In my recent re-reading of the works of Eberhard Jüngel I’ve noticed a far stronger connection that I saw before between his theology and the theology of Robert Jenson. While there are certain central differences between the two (most notably in their respective understandings of justification, the sacraments, and eccleisology), they are extremely close in their understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity, and in particular the relationship between Jesus and the Trinity.
For Jenson and Jüngel, Jesus is indispensable to a proper account of the immanent Trinity. For both of these theologians, Jesus is, in the strongest possible terms identical with the eternal Logos. Following Barth, particularly his development of the doctrine of God in CD II/2, they both argue that God’s being is constituted by his eternal self-determination, which includes his determination to be God for us in Jesus. Thus, for Jenson and Jüngel Jesus simply is the Logos. The eternal, communal event of decision whereby the triune God is God is identical with God’s determination to be God for us as Jesus. Therefore, since God is the act of his own decision – his being and act being one – Jesus himself is the presupposition of God’s own triune eternity.
The crucial difference I see between Jenson and Jüngel on the issue of Christology lies in their respective narrative orientations, so to speak. Both of them are thoroughgoingly historicist in their understanding of the Christ and the Trinity, however the narratival lens they utilize in drawing forth a proper understanding of Christ is slightly different. For Jüngel the central point is God’s unity with death and perishability in the crucifixion of Christ. It is God’s identity with the Crucified one that is the central point of Jüngel’s theological ontology, his doctrine of the Trinity, and his Christology. For Jenson, however it is Christ’s resurrection that had the most pronounced dogmatic significance. It is the event of Christ’s resurrection by the Father in the power of the Spirit that is the very event of the eternal triune being.
This is not to say that either theologian ignores the resurrection or the cross, but rather to note a fundamentally unique flavor to their respective theologies. For Jüngel what we behold in the transition between cross and resurrection is the “union of death and life in favor of life.” It is the taking of death up into the being of God, whereby God creatively involves himself with nothingness, bringing the no-thingness that is sin and death into the plenitude of divine life, thereby suffusing death with the eternal life that is the trinitarian communion of mutual otherness. For Jenson however, what we behold in the death and resurrection of Christ is not so much the taking up of death into life as it is the invasion of death by the inexhaustible power of life. Death is not so much brought up into God for Jenson. Rather the life of God apocalyptically invades, defeats, and overturns death. God does not so much absorb death as explode it through the resurrection of Christ.
Certainly the respective flavors of Jenson and Jüngel are probably not incompatible. Rather they serve to open up divergent vistas on the central mystery of the Christian faith that contribute to our appreciation of its panoramic beauty. All theologians seek to intellectually involve themselves in the process of moving from death to life, from cross to resurrection. Jenson and Jüngel offer two supremely helpful examples of precisely this transitional mode in which theology must be done.