Patient Authority and Enduring Novelty: Pragmatizing Robert W. Jenson on Time and Language

  • Joshua Daniel
Part of the New Approaches to Religion and Power book series (NARP)


One of the most paradigmatic functions of authority is to render judgment— not only to judge those who face it (whether these find themselves on authority’s bad side or need to appeal to authority’s good side), but perhaps more significantly to judge the direction of the future for those in its grip, thereby shaping their present and defining the point of their past. In this way, authority rests on judgment and time. In this essay, I approach authority by attending to time rather than judgment as the fundamental issue. I take it that, on a conventional understanding, this order is usually reversed: the purpose of authority is to provide security against the ravages of time. The point of judgment becomes the management of time, and authority legitimates itself to the extent that it controls time. I intend to articulate authority as a dynamic embedded within time, and so vulnerable to its vicissitudes. According to this articulation, the point of judgment is to evoke the unmanageable future, such that authority is legitimated only as its judgments become legitimated over time. Authority may accept this reality of timeliness, and so exercise itself patiently, or impatiently deny it and sputter around in its doomed attempt to master time.


Bodily Involvement Patient Authority Divine Love Paradigmatic Function True Religion 
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  1. 2.
    For a brief, ecclesiological account of time in Jenson’s theology, see Douglas Knight, “Jenson on Time”, in Trinity, Time, and Church: A Response to the Theology of Robert W. Jenson. ed. Colin Gunton (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 71–79.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology, Volume 1: The Triune God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 54–55.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Robert W. Jenson, The Triune Identity: God According to the Gospel (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2002), 4.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    For a brief introductory account, see Jenson’s “Does God Have Time?” in his Essays in Theology of Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995).Google Scholar
  5. 24.
    After completing this essay, I discovered an early discussion of authority by Jenson (Eric Gritsch and Robert W. Jenson, Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and Its Confessional Writings [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976] 7–8)Google Scholar
  6. 25.
    These reflections are meant to respond to the worry that my advocating for patient authority is similar to Martin Luther King Jr.’s critics telling him to be patient and wait for racial justice to happen in time. I hope it is clear that the patience I am advocating is for those in positions of authority, not for those contesting authority— in fact, as should become clear in the next section, the patience that I am advocating is for those in positions of authority precisely vis-a-vis those contesting authority. In this sense, on my account, King’s critics are exercising impatient authority, because they refuse to have discussions with King— again, discussions that take time — that render them vulnerable to change. See King, Why We Can’t Wait (Boston: Beacon Press, 2010/1963).Google Scholar
  7. 26.
    Robert Brandom, “Vocabularies of Pragmatism: Synthesizing Naturalism and Historicism”, in Perspectives on Pragmatism: Classical, Recent, and Contemporary (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 147.Google Scholar
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    Brandom, “Some Pragmatist Themes in Hegel’s Idealism”, in Tales of the Mighty Dead: Historical Essays in the Metaphysics of Intentionality (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 230–233.Google Scholar

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© Joshua Daniel and Rick Elgendy 2015

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  • Joshua Daniel

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