‘God Is Not Nice’ lecture defies pop culture theology

Dr. Ulrich Lehner of the University of Notre Dame lectures about his latest book. Brittney Matthews | Multimedia Journalist

By Sarah Pinkerton | Staff Writer

The Thomistic Institute hosted Dr. Ulrich L. Lehner from the University of Notre Dame for a lecture entitled “God Is Not Nice” at 4 p.m. Thursday in the Alexander Reading Room.

The Thomistic Institute is a national organization that aims to bring Catholic intellectual thought to different schools around the country. The Baylor chapter hosts two speakers in the fall and two speakers in the spring each year.

With the subtitle, “Rejecting Pop Culture Theology and Discovering the God Worth Living For,” Lehner’s lecture discussed his point of view that “nice” is too empty of a term to describe God. An idea he also expressed in his book of the same name.

“It does not mean, and I don’t ever think that we should all be, obviously not after this lecture, angry, hostile preachers,” Lehner said. “The point is that niceness excludes truth, excludes profundity, excludes depth.”

Lehner believes that people utilize this word because they don’t know any better. He urged audience members to encounter the world and try to understand it for what it is, rather than imposing one’s own purpose on it.

He then went onto discuss emotivism and discouraged audience members from shaping God into what they want him to be, based on their emotions that day.

“Christianity is a beautifully realistic religion,” Lehner said. “It goes to the very core of our existence with a power to change us, but it’s not comfortable.”

This lecture brought an audience of wide variety. Undergraduate students, graduate students, professors and children attended and showed interest in the topic.

After the lecture concluded, Lehner took questions from the audience and sparked a theological discussion among both Baptist and Catholic audience members.

Waco sophomore Beth Butler said she found his specific discussion on God’s nature to be a “powerful experience.”

“I was truly intrigued by the posters [hung up on campus], especially the subheading of ‘Rejecting Pop Theology’ so I thought it was going to be addressing several different issues that are prevalent in the church or in the Christian communities right now,” Butler said. “But I thought it was such a powerful experience for him to really narrow in.”

“Letting ourselves be guided by God and being invited into the adventure of grace, and the first step to that is listening in silence and succumbing to the word of God,” Lehner said. “Like a child, we can try to see for the first time again the strangeness of holiness.”

Davisburg, Mich. doctoral candidate and chapter leader Benjamin Rusch worked alongside other chapter leaders to put on the event.

“[Dr. Lehner] is the kind of person who both has the scholarly acumen but also is used to presenting and is able to present what he has to share with, you might say, a popular audience or makes it more accessible,” Rusch said.

“The idea is to think about how it is that Christian life and Christian tradition can sort of inform the intellectual life and typical intellectual topics,” Rusch said.

While Lehner does not describe himself as a Thomist, the Thomistic Institute base their thought from St. Thomas Aquinas. With their national office in Washington, D.C., universities around the nation are able to charter their own chapter, which Baylor did.