Performing scripture: Nicholas Lash on the tasks of theology

NICHOLAS LASH, professor at Cambridge University, has been one of the most influential theologians in the English-speaking world for the past generation. His work has helped spur the renewal of confidence among orthodox theologians working in mainline academic settings” in the United Kingdom and the U.S. He has engaged philosophers as diverse as Marx and Wittgenstein and drawn on theologians across the spectrum, from Aquinas to liberationists. His own broad reach of interests is reflected in his remark that “to think as a Christian is to try to understand the stellar spaces, the arrangements of micro-organisms and DNA molecules, the history of Tibet, the operation of economic markets, toothache, King Lear, the CIA, and grandma’s cooking–or, as Aquinas put it, ‘all things’–in relation to that uttering, utterance and enactment of God which they express and represent. To act as a Christian is to work with, to alter or, if need be, to endure all things in conformity with that understanding.” A Roman Catholic, he likes to point out that the last Roman Catholic who held his chair at Cambridge (back in the 16th century) was beheaded.

You’ve written that “care with language” is the “first casualty of original sin.” Can you give some examples of poor word care?

Examples are easy: all laziness, carelessness, cliche. I have often quoted a remark that I heard Gerald O’Collins, the Australian Jesuit, make 40 years ago: “A theologian is someone who watches their language in the presence of God.” The church becomes an academy of word care to the extent that people learn that even the most academically demanding and technical theology has to be done, at least metaphorically, on one’s knees, with one’s shoes off.

One of your books is titled Believing Three Ways in One God. Doesn’t this approach to understanding the Trinity fall into what Theology 101 classes teach is the heresy of modalism?

If such classes do teach that, then the teachers should be shot…

Read it all.


Posted in * International News & Commentary, England / UK, Theology

3 comments on “Performing scripture: Nicholas Lash on the tasks of theology

  1. New Reformation Advocate says:

    This interview is certainly worth reading in full, even if you are unfamiliar with the theology of Professor Lash or modern theology in general. Keep in mind, however, that the interview appears in the liberal publication, The Christian Century, and the interviewer certainly reflects that bias.

    I particularly noted with appreciation how this Englishman who has taught at Cambridge University for many years calls England more of a “pagan” society than a “secular” one. That’s precisely my impression too, although I’ve never lived there. Dr. Lash’s remarks about Pope Benedict XVI are also provocative and illuminating.

    David Handy+

  2. Katherine says:

    “A theologian is someone who watches their language in the presence of God,” while not watching language, apparently. Either “his language” or “theologians are … people .. who watch their language.”

    This kind of sloppiness or hypersensitivity leads directly to my all-time least favorite term, “Godself.”

  3. AKMA says:

    Katherine, I tend toward grammatical conservatism and am no fan of “Godself,” but the use of “they”/”their” with singular antecedents is widely approved by linguists (and not for allegedly political reasons); try googling “singular ‘they'” and examine the state of the discussion.