Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mini Book Review: The Doors of the Sea

On the first day of my vacation with my family, I just read The Doors of the Sea by David Bentley Hart (Eerdmans, 2005). I could not it put down. I recommend it to any reader who wants to delve deeper into our current topic of the problem of evil.

Hart wrote this wonderful little treatise, subtitled “Where was God in the Tsunami”, in the wake of the Indonesian Tsunami. Out of his deep faith and informed mind and with profound honesty and eloquence, Hart responds to the horrors of that 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Chris Tilling reviewed and recommend the book (you can read his review here) and his enthusiasm was so unrestrained that I immediately ordered my copy. I read it this morning; and, for reasons which shall in time be obvious, I am compelled to offer this review before moving on to my next post.

Against the backdrop of two manifestations of Natural Evil (the 2004 tsunami, and the Lisbon earthquake/tsunami/fire of 1755) and Dostoyevsky’s portrayal of Moral Evil in The Brothers Karamozov, Hart thoughtfully weaves his “elucidation” of God’s goodness, evil’s reality, suffering, and redemption. With his multiple scathing denunciations of Calvinistic determinism (which he calls absurd) and eloquent dismissals of all other standard Christian theodicies (many of which he unapologetically identifies as “blasphemous flippancies”), Hart shows his utter contempt for much of what passes as Christian explanations of the problem of evil.

The truth, Hart helps us to see, is to be found in the context of free-acting evil, the understanding of the cosmos as entropic and death driven, the coexisting of two Kingdoms (life/light and death/darkness — but Hart is no dualist!), the suffering that results from this state of affairs, and the glory that awaits a final consummation.

Hart’s thoughts closely parallel many of my own; he comes nearer to the concepts I will unfold in my next post than anything I have ever read or heard. There are still significant differences, and Hart would doubtless include mine in the category of “rational theodicies” which he uniformly rejects. Nevertheless, with considerable trepidation I shall boldly move forward with my proposed theodicy, encouraged and re-inspired by Hart’s superb book.


Steve Martin said...

Hi Cliff,
I saw Chris's post too .. and immediately put it on my "to read" list. Unfortunately that list keeps getting longer. Thanks for your review. I think I'll bump it up a few notches. So many books, so little time ...

Gordon J. Glover said...

I'm curious to know if his "multiple scathing denunciations of Calvinistic determinism" is a straw-man argument, or if he really understands the subtleties of the doctrine of God's sovereignty. Most of the criticism I see is simply a criticism of fatalism, which is not providence. And given the use of the word "determinism" when describing God's providence, it already sounds like he's missing the point.

Am I reading too much into this?


Cliff Martin said...

You will appreciate this book. 100 pages or so its a quick read. Get it an enjoy.
I was secretly hoping you wouldn't notice my review. Actually, "determinism" is my word, I think. I'm not sure Hart uses it. Shame on me. But I think the brand of Calvinism he rejects is a bit stauncher than what you would profess. He has a couple of pages in which he affirms a form of providence that is actually quite close to what I think you believe. but straw man? I don't think so. He is quite cerebral, and seems to know of what he writes.

Gordon J. Glover said...

That sounds good. I will gladly pile on any denounciation of runaway Calvinism - since my view of providence is very nuanced. I just finished Owen Gingrich's "God's Universe" - which probably helped me qualify my doctrine of providence even more.


Cliff Martin said...


I just received my copy of Owen Gingrich's book, and it is the second book down on my list.

When Chris Tilling reviewed Hart's book, he wrote, "...he also calls 'limited atonement' a heresy on the way, and Calvin (and Reformed thinking generally) is nothing but a punch-bag for his searing argumentation. Great fun! Indeed, though I have grown in Christian faith mostly within a Reformed Evangelical context, I found his rebuke of theological determinism as profound and moving a case as I have read anywhere."

I think you ought to read this book.

Chris Tilling said...

I'm so glad you liked it!