Without a doubt there are a lot of popular books about heaven. But there are quite a few readable and interesting scholarly ones too.
• Jeffrey Burton Russell’s A History of Heaven: The Singing Silence discusses heaven in church doctrine, literature, and art from the early church to the fourteenth century, and his Paradise Mislaid: How We Lost Heaven—And How We Can Regain It considers how views of heaven have evolved in the last 100 years. Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang take a similar survey approach in their Heaven: A History, as does Alister McGrath in A Brief History of Heaven. A somewhat older book on the topic, but still worth reading, is Ulrich Simon’s Heaven in the Christian Tradition.
• Journalist Lisa Miller describes a number of views of heaven—including but not limited to Christian ones—in her Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife and in the profusely illustrated Time-magazine-sponsored Visions of Heaven. (Time also did a brief web gallery of images of hell.)
John Casey’s After Lives: A Guide to Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory serves as a “reader’s guide to views of the afterlife across centuries, cultures and religions.” J. Edward Wright’s The Early History of Heaven discusses the cultural context of early Jewish and Christian ideas about heaven. And, given the modern popularity of stories of near-death experiences, Carol Zaleski’s Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death Experience in Medieval and Modern Times is well worth checking out.
• There are many books on heaven in specific eras of church history. Heaven in the early church is treated by Jaroslav Pelikan, The Shape of Death: Life, Death, and Immortality in the Early Fathers; in the Middle Ages by Piero Camporesi, The Fear of Hell: Images of Damnation and Salvation in Early Modern Europe and Eileen Gardiner, Visions of Heaven and Hell before Dante; after the Reformation by Philip Almond, Heaven and Hell in Enlightenment England and Michael Wheeler, Heaven, Hell, and the Victorians; and in American religious history in two books called Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell (one by John Gerstner and one by Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney), Jonathan Butler, Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling: Heaven and Hell in American Revivalism, 1870–1920, Rebecca Price Janney, Who Goes There?: A Cultural History of Heaven and Hell, and Gary Scott Smith, Heaven in the American Imagination. (For more see our History of Hell guide.)
• Heaven (and hell) as pictured in Christian art appear in many books, among them Robert Hughes’s Heaven and Hell in Western Art; Rosa Giorgi’s Angels and Demons in Art; Erika Langmuir’s Heaven in Art; and Nancy Grubb’s Revelations: Art of the Apocalypse.
• If heaven in poetry is your thing, excellent translations of the Divine Comedy are available: try the Penguin Classics translation by Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds, the Everyman’s Library edition by Allen Mandelbaum, or the version by John Ciardi. “Pearl” appears in The Complete Works of the Pearl Poet (translated by Casey Finch), The Dover Thrift edition of Paradise Lost edited by John Himes is a good place to begin reading Milton’s take on heaven and hell.
• And finally, the theological landscape of books on heaven is vast, but you might begin with several writers from this issue: N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope and Jerry Walls’s Hell: The Logic of Damnation; Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy; Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation; and Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory—A Protestant View of the Cosmic Drama: Rethinking the Things that Matter Most. (The CH History of Hell guide also includes some more theologically oriented recommendations covering both heaven and hell.)
Christian History issues
Read back issues or purchase available copies in print at the CH website (www.christianhistorymagazine.org). Past issues on these topics include
• 61: The End: A History of the Second Coming
• 70: Dante’s Guide to Heaven and Hell
• The History of Hell, our 32-page resource guide describing three historic views of hell.
Videos from Vision Video . . .
. . . include two adaptations of Bunyan’s classic (Pilgrim’s Progress: Journey to Heaven and Dangerous Journey), the Book by Book DVD session on Revelation, The Incomparable Christ (episode 4 of The Eternal Jesus), Heaven is for Real, and Heaven: One Minute After You Die.
• A fairly straightforward rehearsal of Christian views of heaven and hell and the thinkers behind them can be found at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, plato.stanford.edu/entries/heaven-hell. Christianity Today has a good roundup of popular articles on heaven (some are subscriber-only access):
• At Hymnary.org, the great hymn research site containing over 5,000 texts and tunes from many Christian hymnals, you can access 1,200 hymns on heaven (as well as all sorts of other information, including the biographies of over 1,000 authors who wrote hymns on heaven). Go to www.hymnary.org/texts?qu=topics:heaven.
• A similar search at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, www.ccel.org/search/fulltext/heaven, will lead you to countless primary sources discussing heaven—even more hymns, texts from the church fathers, biblical commentaries, devotional literature, and references to heaven in everything from Augustine’s Confessions to Calvin’s Institutes.
• You can find a good annotated copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost with supplemental material at www.paradiselost.org and at www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/; and everything you ever wanted to know about Dante’s Divine Comedy at www.worldofdante.org. (A goodprose translation of the Italian master’s poem is at . Finally the entire text of “Pearl” translated into modern English is at www.billstanton.co.uk/pearl/menu.php. CH
By The editors
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #112 in 2014]
The forgotten Inkling
Owen Barfield (1898-1997) insisted on the imagination as a road to truth. It profoundly changed his friends—and through them, usEdwin Woodruff Tait
A Christian revolutionary?
Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) proclaimed Christ as Lord over areas from theater to economicsSuzanne Bray
“We still make by the law in which we were made”
Tolkien and “subcreation” — the making of a secondary, fictional worldColin Duriez
Friends, warriors, sages
How seven writers gave us stories that endure, imparting truths that never fadethe editors with Alister McGrath, Chrystal Downing, Colin Duriez
Christian History Magazine #112 - Heaven
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