Evangelical Anxiety: A Memoir by Charles Marsh

Evangelical Anxiety: A Memoir cover imageSummary: A memoir primarily focusing on mental health and its connection to religious faith.

I believe I have read two of Charles Marsh’s books and that I own two others. Marsh is the author of the Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s biography that I believe most people should start with. And he has written widely about social justice, especially the Civil Rights movement, and how Christianity has fueled the Civil Rights movement.

Because I enjoy reading memoirs of people writing late in their lives (especially theologians and authors), I preordered Evangelical Anxiety without reading anything else about it other than that it existed. Marsh is not that old; he is 64 years old. So he is not writing the last book like John Stott, John Perkins, Eugene Peterson, Howard Thurman, Charles Pearson, and Billy Graham. Or even a memoir giving a broader overview of their life like Philip Yancy, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Will Willimon, Julie Andrews, Stanley Hauerwas, Dovey Johnson Roundtree, Melba Pattillo Beals, or Thomas Oden did. Marsh is writing a memoir that gives an overview of his life but primarily focuses on how he has grappled with his mental health over his life, especially how his faith has interacted with his mental health.

Evangelical Anxiety is a book that I think many will not appreciate. Just like a lot of Evangelical fiction is not very good because it has to meet the narrow boundaries of what is acceptable. Evangelical memoirs and autobiographies tend to present a neat, problem-solved perspective on their lives. Charles Marsh’s memoir does not have a nice bow on it. He has grappled with debilitating anxiety and depression and other mental health issues, and the language and revelations will offend or scandalize many.

There is some (appropriately used) language. It is not crude language for the sake of crude language, but rightly used words to express a natural range of emotions and feelings that fit with the story. Probably even more disturbing is that Marsh discusses sexuality openly. From masturbation as a boy and the way, Evangelical understanding of sin made things worse, not better, to adult temptation. Some books leave very little to the imagination, but this is not that type of book. This is a book about Marsh. And when discussing sexuality, he is doing it openly, but from the perspective of how he grappled with his Evangelical theology of sin with the added complications of the distortions of his mental health. That is to say; this is not a tell-all book but a book that reveals how mental illness, sexuality, and sin can interact. This is not unlike Hauerwas’ memoir about his marriage to his first wife and her grappling with mental illness, but from the perspective of the spouse with the mental illness.

As I was drafting this, I saw a tweet from Dante Stewart that I thought was relevant.

Christian faith would be so much healthier and healing if we lived like we believed faith liberates us from self-hate and God’s love liberates us from self-shame. Trust me when I tell you this: you can shout, give, and preach all you want, but if your theology makes someone believe they have to hate themselves or be ashamed of themselves to be loved, then your theology is not the good news of Jesus.

Charles Marsh has moved toward a theology that is liberating. He admits he is not all there. And he admits that part of the reality is that he is less involved in church than he might prefer. But he has not left either the church or Christianity. Instead, he is attempting to leave versions of Christianity that are not liberating. It may be messier than many of us would like to see, but real life is messy.

Evangelical Anxiety: A Memoir by Charles Marsh Purchase Links: Hardcover, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook

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