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A Brief History of Heaven / Edition 1

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This engaging book by one of today's best-known Christian writers explores the history of heaven, from its origins in biblical writings to its most recent representations.

  • A short, accessible book on the history of heaven.
  • Draws together representations of heaven by a wide range of writers, theologians, politicians and artists.
  • Covers literary works such as Dante's Divine Comedy, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and the poems of George Herbert.
  • Considers discussions by Marx and Freud of heaven's role in society.
  • Based on serious scholarship but is ideal for the non-specialist who wants to learn more about the idea of heaven.
  • Alister E. McGrath is one of today's best-known Christian writers.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Christians throughout history have imagined heaven in many diverse ways: a celestial city (sometimes called the "New Jerusalem"); a kingdom where God resides on a throne; a perpetual feast with an abundance of food and drink; a garden of paradise. Heaven has also served different theological purposes as a consolation for earthly suffering, a reward for good works or a promise of reunion with loved ones. After many years of studying Christianity's enormous body of historical literature on heaven, author and theologian McGrath notes at least one common theme that unites all these different visions and purposes: "The Christian concept of heaven is iconic, rather than intellectual-something that makes its appeal to the imagination, rather than the intellect, which calls out to be visualized rather than merely understood." Herein lay the rich possibilities and contemplative pleasures of this historically detailed discussion. McGrath, a professor of historical theology at Oxford University, organizes most of his narrative around the prevailing "visuals" of heaven, and how these have influenced Christian spirituality. After all, he notes, "It is much easier to reflect upon an image than an idea." From the way Christians built churches to the music they wrote for hymnals, the ever-morphing images of heaven have shaped this religion enormously. Though clearly a scholar, McGrath transcends the drone of the academic dissertation, offering an accessible and thorough narrative. Using the rich visual imagery of heaven, McGrath has created a fascinating kaleidoscope for viewing the evolution of Christian worship. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A professor of historical theology at Oxford and author of the standard introductory textbook on Christian theology for seminary students, McGrath offers a readable summary of prose and poetry on the theme of "the hereafter" in English literature. In this work of historical criticism, he examines artists' and writers' concepts of salvation and their influence on Western culture. Although the majority of works surveyed are by well-known British and American writers from the 18th to the early 20th centuries, McGrath also examines earlier literary works, including biblical accounts and Dante's Divine Comedy. He also considers writings by Freud and Marx on the role of heaven in social politics. This book is the first volume in a series on topics in philosophy and religion, written for educated lay readers but based on serious scholarship. It is delightfully lucid and insightful, much like McGrath's best-selling history of the King James version of the Holy Bible, In the Beginning. Eight illustrative plates of artworks from the Renaissance through the Pre-Raphaelite era were not seen by this reviewer. Recommended for large public libraries as well as academic libraries offering a variety of Christian religious courses.-Joyce Smothers, M. Div. student, Princeton Theological Seminary, NJ Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
‘Alister McGrath invariably combines enormous scholarship with an accessible and engaging style. This book is no exception - a splendid survey of a centrally important subject, covering theology and the arts with equal grace and clarity.’ Dr Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury

"Bringing together literature, theology, politics and the arts, this fascinating book traces the remarkable influence that the idea of heaven has had - and continues to have - on western culture." Publishing News

"It is delightfully lucid and insightful...Recommended for large public libraries as well as academic libraries offering a variety of Christian religious courses." Joyce Smothers, Library Journal

"Though clearly a scholar, McGrath transcends the drone of the academic dissertation, offering an accessible and thorough narrative. Using the rich visual imagery of heaven, McGrath has created a fascinating kaleidoscope for viewing the evolution of Christian worship." Publishers Weekly

"Pick of the week...It's an ambitious, immensely accessible, erudite and entertaining exploration of the way the idea of heaven has been constructed over the centuries." The Saturday Age

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780631233541
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 2/12/2003
  • Series: Wiley Blackwell Brief Histories of Religion Series , #12
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 216
  • Sales rank: 1,436,402
  • Product dimensions: 4.80 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Alister E. McGrath isProfessor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, and Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He is the author of numerous best-selling books, including The Future of Christianity, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd edition, and In The Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1 The City: The New Jerusalem 1
2 The Garden: Heaven as Paradise 39
3 Opening the Gates of Heaven: Atonement and Paradise 75
4 The Signposting of Heaven: Signals of Transcendence 111
5 The Consolation of Heaven 137
6 Journey's End: Heaven as the Goal of the Christian Life 161
Index 192
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