A Reader’s Guide to Nicholas Lash
Lash’s 5 Best Books (in my judgment)
- Easter in Ordinary: Reflections on Human Experience and the Knowledge of God (1986). Lash’s magnum opus. If you have no intention to read widely in Lash, and just want to jump straight into the deep end, read chapters 15 and 16 of this book.
- The Beginning and the End of ‘Religion’ (1996). From this book the key essay is “Reality, Wisdom, and Delight.”
- Holiness, Speech, Silence: Reflections on the Question of God (2004). If you’re brand new to Lash, this is the best place to start. Will cultivate a Trinitarian imagination.
- Believing Three Ways in One God: A Reading of the Apostles’ Creed (1992). Probably one of Lash’s two most widely read works.
- Theology for Pilgrims (2008). Lash’s last book. I’ll highlight “Amongst Strangers and Friends” and “Conversation in Context” as the two essays most illustrative of Lash’s late theology.
Lash’s Second Tier Works (not trying to diminish these titles, just underscoring the strengths of the five above)
- Theology on Dover Beach (1979). From this book don’t miss the title essay, Lash’s inaugural essay as a chaired professor of divinity at Cambridge; it’s programmatic for much of his corpus. I’d also highlight what I consider Lash’s single most beautiful essay, “These Things Were Here and but the Beholder Wanting.”
- Theology on the Way to Emmaus (1986). Probably the work Lash is best known for. I’ll highlight “Criticism or Construction?” and “Ideology, Metaphor and Analogy” as the two essays typically treated as most indicative of Lash’s theology from this work.
- Voices of Authority (1976).
- Seeing in the Dark: University Sermons (2005). I’d highlight the sermon “Enquiry and Attentiveness.”
- Change in Focus: A Study of Doctrinal Change and Continuity (1973).
Lash’s Specialist Studies
- A Matter of Hope: A Theologian’s Reflections on the Thought of Karl Marx (1981). I think of this work as the most Lashian, meaning it’s the clearest display of Lash’s methodological sensibilities actually put into practice. This is how theology would proceed were it aiming to follow in Lash’s wake. Close readings, wide-ranging, attentive to fine details and subtle distinctions, focus not limited to explicitly theological topics or interlocutors, not afraid to meander. Obviously the product of a nimble, judicious, and unhurried mind.
- Newman on Development: The Search for an Explanation in History (1975). Lash’s dissertation.
- His Presence in the World: A Study of Eucharistic Worship and Theology (1968). His first book.
additional essays not collected in books, yet not to be missed
- “Up and Down in Christology.” In New Studies in Theology, Vol I, eds. S. W. Sykes and J. D. Holmes, 31-46. London: Duckworth, 1980. Quite possibly Lash’s single most brilliant essay. The amount of ground so deftly covered showcases a theologian in command of his considerable abilities.
- “Considering the Trinity.” Modern Theology 2, no. 3 (1986): 183-96.
- “Ministry of the Word or Comedy and Philology.” New Blackfriars 68, no. 810 (1987): 472-483.
- “The Difficulty of Making Sense.” New Blackfriars 70, no. 824 (1989): 74-84.
- “Friday, Saturday, Sunday.” New Blackfriars 71, no. 836 (1990): 109-119.
- “Not Exactly Politics or Power?” Modern Theology 8, no. 4 (1992): 353-64.
- “Remembering our Future.” The Month 261, no. 1597 (2001): 4-14.
Shout out to the early Lash
I’d highlight three essays as particularly incipient statements of much of what was to come.
- “Servants of the Word.” The Way 7, no. 3 (1967): 190-198.
- “The Liturgy: Language of Belief.” The Furrow 19, no. 5 (1968): 256-265.
- “The God of Man’s Future.” Irish Theological Quarterly 36, no. 1 (1969): 3-20.
Lash in 60 Seconds
If you didn’t see yourself ever getting around to reading some Lash for yourself, and you asked me to boil him down to a single passage, I’d first try to get you to reconsider, but then I’d probably begrudgingly point you here:
Of the many different ways in which theology has been distinguished from philosophy, I know none more fruitful than that proposed, more than nine hundred years ago, by Anselm of Canterbury. Philosophical discourse is soliloquy; in philosophical reflection, the only voice heard is that of the philosopher. The theologian, in contrast, is trying to say something sensible in the presence of God. Theological discourse is rooted in worship, in address to God. It is, says Anselm, not ‘soliloquy’ but ‘allocution’. The theologian’s speech is, therefore, uttered in response to the prior utterance of God’s eternal Word. But it can only be so, and remain so, on condition that the theologian stays attentive to the stillness of God’s speech. As Elijah learned, listening to the still small voice on Horeb; as Arjuna discovered from a conversation whispered against the battle’s tumult: God does not shout. Sometimes, as in Gethsemane, the stillness of God’s speaking seems unbearable. God’s utterance is everlasting but he does not shout and, if we shout, we shall neither hear each other nor the mystery which calls us and commands the way we are to go.
from The Beginning and the End of ‘Religion’, (5-6).
My Favorite Passage
While this is liable to change depending on the day, because there’s a wealth of options, I’d point to the following lines also from The Beginning and the End of ‘Religion’ as my personal favorites:
if we could learn again to live and think and pray and make connections according to the pattern and the ‘rhythm’ of God’s Trinity, then we might discover that we no longer needed anxiously to set aside some special sector of our lives, to the exclusion of the others, as the place where we would hope to find the face of God. (174)