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Trinity and Temporality

One of the most provocative claims made by Robert Jenson’s Trinitarian theology is that temporality has its source in the eternal life of the Trinity. In his view God is temporality itself, containing the reality of history within God’s own life.  This is important to understand in light of God’s claim that the event of Jesus’ resurrection constituted the identity of God.  The reason that this does not endanger the freedom of God is because the whole reality of history is itself incorporate into the eternal life of temporal infinity which is the event of God’s being God.

This is important to understand in light of criticisms that Jenson subordinates the doctrine of God to eschatology.  What Jenson in fact does is seek to think temporality in light of the gospel of the resurrection.  Thus for Jenson past, present, and future find their reconciliation in the life of the Trinity.  Protology and Eschatology are united in God’s temporal infinity of love; it is the event of Jesus’ resurrection that is their tabernacle.  In him past and future are reconciled in the present.  “In the gospel’s usage, ‘God is’ means: ‘Origin and Fulfillment rhyme in the Event of Jesus death and resurrection, without there needing to be a higher timeless reality in which they are encompassed and relativized” (Story and Promise, 117).

Thus Jenson goes on to say: “We can sketch the plot that God is: he is Fulfiller, Creator and the Reconciler of both; he is Goal and Origin enacted together in the history of Jesus; he is God-Future, God-Past, and God-Present; to use the biblical names, he is Spirit, Father and Son.  In time, God-Future and God-Past confront each other in Jesus resurrection; and just this Confrontation is God” (Story and Promise, 117-118).

Thus for Jenson the doctrine of the Trinity “states the plot of the temporal event which is the reality of God.”  He claims that the gospel “uses the word ‘God’ for the event that what happened with Jesus gives our lives plot by reconciling past and future in the present” (Story and Promise, 117).  What is particularly interesting about this is the way in which Jenson unapologetically links the three persons of the Trinity with the temporal realities of past, present, and future. 

What are we to make of this?  Does such a scheme ultimately work or is it but a suggestive yet incoherent attempt to penetrate the mystery of God?  Ultimately I think that it does work though it may need to be described in different language than Jenson’s, particularly with reference to the issue of the personal reality of the three Trinitarian hypostases.  Understanding the temporal infinity of the Trinitarian God should never lead us to reduce the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit merely to poles within the structure of temporality.  Of course that is not Jenson’s intention, rather he draws attention to the fact that God is event as well as person.  What is crucial is that we be careful not to lose the coterminous reality of the personhood of the hypostases in our attempt to describe the actualism of their event of being the infinitely temporal God of Jesus’ cross and resurrection.


  1. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    I’m not sure I see the problem you’re trying to highlight here, Halden. For Jenson, isn’t God as temporal infinity constitutive of the personhood of the hypostases?

    Monday, June 16, 2008 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Yes indeed, but sometimes to simply identify the Father, Son, and Spirit with Past, Present, and Future seems to yeild a de-personalizing language.

    Monday, June 16, 2008 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  3. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this idea of God’s history something he picked up, or at least thought he did, from Barth, e.g., Alpha and Omega, pp. 74ff. Thanks for the post! I’m not versed enough in Jenson to know if he’s nuanced his take. Perhaps you could so enlighten?

    Monday, June 16, 2008 at 1:44 pm | Permalink
  4. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Although I haven’t yet completed Story and Promise it seems that Jenson certainly has a more nuanced approach in his two volume ST.

    Monday, June 16, 2008 at 1:55 pm | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    James, Jenson did indeed pick this up from Barth, though he believed that Barth had something of a protological undercurrent to his doctrine of God that kept him from embracing a fully eschatological understanding of God’s eternity as futurity. Jenson definitely sees himself as going beyond Barth in this.

    Ry, I agree. Jenson is more nuanced in his ST. However in some ways I like the radicality of his early books even better. Ultimately what I want is a way to maintain a very radical doctrine of God’s historicity which can be nuanced without being tamed.

    Monday, June 16, 2008 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  6. Chris Green wrote:

    I have a few questions.

    1. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that temporality has been in-god-ated or divinized because of and by the incarnation and bodily resurrection of God the Son, than to say that the Trinity is temporality or to speak of the “temporal event that is the reality of God.” Can’t we talk about God changing time by God’s kenotic openness in creation and incarnation, but in such a way that God isn’t entirely temporalized?

    2. If we’re going to talk about temporality as constitutive of divine identity, then aren’t we required to say that spatiality is, too?

    3. Would it make a positive difference if we said that Jesus’ incarnation and bodily resurrection constituted the specific identity of God the Son, not the identities of the Father and the Spirit? (Following as best I understand it Jenson’s own use of the term, “identity.”)

    Monday, June 16, 2008 at 9:14 pm | Permalink
  7. Dan Morehead wrote:

    Thanks for the post. My dissertation is dealing with some of these issues.

    Tuesday, June 17, 2008 at 2:48 pm | Permalink
  8. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    I just wanted to let you know that I’ve finally gotten to reading some early Jenson and I am absolutely loving it. Story and Promise is really solid.

    Tuesday, June 17, 2008 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

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