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God and the Art of Happiness Hardcover – December 3, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
— University of Cambridge
"Ellen Charry has the gift of making deep connections between theology and ordinary life. In happiness she has identified a wonderful theme through which to explore some of the heights and depths of human existence. She revels in her topic and constantly draws the reader into fruitful, wise reflection on important matters."
Iain R. Torrance
— Princeton Theological Seminary
"A frequently voiced complaint today is that academic theology writes only for its own guilds and too often tumbles into an ugly and lazy jargon-ridden abstraction. In this subtle, nuanced book, born from both hope and personal anguish, Ellen Charry reconnects knowledge and healing, thereby responding to a deep need."
John Witte Jr.
— Emory University
"This original and powerfully argued book is destined to become a standard cite for scholars of theology and ethics. Ellen Charry critically reviews the idea of happiness in Scripture and tradition, with a particularly interesting analysis of Anglican divine Joseph Butler. What makes the book memorable, however, is its innovative teaching of 'asherism.' Asherism avoids the dangers of self-denying agapism and self-serving eudaemonism by confirming our perennial need to love God, neighbor, and self at once and to live out our lives and vocations by the letter, spirit, and telos of both the law and the gospel."
"Charry reframes Christian notions of happiness. . . . Invaluable book."
"Charry concludes that happiness is celebrating our own spiritual growth and well-being and God's enjoyment of these. . . . Thoughtful and engaging."
"This book, which blends academic rigor with personal anecdote and biblical example, will appeal to readers of theology, both at the level of pulpit and pew."
"Rich in biblical and pastoral insights. . . . This book is highly recommended for pastors' and seminary libraries."
Journal of Psychology and Christianity
"This is a very important book."
Theological Book Review
"Charry's coverage of a wide range of sources sheds much light on the timely subject. . . . An informed study of how thinkers across the centuries have wrestled with the tension between eschatological happiness and temporal flourishing."
Religious Studies Review
"A rewarding read that helpfully elucidates a Christian notion of flourishing that is both creational and eschatological."
Top Customer Reviews
Christian roots of the biblical concept of happiness hat arises out of the love of God for Man and Man for God. She calls this happiness Asherism, or the blessings that come from God. This much needed book will be a great resource for pastors and pastoral counselors offering comfort and encouragement to those who have suffered trauma and tragedy. Healing Hope for Bruised Souls
From the outset, Charry raises very valid points that 1.)Christians have underplayed temporal happiness in favor of eschatological happiness. We have sought treasures in heaven, forgetting that there may be treasures on earth as well, in other words, and 2.)theology in general, usually having to defend itself as being a legitimate scholarly discipline, has focused on systematization and logical rigor at the expense of practicality. In other words, if you pick up your average systematic theology, you're unlikely to find a section on "temporal happiness."
I couldn't agree more with these observations and rather enjoyed the first half of the book where Charry offers a short look at several Christian and psuedo-Christian thinkers and their thoughts on happiness. She has done well to identify this problem (although I suppose John Piper has been writing the same for 30 years). In the second half of the book, Charry seeks to fill this gap with "asherism", essentially laying out a doctrine of temporal happiness. Here the book flounders on nearly every level. It is philosophically shallow and theologically speaking, it accepts 5% of the Bible at the expense of the other 95%.
She says "Asherism teaches that happiness is an enjoyable obedient life. As Aquinas and Butler point out, this begins with being ourselves ...Happiness is an effect both of forms of self-love which Aquinas and Butler might agree are of a piece in living according to nature."(p 163)
She verbally acknowledge the fall of man, and says that man has less of a propensity toward obedience, but in the end the "fall of man" in the truly Christian sense is rejected. If we just "be ourselves" and act "according to nature" we'll be fine. We can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and be obedient to God unassisted. Grace, if there is any, is presumably just something that everyone carries around with them naturally.
God has established commands, and while some might be difficult to understand the exact purpose of, all tend toward our good and so we should follow them. What then about commands that seem counter-intuitive or detrimental to society? Remember when God commanded Joshua to wipe out the inhabitants of the promised land, how they were indiscriminately to kill every man, woman, child, and animal? First, Charry puts the blame on Moses (p 189), implying it might not have been God's order, but then when the text is very clear that God gave the command, she says, "As difficult as it is to swallow, the author(s) and editor(s) of the biblical text present these holy wars as obedience to divine commands that they trust are for the sake of God's plan for the establishment of his holy nation. Perhaps this is a point at which one should confront God, as Abraham did at Sodom, where God did not finally relent, and as Moses did at Sinai, where God did relent."(p 190)
In other words, God should have first consulted with Charry before he looked to the counsel of his own will. Charry rejects that what Yahweh does is good regardless of the human perception or reception of it, and instead holds God to an invisible moral standard over and above God. Back there behind the Almighty is Plato's "GOOD" to which God must answer, and to which we must hold him to account.
Charry rejects, implicitly, the doctrine of the atonement. She doesn't talk at all about sin in fact. Sin doesn't fit I guess since it's unhappy business! She talks (in passing) of Paul's strong distinction between the law of death and grace through faith as a later abberation or development. (intimating, obviously, a very low view of Scripture) She offers works-righteousness in it's stead, not only to Christians, but seemingly also to everyone, as she suggests that eternal punishment and retribution on the part of God may not be correct.
Jesus Christ was not the satisfaction of God's wrath upon man for his sin, as understood by Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, Owen, Edwards, not to mention the Hodges' and Warfield (i.e. the Princeton Theologians who submitted to God's word rather than forcing it to submit to them), but rather a jolly good role model to follow.
The God of the Bible and the God of the Quran (Koran) will each work just as well for the task; they each follow "God". She writes "Initiation is an awesome undertaking, for through it one is consecrated to God's way. The nonreligious can own their identity. However, Jews, Christians, and Muslims renounce the freedom to define themselves apart from God." (p 265)
Charry has not learned that true Christian joy follows from feeling the weight of sin, repenting from works-righteousness, and placing our sin upon Christ, through faith, and upon faith in him alone. She has not understood James: "Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up." (James 4:9-10)
If you are a Christian, seeking happiness, you're better to start here: