He is quite polemical. His arguments are robust and he exhibits little patience with those whose arguments are not so. I'm always glad when he's on my side.
When I read, last year sometime, that he was publishing a translation of the New Testament, I immediately pre-ordered one, and that was what was inside the latest brown box from Amazon. It's a plain, and elegant book, 577 pages on good quality paper, and nicely bound. It contains a 35 page introduction in which he explains his philosophy of translation and a Concluding Scientific Postscript of 44 pages in which he gives some detail about why he has chosen some particular ways of rendering specific passages. These 79 pages alone are worth the price of the book.
He has made a point of trying to render, in English, something of the style of the Greek. The New Testament is a collection of occasional documents written by people who were not professional writers or scholars. Their Greek ranges from barbarous to mediocre, but what it lacks in style it makes up for in the immediacy and richness of the experience which underlies it. The translations we have to date all, for the sake of clarity and decency, tidy up the grammar and lose much of the freshness and power of the original. Nearly every translation has been produced by a committee in a process which tends to "flatten" the text by avoiding controversial or adventurous renderings. Nearly every translation committee, further, has translated from the standpoint of a particular theology and has, in places, obscured the meaning of the text in order to promote what they see as the "true" meaning of the text. Hart is particularly scathing about the NIV and the TEV in this regard.
My Greek is patchy but I can read the Greek New Testament well enough to appreciate what Hart is saying, and well enough to appreciate what a masterful job he has done of accurately capturing the essence of the text. He has consciously avoided putting his own style into his translation, except in one area. He can't escape his erudition, and although he does a great job of mimicking the loose grammar of the writers, he can't bring himself to emulate their limited palate of words. His vocabulary is varied and inventive, but always, on investigation, precisely accurate.
Early in the piece, for example, reading Matthew 6, his translation of vs 2 is when you give alms, therefore,do not trumpet it aloud before you, as those who are playacting do in the synagogues...
I thought that in the word playacting he was indulging in a little Eugene Peterson style paraphrasing, but I looked it up, and sure enough, ὑποκριταὶ (hypokritai) means "actors". David Bentley Hart was being, as usual, absolutely precise and accurate. And this passage which I have read countless times, in Greek and in English, took on new life. "Hypocrite" is a vague sort of word. It's application is usually a matter of opinion, and often owes much to misunderstanding of people's motives and circumstance. But playacting! That's deliberate, and knowing and precise. I immediately had a picture of myself as a young Christian, walking to church with my Christian flatmates. I remembered that as we neared the hall where our Pentecostal assembly met, the number of praise the lords and hallelujah brother!s in the conversation increased, until by the time we reached the place we were so holy we were walking eight inches above the ground. Playacting. And how we did that, because (as I now realise) all the other 996 people in the hall were also playacting, and together we were all writing the script for each other to follow. I thought of countless Anglican services, not so much playacting, really, as a scripted rehearsal. The New Testament, when it is read as accurately as we can get it, has the power to subvert the most dearly held illusions we hold about ourselves.
I suspect, that also true to form, Hart 's intentions are at least in part polemical. Rather than arguing, he is presenting the New Testament as accurately and as clearly as his vast knowledge permits, and allowing it to demolish those fanciful theological structures we have built on it. Many of our most cherished doctrines, be assured, won't stand too much close contact with the unadorned New Testament text. This is a wonderful book. Be warned.