9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2004
As is sometimes said, "There's more than one way to skin a cat." In a similiar vein, the topic of heaven can be broached from multiples angles. If you take nothing else from Dr. Alister McGrath's book, _A Brief History of Heaven_, you will at the very least learn that the Christian concept of heaven can be thought of in different ways.
_A Brief History of Heaven_ is a unique little book (184 pages) where theology meets the arts. McGrath provides a nice blend of theological reflection on heaven with a mapped development of Christian conceptions of heaven throughout the Church's history. This latter feature often takes the form of rich citations. I personally found these extra-biblical references enriching, not to mention nostalgic. After all, many of the classic works mentioned I had taken in my introductory course to English Literature in first-year university. For example, McGrath draws on authors like Dante Alighieri, John Donne, George Herbert, John Milton, John Bunyan, Matthew Arnold, and others, not to mention classic works like _Sir Gawain and the Green Knight_, _Beowulf_, _Everyman_, etc.
McGrath spends the first two of six chapters discussing perhaps the two primal images of heaven in Christian thought: Heaven as a city (the City of God) and as a garden (Paradise). The reader cannot help but be gripped by the fact that, "...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." (McGrath, 2003, p. 166)
In the middle chapters of _A Brief History of Heaven_, McGrath veers off the beaten path somewhat and looks at how the Christian's longing for heaven is satisifed and, perhaps more fundamentally, why such a desire arises in the first place.
In chapter five, McGrath examines the notion of heaven as a place of rest and consolation for those, who have experienced grief and sorrow in this life such as at the loss of a loved one. _A Brief History of Heaven_ concludes with due attention given to the profound question of how Christians are to hold onto this longing for heaven when once they finally meet up with it.
Admittedly, this book is not for everyone. If the reader is looking for a purely biblical or theological treatment of the doctrine of heaven, then (s)he is best to look elsewhere. For those who earnestly desire a work that will arouse the imagination and create a homesickness for heaven, however, McGrath may meet the doctor's orders. I think _A Brief History of Heaven_ will serve those readers best, who are looking for a work that will point them in other directions as they pursue the topic of heaven. For example, a good exercise would be to track down and read the different literary works McGrath makes reference to.
Regardless of your decision on this book, it should be obvious that as Christians we need to engage our imaginations with the concept of heaven. We need to induce a homesickness for heaven. It is perhaps the irony of twenty-first century evangelicalism that great appeals can be made to non-Christians on the grounds of the hope of heaven that we have, all the while being guilty of gross negligence by giving but sparce details - if any at all - about this heaven we so hope and long for.
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
McGrath tends to meander in this book, but the side trips are interesting too. McGrath quotes theologians, writers and poets throughout the ages to present their views on heaven. It is a short, but very entertaining and challenging read. McGrath, like C. S. Lewis, makes us yearn for heaven and thus, makes our pilgrimage on earth more bearable.