Nicholas Lash on modesty

In the gigantic task of discovering how to live Christ and how to talk Christ in the world of today, the contribution of the theologian is necessarily a modest one.

from … until He comes: A Study in the Progress toward Christian Unity, Ed. Nicholas Lash, (Pflaum Press, 1968), ix.

The vitality and concrete ‘truthfulness’ of Christian speech and action is a precondition of the possibility of theology rather than (as seems often to be supposed) the other way around. And this should once again serve as a reminder to the academic theologian that, even if his role within the Christian community is indispensable, it is nevertheless an exceedingly modest one.

from Theology on Dover Beach, (Wipf&Stock, 2005), 22. [Originally D,L&T, 1979]

If Christian action and Christian confession is to exhibit the ‘sacramentality’ that I have ascribed to it; if the the church is, in fact, to be ‘the sacrament of intimate union with God, and of unity for the whole human race,’ then there is no field of human endeavor and human enquiry — be it domestic, artistic, literary, social, scientific, economic or political — which lies outside the scope of the Christian project. The contribution of the academic theologian to the common task may, indeed, be irreplaceable, but it is far more modest than many theologians (and others!) seem to suppose. […]

Theology has a part to play, perhaps even an indispensable part, in the clarification and resolution of such problems. But any theologian who loses sight of the modesty of this contribution, who supposes that clarification of the theological issues can of itself be a major factor in determining the course of events, has fallen victim to the kind of idealist academic hubris from which Christianity in modern times has already suffered quite sufficiently.

from Theology on the Way to Emmaus, (Wipf&Stock, 2005), 8, 19. [Originally SCM, 1986]

… lest you find Lash imbalanced… 

If the Christian community is really concerned with truth, rather than with reassurance, then it should demand of its academics that they be fearless in enquiry and quite uncompromisingly rigorous in their standards of exploration and argument. (It should also, I might add, be therefore tolerant of the technicality that is frequently inseparable from such rigor.)

from Theology on the Way to Emmaus, (Wipf&Stock, 2005), 7. [Originally SCM, 1986]

According to Marx, an illusory belief in the autonomy of theoretical discourse is the besetting sin of ‘bourgeois idealism.’ Of that sin, much contemporary English theology is still guilty. I hinted at this earlier when I criticized our tendency to proceed as if the relationship between scholarship and Christian living bore a family resemblance to the relationship between scientific research and its technological application. I should perhaps add that, in opting for a more ‘materialist’ account of the relationship between theory and practice, action and reflection, it is not at all my intention to encourage that pietistic anti-intellectualism which is sometimes offered as an alternative to a sterile and ultimately illusory rationalism. The supposition that, in religious matters, the primacy of the practical dispenses us form the ascesis of theoretical enquiry is often no more than evidence, either of mindless fanaticism or, in Professor Herbert Farmer’s phrase, of ‘that easy-going confidence in God’s goodness which always threatens Christian piety, especially when it is conjoined with economic comfort and privilege.’

from Theology on Dover Beach, (Wipf&Stock, 2005), 15. [Originally D,L&T, 1979]

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One thought on “A Theme in Nicholas Lash

  1. Pingback: In defense of an irony | Rumors of True Religion

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