A BRIEF HISTORY OF HEAVEN
Alister E. McGrath, Author . Blackwell $54.95 (216p) ISBN 978-
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.
Reviewed on: 03/31/2003