- Explore more great deals on thousands of titles in our Deals in Books store.
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Who Goes There?: A Cultural History of Heaven and Hell Paperback – Bargain Price, February 1, 2009
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Special offers and product promotions
Whatever your beliefs about the destiny of the soul after death, read Who Goes There?: A Cultural History of Heaven and Hell. Rebecca Price Janney's tour of these controversial destinations of the soul is an astute analysis of the colliding dogmas that shape our cultural expressions of eternity.
-Dr. Peter A. Lillback, president, The Providence Forum; president, Westminster Theological Seminary
In her thoroughly readable and highly informative historical survey, Rebecca Price Janney has traced Americans' attitudes toward the afterlife, and done us all a great service.
-Peter Marshall, minister and author; founder of Peter Marshall Ministries
From the Back Cover
This can’t be ignored forever.
We have, for the most part, attempted to loosen ourselves from the beliefs of the past when it comes to the afterlife. We have found the leftovers appetizing, picking and choosing whatever parts of whatever paths suit our needs. But what basis do our beliefs about Heaven and Hell have in reality?
From the Great Awakening to the American Revolution through the tumultuous nineteenth century, all the way past two world wars and a technological revolution, Rebecca Price Janney pieces together a thoughtful narrative of American ideas about the afterlife.
And throughout this historical journey there still exists an eternal truth that presses on us, ever so slightly, despite public opinion.
A choice must be made.
Browse award-winning titles. See more
Top customer reviews
Rebecca Price Janney's writing is simple and clear. Her subject covers the cultural evolution of beliefs regarding the afterlife in America - a subtitle that should take prominence over the more confusing "Who Goes There?" on the front cover.
The book's thesis is simple: American cultural beliefs of heaven and hell have been fragmented and dispersed far from their origins in Puritan Protestant orthodoxy. Proof is then given through a whirlwind tour through the history of the United States, particularly focused upon obituaries and views toward the afterlife. It is in the numerous sermons, poems, songs, articles and films quoted that Janney's work as a historian shines. The fact that it is a quick read is a testament to her clear organization of the material and consistent writing style.
The theological side, however, is slightly stunted. The strength here is on the history - while her theological biases are clear, they remain largely unargued except via correlations between each era's behaviours. The strong 'divine war' ethic that fueled many U.S. foreign incursions is sympathized with and as the years gain on the present the writing loses some of it's potency. Janney's examination of challenges to this theological hegemony sometimes comes off as dismissive - whether that was the true intent or merely a symptom of brevity is unclear.
Nevertheless, as someone strongly interested in history and theology, this was a wonderful book, and is highly recommended (chapters 3-16 in particular).
The Ameri-centricism and the emphasis on Protestant theology leaves gaps worthy of another's work, but within it's bounds this work is steadfast.
Janney is described on the book cover as "a theologically trained historian" and this book is a perfect example of what that means. The book begins with a quick overview of how our contemporary popular culture seems to think about the afterlife and then asks some important and critical questions. Just what are our thoughts about heaven and hell - and more importantly who goes there - based on? With this question on the table, Janney begins an historical overview of how Americans have viewed this subject from the founding of our country to the present.
There are fascinating nuggets of theological, ecclesiastical, cultural, academic, and sociological factors that have shaped and changed our views of the afterlife. How did the various wars shape our thinking? What about immigration? Did technology play any role? All of these questions and more are approached in a clear, easy to read narrative that shows how a nation that once viewed all people as "sinners in the hands of an angry God" has transformed into a kinder, gentler people who believes that all, or at least most, people go to heaven and "are looking down on us from up there." But the question is still the same, Just what are these beliefs based on?
While Janney subtly argues throughout the book that we need to resist the "feel good" conclusions of universalism the book is not preachy or apologetic in tone. Rather, it is a call for all of us (whether we are pastors or computer technicians) to think theologically about this important issue. At one point she says:
"When people think of the 1930s, images usually arise of unemployment and bread lines, hobos bumming cigarettes and train rides, and the Dust Bowl. It was also the age when secular mass media began to dominate American life. For example, as strapped for cash as they were, by the end of the decade some 80 percent of Americans owned radios, and seventy-five million went to the movies weekly. Radio, movies, and newspapers both reflected and helped shape the culture of that time, supplanting the church as the keeper of the keys to the American way of life. What Americans listened to and watched were aimed for the lowest common denominator in terms of intellectual content, good taste, and morals, and their influence was enormous."
Based on the currently popular views of heaven and hell it seems that many of us have aimed for the lowest common denominator in terms of intellectual content on this subject and Janney's book is a timely call to rethink things more carefully and theologically. Depending on how we answer the important question, "who goes there?" our thoughts on this topic shape everything else about how we live out our faith.
With this inextricable connection in mind, Rebecca Janney explores Americans' beliefs about heaven and hell over the course of our national history, observing their behavioral effects. She draws a distinction between expectations colored by sentiment and those anchored in the Bible. And what emerges is the compelling message that biblical theology matters.
Dr. Janney's expert analysis in a vivid retelling of successive turning points in the American experience makes her book engaging. Moreover, it challenges the reader to carefully examine the basis for his/her thoughts about heaven and hell, grasping their impliations.