Cover image for A brief history of heaven
A brief history of heaven
McGrath, Alister E., 1953-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Malden, MA : Blackwell Pub., 2003.
Physical Description:
x, 203 pages : illustrations ; 17 cm.
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Material Type
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BT846.3 .M34 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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.

Author Notes

Alister E. McGrath is Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, and Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. viii
Prefacep. ix
1 The City: The New Jerusalemp. 1
Images and the Christian Faithp. 2
The City of Jerusalem in the Old Testamentp. 7
The City of Jerusalem in the New Testamentp. 10
Augustine of Hippo on the Two Citiesp. 13
The Heavenly City and Medieval Spiritualityp. 17
Pearl and the New Jerusalemp. 25
John Bunyan's Heavenly Cityp. 29
The Shape of the Heavenly Bodyp. 33
2 The Garden: Heaven as Paradisep. 39
The Quest for the Garden of Edenp. 41
Paradise in the Biblep. 43
Early Christian Views of Paradisep. 47
The Millennium as Paradisep. 52
Medieval Visions of Paradisep. 54
Dante's Divine Comedyp. 58
Paradise and the Enclosed Gardenp. 65
Heaven as the Restoration of Edenp. 70
3 Opening the Gates of Heaven: Atonement and Paradisep. 75
Christ the Victorp. 79
Christ the Herop. 83
Christ the Harrower of Hellp. 88
Christ the Redeemer: Atonement as Satisfactionp. 94
Christ the Lover: Atonement and the Enkindling of Lovep. 96
The Institutionalization of Atonement: The Church as the Gateway to Heavenp. 101
The Privatization of Atonement: Personal Faith as the Gateway to Heavenp. 106
4 The Signposting of Heaven: Signals of Transcendencep. 111
Nature as an Anticipation of Heavenp. 113
The Ascent of Love and the Intimation of Heavenp. 117
Experience and the Sense of Heaven: Herbert and Trahernep. 120
Nature as a Signpost of Heaven: Romanticism and Transcendentalismp. 124
Longing for Heaven: C. S. Lewisp. 130
5 The Consolation of Heavenp. 137
Reunion with Family in Heaven in Early Roman Christianityp. 139
Heaven as an Encounter with Godp. 141
Heaven as a Dream: Feuerbach, Marx, and Freudp. 146
Heaven as an Encounter with Loved Onesp. 150
African American Spiritualsp. 155
6 Journey's End: Heaven as the Goal of the Christian Lifep. 161
The Concept of Spiritualityp. 162
The Hope of Heaven: Theological Foundationsp. 164
The Appeal to Worship: Heaven on Earthp. 166
Feasting in the Kingdomp. 168
Journeying to the Promised Landp. 171
Returning to the Homeland from Exilep. 175
Seeing God Face to Facep. 181
Works Consultedp. 185
Indexp. 192