Doctrine as Grammatical Constraint: Nicholas Lash on the Trinity -- By: Allan R. Bevere
ATJ 23 (1991) p. 27
Doctrine as Grammatical Constraint:
Nicholas Lash on the Trinity
Mr. Bevere (M.A., M .Div. from ATS; Th.M. from Duke) is the associate minister at the Mentor United Methodist Church in Mentor, Ohio. He starts his Ph.D. studies at Durham University in England in the fall of 1991.
The work of Nicholas Lash, Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, has gained notoriety in recent years. The purpose of this essay is to analyze and critique Lash’s perspective on the doctrine of the Trinity. Delineating his views on this subject is important for three reasons: 1) Lash has become popular; 2) he is an ardent defender of the Trinity, a doctrine that has come under strong attack in modernity; and 3) Lash’s conviction that doctrine functions grammatically, not descriptively deserves careful attention. I hope to demonstrate that Lash’s views, right and wrong, better equip us to talk about the Christian doctrine of God.
Lash’s discussion of the Trinity takes place against the backdrop of modern theism. He believes that the paramount influence of modern theism has caused the doctrine of the Trinity to cease to function as the Christian frame of reference for talking about God.1
Lash notes that the term “theism” originated with Voltaire and denoted one who believed in a Supreme Being as the source of finite existence. It also referred to one who rejected revelation and the supernatural doctrines of Christianity. To put it simply, “theism” and “deism” were synonymous.2 It was not until years later that the terms became separated and theism lost its pejorative connotations in Christian doctrine. Originally, however, “the ‘God’ of modern theism was born of a deliberate decision to break with the Jewish and Christian traditions of authorized usage.”3
The consideration of God from a theistic approach quite often operates on the assumption that God is a person of some sort, and that there must be a consideration of what kind of person God might be.4 Lash quotes the British theist Richard Swinburne,
By a theist I understand a man who believes that there is a God. By a “God” he understands something like a “person without a body (i.e. spirit) who is eternal, free, able to do anything, knows everything, is perfectly good, is the proper object of human worship and obedience, the creator and sustainer of the universe. “ Many theists also hold further beliefs about God, and in these Christians, Jews, and Muslims differ among...
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