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Rereading David Bentley Hart

September 27, 2009

hartI’ve just been rereading selected parts of The Beauty of the Infinite and as previously finding it very hard to put down. I don’t know anyone with a better grasp of the English language among theologians. I plan to throw up a few citations as provocations over the next few days.

There is this quote near the beginning of the introduction for example:

“It is only as the offer of this peace within time, as a real and available practice, that the Christian evangel (and in particular, the claim that Christ crucified has been raised from the dead) has any meaning at all; only if the form of Christ can be lived out in the community of the church is the confession of the church true; only if Christ can be practiced is Jesus Lord. No matter how often the subsequent history of the church belied this confession, it is this presence within time of an eschatological and divine peace, really incarnate in the person of Jesus and forever imparted to the body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, that remains the very essence of the church’s evangelical appeal to the world at large, and of the salvation it proclaims. (p. 1-2)

Initially this made me wonder if he ends up in the same boat as Stanley Hauerwas apparently does (cf Nate Kerr, Christ, History and Apocalyptic; John Webster, “The Church and the Perfection of God” and Nicholas Healy “Misplaced Concreteness” ) of sacrificing the “independence” of Christ for a ‘community dependent’ Christology/Soteriology. The important word, though is ‘can’. “Only if the form of Christ can be lived out…”. Truth, here, is not a function of propositions per se, but of the possibilities of the eschatological Spirit. For Hart the gospel itself can never be ecclesiologically dependent, since the impartation he talks of is never a possession but it is the church’s constant dependence on the eventuation of the rhetoric of the infinite which is both beauty and peace.

“Christ is a persuasion, a form evoking desire, and the whole force of the gospel depends upon the assumption that this persuasion is also peace: that the desire awakened by the shape of Christ and his church is one truly reborn as agape , rather than merely the way in which a lesser succumbs to a greater in the endless epic of power.” (p. 3)

What’s more on the form of Christ (the beauty of the infinite) imparted ‘only as gift’ he further comments:

“That the power of the Spirit to communicate this beauty anew is infinite is an article of faith; that human beings resist the Spirit with indefatigable ingenuity is the lesson of history… God’s election of creation in Christ is an “aesthetic” action, which expresses the Father’s pleasure in the Son, and the response of the church can only be  “aesthetic” as well: that is to say, Christ bequeaths the church neither simple ethical principles nor “facts” of heaven, but a way of being in the world, a form that must be answered “gracefully”… (p. 338)

What do you reckon?

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