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Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire Paperback – May 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Brock and Parker begin their research perplexed by a riddle: Why are images of the crucified Christ absent from early Christian art? After visiting Mediterranean and European sites sacred to early Christians, Brock and Parker formulate a provocative answer: the dying Christ never appears in early Christian art because early Christians did not believe Christ’s redemptive death had opened a heavenly afterlife for the faithful. Rather, Brock and Parker assert, early Christians looked to Jesus as the exemplar who showed how to defy injustice by creating paradise on Earth in a loving community. In this theory, images of Christ’s passion and death invaded Christian art only when the Church started using a theology of otherworldly salvation to recruit the forces necessary to build a Christian empire. Skeptics may view with suspicion the authors’ willingness to substitute conjectural interpretations of art and heretical gnostic texts for plain readings of the orthodox biblical canon. However, as the response to The Da Vinci Code (2003) established, highly speculative retellings of Christian history attract readers. --Bryce Christensen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


In the best tradition of theological inquiry, Saving Paradise provides a history and a theology that helps us engage the pressing problems of the world. . . . In Saving Paradise, Brock and Parker have brought forward a bright thread of the Christian tapestry that had been in the background, largely ignored. In so doing they have made accessible rich and vivid theological resources. —Margaret R. Miles, Christian Century

"This humane and often beautiful study of faith, loss and hope straddles the boundary between historical discovery and spiritual writing." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Saving Paradise offers eye-opening explorations of the mixture of spiritual vision and myopia that marked many of the great figures of Western Christianity. Its rich text and the additional material in its notes should spur readers to examine both the darkness and the light that can be found in all of us." —Darrell Turner, National Catholic Reporter

"Brock and Parker urge readers to see church history in a new light, with an eye toward social justice. . . . By re-emphasizing early Christians' focus on paradise, on the kingdom of God on Earth, the authors are convinced they are reclaiming authentic 'traditional' Christianity. It's a controversial thesis, deserving of debate and study."—Douglas Todd, Religion News Services

"This powerful, unprecedented, and compelling book brings real Christianity out of the shadows."—George Lakoff, author of Don't Think of an Elephant!

"Only rarely is a single book an event. This book is such a rarity."—Professor Daniel C. Maguire, author of A Moral Creed for All Christians

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (May 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807067547
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807067543
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #522,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rita Nakashima Brock is the co-author of "Soul Repair: Recovering from the Moral Injury after War" with Gabriella Lettini(Beacon Press, 2012),a research professor and codirector of the Soul Repair Center at Brite Divinity School, Ft. Worth, Texas. She is the author, with Rebecca Ann Parker, of
"Proverbs of Ashes" and "Saving Paradise". She lives in Oakland, California.

Photo Credit: Yen Lin Studios, 2011.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Tamara E. Lewis on July 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I LOVE Saving Paradise!! Brock and Parker provide a historical lens through Christian thought and practice that demonstrates that the earliest followers of Christ embraced a theology of hope, life, and living community as opposed to the emphasis on torture, suffering, and death. As a graduate student of church history, I found myself amazed in my own studies of even so-called `orthodox' Church Fathers including Justin Martyr, Ireneaus, and Origen that a theology of the cross was not highlighted. Instead, these thinkers, whose works are indicative of many early Christian communities, highlight the Incarnation of Christ as the crucial defining event--the coming of the Logos to the world as a human being. Even later thinkers (like Athanasius and Cyril) embroiled in the Christological controversies of Nicaea and later Constantinople, were concerned with the definition of the Logos-man--how God could come in the flesh. Again, it was the living incarnation of God in Christ that was the crucial defining event--that is, the LIFE that God brought to humanity through Christ, not the death and suffering of the crucifixion alone which is the pivotal event in Christology! Brock and Parker make this case convincingly by traveling through the annals of church history and showing that it was in the second millennium of Christian history, amidst the warring struggles of the tribes of Europe and later in the birth of the Holy Roman Empire, that the theology of the crucifixion rises to prominence. This book is a MUST for students of the bible, Christian thought, the history of Christianity, theology, or anyone interested in the way that Christian ideas and doctrine are transmitted through the church and other institutions! In addition, it is a DELIGHTFUL read!Read more ›
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Joanne M. Braxton on July 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
SAVING PARADISE illuminates the origins of Christianity and the quest for human wholeness and shows how both got "hijacked" by imperial ambitions in the 9th. c., leading to the crusades and other forms of church sanctioned violence. From an Ameircan Studies studies standpoint, the last four chapters showing the connection among this dislocated Christianity, imperial ambitions, New World conquest, and the enslavement of African peoples are extremely valuable. The chapters shed suprizing light on familiar figures such as Edwards, Emerson and Thoreau by examining them within Christianity's cultural shift to redemptive violence. This is a book that calls us to struggle for justice and peace on this earth, rather than some imagined afterlife or 'new world.' For those who are willing to embrace it, this work frames a challenge to re-vision love for this world here and now as the necessary first step for creating a sustainable future. It transcends doctrine and denomination to elevate theoretical discourse and empower practical imagination, giving us both a history of how we got into our present situation and resources for finding our way out of it. A must read for intelligent persons of all persuasions in a world where truth is increasingly scarce and profound reconsiderations are imperative.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Woody on August 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Images of Jesus's crucifixion did not appear in churches until the tenth century. Why not? The crucified Christ is so important to Western Christianity, how could it be that images of his suffering and death were absent from early churches? With these questions began a five year pilgrimage for the authors. They were taught that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ saved the world and that this idea was the core of Christian faith. However, during extensive searching, they found that prior to the tenth century, Christian imagery portrayed Jesus alive teaching and healing, living in the paradise that is this world. All the images were of goodness and plenty, of gentleness and love; images that reflect the belief that creation is good and blessed by God's love, especially in the person of Jesus Christ. The foundation of Christianity is grounded on love of this world and a certainty that paradise permeates all of creation. The Eucharist was a sign of paradise and celebrated in gratitude and joy with Christ.

Brock and Parker take on the history of the subversion of the Christian message beginning with Charlemagne, who instituted the death penalty for conquered people who refused to convert to Christianity. After Charlemagne, the clergy introduced the dead body of Christ into the Eucharist. Killing, suffering and dying in the name of Christ began to represent the highest honor for Christians.

At 550 pages (including extensive notes and index) this book is not for the faint of heart. But, just like their first book Proverbs of Ashes, it is written in an approachable, conversational style. Consider reading and talking about it in a small group with people taking responsibility for one or two chapters, or bring it into a classroom and/or church setting.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Where does new hope come from? Often from remembering what has been lost. As a work of Christian historical theology, this is one of the most important books of the current generation. It does what a great theologian once called 'epochal thinking' about how Christianity MUST, in an era of environmental crisis and religious conflict, recover the theological sensibility that marked the first thousand years of Christian faith -- when Christ was understood and depicted as opening the possibility again of human life together in an earthly paradise, and before that vision was replaced by one of Christian imperialism and salvation by violence. The prose here is sparkling. The research is thorough and well-documented. The thesis is challenging. The only weakness, in my view, is in the theological summary. When the co-authors call for us to embrace the good earth we have been given in gratitude, I'm with them. But when they emphasize present thanks by denigrating the temptations of both nostalgia and hope, I think they forget what they themselves teach about how lamentation is the necessary prelude to a resurrection,
and even the very arc of their own argument. They give us hope through their active nostalgia for a once dominant form of Christian thought and practice that we desperately need to recover today.
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