Coming Soon: JCS I/3, "The Art of Dying"
The third issue of the Journal of Christian Studies, volume 1, will be available soon! As a reminder: Issues 2 and 3 of each volume are available by subscription only! You can subscribe to the journal here. This issue has outstanding contributors discussing "The Art of Dying."
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J. Todd Billings (Western Theological Seminary), "The Art of Dying."
M. Todd Hall (Center for Christian Studies), "Let's Talk About Funerals."
Stephen D. Lawson (Lipscomb University—Austin Center), "Will They Know We Are Christians by Our Deaths?"
Gilbert Meilaender (Valparaiso University), "You Are Not Your Own: Christians and Euthanasia."
Mary L. Vanden Berg (Calvin Theological Seminary), "Dementia as Living Death and Defeated Enemy."
Here is the editor's note from Keith Stanglin for this issue:
In Tennessee Williams’ 1954 play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Big Daddy observes that man lacks the “pig’s advantage.” “What advantage is that?” asks Brick. “Ignorance of mortality,” replies Big Daddy, “is a comfort.” Conversely, then, awareness of mortality, and the existential angst that often accompanies it, might be called the human disadvantage. Unlike the lower animals, humans, since time immemorial, have sought reconciliation with death, a fact reflected universally in funerary rites, foundational myths, and sacrificial systems.
But unlike our distant ancestors, late modern humans have come to deal with death by sidestepping it. In the absence of a transcendent answer, we look to medical technology to boost longevity, which only prolongs the inevitable. Transhumanism promises eternal life, that is, until the lights go out. The more honest approach of a secularist is simply nihilistic melancholy and despair, which we see in abundance. When death threatens to interfere with our evasions and become personal, still we manage to sanitize it and outsource it to the professionals. Before death, we rely more and more on hospitals and nursing homes, or even a physician’s assistance, to spare us the suffering. At death, we send the body away to be taken care of—sometimes for placement in a fancy box that will hardly be viewed, or destined increasingly for a crematorium. After death, we eschew the funeral, with its dark clothing and public mourning, in favor of a celebration and forced cheerfulness. Death, never a pleasant topic, is a matter that our culture has gone to great lengths to avoid.
This avoidance has also permeated the church. It’s not that it’s wrong to employ the services of nursing homes or funeral homes, nor must a funeral entail mournful clothing or exclude all joy. But it would be wise to ask what the shifts in our practices—and our reticence—surrounding dying and death reflect. There was a time when Christian theologians spoke of “the art of dying” (ars moriendi) and produced manuals that helped prepare believers for a good death. Now, “good death” and “dying with dignity” have come to mean something different, with the increasing acceptability of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia.
So we would do well to consider: How do more recent understandings of death differ from older or even premodern understandings, and why? How do Christian views differ from non-Christian? Did the pandemic reveal anything significant about these matters? How can we improve pastoral care to the terminally ill or those with dementia? What should Christians think about euthanasia? What are some features of a theologically responsible and pastorally sensitive funeral liturgy?
The articles in this issue of the Journal of Christian Studies thus deal with a topic that is relevant to each and every person: death and dying. As I have outlined above, some contributors speak more to realities before death, whereas others address concerns at or after death. We also include an interview with ministers who deal with these practical questions on a regular basis.
Perhaps our awareness of mortality need not be a disadvantage. This knowledge, discomforting though it may be, obliges us to make the most of our days and to seek the transcendent Good who creates and at all times sustains our lives, here and hereafter.
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 Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Sewanee: The University of the South, 1982), 44.