Ellen Charry’s “God and the Art of Happiness” – Part 2 recap

Well, it happened again. As with Part 1, I was planning to write my own recap of Part 2…until I discovered that Charry has already done it better than I could. So, I’m just going to quote her again. More comments to follow.

Ellen Charry, God and the Art of Happiness, 250:
Across epochs, locations, languages, circumstances, cultures, and discourses, texts in both Testaments of Scripture agree that the maker of heaven and earth seeks creation’s flourishing. All the texts we have considered argue that reverent devotion to the creator and redeemer of the world is the happy life, for it crafts one into an instrument of divine wisdom, love, and goodness.

The various patterns of life that Scripture intends to draw the reader into drive toward one goal: organizing ourselves around life in God that we may enjoy ourselves as we are buoyed by the love, beauty, goodness, and wisdom of God, which hoist us aloft. That the visions they paint frame the issue differently is a great strength rather than a conundrum, for here specificity would be stultifying, since the ways in which God is to be enjoyed are inexhaustible. The Pentateuch, Psalms, and Proverbs suggest that living into salvation is incremental. John’s Gospel, by contrast, talks of achieving eternal life as a dramatic commitment to leave one’s trusted way of life and embrace Jesus. It is far more nebulous – but perhaps even more passionate – in its call. Through struggle, confusion, internal dissension, resistance, and neglect, all call their readers into a beautiful and fulfilling life as the people of God. Perhaps John 15:11 summarizes the asherist ethic most elegantly: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

I’m not going to spoil the last chapter, wherein Charry draws the threads of her study together into a unified vision. I will say, however, that she provides a number of insights into concrete application of the vision she has been developing throughout the work, complete with three brief case studies. What I’m trying to say is this: not only is this work an exercise is sophisticated (even though highly accessible) theological work, it is also practical theology at its best.

One last comment highlighting something in Part 2: on pages 162-8, Charry develops a generally Barthian doctrine of the knowledge of God but, trixie author that she is, Charry does not point this out. That such a similarity should be present is no surprise: Charry studied with Paul van Buren, one of Barth’s students. She has learned from her teachers, although not slavishly (as she once put it to me). Here is a good summary line: “I am suggesting that, rather than moving from ‘general’ to ‘special’ revelation, common experience moves in the opposite direction. One must first be arrested by the biblical narrative, as conveyed by the ministrations of the church, in order to consider the knowledge of God in extrabiblical sources, especially to see the creativity of God at work in one’s own body” (162).

I don’t know what else to do or say to temp you into buying and reading this book but, I assure you, you won’t regret it should you do so.


Great post, thank you. Especially for highlighting the link between Charry and Barth. I have recently discovered Charry's work and have found it not only a great read but also formative in ministry. I have recommended "By the renewing of your minds: the pastoral function of doctrine" to my ministerial colleagues.


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