Miscellaneous Trinitarian Reflections from Nicholas Lash

  • Christianity’s First Doctrine (logically, not historically)

the doctrine of God’s Trinity is not some further teaching, additional to a teaching which would count as a ‘doctrine of God,’ but simply is the Christian doctrine of God, the Christian account of how the word ‘God’ is to be used.

from Easter In Ordinary (1988), 267, n21; cf. “the doctrine of the Trinity simply is the Christian doctrine of God,” from “Considering the Trinity,” Modern Theology 2, no. 3 (1986): 183.

  • Against Misproportioned Deployments of the Creeds’ Articles 

on the basis of experiential differences, now this, now that aspect of the mystery gets presented as the norm or centre of the whole. It is as if the history of Christianity were a struggle for supremacy between the three articles of its Creed; a struggle tempting the participants to polemicise into opposition mutually indispensable distinctions lying at the very heart of Christian (which is to say Trinitarian) apprehension of the mystery of God.

from Theology for Pilgrims (2008), 37.

Comment: I find this a suggestive gloss on the pendulum swings of theological history. I take Lash to be insinuating some of us are so over-determined theologically by apophaticism that our christologies and pneumatologies are underformed and underfunctioning; others of us are so over-determined by Christology that our patrologies and pneumatologies are comparatively anemic; and others of us are so over-determined by pneumatology that our patrologies and christologies are left idling. For a balanced, non-reactionary doctrine of God, theologians will need a sense of proportion so all three loci have room to make their needed contributions. Which is your temptation? Not only will the theologian need to be mindful of their theological scene’s excesses and deficiencies, but, so as not to over-correct, the theologian will also need to be mindful of their personal excesses and deficiencies.

  • where the Trinity went after theologians lost interest

According to Walter Kasper, ‘The history of modern thought’ is, at one level, ‘a history of the many attempts made to reconstruct the doctrine of the Trinity.’ ‘Admittedly,’ he goes on, ‘the credit for having kept alive the idea of the Trinity belongs less to theology than to philosophy.’ Now that is an interesting suggestion. It is, not surprisingly, German philosophy that Kasper has in mind. …

What, then, of the other side of the story? While the philosophers were attempting to revitalize, after their fashion, the elements of a doctrine which the theologians had discarded as a dead letter, what was it to which the theologians, for their part, devoted their attention? The answer, ironically, seems to be that those theologians who discarded the Christian doctrine of God selected for their subject-matter that most unchristian entity that came to be know as ‘the God of the philosophers.’

from “Considering the Trinity,” Modern Theology 2, no. 3 (1986): 184-5.

Andrew Purves on Christ’s vicarious humanity

a failure to give appropriate attention to the vicarious humanity of Jesus means that everything, the whole of the Christian faith, life and ministry are now cast back on us to do. At this last moment, it turns out, we are dependent on our faith, our worship, our obedience and so on, rather than on Jesus’ response for us. While our responses of course have their valid place, they are not the axis on which the gospel turns. Rather, Jesus is the axis on which the gospel turns. The resurrection of Jesus is the assurance that Jesus not only stood in for us while he lived, but that he stands in for us still, today and tommorrow and forever, offering  us—who we are and what we do—in himself to the Father. Our lives, our worship and our ministries, as well as our prayers, are given to the Father “through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

from The Resurrection of Ministry (IVP, 2007), 101.

The Difference the Ascension Makes

Two Takes

  1. Nicholas Lash

Luke’s account of the ascension can only be understood if we resist the modern tendency to carve up the paschal mystery into a series of separate ‘events’. The death and glorification of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit constitute one event, the salvation-event. …

What practical difference would it make to our understanding and living of the christian faith if the phrase ‘he ascended into heaven’ were deleted from the creed?

from “Acts,” in Luke, ed. Duncan Macpherson (London: Sheed and Ward, 1971), 115-6.

Though I could be making too much of this, in context I take Lash to be insinuating that it would make no difference. He’s got a worrying habit of collapsing the ascension and resurrection into the crucifixion.

  1. Andrew Purves

The recovery of Ascension Day as a holy day in its own right means the affirmation of the continuing life and ministry of the resurrected Jesus. I dare to suggest that the recovery of Ascension Day as a major Christian festival…could spark profound renewal in the life of a congregation, as it could in the ministry of a pastor. The reason should now be familiar: Jesus is a living, reigning and acting Lord.

from The Resurrection of Ministry (IVP, 2010), 60.

 

The Christology of Prayer

He is our mouth by which we speak to the Father; our eye by which we see the Father; our right hand by which we offer ourselves to the Father. Save by his intercession neither we nor any saints have any intercourse with God.

Ambrose, On Isaac or the Soul, 8.75

It is one Savior of His Body, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who both prays for us, and prays in us, and is prayed to by us. He prays for us, as our Priest; He prays in us, as our Head; He is prayed to by us, as our God. Let us therefore recognize in Him our words, and His words in us.

Augustine

Because He prays, we pray too. … We do this because we are partakers of His life: ‘Christ is our life;’ ‘No longer I, but Christ liveth in me.’ The life in Him and in us is identical, one and the same. His life in us is an ever-praying life. When it descends and takes possession of us, it does not lose its character; in us too it is the ever-praying life—a life that without ceasing asks and receives from God. And this not as if there were two separate currents of prayer rising upwards, one from Him, and one from His people. No, but the substantial life-union is also prayer-union: what He prays passes through us, what we pray passes through Him. He is the angel with the golden censer: ‘UNTO HIM there was given much incense,’ the secret of acceptable prayer, ‘that He should add it unto the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar.’ We live, we abide in Him, the Interceding One.

Andrew Murray

Let us not forget this—and Luther was right when he said it—it is Jesus Christ who prays, and we join in his intercession. It is he whom God hears, and his prayer is heard since the beginning of the world, from eternity to eternity.

Karl Barth, Prayer, 51

If he takes us with him in his prayer, if we are privileged to pray along with him, if he lets us accompany him on his way to God and teaches us to pray, then we are free from the agony of prayerlessness. … Only in Jesus Christ are we able to pray, and with him we also know that we shall be heard.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible, ch. 1

Prayer is God’s communion with God.

It is God who prays. Not just God who answers prayer but God who prays in us in the first place. In prayer we become the locus of the divine dialogue between Father and Son.

Herbert McCabe, God Still Matters, 217; and God Matters, 221

All Christian prayer is first the prayer of Jesus Christ, then the prayer of the community, and last of all our own individual prayer.

Deborah Hunsinger, Pray without Ceasing (2006), 15.

So, for the Christian, to pray—before all else—is to let Jesus’ prayer happen in you. … That, in a nutshell, is prayer—letting Jesus pray in you.

Rowan Williams, “Prayer” in Being Christian (2014), 62-3.

the real agent in all true worship is Jesus Christ. He is our great high priest and ascended Lord, the one true worshipper who unites us to himself by the Spirit in an act of memory and in a life of communion, as he lifts us up by word and sacrament into the very triune life of God.

James Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace (1996), 17.

Jesus Himself

What it’s about is Jesus Himself

Herbert McCabe

Jesus did not offer a new social theory, or a new religion, he did not offer even a full analysis of the contradictions of his society, he did not provide an ideal for a new kind of human community. He offered himself.

Austin Farrer

God does not give us explanations; we do not comprehend the world, and we are not going to. It is, and it remains for us, a confused mystery of bright and dark. God does not give us explanations; he gives up a Son.

Ephraim Radner

Jesus’s response to the sacrificial calling of the law is to present his own body: “Lo, I have come do to thy will,” something accomplished “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

David Yeago, unpublished notes

for Luther and other early Lutherans, it is not quite adequate to say that Christ lived, suffered and died long ago so that we might be saved now. It would be more precise to say that Christ lived, suffered, died, and rose again so that fellowship with him might be salvation. What he has done and suffered renders him the present saving person, or salvation in person.

Bruck McCormack, personal lecture notes

The theme of the Bible is not a doctrine but a person.

Telford Work

the bedrock of our tradition is not some mystical experience, archetypical figure, or compelling idea, but simply the apostles’ testimony to Jesus’ death and resurrection and the powerful outpouring of his Holy Spirit.

The body of Christ is the instrument God has chosen to rescue his reputation in the world.

Gregory Clark, The Nature of Confession (1996), 217

Worldview philosophy brings its practitioners out of fideism and naiveté, while Scripture points us to One who can bring us out of death, darkness, unbelief and falsity.

Deborah Hunsinger, Pray without Ceasing (2006), 51, quoting Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology (2004), xviii.

All ministry is Christ’s ministry, in which the church is privileged to participate. As Andrew Purves explains, “Pastoral theology is understood properly first of all as a theology of the care of God for us in, through, and as Jesus Christ. …Only secondarily, derivatively, and above all, participatively…is pastoral theology an account of the pastoral work of the church.”

On Conversation between Discourses

On the possibility of conversation between distinct discourses

  • Robert Jenson

Do I then say that “E=mc²” and “The Son proceeds from the Father” work just the same way? I do not think I do. But I do say that insofar as either “E=mc²” or “The Son proceeds from the Father” is true, insofar as either has any purchase on something other than itself, they depend for this purchase on their situation in one total human cognitive discourse, which has no clear internal epistemological boundaries. To put it from the side that will make the point most offensively plain: if science does not belong to the same discourse as does theology, then science is a play of fictions.

I do say that no subregion of human discourse can be a normative paradigm of any other, not because they are so discrete but because their mutual boundaries are so blessedly ill-defined.

from Essays in the Theology of Culture (Eerdmans, 1995), 223-224.

  • Stephen Mulhall (drawing on Rush Rhees)

the image of a conversation suggests an account of any given mode of human discourse in terms of its own dialogical unity — with the multiple bearings of each branch of that discourse on other branches giving substance to the thought that each individual branch gets a purchase on reality by showing how the purchase it offers hangs together with (that is, is fruitfully intelligible to, and can itself render fruitfully intelligible) the purchase offered by other branches. And the same kind of account can then be given of the relations between these modes of discourse: their various ways of interlocking with one another substantiate the claims of each to register some aspect of the reality of things.

from The Conversation of Humanity (Univ VA Pr., 2007), 38.