Death and Dying—the Ultimate Apologetic Challenge -- By: Wayne A. Detzler

Journal: Christian Apologetics Journal
Volume: CAJ 09:2 (Fall 2011)
Article: Death and Dying—the Ultimate Apologetic Challenge
Author: Wayne A. Detzler


Death and Dying—the Ultimate Apologetic Challenge

Wayne A. Detzler, Ph.D.

When one calls death and dying the “ultimate apologetic challenge,” it sounds dramatic. However it is a justifiable assertion. Philosophy claims to address the ultimate questions of life, and certainly death belongs in that category. At this point philosophy, science, and theology converge. After all, death is universal. It is also enigmatic with no living witness to describe it, apart from Jesus Christ.

During recent years in the United States there has been a renewal of the field of study called thanatology, the study of death. Historically it has been discussed within the framework of Christianity, as in John Owen’s classical work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. More recently, historians have viewed the subject from a retrospective viewpoint, as in Jeroslav Pelikan’s The Shape of Death. During the 1960s and 1970s death became an active subject of study by post–Christian writers such as physicians, psychologists, and sociologists. The most well–known contribution to this study is that of Elizabeth

Kübler–Ross, On Death and Dying,1 which will be reviewed later in this article.

Obviously thanatology is an exercise in forensic science rather than experimental science. One might argue, in fact, that psychology, sociology, and the social sciences are in some ways pseudo–science. However, this must not blind us to the fascination with the subject of death. It is a compelling study simply because it is now and will remain in the realm of the unknown until we personally pass through the experience.

So, how is death an “apologetic challenge”? Inasmuch as no one has firsthand knowledge of death, one must deduce information concerning it by rational processes. It is the thesis of this article that Christian counseling during the dying process must fall within the purview of an “apologetic counselor.” If apologetics adjusts one’s thinking to ultimate, absolute truth, it is most suited to perform the process of counseling through the dying process.

A Theological Perspective on Death

The Bible describes death in terms of sleep (John 11:11). The Greek term used for sleep is κοιμαω. Jesus uses the word “sleep” with a double meaning, comparing death to physical sleep. It is both temporary and beneficial. Jesus assures his disciples that they “go to awaken Lazarus.”2

The Apostle P...

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