The Dream-Child’s Progress & Other Essays, David Bentley Hart, Angelico Press

The Hidden and the Manifest: Essays in Theology and Metaphysics, David Bentley Hart, Eerdmans

David Bentley Hart is the finest of contemporary Christian writers and the release of not one but two collections of his writing is a cause for celebration. His prose is exuberant, and his thought is borne on the wings of Minerva’s Owl and the Spirit’s Dove.

He admits to a fondness for the obscure term (a random sampling turns up ‘submontane’, ‘lambency’, ‘aglae’ and ‘nitid’), but insists it is for the sake of precision and not (only) showing off. He is exacting, but entertaining – witty, dauntingly widely read, scathing. With mock gravity he announces that ‘grammatical laxity’ is the start of the slippery slope to societal anarchy. His verbosity rises with the degree of passion, of which there is plenty.

He has the same attitude to content as to delivery, and castigates the theologically imprecise and badly oriented. His elucidatory qualities mean he is devastating on why a book or train of thought is deficient. And there is an especial pleasure in reading an essay and then a follow up essay on why he first said what he did, or didn’t say what he is alleged to have said, and why his accuser is an ignorant so-and-so.

He slips easy categorisation. Just when you have him pegged as a conservative (he writes for First Things) and orthodox (small and big O) he will argue for universal salvation or rip into capitalism or decry the conflation of ‘America’ with ‘Christianity’. He turns lazy, received wisdom on its head.

The Dream-Child’s Progress, which takes its title from a piece on Alice in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll (above), contains book reviews and other short pieces. The Hidden and the Manifest is on another level entirely, with thickets of, as the subtitle says, theology and metaphysics that are probably only to be negotiated by those readers with confidence, but it is not without his usual flair and gusto.

(Originally reviewed for the Uniting Church.)


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