The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss by David Bentley Hart (Review)

Reading a David Bentley Hart book is to pull your chair up to the grown-up table and feast on tasty delicacies you had previously not realized existed.  This is especially true of his latest book in which he argues both atheists and many Christians do not speak about God in the right way.  God, argues Hart, is not just the most powerful being in the universe, someone like us only much bigger.  Unfortunately, much debate about God kind of portrays God like this, really as a cosmic demiurge who is incredibly powerful but not infinite.  So atheists ask silly questions like “who made God” and intelligent design advocates rope off a few jobs that God can do after allowing nature to do the rest.

This is not just Hart’s opinion or some new argument, instead he shows that what he is saying is the long traditional way of speaking of God.  Hart draws on the depths of not just Christian tradition, but Jewish and Muslim and Hindu.  Thus this is not a Christian book, though Hart is a Christian.  Hart argues that all these traditions commonly speak of God not as a really powerful being who got things moving, but as Being itself.  In other words, God is not a thing among other things.  Rather, God stands wholly apart.

A large portion of Hart’s work is critiquing naturalism/materialism which he argues is irrational.  Naturalism claims to be an all-encompassing philosophical view, but when challenged it falls far short.  The problem too often is that it is simply assumed, rather than challenged.

Hart tends to come across as arrogant, which may put off some readers.  He also uses many words when he could use few, as well as using words normal people, and even many who read books like this one, have never heard of.  That said, this may be his best book.  Compared to The Beauty of The Infinite, this book is easy.  I highly recommend Hart and I definitely recommend reading this book before that other one (though I’d say The Doors of the Sea and Atheist Delusions could also be read before this one).

Be warned though – this book does not easily fit into a category.  It is kind of apologetics, for Hart is arguing against naturalism and in favor of theism, but it is more than just that.  Hart is not putting forth logical arguments like a Plantinga, for example.  Instead he writes in an engaging style, painting a picture of two types of reality and arguing for why one picture (theism) makes much more sense.  If anything, I would say those who like Christian apologetics should read this because Hart’s style and theology could serve to correct much that is wrong with modern apologetics.

Hart’s book is also for those who appreciate philosophical theology.  He is not arguing for Christian theology and there are very few quotes from the Bible.  Instead he is going big picture, theism as opposed to atheism.  I enjoy such works, though I could see some, especially American evangelicals, who get upset for what Hart does not say.  If you realize his purpose in writing though, it makes sense.

Overall, this is probably a top-five of all time book for me.  Absolutely fantastic.

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