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Saving Paradise

One of "Publishers Weekly's" Best Books of 2008 During their first millennium, Christians filled their sanctuaries with images of Christ as a living presence-as a shepherd, teacher, healer, or an enthroned god. He is serene and surrounded by lush scenes, depictions of this world as paradise. Yet once he appeared as crucified, dying was virtually all Jesus seemed able to do, and paradise disappeared from the earth. "Saving Paradise" turns a fascinating new lens on Christianity, from its first centuries to the present day, asking how its early vision of beauty evolved into a vision of torture, and what changes in society and theology marked that evolution. It also retrieves, for today, a life-affirming Christianity that the world sorely needs.
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About the Author

Rebecca Ann Parker was President of and Professor of Theology at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California, until 2014, and coauthor of Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us and Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire. An ordained United Methodist minister, Parker has dual fellowship with the United Methodist Church and the Unitarian Universalist Association. She currently serves on the board of an interfaith think tank focused on progressive religion and politics called Faith Voices for the Common Good. Rita Nakashima Brock is Research Professor of Theology and Culture and Director of the Soul Repair Center at Brite Divinity School, Ft. Worth, Texas. She is author, with Gabriella Lettini, of Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War and author, with Rebecca Ann Parker, of Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us and Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire. She lives in Oakland, California.


Why are images of the crucified Jesus absent from early Christian art? When Brock and Parker, theologians and coauthors of Proverbs of Ashes, investigated representations of Christ in Italy and Turkey's first millennium of public art, they found pictured not death but earthly joy. Descriptions of this art (with sparse b&w photographs), quotes from early Christian writers and strong analyses reveal a powerful "genealogy of paradise" in this life focusing on the "ethical grace" at the heart of Jesus' message. Explorations of baptism, the Eucharist, beauty, martyrdom and human divinity (theosis) show an early Christian world where the resurrection had more hold on the imagination than the crucifixion. Brock and Parker locate the paradigmatic shift toward suffering, judgment and atonement in the bloody forced conversion of the Northern European Saxons by Charlemagne. The book's second half describes the harrowing adoption of "redemptive violence" in medieval Europe and the New World's Eden, built on genocide and slavery. This humane and often beautiful study of faith, loss and hope straddles the boundary between historical discovery and spiritual writing. (July) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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

The doctrine of the Crucifixion is central to Christianity, but has it always been so? In this controversial new work, feminist theologians Brock and Parker (Starr King Sch. for the Ministry, Graduate Theological Union) argue that Christianity's original symbol was not a cross but a vision of paradise. Building on their earlier book, Proverbs of Ashes, in which they contended that Christianity's emphasis on the Crucifixion sanctions violence and abuse, they here assert that the Crucifixion was neither central nor relevant to early Christians' faith. They base this assertion, however, on their interpretation of early Christian art, largely ignoring historical and textual evidence to the contrary. In Part 1, the authors define their vision of paradise as an ethical, of-this-world community; in Part 2, they explore how the violence of the Crusades began to postpone the notion of paradise, transforming it into the doctrine of atonement and later offering it as an escape route from suffering. By reimagining paradise in this way, they attempt to reclaim it and thereby reclaim Christianity. Though the book presents some interesting new ideas, it would have benefited from greater focus on historical/critical scholarship. Recommended only for specialized collections.--Brian Greene, Northeastern Univ. Libs., Boston Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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