This week’s author interview is with Bill Davis. He is the author of Departing in Peace: Biblical Decision-Making at the End of Life.
- Question #1—Tell us a little bit about yourself: where you’re from, family, job, personal interests, unique hobbies, what you do in your spare time, etc.
I have been teaching Philosophy at Covenant College since 1997. My family and I are members at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church (PCA). My hobby is teaching seminary courses for Reformed Theological Seminary (Atlanta and Washington, DC), and my spare time playing games like “Ticket to Ride” and listening to sport talk radio.
- Question #2—What inspired you to write this book, about this topic?
My book on End-of-Life Decision-Making was driven by a pattern in the cases that came before the Memorial Hospital Ethics Committee. Month after month, our meetings were dominated by stories of families who had to make excruciating decisions about the medical care of loved ones who were gravely ill and who had never told anyone what they want. These cases would have been dramatically less difficult if the person now seriously ill had left instructions about his or her values and wishes. Often the families were Christians who believed that God’s Word required them to make use of every available medical means of keeping their loved one alive, regardless of the likelihood that those means would restore their loved one to consciousness or the pain, isolation, and financial implications imposed by the treatment. As I was searching the Scriptures for guidance about whether we are obligated to use every means no matter the burdens and likely effectiveness, I learned of the 1989 PCA Report on “Heroic Measures.” The PCA General Assembly had adopted the Report that concluded that God’s Word does not require us to use life-sustaining treatment that is either ineffective or imposes an excessive burden. The Report gave some biblical support for this conclusion, but the biblical foundation for their finding was only sketched. Other works by biblically serious Christians reached this same conclusion, but did not develop the biblical case in detail. My book was written to explain that biblical basis in detail, to explain the many biblical principles that ungird it, and to show how those principles are applied in actual situations. Through nearly twenty years of helping families work through end-of-life choices, I have had the privilege of listening, praying, and anguishing with families as they made decisions about continuing or discontinuing life-sustaining treatment. This book aims to help others who are facing similar choices.
- Question #3—What book are you reading now?
I am reading Sam Quinones’ Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic and Andy Crouch’s Strong and Weak. Medical professionals are wrestling with how to care for people who are addicted to opiods, many of whom became addicted by taking opiod painkillers prescribed by their doctors. Quinones’ account of the rise, spread, and devastation caused by prescribed pain meds and then heroine is gripping and sad. Crouch’s Strong and Weak explores of the role of vulnerability in real flourishing. I prefer authority, but Crouch says I should not want it by itself. Bother.
- Question #4—Other than the Bible, do you have a favorite book?
Patrick O’Brian, HMS Surprise, vol. 3 in the Aubrey-Maturin series. Since I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, I will only say that along with giving a compelling account of naval life in the early 19th century, O’Brian excels at describing the power and beauty of male friendship as it grows, is tested, and contributes to a full life.
- Question #5—Do you have a favorite movie? What is it and why?
(This one is easy.) 1981 Chariots of Fire. The contrast it draws between this-worldly success and godly success is gripping and far too convicting, even (for me) on the 50th time watching it. (I make this film a “reading” assignment for my first-year students at Covenant College. As part of the course, I have now watched it at least once a year since the fall of 2000. Students now find it a little slow (and the plot somewhat obvious), but it is reporting the events of the early 1920s as they actually happened. So when the Christian honors God’s law and is victorious anyway, the fault is in reality, not in the story-telling. (Indeed, it would be an even “better” story theologically if honoring God’s law had resulted in not winning.) I cry tears of sympathetic joy at many points in the film.
- Question #6—What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
First figure out what the church needs in order to thrive and serve the world out of that thriving. Then identify how your talents, credentials, experiences, and passions enable you to help the church grow into meeting their own needs and the needs of the world. Write about that. There are plenty of books that aim to make us like ourselves better or to explain why the world’s brokenness isn’t really our problem. Don’t add to that.
- Question #7—How do you deal with writer’s block?
I listen to lectures. First I listen to other people lecturing on the topic I’m trying to write about. Then I listen to recordings of my own lectures or record myself explaining something to a live audience (usually students in my classes). When I’m really stuck, I merely transcribe (type out, word for word) what I said when explaining a facet of my argument to a class.
- Question #8—If you have a favorite book of the Bible, what is it and why?
Romans. I’ve been a self-conscious Calvinist since I was 13. My parents and Pastor Gerry Malkus deserve almost all the credit for teaching me to read the Scripture with God’s sovereignty and Jesus’ sufficiency as the glorious center of things. Romans is a long-form triumphal hymn on those themes.
- Question #9—Favorite sport to watch? Why? Favorite sport’s team?
My favorite sport to watch is English Premier League football (soccer). I was taught to watch football by Brian Crossman, a Hall of Fame college and semi-pro coach (and Covenant College professor), and I find the strategy absorbing and the level of skill in the Premier League deeply satisfying. I don’t really have a favorite team; but any time Chelsea loses I am happy.
- Question #10—Favorite food?
Pizza. What’s not to like about starch, cheese, and tomatoes? Nutrition is over-rated.
- Question #11—Favorite animal?
I have a specific animal as my favorite, but she is now dead: Wendy, the family German Shepherd when I was growing up. I’m not sure I ever want to have another pet. Wendy’s memory should not be compromised.
- Question #12—The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia? Why?
Oooo…that’s hard. I’ve written about both of them. I have chapters in both The Lord of Rings and Philosophy and The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy, and those writing projects were both highly rewarding. Tolkien’s world is more like reality: broken in many ways, but controlled by a eschatologically hopeful narrative that echoes biblical themes (despite Tolkien’s insistence that it is not an allegory). Lewis’ world is morally much simpler: virtue is rewarded within the lives of the virtuous, and Aslan shows up in person, imposing the kind of order that we will see only when Jesus returns in glory. I read about Narnia when I am tempted by despair. I read Tolkien to reignite my zeal to pursue faithfulness without a promise of seeing its fruit with my earthly eyes. Because I’m an optimistic person, I need Tolkien more often than Lewis.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
- Covenant College: http://www.covenant.edu/
- RTS/Atlanta: https://www.rts.edu/seminary/