This study explores freedom: God’s as well as human.  But, insofar as its focus is on freedom, it is also an investigation of love.  One of the goals of what follows will be to show an indissoluble connection between freedom and love, and their mutual indispensability, while at the same time arguing for a fundamental distinction between them.  This exploration will have significant implications both for theological anthropology and especially for the doctrine of God.  Thus another, broader goal that this study has in view is to provide conceptually for a close and, above all, coherent integration of the two.

The investigation undertaken here will take the form of a close reading of, and critical engagement with, the thought of the German Lutheran theologian, Eberhard Jüngel (b. 1934).  Jüngel’s doctrine of God will constitute an important test case, both where the relation of divine freedom to love is concerned, and in regard to the anthropological effects that Jüngel attributes to God’s being.  Despite the impressive achievement that Jüngel’s doctrine of God, beyond all doubt, is – it will, in the end, be found wanting on both counts.  This conclusion will then enable this study constructively to address itself to the question of how one can maintain God’s freedom in the interest of divine spontaneity and creativity, while remaining committed to inter-subjective vulnerability which the cross of Jesus entails as an event of divine love.

To accomplish these critical and constructive goals, it is necessary, first, to situate Jüngel’s interest in freedom in its historical and intellectual context.  This is one of the purposes of this Introduction.  What this larger backdrop will, in turn, bring into sharp relief is the anthropological significance of divine freedom.  I wish to draw particular attention to this significance.  Finally, the Introduction will locate Jüngel’s views on freedom, both human and divine, within the coordinates of his larger project of articulating God’s speakability and thinkability in a milieu where God has ostensibly become unnecessary.



Freedoms: Human and Divine

More Than Human

Freedom was the Reformation’s first, pithy statement of what it perceived to be the truth of the gospel.  In 1520 Martin Luther published his famous pamphlet, The Freedom of a Christian, in which he offered a sustained elaboration of the concept and its relevance to Christian self-understanding and the conduct of the Christian life.  The following year Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s colleague on the faculty at Wittenberg University, declared, in what was to become the nascent reform movement’s first dogmatics, that “libertas est Christianismus [freedom is Christianity].”[1]  It was only gradually and for reasons political, as well as theological, that the enthusiastic affirmation of freedom yielded the spotlight to the doctrine, or rather doctrines, of justification.[2]  The latter, though no doubt hotly debated, did not have as wide a purchase on the minds of the non-theological public.  This, to be sure, significantly reduced the possibility of an over-enthused misunderstanding,[3] even though, as the tumultuous course of the 16th century showed, it did not eliminate it entirely.  However, it also unduly concealed the potential for freedom inherent in the proclamation of Christ crucified.

Eberhard Jüngel has been among those consciously seeking to retrieve a this-worldly relevance of the early Reformation’s rallying cry, without, however, sacrificing the precision and critical edge that the doctrine of justification gives to the concept of freedom.  Though the proper understanding of justification became again a topic of debate in the 20th century – with much of it focused on discerning the various strands of Reformation theology and ultimately aiming at ecumenical rapprochement – Jüngel has drawn attention more broadly to the significance of freedom.  “If contemporary theology has any central theme at all, it is Christian freedom,” he observes in his commentary on Luther’s Freiheitsschrift.[4]  On one level, this observation constitutes Jüngel’s explicit programmatic assertion that freedom remains an inalienable dimension of the gospel – one with continued, if not increased, relevance.  But as such it must be thought through theologically with all the rigor that such thinking demands.  Hence, on another level, Jüngel’s statement also expresses his critical theological assessment of the social, political and above all intellectual landscape of modernity.

Before we turn to the specific import of Jüngel’s statement, we must note several factors that have contributed, in Jüngel’s case, to his placement of freedom in the center of the theological enterprise, factors beyond the obvious centrality of freedom to the gospel (Galatians 5:1)[5] and its reception as a potent theological notion in the Reformation.  Theologies of liberation, so prominent on the theological scene in recent decades, definitely did not go unnoticed.  Jüngel himself remarks that an experience of South African townships in the apartheid era changed his initial skepticism toward political theologies, such as the project initiated by Jürgen Moltmann, Jüngel’s colleague at the University of Tübingen, and the Roman-Catholic theologian Johann Baptist Metz.  Still, in Jüngel’s case, his insistence that “the Christian is … commanded, to work against an unjust system, not only with thoughts and words but even with deeds” is accompanied by an equally strong concern, whose roots lie in the Reformation tensions, that Christianity must not be bound to a particular political course, let alone elevate revolution to a theological principle.  The political activity required of the church aims, above all else, to assist the cause of truth,” Jüngel observes.  He then goes on to warn that “in no instance should anyone be coerced theologically to take up violence.[6]

What Jüngel’s theological commitment to freedom means, considering his praise of political involvement and simultaneous refusal of politicization, can be clarified by placing his commitment in the context not of liberation theologies but of political and philosophical concerns native to the European scene.  Those very concerns actually underlie Jüngel’s later critical receptivity to political theologies.  The fact that Jüngel was born in Nazi Germany and spent his adolescence and adulthood, into his early 30s, in the former communist German Democratic Republic has played a formative role in leading him to explore the potential that theology offers for conceptualizing freedom.[7]  A political declaration of freedom does not necessarily bring freedom with itself, as Hitler’s rise to Reich’s chancellorship, followed by the liberation of the German people by the Red Army twelve years later, both showed in very different ways.  Yet, precisely because of the deceptiveness of politically fashioned freedom, Jüngel does not believe that freedom can be made separate from the socio-political realm, or that theology can remain politically uninvolved.  In this he follows in the footsteps of his mentor, Karl Barth, or, to be even more specific, the Barmen Declaration (1934).  There is no freedom without an impact on human beings as social and political creatures.  Freedom does not pertain merely to the individual, and even less so to some circumscribed aspect of an individual’s existence.  A freedom that one might claim to enjoy within one’s self is as illusory as the politically-decreed freedom that has led one, in the first place, to the creation of a private oasis of liberty within the self.  In this particular sense the peasants and nobles alike who responded with enthusiasm to Luther’s proclamation of freedom were right: freedom concerns the totus homo, the human person in every aspect of his or her existence, both individual and social.

But, Jüngel insists, it concerns more than merely the total person or this or that group brought together by common interest.  To see why and how that is the case, it is necessary, first, to consider freedom in its strictly anthropological dimension.  One need not even look as far as the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century to realize how easily freedom wrested from hostile and oppressive powers – whether political or ecclesiastical – degenerates into an even worse unfreedom.  It is enough to call attention to the various socio-political experiments that the Reformation’s call to freedom inspired: from the notorious, though rather marginal, Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster to Calvin’s influential reorganization of Geneva’s social and political life.  Yet something even subtler is involved here.  The Reformation, as some scholars have pointed out, left in its wake a regime of moral discipline and religious duties far stricter than what had come before – stricter because deprived of the cultic props and salvific motivation.  In place of one system of values, the Reformation installed another and naturalized it by rooting it not only in the will of God but in the immutable divine law reflected in nature.[8]  What the post-Reformation era shows is the remarkably easy ossification of freedom into new, often sinister legalisms.

With a sobering perspective on the 20th century, one would be rather naïve simply to blame the Reformation, as one could still do in the 19th century, for providing the originary, but, unfortunately, incomplete (Hegel) and even self-defeating (Marx) impulse for freedom.[9]  Rather, something altogether different is involved here.  For at the culmination of modernity, despite its claim to completing the Reformation’s unfinished project, there has, likewise, lain anything but freedom; and to hold the reformers culpable for this state of affairs would amount, at best, only to scapegoating propaganda.  If there should have been a failure on the part of Luther and his successors, it had rather to do with soft-pedaling the temporal implications of Luther’s bold, yet highly precise, notion of gospel freedom.  This move, precipitated by misinterpretations and oft-enslaving abuses of Luther’s call, served to make room for alternative articulations of freedom and, ironically, contributed to the enduring preeminence of freedom in modernity’s self-consciousness.  But the general notion of freedom that captured the minds of the moderns was one that, at bottom, differed quite drastically from what Luther had called for.  Freedom turned, first and foremost, into a human undertaking in a world of ossified structures – a task...  And it has never ceased to be one.  It has to be won, and the very moment it is won, it must be gained again.  It is a penultimate that never quite ushers in the ultimate.  In other words, it is not that the Reformation failed to produce a compelling and robust notion of freedom and, for this reason, is to blame for subsequent unfreedoms that modernity has had to do away with.  From the vantage point of the turn of the 21st century, it is rather the case that any anthropologically grounded freedom turns into its own opposite with uncanny ease.  Human freedoms, whether early or late modern, are all precariously elusive and, once gained, turn out to be inherently unstable and ambiguous.

Given this ease with which even hard-won freedoms morph into cumbersome legalisms, Jüngel is less interested in revolutionary contestation than in the ways every individual must daily undertake the task and negotiate his or her freedom in the face of the world’s impingement.  Two broad sets of strategies are involved here.  One either seeks freedom in variously conceived detachment, such as a retreat into one’s inner rationality; or one must exert one’s will over against the world and, instead of securing one’s self against the world, one must make the world secure for oneself.  Of particular importance for appreciating Jüngel’s critique and re-envisioning of freedom’s meaning is the fact that modernity makes a virtue of this precariousness of the human relation to the world.  Society incorporates into its structures, and harnesses for its own ends, the human impulse toward self-possession, self-actualization and self-determination.  It thus renders it even more compulsive and relentless.

It is against this backdrop of the modern obsession with self-determination and, what is largely only implicit in Jüngel’s critique, the elevation of this compulsion to socially expected norm in consumerist society that Jüngel retrieves the Reformation’s call to freedom as more than an anthropological reality.  Just as Luther accused Erasmus of turning people into “reckless workers” (temerarii operarii),[10] so also Jüngel holds modernity responsible not only for effectively reducing humans to the sum of their achievements but also for offering no respite from the incessant push toward achieving.  Modernity’s vaunted freedom conceals nothing but slavery, Jüngel holds.  We shall examine this claim in more detail in the course of this study.  What is important to note here is that, for Jüngel, the solution to freedom’s contradictions does not lie in worldly actuality, in trying even harder but rather in God’s act of unconditionally embracing and acknowledging humanity in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.  It is that event, Jüngel maintains, that has the capacity elementally to interrupt the continuity of human existence, and in doing so to distance one from oneself, and to open up entirely new possibilities for freedom amidst the compulsiveness of actuality.



Liberating God

From the more localized perspective of freedom, then, Jüngel’s project concerns thinking human freedom together with God’s justifying act, and thus thinking together God and humanity.  Jüngel’s larger concern, however, has to do with thinking and speaking God in a milieu where “God cannot be an intelligible theme for the person whose self is realized through activity.”[11]  What is this milieu?  Jüngel blames the metaphysical elements in the theological tradition of the West – its assertion of God’s “absoluteness and independence, his being over us as absolute causality, his infinity and his omnipotence, his immutability and his immortality”[12] – for the eventual impossibility of thinking God.  Modernity’s fetishization of self-possession is thus, for Jüngel, part of a larger trend of the exhaustion of the metaphysical concept of God, a trend to which Christian theology has contributed.

According to Jüngel it was Descartes who, without quite realizing the far-reaching theological implications, first made explicit the built-in self-destructiveness of the entire conception of God as the Absolute, that is, a being which is absolutely superior, to the exclusion of any imperfection or becoming, and absolutely simple.  Absolute simplicity was meant further to shore up God’s superiority: on the one hand, God is incapable of being affected by the world, and, on the other, because God’s existence belongs to God’s essence, God exists necessarily and, as such, affects all else.  Now, as long as human thought found its ground in the thinking of the divine intellect, the scholastic, merely rational distinction between God’s essence and God’s existence – made not only to prove but simply to think God – remained quite innocuous.  Things changed, however, when, in Descartes’ relieved declaration, Cogito ergo sum, human thought discovered its ground in itself and then unceremoniously proceeded to enlist God in the process of securing the world for itself.  The thinking ego thus “found its natural place between God’s essence and God’s existence.”[13]  What Descartes accidentally demonstrated was human mediation between the assertion of God’s absolute essence and the conclusion that God exists.  “God, when he is conceived of by me as God, must in terms of his essence be above me and with himself, only with himself.  But in terms of his existence, as this essence, God must be with me and only with me, because only through me can he be present,” Jüngel explains.[14]  This contradiction in effect dismantles the absolute being of God: if he highest essence over me has its existence in and through me, then the highest essence may not be high enough.  The declaration of God’s unknowability, in Kant’s philosophy, and ultimately God’s unthinkability, in the thought of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, were, ironically, last-ditch attempts to secure God’s divinity, his freedom from the confines of human conceptuality – but attempts whose practical upshot was no different from the atheistic pronouncement of God’s death.  In all, it may have been political fears that evacuated the doctrine of justification by grace through faith of its worldly liberating relevance and inadvertently made room for competing anthropological conceptions; but it was the trajectory of Western metaphysics that ultimately consigned the doctrine of a justifying God itself to the rubbish heap.

In order to be able to oppose modernity’s deceptive freedom, by thinking freedom together with God’s justifying act, one must reestablish the possibility of thinking God.  Jüngel’s recovery of this possibility, however, is not a resuscitation (were it even possible) of pre-Cartesian metaphysics.  Jüngel turns, instead, to Luther and St. Paul.  In their thought he finds resources that allow him to appropriate the cross as the locale of God’s self-revelation where God both subverts human conceptions of the divine and is known unambiguously as being pro nobis.  For Luther, one finds assurance of one’s salvation, and so a respite from the compulsion toward self-justifying works, at the cross, in Christ’s saving work on humanity’s behalf.  Jüngel radicalizes Luther’s insight by pointing out that the cross concerns not merely the revelation of God’s attitude to humanity; it is not just the place where God discloses something of God’s self.  Rather, the cross is the locale where God happens (ereignet sich) for humanity.  In this sense Jüngel may be considered to be a continuator – with the help of the early Christian kerygma and via the derailment of the metaphysical tradition – of the Reformation’s project of thinking God from the cross.

The cross, according to Jüngel, makes it impossible to think God’s essence and existence in separation from each other.  It opposes to the metaphysical death of God a death that concerns God’s very being and discloses that “the metaphysically postulated essence of God [is] a contradiction to the true deity of God.”[15]  In the event of the cross, God reveals God’s being as vigorously personal – as triune.  By identifying with the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, God comes to stand as Father over against the Crucified One, declared, in this identification, to be the Son; yet both, despite their separation, are brought together by the Spirit.  God’s triunity, revealed in the cross, is “the event of the unity of life and death for the sake of life,”[16] or, to put it more conventionally, the event of God’s being as love.  In love there is no distinction between essence and existence.[17]

The cross makes it possible to think and speak God again, insofar as the triune God is not tied to dead-ended conceptions of divine absoluteness.  Those, in any case, are little more than projections of perceived human deficiencies and desires and, as the story of modernity also illustrates, eventually become burdensome even for humanity.  Jüngel expresses this freedom of thinking God – but, crucially, also the freedom of God who is thus thought – with the adage that God is “more than necessary” in relation to the world.[18]  More than necessary does not mean unnecessary but rather that God is free to come to the world on God’s own terms, that is, terms given neither by the world nor by the divine essence, as if God simply could not help himself, but, instead, given solely by God’s free disposal over God’s being.  As more than necessary, God comes to the world closer than the world can come to itself.  In revealing God’s self, God can reveal the world to itself – both in the untruth of its pursuits and in the possibilities that God’s coming opens up for it.  In fact, the cross shows that God has already come to the world and in doing so unconditionally affirmed the world.  And it shows that God simply is in coming and by being so desires elementally to interrupt the continuity of human being with ever-new possibilities.  God desires to share God’s freedom with humanity.

We shall investigate all this in more detail in the following pages.  What concerns us here is that God, as God without absolutes, is neither a prisoner nor a jealous guardian of that which properly characterizes and belongs to God: freedom and love (the way the highest essence had to remain in all respects superior to everything else).  All the divine attributes are communicable, Jüngel insists.[19]  Yet their communication does not divinize humanity.  On the contrary, participating in the freedom of God makes humans more human.  It establishes their humanity in a manner that is beyond the reach of the spurious freedoms that humans try to wrest from the world.  This, in turn, enables humans, as already open to God, to open themselves to the world, even the world that impinges on their fragile being.  As the event of God’s freedom in action, the Trinity is “the sum of the gospel,”[20] because in God’s coming to the cross human freedom is also to be found.



The Objectives of This Study in Light of Jüngel’s Work

My principal goal in the pages that follow is to think, with Jüngel’s help, through the intimate connection of the doctrine of God and anthropology, and to do so from the perspective of both the doctrine of God and anthropology.  This larger goal contains within itself two objectives.  The first is investigative and has to do with critically analyzing the divine-human togetherness in Jüngel’s theology through the lens of freedom.  The second, constructive objective will be critically to ask whether Jüngel’s doctrine of God is able to support the anthropological effects that Jüngel ascribes to God’s being; and, in light of this study’s findings, to put forth a way of intertwining even more closely and seamlessly trinitarian and anthropological conceptualities.

The argument will unfold in four major moves.  First, I shall examine Jüngel’s critique of the modern notion of freedom as rooted in self-securing and self-possession.  In this inquiry I shall pay particular attention to the subject’s alleged autonomy.  Second, I shall analyze Jüngel’s account of divine freedom.  This analysis will show Jüngel’s construal to be ultimately dissonant in its two central emphases: the inalienable spontaneity and creativity of God’s being, on the one hand, and the inter-subjective character of God’s self-determination as a trinitarian event of love, on the other.  God’s subjectivity will be shown to border, as a result, on predominant self-relatedness, which Jüngel rejects as unfreedom in anthropological terms.  In its third move, the argument will then turn to the being of the person as elementally interrupted and so not only freed but brought into correspondence with God.  My focus here will be chiefly on the person’s two acts of existence.  Finally, I shall develop the ontological implications of the two existential acts of the free person.  With their help I shall offer a way of resolving the ambiguity present in Jüngel’s account of God’s self-determination.  This study’s central, constructive claim will be that in God there also are two acts of existence, grounded in two distinct manners of trinitarian relationality.  Next to what I call the logic of love, there is the logic of freedom.  Without sacrificing God’s originary creativity, it enables God to enter into a successful togetherness with the humanity God liberates and thus to determine God’s self in an inter-subjective manner as an event of love.

The Tübingen theologian and historian of dogma, Isaak Dorner (1809-1884), remarked quite perceptively that the Reformation managed successfully to integrate human freedom into the process of salvation, in the sense that the unconditional and personal relation of God-in-Christ to humanity establishes also the freedom of the person.  But, according to Dorner, the Reformation never succeeded in thinking beyond Christology to the doctrine of God’s triunity and likewise rethinking the latter from a personalist and ethical, rather than substantive, perspective.[21]  Jüngel’s trinitarian thought is a commanding and intellectually rigorous attempt at such a necessary reformulation.  In this regard, Jüngel, of course, follows the lead of Karl Barth, though, as we shall see, not uncritically and with a notable change of emphasis.  The contribution that this study seeks to make is very modest by any account, yet it should, nonetheless, be seen as part of this larger trajectory that seeks to think through the Reformation’s principal insights.

The work that contains Jüngel’s sustained engagement with the doctrine of God is his magnum opus, God as the Mystery of the World (1977), bearing the subtitle, On the Foundation of the Theology of the Crucified One in the Dispute between Theism and Atheism.  Besides Luther and Barth, it draws on a staggering host of critically appropriated influences and conversation partners, with Hegel, Heidegger, Rudolf Bultmann, Ernst Fuchs and Gerhard Ebeling being the chief among them.  This study will not investigate these influences, except where the argument demands it.[22]

Unlike Jüngel’s contribution to the doctrine of God, Jüngel’s engagement with anthropological themes has to be gleaned largely from a host of essays, as well as his monographs, Death: The Riddle and the Mystery (1971) and Justification: The Heart of the Christian Faith (1998).  This is not to suggest, as we have shown, that anthropology is a less important theme, whether for Jüngel himself or within the repertoire of the theologian, in general.  Jüngel insists that “[t]heology … is obligated to speak definitively about humanity”[23] – if for no other reason than that God has already done so in Jesus Christ.  Jüngel concludes God as the Mystery of the World by laying what he considers to be a “foundation for a theology which narrates the being of God as the mystery of the world.”  This foundation, he opines, has to do with the manner in which “human acts and modes of being … correspond to the divine self-movements.”  He then proceeds briefly to discuss faith, love and hope as such anthropological correspondences.[24]  What this study wishes to contribute in this regard is a precise account of the “divine self-movement” and the manner in which human being – as elementally interrupted by God’s act in Christ – responds with its own correspondences.



A Note on Jüngel Scholarship

John Webster’s Eberhard Jüngel: An Introduction to His Theology, first published in 1986, remains to this day the only comprehensive, book-length introduction to Jüngel’s thought.[25]  It is still a very valuable, though somewhat dated, survey of the major motifs of Jüngel’s oeuvre.  This said, it situates Jüngel in close – I believe too close – proximity to Barth.  One of the side objectives of this study will be to problematize the Jüngel–Barth relationship, while drawing attention to Jüngel’s conscious appropriation of, and copious indebtedness to, Luther, which Webster largely overlooks.

More specialized scholarship on Jüngel has focused chiefly on his doctrine of God, especially the formal, methodological assumptions underlying it.  Particularly valuable here is Paul DeHart’s monograph, Beyond the Necessary God (1999).  DeHart focuses on Jüngel’s engagement with the theological tradition, an engagement whose goal is to expose this tradition’s unexamined theistic assumptions.  DeHart carefully traces the way modern intellectual and cultural atheism – as a product of metaphysical theism’s collapse – forms the context in which Jüngel constructs a trinitarian conceptuality of the divine being as speakable and thinkable and thus seeks to recover the possibility, indeed the indispensability, of faith.  DeHart’s study is not, however, a direct engagement with Jüngel’s trinitarian theology; moreover, it, too, assumes that Jüngel’s entire project is little more than an interpretation of Barth’s trinitarianism.  Other studies in this broad category include critical evaluations of God’s subjectivity in terms of Jüngel’s reception of Hegel.[26]

Interpreters have also explored Jüngel’s understanding of religious language in general, and his concept of analogy more specifically.[27]  Roland Zimany has furnished an overview of the contemporary theological and philosophical influences on Jüngel’s thought.[28]  Both Mark Mattes[29] and Arnold Neufeldt-Fast[30] have signaled the importance of Heidegger for Jüngel’s thought.  Both agree that Heidegger provides Jüngel with a hermeneutical key by means of which Jüngel diagnoses modernity’s ills, comes to reject a causal view of God’s being, and proposes instead a non-foundational view of divine-human interconnection.  Mark Mattes has also situated Jüngel’s trinitarianism against the backdrop of contemporary trinitarian theologies of divine relationality, arguing, importantly, that Jüngel offers no convincing resolution to the incongruence of the subject paradigm and communal paradigm in his doctrine of God.

As far as anthropological themes are concerned, Neufeldt-Fast has offered an assessment of Jüngel’s christological thought in terms of the tension that the influences of Luther and Barth bring into it.  In another study, Mark Mattes has evaluated Jüngel’s understanding of justification as a critical appropriation of Luther and his successors’ doctrine.[31]  Several interpreters have noted that Jüngel’s understanding of justification undercuts human agency[32] but have not correlated this fact with any particular ambiguity in Jüngel’s construal of God as Trinity, as this study proposes to do.

None of these studies is devoted to a sustained exploration of the topic of freedom in Jüngel’s theology.  None, moreover, attempts to critique, let alone constructively to engage, Jüngel’s doctrine of God from the perspective of the anthropological effects that Jüngel attributes to it.  To say this is by no means to diminish their genealogical and critical contribution but rather to signal what sort of location the present study seeks to occupy.



Chapter Outline


This study’s argument will be developed in the four chapters that follow.  Chapter One will expound anthropological notions of freedom which Jüngel rejects.  Those, as we shall see, all involve securing oneself against what one perceives as the vulnerability of one’s own humanity and consist in a totalizing self-relation which dominates or crowds out one’s relations to others.  For Jüngel, both detachment from and control over the world not only involve one in a self-contradiction; they actually lead to the subjection of the ego to its own tyranny.  This captivity manifests itself in the relentless imperative to self-realization which never affords one any rest and effectively reduces the person to his or her own works.  The being of the person who exists in a totalizing self-relation thus becomes indeterminate, neither quite human nor yet divine.

In light of these conclusions, I shall then, in Chapter Two, investigate Jüngel’s construal of God’s freedom.  I shall argue that Jüngel aims at, and offers rich resources for, the conceptualization of God’s self-determination at the cross in a robustly inter-subjective manner that involves both God and humanity in what he calls “a successful togetherness.”[33]  However, despite the care with which he articulates God’s being as a cruciform event of love, Jüngel’s proposal is undercut, and that for three reasons.  First, Jüngel largely takes for granted the response of the beloved, that is, Jesus and, in Jesus, humanity, within the divine-human relationship.  This is all the more surprising considering that Jüngel emphasizes divine creativity as accompanying God’s identification with the crucified man.  Second, in his construal of freedom’s two moments: independence and determinateness, Jüngel does not discriminate between the inalienable spontaneity and creativity of God and the fact that love entails a reception of being also on the part of the lover.  The latter ends up overridden for the sake of the former.  Finally, Jüngel construes God cruciform determinateness as entirely anticipated within God’s immanent subjectivity.  Consequently, God appears to be a subject who merely determines God’s self in relation to the other and incorporates the other into God’s self-relatedness.  Not only is Jüngel’s doctrine of God dissonant, but as a subject God seems to mirror the types of self-related subjectivity that Jüngel identifies anthropologically as unfree.  Largely responsible for all this, I shall argue, is the fact that Jüngel considers freedom’s two constitutive moments (and by extension both divine freedom and love) to be rooted in a single underlying subjective structure: what I call the logic of love.

In order to suggest ways of clarifying the relation between freedom and love in God’s being, Chapter Three will turn again to anthropology.  My focus will be on the experience of the elemental interruption: its subjective manifestations and its ontological consequences.  Of particular significance for this investigation will be the elementally interrupted person’s existence in two acts of being.  In the first, passive act, the person is granted determinateness by being effectively removed from the self and so also inhabiting the possibilities that flow from God’s being.  Immersed in those, the person is able to experience anew, with acute insight, his or her own being and the being of the world.  In the second, active act, the person, as free from him- or herself, is able concretely to determine the person’s self for the sake of another.  The person, in sum, is both in being and in becoming.

Chapter Four constitutes the constructive portion of the argument.  On the basis of Jüngel’s assertion that divine freedom is an attribute that is communicable and actually communicated to the person in the event of elemental interruption, I shall propose that God’s being is inherently characterized by two subjective acts of existence: the logic of love and the logic of freedom.  Those exhibit different types of trinitarian self-relatedness.  I shall give a detailed account of the logic of freedom as reflective of God’s subjectivity a se and intimately connected, precisely in its distinctiveness, to God’s trinitarian, inter-subjective self-determination and self-disclosure in the event of the cross.  My contention will be that the two subjective structures introduce clarity into the doctrine of God, while at the same time doing justice to all of Jüngel’s concerns.  In particular, the logic of freedom enables the logic of love in the latter’s full potential for inter-subjectivity.  So much so that the lover becomes threatened by the possibility of non-being, should the beloved not reciprocate the lover’s love.

In addition to resolving ambiguities in the doctrine of the Trinity, this study will, as indicated, contribute to a deepened appreciation for human being in the world.  It will show the fundamental relevance of human works of love on behalf of those afflicted by oppressive social structures and doomed to a dehumanizing pursuit of self-possession.  Further, it will offer a precise analysis of the self in the two acts of existence and thus show that it is not merely the person’s acts that correspond to God but the person, as a subject and God’s partner, corresponds to God.  Finally, worldly actions of the person will be shown to be indispensable, not only from the world’s perspective but also from God’s in that through them God’s love is reciprocated and God’s being is returned to God.




[1] Philip Melanchthon, Loci communes theologici (1521); Melanchthon and Bucer, ed. Wilhelm Pauck (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969), 123; Corpus Reformatorum 21:195.  Cited by Jüngel, among other instances, in “Befreiende Freiheit – als Merkmal christlicher Existenz,” Anfänger: Herkunft und Zukunft christlicher Existenz (Stuttgart: Radius-Verlag, 2003), 14; and “Die Freiheit eines Christenmenschen: Freiheit als Summe des Christentums,” Michael Beintker et al. (eds.), Wege zum Einverständnis. Festschrift für Christoph Demke (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1997), 119.

[2] The primacy of freedom, as well as the plurality of understandings of justification that were put forth during the Reformation, has recently been emphasized by Volker Leppin, “Martin Luther, reconsidered for 2017,” Lutheran Quarterly 22:4 (Winter 2008), 373-386; see also Berndt Hamm and Michael Welker, Die Reformation: Potentiale der Freiheit (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008).

[3] Mark Edwards has provided an overview of representative misconstuals of Luther’s call to freedom.  In the early Reformation, Luther’s conception was frequently seen either as a rejection of man-made laws, political as well as ecclesiastical, in favor of obedience to God’s law, or, on the contrary, as an abandonment of all law-governed living.  The former interpretations, for all their social radicalism, failed to grasp the far-reaching character of what Luther meant by freedom; the latter, by contrast, deliberately blurred the soteriological specificity of Luther’s conception.  Neither quite appreciated Luther’s insistence that faith alone, rather than works of the law, is the determinant of the sinner’s justification and salvation; neither was, therefore, able to spell out Christian freedom’s precise worldly import.  See Mark U. Edwards, Jr., “The Reception of Luther’s Understanding of Freedom in the Early Modern Period: The Early Years,” Lutherjahrbuch 62 (1995), 104-120.

[4] FoC, 19.

[5] What will become the central, freedom-oriented themes of Jüngel’s theological anthropology figure prominently already in his 1961 doctoral dissertation which explores the relationship between Paul’s doctrine of divine justification of the ungodly and Jesus’ parabolic proclamation of the Kingdom of God, as preserved in the synoptic tradition.  See Paulus und Jesus: eine Untersuchung zur Präzisierung der Frage nach dem Ursprung der Christologie (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1962), esp. 62-66.

[6] “Toward the Heart of the Matter,” Christian Century 108:7 (February 27, 1991), 229-230.

[7] Jüngel’s own reflections on his upbringing in a non-theological home, his subsequent turn to theology, and theological development can be found in a booklet-length interview he gave to the Italian theologian, Fulvio Ferrario: Die Leidenschaft Gott zu denken: Ein Gespräch über Denk- und Lebenserfahrungen (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 2009).  A shorter, and older, autobiographical account can be found in “Toward the Heart of the Matter,” 228-233.  Derek Nelson has written a concise introduction, offering both biographical information and an overview of major theological themes; see his “The Indicative of Grace and the Imperative of Freedom: An Invitation to the Theology of Eberhard Jüngel,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 44:2 (Summer 2005), 164-180.

[8] Cf. Euan Cameron, The European Reformation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 389-416; and Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation (New York: Viking Penguin, 2004), 531-683.

[9] Hegel saw in the philosophy of the French Enlightenment a completion of “the Reformation that Luther began” (G. W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, vol. 3: Medieval and Modern Philosophy, trans. E. S. Haldane [Lincoln, NE: Bison, 1995], 398).  Marx’s evaluation of Luther’s Reformation was far less positive: “Luther, to be sure, overcame servitude based on devotion, but by replacing it with servitude based on conviction” (Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, trans. Joseph O’Malley [Cambridge: University Press, 1972], 138).  Both are cited by Jüngel in “Die Freiheit eines Christenmenschen: Freiheit als Summe des Christentums,” 120.

[10] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (1525), LW 33:34-35; WA 18:613.

[11] FoC, 81.

[12] Mystery, 184; GGW 249.

[13] Mystery, 109; GGW 143.

[14] Mystery, 125-26; GGW 166.

[15] Mystery, 203; GGW 276.

[16] Mystery, 317; GGW 434.

[17] Jüngel does not reject divine simplicity per se but only the notion of absolute simplicity, which makes God into a being both necessary and incapable of interaction with the world.  Cf. Paul J. DeHart, Beyond the Necessary God: Trinitarian Faith and Philosophy in the Thought of Eberhard Jüngel [AAR Reflection and Theory in the Study of Religion] (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1999), 66, 127, 160-61.

[18] Mystery, 24; GGW 30, et passim.

[19] E.g., “Der Geist der Hoffnung und des Trostes,” TE V, 317 [Thesis 4.752].

[20] Cf. “Das Verhältnis von »ökonomischer« und »immanenter« Trinität,” TE II, 269.

[21] Isaak Dorner, Divine Immutability: A Critical Reconsideration, trans. Robert P. Williams and Claude Welch (1856-58; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1994), 99-100, and 132ff.

[22] For a brief overview, see DeHart, Beyond the Necessary God, 5-8.

[23] FoC, 45.

[24] Mystery, 390ff; GGW 535ff.

[25] (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

[26] Much of the German scholarship on Jüngel, as well as some of that produced in Anglo-Saxon circles, touches on this dimension of Jüngel’s thought.  This scholarship will be discussed in Chapter Two.

[27] Joseph Palakeel, The Use of Analogy in Theological Discourse: An Investigation in Ecumenical Perspective (Rome: Gregorian University, 1995).

[28] Roland D. Zimany, Vehicle for God: The Metaphorical Theology of Eberhard Jüngel (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1994).

[29] Mark C. Mattes, Toward Divine Relationality: Eberhard Jüngel’s New Trinitarian, Postmetaphysical Approach (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Chicago, 1995).

[30] Arnold V. Neufeldt-Fast, Eberhard Jüngel’s Theological Anthropology in Light of His Christology (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, 1996).

[31] Mark C. Mattes, The Role of Justification in Contemporary Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004).

[32] Zimany, Neufeldt-Fast; as well as John Webster, “Justification, Analogy and Action: Passivity and Activity in Jüngel’s Anthropology,” (ed.), The Possibilities of Theology: Studies in the Theology of Eberhard Jüngel in his Sixtieth Year (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994).

[33] “Ganzheitsbegriffe – in theologischer Perspective,” TE V, 51.