Finishing Well – A God’s Eye view of Ageing by Ian Knox ( SPCK 2020)
Ian Knox is an experienced, wise, creative priest and evangelist. His love of people, of life, of Scripture and learning are all present in the fourteen chapters of this book. His scope of reading and listening to a range of voices are also woven into each chapter. It is part autobiography, part testimony to the absolute necessity of faith in Jesus Christ and in part an extended (and fluent) biblical reflection the book is confident, clear and challenging. It invites its reader into reflecting on age and to the possibilities that older age may offer.
The book argues that old age is precious and pregnant with opportunities to commit to faith and enlarge its meaning and truth in our lives. Knox invites his reader into the possibilities that this time of life brings. Age is articulated the best time to consider choice, embrace change and stand up for what you believe in and live for. Faith is key to finishing well as Knox declares this book to be ‘unashamedly Christian’ (p5). Older people are to be valued and celebrated and integrated into our lives. We are richer and wiser when we listen to their lives (p18). It is our Christian responsibility to care for the older Christians and help them to see what the core questions and opportunities might be for them and through them for us (p31).
We are invited into difficult questions that science, sociology and gerontology continue to ask: How do we define age? What might predict a good old age? Does faith help us to age well? What might we need to do in middle years to prepare for our older years ? We are cautioned against problematising age and retreating into marginalising older people by our ageism (p43). Knox uses his experience of Africa and reading to put these questions into a broader cultural story. Less successful is the discussion of the section in how the Church views age (pp49 ff) where the ‘net’ might have been cast wider and put into the realities of the marginalisation of religion over the last half decade. As religion attempts to halt decline through a number of growth strategies ageing and older people are too often seen as a burden and not a blessing.
Knox draws on anecdote, ministerial experience and conversations with fellow evangelicals to paint a positive picture of what God might desire of us and our ageing. Chapters 5, 6 and 7 would have benefited from articulation of the struggles, anxieties and limitations that age brings. Some of the challenges of ‘ageing well’ do not belong to any deficiencies of faith but rather are predicted by geography, race, class and economic status.
Knox invites the reader into an approach to wellbeing and life balance that honours being as much as doing. His discussion of retirement is useful in its practical focus. He encourages older people to share their faith and to continue to learn. We all invited into a deeper and more compassionate listening.
The lawyer (a former senior solicitor with Coventry City Council) in Knox marshals his evidence for the defence with skill. He is a little less good with opposing voices.
An example of this is the writing of Robert McCrum, Every Third Thought, an autobiographical account of a dramatic and near-fatal stroke at the age of 42. Knox does not stay with the struggle, honesty and spiritual questioning of McCrum and expresses (perhaps understandable) frustration of the inability (and tragedy) of McCrum’s inability to make a step up into faith. All our journeys of meaning, truth and faith throughout the stages of our lives are shot through with paradox, ambiguity and contradiction. Knox might have attended a little more imaginatively with those on the ‘outside’ where God is at work in their spiritual yearnings and questions. However, this was not the intended brief for this book, but a wider perspective may have brought a deeper generativity to the text.
Knox deals with dementia and the importance of carers and the ways in which their faithfulness enriches and blesses our communities. The book ends with a proper affirmation of faith and hope that Christ offers in and through his life, death and resurrection.
I shall gladly add this volume to our College library which will sit alongside his book, Older People in the Church (2002). The place of older people in Church and Society remains a complex and contradictory one. Ageism continues to marginalise a growing number of our population especially in these months of the Covid19 pandemic. Knox invites us into a different theological narrative to celebrate the gift of age.