Book Notes: Theological Territories, preface and chapter 1

Theological TerritoriesTheological Territories:
A David Bentley Hart Digest

by David Bentley Hart
Release date 4/15/2020
by University of Notre Dame Press

As a book blogger, I often get review copies through Netgalley or Edelweiss.

For the very first time, I found an Orthodox theology book on Edelweiss! AND by an author I like (for instance The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?).

So I stopped my reading of the Optina Father series to tackle this one. However, this collection of 26 essays does not read like lectio divina.

As the preface explains, the author “reflects on the state of theology ‘at the border’ of other fields of discourse–metaphysics, philosophy of mind, science, the arts, ethics, and biblical hermeneutics in particular.”
The book “constitutes something of a manifesto regarding the manner in which theology should engage other fields of concern and scholarship.”, or in other words, “the place of theology in the modern world.”

“The essays are divided into five sections on the nature of theology, the relations between theology and science, the connections between gospel and culture, literary representations of and engagements with transcendence, and the New Testament..”

In the introduction, David Bentley Hart explains what he’s doing in each of these essays.

I will then post some of my notes on each essay

1. The Gospel According to Melpomene

This is about classic tragedy, and reflections on Rowan Williams’s The Tragic Imagination. And Hegel.

I have read and studied Antigone, but not Medea, often mentioned.
And I have not read this book by Rowan Williams. DBH criticizes his “pronounced Hegelian sympathies”,  and my studies on Hegel are a few decades old.

DBH also seems to interpret RW’s positions rather simplistically:

“There is a real danger in assuming that one’s moral or metaphysical interpretation of an aesthetic experience is something intrinsic to its object, rather than simply one’s own personal mode of receiving it.”

Wouldn’t RW know that??

And I tend to disagree with some specific points made by DBH, such as

“It is not what tragedy means. Really, as aesthetic experiences go, tragedy is probably among the least intellectual.”

There are then reflections on Tragedy and the Gospel:

“A truly tragic theology would be the story of Golgotha as told by Pilate. And that is the story the world usually tells, and yet it turns out that the story God tells is just the reverse.”



Have you read any book by this author?
Have you ever read the Gospel
as you would read a Greek tragedy?


  1. I have a copy of David Bentley Hart’s translation of the New Testament. It is readable and well-produced, with long footnotes on his sometimes controversial interpretations of the Greek. I was surprised to read about a rather bitter exchange in the related to his translation of “aionios” as “for the Age” rather than as “everlasting” in Matthew 25:46. The debate was about Universalism, which was the subject of another of DBH’s books.
    But back to this one, the one you are reading! He does seem to jump right into aesthetic philosophy and assume readers will know all the issues, such as the phenomenology of reading. Like you, I studied this a long while ago. As for tragedy, the story of Pilate’s incomprehension of Truth, standing before him in the person of Jesus, is a tragic one, but the larger tragedy of God, come as the Messiah, rejected by the people of Earth, is a much larger tragedy, one that only God could redeem by His even greater love. I look forward to your further reactions and notes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your input.
      I have his NT translation, but haven’t totally plunged into it yet. I know I need to read the end where he explains what he is doing.
      I have to say, I’m really shocked at some of the criticisms he received for this translation, for instance for the example you highlight. His translation makes more sense to me!
      And in the essays I’m currently reading, I see better the context of his universalism, which actually makes total sense in theology. I hope I’ll be able to make clear notes on that. Not easy


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