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Robert W. Jenson

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Robert W. Jenson is an American Lutheran systematic theologian and Professor Emeritus of Religion at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. Currently he is a professor of religion at the Center for Theological Inquiry at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Jenson attended Luther College and Luther Seminary. Between his years as a college student and a seminarian, he studied philosophy in Paris as a Fulbright scholar. At Luther Seminary Jenson was assistant to the famous Orthodox Lutheran theologian, Herman Preus. Preus infused with Jenson a strong belief in Orthodox Lutheran understanding of predestination. Against the majority of the staff at Luther Seminary at that time, who believed that God merely foreknew who would have faith and who not, Preus held that God had decreed the salvation of a definite number of the elect, without a decree of reprobation.

Later Jenson went to Heidelberg where he became familiar with the theology of Karl Barth, and, under the supervision of Peter Brunner, he wrote his doctoral dissertation on Barth's doctrine of election. Jenson then began teaching at Luther College, where he continued to study Barth and also became increasingly interested in the philosophy of Hegel. The staff of the Religion Department at Luther College grew impatient with his teaching and charged him with teaching heresy. They threatened to resign if Jenson was not fired, but the college's president supported Jenson, and several professors subsequently left the college.

Throughout this period he became increasingly interested in ecumenical theology, and in the 1980s and 1990s his theology moved in a progressively Catholic and ecumenical direction. With Braaten he founded the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. The Centre publishes the journal Pro Ecclesia, and it has produced several books on ecumenical theology.

Trinitarian theology

"Jenson argues that the phrase 'Father, Son, and Holy Spirit' is a proper name for the God whom Christians know in and through Jesus Christ. It is imperative, he argues, that God should have a proper name. Trinitarian discourse is Christianity's effort to identify God... Jenson points out that ancient Israel existed and thought within a polytheistic context, in which the term 'god' conveyed relatively little information. It was necessary to name and identify the god in question. A similar situation was confronted by the writers of the New Testament, who were obliged to identify the god at the heart of their faith, and distinguish this god from the many other gods worshiped and acknowledged in the region, especially Asia Minor. The doctrine of the Trinity thus identifies and names the Christian God - but identifies and names this God in a manner consistent with the biblical witness. It is not a name which we have chosen; it is a name which has been chosen for us, and which we are authorized to use. In this way, Jenson defends the priority of God's self-revelation against human constructions of concepts of divinity." [1]


  • Alpha and Omega: A Study in the Theology of Karl Barth (1963)
  • A Religion against Itself (1967)
  • God after God: The God of the Past and the God of the Future, Seen in the Work of Karl Barth (1969)
  • The Knowledge of Things Hoped For: The Sense of Theological Discourse (1969)
  • Visible Words: The Interpretation and Practice of Christian Sacraments (1978)
  • The Triune Identity: God According to the Gospel (1982)
  • Story and Promise: A Brief Theology of the Gospel about Jesus (1983)
  • America's Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards (1988)
  • Unbaptized God: The Basic Flaw in Ecumenical Theology (1992)
  • Essays in Theology of Culture (1995)
  • Systematic Theology: Volume 1: The Triune God (1997), paperback in 2001
  • Systematic Theology: Volume 2: The Works of God (1999), paperback in 2001
  • On Thinking the Human: Resolutions of Difficult Notions (2003)
  • Song of Songs (2005)
  • Conversations with Poppi about God: An Eight-Year-Old and Her Theologian Grandfather Trade Questions, with Solveig Lucia Gold (2006)
  • Ezekiel. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (2009)



  1. Alister McGrath, ed., The Christian Theology Reader, p. 231, emphasis in the original

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