Nicholas Lash on various authorities

Nicholas Lash on media of theological authority

1. scripture

A “high” doctrine of scripture as the Word of God does not, cannot, make it easier to understand the biblical texts — and hence, to enable them effectively to be authoritative — than would be the case if they were “merely” the words of men. [64]

[cf. Robert W. Jenson here and here. It goes without saying that one’s doctrine of scripture will inform one’s approach to scriptural interpretation, but does it follow that talk of, say, inerrancy, adequately reflects the multi-dimensional character of our life with scripture? The actual authority we acknowledge scripture to exercise, I’d submit, is revealed less in what we have to say about scripture and more in the scope of our lives to which we hear scripture speaking.]

2. creeds

Any discussion of the “irreformability” of dogmatic statements should begin from a discussion of the “irreformability” of scripture. This elementary principle is, in practice, too often ignored. And yet it is unthinkable that a “higher” view of “irreformability” can be taken in respect of church doctrine than of the scriptures themselves. If, therefore, we feel that faithfulness to the New Testament does not demand a slavish, literal repetition of New Testament propositions (and that such faithfulness may, indeed, often demand that we say quite different things today in order to capture, in our very different historical and cultural context, the basic intention of the biblical teaching) then this must be equally true of creedal affirmations and dogmatic definitions. [66]

3. providence

just as a ‘high’ theology of scripture as the Word of God cannot make it easier to understand the biblical texts than would be the case if they were ‘merely’ the words of men, so also a ‘high’ theology of the providential governance of the church in history by the Spirit of truth cannot make it easier to know how contemporary beliefs and practices are faithful to the original message than would be the case if we had to do with a ‘merely human’ history. [65]

from Voices of Authority, (Sheed &Ward, 1976).

Readings on Divine Action (and more)

An account of divine action can speak to a variety of questions. The theologian with the gumption to begin thinking through them will need a sense for the lay of the land of multiple horizons of inquiry at once. Some questions are conceptual. (What sense does it make to predicate powers of agency, causation, and intentionality to an invisible and incorporeal personality?) Some are epistemological. (Is God’s activity perceivable only to faith?) Some are systematic. (What can doctrines like creation and providence teach about the aims of divine action? And vice versa.) Some are anthropological. (Does divine action enable or inhibit free human action? How can theologians like Thomas, Calvin, Molina, Suárez, Báñez, Arminius, and Process and Open theists help us here?) Some are moral. (If God is the author of natural and human history, how could God not be culpable for evil?) Some are religious. (Does God act in response to our prayers?) Some call for squaring with the latest scientific models of reality. (Is evolution compatible with providence? Are chaos theory or quantum mechanics the sort of explanatory apparatus we need in order to account for the “causal joint” between divine action and the natural order? Are miracles anomalies to natural laws?) Some questions are historiographical. (Is God’s agency in history a possible and proper principle of historical explanation? If God acts in history, what do we mean by history?) All the above should be enough to give an idea of the scope of the material a theologian needs to have at their command. Daunting indeed, but also, for my money, one of the discipline’s principal charms. So for those who share my interest in questions like these, the following works can help you enter the mystery.

To add a personal note, my greatest interests lean toward the conceptual and epistemological questions. When it comes to the anthropological, I think Aquinas, and heirs of his like Farrer, are our best guides on that front. Lastly, I’m not positive that theology’s engagement with the sciences on these matters isn’t in some fundamental ways an exercise in missing the point.

In each section works are listed chronologically. Links are provided to works available online. Feel welcome to offer suggestions to improve the list.

The Idea of Divine Action

  • G. Ernest Wright, (1952) God Who Acts
  • Frank Dilley, “Does the ‘God Who Acts’ Really Act”? Anglican Theological Review 47 (1965): 66-80.
  • Brian Hebblethwaite, “Providence and Divine Action.” Religious Studies 14/2 (1978): 223-236.
  • Owen C. Thomas, ed., (1983) God’s Activity in the World: The Contemporary Problem
  • Maurice Wiles, (1986) God’s Action in the World
  • Thomas Morris, ed., (1988) Divine and Human Action: Essays in the Metaphysics of Theism
  • Hebblethwaite and Henderson, eds., (1990) Divine Action: Studies Inspired by the Philosophical Theology of Austin Farrer
  • T. F. Tracy, ed., (1990) The God Who Acts: Philosophical and Theological Explorations
  • Matts Hansson, (1991) Understanding an Act of God
  • Vincent Brümmer, (1992) Speaking of a Personal God
  • Eberhard Jüngel, (1995) “The Revelation of the Hiddenness of God: A Contribution to the Protestant Understanding of the Hiddenness of Divine Action.” In Theological Essays II
  • Astley, Brown, and Loades, eds., (2004) God in Action
  • Evan Fales, (2009) Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles
  • Kevin Vanhoozer, (2010) Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship
  • Rowan Williams, (2011) “Divine Presence and Divine Action: Reflections in the Wake of Nicholas Lash.”
  • Frank Kirkpatrick, (2014) The Mystery and Agency of God: Divine Being and Action in the World
  • William Abraham, (2018–) Divine Agency and Divine Action, 3/4 vols.

Perceiving Divine Action

  • Select Patristic and Medieval treatments are collected in G. E. Thiessen, ed., (2004) Theological Aesthetics: A Reader
  • Brother Lawrence, (late 17th C) The Practice of the Presence of God
  • Rudolf Bultmann, (1934) “How does God Speak to Us through the Bible?” In Existence & Faith, 166-170.
  • John Bailie, (1962) The Sense of the Presence of God
  • Austin Farrer, (1968) “Infallibility and Historical Revelation.” In The Truth Seeking Heart, 81-93.
  • Emil Fackenheim, (1973) “Elijah and the Empiricists: The Possibility of Divine Presence.” In Encounters Between Judaism and Modern Philosophy: A Preface to Future Jewish Thought, 7-29.
  • Cornelius Ernst, (1979) “How to see an Angel.” In Multiple Echo: Explorations in Theology, 187-201.
  • Nicholas Lash, (1979) “These Things were Here and but the Beholder Wanting.” In Theology on Dover Beach, 150-163.
  • —. (1987) “Watchfulness.” In Seeing in the Dark, 21-26.
  • William Alston, (1991) Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience
  • Dallas Willard, (1999) Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God
  • N.K. Verbin, “Can Faith be Justified?” Faith and Philosophy 18/4 (2001): 501-522.
  • Ben Campbell Johnson, (2004) The God who Speaks: Learning the Language of God
  • Rowan Williams, (2005) “God.” In Fields of Faith: Theology and Religious Studies for the Twenty First Century, 75-89.
  • Roger Scruton, (2012) The Face of God
  • Gavrilyuk & Coakley, eds., (2014) The Spiritual Senses: Perceiving God in Western Christianity
  • Sameer Yadav, (2015) The Problem of Perception and the Experience of God

Providence (for a bibliography by Terry Wright)

  • G. C. Berkower, (1952) The Providence of God
  • Langdon Gilkey, “The Concept of Providence in Contemporary Theology.” The Journal of Religion 43/3 (1963): 171-192.
  • —. (1976) Reaping the Whirlwind: A Christian Interpretation of History
  • Timothy Gorringe, (1991) God’s Theatre: A Theology of Providence
  • Paul Helm, (1993) The Providence of God
  • Charles Wood, (2008) The Question of Providence
  • Murphy and Ziegler, eds., (2009) The Providence of God
  • John Webster, (2012) “Providence,” In Mapping Modern Theology, edited by McCormack and Kapic, 203-226.
  • Mark Elliott, (2015) Providence Perceived: Divine Action from a Human Point of View
  • Ron Highfield, (2015) The Faithful Creator: Affirming Creation and Providence in an Age of Anxiety
  • David Fergusson, (2018) The Providence of God; A Polyphonic Approach
  • Crisp and Sanders, eds., (2019) Divine Action and Providence: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics
  • Mark W. Elliott, (2020) Providence: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Account

Divine Action & Human Freedom, Responsibility, and Prayer

  • H. H. Farmer, (1963) The World and God: A Study of Prayer, Providence and Miracle in Christian Experience
  • Austin Farrer, (1967) Faith and Speculation
  • Peter Baelz, (1968) Prayer and Providence: A Background Study
  • John B. Cobb Jr., (1969) God and the World
  • Vernon White, (1985) The Fall of a Sparrow: A Concept of Special Divine Action
  • Kathryn Tanner, (1988) God and Creation in Christian Theology: Tyranny or Empowerment?
  • John Cobb Jr., (1995) Grace and Responsibility
  • McLain and Richardson, eds., (1999) Human and Divine AgencyAnglican, Catholic, and Lutheran Perspectives
  • Bernard Lonergan, (2000) Grace and Freedom: Operative Grace in the Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas
  • Terrance Tiessen, (2000) Providence and Prayer
  • Thomas Flint, (2006) Divine Providence: The Molinist Account
  • John Sanders, (2007) The God who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence
  • Vincent Brümmer, (2008) What Are We Doing When We Pray?, 2nd Ed
  • Terry Wright, (2009) Providence Made Flesh: Divine Presence as a Framework for a Theology of Providence
  • Herbert McCabe, (2010) God and Evil in the Theology of St Thomas Aquinas
  • Darren Kennedy, (2011) Providence and Personalism: Karl Barth in Conversation with Austin Farrer, John Macmurray and Vincent Brümmer
  • Jowers, ed., (2011) Four Views on Divine Providence

Divine Action & Science (and Miracles) (for a typology of leading options)

  • C. S. Lewis, (1960) Miracles
  • C. F. D. Moule, (1965) Miracles: Cambridge Studies in their Philosophy and History
  • John Polkinghorne, (1989) Science and Providence: God’s Interaction with the World
  • Christopher Mooney, (1996) Theology and Scientific Knowledge: Changing Models of God’s Presence in the World
  • Russell, Murphy and Peacock, eds., (1997) Chaos and Complexity: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, 2nd ed.
  • C. John Collins, (2000) The God of Miracles: An Exegetical Examination of God’s Action in the World
  • Russell, Clayton, Wegter-McNelly, and Polkinghorne, eds., (2002) Quantum Mechanics: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action
  • Nicholas Saunders, (2002) Divine Action and Modern Science
  • T. A. Smedes, (2004) Chaos, Complexity, and God: Divine Action and Scientism
  • Peters and Hallanger, eds., (2006) God’s Action in Nature’s World
  • J. Houston, (2007) Reported Miracles: A Critique of Hume
  • Keith Ward, (2007) Divine Action: Examining God’s Role in an Open and Emergent Universe
  • Philip Clayton, (2008) Adventures in the Spirit: God, World, Divine Action
  • Shults, Murphy and Russell, eds., (2009) Philosophy, Science and Divine Action
  • Denis Edwards, (2010) How God Acts: Creation, Redemption and Special Divine Action
  • Amos Yong, (2011) The Spirit of Creation: Modern Science and Divine Action in the Pentecostal-Charismatic Imagination
  • Craig Keener, (2011) Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts
  • Graham Twelftree, ed., (2011) The Cambridge Companion to Miracles
  • Michael Dodds, (2012) Unlocking Divine Action: Contemporary Science and Thomas Aquinas
  • Robert Larmer, (2013) The Legitimacy of Miracle
  • Louise Hickman, ed., (2014) Chance or Providence: Religious Perspectives on Divine Action

Divine Action & History 

  • Schubert Ogden, “What Sense Does It Make to Say, ‘God Acts in History’?” The Journal of Religion 43/1 (1963): 1-19.
  • Albert Outler. “Theodosius’ Horse: Reflections on the Predicament of the Church Historian,” Church History 34/3 (1965): 251-261.
  • C. T. McIntire, ed., (1977) God, History and Historians: An Anthology of Modern Christian Views of History
  • Henry Warner Bowden. “Ends and Means in Church History,” Church History 54/1 (1985): 74-88.
  • Hans Hillerbrand, “Church History as Vocation and Moral Discipline,” Church History 70/1 (2001): 1-18.
  • Steven Keillor, (2007) God’s Judgments: Interpreting History and the Christian Faith
  • Roland Deines, (2013) Acts of God in History: Studies Towards Recovering a Theological Historiography, edited by Ochs and Watts.
  • Samuel Adams, (2015) The Reality of God and Historical Method: Apocalyptic Theology in Conversation with N. T. Wright
  • G. M. Zbraschuk, (2015) The Purposes of God: Providence as Process-Historical Liberation
  • Jay Green, (2015) Christian Historiography: Five Rival Versions

Historiography (since Carr & Elton)

  • E. H. Carr, (1961) What is History?
  • Geoffrey Elton, (1967) The Practice of History
  • Hayden White, “The Historical Text as Literary Artifact,” Clio 3/3 (1974): 277-303.
  • David Carr, (1991) Time, Narrative and History
  • Keith Jenkins, (1995) On ‘What Is History?’: From Carr and Elton to Rorty and White
  • —. (2003) Re-thinking History, 3rd ed.
  • Elizabeth Clark, (2004) History, Theory, Text: Historians and the Linguistic Turn
  • Mark Day, (2008) The Philosophy of History: An Introduction
  • Joel B. Green, “Rethinking ‘History’ for Theological Interpretation,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 5/2 (2011): 159-74.
  • Frank Ankersmit, (2012), Meaning, Truth, and Reference in Historical Representation
  • Alun Munslow, (2013) A History of History

Nicholas Lash on providence

Nicholas Lash on discerning God’s agency in history

“Times have changed. The insurance policy on my house declares that ‘The company shall not be liable in respect of’ a number of things, including damage resulting from ‘the radioactive toxic explosive or other hazardous properties of any explosive nuclear assembly or nuclear component thereof,’ but makes no mention of ‘acts of God.’ Does it follow that if damage occurred to my house such that the least implausible explanation of it was that it was attributable to an act of God, the company would pay up? Or is it simply that the insurance company has taken the risk of assuming that no event could occur of which such was the least implausible explanation?”

from “These Things Were Here and but the Beholder Wanting,” Theology on Dover Beach, (Wipf & Stock, 2005), 150. [Originally SCM, 1979]

Robert Jenson on trusting God

Robert Jenson on trusting God

“All things are in God’s hand, all events are subject to his will. Therein is double offense. First, if all is in God’s hand, none of it is in ours, except as he takes our hand in his. … We do not want it to be that way; that we do not is what the Bible means by ‘sin.’ … The church praises God as almighty precisely to renounce such unbelief. Second, if all is in God’s hand, God’s hand is less comfortable than we would like. … If he is to be trusted, as the Decalogue demands, this trust is far riskier and its object far more mysterious than we want.”

Robert Jenson, A Large Catechism, 3rd Ed., (American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 2013), 17-18.