Robert Jenson on the homiletic implications of justification

I

The Reformation doctrine of justification is not a new attempted description of a process of grace—and when it has been taken for such, sometimes also by would-be champions, the difference between the Reformation and the standard tradition has always promptly become obscure. The doctrine is rather an hermeneutical instruction to preachers, teachers, and confessors: so speak of Christ and of the life of your community that the justification for that life which your words open is the kind grasped by faith rather than the kind constituted in works. […]

The instruction is not to induce, or manipulate, conversion by our discourse; the hearer’s conversion is to be accomplished as the act of gospel-speaking itself. Conversion is a change in the communication situation within which every person lives; a proper sermon or baptism liturgy or penance liturgy just is that change. Using penance as the simplest paradigm, when the confessor says, “You have confessed cheating and coveting. Now I forgive all your sins, in Jesus’ name,” these words do not seek to stimulate conversion as an event external to their being said. Rather, this utterance is a conversion of the penitent’s life, from a situation in which the word he or she hears and must live by is “You are a cheat and a coveter,” to one in which the word he or she hears and must live by is “You are Jesus’ beloved.” […]

When someone speaks to me the promises made by Christ’s resurrection, that event is the event of God’s choice about me. […]

It is indeed the human Christ’s temporal address to us that is the event of God’s eternal choosing about us, as the Lutherans and Barth have said. But the eternity of this moment must be established not by the prefix “pre-” but the prefix “post-”: it is in that the man Christ will be the agent and center of the final community, that his will for us is the eternal determination of our lives. The Trinitarian dialectics can be the appropriate conceptual scheme of predestination only if the whole scheme—of Father, Son, and Spirit—is used and only if the Spirit’s metaphysical priority is affirmed. The speaking of the gospel is the event of predestination in that the gospel gives what it speaks about, but this eschatological efficacy of the gospel is the Spirit. We must parody Barth: the Holy Spirit is the choosing God.

From Christian Dogmatics, Vol. II., (Fortress, 1984), 130 134, 137, 138.

II

A faithful sermon … will not be a sermon about [for example] predestination; it will be a predestining sermon. One may even imagine a pastoral dialogue:

Seeker: Am I among the elect?

Pastor: Yes.

Seeker: How do you know?

Pastor: You are elect because in Jesus’ name I now promise that you are.

Seeker: But it’s plain that I am barren soil!

Pastor: When Christ comes sowing, all things are possible.

Seeker: When will that happen to me?

Pastor: I just told you. This is it.

From Canon and Creed, (WJK, 2010), 61.

 

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