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Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire Hardcover – July 1, 2008
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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
Only rarely is a single book an event. This book is such a rarity. Rita Brock and Rebecca Parker show that solid scholarship can be expressed with passion and literary grace as they recover the beauty of an earth-loving Christianity lost for a thousand years beneath dry creeds and formulae and poisonous myths of sacralized violence.—Daniel C. Maguire, author of A Moral Creed for All Christians
"Every Christian theologian and preacher should read this book and be profoundly challenged."—James H. Cone, author of Malcolm & Martin & America
"Saving Paradise challenges us to recover an ancient world view that is life transforming and earth affirming. It reminds us of a biblical perspective that does not reserve paradise for the dead but invites the living to find grace, justice, peace and compassion-here and now-amid the jangling discord of violence and war. It may mark the beginning of a paradigm shift in contemporary Christian understanding and interfaith dialogue."—Reverend James A. Forbes, Jr., president and founder of the Healing of the Nations Foundation, senior minister emeritus of the Riverside Church of New York City
"How did Christianity become a religion of finitude and guilt rather than one of promise and celebration? Brock and Parker ran with the evidence, showing us the importance of art, ritual, devotional practices, and liturgical space for early Christians. This tangible past transformed their research and led them to see that paradise in this world lies at the heart of Christianity." —Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, author of Dictionary of Christian Art
"This powerful, unprecedented, and compelling book brings real Christianity out of the shadows. It lights up the religious roots of American society at a time when progressives need to challenge conservative politicians who use Christianity as a false prop for their ideology."—George Lakoff, author of Don't Think of an Elephant!
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Top Customer Reviews
This is not a book for a pew-warmer. But if you are serious about studying the Christian faith, it's a wondrous resource. However, I'll caution you again: it will change your emphases. I have not, since reading this book, been able to recite the Nicene Creed, for example. I know it by heart, but I also understand its political origins now. Nor have I had the same enthusiasm I once had for stigmata; I'm not sure what the phenomenon means, but I'm fairly certain that it does not mean what I once took it to mean.
What if we found that Christianity had been like our reconstruction during its first centuries?
This intriguing book explores the roots of Christianity through some of its earliest writers and posits that, as the subtitle indicates, the religion began with a thorough love of the paradise that is this world but redefined itself when it became a servant of political power in Charlemagne's time. This redefinition coincides with a shift in Christian art to a focus on the crucifixion in all its gory detail and a shift in rhetoric toward a justification of violence against heretics and unbelievers.
The book introduces us to a remarkable array of theologians over the past two millennia, and many readers will no doubt want to learn more about Macrina, Cyril of Jerusalem, Heloise, and other thinkers whose writings have kept alive the vision of paradise in the here and now. I would have liked the book to have a bibliography so that I could more easily add to my reading list.
Their concept of paradise in the here and now is intriguing: "Paradise is human life restored to its divinely infused dignity and capacity, and it is a place of struggle with evil and injustice, requiring the development of wisdom, love, nonviolence, and responsible uses of power." Accordingly, what Christians should aspire to is something that they call "ethical grace". "Ethical grace is full-bodied life in the present - attuned to what is beautiful and good and responsive to the legacies of injustice and currents of harm."
This book will be of particular interest to Progressives with a Christian, social-gospel background. It may even bring lapsed Christians back to the fold. The authors' vision of Christianity harmonizes with the Progressive goals of peace, social justice, and environmental sanity. Indeed, the authors seem to be Progressives who happen to be Christian rather than Christians whose faith has led them to Progressive values.
How important is Jesus to this concept of "ethical grace"? Can people from other religions or even, shudder, non-theistic backgrounds arrive at the same vision? I think so, though the authors may beg to differ. It is an interesting question.
I have been concerned for many years at the increasing obsession in Christian theology with the crucifixion of Christ and the concept of heaven as an afterlife, despite the many statements in the gospels in which Jesus insists that the realm of God is here and present. This book is a magnificent verification that this second focus is the true reality of "Immanuel" - God with Us - as the primary teaching of Christianity. It was sustained for the first 10 centuries of Christian belief, and as the authors insist, the ongoing presence of God's Spirit culminating in Christ and continuing in this world is essential idea.
This book was brought to my attention by my favorite author, Kittredge Cherry, in her "Jesus in Love" blog a few weeks ago. Since I know her theology to be totally congruent with my own, I was completely certain that I would find this book an absolute gem, and I am certainly not disappointed. The authors' use of both art from ancient churches and appropriate scripture quotations adds beauty and power to the narrative.