Theology on the Way to Emmaus: Part 2

I hope that the remaining posts answer some of the questions from the comments on the first post on this book. As I read Lash I continue to be curious, but, as of yet, am not sure what I think about the project. Chapter two is entitled: “Theologies at the Service of a Common Tradition.” He sets the stage for the discussion by offering a brief look at several inadequate models of diversity:

  1. Classicism – The classicist assumes that there is just one culture, and that is not attained by the simple but those who study Latin and Greek authors. “Within this set-up the unity of faith is a matter of everyone subscribing to the correct formulae” (20).
  2. Liberalism – On the liberal assumptions, the life of church mirrors the life of the academic seminar. “In other words, the weakness of theological, as of political, liberalism lies in its neglect of the calculus of power and in the inadequacy of its analysis of the grounds and sources of conflict and contradiction” (22).
  3. The Unity of Mankind – This account seeks to put man’s common nature to work, which is unfortunately merely a biological reality that does not form the social (in any interesting way). “The ‘unity of mankind’, far from being a mere biological datum, remains a permanent task and responsibility” (23).

Lash pushes forward with a discussion concerning the “practical and political implications of the church’s vocation to sacramentality” (24). Sacraments, Lash claims, are to be legible. As a symbol, sacraments not only need to proclaim a reality but to proclaim it in a legible way. The church’s sacramental vocation, therefore, must become legible as an institution for the true unity of mankind noted above. Lash attempts to clarity:

Therefore, in speaking only ‘from’ some particular circumstances, places and times, the church does not succeed in speaking intelligibly or accessibly to those whose circumstance and experience, language and memory, are ‘other’ than those that it has made its own. And a church which employs a ‘language’ or symbol-stock that is, in fact, not appropriable as its own by other than a portion of the human race…can only be an impoverished sacrament of the unity of all mankind” (25).

The point, Lash continues, is not whether the gospel is agreeable to all mankind, but whether it is accessible. In light of this, Lash turns to the unity of faith within this unity of the church. The belief that there is one Lord and one faith does not undermine the unity sought for accessibility, but simply orients the unity around the singleness of God’s grace. In his words, “Central to the Christian perception of the mystery of God is the conviction that the story of all nature and all history is, ultimately, the story of a single process of divine self-bestowal, a single ‘economy’ of creation and salvation. The unity of saving faith is the unity of God’s single constitutive and transforming self-gift” (27). Interestingly, Lash invokes faith, hope and love as the solution. On his view, unity of faith does not mean, with the classicists, that all must subscribe to the correct forumulae. Instead, unity is found in unity of faith, unity of hope and unity of love. In discussing hope he claims, “Where unity in hope is absent, the quest for solidarity, for unity in life and love, degenerates into activism and pragmatism, and the quest for common faith degenerates into an intellectualist quest for formulae of concord” (28).

In closing this chapter, Lash briefly addresses the task of theology in light of his discussion. He suggests three basic forms theology has taken to develop the relationship between theology and the practie of faith. First, “faithful enquiry” (fides quaerens intellectum): “In these circumstances, so long as unity in faith was sustained in social practice – in a relatively homogeneous culture drawing upon a common stock of symbols – theological diversity and disagreement (often acute) posed no direct threat to unity in faith” (31). Second, the “enquiry” from above is dropped in favor of “defence,” “demonstration” and “proof.” “The theologian became a propagandist for church doctrines, and theological pluralism was perceived as a threat to the foundations of the single, well-ordered citadel” (31). Thirdly, “the task of theology increasingly became that of mediating between the practice of faith and the irreducibly diverse languages and social practices – in work, art, narrative and organization – in which human self-understanding finds primary expression” (31). The theologian therefore, in light of the mediating role, must mediate: 1) the past; 2) agreement for unity; 3) acceptance of diversity, and lastly; 4) a common tradition.

What do we think about this? He is obviously making some sweeping generalizations, but I don’t think that takes away from our ability to see his point. In evangelicalism, if I may so suggest, we have all three of these functioning right now, and this could possibly serve as a way to understand some of the shifts with emergent, traditional, etc.

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One thought on “Theology on the Way to Emmaus: Part 2

  1. Looks like religious populism: seeking wide appeal. And to achieve this, it says academics and liberals are no good; unity is found in embracing simple core concepts, like “Faith.”

    That indeed is where liberal churches, religions, are heading. But is it right?

    Are 1) all faiths for example, really the same, or good enough; and tending toward unity?

    And there is 2) another horrible problem with “faith”: “faith” means following something without good evidence. But should we follow something, without good evidence? If we do that, we will simply be gullible, easily mislead or fooled. And often follow things, people, that are false.

    So “faith” is not the answer; I suggest that a more critical science of God, is the answer. Not “blind faith” as it is called, after all.

    Aside from that, Lash makes some sense. Though I find his attack on academe and liberalism rather offensive.

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