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  Edited By

     John Swinton 

     & Richard Payne 

  Reviewed by 

     Geoffrey W. Sutton

“Dying is a spiritual event with medical implications,” opined Gwen London, the former director of the Institute on Care at the End of Life at Duke University (xv). 

I am reminded of a story about a Christian health care professional who was glad to be assigned to a pediatric ward from a geriatric ward where elderly patients were dying without having faith in Christ. She believed that God would save children from eternal damnation were they to die.

Clearly, religious faith is a significant part of the identity of many people on earth. Most, if not all, religions imbue life and death with meaning. The brute fact of death has been widely studied in psychological science--especially in the context of Terror Management Theory where terror refers to the awareness of one's own death. 


Living Well and Dying Faithfully contains 12 chapters by 12 different authors organized into three sections: 

  Practices of Living to Die Well, 

  Practices of Faithful Suffering, and 

  Practices of Healing and Hope. 

The editors’ purpose may be found in their introduction:

 “By encouraging a reflective dialogue between the practices of medicine and Christian practices, this book, we hope, will provide a unique space within which the movement toward faithful dying can be encouraged, nurtured, and actualized (xxiv).”
In the first section, the authors encourage a focus on ways to encourage people to live life well. An abundant Christian life focuses upon God and attempts to develop a heavenly perspective on life events. The hope is that this worldview will better enable Christians to find meaning in dying and the common co-occurrence of suffering. A Christian perspective also entails that we belong to God in life and in death and that any given life or death is a part of the larger Christian community.

Suffering is the focus of the chapters in the second section. Using touching examples, the authors avoid the troublesome problem of theodicy by choosing instead to focus upon the practical theology of guiding individuals and families through painful experiences at the end of life. A key focal point is the cross of Christ and a remembrance of his suffering when celebrating the Eucharist. Themes of forgiveness and reconciliation also serve to enhance an individual’s relationship with God at the end of life. This section contains the lone contribution by a mental health professional. Psychologist, Tonya Armstrong, offered suggestions on helping dying children and their families.

The third and final section offers reflections on Practices of Healing and Hope. The authors discuss such topics as forming a collaborative health care team, reframing the notion of hope when dying, and including compassion and meaning when ministering to people nearing the end of their lives.

Overall, Living Well and Dying Faithfully is a helpful starting point for a discussion on what it means to help people approach the end of their life from a Christian perspective. A common theme throughout is the search for the role of Christian spirituality within an American culture that has medicalized the death experience with an aggressive focus on leveraging technology in the hope of squeezing out a few more breaths before life ends.

 The case illustrations support the general theme of integrating faith and medical practice in clinical care. There are some things that are missing, which offer opportunities for further development—perhaps a second volume. Although one chapter focuses on helping children and their families, helping individuals, families, and communities deal with living and dying when a life is shorter than the cultural average requires more attention. Some die as young soldiers in war, others die from accidents, and some die as victims of crime. A unifying Christian narrative must include people who approach death under diverse conditions and after a short or long life. 

Most authors were either associated with religion and theology or medicine. Only one author was a clinical psychologist thus, I think the book lacks sufficient input from psychological scientists in thinking about integrating theological, medical, and psychological perspectives when providing end of life care.

Ad. See Living Well 10 Big Ideas of Faith and a Meaningful Life on AMAZON


Sutton, G. W. (2011). [Review of the book Living well and dying faithfully: Christian practices for end-of-life care by J. Swinton & R. Payne]. Journal of Psychology and Christianity  370. Academia Link     Research Gate Link  

Swinton, J. & Payne, R. (eds.). (2009). Living well and dying faithfully: Christian practices for end-of-life care. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

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