N.D. Wilson’s Death by Living

I kept seeing this book pop on Twitter and the blogosphere and finally decided to give it a shot.  VERY glad I did.  Wow!  Honestly, this is a fantastic piece of work.

I’m pretty hard on books, and I’m particularly hard on books that I think are trying to be provocative.  I do not like the feel of “manufactured-incindiary,” and I do suspect that a new generation of writers is becoming convinced that this kind of writing is the way forward.  You likely know what I mean:  the intentional employment of provocative, random concepts intended, as I see it, to communicate that the writer (in Christian books anyway) does not inhabit the fundamentalist ghetto, that he has considered unorthodox things.  It’s a literary attempt at garnering street cred.  It is a form of literary posturing, usually, and is a way of saying, “Let me prove to you that I can be shocking and dangerous before I feed you a Sunday School lesson.”

After reading the first page of N.D. Wilson’s Death by Living, I had a vague suspicion that this was going to be one of those kinds of books.  Make no mistake about it:  Wilson is eclectic and provocative in tone.  However, I very quickly figured out that he wasn’t posturing.  Rather, there is deep content beneath the provocations and idiosyncratic meanderings.  More than that, there is a stridently Christian view of the world woven in a tapestry of powerful stories and images by the hands of a skilled storyteller.

The book is hard to describe.  In a sense, it is a meditation on life via a meditation on death.  Wilson tells the stories of his family, primarily of his grandparents, and even more primarily (if you’ll allow it) of the life and death of one of his grandfathers.  Interspersed throughout are tales of his children and his wife.  More than that:  theological musings, deductions, and – a rarity among many young Christian writers – conclusions are allowed to arise from the familial tales.

My attempt at a summary statement will sound pedantic and shallow:  we are dying, therefore we best be about living…and the life we are living is a purposeful story to which we are privileged to contribute despite our not being the primary author.  That really does not do justice to what Wilson has done in this book.  Along the way we find insightful and moving discussions of time, existence, life, death, physicality (in a nice swipe at neo-gnosticism) and a couple of compelling critiques of the new atheism.  (These musings on atheism were particularly poignant and helpful.)

To be perfectly frank, it’s a tough book to review precisely because of how it is structured.  I will simply say this:  Wilson’s musings are worth the time it takes to consider them.  You will be touched, inspired, intellectually stimulated, and challenged by what you find in this book.

WELL worth reading!

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