Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Yes, theologians make things difficult

Today was the final day of an inter-disciplinary intensive at the UFT, Introduction to Theological Studies. One of the sessions involved the three of us teaching the unit (Sean Winter, Gerry O'Collins and me) speaking briefly about our own theological journeys. Among the things that came to mind when preparing my own contribution were some comments by my own Doktorvater, Nicholas Lash, in his book, Easter in Ordinary. They've stayed with me, perhaps unconsciously, ever since I read them over 20 years ago, but I'm grateful whenever they come back to the surface. I think I'll just let Lash speak for himself:

Theologians are often accused of making things difficult. But the theologian does not invent either the complexity and illegibility of our history or the pain and confusion of contemporary circumstance. I would go further: part of the theologian's responsibility is to help discipline the propensity of the pious imagination to simplify texts, demands and requirements that are resistant to any such simplification.

Serious theological reflection is always hard work, and its outcome fragmentary, tentative, and (often) quite technical in its quest for appropriate imaginative and conceptual accuracy, not because God is complicated, but because we are - and so is the world in which we live. It is not possible without complexity to indicate, or point the way toward, the deep simplicity of the mystery of God....
Serious theological reflection, in other words, is, and should be made to be, hard work.

To add just one comment which places these remarks in the context of Lash's wider work. Simplistic theology is often an indication of attempts to sum God up comprehensively, or to 'capture' God, or to speak of God in ways that are detached from the 'pain and confusion of contemporary circumstance'. And that, for Lash, would be nothing other than idolatry.
Nicholas Lash, Easter in Ordinary: Reflections on the Human Experience of the Knowledge of God (London: SCM, 1988), p. 290f. 

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