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By Ellen T. Charry / Eerdmans / 2010
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Western Christians are generally skittish about happiness, observes Ellen Charry. They live in the hope of heaven but are somewhat nervous about experiencing too much joy this side of paradise. Charry’s God and the Art of Happiness questions this way of thinking, reviewing the history of the theological conversation about happiness and offering a constructive proposal for considering it anew.
After taking an introductory look at ancient Greek philosophy, Charry surveys the treatment of God and happiness throughout the history of Christian thought, from Saint Augustine through the eighteenth century. She then explores the biblical vision of happiness in the Pentateuch, Psalms, Proverbs, and the Gospel of John, clearly showing how the Bible encourages the happiness and flourishing that accompany obedience to the creator. For those living in the beauty of holiness and divine love, she argues, this world is no “vale of tears”—and there need be no conflict between pleasure and piety, between goodness and happiness.
Rising from the ashes of deep personal pain and loss, this highly original theology of the Christian life offers comfort, encouragement, and healing for all who long to experience true happiness here and now.
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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.
—David F. Ford, regius professor of divinity, University of Cambridge
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.
—Iain R. Torrance, professor of patristics, Princeton Theological Seminary
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.
—John Witte Jr., director, Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory University
Ellen T. Charry is Margaret W. Harmon Professor of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. She earned a PhD in religion from Temple University following an MSW from Yeshiva University and BA from Barnard College. Charry’s interest is in the Christian life, and her books include By the Renewing of your Minds, Inquiring after God, and God and the Art of Happiness. From 1998 to 2010 she was a member of the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church. Currently serving as an editor at large for the Christian Century, Charry has also served on the editorial boards of the Scottish Journal of Theology and Pro Ecclesia, and was formerly editor of Theology Today.