The Experience of God. Being, Consciousness, Bliss. – a review by Nathan Duffy

David Bentley Hart is a favourite theologian of mine. I adored his easy to read Atheist Delusions. The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies.  His newer book The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss looks like a much harder book with heavy philosophical and metaphysical topics covered but a must read for the student interested in serious theistic metaphysics and current debates surrounding the philosophy of materialism.  For a lazy sneak peek, Nathan Duffy works his magic in a review on his blog Dogmatic Enigmatics.


He writes:

Astonishingly, given the somewhat deceptive (or perhaps inept) marketing of the book, this was David Bentley Hart’s best book to date, which is saying something monumental. What neither the title, nor the jacket cover, nor even the blurb reviews reveal is that the book is primarily a relentless, blistering attack on the superstitions and credulous fideisms of materialism. Over and against this decrepit and impoverished philosophy of reality, and in response to its inept attempts to demystify the world, Hart turns to the common deposit of theistic metaphysical tradition for the arresting and compelling antidote.

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Propositions on Christian Theology: A Pilgrim Walks the Plank

Brilliant, pithy reading from a United Reformed Church minister in England.

That is all.

In this little book, a kind of contemporary enchiridion, Kim Fabricius engages some of the main themes of Christian theology in prose, poetry, and song (his own hymImagens). It does not aim to be systematic or comprehensive; rather it goes straight to the main contested areas in the church today, the red-button issues in doctrine, spirituality, culture, ethics, and politics. Fabricius’s imaginative vision and lively conversational style moving freely between the interrogative and the polemical, the playful and the profound invite us all to the vertiginous experience of faith. The book’s concise format and no-nonsense approach make it a perfect guide for inquiring Christians as well as committed disciples and an ideal discussion-starter for both church groups and college classes. The author’s passionate commitment to a self-critical faith is a provocative invitation to religion’s cultured despisers to join him if they dare on the plank.

For a sneak peak web version try Ben Myer’s blog

O’Donovan on the Anglican virtue of moderation

We will learn from them [Cranmer and his contemporaries] better than from Anglicans of any other age of the distinctive theological virtue in which Anglicans have sometimes spoken as though they had a monopoly, the virtue of ‘moderation’.  The word is appropriate enough, though it need to be used with some subtlety and not a little irony. The popular account of Anglican moderation, that it consisted in steering a steady middle path between tImagehe exaggerated positions of Rome on the one hand and Geneva on the other, simply will not bear examination. As our knowledge of late mediaeval thought grows greater, forwarded by the scholarly studies of the last half-century, it becomes more apparent that Calvinism, on all issues except that of church-order, took as much of the late-scholastic tradition into its system as any of the other schools of Protestantism. Its doctrine of predestination can arguably claim to be less ‘reformed’ – in the sense of being more mediaeval – than that of the Council of Trent! There was nothing particularly ‘middle’ about most of the English Reformer’s theological positions – even if one could decide between what poles the middle way was supposed to lie.

Their moderation consisted rather in a determined policy of separating the essentials of faith and order from adiaphora. Of all the continental spirits, they had learned most deeply, perhaps, from Melanchthon. ‘Surely odious it must have been, ‘ Hooker exclaims, ‘for one Christian church to abolish that which all had received and held for the space of many ages, and that without detriment unto religion so manifest and so great, as might in the eyes of unpartial men appear sufficient to clear them from all blame of rash and inconsiderate proceeding, if in fervour of zeal that had removed such things.’

Anglican moderation is the policy of reserving strong statement and conviction for the few things which really deserve them. Yet that does not mean that it is incapable of conveying certainties. Think of the church music of the Tudor period, after its composers had turned over to English and put away their soaring cloud-peaks of polyphonic sonority. It moves along at a deliberate, purposeful walking pace – not dancing like Purcell, not clapping its hands like Handel, not swelling its breast like Stanford. It articulates its text clearly in cool and measured understatement, without embellishment. It conveys confidence and assurance; and it can even suggest excitement, though under the strongest self-restraint.

O’Donovan, Oliver.  On the Thirty-Nine Articles. Conversations with Tudor Christianity.  SCM Press. 2nd Ed. 2011.  Pg 8

The Last Super-stition. A Refutation of New Atheism.

The central contention of the “New Atheism” of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens is that there has for several centuries been a war between science and religion, that religion has been steadily losing that war, and that at this point in human history a completely secular scientific account of the world has been worked out in such thorough and convincing detail that there is no longer any reason why a rational and educated person should find the claims of any religion the least bit worthy of attention.

But as Edward Feser argues in The Last Superstition, in fact there is not, and never has been, any war between science and religion at all. There has instead been a conflict between two entirely philosophical conceptions of the natural order: on the one hand, the classical “teleological” vision of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas, on which purpose or goal-directedness is as inherent a feature of the physical world as mass or electric charge; and the modern “mechanical” vision of Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, and Hume, according to which the physical world is comprised of nothing more than purposeless, meaningless particles in motion. The modern “mechanical” picture has never been established by science, and cannot be, for it is not a scientific theory in the first place but merely a philosophical interpretation of science.

Not only is this modern philosophical picture rationally unfounded, it is demonstrably false. For the “mechanical” conception of the natural world, when worked out consistently, absurdly entails that rationality, and indeed the human mind itself, are illusory. The so-called “scientific worldview” championed by the New Atheists thus inevitably undermines its own rational foundations; and into the bargain it undermines the foundations of any possible morality as well.


Religion and the Rise of Modern Culture

Dupre pg 112 -113


“Any belief not justified by scientific methods may be discarded as probably false.”


“The scientist transgresses the limits of his field if he denies the believing mind the intellectual right ……to attribute a theological meaning to a process that results in such realities as mind, self-consciousness, and freedom.

To declare such an attribution “unscientific” or unjustified is tantamount to denying the legitimacy of any belief in creation and divine providence.

Indeed, it implies that science and religious faith are intrinsically incompatible. An atheist conclusion becomes thereby inescapable.

Yet is surpasses the boundaries of science.

The biological theory of evolution is designed for investigation how one form of life mutates into another, not for explaining the presence or absence of a transcendent meaning to human existence. The claim that mind is no more than the necessary outcome of a random biological process grossly oversteps the limits of science.

Without entering the complex issue of how brain and mind are related, it suffices to state that a biological theory cannot service as a substitute for belief in creation, no more than such a belief can serve as a substitute or a necessary complement for a biological theory. They belong to different intellectual orders.

The conception that evolution replaces creation is a typical instance of scientific dogmatism.”

The Inclusive God

For some, Christianity needs to be sharply distinguished from ‘natural’ human insights and from alternative religious views. The uniqueness of God’s revelation, culminating in the highly specific incarnation of God in one human individual, has to be preserved at all costs. Otherwise, it is argued, Christianity becomes subservient to the shifting, self-interested and corrupt flux of human cultures. In Christ alone there is salvation.

This position – Christianity verses all other beliefs – is tempting. It heightens the emotional drama of conversion, and helps to give a strong grounding to individual and community identity. The problem is that this comes at a price: the price of denying or restricting God’s presence in creation. It becomes easy to forget that God’s first and highest gift – of existence itself – is a universal one. There is no warrant for claiming that this gift is entirely destroyed or withdrawn. What theologians sometimes call ‘general’ revelation is not of a wholly different and inferior kind from the ‘special’ revelation of distinctive Christian teaching.

God’s encounter with us comes in and through the history of a people, the changing community of church, the fragile matter of the sacraments, the voice of preaching which is always finding new dialects and accents. ‘Special’ revelation is rooted in the original gift of creation, and always mediated through our embodied, imperfect, contextualized modes of human communication.

Surely this is unavoidable if we claim to believe in the Word made flesh, the incarnation of God’s encounter with us in Christ? God does not suddenly set aside time, language, matter and change, in order to speak with a voice of timeless, immediate and self-evident certainty. God does not abolish the created world to to transport eternal truths directly into our souls. Christian revelation is fleshly, particular and always inviting new interpretation, new responses, new ways of proclamation. Our grasp of revelation is always limited. How else could it be if we are to preserve God’s transcendence and the dignity of God’s creation? That does not lessen its challenge, because only as incarnate truth can it touch and transform peoples lives with an otherness which is not of our making.

The Inclusive God. Reclaiming Theology for an Inclusive Church. 

Steven Shakespeare and Hugh Rayment 46-47  2006 Canterbury Press.

More postmodernity

“…postmodernity finds appeals to rational argument problematic. But it is deeply attracted to stories and images. Furthermore, postmodernity is more interested in a truth that proves capable of being lived out than being demonstrated by rational argument. This helps us understand why “incarnational apologetics,” which emphasizes the apologetic importance of faithful living, has become so influential in recent years.” – Alistair E McGrath. Mere Apologetics. pg 34/35