The End of the Christian Life

How Embracing Our Mortality Frees Us to Truly Live

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We're all going to die. Yet in our medically advanced, technological age, many of us see death as a distant reality--something that happens only at the end of a long life or to other people.

In The End of the Christian Life, Todd Billings urges Christians to resist that view. Instead, he calls us to embrace our mortality in our daily life and faith. This is the journey of genuine discipleship, Billings says: following the crucified and resurrected Lord in a world of distraction and false hopes.

Drawing on his experience as a professor and father living with incurable cancer, Billings offers a personal yet deeply theological account of the gospel's expansive hope for small, mortal creatures.
Artfully weaving rich theology with powerful narrative, Billings writes for church leaders and laypeople alike. Whether we are young or old, reeling from loss or clinging to our own prosperity, this book challenges us to walk a strange but wondrous path: in the midst of joy and lament, to receive mortal limits as a gift, an opportunity to give ourselves over to the Lord of life.

1. Welcome to Sheol: A Guided Tour of Life in the Pit
2. Two Views of Mortality: Is Death an Enemy or a Friend?
3. Mortals in Denial: Living as Dying Creatures
4. Interplanetary Exploration: The Strange New World of Modern Medicine
5. The Way of Prosperity and the Christian Way
6. The Fracturing of Our Stories, and Life after Death
7. Hoping for the End as Mortals


"Todd Billings knows what we want to forget: that we must come to an end. This hopeful book pours Christian language into the void of our silence about death. He seeks better language for how our mortality can be both a wonder and a tragedy, an aberration and a sign of hope. You will find no trite answers here and no condemnation of our fragility. This gentle and pastoral book offers a corrective to our culture's painful misinterpretation of mortality as a failure, and asks instead what death can truly teach us about life."

Kate Bowler, author of Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved

"Todd Billings is one of my favorite theologians. The End of the Christian Life highlights many of the reasons why. He writes out of a depth of personal experience and the depths of the Christian tradition. In this remarkable book Billings calls us out of the frantic avoidance of death that characterizes our culture and into the Christian practice of remembering our death. In so doing he charts the path of true flourishing and shows how we might find God amid our mortality, finitude, and limitations. Billings writes not only with the mind of a brilliant theologian but also with a pastoral heart, so his work is also practical and accessible. Here you will find a fellow traveler--and fellow mortal--whose deep love of God, commitment to the church, and profound wisdom are evident on every page."

Tish Harrison Warren, priest in the Anglican Church of North America; author of Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

"I have been waiting for this book from Todd Billings. Born from his own existential encounter with mortality and infused with his singular theological acumen, The End of the Christian Life challenges a society (and a church!) infected by both the denial of death and a culture of death. When we deny our own mortality, we also become apathetic to all the death-dealing ways we treat other people. But ultimately this book is an invitation to find life in the embrace of our mortality because of the scarred God who meets us there."

James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy, Calvin University; author of You Are What You Love and On the Road with Saint Augustine

"The Christian tradition has long valued learning the ars moriendi (the art of dying), not because the faith is unduly negative or pessimistic but because it has understood the inseparable connection between one's future death and one's present life. In our contemporary Western world, we do all we can to ignore and downplay death--but living in this denial is hurting us in ways we don't even realize. Todd Billings offers us the great gift of a contemporary ars moriendi, providing a textured narrative that weaves together personal stories and wise theological reflection. With Todd's help we can learn to live in the shadow of death in a way that is painfully realistic, honestly liberating, and ultimately hopeful."

Kelly M. Kapic, author of You're Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God's Design and Why That's Good News

The Author

  1. J. Todd Billings

    J. Todd Billings

    J. Todd Billings (ThD, Harvard University Divinity School) is the Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, and an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America. He is the author of...

    Continue reading about J. Todd Billings


"[A] stirring rumination on mortality. . . . Examining biblical narratives, [Billings] compares the shadow of death to the depths of Sheol (hell) mentioned in the books of Psalms and Jonah and assures readers that God will not abandon them, asking them to take to heart 'God's promise that death is not the final word.' He also refers movingly to Psalm 39:4-5, which describes the fleeting nature of life, weighs the value of appreciating simple pleasures, and reminds readers to turn to God for deliverance. Christians contemplating the afterlife will appreciate Billings's moving reflections."

Publishers Weekly

"The End of the Christian Life would make excellent Lenten reading. . . . Reading the book is like listening to a particularly well-read, well-organized classroom lecturer--one who not only knows his stuff but also knows how to communicate it effectively, even if the topic is not one that most of his students are eager to study. . . . A rich quarry for individual reflection and group discussion."

LaVonne Neff,

Christian Century

"Todd Billings is a theologian worth reading whether he is addressing a feature in Calvin's theology, union with Christ, or suffering. In his newest book Billings urges us to embrace our mortality in this fallen world as an ultimate good as we fix our hope on what is eternal."

Todd Pruitt,

Reformation21 blog

"A work of profound theology, deeply rooted in the Bible and enriched by pastoral ministry. . . . With unparalleled skill, Billings interweaves the stories of his family, the deaths of his son Nathaniel's dog and goldfish, and the joys and pains of the cancer patients to whom he ministers with rich biblical texts into a seamless garment of hope and courage, not for heroes but for those who face illness and must 'learn how to live small.' There is no more opportune book than Billings's for our time."

Peter C. Phan,

Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology