God and the Art of Happiness

December 4, 2018 by Joe Small

Augustine heard the voice of a child saying, “Take and read, take and read.” He opened a Bible, began to read, and was set on the path of committed discipleship and faithful pastoral ministry as the Bishop of Hippo and a theologian for the ages. Let’s assume that pastors do not need to be encouraged to read the Bible. But what else can we read that will enhance our preaching, teaching, and pastoral care?

Suggestion for December reading:

  • Ellen T. Charry, God and the Art of Happiness. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010.

The pastoral value of Ellen Charry’s book is signaled by her deeply personal introduction: “The gap between eschatological happiness and temporal happiness needs to be addressed because people experience hardship and grief that sets them off balance, and they wonder whether they can ever be happy again in this life, or whether life amounts to no more than a vale of tears simply to be slogged through somehow in hopes of a heavenly reward.”

Charry gives voice to what all pastors have experienced in the lives of parishioners, and perhaps in their own lives. But she acknowledges that people may wonder why she is trying to retrieve the Christian doctrine of happiness now, since “Christianity is in an upbeat mood, and Christians reassure one another that God loves and encourages them in their struggles.” To this she responds that she wishes “to reclaim Christianity’s offering of happiness from secular captivity!”

God and the Art of Happiness is divided into two distinct sections. “The State of the Question of a Christian Doctrine of Happiness” reviews the historical trajectory of the Western theological discussion of happiness. Pastors may be unwilling to trudge through discussions of Augustine, Boethius, Aquinas, and Butler. It is possible, then, to begin at Part II, “Identifying Asherism” (from the Hebrew word asher – “happy” or “blessed”). The brief opening chapter sums up Part I before subsequent chapters explore the biblical foundations of asherism, concluding with “God and the Art of Happiness.” For most readers, Part II will be sufficient.

Ellen Charry’s God and the Art of Happiness is marked by biblical insight, theological wisdom, and deep pastoral sensitivity. Pastors will find that her exploration of happiness provides a rich resource for preaching, teaching, and pastoral care, rescuing ‘happiness’ from its secular captivity and setting it free for gospel fidelity.

January Lectionary Preview

Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia wrote the January lectionary preview in which she encourages pastors to consider that January’s lectionary provides ample opportunities to explore discipleship and faithful discernment of the use of possessions despite the fact that January is often a month of recovery from Advent and calm before Lent. You can read more of the January lectionary preview here. The December lectionary preview is also available.

Year-End Giving

We have compiled resources to remind you and your congregation that the opportunity to make gifts through the Presbyterian Foundation for 2018 is drawing to a close. You can access these resources online.