Walking in the Fog (an Excerpt from Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings)

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ (February 2015) by J. Todd Billings.

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“Get well soon! Jesus loves you! God is bigger than cancer!”

My tears started to flow as I read these words. They were from a fifteen-year-old girl with Down syndrome in my congregation. Less than a week earlier, the doctor spoke the diagnosis to me, about which he had no doubt: a cancer of the bone marrow, multiple myeloma—an incurable cancer, a fatal disease.

I had been in a fog ever since. How was I to face each day when my future—which had seemed wide open—had suddenly narrowed? My “world” seemed to be caving in on itself with fog in each direction I turned, so that no light could shine in.

While I had received many cards in the previous days, this one was different. “God is bigger than cancer!” Yes. She did not say, “God will cure you of this cancer,” or “God will suffer with you.”

God is bigger than cancer. The fog is thick, but God is bigger.

My cancer story was already developing its own sense of drama. The sky was closing in, enveloping my whole world so that nothing else could creep in. But God’s story, the drama of God’s action in the world, was bigger.

The girl in my church wasn’t denying the fog or the loss but testifying to a God who was greater, the God made known in Jesus Christ, who shows us that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).

In my tears, there was not only grief but also joy that in the body of Christ theological truths are not a commodity trafficked and controlled by professional theologians. God’s story in Christ is bigger than my cancer story, period.

 

2015 by J. Todd Billings. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: February 27, 2015

RELEVANT Magazine published “Are We Missing Something Important About Prayer?” by Todd Billings, author of Rejoicing in Lament.

“‘For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace’ (Psalm 102:3).

“When my lips cried these words in a public prayer service, it felt like I was exposing a wound. I had just been diagnosed with a lethal, incurable cancer. My expected lifespan had been chopped by decades. The cancer had already burned through the inside of my bones—like a furnace.

“Lament is bringing our grief and our protest before the Almighty when life doesn’t make sense.

“Praying this Psalm of lament felt a bit like speaking a foreign language. As a young Christian, I had been taught that prayer consisted of ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. I found that structure helpful, and I still do. But there’s something missing: lament. Lament is not confession, and it can’t be reduced to bringing our petitions and supplications before God. Lament is bringing our grief and our protest before the Almighty when life doesn’t make sense.”

Read the entire article here.

 

Other Rejoicing in Lament Media:

Today marks the end of a two-week blog tour for Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings. A complete list of posts, and the giveaway winners announcement, are on the blog tour web site.

Rejoicing in Lament was quoted on the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries blog: “Remedy for Control.”

Dillon Thorton recommended Rejoicing in Lament.

Jordan Mark Stone recommended Rejoicing in Lament

 

Kingdom Conspiracy Media:

Scot McKnight spoke with a panel at Westminster Theological Centre about Kingdom Conspiracy.

Jon Beadle recommended Kingdom Conspiracy.

Scott Lencke reviewed Kingdom Conspiracy.

Scot McKnight wrote “A Robust Kingdom” on Jesus Creed.

 

Quick Hits:

Craig Detweiler, author of iGods, was interviewed by Warren Cole Smith for WORLD Magazine.

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory by Jerry L. Walls was reviewed on The Christian Humanist blog.

Miroslav Volf, author of A Public Faith, was quoted in USA Today.

Wendy VanderWal-Gritter, author of Generous Spaciousness, was interviewed on WikiGod Podcast.

Nicole Baker Fulgham, author of Educating All God’s Children, is speaking at Inhabit: Faithful Practice in the New Commons at the Seattle School of Theology & Psychology.

This Just In: Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings

Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ
by J. Todd Billings

 

 

“Along with disclosing his wrenching questions, fears, and hopes, Billings explores ‘the ways in which God’s story intersects with the cancer story.’ His poignant insight into the role of lament in faithful Christian living makes this a work of both astute scholarship and powerful testimony.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 
 
 
At the age of thirty-nine, Christian theologian Todd Billings was diagnosed with a rare form of incurable cancer. In the wake of that diagnosis, he began grappling with the hard theological questions we face in the midst of crisis: Why me? Why now? Where is God in all of this? This eloquently written book shares Billings’s journey, struggle, and reflections on providence, lament, and life in Christ in light of his illness, moving beyond pat answers toward hope in God’s promises. Theologically robust yet eminently practical, it engages the open questions, areas of mystery, and times of disorientation in the Christian life. Billings offers concrete examples through autobiography, cultural commentary, and stories from others, showing how our human stories of joy and grief can be incorporated into the larger biblical story of God’s saving work in Christ.

 

J. Todd Billings (ThD, Harvard University Divinity School) is 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 several books, including Union with Christ, winner of a Christianity Today Book Award, and Calvin, Participation, and the Gift, winner of a 2009 John Templeton Award for Theological Promise

 

Praise for Rejoicing in Lament:

“In his remarkable book . . . [Billings] presents an unflinching look at how life changes after a medical death sentence. In the same tradition as C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed and Joan Didion’sThe Year of Magical Thinking, Rejoicing in Lament is brave, honest, and probing. But this book has one important difference. Most writers in this genre look at death and dying through the eyes of a family member who survives. Billings surveys the same terrain, but through the lens of someone who is dying. . . . Billings is refreshing when he grapples with the cosmic questions that accompany suffering. . . . This does not mean that Billings strikes a note of uncertainty. He is a practicing Christian, in the best sense of the word. In his effort to understand the theological issues related to illness and death, Billings turned to the foundational texts of his faith, combining them with the elemental disciplines of the Christian life. . . . Rejoicing in Lament is both a comfort and a guide for all who labor along the same path as Billings does. It also provides insight to family members and friends of those suffering from cancer or other serious illnesses. Others will benefit from engagement with spiritual and theological reflection in the venerable tradition of ars moriendi (the art of dying). They will discover that we are all traveling in company with Billings—not as prisoners trudging through life under a grim sentence of death, but as pilgrims making our way to the house of God in the undiscovered country, singing Psalms of ascent.”
—John Koessler, Christianity Today (5-star review)

“J. Todd Billings has written a book that stands in a long line of distinguished books written out of deep suffering and reflection in faith and for the church. This book is informed—or better, formed—by the entire Bible, including those passages we often overlook. It is formed by the witness of the church, its history and struggles. It is formed by the mysterious, wrenching, and beautiful conversation between his own experience of incurable cancer and the Christian faith. Rejoicing in Lament is a profound witness to the gospel. I can hardly find words to express its intelligence, honesty, and richness.”
Gerald L. Sittser, professor of theology, Whitworth University; author of A Grace Disguised and A Grace Revealed

“Good theology prepares us for suffering. Todd Billings has been giving us great theology for some years now. But in this book it is distilled through the rocky depths of an ongoing struggle with cancer. Every chapter brims with pools of insight, pointing us beyond platitudes to the God who has met us—and keeps on meeting us—in the Suffering and Risen Servant. This is a book not just for reading but for meditation and prayer.”
Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology, Westminster Seminary California

“If you are looking for an abstract theological treatise on God’s relation to human suffering, you will not find it here. In Rejoicing in Lament, Billings shares his intensely personal search for God’s presence even in his own devastating illness. He responds to his unbidden suffering with a lament much like that of the psalmist. As a devout Christian, Billings seeks the blessings amid the curses of his disease. His Jacob-like struggle with the Lord ultimately blesses not only himself but also his family, colleagues, students, and readers. Rejoicing in Lament will touch and shape those who give pastoral care and will offer hope and meaning for all Christians who face great suffering.”
Kathryn Greene-McCreight, associate chaplain, the Episcopal Church at Yale; author of Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness

“Courageous, revealing, sometimes raw–this book reminds us that lament is an act of faith and that faith is a communal treasure. Billings’s testimony is that love is stronger than death. Unforgettable!”
Cornelius Plantinga Jr., author of Engaging God’s World

“Weaving theological and Scriptural reflection throughout the narrative of his struggle with cancer, Todd Billings gracefully models how to read one’s life in light of Scripture and Scripture in light of one’s life. Here there is no simplistic moralizing but a persistently questing witness to a God who is present in the midst of life-changing sorrow. To read with Todd is to join him in struggle and faith, doubt and hope, lament and praise.”
Marianne Meye Thompson, George Eldon Ladd Professor of New Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary

“This profound and heartfelt book is hard to describe succinctly. It’s an elegiac reflection on the pain illness and death bring to a family. A meditation on suffering guided by the cries of the Psalmist and the poetry of Job. An exposition of the importance of classical theism for the work of the pastor and the life of the believer. A critique of the trite sentimentality of so much of contemporary Christianity. A journal of the physical and mental effects of traumatic cancer treatment. Above all, it is a moving and deeply personal answer to the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism, What is your only comfort in life and death? This book is for all Christians, for sooner or later we must all face the challenge of our own mortality.”
Carl R. Trueman, Paul Woolley Professor of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary

 

The Weekly Hit List: February 20, 2015

This was the first week of a two-week blog tour for Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings.

Participating bloggers this week included:

  • Peter Leithart
  • April Fiet
  • Kyle Strobel
  • Jill Carattini
  • Nate Pyle
  • Mary Vanden Berg

Don’t miss our book giveaway on the blog tour web site! The grand prize is a five-book package valued at over $80.

 

This week Todd appeared on Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ podcast Mortification of Spin, lending insights on ways to encourage those suffering with serious illness.

 

Todd also wrote “Divine Providence: Occupying The Mysterious Middle” for Reformation 21.

 

Kingdom Conspiracy Media:

Ben Witherington finished a series of posts on Kingdom Conspiracy, including a lengthy interview with McKnight. Parts: 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10.

Kelly Foster reviewed Kingdom Conspiracy.

Chris Altrock reviewed Kingdom Conspiracy.

 

 

Nonviolent Action Media:

Ronald Sider was interviewed on John Morehead’s podcast.

Nonviolent Action was reviewed on Theologues.

Ronald Sider wrote “Opinion: An army of peacemakers: Time is ripe for a massive expansion of nonviolent efforts to end injustice” for Mennonite World Review.

 

Quick Hits:

Marlena Graves, author of A Beautiful Disaster, wrote a guest post on Amy Julia Becker’s Christianity Today blog: “Does my Life as a Parent Count?”

Wendy VanderWal-Gritter, author of Generous Spaciousness, was interviewed on WikiGod Podcast.

Lectionary Reflection for the First Sunday in Lent

This excerpt comes from Genesis (BTCB) by R. R. Reno, commenting on Genesis 9:8-17:

Aside from the ark, the flood story has all the features of decreation and a return to the beginning of creation. Yet the ark would seem to be the main point, and it introduces the dominant pattern in the rest of scripture: “For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you” (Isa. 54:7).

Floods of trial, slavery, exile, persecution, and even the flood of death on the cross—all these winnowing and purging episodes of suffering are for the sake of finding our way into the future of fellowship with God. In this sense, the flood sets out patterns of divine loyalty to his creatures: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it” (Song 8:7).

The covenant with Noah, however, is the ambiguous first stage in the divine project of realizing this loyalty in the flesh and blood of human life. It does not so much move history forward as stay the destructive effects of sin. For this reason, the flood is best understood as the covenant of God’s patience. The protecting mark of Cain stays the hand of those who seek to kill him. The covenant with Noah has similar effect.

The blessing that changes human relations to animals and establishes the basic duty to punish transgression lays the foundations for human survival. The family tribe, held together by rough justice, enters the flow of history. This human-centered change is mirrored in the divine-centered promise never again to unleash the primal forces of nature against humanity.

Water will return as a remedy for sin in the history of the covenant, but it will be the irrigating, life-giving water of Gen. 2 rather than the primal waters of Gen. 1 that overwhelm the world in Gen. 7: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses” (Ezek. 36:25).

Looking back on the flood episode, therefore, we can see that the massive project of worldwide cleansing does not create a new future for humanity. It hits the pause button on the doleful, destructive thrust of sin and brings a modicum of stability to human history.

 

©2010 by R. R. Reno. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Spring 2015 Academic Catalog

Our spring 2015 catalog is now available on our web site: www.brazospress.com/academiccatalog

Sections include:

  • Bible & Interpretation (pages 1-20) PDF
  • Theological, Historical & Ethical Studies (pages 21-36) PDF
  • Intercultural Studies (pages 37-40), Practical Theology, Spirituality & Formation (pages 41-49) and Also of Interest to the Academy (pages 50-51) PDF
  • Complete List, Indexes, Policies, and Order Form (pages 52-120) PDF

Ebook Special for Cross-Shattered Christ by Stanley Hauerwas

Today only: the ebook of Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words by Stanley Hauerwas is $1.99 (87% off) from the following participating retailers:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

CBD

 

“Hauerwas strips down the seven last sayings of Jesus to their barest essence, refusing to psychologize or proffer easy explanations for hard truths. For the third saying (‘Woman, behold thy son!’), he points out that the Jesus of the New Testament was nothing if not anti-family, and then launches into an utterly fascinating argument that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is presented as the ‘new Abraham’ throughout the Gospels and the Book of Hebrews. Many readers will find it refreshing to see a Protestant theologian recognize Mary’s unique role in salvation and in the church. One note of caution: although these essays are short and the entire book clocks in at right around a hundred pages, even serious readers will find that this is not a collection to be consumed in a single sitting. It would make excellent devotional reading for all of Holy Week, using each reflection for a full day’s rumination.”
Publishers Weekly

“Much-respected theologian Hauerwas . . . has written a brief but intensely observed discussion of the theological issues that subtend the last utterances of Jesus on the cross. Hauerwas’s theology and approach belong squarely in the mainstream tradition of Christian theology about Christ and redemption; many readers will gain profound insight from his deftly phrased, swiftly moving observations. Highly recommended.”
Library Journal

“A close and moving reading of each of Christ’s last sayings from the cross. . . . Don’t miss this opportunity to reflect further upon the last words of our Lord and Savior.”
—Christianbook.com

In Cross-Shattered Christ, theologian Stanley Hauerwas offers a moving reflection on Jesus’s final words from the cross. This small and powerful volume is theologically poignant and steeped in humility. Hauerwas’s pithy discussion opens our ears to the language of Scripture while opening our hearts to a truer vision of God. Touching in original and surprising ways on subjects such as praying the Psalms and our need to be remembered by Jesus, Hauerwas emphasizes Christ’s humanity as well as the sheer “differentness” of God.

Ideal for personal devotion during Lent and throughout the year, Cross-Shattered Christ offers a transformative reading of Jesus’s words that goes directly to the heart of the gospel.

Video: Scripture, Tradition, and Rejoicing in Lament

Scripture, Tradition, and Rejoicing in Lament

(Don’t miss our blog tour and book giveaway for Rejoicing in Lament: www.RejoicinginLament.com.)

Video: The Story behind Rejoicing in Lament

The Story behind Rejoicing in Lament

(Don’t miss our blog tour and book giveaway for Rejoicing in Lament: www.RejoicinginLament.com.)

Starting Today: Blog Tour for Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings

Brazos Press has organized a blog tour for J. Todd Billings’s new book:

Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ

The tour will run for the next two weeks (February 16-27) and has an impressive list of participating bloggers, including Peter Leithart, Trevin Wax, April Fiet, and Justin Holcomb.

 

During the blog tour, we are running a giveaway with a grand prize of 5 books:

Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ by J. Todd Billings

– A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness by Marlena Graves

Presence and Encounter: The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life by David G. Benner, PhD

The Drama of Living: Becoming Wise in the Spirit by David F. Ford

Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins: Learning from the Psychology of Ancient Monks by Dennis Okholm

 

We will also be giving away an additional five copies of Rejoicing in Lament by Todd Billings.

 

Be sure to check out the blog tour at www.RejoicinginLament.com.