David Bentley Hart on the question, Is God a person?

Let’s try your theory out, @jpm, and see if indeed the door swings both ways. After listening again to a conversation between Hart and McGilchrist I started looking through suggested videos featuring conversations with Hart. This one from several years ago addresses the belief Hart discusses here which I take to be a feature of Christianity which I’ve always found off putting. Listening to Hart it seems to me more likely that when people go on about God as a person, they are more likely just having trouble grasping something subtler, distorting it in the process and then doubling down on it with exaggerated certainty. Here is my best effort to clean up the automated transcript for a the portion of the video running from 0:36 to 2:51:

I don’t disagree that God is a person. I disagree with this tradition of thinking about what persons are. In classical traditions that say that God is the fullness of all reality and that everything that exists in the world we experience exists more fully and is more actual in it’s truer reality and the essence of God would include personality in that God is in fact infinitely personal. More personal than we are. If anything we’re fragmented in isolated instances of personal relation which are never
complete at least in this life.

My objection is to those who think of God as a large psychological subjectivity, who think that God has to be thought of as somebody who goes through changes of temperament or makes choices or experiences pathos in order to be a person. But none of the theistic traditions deny the personal nature of God in in the most vital sense which is that God really knows and loves and is related to us and if you think about it, if you think of personhood as the capacity for relation, well in us then personhood is rather imperfectly expressed. Merely being psychological subjects we also withhold from one another. We can’t know another. We cannot fully give ourselves to one another as we ought ideally. Ego, psychological empirical ego is quite often the enemy of personal existence not its ground .

The people who are called theistic personalists by a very distinguished Christian philosopher Brian Davies as you say I called mano-polytheists have reduced the idea of personality to psychology to the empirical ego and I think that’s an inadequate notion not only of God but of personhood as such.

  • A question posed to BARD:
    Based on David Bentley Hart’s book, The Experience of God, does Hart believe that God is a person?

  • BARD’s Response:
    David Bentley Hart’s book, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, doesn’t portray God as a person in the traditional sense. Here’s why:

    The book critiques misconceptions of God, including the deist view of God as a distant creator and the fundamentalist view of God as a being like a human [Source: Yale University Press].
    The focus is on exploring the concept of God across different theistic traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism [Source: Yale University Press].
    The aim is to understand the nature of God’s being, consciousness, and bliss, rather than personal characteristics [Source: Wikipedia].
    While Hart doesn’t see God as a person, he does argue for the reality of God and the importance of the divine in human experience.

  • I’m reading Hart’s book very slowly, with a dictionary, now. Someday, if and when I finish, I’ll let you know what I think. Till then, in the words of Bharat Jhunjawala: “Maybe, maybe not.”

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  • You did not ask, but I was curious what Hart thinks of Wright’s view of Jesus’ resurrection, so for kicks, I asked ChatGTP to read Hart’s essay The Spiritual Was More Substantial Than the Material for the Ancients, and tell me. And this is what I got:
    • In his essay, David Bentley Hart critiques N.T. Wright’s interpretation of Jesus’ resurrection. Hart argues that Wright’s understanding of the resurrection as a purely historical event misses the deeper spiritual significance that the early Christians attributed to it. Hart suggests that Wright’s approach, which emphasizes the physicality of the resurrection and its historical evidence, neglects the profound theological implications of the event.
    • According to Hart, the early Christians did not view the resurrection simply as a historical fact to be proven or verified through evidence. Instead, they understood it as a cosmic event with spiritual and metaphysical dimensions that transformed the very fabric of reality. Hart contends that Wright’s focus on historical evidence and physicality fails to capture the full depth of this spiritual understanding of the resurrection.
    • Hart believes that Wright’s interpretation falls short because it confines the resurrection within the limits of historical inquiry and empirical evidence, overlooking its transcendent and transformative significance. Hart argues that the early Christians saw the resurrection as a revelation of the spiritual reality that underlies and surpasses the material world, rather than merely a miraculous event within it.
    • Overall, Hart suggests that Wright’s understanding of Jesus’ resurrection is incomplete because it neglects the spiritual and metaphysical dimensions that were central to the early Christian understanding of the event.
  • Out of curiosity, I asked ChatGTP a similar question, i.e. Based on David Bentley Hart’s essay, A reply to N.T. Wright, what does Hart believe that Wright does not understand or gets wrong about Jesus’ resurrection?
    A reply to N.T. Wright, and this is what ChatGTP said:
    • In his essay responding to N.T. Wright’s views on the resurrection, David Bentley Hart critiques Wright’s emphasis on the physicality and historicity of the event. Hart argues that Wright’s interpretation overlooks the deeper metaphysical and theological dimensions of the resurrection.
    • Hart contends that Wright’s focus on the physical resurrection of Jesus, as well as his insistence on historical evidence and verification, fails to capture the full significance of the event as understood by the early Christians. According to Hart, the resurrection is not merely a historical fact to be proven or verified through empirical evidence. Instead, it is a cosmic event with profound spiritual and metaphysical implications that transcend the confines of history.
    • Hart suggests that Wright’s approach limits the resurrection to a purely earthly and historical phenomenon, neglecting its transcendent and transformative nature. Hart argues that the early Christians saw the resurrection as a revelation of the divine and a vindication of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, rather than just a miraculous event within the natural order.
    • Overall, Hart believes that Wright’s understanding of Jesus’ resurrection is incomplete because it fails to appreciate the spiritual and theological dimensions that were central to the early Christian understanding of the event.
  • Both of ChatGTP’s responses are similar, which is reasonable and comforting to me, and, IMO, is pretty much spot on with my own assessment of Hart’s and Wright’s views of Jesus’ resurrection.

@marta @Kendel @St.Roymond @Mervin_Bitikofer


I read the essay too, being curious - and I’ve read Hart’s stuff before and remember appreciating his perspective and insights.

So he raises interesting challenges, and it would be cool to hear Wright’s responses if he could be in the room. Hart seems determined not to cut Wright any slack - I.e. he characterizes Wright as misunderstanding nearly everything surrounding the issue of spirituality vs. physicalism. Which is always a red flag for me … how likely is it that Wright so badly misunderstands something squarely in the middle of his own area of professional expertise? Still … Maybe Hart is just one of those people who is allergic to conceding any insight at all towards an opponent he’s set his sights on. It may be irritating and makes his own credibility take a hit; but it doesn’t mean he’s wrong either.

Hart does make a good case (in terms of noting some classic go-to passages) toward maintaining the somewhat traditional perspective of flesh being an inherently frail or even sinful thing - to be left behind in any case if one is to finally enter into their fully transformed-for-eternity state. And Hart’s perspective (spiritualizing the resurrection) sits much, MUCH better with our modern sensibilities - a fact not lost on me, and not by Wright either who would be quick to point out the Epicurean foundation of that view that leaves Lessing’s ditch unchallenged. Though curiously - Hart did mention a few points that made me think he too also doesn’t accept Lessing’s Ditch - so maybe he and Wright do have some overlap - I’ll probably have to re-read more carefully to tease that out. I did find it annoying that Hart was quick to think that Wright isn’t taking the resurrection seriously enough because he allegedly reduces it to a mere historical event. I’m fairly certain that would be a serious mischaracterization of Wright in that Wright would never say it was ‘merely’ or ‘only’ historical, as if that was all there was to say about it and there was no further significance to be had. No - Wright (I think) would see the historicity of the resurrection as being a launching point toward taking it more seriously and seeing then where all that leads.

But some of the scripture passages Hart points out do reinforce his concerns as he has raised them - and it would be really cool to see how Wright would respond! Thanks for finding this article.


I agree with the Catalonian Philosopher Jordi Pigem that AI should be thought of as standing for Algorithmic Invention since there is no evidence of what we mean by intelligence in it. But I still appreciate your time and interest in addressing the questions to BARD @Terry_Sampson and sharing the result here. Thank you.

I liked Hart’s suggestion that the idea of God being a person underestimates God in significant ways and imports imperfections from our idea of what we are as persons into it. Looks like the algorithmic invention inspired by its sampling of the web is in agreement.

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Now I am reading Hart’s article on Wright’s translation/interpretation/style - whichever it may turn out to be. Thankfully the article is shorter than his books. I enjoy Hart’s careful use of language and wit, but I don’t like his enjoyment of mockery. I shall hold my nose when necessary. Some first takes:

I was guided by the desire to translate the texts in a way that made more intelligible the commentaries of figures as diverse as Origen and Theophylact, on the assumption that their ears for the Greek were better guides to its meanings than would have been theological and doctrinal formulations that, having been first generated from Latin translations, then evolved into entire systems of their own in later centuries. I am unrepentant on this score.

Mind you, it would have helped things immeasurably had Wright paid closer attention to what I said in my critical apparatus, rather than to the snippets he misleadingly prised from it. I did not claim to be presenting a perfectly “undogmatic” translation, but rather one freed (as much as possible) from the later developments of “doctrinal history.” My version is perfectly “dogmatic”; I simply believe that it is usually closer to the dogmatic interpretations of the earliest readers of the Greek.

To be frank, I have never thought Wright’s understanding of late antique Judaism particularly sound or subtle (a friend of mine who is both a Rabbi and a fine scholar calls Wright’s view of late antique Judaism a Protestant Christian fantasy); at the very least, I certainly think Wright fails to grasp the full scope of Paul’s struggles with the question of God’s covenant with Israel.

I do not expect perfect consistency from Paul, but only fervent fidelity to the mysteries with which he is grappling. Wright, however, calls my rendering “as idiosyncratic as it is bold.” I thank him for this, as it happens. But it is one other thing beside—it is correct. Or, to be more exact, it is honest. Interpreting Paul’s meaning here may be difficult, but translating his language is not. It is a tiresome fact of theological history that, generation upon generation, Christian exegetes choose to draw a veil of delicacy over some of the more jarring claims made by Paul. I fully understand the impulse; but I am no longer as patient with it as I once was.

  • You’re welcome. I’m glad that I’m not the only one in the topic(s) of this thread.
  • I’ve never thought of it as “careful”, but I suppose it is. Personally, I’ve viewed the multiplicity of words that he puts into a description of people, behaviors, and the detailed expression of thoughts and his mockery, as “overwhelming” and “over the top”. But I just realized, my wife has accused me of belaboring a story from the past with as much multiplicity of words. Which is probably why my audiences are small.
  • Moclery is either an acquired taste or a selective one. Personally. I admit to enjoying Jimmy Kimmel roasting Trump during his current trial.

Hello, @MarkD ! It’s good to see you around again, and I appreciate good questions. I listened to the thread so far, but haven’t read or watched any of the referenced articles, books or videos. There just isn’t time.

@Terry_Sampson, thanks for the summaries provided by A(lgorythmic) I(nventions). Based only on a quick listen of them, no more, I thought Hart was mischaracterizing Wright’s grasp of the significance of the Resurrection. My impression was never that Wright was trying to historicize it so much that it no longer had any spiritual significance, but rather to understand the Resurrection as historical and real in order to grasp its fullest possible significance. Not only does it have subjective, implications, but it is part of objective reality, no matter how it is interpreted by any individual.

I can image that Wright and Hart see DIFFERENT spiritual significance in the resurrection. But that is a different matter.


I agree, I have no tolerance for anyone who exhibits my worst traits. :wink:

  • Frankly, I think Hart just likes Greek because it’s harder and uses a different alphabet than Latin. I’m just glad that the New Testament wasn’t originally written in Sanskrit, Chinese, or Arabic.
  • A common complaint from Hart for darn near everybody who disagrees with him
    The only guy I haven’t seen him criticize is Iain McGilchrist, unless I missed the once that he did.
  • I’m more inclined to agree with Hart than not, and find it funny that Hart and, more importantly, his Rabbi friend call Wright’s view of late antique Judaism “a Protestant Christian fantasy”.
  • " Sanders identified himself as a “liberal, modern, secularized Protestant” in his book Jesus and Judaism; fellow scholar John P. Meier called him a postliberal Protestant."
  • " William David Davies(1911–2001), often cited as W. D. Davies, was a Welsh Congregationalist minister, theologian, author and professor of religion in England and the United States."
  • " James Douglas Grant Dunn (21 October 1939 – 26 June 2020), … was a British New Testament scholar) …Lightfoot Professor of Divinity in the Department of Theology at the University of Durham … who worked broadly within the Methodist tradition and was a member of the Church of Scotland and the [Methodist Church of Great Britain during his life."
  • "Krister Olofson Stendahl (21 April 1921 – 15 April 2008) was a Swedish [Lutheran] theologian, New Testament scholar and Church of Sweden Bishop of Stockholm. He also served as dean, professor, and professor emeritus at Harvard Divinity School.
  • So, Hart and his rabbi friend were right. As for the “fantasy” that Wright, Sanders, Davies, Dunn, and Stendahl had in common, I’m inclined to agree, but won’t argue with those who don’t.

The “perfectly consistent” human being would, IMO, be a A.I. Bot. Paul was, as my father called us human Christians, “a defective saint”.

  • No generation of humans, in this world, starts with a full deck and a well-programmed mental hard drive.
  • And that’s why Hart comes off as a “pain” more often than not.
  • There are a couple of things that I’ll point out:
    1. Hart is a universalist; Wright isn’t.
    2. Neither has much of clue as to exactly what occurred in Jesus’ resurrection, but in my naive opinion, Hart seems more comfortable with a smooth transformation from "a living, flesh and blood sarx until Jesus dies on the cross, then to no sarx in the tomb and a living, spiritual, and physical being in the tomb. IMO, Wright hasn’t quite figured out how that would work, which I suggest is the price he pays for inadequate appreciation of the Shroud. (Note: to be honest, I haven’t as of this moment, ascertained Hart’s opinion of the Shroud of Turin.)
    3. Wright invests a lot of time and effort in pooh-pooing post-death aspirations to “go to heaven”, focusing on encouraging image-bearers to throw more of their time, efforts, and resources into “bring in the new creation”, and–I add here–Wright seems to relish promoting his “Temple & Sabbath” stuff. Hart? Not so much, as far as I can tell.
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I take it you’ve seen the one two hour videotaped conversation they did together for Hart’s blog/channel/platform … whatever it may be called? They did seem very comfortable with each other. I think Hart is genuinely fully Christian where Iain clearly is not, though he admires the Christian mythos as perhaps the most beautiful of all. But Hart seems to share Iain’s epistemic humility and recognition of our own limitations to say or write much at all about God in an explicit manner. I appreciate that more about Hart than I do his needling people who he sees as beneath himself. I believe Iain drew on Hart’s books in writing his 28th chapter in the Matter With Things on the sense of the sacred.

I think they are both more used to holding fort for a rapt audience so it looked like they neither got enough stage time.

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He certainly does. I guess you know what you quoted were all my quotes of Hart. I agree that he comes off as pompous and snide in a way that could be avoided - even if he is more educated and smarter than most of us. If I disagreed with more of what he was saying it would grate more with me than it does. My reaction is more often “yeah right, but ouch”.

I seem to remember Hart saying somewhere -maybe to Iain- that we can only know about God by reasoning well from what little we do know, but he doesn’t seem to include every snippet of doctrine that is popular with any sizable denomination.

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  • It’s been a couple of months. I didn’t watch all of it, but at least an hour to one and half hours. I intended to get around to watching all of it; I’ll do so, hopefully soon, now that you’ve reminded me of it.

I sensed a shared appreciation of the human drive for understanding, and a readiness to share rather than arm-wrestle. Hart distinguishes between traditions which focuses on a specific individual and those which don’t.

  • Yes, my responses below were responses to Hart’s comments.
  • Whether speaking or writing, both seem to want or need an audience of at least one, don’t they. Hart is willing to talk about more than Christion traditions, although I agree with you that Hart is Christian, whereas McGilchrist is not.

Right and yet McGilchrist greatly admires the Christian mythos whereas I am largely ignorant of it. From what I’ve seen I get a glimmer of why he says so.

But there are ways that it is practiced which I think diminish how adequately it can serve. God isn’t a thing to be pinned down, studied up close and made explicit. Anything represented as certain in this way is suspect. As with quantum mechanics and the Tao, if you think you know God more likely it is something else you know.

  • I suspect that, as much as their styles and positions differ, neither would relish a face-to-face conversation or debate. with the other. But that’s just my opinion.
  • Indeed.
  • “Conceding insight in another’s assertions” doesn’t seem, IMO, to be Hart’s strong suit.
  • I was reading a little of Hart’s own comments about his personal “experience” in the Wikipedia page about Hart, specifically:

    • " Hart shared briefly about an “indescribable” past experience of his own on Mount Athos:
      • 'I was in this state of spiritual despair, and I also had an encounter. …So I understand both the difficulty of explaining it and the impossibility of forgetting it, at once, and how it can change your life. But it doesn’t come as a set of instructions. It sure as hell didn’t turn me into a saint but did actually make me realize that the spiritual dimension of reality is reality.
  • Hart is a Christian socialist and a democratic socialist and has been a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. On August 8, 2020, Hart wrote:

    • ‘I’m basically an anarchist and communalist. I believe that all that lilies of the field nonsense that Jesus preached was more than a daydream; and I think the longing for strict social hierarchy …as an antidote to modernity is simply a longing for a reprise of the same sins that created modernity.’ "
  • I have yet to read any similar kind of statement from Wright about an “indescribable personal experience”. Obviously, that doesn’t mean he’s never had one, just that, if he has, he’s not sharing it. Instead, he “seems” to use and rely on the word “historicity”, not “my personal encounter”.

  • Personally, I’d like to see a “Parallel Translation Bible” that lays out both Hart and Wright’s translations side-by-side, with or without the Greek text(s)–if different–that each have published.

That’s been my understanding since I was first a Christian, also about the Crucifixion. I couldn’t see this combined event as some sort of arbitrary legal transaction; it had to be metaphysical. So the requirement of the Redeemer to be close kin to both parties wasn’t just invented, it is a reflection of the nature of existence. Thus when we are told that Christ died for all it isn’t some contractual event, it actually altered the fabric of human existence, and when He rose again it altered human nature itself.

This makes me think of Narnia, Aslan, and the “Deep Magic”!

That’s my take, too.

I remember a long debate once based on the proposition that “person” is a really lousy translation of the Greek πρόσωπον (PROS-owe-pon), in which it didn’t take long to propose that the Greek term itself is not a very good one§ – but it was used because they had already used the good terms for other things!

We ended up agreeing that our one professor was right: a fair number of Christological issues arose because Greek didn’t have enough good terms to express the matter of being.

§ it unfortunately lends itself nicely to Modalism, among other things.


This is why I wish we had technology that would enable us to scan pages at a hundred words a second and have them put into “augmented memory” – I could effectively download all sorts of things I just don’t have time to read, and too often when I do read things don’t stick in my memory the way they used to (alternatively, be able to listen to things read in our sleep and have that put into augmented memory). For such an ability I would happily undergo an operation to plant a chip against my skull!

Or cuneiform!

Memory lane – all these were on one or another reading list in various courses. Seeing them listed is sort of nostalgic.

I had a philosophy professor who said that the only perfectly consistent human being is one in the grave.


Wow! Not even being sure of what all those labels exactly mean - it sounds like Hart is quite the agitator. Though it confounds me how ‘anarchist’ would fit in at all with any of those other labels. It almost just sounded like he tried to pick a laundry list of the most combative sounding labels he could find and threw them together as if he was spoiling for a fight!

In any case and despite all that, he has managed to write some seemingly clear-headed stuff - that I remember learning from, anyway.

Perhaps Wright is much more deliberate to restrict his public offerings to more formally professional content … i.e. - respectable in scholarly circles. Which would not include emotionalism or anything that might seem to have charismatic or Pentecostal leanings. With all due respect to those dimensions of personal experience - they remain just that … personal. And Wright shows more interest in tying to aim for what is closer to a more universal objectivity - in ways more likely to appeal to wider audiences that don’t share in such personal experiences, and indeed find those to be suspicious at best. But even here - once again - I bet Wright (if pressed on this) would not want to rule out the significance of personal experiences for the individual. He would just find them to be of more limited value to the wider community - perhaps in an echo of how Paul expresses similar concerns (about the highly personal experience of speaking in tongues) in 1 Corinthians 14.


And that may be why we try to treat what is complex and subtle as if it should be plain and simple. Only spiritually blind people ask for proof of God or even a straightforward definition of the same. Greek presented challenges but English also has its Achilles heel in that we must make do with “to know” for everything from the simple aspects of objects to the subtle qualities of character. With the French “connaitre” we are recognizing there are classes of discernible observations (more often involving being) which are hidden from view, compounded with other qualities or else just constantly changing. These resist simple explicit description. Demands to justify propositions relating to spiritual matters causes extra confusion, as if such a demand was on par with separating a bucket of bolts by thread size. Not reasonable.