Friday, September 05, 2008


Among the books I have been reading for intellectual and spiritual refreshment over the summer is Theology for Pilgrims, by Nicholas Lash (Darton, Longman and Todd, 2008), which collects together more stimulating essays from the former Norris Hulse Professor of Theology at the University of Cambridge. This includes perhaps the best response so far to the philosophical and forensic confusions of Richard Dawkins' thinking about God and religion, and many other gems. I will do a full appraisal at some point, but I am glad that Robin Ward has flagged up the book in a short review published this week in the Church Times.

He declares: "These essays intrigue, illuminate, and convince with their watchful, waspish eye for imprecise thinking and tendentious assumptions. Whether you are a curial cardinal, an atheist evolutionary biologist, or a complacently establishment dean, make sure you verify your references: if you don’t, be sure Professor Lash will." This is true, but there's also a warmth, humanity and thirst for hope here, and in all Lash's writing, which elevates the soul as well as challenging the intellect.

One of Nicholas Lash's major themes is that we fall at first base if we try to think about the reality of God in terms of some kind of "object" within or attached to the universe, something which many polemicists seeking to "prove" or "disprove" God simply take for granted. The transcendent God who grounds all being and becoming cannot meaningfully be conceived of as a member of a category of things called "gods", he explains. I have unpacked this in my paper What difference does God make today?, and more briefly in The God elusion and in Three ways to make sense of one God - which is partly in debt to Lash's earlier thinking about the fabric of historic Trinitarian formulations.

Theology for Pilgrims "exposes the crisis in our thinking about God which is at the root of our misunderstandings and mistakes about science and politics, ethics and economics, life and death" says the blurb on the back. It does just that. And it has some great stuff on Diderot, Foucault and Joseph Conrad.


Yewtree said...

Hi Simon, are you referring to ontological or epistemological transcendence, or both?

Simon Barrow said...

Both. We proceed by analogy, metaphor and lived commitment, not direct sight.