Tuesday 15 January 2008

Providence in Aberdeen

For those of us who missed the Aberdeen conference on providence, Michael Jensen has been posting some summaries (here, here and here). Kent and Douglas have also posted on it, and Douglas has some photos too. So far, though, no one has told me what David Bentley Hart’s paper was like. So if you were lucky enough to be at the conference, perhaps you could leave a quick comment...


michael jensen said...

Hang on Ben - I am getting there! Hart's paper was the last one of the conference, so I will eventually get around to a fuller write up. Suffice it to say, he mounted an attack, brilliant and wide-ranging, on the Western/Augustinian doctrine of Providence from the 16th century on. It was (as Sarah Coakley said) very Milbankian, though Hart said 'no, he's Hartian!' In brief: Western theology is in trouble if it starts with a God who is Supreme rather than fully transcendent. Calvin is (for him) symptomatic of the problem that beset all western theology of the period: so you can see (he claims) in the Dominican theologians of the day (for example) the same problem. The problem with the God as first cause/Supreme model is that it is hard not to attribute evil to him.

This seems a very significant issue. I was hoping to see John Webster, Katherine Sonderegger and other Protestant theologians there interact with this, but one of the shortcomings of the conference was the lack of time allowed for questions. Sarah Coakley question Hart's reading of Calvin, and I think this is something worth pursuing: has Hart got Calvin right? And, is his rather nostalgic vision of theology really tenable? Can a man who has just flown in on an aeroplane really dismiss the worldview which made the aeroplane possible? I think Milbank needs to answer the same question.

A footnote: I have to say there was much in the paper I didn't grasp, and others present may be able to add significantly to this account.

Anonymous said...

Theoretically, there was enough time for questions at the conference; it's just that some speakers decided to speak longer than was perhaps warranted. Hart's paper was fantastic, though, and encouraged me no end as part of my own doctoral thesis argues something very similar.

Daniel said...

I am just surprised Hart actually delivered a PAPER, seeing that the past two times I've heard him something has happened to those mysterious "papers" and he ends up just ranting. Or maybe, pontificating in what I have only come to expect from Hart.

Anonymous said...

Oh, he had a paper. . . but it didn't stop him ranting. To be honest, I found it quite refreshing!

David W. Congdon said...

Sounds more or less like a slight reworking of the paper he gave at Providence College during the conference on divine impassibility. He made the same argument, but situated it in the context of the Dominicans mentioned above. He even discussed Calvin in this paper as well. It was a brilliant paper, in that early form, but it was probably better suited for the conference on providence than the conference at Providence, simply because he hardly discussed impassibility at all, except to equate it with his notion of transcendence.

While his argument with "first cause" thinking is all well and good, his argument in relation to impassibility was rather weak.

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