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The Heart Set Free: Sin And Redemption In The Gospels, Augustine, Dante, And Flannery O'connor [Paperback]

By Kim Paffenroth (Author)
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Item Specifications...

Pages   176
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.92" Width: 6.3" Height: 0.51"
Weight:   0.57 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   May 10, 2005
Publisher   Continuum International Publishing Group
ISBN  0826416136  
EAN  9780826416131  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
This work examines four of the greatest theological and literary minds of the Christian tradition - Jesus, Augustine, Dante, and Flannery O'Connor - in a way that makes their prophetic and poetic challenge to our sinfulness accessible and relevant to the modern Christian. These thinkers offer timeless criticisms of four of the greatest and most flawed societies of all time - Israel, Rome, Medieval Europe, and America - and they do so in a way that raises their critiques out of the particular historical context and render them relevant today.
To show this current relevance, the reader is given a twofold analysis of each figure. The author first focuses on two sins that he or she thinks pervade and degrade their society and the individuals in it, and then the two actions that he or she offers as the shocking, redemptive alternatives. Then the second half of each chapter guides readers through serious study, reflection, and prayer on three specific texts. The section on study is intended to explicate a relevant passage that might be obscure to the reader due to its literary and historical context, while the section for reflection should be more straightforward in its meaning, but more difficult in its application, and the section on prayer should relate both intellectual and ethical considerations to form a personal and affective experience of the ideas raised in these texts. This unique approach demonsratres how these sins are still a part of our lives today, and how their alternatives can become a part of our lives through analysis, introspection, and prayer. Each chapter will also include an annotated bibliography of accessible works suggested for further reading and reflection
All of these thinkers connect social and political ills with much deeper theological and anthropological analysis, so that their conclusions cannot be discounted as "signs of the times," or the way people thought "back then" about a particular problem (e.g. war, racism, corruption, etc.) that is now supposedly past: if their descriptions of the sickness in human nature were ever accurate, then they are always accurate and relevant, and demand our attention as the profound calls for personal and societal introspection and change that they really are. By offering the reader serious analysis as well as practical application, these calls for personal devotion and change are accessible to the modern Christian, so that intellectually as well as spiritually, the redemptive truth of these writings can begin to set them free, as well as encouraging them to pursue further texts on the subject.

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More About Kim Paffenroth

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Kim Paffenroth is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York.

Kim Paffenroth was born in 1966.

Kim Paffenroth has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Augustine in Conversation

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1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Philosophy   [1924  similar products]

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The kind of book I wish I had written  Sep 18, 2005
In Christian experience, one of the central themes recurring over time and in the attendant literature has been sin and redemption. From this book by Kim Paffenroth, 'The Heart Set Free', one sees selected snapshots of this issues from the Gospels (first/second century), Augustine (fourth/fifth century), Dante (thirteen/fourteenth century), and Flannery O'Connor (twentieth century). According to Paffenroth, 'these thinkers offer timeless criticisms of four of the greatest and most flawed societies of all time - Israel, Rome, medieval Europe, and America - and they do so in a way that raises their critiques out f the particular historical context and renders them relevant today.' Paffenroth's method is explained in the preface - each figure is contained in a chapter, with two particular sins highlighted, and two actions that can be redemptive. Then for each, Paffenroth highlights three specific texts and does a directed study including reflection and prayer. This includes both an academic and spiritual element to the writing, in combination in such a way that makes this text useful for classroom, congregational and small group study.

The chapter on the Gospels looks at the sins of revenge and arrogance. These are sins recurrent in today's society, and Paffenroth choses the texts of Matthew 5 (love your enemies), Mark 10 (the request of James and John to sit at Jesus' right and left hand), and Luke 4 (the proclamation of the Acceptable Year of the Lord). Paffenroth draws on various means of textual analysis and spiritual analysis, including interfaith dialogue. For example, the idea of service being an antithesis to arrogance is one that occurs in other religions, too. 'From completely different theologies, Hindus and Christians have both perceived and tried to follow the difficult truth that devoted service is not just the means to salvation; it is also the end or goal of a saved life.'

I first discovered Paffenroth's writing through a companion book on Augustine (one of my special subjects of study), so the chapter on Augustine held particular appeal to me. After a brief biographical sketch, Paffenroth identifies pride and ambition as major sins of concern, both for Augustine and for Rome. The opposites presented here are humility and contemplation. One of the problems of both of these sins, in Augustine's time and our own, is that they are subtle, and often encouraged by the general society. Rome itself was ambitious in the world, and proud of its history. But pride blinds one to sin (Paffenroth excerpts the 'Confessions', book 5 here), and ambitions can trap us and corrode relationships ('Confessions', book 9). The very first paragraph of the 'Confessions' is highlighted as the third text, one in which the proud, ambitious, highly intelligent Augustine humbles himself in contemplative manner toward the will of God - 'our heart is troubled until it rests in you'. (inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te). The world is indeed a restless place, then and now.

The section on Dante looks at appetite (not simply gluttony, according to the traditional list of seven deadly sins, but encompassing a larger range including lust, greed, and others) and malice. Dante provides the images of a hierarchy of sin - despite the scriptural ideas of 'all falling short', we have a natural inclination to think that some sins are in fact worse than others; Dante obviously shared this, by making the punishments in hell worse and worse as things progressed. Dante's view of many of the sins of appetite is that they are in fact so close to not being sins in many respects that they warrant the least punishment. However, sin is a trap - contrasting Dante's view of the sinful (even the minor sinful) Christians versus the non-Christian virtuous, Paffenroth states that 'the sinners are trapped in their individual places, incapable of movement or change' - sin is a prison, a chain, something that, far from adding variety, in fact makes existence more monotonous. Malice, on the other hand, is a more deliberate act, and one that is both uniquely human and uniquely destructive of relationship - hence, loneliness and separation are far more of a torment than fires and cauldrons and smoke (which are still there in Dante, in some abundance). Paffenroth draws on excerpts from the Inferno, the Purgatory, and the Paradise.

Perhaps my favourite chapter in the book is the one dealing with Flannery O'Connor. Upon receiving this book I at once turned to this chapter to see if Paffenroth had included the story of Ruby Turpin (it was there, much to my delight). The sins of self-righteousness and self-deception are brought into focus, and the way these can destroy both oneself and one's relationships in the world are brought into high focus. Self-deception requires revelation, a unique kind of knowledge and insight given by God, to be overcome. Self-righteousness requires grace, something found in abundance if one looks in the right places, but sometimes with an awesome cost. Paffenroth selects 'A Good Man is Hard to Find', 'A Temple of the Holy Ghost', and a third story [the censors won't let past to be listed] for examples of problems with perception and judgement, and a moment of grace.

After each chapter, Paffenroth gives a short annotated bibliography with selected further readings, as well as endnotes; the use of endnotes rather than footnotes gives this more of a 'general' feel rather than an academic format; while the book certainly stands up well to academic standards and the endnotes are very useful, they can also be somewhat distracting for the more general reader.

This is the kind of book I wish I had written. It has motivated me to re-read the primary material again with new insights in mind. This is the kind of book that can stimulate discussion - try to find a friend with whom to read and share.

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