I was asked to lead a book discussion at my church on the problem of evil, and I decided on this book mainly because I’ve loved the previous books I’d read by him, and also because of the Amazon reviews. After reading it closely and leading a discussion over four weeks, I wasn’t terribly impressed. Here is my Amazon review:
I hate to give the great David Bentley Hart two stars, but I’m afraid I must. I read two books by him previously, which prompted me to pick this book for a class discussion I was to lead at my church. He’s brilliant, and has a way with words that amazes me and often drives me to the dictionary, when I can even grasp the arguments he makes. As I like to say about a genius like him, he has a very big brain. But alas, being smart doesn’t mean you get everything right, and this book is a perfect example.
Initially it seemed like the book was primarily a response to atheists and the problem of evil, but his real targets are Christians who have a view of theology and God he deems unworthy, and thus make God the author of evil. He especially doesn’t much care for Calvinists and Reformed theology, and being Eastern Orthodox I can understand that, but the problem isn’t that he and I disagree about theology. Rather it is that he completely and totally not only misunderstands the Reformed positions, but distorts them beyond recognition. I’ve never seen so many straw men mowed down to make an argument.
To Hart, anyone who pays a bit too much attention to God’s sovereignty is “drunk” on it, and becomes a defacto determinist. If God wills a person to do something, then in fact that person cannot be truly free. If God wills something we perceive as evil, then God is the author of evil. He is convinced that anyone who is Reformed doesn’t understand the difference between God’s primary and secondary causality, and is therefore a theological fatalist. Oh how the examples multiple for such a short book! One of my favorite is him calling “limited atonement” (I like “definite atonement” better) a “heresy” and that it “completely contradicts Scripture,” he adds, “of course.” Then he quotes one verse as if his position is the most obvious and unassailable known to man.
This brings me to something I never thought I’d say about Hart: It’s surprising how shoddy his reasoning is, and how selective he is in Bible verses he uses to make his point. The Old Testament is barely worth a mention, even thought Christ told the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus:
“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures (i.e. the OT) concerning himself.
When he says something I can completely agree with, he’s making the point as if it never occurred to someone who embraces Reformed theology. And there is much in the book that I do agree with, and some amazing insights I’d never quite seen before. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the radical Arminian in him makes even two stars a stretch for this book.