Dear Pastor Friends and Other Christians Who Like to Think – You Should Read David Bentley Hart

David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox theologian and philosopher.  His book The Beauty of the Infinite was one of the most difficult, and rewarding, books I have read.  I highly recommend his other works as well.

If you are going to start reading Hart, the best book to pick up might be his collection of essays titled, Provocations and Laments.  Like any collection of essays, it is a bit uneven.  The essay, “Christ and Nothing” begins the book and also serves as a great overview of The Beauty of the Infinite.  After reading that essay, I felt that I got some points in the book better then I had when I first read it.  That said, you don’t have to buy Provocations and Laments to get many of the essays.  For example, you can get Christ and Nothing online for free.

After you read that essay, give yourself about six months and work through The Beauty of the Infinite.  Unless you are a professional philosopher, the first 150 pages are incredibly confusing.  Read it with your tablet nearby to look up words, philosophers and ideas.  But if you can get through that, the payoff is some of the best theology I have read.  You can see my review here.

If I have made The Beauty of the Infinite sound too scary, start with his shorter book The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami?  This book came about as a response to secular critics who argue God cannot exist in light of natural evils such as the Asian tsunami in 2004.  If you want to get a taste of that book, you can read the essay “Tsunami and Theodicy,” also included in Provocations and Laments, here.

I first heard of Hart when he released the book Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies in response to the so-called “new atheists”.  In some ways this title is a bit misleading, as it is a not a point-by-point response.  Instead it is an argument that Christianity, rather than coming into an enlightened ancient world and bringing about a dark age, brought a cultural revolution that created so much of the good we take for granted today.  If you enjoy history, this would be for you.  The question Hart leaves us with is that if our culture rejects Christianity, can it keep the moral vestiges that we have forgotten are rooted in Christianity.  For example, Christianity brought forth a view that said all people have value, even the poor, weak and disabled.  This led to hospitals and other good things.  Many who reject Christianity today still believe all people have value, but if that view rose historically in connection with Christianity, can we be sure it will remain?

Finally, if you want to read more of Hart’s incisive grilling of the new atheists, check out the essay “Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark“.

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