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The Beauty of the Infinite is a splendid extended essay in "theological aesthetics." David Bentley Hart here meditates on the power of a Christian understanding of beauty and sublimity to rise above the violence -- both philosophical and literal -- characteristic of the postmodern world. The book begins by tracing the shifting use and nature of metaphysics in the thought of The Beauty of the Infinite is a splendid extended essay in "theological aesthetics." David Bentley Hart here meditates on the power of a Christian understanding of beauty and sublimity to rise above the violence -- both philosophical and literal -- characteristic of the postmodern world. The book begins by tracing the shifting use and nature of metaphysics in the thought of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Lyotard, Derrida, Deleuze, Nancy, Levinas, and others. Hart pays special attention to Nietzsche's famous narrative of the "will to power" -- a narrative largely adopted by the world today -- and he offers an engaging revision (though not rejection) of the genealogy of nihilism, thereby highlighting the significant "interruption" that Christian thought introduced into the history of metaphysics. This discussion sets the stage for a retrieval of the classic Christian account of beauty and sublimity, and of the relation of both to the question of being. Written in the form of a dogmatica minora, this main section of the book offers a pointed reading of the Christian story in four moments, or parts: Trinity, creation, salvation, and eschaton. Through a combination of narrative and argument throughout, Hart ends up demonstrating the power of Christian metaphysics not only to withstand the critiques of modern and postmodern thought but also to move well beyond them. Strikingly original and deeply rewarding, The Beauty of the Infinite is both a constructively critical account of the history of metaphysics and a compelling contribution to it.


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The Beauty of the Infinite is a splendid extended essay in "theological aesthetics." David Bentley Hart here meditates on the power of a Christian understanding of beauty and sublimity to rise above the violence -- both philosophical and literal -- characteristic of the postmodern world. The book begins by tracing the shifting use and nature of metaphysics in the thought of The Beauty of the Infinite is a splendid extended essay in "theological aesthetics." David Bentley Hart here meditates on the power of a Christian understanding of beauty and sublimity to rise above the violence -- both philosophical and literal -- characteristic of the postmodern world. The book begins by tracing the shifting use and nature of metaphysics in the thought of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Lyotard, Derrida, Deleuze, Nancy, Levinas, and others. Hart pays special attention to Nietzsche's famous narrative of the "will to power" -- a narrative largely adopted by the world today -- and he offers an engaging revision (though not rejection) of the genealogy of nihilism, thereby highlighting the significant "interruption" that Christian thought introduced into the history of metaphysics. This discussion sets the stage for a retrieval of the classic Christian account of beauty and sublimity, and of the relation of both to the question of being. Written in the form of a dogmatica minora, this main section of the book offers a pointed reading of the Christian story in four moments, or parts: Trinity, creation, salvation, and eschaton. Through a combination of narrative and argument throughout, Hart ends up demonstrating the power of Christian metaphysics not only to withstand the critiques of modern and postmodern thought but also to move well beyond them. Strikingly original and deeply rewarding, The Beauty of the Infinite is both a constructively critical account of the history of metaphysics and a compelling contribution to it.

30 review for The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth

  1. 5 out of 5

    David

    Like anyone, I enjoy listening to music. I never learned to play an instrument and I don’t really have a critical ear for the skills of musicians. But I have friends who are skilled musicians. We can listen to the same song and because of their understanding of music, they appreciate the song on a different level. I may recognize that it is a good song, but there is a lot more going on than I fully understand. This is how I feel about David Bentley Hart’s amazing book The Beauty of the Infinite. Like anyone, I enjoy listening to music. I never learned to play an instrument and I don’t really have a critical ear for the skills of musicians. But I have friends who are skilled musicians. We can listen to the same song and because of their understanding of music, they appreciate the song on a different level. I may recognize that it is a good song, but there is a lot more going on than I fully understand. This is how I feel about David Bentley Hart’s amazing book The Beauty of the Infinite. It is like a classic symphony played by a full orchestra. I hear the music and get that something beautiful is happening, but I also know there is a lot more going on that I don’t fully understand. Hart’s book engages with everything from 20th century philosophy to the early church fathers; he has a command of an incredibly wide breadth of writings. The first 150 pages when he discusses the philosophies of people like Deleuze, Foucault, Levinas and others…well it made me wish I had taken more philosophy courses in college. There were moments I wanted to give up. There were numerous words I underlined simply because I had never seen them before (and I wonder if Hart just invented some of them, honestly). Once he began talking about Nietszche and then after that theology, I understood more what he was talking about. Even here though, the writing stretched me. This is advanced philosophical theology at its best. Just as there is nothing wrong with a fun three-minute country diddy, so there is nothing wrong with an easy-t0-read and understand theology book. At the same time, there is great worth in stretching yourself, whether it be the classical symphony or the lengthy philosophical theology. So what is Hart’s primary point? What’s the book about? Postmodern philosophies, really the ideas that have permeated our culture, see all difference as violence. There is an inherent violence that happens when one encounters the other. Christian theology, Hart argues, presents a different story. This story, rooted in the Trinity, is one that allows difference for in the Trinity we see difference and diversity without any sort of violence or confusion. As he continues to show how this plays out through Creation, Salvation and Eschatology…I’ll just say it is one of those books that makes me want to be a Christian. Another point I appreciated is Hart’s urging for Christians to focus on announcing the Christian story. Nietzsche was correct, to some degree, as he criticized Christianity and put forth an alternative approach to the world (the will to power). The choice is clear: power over the other, a power rooted in violence where the strong survive, or peace with the other through Christ. The best thing Christians can do is live out, literally illustrate, this alternative to the will to power idea. I am sure there is much more there. This book will need a re-read sooner rather than later. For those who want a theological feast, this is the book for you.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brent McCulley

    This is perhaps one of the most important theological books that I have read in my career, and indeed, it came at a time when I was wrestling with many questions that were pertinent to what Bently Hart himself was exploring. The book itself is divided into three main portions: the first dealing negatively with deconstructing the deconstructionists as it were, such as Focoult, Nietzsche and others. The second portion is his positive contribution of how, simple put, Christian theology is the answe This is perhaps one of the most important theological books that I have read in my career, and indeed, it came at a time when I was wrestling with many questions that were pertinent to what Bently Hart himself was exploring. The book itself is divided into three main portions: the first dealing negatively with deconstructing the deconstructionists as it were, such as Focoult, Nietzsche and others. The second portion is his positive contribution of how, simple put, Christian theology is the answer to many of the post-modern questions that have arisen the past century. In a word, Bently argues in re-understanding the infinite as the beautiful and not the contrary. Only such an understanding of God, as beauty, as bountiful goodness and aesthetic wonder, can help us solve many of the philosophical questions still looming large over our heads. Hart draws heavily on the Orthodox Fathers, especially the Gregorys. This was a fascinating, albeit dense, terse, and difficult, read. Anyone without any reading comprehension in Greek, Latin, German, and French will find this somewhat nauseating to slog through. Nevertheless, this is a gem. I will be utilizing Hart for my studies on impassibility.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Aitken

    It took me several months to finish this book. Hart argues for getting beauty back as a theological category. Reformed and the more intellectually rigorous evangelicals are the ones who will likely read this book. That is good. Those are the ones--and I am reformed--who need to see beauty in theology. Hart uses the latest vocabulary from postmodern philosophy. the reader is urged patience in this regard. The first section of the book (the first 150 or so pages) is incredibly hard to read. Hart a It took me several months to finish this book. Hart argues for getting beauty back as a theological category. Reformed and the more intellectually rigorous evangelicals are the ones who will likely read this book. That is good. Those are the ones--and I am reformed--who need to see beauty in theology. Hart uses the latest vocabulary from postmodern philosophy. the reader is urged patience in this regard. The first section of the book (the first 150 or so pages) is incredibly hard to read. Hart assumes that his readers are intimiately familiar with Nietzsche, Derrida, and Levinas. I wasn't. Hart argues that the Trinity is the answer to the postmodern problem of *differance.* Where postmoderns see the world--and language--as chaotic and violent because of the inherent difference of reality, Hart sees the Trinity as a sublime answer to differance. The Trinity can accommodate differance because the Trinity can posit a reality that is both diversity without confusion, otherness without violence. This is the hardest part of the book. What Hart is saying is that postmoderns--and most Calvinists, ironically--assume that any difference in reality is necessarily violent. Hart shows how the Trinity solves the problem of linguistic violence. The rest of the book after that is relatively easy to read. Hart divides his book into Trinity-Creation-Salvation-Eschatology categories. This is where his Eastern Orthodoxy is evident and provides a welcome relief to the strictly judicial categories of the West. The section on salvation literally sang! The last 200 pages were a brilliant tour-de-force. This book has the potential to re-write American theology. It also can unify across confessional lines without watering the unity down into the usual WCC garbage. Let's hope that Hart writes more.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Beauty of the Infinite was my introduction to Hart; certainly impressive at the time, but in retrospect I'm amazed that Eerdmans let it go into the world in this state. It is difficult to adequately describe the pomposity and comic absurdity of Hart's prose style in this book; he seems to think that he's Chesterton and Voltaire and Horace all rolled up into one, tossing off wickedly sharp bon mots that reduce his stunned opponents to silence, where really he comes across as a dweeby grad student Beauty of the Infinite was my introduction to Hart; certainly impressive at the time, but in retrospect I'm amazed that Eerdmans let it go into the world in this state. It is difficult to adequately describe the pomposity and comic absurdity of Hart's prose style in this book; he seems to think that he's Chesterton and Voltaire and Horace all rolled up into one, tossing off wickedly sharp bon mots that reduce his stunned opponents to silence, where really he comes across as a dweeby grad student trying waaaaaaaaaaay too hard to be clever, probably holding a snifter of brandy in one hand and chuckling to himself at his own brilliance. And it turns out that Hart was, in fact, a dweeby grad student at UVA while writing most of this book (Beauty is a barely modified version of his doctoral dissertation under Wilken). What's maddening is that Hart (as has been evidenced in the 15 years since the publication of Beauty) is, imo, the greatest theologian of his generation, but the pretentiousness of his early writing style is enough to make one THINK that it's all just smoke and mirrors, to an extent. If he wrote in a more unassuming style, I honestly think his ideas would have even more of an impact (see his recent book, Experience of God, for an example of toned-down Hart). The opening section of Beauty is probably the strongest; I'm guessing that Hart had seen Pickstock's critique of Derrida (published a few years earlier in her After Writing) and wanted to outdo her critique by expanding it to all postmodern thought (he mostly succeeds). The final two-thirds of the Beauty is a somewhat tedious slog through systematic theology, though of course the argumentation is quite impressive.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Zachary

    I, like many other reviewers, can only complain that this early work of Hart's suffered from a lack of editorial rigor. But I might also add that it is possible that such excessive language as Hart uses in the Beauty of the Infinite is the only kind of language appropriate to his subject matter. There is no denying that his prose is lovely, and few deny that certain passages of this book seem to be without end. Perhaps an author arguing that being and difference are primordially Trinitarian peac I, like many other reviewers, can only complain that this early work of Hart's suffered from a lack of editorial rigor. But I might also add that it is possible that such excessive language as Hart uses in the Beauty of the Infinite is the only kind of language appropriate to his subject matter. There is no denying that his prose is lovely, and few deny that certain passages of this book seem to be without end. Perhaps an author arguing that being and difference are primordially Trinitarian peace, and that creation is purely gratuitous could simply lay out his case in clear, linear, and widely intelligible logical propositions, but perhaps it is far more fitting, which is not to say necessary, that such an author take the liberty to endow his argument with an aesthetic gratuity and symphonic excess analogous to that which he purports to describe. In short, do not be turned away from this book because of its verbosity, and certainly, do not think that the style of the Beauty of the Infinite accurately represents Hart's writing style in general; since this publication, Hart has developed his prose style considerably, and I find reading his works a constant pleasure.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Steven Wedgeworth

    An excellent book that would have been five stars had it enjoyed a stricter editor. Hart is infatuated with himself at points, and so he chooses inaccessibility whenever possible. Still, he's got something that's real in this book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jana Light

    Still processing and reviewing and trying to make sure I understand what Hart is saying before I review it. :-) This could take a while, so don't hold your breath!

  8. 4 out of 5

    N Perrin

    Wow.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

    Almost unforgivibly avoids thorough discussion of natural evil (a start reducted just for that). Specifically, I expected at least a passing mention to the now-widely-accepted scientific fact of the inseperability of the elements of strife, violence, dominance, 'cruelty', and prey/predator relationships from biology, irrespective of human 'sinfulness'. Instead, we get the by-now tired references to Auschwitz and Gulags. Too safe. Also, the book can get frustratingly ornate and theo-babbly (but h Almost unforgivibly avoids thorough discussion of natural evil (a start reducted just for that). Specifically, I expected at least a passing mention to the now-widely-accepted scientific fact of the inseperability of the elements of strife, violence, dominance, 'cruelty', and prey/predator relationships from biology, irrespective of human 'sinfulness'. Instead, we get the by-now tired references to Auschwitz and Gulags. Too safe. Also, the book can get frustratingly ornate and theo-babbly (but hey this is Hart we're talking about). Other than that, this is quintissential theology from arguably one of the most well-read people on the planet, offering what I consider to be the most insightful deconstruction of post-modernism in print. Update: 26/12/2017 This has through time proved an invauable resource, hence upped to 5 stars.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Lake

    An incredible work--I would even dare to say great--if it were not for the pompous prose and some of the most despicable ad hominem I have ever seen in print (and this from someone who truly has seen it all after years of teaching introductory philosophy and logic at the undergrad level). I'm stupefied that Eerdmans ever let some of passages of this book to print. One reviewer likened it to a symphony. I concur. At its best it is Mahler's Second. At its worst it is Wagnerian opera.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Toby

    Read this several years ago. It's a tough read, slogging through Hart's rhetoric. And honestly I wish he'd rewrite this in ordinary English, but with that caveat, I really liked it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Joel

    This book was just way too hard for me to read. Maybe someday.

  13. 4 out of 5

    David Mosley

    Last read: 2012 (17 September-2 October) 2013 (5-20 May)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dann Zinke

    Took me three or so years to get through the book, and didn't really understand most of it. The parts of it I did, though, were brilliant.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Matt Escott

    I'm not sure what rating to give this book because I probably only understood 30% of it. It is a very difficult book, particularly for anyone who doesn't have at least a master's degree in theology or philosophy); this isn't philosophy "lite." The parts I did understand were excellent; I particularly enjoyed and found useful his discussion of salvation and the cross. There were many parts I did not understand. Some of this is due to the sheer amount of learning Hart has done; he speaks of writers I'm not sure what rating to give this book because I probably only understood 30% of it. It is a very difficult book, particularly for anyone who doesn't have at least a master's degree in theology or philosophy); this isn't philosophy "lite." The parts I did understand were excellent; I particularly enjoyed and found useful his discussion of salvation and the cross. There were many parts I did not understand. Some of this is due to the sheer amount of learning Hart has done; he speaks of writers and concepts mostly with the assumption that his readers already know what he is talking about, and which I often did not. Some of it is due to his writing style, which seemed at times to be unnecessarily complex, wordy, and laborious, but then again the concepts he is describing and the philosophies he is expounding and interacting with aren't terribly simple, so I shouldn't expect a Dr. Seuss book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ethan Shearer

    A very thoughtful and dense piece of Systematic Theology. It deals with the theology of Beauty.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Clarke Bolt

    Thank you DBH.

  18. 5 out of 5

    John Martindale

    It is foolish for me to try to write, I can't pretend to understand even half of what Hart wrote. But at risk of revealing how stupid I am, I'll mention my impressions so far. (I am now reading the chapter “Trinity”) Hart seems to be responding to the Nietzschean critique of Christianity, that it is merely a violent struggle of power over others and the Christians concept of God's agape is thus a fiction. Part of the answer thus far is the Apatheia (impassibility) of God, Hart writes “The Trinit It is foolish for me to try to write, I can't pretend to understand even half of what Hart wrote. But at risk of revealing how stupid I am, I'll mention my impressions so far. (I am now reading the chapter “Trinity”) Hart seems to be responding to the Nietzschean critique of Christianity, that it is merely a violent struggle of power over others and the Christians concept of God's agape is thus a fiction. Part of the answer thus far is the Apatheia (impassibility) of God, Hart writes “The Trinity is already infinitely sufficient, infinitely “diverse”, infinitely at peace” Creation is therefore, an uncompelled and unnecessary act of pure generosity. It is interesting reading this as an open-theist. Hart would say I don't believe in God, but a god who is in the process of becoming. For Hart, immutability, timelessness and impassibility are not optional. He mentions an attempt to reconcile a God who suffers and one who is dynamic within history, with the absolute Being of philosophy leads to the conclusion that all temporal becomings are infinitely part of God's timeless Being--which means that evil, since it is integral to the narrative of history (even if God ultimately triumphs over it) is part of God's very identity and Being, which is unacceptable to all but the most heartless Calvinist. I am convinced that though the church fathers tried to mix the Greek snake oil with Hebrew holy water, that the two (The timeless, immutable and impassible God and the dynamic, passionate and active God of the scriptures) can never be amalgamated. Hart however believes that timelessness, immutability and impassibility don't contradict the story of God as creator, redeemer and consummator of all things, yet he has far from convinced me thus far how the two are not in conflict. In light of this, he wrote “Because God is Trinity, eternally, perfectly, without any need of negative probation or finite determination. God does not have to change of suffer in order to love us or show us mercy—he loved us when we were not, and by this very “mercy” created us – and so, as love, he can overcome all suffering” as I continued reading, I got to Hart's definition of Divine impassibility: “God's impassibility is the utter fullness of an infinite dynamism, the absolutely complete and replete generation of the Son and procession of the Spirit from the Father, the infinite “drama” of God's joyous act of self-outpouring –which is his being as God. Within the plenitude of this motion, no contrary motion can fabricate an interval of negation, because it is the infinite possibility of every creaturely motion or act; no pathos is possible for God because pathos is by definition, a finite instance of change visited upon a passive subject, actualizing some potential, whereas God's love is pure positivity and pure activity. His love is an infinite peace and so needs no violence to shape it, no death of which to triumph, if it did, it would never be ontological peace but only metaphysical armistice. What? Dynamism, Drama, self-outpouring, plenitude of motion and pure activity as part of the definition of impassibility? Uhh.... and a hunk of granite is lighter than a feather and black is white, and water is not wet, ok... I must keep reading....

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I wouldn't feel right rating this book because, ponderous as it is, some of my issues with it may just not be within its scope or intention. Additionally, Hart seems to have some a priori positions on the internal consistency of Christian scripture that keep me from being able to fully accept his highly theological worldview. Lastly, the paucity of women quoted in this book (only two, according to my quick survey of the index, and one of those only in a footnote) is an example of Hart's situated I wouldn't feel right rating this book because, ponderous as it is, some of my issues with it may just not be within its scope or intention. Additionally, Hart seems to have some a priori positions on the internal consistency of Christian scripture that keep me from being able to fully accept his highly theological worldview. Lastly, the paucity of women quoted in this book (only two, according to my quick survey of the index, and one of those only in a footnote) is an example of Hart's situatedness in his own gender and white male intellectual tradition. All that said, I'm grateful to have read (most of) this book and that I own it and will be able to come back to it. His critiques of Deleuze, Derrida, Levinas, and Nietzsche are not just scintillating but genuinely helpful in thinking outside the postmodern box (what is a box? a box is difference between presence and absence. there can be no real access to the box because difference is always deferral... You get the point: the postmodern "box" is a labyrinth. Or is it?). In other words, deconstruction (at least for those of us who have drank from the Dionysian cup of distance as opposition and violence) is easy. Actually constructing a philosophy of ever-expanding beauty and eternal peace is the more noble task. While I don't agree with all Hart's "theologizing," I agree that the story of peace is the ultimate appeal of Christianity. And, no, friend who asked me what I was reading and reacted with some horror, reading this much continental philosophy isn't going to make me lose my faith. Even without Hart's highly erudite critique, that's an either/or binary that doesn't support actual faith. But while I don't accept all Hart's positions he's given me a much stronger value for Christianity, even as I will go on reading Nietzsche, Deleuze, Derrida and others.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mac

    Maybe the best modern work of theology I've ever read. Hart's deep engagement with continental philosophers ranging from Heidegger to Foucault is difficult to navigate, especially for non-specialists (like myself), and while I find his style of writing with its half-page sentences and esoteric vocabulary delightfully pretentious, others find it tiresome and frustrating. But the actual content, especially the theological content, of the book is startling in its beauty, power, and profundity. The Maybe the best modern work of theology I've ever read. Hart's deep engagement with continental philosophers ranging from Heidegger to Foucault is difficult to navigate, especially for non-specialists (like myself), and while I find his style of writing with its half-page sentences and esoteric vocabulary delightfully pretentious, others find it tiresome and frustrating. But the actual content, especially the theological content, of the book is startling in its beauty, power, and profundity. The book works equally well as a critique of postmodern atheism, a meditation on the nature of beauty, an exercise in doxology, a survey of the modern theological landscape, and a rich engagement with Greek patristic thought. The book isn't written for a popular audience, but I HIGHLY recommend it for those who have a little big of background in theology and/or philosophy.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    Wow. This guy can write. He's got extra horse-power for a brain. Some kinda intellect. Impressive. A treatise on beauty and truth (Trinity, Christology, Creation, and Salvation). Amazing. I thought Dallas Willard was a slow read, but Hart is 100x worse. Have a 10 lbs dictionary beside you when you read You'll need it. Deep. Rich. Difficult. But rewarding. I still haven't decided just what I think about Eastern Orthodoxy's core beliefs. Sometimes they make me shout for job. Other times they tick m Wow. This guy can write. He's got extra horse-power for a brain. Some kinda intellect. Impressive. A treatise on beauty and truth (Trinity, Christology, Creation, and Salvation). Amazing. I thought Dallas Willard was a slow read, but Hart is 100x worse. Have a 10 lbs dictionary beside you when you read You'll need it. Deep. Rich. Difficult. But rewarding. I still haven't decided just what I think about Eastern Orthodoxy's core beliefs. Sometimes they make me shout for job. Other times they tick me off.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Duane Miller

    Hart, an Orthodox theologian from America, takes on the metaphysical aesthetic of paganism, which includes almost everyone except for a few Christians. Paganism reached its apogee under Nietzsche, and its defining characteristic is that the infinite is disorderly. Christianity posits that the infinite is good and that its form is peace.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

    Really good book. . .the reason I gave it three stars is because of it's difficulty. This book is written for academics, theologians and philosophers, not for 'regular people'. Knowledge of latin, greek and german would be helpful as well as a thorough understanding of modern philosophy. I struggled.

  24. 4 out of 5

    William Randolph

    I was reading above my level with this one, but it was great all the same. As a non-theologian, I am not exactly competent to review this well, but if I write any reflections elsewhere I'll try to remember to post them here.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dennis

    A difficult read but quite worthwhile. It is a brilliant approach to Christian aesthetics and helpful in its response to the postmodern critique of Christianity. It is profoundly insightful but bring a high-power dictionary - and possibly a few foreign language dictionaries.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    Very heavy reading, and without a deep grasp of continental and postmodern philosophy the majority of what Hart is saying will be missed (as in my case). Nevertheless, sections on creation and the Trinity are beautiful and stunning.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michael Spicer

    this is going to take a while, and i'm going to need a good dictionary.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Allyne

    This is a difficult read; it helps to have a good background in Continental philosophy. But it repays careful reading.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Charles

    A book of stunning brilliance. Reveals how classical Christian dogma (in both its ancient and contemporary expressions) casts amazing light on virtually all of our modern concerns.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    None

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