Saturday, April 17, 2010

REVIEW: Song of Songs, On Thinking the Human (Robert Jenson)

DON'T JUST READ YOUR HEROES. That was a warning I was given nearly a decade ago at a UCCF conference. A warning to make sure I don't just drink from the same authors all the time and so have my self affirmed and never challenged, but to drink widely, to remain open to learn from all kinds of people. Less heroes, more humbled, more helped.

These days my reading time is limited - I'm more likely to be found building megabloks towers or playing chase round the dining room table than with a book in my hand - which is more edifying than many books.

Here's (the) two books I've really enjoyed reading this year. They're both by Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson. I value him for his rooting in church history, for his Trinitarian emphasis and his clarity that salvation is very much relational.
First is his commentary on The Song of Songs. Readers will know this is one of my favourite books of the Bible. Jenson roots his commentary in church fathers and reformers and gives a refreshing approach. He's honest where it's hard to confidently know what's going on. He's balanced when weighing up differing views. Each section is structured to consider the overt story, the spiritual reading (the Christ & the church reading) and the implications to marriage. This is sane and heart-warming and clearly applicable. I can see myself returning again and again to this book.
Second, at the recommendation of Mike Reeves, is Jenson's short book On Thinking The Humans. This is harder work than the commentary but is his attempt to think Biblically about death and love and various other subjects. That means he seeks to take his definitions from the Bible rather than our cultural assumptions about them - that's very clear in the material on love where he overturns the views of Anders Nygren (Agape and Eros) to show that God does desire. This book is more chewy and thought-provoking than anything else and the kind of book to read in small doses.
Jenson has written plenty of other books and I might investigate those in due course, but it's been good to drink from a different source over the last few months. I doubt very much I'd agree with a lot of his ideas, but we don't read people just because we'll agree with them.

There's some of Jenson's work online, such as his article How the world lost its story. Here's a taste:
“The story of the sermon and of the hymns and of the processions and of the sacramental acts and of the readings is to be God’s story, the story of the Bible... Because Jesus lives to triumph, there will be the real Community, with its real Banquet in its real City amid its real Splendor, as no penultimate community or banquet or city or splendor is really just and loving or tasty or civilized or golden. The church has to rehearse that sentence in all her assemblings, explicitly and in detail. Second, the church’s assemblies must again become occasions of seeing. We are told by Scripture that in the Kingdom this world’s dimness of sight will be replaced by, as the old theology said it, “beatific vision.” It is a right biblical insight that God first of all speaks and that our community with him and each other is first of all that we hear him and speak to him"


  1. Interesting.

    I've only listened to some lectures of his, but sadly I didn't like them!

    "Lutheran" should probably go in scare quotes too. Even he admits he's an inconsistent one.

  2. I'm not too fussed on the labels to be honest, some great stuff in his writing at least from the small sample I've read. Beyond that, who knows...