Referring to ‘dying’ in the title of a book is perhaps off-putting to many readers. With a title such as Dying Well, you’re also not quite sure what aspects of death the book will address. However, it’s soon apparent that this book has potential as it ventures into an area of social discourse taboo. In the foreword, Rico Tice goes so far as to say it makes him feel ‘excited about preparing for my own death’. Indeed, the Bible is clear that we should view death as ‘gain’ (Philippians 1:21).
The book springs from the author’s personal experience of suddenly losing his father. Moreover, the author is a doctor, making his thoughts even more relevant and informed. The book is for ‘a Christian believer who wants to know more about what it means to die well’ (p.xv). He anticipates this to be an area of inquiry rarely entered upon by most people, because ‘the truth is that most people are unprepared for dying and do not want to think about it’ (p.xvi). It is a realistic assessment and stirs interest to read on.
However, I was a little disappointed that the author immediately went on to suggest that the book is for those for whom death is near. This is a point which would have been more effectively made if he had emphasised the fragility of life whatever age one is at.
The book begins with a consideration of recent deaths which made the headlines. It shows the contrast between how the world deals with it and how the Christian should respond. What becomes apparent is that the author is raising an area of our thinking that may not be under the lordship of Jesus Christ. That is, how we, as Christians, deal with death.
A series of compelling anecdotes are related. These poignantly establish that a Christian orientation towards death — driven by faith and the truth of Scripture — is both desirable and necessary. Inspiring accounts are included which cannot fail to move the reader.
Evangelical readers may be mildly distracted by the persistent strain of Anglicanism in the narrative; the personalities and context combine to give the sense that the book properly belongs on the ‘Church of England: Pastoral Care’ shelf. That said, there is still sound reliance on the texts of Scripture and they are richly exposited and applied.
The chapter looking at ‘temptations’ and ‘responses’ is helpful in addressing the reaction of the flesh to death. More reference to Scripture itself would have been useful here, though.
The penultimate chapter, dealing with the example of Jesus, reminds us of the truth that we are to follow and learn from him. The Lord Jesus had a very real experience of the temptations encountered when dealing with the imminence of death.
The final chapter offers reflections on biblical texts that deal with death. Although these serve as an encouraging roadmap for negotiating the imminence of death, there could be more theology undergirding Wyatt’s writing.
Dying Well effectively and movingly weaves together real accounts of lives lived and lives ended. The book is readable and even compelling at times, but the serious evangelical student will discover that it does not offer a wealth of exegetical discoveries.