Book Review: Remember Death, by Matt McCullough
McCullough, Matthew, Remember Death: The Surprising Path to Living Hope. Crossway, 2019. 183 pages.
Have you ever considered you should encourage your congregation to meditate on death? It may sound strange. Death is the one topic most people (even Christians) try to avoid. But remembering death or “death awareness,” as Matt McCullough calls it, is not a motivation to grab all you can from this life before it’s gone. Rather, it leads to wise living—enjoying life as a good gift while remaining conscious of something better to come.
Our culture has tried, in every conceivable way, to remove our sense of death-awareness. Yet McCullough calls Christians and non-Christians alike to look death squarely in the eye. In Remember Death, McCullough argues that seriously looking at the reality of death allows the “victory of Jesus [to] shine in its proper light” (27). He writes, “My goal in this book is to help us overcome our detachment from death so that we can enjoy a deeper attachment to Jesus” (49). Far from being a killjoy in a world he fears is having too much fun, McCullough wants your life to be filled with “resilient joy” which can only be accomplished by honestly facing death (27).
To accomplish this goal, McCullough helps us feel the sting of death so that we will “more consciously . . . feel the gospel’s healing power” (56). What is the sting of death? McCullough answers this question by exploring four problems death poses: Identity (chapter 2)—what death says about who we are; Futility (chapter 3)—what death does to anything we accomplish; Loss (chapter 4)—what death does to anything we love; and Life (chapter 5)—how death robs us of earthly joys.
In each of these chapters, McCullough considers the devastating effects of death. Yet, he also shows how, in the death and resurrection of Christ, death is turned on its head. In Christ, each problem death poses is met with a far grander promise. Union with Christ eclipses the problem death poses to our identity. Our eternal purpose rooted in Christ’s resurrection overcomes futility. Eternal life in Christ overshadows the peril of loss. The problem of death is swallowed up by eternal glory. With rich illustrations and insightful commentary on the biblical text, these chapters were a feast for my soul.
McCullough reminds his readers that the Bible never treats death as a foreign place the Christian must fear. Instead, death is the realm which our Savior has already conquered. He entered into death for us and rose again so that we might face life and death with complete confidence. McCullough helps us see that, for the Christian, death is not foreign but familiar. In the death of Christ we have found love, significance, justification, and identity.
A FEAST FOR THE SOUL
As I read this book, I found myself not only affirming McCullough’s arguments but rejoicing. I’m astounded how few Christian books exist on the certain future that awaits every single person. But in Remember Death, McCullough provides us with a doctrinally-fueled, culturally-discerning, biblically-rich treatment of death that will not leave you in despair but filled with joy. As McCullough argues, this joy is only possible by having the “audio” of the gospel louder and more glorious than the “video” of this world.
Pastors, read this book. Buy extra copies and hand them out to church members. Find ways to reference its content in your sermons. Highlight it in a church newsletter. Use it for small group discussions. This world labors to seduce your people into believing that their quest to seek permanent satisfaction, pleasure, or joy in this life is not futile. But we must remind our churches that our only permanent and eternal joys are found in Christ. Only by resting in the eternal life Christ has won can Christians enjoy the many good gifts of this temporary life. In Christ we embrace these gifts not as ends in themselves but as appetizers of the glory to come. If you want to live life for all its truly worth, McCullough boldly suggests you do the one thing it seems everyone is trying to avoid: remember death.
TWELVE QUOTES FROM REMEMBER DEATH
If death tells us we’re not too important to die, the gospel tells us we’re so important Christ died for us. (28)
If death is not a problem, Jesus won’t be much of a solution. The more deeply we feel death’s sting, the more consciously we will feel the gospel’s healing power. The more carefully we number our days, the more joyfully we’ll hear that death’s days are numbered too. (56)
Death says you are less important than you’ve ever allowed yourself to believe. The gospel says you are far more loved than you’ve ever imagined. (74)
To be in Jesus and to have Jesus in you means that what once defined you has been replaced. You are a new creation. And your identity is now defined by Jesus. What is true of him is true of you. (76)
Justification is God’s radical endorsement of every person who is in Christ. It is his affirmation of the person’s significance—the significance we were made to crave. The life of the justified person is necessary and indispensable not because it’s central to the universe, but because it’s beloved by the God who is at the center of the universe. (79)
Through death we may as well be nameless. We’re essentially waiting to be forgotten in time. But in Christ we are known eternally by the Father with the same intimacy and affection he has for his Son (see Eph. 1:3 – 5). (80)
Our adoption [in Christ] reorients us. It assures me that the Creator and Ruler over this and every other world has the specific and vigilant concern for me of a loving Father for a precious son. (81)
We must give up on any work we might do to establish names for ourselves. That work has nothing to do with Jesus. It aims at an identity separate from him. And all such work dies with us. (112)
Jesus doesn’t promise to give us more of what death will only steal anyway. He wants to give us what death can’t touch. (138)
If eternal life sounds otherworldly to you, then you’re the one not paying close enough attention to this world and its concerns. Jesus focuses on eternal life because he is more attuned to what life is like in this world than those who settle for less. In this world everyone loses everything. Eternal life only seems like a distraction from what you really want or need if you pretend you’re not dying. (141)
One reason the promises of God are in audio more often than video is that the problem of death isn’t in video either. It’s in crackling, distant, AM-radio style audio, and we keep the volume mostly down. (150)
Paul does not minimize our suffering. Instead, he maximizes glory. (152)
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Click here to listen to our Pastors’ Talk episode with the author of this book and Ligon Duncan.