Weekend Reads: Contemplating death, Chesterton’s mind, and medieval Christian art


What Happens After Death

By Richard D. Phillips

P&R Publilshing

Rick Phillips’ What Happens After Death (P&R Publishing, 2013) packs everything you need to know about the state of men after death into 30 pages. In addition to the obligatory Lord of the Rings reference, Phillips—who became a conservative Presbyterian minister after serving as a Gulf War tank officer—quotes a lot of Spurgeon and even more Scripture. Covering profound doctrinal truths and current hot topics, this booklet explains and refutes the New Perspective on Paul, takes a courageous (and correct) stand against cremation, and explains why Christians believe in the resurrection of the body and reject soul sleep.

Death is supremely unnatural. Philips refuses to sugarcoat it. He also refuses to sugarcoat his rejection of the false opinions about it. Death is not just a spiritual reality. The connection of physical death to spiritual error (i.e., sin) decisively proves the falsity of evolution. Evolution requires death, and God could not have pronounced a world containing death to be “very good.”

For the believer, death holds no terrors, for after death the soul beholds the glory of Christ. Death is not the end, but the middle—something through which we pass to emerge into the reality of heaven. Phillips asks, “Where is heaven?” Right here, he says, pointing out that heaven will be on the renewed earth. It’s not “all new things,” but “all things new.” That’s true, and it’s reminiscent of N.T. Wright’s dictum: “Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world.”

The unbeliever, on the other hand, is “not nearly frightened enough.” Death holds more terrors than he can conceive, for to die physically is merely to begin “the interminable end of the unending” torment in hell where Christ reigns in wrath.

Death is certain. Will it be the middle or the end for you?

The Complete Thinker

By Dale Alquist

Ignatius Press

Those who want to discover the opinions of the early 20th century Christian apologist, newspaper columnist, and detective-story writer G.K. Chesterton without reading his Collected Works (currently 34 volumes, with two more forthcoming from Ignatius Press) can hardly do better than to read Dale Alquist’s book. President of the American Chesterton Society and author of several previous books about his hero, Alquist has been bold enough to write a systematic treatment of Chestertonian thought. The Complete Thinker: The Marvelous Mind of G.K. Chesterton (Ignatius, 2012) briefly summarizes Chesterton’s opinion on 17 major topics—everything from language to law to economics to Hamlet and the Seven Deadly Sins. No topic exists “to which he has not at least made reference, usually provocatively, but always profoundly.”

Alquist’s thesis is that Chesterton’s thinking was marvelously complete. All his ideas stand together because they are all true. Chesterton asserted he wrote about only one subject because only one subject exists. All truths are simply aspects of the one central truth of the Christian faith, which for Chesterton received its fullest and best expression in the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. Alquist, too, forthrightly defends Rome, and his fragmentary arguments and his (and Chesterton’s) bold assertions could lead the unwary to an unwarranted confidence in the original mainline denomination. Very little distinctly Roman Catholic dogma is presented in the book, and Chesterton’s Christian apologetic is so intoxicatingly powerful that it is easy to follow him to Rome—“where,” as he said, “all roads lead.” Unfortunately, truth does not lie that way. Follow him to Christ, but not to a church that anathematized the gospel in 1547.

“Chesterton sort of ruins other authors,” a student once told Alquist. That’s true. If Alquist entices you to pick up even one volume of the Collected Works, his mission will be complete.

A Higher Contemplation

By Stephen N. Fliegel

Kent State University Press

With 76 illustrations in 99 pages, A Higher Contemplation: Sacred Meaning in the Christian Art of the Middle Ages (Kent State University Press, 2012) is a beautifully designed coffee table book with a solid scholarly core. Those who already know and love medieval Christian art will adore the gorgeously rendered reproductions. For those who know little about the subject, Stephen Fliegel’s text provides an accessible but enormous quantity of information. Curator of the medieval section at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Fliegel clearly knows (but never struts) his stuff.

In the eighth century, the church fought bitterly over icons. That battle continues. But all but the most radical iconoclasts will enjoy Fliegel’s neutral treatment—and some may even find evidence for their position. For example, A Higher Contemplation says that Christians did not depict the crucifixion until the sixth century. But they did use the cross as a symbol from the first century onward. According to one estimate, more than 400 different versions of the cross have been used in iconography throughout the centuries.

Fliegel concludes that medieval art was executed according to a “sacred script.” To view it properly, one must be equipped to decipher the codes. For example, many crucifixion scenes feature a skull on the ground at the foot of the cross. That skull is Adam’s skull, for just as he brought death by his sin, so Christ brings life by His obedience. Later artists portrayed Christ’s blood dripping onto the skull, washing away Adam’s sin. By Counter-Reformation times, the skull was inverted to form a chalice, catching the blood (with Roman Catholic sacramental implications).

The intense craftsmanship evident in all 76 illustrations, the stunning artwork, and the readable text combine to make A Higher Contemplation an excellent choice for reading and showing off. 

Caleb Nelson
Caleb Nelson

Caleb is the pastor of Harvest Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Gillette, Wyoming.


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