that he is a very technical read. Though he is one of my favorite theologians, I can hardly recommend his works to a congregant in the same way I might recommend NT Wright. My first read through of Jenson’s Systematic Theology was a chore, and I found myself more confused than enlightened. It took a while before I adjusted to his level of dialogue and his writing style. I always knew that even if I didn’t understand all that Jenson was saying, it was clearly profound; I wanted to understand.
My friend helped me immensely with understanding Jenson. As we read each text, we would Facetime in order to process the profundity together. We’ve now read nearly every book Jenson has authored, and my appreciation for Jenson has steadily grown through this process.
Recently while reading a collection of essays in response to the theology of Robert Jenson, my friend came across this quote
It would seem then that the conclusion to this essay should be that if one wishes to be a theologian, one must read the Bible and the Church Fathers. Yet now that we have Jenson’s Systematic Theology, that conclusion needs to be modified. If one wishes to be a theologian, one should also read Jenson
Trinity, Time and the Church: A Response to the Theology of Robert Jenson.p. 177 edited by Colin Gunton, Essay by Robert Louis Wilken; “Is Pentecost a Peer of Easter”
High praise to say the least!
This brings me to Theology in Outline; Can These Bones Live, a book compiled of lectures from a introductory theology course that Jenson taught at Princeton in the Spring of 2008. Adam Eitel used recordings from these lectures, polished them up into a single text, and published it with Jenson’s blessing. The result is a powerful, short text that proves to be approachable to all, without losing the sharp wit or profundity characteristic of Jenson. That makes me, the reader who loves sharing my books, very excited! Finally a Jenson text I can recommend to more than just my fellow theology nerds!
The text follows a fairly traditional trajectory of theological topics discussing Israel, Jesus and the Resurrection, The Triune God, Creation, The Image of God, Sin ,Salvation, and The Church. What is unique is that he does so in response to the question posed to Ezekiel “Son of man, can these bones live?”.
Eitel states it well in the introduction when he says about this work that;
A Theology in Outline is not a summary of Jenson’s renowned Systematic Theology. It is an exemplary instance of his teaching. It is an outline, then, in the precise sense that it is an itinerary for doing theology- A Theology in Outline- p. 3
That is what shines through in this text, that Jenson is a great teacher. He comes across personable, interesting, and at times amusingly self deprecating. In the Spring of 2008 while he was teaching this class, I was in Systematic Theology 2 reading the second volume of his Systematic. Not really a point to be made there, just an interesting factoid.
Jenson has always impressed me with his conviction that the Church is the people whom hear and speak the Gospel, the community of a message. That message is the Gospel; it is the good news that Jesus who had been crucified, is raised from the dead. This text, as do many of his texts, explicates on that fact and shows the awesome implications of this good news providing an answer to the ever pressing question: Can these bones live?
So as I do towards the end of many of my posts, I implore you to read this book!