Theological Fragments: The gospel promise

“The location of the gospel under the rubric of ‘promise’ goes back at least to St. Paul, but the rubric’s fully systematic use is the work of Philip Melanchthon. All our discourse with one another, said Melanchthon, can be brought under one of two headings: it is either ‘law’ or ‘promise.’

“The possibility of accommodating the great variety of human discourse under one or the other of these headings depends on the insight that all actual discourse in some way opens the future. Whenever I address you, I somehow pose to you a future that might not otherwise have been yours… Noting this, we may then ask, How does any particular utterance open the future? It was Melanchthon’s insight that all our discourse can in this respect be brought under two rubrics: some utterances open the future in the way of ‘promise,’ and all others can be taken together as ‘law.’

“The gospel, by the insight of Melanchthon’s and his colleagues, is God’s promise and nobody’s law… Therefore, the gospel is itself an impeller and enabler of history. For, precisely, promises not only open a future to our vision but themselves enable that future; they contain and convey the future possibility they signify.”

–Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology Volume 1: The Triune God, 15-16

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