A Very Encouraging Book on Dying, and Death
By Timothy Raymond –
I love reading blog posts about books. I may be unique in this, but I’m pretty sure I’m not. I love discovering great reads and being warned against bad ones.
Well, in today’s post I thought I’d point our readers to one of the most enjoyable, encouraging, and helpful books I’ve read so far this year. And oddly enough (especially since I’m only 34) it’s all about how to think and act biblically during the “sunset” of one’s life. Allow me to explain.
A Happy Old Age by Ashton Oxenden (Reformation Heritage Books, 2004, 77 pgs.) is described on the back cover as “a practical, sound, Reformed handbook for seniors.” That’s an apt, though perhaps somewhat dry, description of the book. In essence A Happy Old Age presents the reader with a comprehensive biblical paradigm for interpreting aging, dying, and death. In 12 brief (3-5 page) chapters, Oxenden (1808-1802), Anglican Bishop of Montreal, considers the joys and trials of old age, its temptations and risks, its unique duties, and, perhaps most significantly, how to view physical death as a Christian. I’ve never read a book quite like it, and, in my opinion, it is a true gem.
The strong points of A Happy Old Age are many. First, its thoughts and sentences are straightforward, easy to understand, and really rather simple without being simplistic. Any older person who finds that their mind isn’t what it used to be shouldn’t be confused or excessively taxed. Second, the book is thoroughly biblical. The author writes from a strongly evangelical view of Scripture and theology and desires the reader to think and act biblically. Third, the book is consistently Gospel-centered. Oxenden writes as one who enjoyed a close walk with Jesus and longs for readers to likewise know such an experience by faith in His precious blood. And he is constantly pointing people to Jesus as the true and greatest joy of heaven. Lastly, and perhaps most impressively, A Happy Old Age tackles topics that are essentially taboo in our culture – aging, dying, and death – and does so in a very winsome, loving, even victorious manner.
When was the last time you read or heard anything serious on how to handle dying and death? The entire topic is something our culture cannot process, cannot make sense of. Our world is in continual pursuit of the fountain of youth and whenever celebrities begin to show their age or approach death, they usually disappear from the public eye. I’m sure that if you could invent some snake oil that kept people looking like teenagers into their 80’s, you’d be a billionaire overnight. Sadly, Christians living in this context cannot help not being influenced by this view of old age. We can assume that older folks have nothing to offer our churches, that they’re more of a liability than a resource, that truly successful churches are packed with young, hip urbanites with lattes and tattoos. And perhaps worst of all, we don’t really know what to do with death. We don’t feel comfortable talking about it, we’ll rarely teach or preach about it, and certainly don’t want to be there when somebody else is experiencing it.
This is where A Happy Old Age shatters our culture’s tomfoolery. In God’s universe, aging, dying, and death are not to be hidden away but opportunities for Christians to demonstrate the power of the Gospel and the sufficiency of Christ. Moreover, for the Christian, aging, dying, and death need not be entirely depressing. For those of us who know God through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, the sting of death is gone. Jesus has given us the victory over death and destroyed the one who had the power of death, that is the devil. For the Christian, death becomes merely the tunnel through which I pass to be with Jesus forever. A Happy Old Age succeeds with flying colors in helping the reader embrace this far more realistic, yet optimistic, biblical perspective.
A Happy Old Age is not without its minor weaknesses. You’ve got to take into consideration that it was written by an Anglican Bishop in 1861. Consequently, the language and illustrations reflect that context. The author’s vocabulary and style, while easily understandable and clear, is typical of the quaint way people spoke and thought in the 19th century British Empire (think “Downton Abbey”). Moreover, it seems as if Oxenden wrote primarily for fellow Anglicans. Occasional references to parsons, parishes, and prayer books are found throughout.
These minor drawbacks aside, A Happy Old Age is an excellent resource on how to biblically interpret and embrace the final years of one’s life. For speaking much about death and dying, the book is surprisingly joyful, refreshing, and encouraging. It thoroughly moves the reader to long for heaven and, even more so, for Jesus. Since reading A Happy Old Age I’ve distributed a number of copies to individuals in my congregation and intend to keep a stack on hand on our give away table. If you’re in pastoral ministry or involved with ministry to older folks, I cannot recommend A Happy Old Age strongly enough. Get it now while it’s only $6!
Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Tim grew up outside Syracuse, NY and previously served at Berean Baptist Church, Nicholson, PA (member and teacher during college and seminary) and Calvary Baptist Church, Sandusky, Ohio (seminary internship location). Tim met his wife Bethany at college, and they were married in May 2001. Tim enjoys reading, weight-lifting, wrestling with his three sons, and attempting to sleep.