Sunday, September 30, 2007

Book Promotion: The Doors of the Sea

My sincere thanks to the kind folk at Eerdmans for a review copy of David Bentley Hart's. The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami? (MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans: 2005)

I have called this post a book promotion, rather than a review, because to best communicate my enthusiasm I feel I need to speak more personally. Hence this will be more of a personal reflection, especially as my brain is still panting with delight having finished the book a matter of minutes ago.

Everywhere, Hart's language is electric and his style energetically lucid and deeply polemic. Indeed, and as one blogging friend put it to me recently in private correspondence, it makes reading anyone else rather boring by comparison! Hart reserves some especially biting rhetoric against the arguments of certain 'triumphalist atheists', but 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. For its size, this book has as much punch as many grand tomes. It's like a shot of mature whiskey in that it holds as much alcohol as many pints of cheap beer put together. Perhaps not the best analogy, but it's getting too late to hit the delete button now.

Reading The Doors of Sea has not only proved to be a great aid in thinking through theodicy, it awakened in me a fresh delight in the glory of God in all of creation. I read much of the book while sitting in my back garden, and southern Germany at this time of year is often quite simply beautiful. Sitting out on the lawn reading the words of Thomas Traherne, which Hart cites at some length, was a profound spiritual experience. Hart's own prose reached into my soul, as it were, and set free some profound worship. It was a breath of fresh air to unashamedly let go of efforts to somehow ascribe to a good God every wicked evil that has ever happened in the name of God's sovereignty. Furthermore, his brief elucidation of how one should conceptualise the divine sovereignty was, I found, intellectually satisfying – certainly more so, to my mind, than Rowan Williams' short efforts in Tokens of Trust. Hart's exposition of the significance of the discussion between Ivan (who Moltmann would perhaps call a protest 'atheist' of sorts) and Alyosha, in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, was probably the high point of the book for me, as was Hart's perception of the significance of the elder, Zosima, who, Hart argued, 'constitutes a kind of "answer" to Ivan' (58). This discussion powerfully thrust the importance of love right back where it ought to be.

Being the nauseatingly opinion-on-everything theologian I am, I couldn't follow Hart at every point. His discussion about the issue of divine impassibility, which Hart considers a very important dogma, was less impressive. To be honest, I haven't made my mind up on this issue yet – and I have read too much German Protestant theology to swallow that one without a fight.

But the real point of this post is not review but something else, i.e. some shameless plugging: Please, please read David Bentley Hart's The Doors of Sea. You will not regret it; you will love me for recommending the book to you and will want to kiss me (but please don't). I know I review quite a few books on this blog and I'm always trying to plug something, but for your own sake get this one.

In a recent review of Hart's The Beauty of the Infinite (which Eerdmans were also kind enough to send me – and will consequently be reviewed here in due time), John McGuckin memorably wrote that Hart's book 'comes among us like a satellite fallen through the roof of the hen house' (SJT, 60(1): 94 [2007]). Almost as good as the old 'bomb into the playground' line. Hart's small book, The Doors of Sea, if I may use a similar analogy, came at me like a hornet through a toilet window while I was quietly sitting reading my newspaper.

The Doors of Sea: Very memorable, very profound, very moving, very thought-provoking and, perhaps most importantly, it promoted me to sit still and worship the glorious and infinitely beautiful God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.




At 10/01/2007 3:38 PM, Anonymous Nick Norelli said...


Does one have to be a PhD cadidate to get all of these review copies from publishers? If so, can I pretend to be you and request a whole bunch? I would also point out that with your getting all of these review copies of books it would seem that you've got a couple of extra dollars to buy me a book :^D -- I know you're going to chuckle and tell me that it didn't work (at least you think you are), but I've been interceding for you all morning and the Holy Spirit has informed me that all things work together for the good of my personal library and I know that as a fellow Charismatic you can appreciate that. So feel free to pick the most expensive or perhaps 2 or 3 of the cheaper titles on my wishlist and bless me -- After all, God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all I can ask or think and you are God's representative on earth, so make it happen!

By the way, what bars are you drinking in that you see bears holding as many pints of alcohol as a shot of whisky? Do bears and humans drink together often in Germany? I have heard that some crzy stuff happens at Oktoberfest... :^D

At 10/01/2007 4:37 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

"I've been interceding for you all morning and the Holy Spirit has informed me that all things work together for the good of my personal library and I know that as a fellow Charismatic you can appreciate that."

That really made me laugh!!

I so nearly purchased you The Anchor Bible Dictionary (6 Volume Set). Fancy putting that on your wishlist! Now that is hope!

As for the bears thing ... DOH!

At 10/01/2007 5:21 PM, Anonymous Nick Norelli said...

You can't fault me for trying!

Seriously though, does being a doctoral student help in getting these review copies?

At 10/01/2007 5:36 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Having a popular blog was probably more important. And I must add, I didn't ask for this book - or the others they have sent. I had a few Eerdmans books on my wish list, and I came back from England and found the books in a package from Eerdmans! Weeeeee!

I recommend you just ask whatever publisher is publishing a book you are particulalry interested in, if you can have a review copy for your blog. If you think you can draw the attention of many among their target audience to a certain work, then you will be doing them a favour too.

Tip: Threaten to eat their babies if they turn you down.

At 10/01/2007 6:49 PM, Anonymous Nick Norelli said...

Now if only I can get my blog to become popular!

Until then I'll get the ketchup ready for my baby feast ;)

At 10/01/2007 7:29 PM, Anonymous Cliff Martin said...

Any book that can move you to the serious and passionate language of this post (especially in light of the recent spate of Chrisendom posts ... which I’ve enjoyed but on a different level!) must be great. My copy is on its way!

At 10/01/2007 8:11 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Great, Cliff, you'll really enjoy it!

At 10/02/2007 2:21 PM, Anonymous Nance said...

I wonder if they'll keep sending the review copies when they find out that you're comparing the books that you genuinly like to shots of whiskey?

That recommendation sounds incredibly enthusiastic, Chris, and the book actually sounds great just given the description, so I think I'm going to go buy it presently. thanks!

At 10/02/2007 4:26 PM, Anonymous Ryan Jones said...

I forgot which link I clicked and thought I must have been reading Ben Myers blog considering how much you creamed your pants over this one. Then I got to the next post and asked myself, "Why does Ben have Chris' dancing M.C. Barth?"

Your review moved Hart's books from being on my, "Yeah I know I ought to read that" list to the "Okay that sounds pretty cool" list.

I probably shouldn't write 'pretty cool,' on a biblioblog. (Eckhard Schnabel made fun of me in class last night for saying 'pretty'-something-or-other.) Then I probably shouldn't be saying 'creamed your pants' either, but I think that says it as well as anything.

At 10/02/2007 11:34 PM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

Never mind comparing the book to a shot of whiskey. How about that "hornet through the toilet window while I'm sitting on the can reading" analogy.

Are you sure you're not a closet Lutheran? I seem to recall that Luther was famous for his earthy metaphors.

At 10/03/2007 12:28 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for the hilarious comments!

At 10/04/2007 3:23 AM, Anonymous byron smith said...

I'll add my recommendation too. It's a great book. Here are a few choice quotes.

At 10/04/2007 11:24 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, Byron. Reading your blog was one of the reasons I purchased the book, actually.

At 10/07/2007 9:53 PM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

I think the Bible says more in a few words that 'The Doors of the Sea' does in a hundred pages.

Psalm 89

O LORD God of hosts, Who is mighty like You, O LORD?

Your faithfulness also surrounds You. You rule the raging of the sea; When its waves rise, You still them.

Some people think it is Mr. Incredible who stills waves , and rules raging seas....

If only they knew who was really behind the stilling of the waves on 26/12/2004....

At 10/08/2007 4:54 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Well, Steven, have a read of Doors of the Sea first. Second, I think your hermeneutic is rather proof texty (literalist fundamentalist), and misses the complexity of the debate and how one handles scripture. Don't fall in to Dawkins laughable error of thinking he is critiquing something general when it is really only his sub category straw man.

At 10/11/2007 8:44 PM, Anonymous Cliff Martin said...

Thank you for your recommendtion of The Doors of the Sea. By far, the best book I've seen on this subject. It arrived yesterday, and I read it this morning. Like you, I found it a profoundly enjoyable (can we use such an adjective for this subjet matter?) experience. I have some ideas about the problem of evil that I have never heard espoused, but Hart comes closer than anything I've ever read. His eloquence and intellect far outstrip mine, and he would doubtless dismiss my thoughts as another attempt at a "rational theodicy"; nevertheless, his book encourages me to carry on with throwing my thoughts into the mix. I will offer my own short review on my blog this morning, and point my readers back to yours. Thank you again!


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