Christians traditionally have had something substantive and important to say about death and afterlife. Yet the language and imagery used in sermons about life and death have given way to language designed to comfort and celebrate.
In Preaching Death, Lucy Bregman tracks the changes in Protestant American funerals over the last one hundred years. Early-twentieth-century "natural immortality" doctrinal funeral sermons transitioned to an era of "silence and denial," eventually becoming expressive, biographical tributes to the deceased. The contemporary death awareness movement, with the "death as a natural event" perspective, has widely impacted American culture, affecting health care, education, and psychotherapy and creating new professions such as hospice nurse and grief counselor. Bregman questions whether this transition—which occurred unobserved and without conflict—was inevitable and what alternative paths could have been chosen. In tracing this unique story, she reveals how Americans' comprehension of death shifted in the last century—and why we must find ways to move beyond it.
Part I: What Christians Used to Say about Death
1. A Changeover of Messages and Images 2. What Is a Christian Funeral? 3. Funeral Theologies of Death 4. Heaven as Home 5. Heaven as Journey 6. Natural Immortality 7. The Lord’s Will
Part II: The Age of Silence and Denial
8. "Please Omit Funeral" 9. The Challenge of New Theologies 10. Death as Enemy
Part III: What Came Next
11. New Words for Death, Dying, and Grief 12. The Triumph of the Biographical
Part IV: What Might Have Been
13. Two Alternatives 14. What Might Have Been—Lament 15. The Eclipse of Poetry
Part V: Conclusion
16. What Christians No Longer Want to Say about Death
Lucy Bregman is Professor of Religion at Temple University. Her previous publications include Death and Dying, Spirituality and Religions: A Study of the Death Awareness Movement; Beyond Silence and Denial: Death and Dying Reconsidered; and First Person Mortal: Personal Narratives of Illness, Dying and Grief. She lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Lucy Bregman has once again brought her experience to bear upon the weighty topic of death dying, and the afterlife. Clear, concise, and accessibly written, this book will doubtless be of interest to a wide audience, including not only those interested in Christian theology but those with a general interest in modern attitudes to death, dying, loss, and bereavement.
~Christopher M. Moreman, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, California State University, East Bay
Bregman offers very interesting perspectives for pastoral workers as well as for empirical researchers in the field of death and dying.
~Brenda Mathijssen, Radboud University Nijmegen, Modern Believing
Lucy Bregman's incredible scholarship, laced with her practical judgment, creates sparkling insights at every turn. A must-read for pastors, for those who teach them, and for grief counselors of any stripe; this is their story, too.
~Dennis Klass, author of The Spiritual Lives of Bereaved Parents
Lucy Bregman's primary concern is our legacy, not in terms of what we leave behind when we die but with the images and meanings we create as we live in the presence of death. In a unique and provocative twist, she challenges readers to use historical imagination to envision alternative theologies of death in 20th century America. Preaching Death should be read by historians, preachers, and poets, and by anyone who longs to re-imagine death and grief in the 21st century.
~Margaret R. McLean, Associate Director and Director of Bioethics, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University