An Email from David Bentley Hart

Earlier this year I got the idea to email the acclaimed theologian David Bentley Hart about books. Hart, as you may know, is arguably one of America’s greatest living theologians. While sitting firmly within the Orthodox tradition, Hart evinces thoughtful ecumenical sensibilities and has written powerfully and persuasively on an array of subjects as wide as the Trinity, consciousness and the philosophy of mind, metaphysics, church history, and travel literature. By all accounts Hart is a polymath whose mind is an irreducible gift to the Church catholic. This is my opinion, at least.

Anyway, due to my deep respect for Hart and his work, I desired to know what books he’d recommend to people like myself who are keen to learn more about philosophy and theology and their relationship to one another. So, on a whim, I found his email address and asked him what he’d recommend. He was kind enough to send me the following response which I’ve posted below for your enjoyment.

Dear Ben,
I assume you want basic guides to metaphysics to begin with. Richard Taylor’s Metaphysics (4th edition) is a good introduction to certain classic questions. Two volumes by E. L. Mascall–He Who Is and Existence and Analogy–are excellent guides to Christian metaphysics in the West, as is W. Norris Clarke’s The One and the Many. Avoid Peter van Inwagen: he’s brilliant at confusing things. Perhaps William Hasker’s Metaphysics is good, but I haven’t read it.

As for theology, always start with the fathers: Gregory of Nyssa’s On the Making of Man and On the Soul and Resurrection, Ps-Dionysius Complete Works (a short volume), Cyril of Alexandria’s On the Unity of Christ, Athanasius On the Incarnation, St Isaac of Ninevah’s treatises (especially the “Second Volume”), Maximus the Confessor’s Chapters on Love and the SVS volume “The Cosmic Mystery of Christ.” Don’t bother with Augustine until later, because for all his genius he got so much wrong (because he couldn’t read Greek, in large part). For mediaeval and early modern theology, Symeon the New Theologian’s Mystical Discourses (or whatever it’s called in English), Bonaventure’s Journey of the Mind into God, and the Paulist Press volume of Nicholas of Cusa. Thomas Traherne’s Centuries and all three volumes of George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons are indispensable masterpieces. As for modern theologians, Bulgakov’s Bride of the Lamb, Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Glory of the Lord, Lossky’s Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Schmemann’s For the Life of the World, part IV of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, Henri de Lubac’s Supernatural (currently being translated I believe, but if you read French go ahead), Rowan Williams’ Resurrection (2nd edition).

I hope this helps,
David

If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to read any of Hart’s books, allow me to suggest the following two: The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, and his little book of essays entitled, In the Aftermath: Provocations and Laments. I hope to review both books, as well as the others in Hart’s repertoire, in the near future.
Happy reading!

Ben

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Author: Mark Wampler

Books, Jesus, and family. With coffee and rain. I've got two little boys, Jeremiah and Isaac and a ridiculously smart and good-looking wife named Rebekah. I'm an InterVarsity campus pastor and write at Theologianslibrary.com which you should contribute to. Shoot me a message. :)

3 thoughts on “An Email from David Bentley Hart”

  1. Hart’s comment on van Inwagen is unfortunate and revealing. Van Inwagen is perhaps one of the most reputable metaphysicians out there. Even his most staunch opponents with respect to, say, free will (‘An Essay on Free Will’) will admit that he has clarified the debate. It is sort of like saying Milton was brilliant at making up myths to which he could allude. It is more likely that one who accuses him of “confusing things” is himself confused.

    Also, I’ve read quite a bit of Clarke. And while he may be a valuable read, he will not be as helpful outlining and developing the categories needed to engage in theological discourse.

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  2. Thanks for sharing. I’m a huge fan of Hart due to his monumental learning. I actually found this while doing a Google search for his email address (due to an ongoing question I have, after reading Atheist Delusions, about his account of pagan values and their transvaluation with the Christian revolution). Any chance you can point me in the right direction as to where I might find it? Thank you!

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