Skip to main content

Salvation is having the Lord himself (Song of Songs Commentary - Robert Jenson)

I'm really enjoying Robert Jenson's commentary on The Song of Songs in the Interpretation series as I read it for a second time. Jenson's approach is very different to contemporary approaches to The Song but that's it's greatest strength. He draws deeply on the church fathers, reformers and others, rooting his interpretation in the history of the church rather than the culture of our day.

His approach is simple and easily accessible in a series designed to equip preachers. He takes The Song passage by passage looking at the overt story, then the theological allegory, and then thirdly an application to marriage.

The Song is taken seriously as a text and the applications in revealing the gospel and to human relationships are outstanding. This on 1:2-4:
"Our poem's soteriology is thus that of the church fathers, especially those in the East - and indeed exposition of the Song was a favourite way for them to describe salvation. Israel does not here long for forgiveness of sin or rescue from disaster or for other gifts detachable from the Giver, as Western theology tends to conceive salvation, but simply for the Lord himself. Moreover, the longing is aesthetic rather than ethical; it is longing for the Lord's touch and kiss and fragrance, The Lord is simply lovable, and salvation is union with him, a union for which sexual union provides an analogy"
And then applied to marriage
"If bodily love can be an appointed image of union with God, then we may not suppose that love becomes purer or nobler by disembodiment. If there is such a thing as love that needs no touching, it is not this love that in the Song mirrors the love between Israel's God and his people, whatever may be true of the gods of the religions and the philosophers. During the recent sexual "revolution" those among the mass fornicators who still felt that their practices needed justification sometimes said, "It's only bodies, after all"...  precisely such opinion is the most precise self-manifestation of the evil that currently infests us.... The Song knows better: we were made for, and therefore need not only God but the created other, in whom the heart may find some est also penultimately to union with God."
You might not agree with everything in this book but you'll find it sane and engaging and enlivening as a way into a book that our forefathers have drawn on to enjoy the gospel but which is sadly neglected or mocked or missed today.

See also Ellen Davis' commentary - Who's being allegorical, eh?


  1. love that. I'm puzzled that we so naturally collapse critical engagement into purely moral terms - obvious case in point would be portrayals of sex. If it is an east/west thing then related theology would be how incarnation is related to salvation. If in west we tend to reduce incarnation to the minimum needed for salvation (ie moral rescue), perhaps in east they tend to see salvation as a raising...almost as if incarnation/deification is salvation. Difficult not to synchronise without feeling like you're selling out.

  2. Is union with Christ really an eastern as opposed to a western thing? If so, then the reformers (and indeed, much of reformed theology) are more eastern then western, which is odd - I mean, my geography is bad so maybe I'm not to be listened to on this one!

    Anyway, loved the quotage, and sounds like a great book. Guess I'll have to add it to the list!

  3. I doubt it is really that eastern - the reformers are certainly big on it (and Jenson shows that in the book) but perhaps it's very important in the east where it can be neglected in the west... ultimately a big focus on union with Christ is very Biblical... and so reaches as far as the east is from the west.

    You have to buy this for the sheer grossness of the cover. It exceeds the old let the nations be glad test for awful cover, great book.

  4. Yeah, the interpretation series are like that - much better with the dust jacket off I find.

    I guess that probably is the point - the west do sometimes neglect it whereas in the east it's a big deal. The answer, as you suggest, is to let the bible speak.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

"Big eyes full of wonder"

Books. Fiction. Libraries. Second only to churches as are the best gateways in your community to ultimate reality and new possibilities.

Our local library has just re-opened after refurbishment, and I love that our boys have spent several mornings there during the summer holidays, discovering some wonderful new stories.

I realised a few months back that I wasn't reading enough fiction. My work necessitates reading a lot of non-fiction, a mix of historical and contemporary thinking, biblical studies and theology. But fiction is the cinderella. Easily overlooked, and yet able to awaken my imagination and show me the way things are meant to be.

So I've picked up a few more lately - bought and borrowed. Not every book attempted flies, and that's ok. These have been winners though.

Ink. This is Alice Broadway's debut novel. It's young adult fiction and tells the story of Leora who lives in a world where the events of your life are tattooed on your skin. Nothing gets hid…

Uniquely Matthew

Reading gospel accounts in parallel is sometimes used to blur the differences in perspective between the evangelists, seeking to harmonise the texts and find a definitive historical account of what happened. No such thing exists because every account is biased and limited. You simply can't record everything. You have to hold a vantage point. And that's not a problem.

Matthew, Mark and Luke take a very different vantage point to John who was of course an eyewitness himself of the events. Comparing the text of Matthew, Mark and Luke across the death and resurrection of Jesus yields two steps.

Firstly, the common ground. All three accounts tell of...
Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross…. · Jesus labelled as King of the Jews…. · Criminals crucified with Jesus… · Darkness in the daytime… · Jesus' loud final cry… The women who witnessed Jesus death, and Jesus' burial… · The tomb lent to Jesus by Joseph of Arimithea… · The women who went to the tomb on the morning of the…

Songs we're singing in Church

Christians are a singing people, it's part of what we do when we gather.

Our church meets morning an evening on a Sunday - normally using 5 songs in each service. So, over the year that's about 520 song-slots available. The report from the database system we use ( tells us that in the past year we've sung about 150 different songs.

Our current most used song has been sung 11 times in the last year, just under once a month. Our top 10 are used about every 6 weeks. By #30 we're talking about songs used every two months. The tail is long and includes loads of classic hymns from across the centuries, plus other songs from the past 40 years, that we have used around once a term or less.

1. Rejoice - Dustin Kensrue

2. Come Praise & Glorify - Bob Kauflin

3. Man of Sorrows - Hillsong

4. Cornerstone - Hillsong

Rejoice was a song I didn't previously know, along with a couple of others that have quickly become firm favourites for me: Chri…