Overall: 2 stars
John Swinton’s book presents an in-depth overview of his thinking through what really happens during dementia. Helpfully, it doesn’t start with neurological review, but through a careful process of challenging unquestioned assumptions, seeks to show how dementia can be redescribed through a philosophically and theologically nuanced counter-story. Many of the strongest sections of the book are those which help the reader to question assumptions concerning dementia. Of particular value is the way in which Swinton opens up the questions of mind and self, showing how we should be very hesitant in concluding that either is lost or becomes absent as dementia progresses
The first half of the book engages with a variety of treatments of dementia from a not-necessarily-Christian worldview. The book then progresses to application of some verses of scripture and concepts drawn from Christian theology to the topic at hand.
The book, regrettably, suffers from an under-developed treatment of Christian theology, particularly in the way it seeks to apply Scripture. There appears to be very little awareness of the context of particular verses, such that they are at times made to mean something which they do not really indicate. A very serious example of this is the misuse of Romans 8:39, where the confidence the Christian has that nothing can separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus is applied as if it were describing all humanity universally. A cursory glance at the preceding chapter will show that it is clearly addressed to “those who are called”, “the saints”, “those he predestine”, “God’s elect”, etc. (Romans 8:27-33). A similar under-developed theology is seen with reference to the Spirit, in which the life-giving breath of creation is indiscriminately conflated with the personal indwelling Holy Spirit in God’s saved people, and then applied to all mankind without distinction. Further, for a Christian work, Christ is strangely absent; his reconciling work becomes a point of general reference, and whilst the fall is helpfully described in general terms, the definite and atoning work of Christ as God he saves his people for himself, and all its implications (i.e. that which should be the beating heart of all Christian theology) becomes vague and under-applied. Sadly, a non-Christian, or someone caring for one could easily read this work and be given false hope and encouragement.
There are also major and fundamental questions which remain unanswered, and which really should be addressed. Particularly, the work would benefit from a treatment of what “living in the memory of God” might mean beyond death, and in the context of the eschaton, and what it means to preach the Gospel to a loved one suffering from severe dementia.
Overall, the book could be useful in general terms to someone seeking to read widely about dementia, but I would not recommend it to someone caring for someone affected by dementia, or as primary reading for pastoral care. As the scriptures have much more to say about this topic than is presented here, and due to the concerns above, I can only give this book a rating of 2 stars.