What's the first thing you'd say to or ask of a dead person?
Young Americans are growing up in 'morally inarticulate world'

A theologian who will complicate the thinking of all

When I run across someone whose mind is theologically vibrant, open and insightful, it's hard for me to put down whatever that person has written or to stop listening to or watching recordings or videos.

Hart-DB A few years ago I discovered the Eastern Orthodox theologian and scholar David Bentley Hart (pictured here) and I put him at or near the top of such active minds today. 

I first wrote about Hart's new translation of the New Testament almost six years ago here. (He released a second edition of that book earlier this year.)

Then about four years ago I wrote here about his then-new book, That All Shall Be Saved. And this past April I reviewed his latest book, Tradition and Apocalypse here.

Today I want to alert you to this fascinating interview with Hart done by a pastor and published in the current edition of The Christian Century.

As I've said of his writing, Hart seems incapable of writing an uninteresting sentence. It turns out he's equally incapable of offering an uninteresting answer to an interviewer's questions.

I invite you to read the whole interview but suggest you keep a dictionary by your side when you do that. When you read Hart's books, a dictionary is absolutely essential. Well, unless you're David Bentley Hart.

But let me highlight a few things Hart said in this interview.

"(T)he New Testament. . .simply isn’t made up of historically trustworthy documents. The Gospels disagree with each other on the basic outline of key events and their duration — Matthew and Luke give us two completely different dates for the birth of Christ, John gives us the cleansing of the temple at the beginning of a three-year ministry rather than at the end of a one-year ministry, Paul disagrees with Acts at critical points, and I could go on."

Yes, people who take the Bible seriously -- and not literally -- know that. But it's good to be reminded of how the Bible came together, who wrote it and why it should not be considered a history book, although for sure it contains some accurate history.

Hart's thinking about the resurrection of Jesus is both conventional and unconventional. And in the Christian Century interview he put it in a way I've never considered before:

"I think the only way to understand it (the resurrection) is that the one who had been crucified really was alive and vindicated by God and present manifestly, at times physically, though not in a flesh-and-blood way, but physically nonetheless. . .

"It’s perhaps like (a) . . .rainbow. It’s real, but it’s not there in the physical sense of an actual colored strip that’s somehow drawn across the sky. You can’t separate the event of its manifestation from the event of its perception. . .I believe the resurrection was a real historical event, I just don't think it was one we understand."

So is Hart something of a, well, heretic? Ah, what a question. The interviewer, in fact, asked Hart this: "So you'd dispense with the concept of heresy?" Hart's answer:

"The more of the history of Christian dogma you know, the more you come to see not only the accommodations but the willful, almost cynical, minimalism of doctrinal determinations — and you realize that talk of heresy is language for children. It’s like a child throwing a tantrum — it’s just noise. It’s always a sign of ignorance and of a bad argument. Anyone who thinks he knows the orthodox consensus can always be shown to be wrong."

Finally (well, finally for here today, but there's much more in the interview), Hart was asked this: ". . .(Y)ou’re not conservative in the sense of proposing that Christianity bolster an American civil religion?" His perhaps unsurprising response:

"Christianity has never really taken deep root in America; we’ve all been much more committed to Mammon. I’m not talking conservative and liberal in the American cultural sense. It’s absurd to suggest that you can have any actual devotion to who Jesus of Nazareth was and embrace laissez-faire capitalism or the entrepreneurial principle or erecting a border wall and keeping out asylum seekers. National conservatives — the people who think Jesus would have loved the Second Amendment and hated Mexicans — are simply not Christians. There’s nothing about their vision of reality and their relations to their fellow human beings that bears the slightest resemblance to who and what Christ was and what he taught. There’s not even a meaningful debate to be held on this: the Christian right is a movement whose ultimate ends are to extinguish real Christian convictions in society."

OK, argue amongst yourselves. But as you do, take theology as seriously as David Bentley Hart takes it.

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The former Catholic archbishop of Washington, D.C., Theodore McCarrick will not stand trial on charges he sexually assaulted a teenage boy decades ago because a judge has ruled that "Uncle Ted's" dementia means he is incompetent to understand what's happening in the case. As the AP reports, McCarrick, 93, who now lives in Dittmer, Mo., "was defrocked by Pope Francis in 2019 after an internal Vatican investigation determined he sexually molested adults as well as children." This highly influential priest took evil advantage of his power and committed egregious acts that left various wounded victims in his wake. The church has a lot of explaining to do about McCarrick's life and career. It's hard to imagine all that he has thrown away because of his inexcusable actions. The most challenging part for the Christian world now will be to remember that even Ted McCarrick is a child of God.

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P.S.: Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, now Interfaith America, is starting a term as an Impact Scholar at the University of Utah, he writes in this article in the Deseret News. Eboo has spoken several times in Kansas City and was kind enough to do a back-cover endorsement of my latest book. He's a really smart guy and I'm intrigued to see what this Muslim man brings to interfaith conversations and work in a state dominated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the article to which I've linked you above, Eboo writes this: "(D)iversity can just as easily lead to conflict as it can to cooperation. To achieve the latter takes real effort. Bridges do not rise from the ground or fall from the sky; people build them." Exactly.

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ANOTHER P.S.: I will be preaching at Second Presbyterian Church's 10:15 a.m. (CDT) Sunday worship service. You may watch it in the sanctuary at 55th and Brookside in Kansas City, Mo., or as it's live-streamed here or, later, you can watch a video of it here.


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