You are on page 1of 3

Interpretation http://int.sagepub.


Book Review: Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies
Graham Reside Interpretation 2010 64: 430 DOI: 10.1177/002096431006400419 The online version of this article can be found at:

Published by:

On behalf of:

Union Presbyterian Seminary

Additional services and information for Interpretation can be found at: Email Alerts: Subscriptions: Reprints: Permissions:

>> Version of Record - Oct 1, 2010 What is This?

Downloaded from by guest on February 3, 2013

430 Interpretation


would have been persuasive to his original hearers/ readers. This book is a clear, well-written analysis of Revelation that would be an excellent resource for use in the classroom or for private study. Whereas most of the book is concerned with showing how John addressed the situation of his day using methods consistent with techniques of ancient rhetoric, in the last chapter, deSilva provides an insightful application of Johns message for the modern reader.


Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies

by David Bentley Hart
Yale University Press, New Haven, 2009. 253 pp. $28.00. ISBN 978-0-3000-11190-3.

THIS IS BOTH AN INTERESTING and timely book. The first line informs the reader that the book before them is in no sense an impartial work of history (p. ix). Instead, David Hart provides an apologia for Christianity, not merely as a religion, but as a cultural system. The effort is set against the backdrop of the current resurgence of anti-religious polemics, as exemplified in the work of the new atheists, such as Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins. These authors tell tales of religious intolerance, ignorance, and violence. In the face of this assault, Hart pauses to re-examine the role of Christianity in Western culture and society. The book corrects common (and unfair) misreadings of Christianity and its influence on society. The books first section offers a quick dismissal of the current critics as lacking intellectual substance and moral rigor. The new atheists function here not to provide a serious argument against religion, but as an occasion for a revision of the history of Christianity. The real enemy is not the new atheism, but the broader inclination of modern interpreters to read Christianitys history in a negative register. And what is at stake may be nothing less than the future of Western civilization, since a society that does not appreciate its history cannot value itself.

The second part of the book (The Mythology of the Secular Age: Modernitys Rewriting of the Christian Past) captures the books fundamental concern. It describes the familiar telling of Christianitys history as a modernist fable that goes like this: Once upon a time . . . Western humanity was the cosseted and incurious ward of Mother Church; during this, the age of faith, culture stagnated, science languished, wars of religion were routinely waged, witches were burned by inquisitors, and Western humanity labored in brutish subjugation to dogma, superstition, and the unholy alliance of church and state. (p. 33) Only the Enlightenment saved Western societies from this dark age of Christianity, setting us on the path to freedom, democracy, and moral development. Hart scoffs at the navet of this story, and demonstrates through a variety of examples that Christianity was not the enemy of modern thought, but its parent, insisting, for example, that Christendom fostered rather than hindered the development of early modern science . . . modern empiricism was born not in the so-called Age of Enlightenment but during the late Middle Ages (p. 100). In the third section of the book (The Christian Invention of the Human), Hart argues that not only science, but humanism itself, is the progeny of Christianity, which first articulated the conviction that every human life is distinct and worthy of dignity and protection, each self a vessel of the divine, regardless of station or ethnicity. The seeds of universal humanism were planted by a first century Nazarene, signaling a cultural revolution. We still live in the shadows of it. As a good apologist, Hart does more than play defense. He goes on the offensive as well, arguing that the secular account of Christianity is better understood as the expression of secularisms own shadow, concluding, if ever an age deserved to be thought of as an age of darkness, it is surely ours (p. 107). It is secularism and not Christendom that represents the true Dark Age, and leaves Hart worried that a failure to understand the sources of modern societys virtues may lead to their loss. In other words, we have had the wrong defendant on the stand, and it is time, Hart suggests, to honor Christianity and to put its secular critics on trial instead.

Downloaded from by guest on February 3, 2013

432 Interpretation


No doubt, Harts book does provide a necessary corrective and nicely flips the intellectual tables. Without Christianity, there is no modern civilization. However, I was struck by a fundmental irony in the book; namely, his description of secular society suffers from the same lack of complexity, nuance, and generosity that he finds in secularist accounts of Christianity. As an apologia, the book is combative in tone, displaying acrimony towards its opponents (who are described as shrill,petulant, and moral idiots, and their work as inconsequential and embarrassing). Modernity is portrayed as an age of violence, ignorance, and injustice, and its secular thinkers as purveyors of death. This seems likewise lacking in fairness and nuance. However, if a good fight is what you are preparing for, nuance may not be the weapon of choice. Indeed, in a culture battle, pitting religion against secularism, Hart may be the best corner man in the business, providing would-be Christian pugilists with a better understanding of both their own strengths and their opponents weaknesses.


by Bruce Gordon
Yale University Press, New Haven, 2009. 398 pp. $35.00. ISBN 978-0-300-12076-9.

Christ. Gordon builds gratefully on the results of Calvin scholarship to indicate what is most important about Calvin in these areas. The result is a panoramic view of a man driven by the sense of his divine vocation so that all his time and energies were expended for the glory of God. But a primary strength of this book is its on the ground coverage of the swirling waves within Calvin. These led him to be passionately committed to his special work while also exhibiting the very creaturely attitudes and actions that are the lots of common saints and which should keep us from seeing Calvin only in stained glass. He was, says Gordon, a complex, volatile man who found relations with others troubling, if not a burden (p. x). Calvin could accept error and ignorance, but never opposition (p. xi). His words and writings sought to vindicate his understandings. Yet, what made Calvin Calvin, and not another sixteenth-century writer, was his brilliance as a thinker and writer, and, above all, his ability to interpret the Bible (p. viii). For Gordon, Calvin saw himself as the prophet who makes the eternal prophecies speak to contemporary society (p. 330). The power and influence of Calvins work is displayed in his own time and in our own. Assessments of Calvins life and legacy have been many. But Gordons book is now the musthave source for a fair and accurate account of Calvin as a human being, a truly remarkable one, but a real person.

CALVIN BIOGRAPHIES KEEP showing up, and this may be the best. Bruce Gordon, who teaches Reformation history at Yale Divinity School, has given us a remarkably realistic account of the very human Calvin. He does so with appropriate attention to the theological motivations that galvanized Calvin. Gordon has a wide grasp of sources, so he is able to convey the ways in which Calvins theological vision was enacted in the midst of the rough and tumble of life in Geneva. Here, he navigated local politics, church reform, and a radical involvement in the lives of citizens and of refugees who swelled the city size as they fled persecutions throughout Europe. This is to say nothing of Calvins other activities in preaching, writing theology, commenting on Scripture, maintaining an international correspondence, and seeking to close wounds in the body of


Religionless Christianity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Troubled Times

by Jeffrey C. Pugh
T & T Clark, Harrisburg, Penn., 2009. 171 pp. $24.95. ISBN 978-0-567-03259-1.

INTEREST IN DIETRICH Bonhoeffer and his legacy remains keen, particularly in America, where in some circles, the German theologian enjoys a celebrity that is reserved elsewhere for politicians and entertainers. Across the spectrum of religious identityfrom liberationists to the emergents Bonhoeffer is admired, invoked, and repeatedly cited. This makes the job of the serious Bonhoeffer

Downloaded from by guest on February 3, 2013