Dear CRI Partner:
Are we too pro-life?
That’s a provocative question. One that warrants a serious answer.
But before I frame the context for that question, permit me to provide some background.
In my last letter to you, I said it’s tragic that millions of people die before they ever really live.
And that they never really live because they never learn to die.
I was speaking figuratively of the need to die to self, but this time I’ll be literal. Why? Because
modern Christianity has been robbed almost entirely of the ars moriendi — the art of dying — that has been a signature of Christians for centuries.
You see, for almost 2,000 years, death and the art of dying were very present realities in the
Christian faith. In no small part because of the crucifixion of the Author of life and his triumphant conquest of death in his resurrection.
But in the last century, as life expectancy has dramatically increased and as dying has moved from the home to the hospital, we’ve increasingly bought into the denial of death.
Quite simply, we’d rather avoid it entirely.
As a result, when death visits us, and its poignant reality is brought home painfully in
the passing of friends or loved ones, we’re not ready to deal with it. As a consequence, we incur
unnecessary grief and miss wonderful opportunities.
That’s why I think Rob Moll’s book, The Art of Dying: Living Fully into the Life to Come is
an important read. And why I’d like to send it to you to say thanks for your partnership.
I’ll mention only briefly that this book was published ten years ago when Rob, an award-
winning journalist and editor-at-large with Christianity Today, was only 32 years old. Many marveled that such wisdom about death and dying could come from someone so young.
Tragically, Rob died July 19 of this year in a climbing accident at Mount Rainier National Park,
personally experiencing the very transition of which he wrote so insightfully and compassionately.
While I’ve enclosed a sheet with excerpts to provide you with just a glimpse at The Art of
Dying’s content, I’ll say this much in passing:
This book is not only important, it will increase in importance each day with the swelling of the ranks of our elderly and the inability of much of today’s church to deal with one of life’s — and
faith’s — most important events.
My question “Are we too pro-life?” comes from a section of the book that notes,
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people of
religious faith (95 percent of whom were Christians) were three times more likely to choose
aggressive medical treatment at the end of their lives, even though they knew they were
dying and that the treatments were unlikely to lengthen their lives.
More troubling still, one of the researchers told Rob, “patients who received outside clergy
visits had worse quality of death scores in comparison to those who did not.” That’s alarming. And a sad indictment of the lack of preparation of pastors and churches to help us die well.
In fact, one gerontologist quoted said, “We’re so pro-life, we’re anti-death.”
As someone who recently stood at the threshold of death, it makes me wonder: if we have so
much as a glimpse of the glory that awaits us in heaven, why would we take such drastic measures even when there is little chance it will lengthen our lives here?
Well, Rob explains a number of reasons why, along with a brief history of why modern
Christian notions of death depart dramatically from traditions that are centuries old. Pastor John Fanestil writes,
Those who practiced the ritual of happy dying near the turn of the nineteenth century…did
not approach it in a spirit of resignation or despair. To the contrary, because they believed
God’s hands were strong and trustworthy, [they] embraced death, or, better yet, they rose to
greet it as if rushing into a loving embrace.
It doesn’t take but a moment’s thought to see how dramatically our orientation toward
death has changed. And clearly, not for the better. I can only reluctantly conclude that our
increasing cultural captivity to secularism, materialism, and our idolatry of youthfulness has
stealthily robbed us of even the most basic elements of ars moriendi — the art of dying — and in so doing, stolen from us one of the riches of true Christian faith.
While I’ll encourage you to take a few moments to scan the enclosed sheet, for now I’ll just say
this. The Art of Dying, while rich in its spiritual insights, is also eminently practical.
From how to care for the dying to Christian funerals, and from grief and mourning to living
wills and advance directives when terminally ill, this book is one that many of us need to understand and prepare for a reality that awaits us all.
Although we remain passionately committed to truth, how we live and die will say much more
to most people — especially our loved ones — than all our cogent arguments, our skilled exegesis, or our polished proclamations.
And because all our labors at CRI to equip Christians to defend the faith and live life fully
would come to a screeching halt without the prayers and generosity of friends like you, I’m hoping I can hear from you today.
Whether you request The Art of Dying for yourself or for a friend or loved one, your gift
today will help to ensure that our global outreaches continue to touch and transform thousands of lives.
Please know from the bottom of my heart that your partnership is priceless.
Host, Bible Answer Man Broadcast
For those interested in reaching the swelling ranks of the elderly with the good news of eternal
life in Christ, or simply caring more wisely and more skillfully with aging friends or loved ones,
the Study Guide in The Art of Dying is a wonderful resource for group discussion as well as
personal refl ection. Planting even a few seeds from this book — more timely now than when
written — will produce fruits likely to touch and enrich many lives.