The Slavery of Death: Updates and a Wedding Sermon

A few updates and news about my new book The Slavery of Death.

First, the Kindle version of the book is now available. Also, the Look Inside features are now active on Amazon for those wanting to peek inside the book.

Currently, the book is struggling to stay in stock at Amazon, so if you want the book more quickly as of this writing your best bet remains ordering directly from the publisher Wipf & Stock here.

I have not been sent complementary copies for those wanting to review the book, but if you'd like to get a copy to review (for your website, journal or newsletter) please contact Wipf & Stock and share your platform and plans with them.

Speaking of reviews, Dr. Peter Leithart recently published a nice review of the book. After summarizing the themes of the book Peter writes:
Beck’s book is splendid in many ways. His focus on death as the source of sin is convincing, and, as he says, sidesteps some of the theological challenges of the Augustinian notion of inherited guilt. His psychological discussions are penetrating.

I have, however, several criticisms of the book...
Peter goes on to raise three concerns about the book: 1) I marginalize the notion of God's wrath in the atonement, 2) I don't say a whole lot about supernatural empowerment or life after death in dealing with our mortal and moral limitations, and 3) I'm hard on institutions.

None of those criticisms are particularly surprising if you know me. And Peter graciously allowed me to respond to the concerns he raised here.

Also, Peter shared on his blog at First Things a wedding sermon he recently delivered based largely on The Slavery of Death. That wedding sermon is a wonderful pastoral synopsis of the book. The conclusion of the sermon:
You practice resurrection when you leave it to God to defend your life and your self, your significance and reputation, when you’re convinced that your life cannot be touched by Death, by the disapproval of others, or by your own failures: You died, and your life is now hid with Christ in God. In baptism, you died to the reign of Death, the death-self that Death produces in you, and in that baptismal death you died to the works of the flesh, which are the works of the devil. The gospel breaks all the chains of Death-anxiety, and opens up to the possibility of love.

You practice resurrection when you thank God for your very self, when you remember that your life is not an achievement but a gift. You practice resurrection by a life of prayer, trusting your good Father to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory. You practice resurrection when you make music in your hearts, inspired by the Spirit, because “Singing is the exorcism of fear” (Richard Beck).

You wanted practical, so here’s practical: Begin each day of your marriage with thanksgiving, acknowledging that your life is a gift from your heavenly Father and thanking God that He has given you to one another. Pray without ceasing. Sing. Keep reminding yourself of the gospel. Remind each other every day that you died to Death through the death of Jesus, that Death no longer rules you, and that you walk, even now in the flesh, in the newness of endless life.

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36 thoughts on “The Slavery of Death: Updates and a Wedding Sermon”

  1. We really need to define wrath in Christianity. I have no problem with wrath if it is an extension of God's love. If I "whip the tar: out of my child to keep him out of a busy highway that's wrath the way I see it.

  2. Fantastic news. I love reading books on my iPad, so having the Kindle edition will be great - even if I can't send it to you for a autograph.

  3. Don't we need a hope of resurrection in order to overcome the fear of death. Might as well give ourselves over to death if there is no afterlife. I'm not heroic enought to overcome death without afterlife. I need the HS power to even move aginst death.

  4. Just got an Amazon gift card for my birthday, The Slavery of Death is the first book I bought with it. Looking forward to it, Richard.

  5. The book is written in such a way that it can accommodate a wide variety of theological positions on these topics, from the most liberal to the most conservative. I keep my focus on a particular posture we need to cultivate in order to be emancipated from our slavery to the fear of death. A posture that needs to be cultivated even if there is life after death and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The advantages of keeping my focus on the practices rather than venturing into metaphysical claims to give the reader a "quick fear fix" are:

    1) In my view, too many people talk about the Holy Spirit empowering them when, in fact, they don't know what they are talking about if you ask them about specifics. So the language is often empty and escapist. Hand waving. And even more darkly, people paste Holy Spirit language onto own desires and impulses. In short, for someone approaching the book with a robust view of the activity of the Holy Spirit the practices of the book are important to get away from the general vagueness of Holy Spirit-talk along with preventing the spiritual abuses inherent in Holy Spirit-talk.

    2) As I noted in my response to Peter's review, we need to be careful in rushing too quickly to "heaven" as a means to cope with the fear of death. Such a rush is often just a sign that you're using religion as defense mechanism. That isn't faith. That's fear. And a fear-based religion is always going to produce violence. So while discussion about life after death is fine we can't get the cart before the horse. The posture I talk about in the book has to be cultivated first so that any subsequent discussions about heaven won't be violent and escapist, another manifestation of our slavery to the fear of death.

    All that to say, I think The Slavery of Death should be read alongside The Authenticity of Faith.

    Regardless, like I said, the book supplements any metaphysics (or lack thereof) a reader may have.

  6. Hoorah!! Almost weakened and arranged for a 4000 mile delivery after your dire predictions of a Kindle lag time of months. Guess it goes to show that prophets don't always make the best futurologists! @-;¦) Can't wait to start reading.

    P.S. Took a bit of hunting down on the UK amazon site, but found it at: in case any of my compatriots have any difficulties.

  7. Or simply relocate to the UK - I can think of no better way to spend my hard-earned £6.24 ($10.20) - possibly the first and last time I'll find a better price for an American product in the UK (usually, retailers just cross out the dollar sign and replace it with a pound symbol!).

  8. I am reading The Authenticity of Faith right now and am excited to read The Slavery of Death next. I really liked your response to Leithart on the subject of resurrection. I am about two thirds of the way through The Authenticity of Faith and was beginning to have similar thoughts (much less eloquently expressed as: "but WHHYYYY can't we ever be happy?") I had never, ever thought of things in these terms- "a fear-based religion always produces violence"- but it makes perfect sense. And the Bible does show that we must be aware of (existentially face) death through its portrayal of Jesus's pain. If anyone knew his own eternal life, Jesus did, and yet he cried out in abandonment on the cross. Even the most tenacious hopes of resurrection
    will not in the end prevent us from being broken in some fashion by
    death and pain. Especially pain, because even if we can imagine happiness after death, ignoring pain while experiencing it is next to impossible (I think I remember reading Elaine Scarry on this). But experiencing pain is not the same thing as being ruled by the fear of death and pain.

  9. So excited you're reading The Authenticity of Faith. I agree that the tone of that book can be pretty gloomy. In many ways The Slavery of Death is sort of a positive response to that book. In The Slavery of Death joy and gratitude are critical themes.

  10. "The Slavery of Death suggests that our slavery to the fear of
    death is not overcome by a belief in heaven. Rather, the book argues
    that our slavery to the fear of death is overcome by a deep
    reconfiguration of our identities."

    You're right in that it's not enough to have a belief in "heaven." Lots of people do, and they are still enslaved. As Fr Stephen Freeman writes, God is not about making bad men good, but rather making dead men live. The solution is not conceptual or moral; the solution is existential - the reconfiguration of our identities as we are united with Christ.

    My slavery to the fear of death underwent a near-complete loosening in reading N.T. Wright. His analysis of the understandings of 1st century Jews indicates that "places" called "heaven" and "hell" as we typically understand them were nowhere on the radar screen, and therefore could not have been what Jesus was talking about, was one of the many freedoms his work has given me. It showed me how important the posture actually is.

    Looking forward to reading the book; I'm going to pitch it to my book group.


  11. One of the best books I've read in a LONG time. I seek cross-discipline summaries that do justice to huge bodies of work and pull them altogether into "praxis." When I want to introduce these topics to inquisitive friends that have little time and zero experience reading PhD work, books like yours are the discoveries I cherish. I know you could have left the simple-mined in the dust, but I appreciate that you didn't. Not saying its an easy book, just that you have made some difficult material more accessible.

    It's easy to come up with quick criticisms, but the criticism I look for is someone who has sat with the work and really internalized the content. When the criticism comes its something deeply felt and experienced first and foremost.

  12. Professor Beck --

    How accessible is SOD? Equal to most of your writing on this site? I loved your series on it, but wonder if it is too steep for a small group study.

  13. I don't think it's any harder than the blog series it was based on. I think it's a lot like this blog in general. Then again, a lot of people don't like this blog as it's a bit more demanding than some. ("Your blog makes my head hurt," is something I hear a lot.)

    So, in SOD there are some big, abstract ideas and I use some less than common words (e.g., kenosis, martyrological, cruciform) but I explain everything and use illustrations. Still, this isn't normal fare from the Christian Living section of a bookstore. So it needs to be a group that likes to think a bit harder. It's more N.T. Wright than Max Lucado, if I could put it that way.

  14. Hat's off to you whenever a defender of imperial Christianity has a bone to pick with you . . .

  15. "God is not about making bad men good, but rather making dead men live.
    The solution is not conceptual or moral; the solution is existential -
    the reconfiguration of our identities as we are united with Christ."

    That's wonderful.

  16. Thanks for finding that link Andrew. I don't know how many readers I have in the UK but there are a few.

  17. Richard, I have bought your book twice! I ordered it the first day from the publisher, but I never received it. I'll follow up on that, but in the meantime I couldn't wait so I bought the Kindle version.

    I just finished reading a book on health/weightloss called "The Gabriel Method" by Jon Gabriel. Aside from the shameless self-promotion, and the typical marketing hype that accompanies various 'trendy' weightloss methods, this one I found interesting in conjunction to what I anticipate your book to be about. Essentially, he views weight gain for many as a biological survival mechanism reacting to the fear of death. And he correlates that the body interprets all fear and anxiety as essentially the fear of death, and the therefore the need to survive.

    Any way, your writings have really influenced my thinking and I am remined by your ideas as I read from a 'wide' variety of books.

  18. Now on my Kindle. Given my current queue of unread books, I might get round to reading it some time in 2017. (Then again, I suspect your book may well leapfrog quite a few others in my reading list.)

  19. Two books! I really, really, really hope you like it.

    As in, really.

    BTW, that book you mentioned seems really interesting. Thanks! I'll be checking it out.

  20. Boy, I can identify. I always got a tons of book by my bed. Honored to be in your stack.

    Does anyone do this? I sometimes save books until I'm in the right mood for them. I'll have a book sitting there for weeks, even months. Just waiting for me to say, "I think I'm ready to read you now."

  21. I got it on kindle as soon as I read this and I've just finished it now! I think it's blown my mind!

    Thank you for such a thought provoking book Richard. I really felt like a lot of light bulbs went off for me as I read it- there are some huge insights in this book!

    It also raised a few questions for me as well- I think I need to chew over the book a bit more over the next few weeks to try and get my head around parts of it. I'm neither and theologian nor a psychologist so some of the links between ideas don't seem as obvious to me as they might to others.

    It might be great to have a question and answer type blog in a few weeks time where curious readers can 'pick your brains' a bit. Just a thought.

    Thanks Richard! I really appreciate the amount of time and thought you've put into this book. For me you are a real light and I appreciate your work.

  22. I do this all the time. I guess my subconscious idealist intends to read books in the order in which I buy them. In practice, when I finish one book, I tend to grab the next one based on what mood I'm in. As a result, I have some books that are still unread a couple of years after I bought them.

    (I told myself a while ago that I should not buy any more new books until I'd read – or at least attempted to read – all the ones on my pile. That resolution lasted about a month. I've come to accept that it just ain't gonna happen. I'm just too much of a bibliophile.)

  23. So glad you liked it. I think the Q&A idea is great. In a couple of weeks, to give a few more people time to read it, we'll do it.

  24. I find the criticism interesting (I have not yet red the book) and it parallels something I have noticed in the Prog Christian movement: It is seems to be a top-down institutional focused movement. Perhaps that is over-generalizing, but having just come to this party that is how it seems from my vantage. I find this very disappointing since I think there needs to be a significant re-thinking of much of traditional christian theology if it is to remain relevant in future generations, and I don't see how orthodoxy has added anything positive to the discussion besides constructing yet another us-them power construct. If there is 'right' belief, there has to be 'wrong' belief.

  25. a fear-based religion is always going to produce violence

    Wow! This really struck me. It may also play into my skepticism of religious institutions. Institutions take on a life of their own, and that life is rooted in fear, specifically the fear of extinction. The result is violence; mental, spiritual, and physical.

  26. After thinking about this for a bit, I've come to the conclusion that while there is a lot of truth to Dr. Beck's assertion that a lot of sin comes from fear of death, and of loss generally. However, I think his scheme, at least as I can glean it from his and Leithart's comments, is a bit reductive. We are sometimes motivated to sin by a positive desire for things as well as by a fear of losing them. Fear of loss be the more powerful motivator (the research seems strongly to suggest that it is), but it is not the only motivator.

    - Thursday

  27. I started this book a couple of days ago and have tried to fit in reading time wherever possible. I got up at 4:30 this morning to try to finish it before work, almost made it, then read the last few pages on my lunch break. Talk about the right book at the right time for me. It's the perfect balance and furtherance of the mystics/contemplatives I've been reading, if that makes sense. I'm still processing, but wanted to thank you for writing it. What gifts you have with your writing and your perspective. I'm thankful you take the time to share them.

    Oh, and I agree with Jono W that a Q&A would be great. I hope that happens.

  28. Thank you, Trischa, this is a wonderful encouragement.

    And, yes, there is connection with the Christian mystical tradition. So glad you saw that link.

    And if I have Jono W and you we've got enough for a Q & A! The main thing I'm trying to guague is not doing it too early leaving a lot of people out of the conversation. Then again, a Q & A might get people to pick up a copy of the book.

    So I'm thinking of doing this is in April or May. I'll put up a post where people can post questions. I'll then try to follow up with some responses and answers. Maybe in one big post or a series of posts. That's sort of the format I have in mind. So jot down your questions as they come to you. We'll do this.

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