Speaking of Dying

Recovering the Church's Voice in the Face of Death

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The church does not cope very well with dying. Instead of using its own resources to mount a positive end-of-life ministry for the terminally ill, it outsources care to secular models, providers, and services. A terminal diagnosis typically triggers denial of impending death and placing faith in the techniques and resources of modern medicine. If a cure is not forthcoming, the patient and his or her loved ones experience a sense of failure and bitter disappointment.

This book offers a critical analysis of the church's failure to communicate constructively about dying, reminding the church of its considerable liturgical, scriptural, and pastoral resources when it ministers to the terminally ill. The authors, who have all been personally and professionally involved in end-of-life issues, suggest practical, theological bases for speaking about dying, communicating with those facing death, and preaching about dying. They explore how dying--in baptism--begins and informs the Christian's life story. They also emphasize that the narrative of faith embraces dying, and they remind readers of scriptural and christological resources that can lead toward a "good dying." In addition, they present current best practices from health professionals for communication among caregivers and those facing death.


Foreword by Stanley Hauerwas
1. The Dying Pastor: Everybody Knew, but No One Would Talk About It
2. Victims of the Wrong Story
3. Jesus Christ: Lord of the Living and the Dead--and the Dying
4. The Difference Jesus's Dying Makes
5. What Do You Say to Someone Who Is Dying?
6. Preaching on Death and Dying
7. Facing Dying Faithfully: A Small Cloud of Witnesses
8. A Good Dying


"There is simply no question that too often we lack the words necessary to speak to one another about dying and death. . . . The essential story--the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ--that should form our dying as well as our living as Christians seems to have been lost. . . . This is a book we have desperately needed. I hope it will become a book widely studied in congregations and seminaries. We must learn to speak of dying. This book appropriately helps us recover our voices as a people taught to speak by the one who died on a cross."

Stanley Hauerwas (from the foreword)
Stanley Hauerwas (from the foreword)

"This book offers a depth of wisdom on a universal and universally avoided experience: the act of dying. Speaking of Dying combines practical, pastoral, and biblical reflection on the care of the dying and does so without 'spiritualizing' the terrible realities of that experience. Use this book in a congregational context, and it will open up conversations you never thought possible."

Richard Lischer, James T. and Alice Mead Cleland Professor of Preaching, Duke Divinity School

"This book is written with a pastoral heart and a prophet's voice. It is wise in the ways of caring for the dying and passionate in its cry for the church to remember its own christological narrative and, by doing so, to restore care for the dying into its gospel of care."

Thomas G. Long, professor of preaching, Candler School of Theology, Emory University; author, Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral

"This book is a wonderful contribution to restoring the sacred art of facing the end of life. It is a deep and reflective analysis of the culture of dying and the Christian experience of living and dying, and a valuable resource for theologians, health care professionals, and all who seek to honor the final chapter of life."

Betty Ferrell, PhD, FAAN, FPCN, CHPN; research scientist and professor, City of Hope Medical Center, Duarte, CA

"Christians often say they are not afraid of death--it's the process of dying that raises anxiety. Speaking of Dying lays a solid biblical and theological foundation connecting baptism and the Eucharist to their fulfillment in death, which aids our understanding of how dying 'in Christ' is counter to the cultural milieu of avoidance. The authors encourage pastors and congregational members to speak of their dying both to strengthen their faith and to receive support. This theological road map will most definitely enhance the reader's approach to a dying person."

Susan J. Zonnebelt-Smeenge, RN, EdD, licensed clinical psychologist, and Robert C. DeVries, DMin, PhD, pastor and emeritus professor of church education at Calvin Theological Seminary

"This is an essential book for any church leader, pastor, teacher, or active member. When so much is at stake, we cannot continue to fail practicing our dying faithfully."

Rob Moll, author, The Art of Dying; editor at large, Christianity Today

"This book is theologically sound, pastorally insightful, grounded in Christ, and rooted in Scripture. Helpful tools and ways of giving voice to the dying and to their loved ones are provided for the church's ministry."

Abigail Rian Evans, PhD, LHD, senior scholar, Center for Clinical Bioethics, Georgetown University Medical Center; Charlotte Newcombe Professor of Practical Theology emerita, Princeton Seminary

The Authors

  1. Fred Craddock

    Fred Craddock

    Fred Craddock (1928-2015; PhD, Vanderbilt University) was a widely acclaimed preacher and author. He was selected by Newsweek as one of the twelve most effective preachers in the English-speaking world. He wrote numerous books on preaching, several...

    Continue reading about Fred Craddock

  2. Dale Goldsmith
    © Corliss Metcalf

    Dale Goldsmith

    Dale Goldsmith (PhD, University of Chicago) taught for several years at McPherson College and at the Baptist Seminary of Mexico. He is the author of New Testament Ethics and lives in Amarillo, Texas.

    Continue reading about Dale Goldsmith

  3. Joy V. Goldsmith
    © Scott Dean

    Joy V. Goldsmith

    Joy V. Goldsmith (PhD, University of Oklahoma) is assistant professor of communication at the University of Memphis. Her books include Communication as Comfort and Dying with Comfort. She lives in Atoka, Tennessee.

    Continue reading about Joy V. Goldsmith


Named One of the Top 10 Books of the Year for 2012, Academy of Parish Clergy

"Arguing that the church has ceded end-of-life care to the medical profession and neglected or forgotten available gospel resources, the authors, themselves theologians and preachers, offer a theological rationale and practical guidance for caring for the dying within congregational settings. . . . Individual or small-group reflection questions follow each chapter in this accessible resource for pastors and congregations."

Publishers Weekly

"Dying is hard anywhere, but it is especially difficult in an American church that 'has outsourced the work of dying to a secular culture.' This book diagnoses the cultural and ecclesial trends that leave us inarticulate and inept in the face of dying and presents a robust theology that locates our dying in the baptismal story."

D. Brent Laytham,

Christian Century

"A call to the church to rediscover and reclaim its own voice, language, and story . . . about death and dying. Claiming that the church has outsourced death and dying to other stories and experts, the authors directly address preaching on death, the nature and implications of Jesus' death, and the experience of the dying person."

Anthony B. Robinson,

Christian Century

"[This book] persuasively argues that the church is uniquely qualified to help people die well because the defining narrative of the church is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ--an unparalleled narrative of hope and healing. Having challenged the church to take up this important work, the three authors also offer a number of very helpful suggestions for doing so. . . . Pastors and other caregivers should not let the subject matter keep them from buying and reading [this book]! . . . [It] faithfully remind[s] the church that it has a story to tell that is unlike any other, one that takes life seriously enough to take on that old nemesis--death."

Robert R. Laha Jr.,


"The church needs help in living and dying as Christ lived and died. [This book] help[s] the church in the work of following Christ even when members of the church, or those they love, are dying. . . . The book was written in community, and the authors obviously intend for it to be read in community. Each of the eight chapters ends with discussion questions, lending itself to small group study. The book, though it is theological, is not written solely for theologians. The authors take care to speak to all Christians who would like to follow God's will when dying or caring for those who are dying. . . . As followers of a God who became human and died, the church should be speaking God's message of living and dying with a more prophetic voice. In Speaking of Dying, the church is given a helpful tool, a reminder of the voice given to it by God."

Gary Wake,

Englewood Review of Books

"The theology of dying developed in this book makes a valuable contribution to those who care for the dying. It provides not only theological and practical advice but also a clarion call for the church to recover its voice in order to share its story of God's goodness, the action of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the promise that God will transform all things into a new creation in Christ."

James Donohue, CR,


"The authors of this book challenge the church to recover her voice in the face of death. . . . It is the desire of Craddock and the Goldsmiths that Christians recapture the art of speaking of dying in the context of the body of Christ and baptism. . . . We live in an age of a death-defying and death-denying world and so Craddock and the Goldsmiths end each chapter with challenging discussion questions for groups studying within the context of the church."

John E. Hugus, APC,

Sharing the Practice

"Speaking of Dying will be helpful for church leaders who are seeking to better address dying within their congregations. . . . The heart of the book is sound: an encouragement to foster 'good dying' among believers by facing death squarely and offering the rich resources of the Christian tradition for their benefit."

Jenell Paris and Janel Kragt Bakker,


"There are many helpful suggestions of how congregations can heighten members' awareness of what dying entails, listen to the dying and grieving without avoidance or deflection, and minister to them as the body of Christ through worship and care that addresses death in a redemptive fashion. The final chapter, 'A Good Dying,' introduces . . . the five 'useful tools' of communication that inform a congregation's renewed voice. . . . These tools, passed down for generations in the Church, help us provide to and receive from one another the comfort found in Christ. Useful tables in this final chapter suggest specific congregational practices that make full use of these tools. These tables move the book from an academic exercise in the theology of dying to a helpful reference for pastors and congregations in ministering to the dying and the grieving. . . . A healthy guide for us to regain the Christian theology of death and dying."

Charles W. Christian,

Christian Reflection

"A call to churches to reclaim their ministry to the dying. . . . [This volume] treat[s] a subject of fundamental evangelical and pastoral importance, and [it does] so with insight and considerable moral and spiritual strength. . . . These authors are convinced that the Church has begun to tell the story America tells rather than her own. They call for the Church to speak that language once more and restore practices faithful to our way of believing. This work will not be accomplished either quickly or easily, but [this volume] make[s] clear the necessity and importance of the task, and [it] show[s] the way ahead."

Philip W. Turner III,

Living Church

"Each chapter ends with a set of pointed discussion questions designed to help Christians break their silence on dying. While the subject matter may make conversation understandably difficult, the questions provide firm guidance for Sunday school classes or small groups seeking a substantial and applicable resource for study. . . . Speaking of Dying begins with a negative critique of both the American Protestant church and the culture in which we are embedded. As the book progresses, however, a clear and hopeful narrative comes into view--one in which life begins, continues, and finally ends in the context of sacrament. Craddock, Goldsmith, and Goldsmith turn personal experience and careful research into an eminently readable book on a vitally important subject."

Eric Van Meter,

Ministry Matters

"I am deeply grateful for this book because it shines light into a dark place where few people dare to tread. It speaks into the needs of people who struggle with the questions of death and dying. Above all, as it helps the Church recover her voice for speaking hope to the dying, it also illuminates ways in which pastors, preachers, leaders, and concerned believers can participate in the ministry of caring for the dying. Well written and researched, intelligent and practical, this book is a strongly recommended reference book for all in Christian ministry and leadership. . . . [It] provides much wisdom and guidance."

Conrade Yap,

Yapdates: A Spiritual Odyssey blog

"The authors provide useful suggestions for the churches as they reclaim their proper role in helping people die. . . . The authors are correct when they encourage preachers to speak more fully about this important topic. . . . Fred Craddock, Dale Goldsmith, and Joy V. Goldsmith have written from the heart, and their book . . . constructively addresses topics that are important for pastors, congregational leaders, and bishops and conference ministers."

Keith Watkins,

blog (keithwatkinshistorian.wordpress.com)