How Would You Like to Die?

The institution where I now teach had the fortunate opportunity to have Gilbert Meilaender on our campus recently. Meilaender is the Duesenberg Chair of Christian Ethics at Valparaiso University and served on the President’s Council on Bioethics from 2002-2009. He was also a doctoral student under the inimitable Paul Ramsey, whose legacy in medical ethics many readers will surely know. Meilaender is at once both sage and winsome, brilliant and humble. His talks corresponded with a forthcoming book project: Facing the Dying of the Light: Perspectives on Aging and Dying.

Meilaender opened his series of lectures by reflecting on the perennial question, “How would you like to die?” Most today, he suggested, would answer with one word: suddenly! Generally speaking, we want to live as long as we can, at the peak of our powers, and then fall off a cliff, as he put it. Doubtless he is right about contemporary attitudes toward death. If we have to go, let it be quickly and painlessly.

I heard Professor Meilaender against the backdrop of the new documentary of the life of the inventor-scientist Ray Kurzweil, Transcendent Man. Kurzweil believes that by the year 2045, computer speed and capacity will match the speed and capacity of the human brain. He calls that convergence “The Singularity”. When that happens, he argues, a new species will emerge and immortality will be achievable through the merging of man and machine.

One thing is made crystal clear by the documentary: Ray Kurzweil hates death. Although I am not a psychologist, it seems obvious from comments Kurzweil makes that he was traumatized as a young person when his father, a professional musician, died suddenly. Kurzweil laments that he was not able to prevent his father’s death because our technology is not sufficiently developed—yet. So, Kurzweil has kept all of his father’s belongings in storage, including pictures, ledger books, musical scores, etc., in hopes of one day recapturing his father’s consciousness through artificial intelligence technologies. He even believes that some AI machine one day will be able to scour from his own brain memories of his father to add to the rich pastiche of his father’s life as it is recreated. Kurzweil believes he himself will live long enough to make a “copy” of himself so he can move one step closer to the so-called Singularity and a technologically achieved immortality.

Thus, if these two views are representative, we would prefer either to die suddenly or not at all. What struck me while Meilaender was speaking—and he said as much during his lectures—is that it was not always so. Historically, most people have seen death as unavoidable and sudden death as particularly lamentable. Although no one relished extended suffering, the terminal condition gave opportunity to make peace with others, with God, and perhaps with death itself. Death was not welcomed in most cases, but “dying well” did not mean merely dying as painlessly as possible. Rather, it meant dying with one’s accounts in order, as it were.

Perhaps these two scenarios—either sudden death or no death at all—both miss this important aspect of human experience. On the one hand, sudden death robs us of the opportunity to reconcile ourselves where necessary so that we come to the end of our days with some resolution in our lives. On the other hand, if current experience is any teacher, indefinitely extended lifespan would mean we would be tempted to persist unreconciled to those with whom we are at odds. In both cases, we might miss one of the most important aspects of being human. It’s at least worth thinking about, it seems to me.

The Gospel Coalition Panel: How to Teach Children and Youth the Gospel Story

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At The Gospel Coalition national conference in Chicago, IL, BibleMesh conducted three panel discussions.  Above is the final of the three, entitled “How to Teach Children and Youth the Gospel Story,” which was held at 12:30pm on Thursday, April 14 in Chicago. Greg Thornbury of BibleMesh led the discussion, which featured panelists Russell Moore, David Helm, and Kimberly Thornbury.

The discussion ranged from particular obstacles that pop up in teaching our children the gospel, how to teach parents to understand the Bible in order to teach their children, and helpful resources. Below are some of the resources mentioned:

The Gospel Coalition Panel: Getting to Know the Bible Personally as One Grand Narrative

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At The Gospel Coalition national conference in Chicago, IL, BibleMesh held three panel discussions and above is the second of the three, held on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 12:30pm. The discussion, entitled “Getting to Know the Bible Personally as One Grand Narrative,” was led by Michael McClenahan of BibleMesh.  We had three world-class expositors weigh in on the topic: Kent Hughes, David Jackman, and Ligon Duncan.

The discussion began on how each of the participants personally came to clear convictions about the story of the Bible being about the great salvation of Jesus Christ. It was an edifying discussion of God’s ordinary means of faithful preaching and Bible teaching in the life of the church. But then, recognizing that many Christians don’t recognize the Bible as one story about Christ and his gospel, the discussion turned to the weaknesses in evangelical spirituality that causes neglect of this issue. Other interesting points in the discussion were how a Christ-centered reading of the Scriptures nourishes our soul and how our moral life shapes our reading of the Old Testament.

Below are some of the resources mentioned:

Gospel Coalition Panel Discussion: What I have learned after years of preaching Christ in the Old Testament

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At The Gospel Coalition national conference, BibleMesh was able to conduct three panel discussions. This is the first of the three, entitled ““What I’ve Learned from Years of Preaching Christ from the Old Testament,” in which I (Owen Strachan) asked three veteran preachers, Alistair Begg, Mark Dever, and Philip Ryken, what they have learned after years of preaching Christ in the Old Testament.

The discussion began with how each person came to be convinced of a Christ-centered preaching model of the Old Testament. There we discussed how each pastor came to the personal conviction that Christ should preached from all of Scripture. Next, we covered more esoteric topics like how do preachers preserve the moral sense of Scripture without abandoning the gospel–or, the question that makes every young preacher’s knees knock–how do we preach Christ from the Song of Solomon?

Sprinkled throughout the discussion were resources mentioned by each of one of the contributors. Below are several of them:

What’s a “Gemini” to Do?

Here in Chicago not long ago, a Sun-Times astrologer told a woman suffering from depression that her problem was “due to transiting Saturn adversely positioned to [her] natal Saturn in an area that [dealt] with [her] status and professional goals.” Meanwhile, the Tribune’s astrologer encouraged me and my fellow Geminis, to “use all of [our] logical notes to create just the right tone.” (Okay, good. I was just going to use some of them.) “Others feel lucky to share the song.” (Nice. Any names?) “For something beautiful, allow change to occur in its own rhythm.” (Does brushing my teeth upset the natural rhythm of their decay?) Very confusing.

But things have gotten even more bewildering. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune quotes Minnesota astronomer Parke Kunkle to say “that since the Babylonian zodiac periods were established millennia ago, the moon’s gravitational pull has made the Earth ‘wobble’ around its axis in a process called precession. That has created about a one-month bump in the stars’ alignment, meaning that ‘when [astrologers] say that the sun is in Pisces, it’s really not in Pisces.’”

Uh oh. Poor Sofia Whitcombe, a 25-year-old publicist in New York: “My whole life, I thought I was a Capricorn . . . Now I’m a Sagittarius? I don’t feel like a Sagittarius!” Maybe she can hang tough like the fellow who said, “Dude, I’m a Leo and always will be a Leo, no matter where the sun is on August 5th. Besides, this very expensive tattoo on my right shoulder tells me so.” Or it may be time to retool along with the devotee who exclaimed, “Darn it, the whole time I thought I was an introvert, now to find out that I’m an extrovert. I’m going to need awhile to unravel my life.” Or just celebrate: “Upgrade from Cancer to Gemini. Woo!”

This is a very old form of foolishness, and Christians have been dealing with it for ages. For instance, in the fourth century, Augustine (in Book V of The City of God) used the case of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:26) to refute the claim that those who’d been born under the same sign had similar natures and fortunes. When astrologers countered that the brothers’ birth sequence made the difference, he reminded them that they came out together, at the same moment, Jacob grasping Esau’s heel.

Of course, horoscope purveyors can rush into denial or execute exotic maneuvers to manage such cases, but how are they going negotiate the “month bump” Professor Kunkle spotted in the zodiac road?

For me, I’m just glad I was born again (John 3:3) under the Sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:39-40) – through the saving power of the merciful, gracious, risen Christ. Thank God my parents gave me the Bible instead of star charts to find my way.

“Axis after axis to Jesus”: Carson on Preaching Christ

And with that, the Gospel Jam Bonanza closed.

It was a great and busy conference—incredibly, TGC is officially 46 hours long.  That’s wild.  There is enough activity to fill two weeks of a normal life, but in the evangelical world, this is how we do it, to quote Montell Jordan.

On Thursday at 12:30pm, BibleMesh hosted its third and final panel of the conference, entitled “How to Teach Children and Youth the Gospel Story” which featured David Helm, Kimberly Thornbury, and Russell Moore.  Gregory Allan Thornbury of BibleMesh led the panel on a fun and theologically rich tour of Christocentric parenting before a huge crowd of roughly 850 people.  We were again stunned by this attendance, which overflowed our seating area and again raised interesting quandaries regarding personal safety in the event of a fire or Rob Bell sighting.  The panel ranged over such matters as family devotions, how to share the gospel without pressuring the child, and what it means to share Christ to children in an everyday setting.  We were gratified by the turnout and the level of discussion and audience engagement.

Much else occurred this fine day, but the final session with Don Carson, entitled “Getting Excited about Melchizedek” from Psalm 110, was particularly noteworthy.  Carson’s talk ranged over a wide array of NT citations of the OT and left preachers and leaders with much to ponder in their reflections on homiletics.  I found this passage helpful:

His ultimate ancestry is grounded in the God of all eternity.  The NT authors are reading the OT carefully.  They are drawing inferences that cannot be easily refuted.  The one we are looking for is not merely the Davidic Messiah, but also the priest.  We need to follow the traces in putting together the whole canon  in ways that bring us in axis after axis to Jesus.  You can find trajectories to Jesus through the Sabbath, the twelve tribes, Jerusalem itself—you work hand in hand with the NT authors, and you will find these trajectories.  All these from the OT point forward and bring you to Jesus.  This gives you confidence to read the Word of God carefully and to discover how the NT writers read the OT.

The Gospel Coalition conference formally ended after this address.  We had a terrific 46 hours, and we’re thankful for what this conference represents and accomplished.  We want to publicly thank Ben Peays, Collin Hansen, and the rest of the TGC team for their partnership with us.  We saw an incredible response at the event, with hundreds of folks signing up for the course.  Such happenings leave us grateful–and eager for TGC ’13.