WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO THINK THAT?
We take Nicholas Lash, formerly Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University as our first exemplar of postmodern theology in the Anglo-American tradition. Lash makes several claims that may strike the (modern) reader as strange. For one, he criticizes accounts of religious experience that assume such experience, at least in its richest and purest forms, to be experience of God. In contrast, he says, "on the account that I shall offer, our experience of God is by no means necessarily 'religious' in character nor, from the fact that a particular type of experience is appropriately characterized as 'religious,' may it be inferred that it is, in any special or privileged sense, experience of God."1
What is it, then, to know God? The word "God" is descriptive and not a proper name, and to believe in God is to believe that "there is something or other which has divine attributes." The important question, then, is not whether God exists, but how to speak of God without becoming inane. All attempts to speak about God express the speakers' deepest convictions about the character and outcome of that transformative (creative and redemptive) process in which they and others are engaged.2 The outcome of this process will define what it is to be human. Thus, Lash says, "human persons are not what we initially, privately, and 'inwardly' are, but what we may (perhaps) together hope and struggle to become."3
So we are not persons yet, experience of God is not "religious" experience, and the question of God's existence is inappropriate. We have intentionally focused here on several of Lash's more surprising claims. To see why he would want to make them will require a narrative involving modern philosophy, its effects on modern theology, and a critique of that modern
1 Nicholas Lash, Theology on the Way to Emmaus (London: SCM Press, 1986), p. 143. Cf. Lash, Easter in Ordinary: Reflections on Human Experience and the Knowledge of God (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1988).
2 Lash, Theology on the Way to Emmaus, pp. 158-66. 3 Lash, Easter in Ordinary, p. 89.
way of thinking that Lash describes as not merely a mistaken philosophy but "a pathological deformation, a personal and cultural disease."4
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