What Have I Been Reading? Dale C. Allison Jr., "Night Comes: Death, Imagination, and the Last Things"

Dale Allison is one of the most unique and thought-provoking professors I had the pleasure of studying with at Princeton Seminary. In the Spring semester of 2015 I took his course on “The Bible and Religious Experience,” and I got the impression of a seasoned, yet open minded, scholar who knows how to properly think a question through to the end.

All of Dr. Allison’s quirky brilliance shines through in his 2016 book: Night Comes: death, imagination, and the last things (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing). Based on the Stone Lectures he delivered at PTS in October 2014 (which I was sadly unable to attend), Night Comes is a deeply personal and penetrating reflection on some of faith’s most perennial questions—questions like: how are we to think about death, and what (if anything) comes after? And, what might a 21st century Christian do with ideas like resurrection, divine judgment, and the world to come? Written in a conversational style, and being—at points—autobiographical, sobering, inspiring, even comical, Night Comes will make rewarding reading for scholars, pastors, and any curious soul (are we souls?) desirous of a wise and capable guide to some of life’s greatest mysteries.

One hundred and fifty pages in total, Night Comes is broken into six chapters. In the first, Dr. Allison recounts his own close brush with death when he was hit by a drunk driver at the age of 23. Historical developments in Judeo-Christian thought, as well as in science and medicine, are ushered in as food for thought as he ponders our fear of death, and our evolving perspectives on it. In chapter two, he considers what 21st century Christians might make of the idea of bodily resurrection, and he explores the question of whether we are, in fact, only bodies.

Subsequent chapters address post-mortem divine judgement (how the idea has fared socially over the centuries, as well as its place in the Bible and Christian theology); moral, psychical, and epistemological objections to eschatology and the world to come; and the history of the doctrine of hell, along with Dr. Allison’s own deep-seated antipathy to the idea. He concludes with a chapter on heaven (an addition to the original Stone Lectures). Dissatisfied with the caginess many pastors seem to have when it comes to the topic, Dr. Allison challenges them to put forth a vision of heaven that is more responsible and profound than the kitschy and dubious images that proliferate in popular culture.
"Even if great circumspection is required at every turn, the last things needn't muzzle us. There's much to ponder, much to explain, much to criticize, and much to imagine." (p. 149)
Night Comes will not disappoint. As a careful and patient thinker - with a penchant for interdisciplinarity, and a remarkable capacity to resist jumping to conclusions - Dale Allison is the ideal guide with whom to explore these age-old mysteries. Tolle Lege!

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