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Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age by Bob Cutillo

Gordon H. Cook, Jr.

Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age, by Bob Cutillo. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016. 196 pages, $17.99.

Much of the discussion regarding modern medicine in America focuses on the high costs of healthcare and how to provide affordable care to all. Dr. Cutillo only touches briefly on these subjects, focusing instead on the philosophy which underlies the healthcare system and the important role that faith communities can play in addressing those philosophical underpinnings.

Dr. Cutillo is a physician for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless in Denver, Colorado. He also serves as an assistant clinical professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and as an associate faculty member at Denver Seminary. In the past he served several years as a medical missionary in Africa.

Dr. Cutillo begins with a basic tenant. Our health is not a commodity, nor a right. It is a gift. With this distinctly theological perspective, Dr. Cutillo challenges the humanistic myths that underly modern healthcare today: 1) we can control health and obtain the outcomes we desire; 2) we can remove uncertainty from healthcare; 3) we can have life on our own terms independent of God; 4) the physician (or scientist) can be objective in his or her clinical gaze; 5) statistics provide all the answers needed for proper healthcare, defining what is normal and thereby what is abnormal or diseased; 6) the proper application of medical technology and treatment will result in good health; and 7) we can control the day of our death, either by avoiding that day with quality healthcare or by choosing that day and taking our own lives.

These basic assumptions are deeply embedded in our healthcare system. Dr. Cutillo is well read and articulate, skillfully dealing with each assumption, providing compelling arguments for each of his points and excellent examples from his medical background.  In several chapters Dr. Cutillo brings Scripture and Christian theology into his discussion, to provide a Christian critique of modern healthcare. 

By far his most compelling chapter (well worth the price of the book), is entitled “Just Community.” It looks at justice issues in healthcare from a community perspective.  He focuses on our common vulnerabilities; how our health depends upon the health of those around us; and how the health of a society depends on how it cares for its poorest members. He does not limit this to the national debates over funding healthcare in America. He notes that an Ebola outbreak in central Africa has the potential to radically impact our health here in America; thus, we have a vested interest in providing the highest possible care for others around the world. His case for comprehensive reform in the way healthcare is apportioned is compelling and biblical and will leave even the most progressive among us feeling uneasy about how little we do for others in these matters.

In chapter 10 Dr. Cutillo calls for a robust cooperation between healthcare and the church, noting that the two are not only compatible but are also essential to each other. He offers several examples of faith communities that have programs providing quality healthcare for those in their neighborhoods.

Dr. Cutillo’s conclusion calls for a recovery of wonder in a jaded society which assumes that it understands everything.

Dr. Cutillo’s book has a couple of shortcomings that should be noted.  The first comes from my perspective as a chaplain. America today is a religiously diverse population, and modern American healthcare should not discriminate based on religion.  It must provide healthcare in a manner that is sensitive to, and respectful of, all faith traditions. Particularly in chapter 10, Dr. Cutillo focuses exclusively upon the Christian church. This may play well with an Evangelical audience, but to speak to physicians and other healthcare professionals around the nation, those who can actually do something about the nature of healthcare in America today, Dr. Cutillo would need to broaden his discussion to include synagogues, mosques, and temples as well. All religious communities have a common interest in addressing the assumptions of a healthcare system which is often indifferent or even hostile toward those faith communities.

Theologically, Dr. Cutillo is strongly influenced by the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom he quotes at length several times. I have always found Bonhoeffer’s views interesting and provocative, but to use his Neoorthodoxy without qualification should raise questions in the minds of Reformed readers.[1] Given this influence I would be reluctant to share the book with readers who are unaware of the distinctions between Neoorthodoxy and a true Reformed and biblical theology.

Despite these shortcomings this book is recommended for healthcare professionals and pastors interested in considering the underpinnings of our modern healthcare system or who are searching for a role for the faith community which extends beyond handholding and prayer. 

Endnote

[1] For a Reformed critique of the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, consider Richard Weikart’s The Troubling Truth About Bonhoeffer’s Theology, CRI (the Christian Research Journal), 2015; or William Macleod’s Bonhoeffer: A Reliable Guide?  Banner of Truth, 2016. Both articles are readily available online.

Gordon H. Cook, Jr. is the pastor of Living Hope (formerly Merrymeeting Bay) Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Brunswick, Maine. He coordinates a Pastoral Care (Chaplain) program for Mid Coast Hospital and its affiliated extended care facility and has an extensive ministry as a hospice chaplain with CHANS Home Health in Brunswick. Ordained Servant Online, May 2020.

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