2011 Warfield Lecture 3: “Where God’s Sovereignty Is Definitively Expressed”

In his third Warfield lecture, David Kelsey turned to the question of divine sovereignty. His entryway into this question is the doxology of the Lord’s Prayer: “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever.” He briefly discussed the history of this doxology and noted that it was originally situated in the context of catechesis. Even though it is a late addition to the prayer, it serves, according to Kelsey, as an ancient creedal formula. It is as much a confession about God as a prayer to God.

However, we immediately confront a problem regarding the language of “kingdom.” For starters, it does not seem to parallel the other two terms, power and glory, because it is not intrinsically relational in nature. A kingdom seems to be a static entity or location, not an active relation to creatures. Furthermore, the term has sexist and oppressive connotations. An earthly king is understood to be someone who exercises absolute power over his subjects, which leads to many problems if ascribed to God by analogy. To deal with these problems, Kelsey reorders the doxology as glory, kingdom, and power. By placing glory first, he intends to define the identity of the one who exercises sovereign power. God’s power is understood in light of God’s kingdom, and both are understood in light of God’s intrinsic glory.

Kelsey then turned to address “where sovereignty is definitively expressed”—in what he calls “eschatological consummation.” In order to understand this term, we have to recall the three kinds of canonical biblical narratives that Kelsey takes from Claus Westermann. The first type of narrative is “liberative promises,” which refers to episodic accounts in which God acts to liberate the people from an oppressive situation. The exodus is obviously the paradigmatic instance of this. The second type is “creative blessing,” which refers to a “steady-state” blessing and sustaining of creaturely existence in itself. This is rooted in the creation narratives: “And God saw that it was good.” The third type is “eschatological consummation” or “eschatological blessing,” which is an additional blessing in excess of creative blessing that brings about the flourishing of the creature.

Eschatological blessing is “coeval” with creative blessing (narratively expressed in the establishment of the Sabbath on the seventh day), but it is not the latter’s logical ground or telos. It’s important for Kelsey that we give creative blessing a kind of independent significance; it has no necessary connection to salvific liberation or eschatological consummation. When creative blessing only exists as a presupposition for eschatological consummation, then it implies that we are not fully creatures until consummation. There is, therefore, an asymmetrical order between creative blessing and eschatological consummation. The latter presupposes the former. Eschatological blessing is an excess, a gift, a blessing-upon-blessing.

Finally, Kelsey made some remarks about why we necessarily “stammer” about God. He provided three basic reasons. First, because divine agency is radically unlike any form of creaturely agency, such that no analogy exists to adequately articulate God’s sovereign rule. God is able to be both immeasurably distant and immeasurably near to us at the same time in a way that we can never truly grasp. Second, the three kinds of canonical narratives noted earlier cannot be synthesized into a systematic unity. Each has its own concretely singular logic. Third and finally, we stammer due to the mysterious simultaneity and distinctiveness of providential care (creative blessing) and eschatological rule (consummation). These two forms of divine agency do not logically necessitate each other, and yet they are both simultaneously grounded in the glorious power of God. Both are aspects of God’s sovereign self-determination. They are consistent expressions of God’s own intrinsic glory.

Finally, in the Q&A following the lecture, it was asked whether Kelsey is an infralapsarian. He responded that he is a kind of supralapsarian. Eschatological blessing is not made necessary because of human sinfulness. It precedes the fall within the creation narrative, and thus such consummation would have occurred even had we not sinned. The incarnation of Christ would, in such a speculative possibility, also have taken place as part of God’s consummation of the creature. But because of the sin problem, such consummation also addresses the need for redemption.