Ligon Duncan’s Fear Not! was one of the book giveaways at last year’s Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, KY. I got around to reading this after my curiosity finally got the best of me. For whatever reason, I had it in my mind that this was going to be (at least in part) a book on grief counseling or maybe one of those “don’t be sad, he’s with the Lord” kinds of pamphlets. I guess I got that idea from the cover because it’s a bit on the sentimental side.
Anyway, that was my bad because that’s not what this book is. Amazingly, it’s about what it says it’s about: death and the afterlife from a Christian perspective.
First, this is a small book (93 pages including the foreword and introduction) so don’t expect a completely fleshed-out study on every aspect of death. This is more a “raw facts” book. It presents bare naked biblical facts, without worrying about opposing views, counter-arguments, historical contexts, etc. It’s a primer kind of book and, on that level, it’s a pretty good read. Dr. Duncan could have gone in-depth because he’s a very intelligent man but he saw a need for a clean, tidy book on this topic, and he filled that hole.
Of course, Dr. Duncan keeps the gospel front and center. So the first couple of chapters is a brief survey of what the Bible says death is — physical and spiritual separation as a result of sin — and what happens when you die. He talks about the paradox of dying, and how it is both an enemy and comfort to those who are in Christ. In this way, Dr. Duncan is sensitive to the issue of dying throughout his book, without compromising the biblical data. That is a tough line to toe, and he does it well. He also mentions in this chapter how we ought now to hide death from children — an approach I agree with — because death is a fact of life.
Chapter 2 (What Happens After Death?) ends like this, in speaking of the unbeliever’s fate:
If you want unfairness, if you want discrimination, I can give you that. That is called heaven by grace. Heaven by grace is the most unfair doctrine imaginable. Sinners deserving condemnation get heaven forever because the One who was without sin became sin for their reconciliation. That is unfair, but hell is the fairest doctrine in the world. In hell, you not only get what you want, but you also get what you deserve. In hell, you are paid your wages. In hell, you reap what you have sown. It is the fairest doctrine in the world. Heaven, that is unfair. A sinner enjoying Christ for all eternity is unfair. Give me unfairly! I will take heaven by grace. (pp. 39-40)
This is necessary for discussing death and one’s eternal fate. It places God’s sovereignty at a premium and identifies him as right and merciful, regardless of one’s fate.
The rest of the book is essentially about the events and facts surrounding death — Christ’s return, the judgment, Heaven. For the most part, Dr. Duncan leaves it to the reader to kind of “apply” these facts to his own life, to let them permeate his mind. In that regard, this is a “grief counseling” book because it lays the foundation for the hope and glory believers find in death.
This is a nice little book to have on hand in both those moments where death seems to be at the forefront of your life, and if you might be trying to understand death from a Christian perspective.