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The Slavery of Death

4.51  ·  Rating details ·  276 ratings  ·  52 reviews
According to Hebrews, the Son of God appeared to "break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." What does it mean to be enslaved, all our lives, to the fear of death? And why is this fear described as "the power of the devil"? And most importantly, how are we—as indivi ...more
Paperback, 146 pages
Published December 23rd 2013 by Cascade Books (first published December 22nd 2013)
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Stephanie Berbec
Jul 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theology, own
The Slavery of Death is a short and easy read intersecting the psychological study of death drive, death anxiety (Ernest Bloch) and survival instincts with a theological understanding of sin, salvation, and our slavery to the fear of death. Which is to say, although short and easy, the concepts covered in this text are quite complex, and beg to be taken further. Beck combines the Orthodox understanding of ancestral sin (as opposed to the Protestant “original sin”) and Christus Victor atonement t ...more
Mar 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
This is a fantastic little book! It's a great example of a very focused, very clear treatise on one theological topic: the slavery of death.
Here's what I liked: Beck focuses narrowly on one way of conceiving salvation, the so-called "Christus Victor" model, and shows the Biblical, theological, and psychological foundations for understanding it. He engages with some thinkers I really like a lot (especially Arthur McGill's Death and Life - an amazing little book, and William Stringfellow - ever b
David Gregg
I plan to review more fully later. Suffice it to say for now that I read the blogged edition of this work a few years ago before Richard removed it from the blog, having decided to publish it.

This has been one of the two or three most seminal works that have guided my thinking, even my view of the world and of living. I have recommended this book for years – in anticipation of its release – as well as Beck's source works, such as Arthur C. McGill's superb theological brief, "Death and Life: An
Jul 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Wow, wow, and double wow. Beck is the kind of author who can do high theology, make it practical, anticipate questions, challenge you (without guilting you!), and do it all with a humble spirit. For the strangeness of the project (mixing Eastern Orthodox theology with modern psychology [of all things]), the book has an astounding amount of explanatory power for showing why the world works the way it does, and how God gives us the grace to overcome it. Highly recommended.
Adam Stewart
Jan 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely fantastic book that has a large life "theory of everything" that really changed the way I look at my life and the world. ...more
Jul 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of many books I need to re-read to get it clearer in my mind. Beck, on the surface, seems to be straightforward in his writing, and helpfully, even sums up each previous chapter as he starts a new one. Still there are a number of things here to wrestle with. I've seen him writing on Christus Victor before - being more aligned to the Orthodox Church than the Protestant one, Beck naturally leans towards this approach as to why Christ died. Still, it takes a bit of getting into your head when y ...more
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A powerful exploration of the challenges of life in a corrupted creation and the power of the slavery of death, along with the great victory obtained by Jesus in the resurrection.

The author begins from Hebrews 2:14-15 in which the Hebrews author declares Jesus liberated people from slavery to the fear of death. He takes to task much of Western Christendom for its insistence on "original" sin or something like it, thus emphasizing sin -> death as in the Garden as paradigmatic for humanity, and in
Jun 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
At some point during Richard Beck’s The Slavery of Death, I found my reading transformed into worship. Beck, a regular blogger at Experimental Theology, is a skilled thinker who has mastered the art of integrating theology and psychology. This gift is nowhere more manifest than in this book, self-described as an attempt to “bring modern psychological science into conversation with Orthodox theology to illuminate what the writer of Hebrews describes as ‘slavery to the fear of death.’” (xiii) Beck ...more
Dec 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: theology
One of those popular theology books that attempts to overturn received wisdom and offer a newer, fresher, and presumably better take on the Gospel. I found this one less convincing than most. While fear of death can certainly have a major influence on both individuals and communities, driving decisions and reshaping lives and institutions, Beck attempts to prove far too much. He has found a good hammer, and nails are everywhere. I found his attempt to redefine possession as being under the contr ...more
Mar 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book was recommended by James Jordan while he was lecturing on the book of Exodus recently. Since I'm a James Jordan fanboy, I immediately bought the book. From the first page I knew this would be one of the best reads of the year for me.

The premise of the book is to get Christians to realize that although the wages of sin is death, the relationship of sin and death is complex (Beck calls it a tangle). Sin leads to death (Romans 6:23) and death in turn leads to more sin (1 Cor. 15:56).

So if
A deeply engrossing and enlightening blend of Christus Victor theology and 20th Century theological and psychological inquiries into death. This book is based on a series of blog posts on the authors blog, Experimental Theology, and begins to undo Reformed and evangelical understandings of sin, satan, and death. I heard several hours of an interview with Beck on the podcast Beyond the Box which is really worth listening to and is almost a better presentation of the material than the book. Regard ...more
Nov 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A stunning read, that commands attention. Not to be taken lightly.
Apr 29, 2022 rated it it was amazing
It took such a long time to read such a slim volume. It took over a month to read 127 pages. Beck is one of the more important contemporary Christian thinkers. I enjoy everything he writes and I know it will add so much to be TBR pile because of the way he uses sources to validate and think through ideas. SO of course I read those sources as well. This book is one I will be thinking about and processing for months to come. How does it look and feel in the action of my life? How can I think about ...more
Ben McFarland
Dec 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This little book is poor in pages but rich in substance. Part of the reason my book-reviewing pace has been so slow over the past few months is that I read this slowly and deliberately. Beck combines the Eastern Orthodox theology of Christus Victor with the psychology of death neurosis and personal experience (both his own and that of Therese of Lisieux). The result is new and old things brought out from the starting point of the verse from Hebrews that Jesus released us from the slavery of the ...more
Alyssa Foll
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Richard Beck has done it again! I read his work "Unclean" last year and decided that I want to read all that he writes. Beck is an interdisciplinary thinker and writer, combining experimental psychology with theology.
In this work, Beck examines themes of Christus Victor--a model of atonement and salvation--alongside terror management theory. The result is spectacular: Christ has freed us from the slavery of death and from all the ways we sin as a result of our fear of death (greed, fear, and vi
Dan Tillinghast
Feb 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very good book. He begins by making a case that death is what was handed down from Adam, rather than a sinful nature, and that man sins because he will die, survival instinct. The next chapter makes a case for a Christus Victor view of the atonement. I suppose it helps that I believed both of these teachings before reading this, but he very helpfully lays out a biblical case that I found helpful, as well as a sort of Biblical story-line of the Christus Victor view. So, the "slavery of death" m ...more
Jacob Hudgins
Jan 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I love Richard Beck’s work. This book highlights the psychological manifestations of the fear of death and translates them into New Testament through the concept of slavery to principalities and powers. All our grasping, striving, need for validation, etc is a function of death denial and immortality seeking. Only when liberated by Christ can we be free to give of ourselves. This book challenges me to be more giving and less grasping, less concerned about external validation.
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I highly recommend this book. I have always enjoyed Richard Beck's writing but this book was the most profound. Beck starts with exploring Eastern Orthodox theology of ancestral sin rather than the prevailing Protestant/Evangelical theology of original sin. He then goes toward how the entrance of death in the world actually creates sinful behavior which can be observed in behavioral psychology. The moves Beck makes in this book are subtle but have substantial impact to how we live and how we for ...more
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book presented a new perspective to me that goes a long way toward resulting in a better understanding of what being a Christian means. An enriching, life-changing read. I want everyone to take the time to read this book.
Geoff Glenister
Oct 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This was a fascinating book, full of profound insight. Richard Beck, a professor of psychology, combines theology with psychology in a very practical way here. He starts by exploring the Eastern Orthodox view on sin/death (and it should be noted here that this is a much older view) - which is a reversal of the Agustustinian idea of Original Sin: the Eastern Orthodox view is that death causes sin. Or to put it a bit more specifically, the fear of death is what causes sin. So it's a vicious cycle ...more
Clayton Keenon
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017-favorites
As usual Beck is fantastic in what he affirms and frustrating in what he denies. That said, this is a fantastic book. I’ve been looking for a book like this since I read Denial of Death.
Dec 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great at connecting psychology and theology of sin!
Cody Murphy
Apr 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Perfect read during this pandemic. Makes me want to read more about the Orthodox theology.
Alex Lomangino
Nov 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Interesting read. I appreciate his views on psychology. Not the best work on theology.
Mary Foxe
Brianna Bratrud
Dec 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Really worthwhile read! Good for discussion.
A helpful summary and review by Peter Leithart:
Andrew Marr
Richard Beck’s new book The Slavery of Death works with the powerful thesis of Ernest Becker which states that fear and denial of death fuels human aggression. I have read both of Becker’s books (Denial of Death and Escape from Evil and I find Becker’s analysis of this phenomenon compelling. Moreover, much scientific testing has verified Becker’s theory. Beck outlines Becker’s demonstration this existential fear of death and its subsequent denial leads to striving for heroism. For Becker, herois ...more
May 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theology, psychology
Richard Beck is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. After reading his blog for a while I picked up his first book, Unclean: Meditations on Hospitality, Purity and Morality, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The Slavery of Death is his most recent book and, like his blog and Unclean, is quite good. Beck combines insights from such places as psychology and Eastern Orthodox theology to offer a book both thought-provoking and practically challenging. The basic thesis is that all humans live in fea ...more
I started a 2nd reading. It’s that good.
Sarah Schulz
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me two tries to get through this book, not because his style is difficult to read or the content is hard to understand (it's very readable and clearly laid out), but because I needed time to process such a different point of view. Beck is a psychologist who has a deep interest in theology, and this is one of his best books to tackle these in tandem.

Beck explores the Eastern Orthodox idea of original sin--where it is death that leads to our tendency to sin against each other, rather than
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Dr. Richard Beck is a Professor of Psychology at Abilene Christian University, and he is the author of the popular blog Experimental Theology: The Thoughts, Articles and Essays of Richard Beck and the books The Slavery of Death, Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality and The Authenticity of Faith: The Varieties and Illusions of Religious Experience. As an experimental psycholog ...more

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“Every American is thus ingrained with the duty to look well, to seem fine, to exclude from the fabric of his or her normal life any evidence of decay and death and helplessness. The ethic I have outlined here is often called the ethic of success. I prefer to call it the ethic of avoidance. . . . Persons are considered a success not because they attain some remarkable goal, but because their lives do not betray marks of failure or depression, helplessness or sickness. When they are asked how they are, they really can say and really do say, “Fine . . . fine.” 4 likes
“Notice in Acts 4 that there were “no needy persons among them.” Why? Because they shared with “anyone one who had need.” The expression of neediness in the community allowed the economy of love to flow. But in churches in America and other places where affluence poses special problems, the situation is very different. These cultures are enslaved to the fear of death and death avoidance holds serious sway. In these cultures the expression of need is taboo and pornographic. What results is neurotic image-management, the pressure to be “fine.” The perversity here is that on the surface American churches do look like the church in Acts 4 - there are “no needy persons” among us. We all appear to be doing just fine, thank you very much.

But we know this to be a sham, a collective delusion driven by the fear of death. I’m really not fine and neither are you. But you are afraid of me and I’m afraid of you. We are neurotic about being vulnerable with each other. We fear exposing our need and failure to each other. And because of this fear - the fear of being needy within a community of neediness - the witness of the church is compromised. A collection of self-sustaining and self-reliant people - people who are all pretending to be fine - is not the Kingdom of God. It’s a church built upon the delusional anthropology we described earlier. Specifically, a church where everyone is “fine” is a group of humans refusing to be human beings and pretending to be gods. Such a “church” is comprised of fearful people working hard to keep up appearances and unable to trust each other to the point of loving self-sacrifice. In such a “church” each member is expected to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining, thus making no demands upon others. Unfortunately, where there is no need and no vulnerability, there can be no love.”
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