Lawrence S. Cunningham: 5 picks

October 3, 2010

Bernard McGinn, The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism. In terms of sheer scholarship, this series is the most important contribution to the field of theology in the past quarter century. McGinn takes readers from the biblical materials through the Western tradition to detect the ways in which classical spiritual texts give evidence of the experience of the presence of God. With four volumes in print and a fifth to come, McGinn's magisterial work is stunning in its sophisticated methodology and its close reading of texts. Both historical in approach and profoundly theological in presupposition, these volumes constitute a classic work that will not soon be overtaken.

Herbert McCabe, God Matters and God Still Matters. The late English Dominican Herbert McCabe was the most original Catholic thinker of the past generation. He is not known well enough on this side of the Atlantic. The essays collected in these two volumes reveal a deeply learned, quite witty and penetrating thinker who, like the Gospel householder, brings forth old things and new. McCabe was primarily an essayist, profoundly influenced by his encounter with Aquinas and Wittgenstein. These volumes reflect his conviction that God is not a Being but the Source of all being, revealed to us most perfectly in love.

John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. Milbank's critique of the objectivity of the social sciences is telling even if his construal of, especially, ecclesiology is pontifically stated and less than persuasively argued. Milbank is intimately linked to the movement known as radical orthodoxy, which has at the very least energized a vigorous discussion within Christian theology.

David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth. I was much taken by this Orthodox theologian who shows beautifully that the Christian tradition ab oriente has profound resources for proclaiming the beauty, power and person of Christ. Densely written (and unnecessarily prickly in places), Hart's book is a read well worth the effort.

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Letter from Karen Beaumont

The fall books issue (Oct. 19) listed David B. Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite as one of the “best books of theology in the past 25 years.” Being attracted to Orthodox theology and also being a musician, I was happy to find the book at the library.

There is no question that Hart is extremely learned, with a vast array of knowledge in philosophy and theology as well as in Greek and Latin. The book is certainly a tour de force. But this does not make it good theology. In fact, the theological points worth gleaning are buried in information that only a very few could digest.

I am only a lay theologian, but I have read Dom Gregory Dix, Richard Hooker, Reinhold Niebuhr and other serious theologians. Hart negates the theological points he makes with the hubris of his writing. What we say communicates certain things; the way we say it communicates our larger reality. I am not interested in how learned or clever a writer is. I am interested in how better to live this life in alignment with our Creator.

Karen Beaumont
Milwaukee, Wis.