Scott Swain’s question in The God of the Gospel: Robert Jenson’s Trinitarian Theology is about “the relationship between God’s being and God’s self-determination between the Trinity and election, between God’s unfailing character and God’s unfolding covenant that reaches its climax in the gospel of Jesus Christ” (14). The question is posed pointedly by Barth, and answered in the proposals of Robert Jenson and Bruce McCormack, the latter two of whom are the foci of Swain’s study.

He doesn’t find either of these theologians’ answers satisfying because neither “adequately preserves the proper evangelical relation between God’s triune being and the events of the gospel.” Essentially, they do not preserve the distinction between the ontological and economic, which Swain thinks is necessary for to preserve the gratuity of grace: “If evangelical theology is to account for the pure gratuity of the relation between God and the divine acts of election, incarnation, and indwelling, God’s triune identity must be wholly actual, not just de facto but de jure , prior to the act wherein he gives himself for us and welcomes us into his trinitarian bliss. Any notion of divine self-realization seems to compromise the biblical portrait of divine self-giving in the covenant of grace” (232). An evangelical trinitarianism characterizes God’s “for us” not as an effort to “supply his wants” but “in order to communicate to others the abundance of his perfection” (232-3, quoting Thomas).

I’ve not read enough of Swain’s book to judge whether his critique of Jenson and McCorack holds, but I want to answer his conclusion with a couple of “Yes, buts.” One “but” comes from Van Til’s image of the “full bucket paradox.” God is full of all glory from all eternity, and yet God is glori fied in creation and redemption. To speak of glorification is to speak of an enhancement, but paradoxically the enhancement of a Someone who is already perfected. The other “but” comes from the suspicion that Swain’s argument regarding the gratuity of grace bears some analogies to the nouvelle theologie arguments about pure nature. I wonder if the trinitarian puzzles might be clarified by drawing out that analogy.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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