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Evangelical Anxiety

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This is just what I needed. An antidote to so much of what evangelical churches/schools teach about the relationship between God and mental illness. Gotta hand it to the description, which is beautifully and accurately written, and drew me in immediately when I was skeptical about the concept.

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Evangelical Anxiety
A Memoir
by Charles Marsh
Pub Date 14 Jun 2022
Biographies & Memoirs | Christian | Nonfiction (Adult)

I am reviewing a copy of Evangelical Anxiety through HarperOne and Netgalley:

Charles Marsh suffered panic attacks and debilitating anxiety for years. As an Evangelical Christian, he was taught to trust in the power of God and His will. While his Christian community resisted therapy and personal introspection. Marsh eventually came to know he’d need help.

Marsh tells the story of his struggle to find peace and the dramatic, In this riveting spiritual memoir, inspiring transformation that redefined his life and his faith. He examines the tensions between faith and science and reflects on how his own experiences offer hope for bridging the gap between the two. Marsh is honest and revealing as he traced the roots of shame, examines Christian notions of sex, faith, and mental illness and their genesis, and chronicles how he redefined his beliefs and rebuilt his relationship with his community.

If you’re looking for a unique portrayal of an Evangelical Christians struggle with anxiety, and depression.

I give Evangelical Anxiety five out of five stars!

Happy Reading!

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This book fits somewhere between Phil Yancey's memoirs about growing up in the segregated South and Paul Schrader's recollections about growing up a fundamentalist Calvinist. There is much discussion about growing up in a fear-ridden Bible Belt town in the late 60s, realizing how that informed the author's sense that if he did any sin, lightning would strike. There is much discussion about the peculiar pathology you get when Christianity's emphasis on blood and submission mix with arrogance to create a cocktail of suppressed fear and anger. There's also some fascinating meditations on the author's struggles to figure out what healing he needed in an era where most evangelicals thought medication was unnecessary and therapy for liberals.
Since I've read my fair share of Christian books on anxiety/depress where evangelical authors tried to explain everything into organized little boxes, it was interesting to read someone take a more literary, introspective approach.

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I am really conflicted about reviewing this. Yes it's titled Evangelical...and yet it doesn't line up with Evangelical thinking, which he shows us in his commentary and thought process. You follow Charles through his life in both his path in trying to fix and/or heal his mental health, which went against the typical path of the church by using psychoanalysis, because in his day which was more based on biblical counseling rather than on new modern medicine (the church in general has been more receptive to modern medicine in this regard) as well as his faith and how that was shaped during this time frame between different denominations; Baptists, Presbyterian, Catholics and more realistically, his struggle with understanding both the power of his sex drive from puberty on into adulthood, singleness, dating, and into marriage, and the means of how to honestly and appropriately navigate that path while being within the boundaries of what his faith allows, which is purity before marriage and monogamy within marriage. It's Charles's real, raw, and unvarnished and unfiltered journey through every high and every low of these three paths that are presented to you and me. I'm not afraid of his rawness. In this world that tries to shame you for not thinking in line with everyone and everything else, it's about time some says exactly what they're thinking. I'm not flinching at his word usuage nor his theology, though I do wonder if the latter is based on the different denominations he's been in and picked up, but that is neither here nor there. I guess I just have a conflict with the unfiltered approach he presents, which makes me wonder how brutally honest am I in all areas of my own life. It's a conversation that bears asking and an audience willing to listen as well as respond to.
*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. This review is my own opinion*

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“Evangelical Anxiety: A Memoir,” by Charles Marsh investigates the author’s life with anxiety, experienced within the evangelical culture of the South. He struggled within a church culture that offered no help but compounded the problem by its teachings on sin and guilt. “Evangelical Anxiety” relates the author’s journey from existential nausea to the semblance of peace that he ultimately finds.     

The title of the book will invite readers from all religious and non-religious backgrounds, any who have dealt with anxiety. Since the term evangelical is in the title, I believe it’s worthwhile mentioning how it is not for those with a conservative, Christian background, for several reasons. First, the author relishes explicit depictions of his sexual fantasies and struggles, an indulgence many in this camp choose to avoid. Second, the author’s theological take on his struggle and its solution does not line up with historic Christianity’s view of guilt and sin.

Having left the fundamentalist sect of my youth, I sympathize with the author’s hostility toward this part of his past. He feels he would have made progress sooner, even avoided certain struggles altogether, had his church’s theology been better. The reader can’t help feeling sorry for the young man portrayed and likewise rejoice alongside him for finding peace and fulfillment. 

The author’s path to growth included psychotherapy, something foreign to Christians who opt for spiritual solutions. Many evangelicals choose “Bible-based counseling” instead. Marsh found great strength in his years of therapy. He has always been a prolific reader, another aspect of his growth process. Many may see their own journey reflected in Marsh’s and perhaps take hold of those parts that led him to greater light.

Marsh poured out his experience with anxiety in his book, every sordid, unholy detail. May it help any walking a similar path.

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