Eternal Subordination of the Son and Focus on the Family

For over four years now, I’ve been writing about a popular doctrine of the Trinity called the eternal submission of the Son (ESS).  I’ve written several posts highlighting the various ways ESS is taught in the conservative Christian world. Today I ran across another example of ESS from a well-known conservative Christian resource.

Focus on the Family published an article, “Submission of Wives to Husbands,” answering a woman’s question about wives submitting to their husbands. Early in their answer, Focus on the Family compares the relationship between husbands and wives with the relationship between God the Father and God the Son:

As in marriage, so in the Godhead we find diversity within unity. But while all three Members of the Trinity are fully equal and mutually identified in the sense that all three are God, we can also detect a certain hierarchy or subordination of function in their relationships with one another. For example, though Jesus made several statements clearly making Himself equal with God (see John 5:18), He also said, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). As the Creeds express it, “The Son is begotten by the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The seeds of Paul’s doctrine of marital submission can be discerned in this statement. (emphasis added)

What’s interesting is the appeal to the “Creeds” to explain this hierarchy or subordination within the Trinity. First off, I’m not certain where the quotation they use comes from. The sentence,”the Son is begotten by the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son,” does not appear in any of the creeds as quoted. But beyond that,  the creeds which do discuss the Son being begotten by the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son do so for the express purpose of rejecting any hierarchy or subordination within the Trinity.

The Nicene creed was formulated, in part, as a response to the Arian heresy which taught that the Son was created and subordinate to the Father. The full statement was carefully written to emphasize the equality of God the Father and God the Son. The wording “begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” doesn’t suggest any hierarchy or subordination.

The section on the Holy Spirit, “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified,” was also written to emphasize the unity and equality within the Trinity.

The Athanasian creed goes further in explaining the relationship within the Trinity:

The Father is made of none: neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before or after other; none is greater or less than another; But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together, and co-equal: so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped. He, therefore, that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. (emphasis added)

Again, the creed emphasizes the unity and equality within the Trinity, and it specifically denies any hierarchy or subordination within the Trinity. The article by Focus on the Family also uses Jesus’s statement that “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28) as an example of the supposed subordination. However, the Athanasian creed addresses such statements and explains that Jesus, the God-man, is “equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.” All subordination and hierarchy within the Trinity is rejected by the orthodox creed and confessions.

We need to stop doing damage to the doctrine of the Trinity in our attempts to explain how submission works in marriage. ESS, while tempting, is not a viable answer to the question of marital submission. There is nothing to be gained by appealing to an eternal relationship of authority and submission within the Trinity, and plenty to lose. Hopefully, more conservative Christians will recognize the danger and stop promoting ESS.

 

Parenting in the Pews

I love seeing little kids at church. As a mother of not-quite-so-little ones, the smiles, the giggles, the sights and sounds of children fills my heart with joy. But parenting in the pews can be anything but joyful at times. Nothing tests the limits of parents’ patience quite like Sundays. From getting everyone dressed and fed and out the door on time to handling disruptions during worship and off-schedule naps and meals, Sunday is a uniquely challenging day for most of us. With all the busyness and struggle, it can be easy to forget why we bring our children to church with us.

For those of us who are Presbyterians, we believe our children are part of the covenant community. We promise to raise them in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). But how do we do that practically? How do we parent in the pews?

There tends to be two extremes when it comes to discussing what to do about children in church. On one hand, there are churches that believe children don’t belong in the worship service. On the other, there are churches that believe children should never be separated from their parents for any reason (no nursery, Sunday School classes, or youth groups).

Most of us, however, fall in the middle. Our churches have nurseries for the littlest ones and age appropriate Sunday School classes, and our children are welcome in the worship service. So we have the challenge of helping them learn to worship.

There is lots of advice out there on how to get your kids to stay still/quiet/attentive in church. Some of it is helpful, some less so. It’s important to start by considering what our goals are. What are we trying to achieve?

As a parent, my number one goal for my children is that they grow up to love the Lord and be adults I’d enjoy being around. As far as church goes, I want my children to love the church and love worship. With that in mind, let’s consider some of the common concerns for parenting in the pews.

“Church is boring”

Without question, this is considered by many to be the biggest challenge for parents. How do we address the nature of church worship and our children’s response to it? There are a variety of possible answers.

Some try to make church entertaining and engaging even if it waters down the message. As we mentioned, some churches keep the children entertained in separate programs so that adults can worship without distractions. Going back to our goals and our commitments to raise our children within the covenant community, neither of these options really satisfy.

Some advice accepts the premise that church is “boring” and tells us it’s good for children to be bored on occasion. This approach has always bothered me. Yes, church isn’t “entertaining” in the same way a movie or basketball game would be. But worship isn’t boring once we understand what’s going on. Sunday worship isn’t “all fun and games, ” but it also isn’t “vegetables” or “liver and onions” that our children will eat “if they know what’s good for them!”

Along these lines are instructions on how to teach your children to sit still starting at a young age so that they can sit without fidgeting whenever you tell them to. While I agree that we do have to teach our children how to sit in church (or restaurants, doctor’s offices, school, whatever), the emphasis on outward obedience misses the point in the long run.

God calls us to worship and to rest in Him (Matthew 11:28-30) because He loves us. We go to church and worship because we love the Lord. Our obedience should never be done with a cold heart or from a sense of obligation alone. That’s not what God wants from us, and that’s not what we should want from our children.

Learning to Love Worship

Like all good things in life, we have to learn to love worship. It’s an acquired taste. And teaching our children to worship from the heart starts by example. Our attitudes about church and worship will tell our children more than anything we say to them. When we make going to church a priority for our family, they’ll notice. When we sing joyfully, they’ll hear. When we pray fervently, they’ll see. When we’re attentive, they will be too.

As we do these things, we can bring our children alongside us so that they will learn (Deuteronomy 6:7). Some of the practical ways we can do this is by encouraging them to participate in worship. We have to have age appropriate expectations though. As the saying goes, “The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure.”

When children are old enough, they can sit and stand when the congregation sits and stands. We can explain to them the various parts of the service so they understand what’s going on around them. Children can look on with the hymnal and learn to sing along. As they learn to read, they can follow along with the Scripture readings and participate with the responsive readings. And they can learn to listen to the sermon.

When my children were smaller, they carried little bags with colored pencils and small notebooks to church. During the sermon, they were allowed to color. It’s hard to sit completely still, and having something quiet to do with their hands helped them listen to what was being said. As my boys have gotten older, we’ve encouraged them to take notes during the sermon.

After church, we ask them what they remember from the service. Do they have any questions? What did they learn? What did the pastor preach about? These questions help us understand what they’re learning and reinforce that they are part of the worship service.

Discipline in the Pews

Disciplining our children during worship includes everything from gentle reminders to be still or quiet, giving “the look” or the “death whisper” (as we called it growing up), and carrying them out of the service when they have meltdown. No matter how sweet and precious our little ones are they will at one time or another throw a royal hissy fit in church. When that happens, we need to show them grace and protect their dignity as we discipline them.

What we should be careful not to do is discipline them for the benefit of those around us. It’s tempting to do. We’re embarrassed by their behavior. We don’t want other parents thinking we’re bad parents, etc., but maintaining our reputation shouldn’t be our focus. The goal is training and correcting our children, although we do want to be kind to those around us by limiting the distractions.

Going back to age appropriate expectations, there’s a difference between normal noises/wiggles and misbehavior. Babies coo and giggle. They wiggle and squirm. Older toddlers smile and wave and fidget. Children will want to ask questions or move to see what’s going on. As they get older, we can gently redirect their attention and encourage them to listen while not having unrealistic expectations.

Each child is different and will need encouragement and discipline suited to them. My oldest son was active and loud. I would have gladly kept him in church with us from the time he was newborn, but he needed space to move and be loud. Nursery was a blessing for him. My middle son hated nursery and was content and quiet as long as he sat with us. My youngest hated nursery and was active and loud. I listened to many sermons from the church’s cry room.

Encourage Each Other

Whether you’re a parent of little ones, your children are grown, or you don’t have children, you can still play an important role in parenting in the pews. No, the role isn’t giving disruptive children (or their parents) dirty looks. The role we can all fulfill is encouraging one another.

Parenting in the pews is hard work, and it’s easy to be discouraged. A smile and a kind word can go a long way. Serving in nursery or offering to walk a colicky baby are a couple of other ways you can help. We can also show  our love for each other by being patient and gracious with those around us, especially if we feel distracted. We’ve all been there, either as parents or as children ourselves.

As a parent, it helps me to remember that those interruptions aren’t keeping me from what I should be doing. They are what I should be doing right now. I’m not saying we should let our children do whatever they want and run wild during church. But helping them learn to love the Lord and love worship is what we’re supposed to do.

So, this Sunday as we get ready for worship, let’s think about how we can encourage and nurture the little ones in our churches (and their parents too). And let’s rejoice that God has filled our pews with so many blessings.

And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matthew 18:2-4, NASB

Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14, NASB

Idols of a Mother’s Heart: Book Review and Giveaway

I have a copy of Christina Fox’s new book to give away. If you’d like to enter, please share this review on social media and leave a comment here. I’ll announce the winner next week. Here is an excerpt of my review:

If you’re a parent and a Christian, you’ve probably read your share of parenting books. Of the making of self-help parenting books, there is seemingly no end. If, like the writer of Ecclesiastes, you’ve been wearied by such study, Christina Fox’s new book, Idols of a Mother’s Heart, will be a balm for your soul. While Christina’s book is directed at mothers, there is much in her writing that would comfort, encourage, and challenge fathers as well.

Unlike so many of the books on parenting that I’ve read, Christina’s book isn’t about smacking you on the head with what you’re doing wrong. Her approach isn’t like Bob Newhart’s counseling skit. She doesn’t simply tell you to “Stop it!” From beginning to end, Christina’s message is gospel-centered and full of grace for us all.

Christina reminds us that our purpose is to glorify God and worship Him (37). Our identity and meaning aren’t meant to be found in motherhood, or fatherhood, but in Christ who has redeemed us (111). Our value and worth aren’t in our achievements and successes as parents. Instead, “our worth is grounded in who Christ is for us, and what He accomplished on our behalf” (122).

Since that’s true, why focus on motherhood and the idols we may have as mothers? Parenting can make us more aware of our sin in ways we didn’t expect (24-25). Christina writes:

First, as mothers, we all face the problem of the presence of remaining sin in our life. Secondly, motherhood is hard. It is challenging and stretching in unique ways, different from other areas of our life. Thirdly, motherhood is another area of our life God uses to transform us. (31)

In other words, parenthood can reveal idols we may not have known we worship. How can we identify our idols?

Read the rest of the review at Reformation 21.

Want to read the Bible in a year? Here’s my Bible reading plan for 2019

For the last several years, I have been reading the Bible through each year. I’ve used different plans, and there are elements of each that I’ve really enjoyed. A few years ago I decided to do something different. I wanted to read each book through to get a good feel for the flow of the book. And I didn’t want to wait until the last third of the year to read the New Testament. I also realized that I appreciate the Wisdom Literature more in small portions.

So, after looking through various Bible reading plans available, I decided to create my own. My plan alternates between Old Testament and New Testament books completing one book at a time. On the weekends, we’ll read from the Psalms on Saturdays and a chapter from Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or Song of Songs on Sundays.

You’ll find the pdf of the reading plan attached here: A Daughter of the Reformation Bible Reading Plan 2019.

I’m continuing to use the Journibles from Reformation Heritage Books to slow down and focus on a chapter or smaller portion of Scripture each day.

Contentment: Seeing God’s Goodness

Do you ever think about how much we complain? We complain about the weather: too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry. We complain about our jobs: deadlines, difficult bosses, co-workers. We complain about our families: our spouses, children, in-laws. We complain about life: traffic, waiting rooms, jury duty, illness. We complain about the church: our pastors, the sermon, the music, the a/c. And politics? Well, that too.

Whether or not we’re aware, we spend a lot of time complaining. Isn’t it just part of being human? After all, we live in a fallen world, and life can be difficult. Our bodies get sick and hurt. Our relationships suffer. Work is hard. But is that all there is to it?

In her new book, Contentment: Seeing God’s Goodness, Megan Hill reminds us that complaining or being discontent can often be a sinful response to our circumstances. Why is it sinful? It’s sinful because it says we don’t really trust God to take care of us. And that can start a domino effect of other sinful behaviors.

As Hill explains:

Once it takes hold of our hearts, discontent quickly leads to other sins. Because we fundamentally distrust what God is doing in and for us, our hearts give way to worry. Every new circumstance feels surprising and potentially harmful. Everything from the flu to the presidential election brings an onslaught of uncertainty. We do not believe that God is caring for us, and we have little confidence that the events in our lives will be for our good, so our minds and hearts spin with anxiety.(11)

So how do we find contentment in our sinful, fallen world?

Read the rest of this article over at Reformation 21.

Finding Eternal Subordination of the Son in the Oddest Places

As I’ve written before, there are many, many books that teach eternal subordination of the Son (ESS). Books for women, books for children, even notes in a very popular study Bible teach ESS. Most of the time, I’m not surprised when ESS shows up in a book, especially if the author has connections to CBMW, Wayne Grudem, or SBTS (where Bruce Ware teaches).

But every now and then, I’m truly surprised to find ESS being taught. Recently I read Through His Eyes: God’s Perspective on Women in the Bible by Jerram Barrs. Barrs is a professor at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. In the introduction, Barrs writes about the purpose of the book:

What does God think about women, and how does he treat them? My passionate desire and prayer is that the book will be an encouragement to women and a challenge to men to treat women with the same honor that the Lord himself shows. (9)

Each chapter focuses on a different woman from the Bible and attempts to correct misunderstandings that have gotten in the way of our understanding of what the Bible teaches about women. I was intrigued by the premise and interested to see how Barrs dealt with the topic.

The first three chapters deal with Eve. One of the first things Barrs’ emphasizes is Adam and Eve’s equality in creation. I was pleased that he did. However, when he tries to explain how Adam has a position of authority or leadership over Eve, he introduces classic ESS teaching:

In addition, it is Adam who gives Eve her name, and as we mentioned earlier, this implies a particular significance or authority in the one who does the naming. … This leadership of Adam in relationship with Eve, and her corresponding commitment to him, does not mean that their equality is undermined, for Eve and Adam are like the Trinity in which there is a headship of the Father over the Son, and yet there is also a full equality of Godhead (1 Corinthians 11:, Colossians 1:19; 2:9). (22)

It’s not until the appendix at the end of the book that Barrs develops the ESS theme. The appendix is apparently a wedding sermon that Barrs preached where the couple asked him to speak about headship and submission. Barrs uses the names “Adam” and “Eve” in place of the couple’s actual names.

Interestingly, Barrs brings a twist to ESS that I’ve never seen before. In his formulation, the Father, Son, and Spirit are equal in authority, but there’s still a hierarchy of headship:

This pattern of headship comes from creation itself, or perhaps we should say from God himself. The Lord who made us, the Lord we worship, is a triune God. God is the three persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who have loved and delighted in each other from all eternity. Within the Trinity there is full equalitythe Son and Spirit are just as fully God as is the Father. The Son and the Spirit have just as much authority, are just as powerful, just as holy, just as wise, just as good just as loving, just as glorious as the Father. To deny this full equality of the persons of the Godhead is heresy, a serious departure from the truth. Yet, within the Trinity there is also a hierarchythe Father is over the Son and the Spirit, and the western churches have taught that the Son is over the Spirit. The Son and the Spirit delight to submit themselves always to the Father’s will; and the Spirit delights to submit to the Son and to do his will. (324, emphasis original)

Barrs points out that the hierarchy isn’t demeaning at all. God the Father gives God the Son the “most significant tasks imaginable”!

This headship of the Father is not demeaning to the Son in any way. The Father is pleased to honor the Son always by giving him the most significant tasks imaginable … The Son, for his part, is ever gladly submissive to the Father. He is always eager to do his Father’s will, committed to obeying his Father’s every word, ready to speak whatever the Father wants him to say, pleased to respect and honor his Father in everything he does, devoted to bringing glory to his Father. We look at this eternal relationship of headship and submission, and it is no vision of miseryrather it is an eternally shared glory! (324-325, emphasis added)

So, in addition to ESS (eternal subordination of the Son), EFS (eternal functional submission), and ERAS (eternal relations of authority and submission), we now have ERHS (eternal relationship of headship and submission).

Having explained the origin of headship and submission in the eternal relationships within the Trinity, Barrs applies this equal but hierarchical relationship to marriage. Instead of the Biblical example for marriage, Christ and the church, Barrs focuses on the Father/Son relationship in the “family of the Trinity.”

Adam and Eve, your relationship is to mirror the relationship between the Father and the Son, for the apostle Paul teaches us that your family, just like every other family on earth or in heaven, is named and patterned after the family of our heavenly Father, the family of the Trinity … Eve and Adam, you are to show to the world the beauty of the eternal love between the Son and the Father. (325-326)

In the study questions at the end of the appendix, Barrs asks:

Have you considered before reading this chapter the reality of equality and headship that exists within the Trinity? As you think about this, how would you express the beauty of the relationship between the Father and the Son as it is described for us in the Scriptures? (328)

To answer his questions, no such “reality of equality and headship exists within the Trinity.” And I would describe such a relationship of authority and submission as heretical. Barrs is right that to deny full equality within the Trinity is heretical. But sadly, he doesn’t recognize that he’s doing so here.

When I read the first paragraph in the Eve chapter that taught ESS, I was really surprised, and I honestly hoped that it was somehow a poorly worded section. Maybe something the publisher (Crossway) wanted to include. But give the fully developed ESS (ERHS?) in the appendix, and given that Barrs preached ESS at a wedding, it seems that Barrs is another who teaches and promotes ESS (at least at the time).

Barrs ends his introduction by calling for men to treat women better. Ironically, he says:

Many women experience discrimination and poor treatment in their churches and in their homes. In conservative circles this is sometimes defended and justified by specious appeals to Scripture. (11)

ESS and its application to marriage are part of the “discrimination and poor treatment” that many women experience in the home and in churches. As a popular author and teacher, many men and women have read and will read his book. I hope that in the intervening years, and given the Trinity debate of 2016, that Barrs has changed his mind about ESS. If so, I hope he’ll clarify his position publicly.

Struggling to be Free or Free to Struggle?

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Gal 2:20, NASB

What should the Christian life look like? Should we be trying to prove our worth to God? Are we free to live how ever we want because “grace”? Should we expect to achieve sinless perfection?

When I was in college, our RUF pastor used to ask us, “Are you struggling to be free, or are you free to struggle?” His point was that until we come to faith in Christ we will struggle and fight an impossible battle to make ourselves right with God. We will struggle to be free of our sin and guilt.

The good news of the gospel is that through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we have been set free from sin’s power. Sin no longer has dominion over us. We are at peace with God. This is our reality right now, and it can’t be taken away from us. But there’s more to the story. We have been set free and given a purpose.

Because we have been united to Christ by the Spirit, we have been crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20) and are dead to sin (Rom 6:11). But we have also been raised with Christ, so that we may “walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). What does this mean for us?

Read the rest of this article over at Place for Truth.

Talking with Our Children about Death

“Is she going to die?” That’s what my boys wanted to know when we told them how sick their Bisabuela[1] was. How do we answer that question and other questions about death that our children ask?

Talking about death is uncomfortable, isn’t it? As a culture, we don’t like to think about it. In fact, we avoid thinking about it. We exercise and eat “right” and take vitamins and supplements that promise us eternal youth, or at least a long life.

But eventually, we’re confronted with the reality of death. Maybe it’s the death of a grandparent. Maybe it’s the loss of a child. Maybe it’s a life-threatening illness. Whatever the circumstances, we come to a point where we can’t just ignore death. For ourselves and our children, we need to be ready to give biblical answers and gospel encouragement when the time comes.

So, what should we tell our children about death? In my experience, children want answers to three basic questions. Why do people have to die? Are you/am I going to die? What happens when we die? These can be hard questions to answer. The good news is that God has given us answers in the Bible.

Read the rest of this article at Place for Truth.

Resources on Anxiety

As you may be aware, I’ve struggled most of my life with anxiety.  I’ve been doing some research into Christian books on anxiety and worry to get a feel for what resources are available to recommend. The good news is there are solid books out there. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of books that aren’t so good.

So first, let’s consider the good ones.

A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament by Christina Fox

Christina’s book, though not explicitly about anxiety, remains my absolute favorite and my top recommendation for anyone struggling with anxiety, worry, doubt, or depression. You can read my full review here.

A Heart Set Free is a book about learning from the Psalms of Lament how to cry out to God. Instead of pretending our emotions don’t exist or that we aren’t hurting, we need to learn how to lament, how to express our emotions in our Christian walk:

In fact, the Psalms, especially the Psalms of Lament, give us a structure for how to express our feelings. They remind us what is true. They point us to God’s love and faithfulness. They help us journey through the dark valleys until we can emerge on the other side and bow in grateful worship. (17)

One thing that I really appreciate about Christina’s book is her balanced approach to the cause of anxiety and depression. Sin is at the root of our pain, but our pain is not always the direct result of sinful behavior on our part:

Sin is the cause of all our pain and sorrow. It might be the sins of others committed against us that bring us feelings of shame. It might be the effects of sin on the creation around us that bring a natural disaster, resulting in loss and our subsequent grief. It might be the brokenness of our bodies, causing us emotional turmoil or the failure of our minds to work as God intended. It might be our own sinful responses to what happens in our lives. It might even be a combination of all these, but at its root, sin is what brings us all our sorrows, griefs, and fears. (39)

I highly recommend this book to anyone, male or female, young or old. No matter your struggles, God speaks to us through the Psalms of Lament, and through the Psalms of Lament, we can learn how to speak to God.

Christians Get Depressed Too: Hope and Help for Depressed People by David Murray

David’s book is also not specifically about anxiety. However, like Christina’s book, it’s easy to apply David’s advice to anxiety. This book is short, but filled with practical helps for those suffering from depression and/or anxiety and also for their loved ones.

David addresses the common pitfalls and shortcomings in the counseling and advice given to those struggling with depression and anxiety:

There are three simplistic extremes that we should avoid when considering the cause of depression: first, that it is all physical; second, that it is all spiritual; third, that it is all mental. (20, nook edition)

Instead of these simplistic approaches, David recommends a balanced approach that addressed the whole person and may include the use of medications:

For Christians there will often need to be a balance between medicines for the brain, rest for the body, counsel for the mind, and spiritual encouragement for the soul. (30, nook edition)

We are body and soul, and as such, David reminds us that our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are intertwined:

We cannot separate our thoughts from our feelings or our feelings from our behavior. What we think affects how we feel. What we think and feel affects our physical health. Our thoughts, feelings, and physical health affect what we do. (33, nook edition)

If we aren’t careful about how we address depression and anxiety, we run the risk of teaching a prosperity-type gospel of mental health:

If we come to the point that our default position in dealing with the causes of depression is that it is sin until proven otherwise, we are getting painfully close to the disciples’ position: “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents?” (John 9:2). It is also a position that is somewhat akin to the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel, in which the diagnosis for trials is personal sin and the prescription is more repentance and faith. (50, nook edition)

I strongly recommend this book to anyone struggling with depression or anxiety. If you have a loved one suffering, the book would also be a help for you in understanding and supporting them. Pastors and church leaders would benefit, as well, from the advice David gives.

Thinking Through Anxiety: A Brief Christian Look by J. Ryan Davidson

I found Ryan’s book through a friend’s recommendation. It’s a short book, but it’s one I really appreciated. Like David’s book on depression, Ryan takes a balanced approach to the causes of anxiety. He also offers practical and spiritual advice on addressing anxiety. As the title suggests, Ryan emphasizes reordering our thoughts when we are struggling with anxiety:

Oh how our anxious hearts need the regular experiential presence of the Lord through the Scriptures in order to be calmed and corrected in our fears, false assurances, and idolatrous ways. (28, Kindle edition)

Another aspect of Thinking Through Anxiety that I really appreciated was its gospel-centered message for anxious believers. When we can’t trust our heart, mind, or feelings, we can trust in the finished work of Christ (31-32, Kindle edition). We belong to Christ and nothing, not even our own anxious fears, can separate us from Him:

We should boldly tell ourselves that our righteousness is in heaven; that our sin has been taken away and that there is no sin that will stand against us in the last day. We are united with Christ because of His life, death, and resurrection and because of the sealing work of the Holy Spirit, we are treated in the courtroom of heaven as Christ is treated—perfectly righteous and accepted in the sight of God. (32, Kindle edition)

Ryan also offers the best hope there is to an anxious believer. There will be a day when all our pain, fear, and sadness are washed away. Even if we struggle with anxiety all our lives, there is great hope and joy in our future:

Therefore, in our continual wrestling with fear, worry, and anxiety, we need to constantly remember, that we are assured resurrection and ultimate freedom from every sin and infirmity on the last day. Our struggle must be framed with the reality of who we are in Christ. This One, who will not bruise a tender reed (Isa. 42:13) is the One to whom we are indivisibly united, even as we battle with anxiety. (65-66, Kindle edition)

As with Christina and David’s books, I would wholeheartedly recommend Thinking Through Anxiety. It was a great encouragement to me. Of all the books that were strictly about anxiety, this was the most helpful that I read.

Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands by Shona and David Murray

Last year, David Murray and his wife, Shona, released separate books for men and women on overcoming burnout. I read both Refresh (for women) and Reset (for men) and while there are slightly different applications and illustrations the substance of the books is identical. For this review, the quotes are from Refresh. 

Shona opens the book with her own story of coming to the end of her rope physically, mentally, and emotionally. Her personal fight with anxiety, depression, and burnout has given her insight into how to encourage others. Shona starts with some warning signs for women, particularly mothers:

If you are a mother, you have little joy in your children and even wonder if they are worth all the effort. You feel trapped in an endless circuit of seemingly menial diaper changes, meals, lunches, dirty floors, crying kids, laundry, and generally being everybody’s gofer. There is no clocking-off time, and you fall into bed at night exhausted, weary, with no sense of accomplishment, and dreading the next day. You hold yourself responsible for every accident, mess, crying fit, episode of bickering, and every failure of character in your children. (31, Kindle edition)

Can you relate? I suspect we all can. Change some of the details to work or social situations and all of us know this cycle of being overwhelmed. Shona and David believe that the demands of our lives, our work, and even our society are running us ragged. We’re exhausted from the stress and worry. We’re beaten down by the constant barrage of negative news and social media. We need to stop and rest.

The weights accumulated imperceptibly; they multiplied a little every year until life slowly yet inexorably crushed us. Now, our minds are frazzled, our hearts are pounding, our bodies are breaking down, our relationships are straining, our sleep is declining, our quality of work is suffering, and our happiness is a distant memory. (118, Kindle edition)

Refresh and Reset give practical advice for fighting the burnout many of us are facing. Suggestions include getting enough sleep, fasting from digital media, regular exercise, pursuing hobbies, and taking a Sabbath rest. The focus of the books is on living lives filled by God’s grace. We truly can rest in His mercy and grace:

As we enjoy the benefits of a quieter inner and outer life and build God-given refreshings of grace into our lives, we find time to pause, to calm down, and to think about who we are and why we are here. (110, Kindle edition)

While these books aren’t specifically books on anxiety, the advice would be useful to those struggling with anxiety. My only quibbles with the books were the refresh-gym and reset-garage motifs which felt forced and the attempts to feminize or masculinize the advice. Certainly, there are differences in application or illustration for men and women when it comes to burnout. But in the end, the substance of what men and women need to hear is the same.

I appreciate Shona and David’s work on these books. I know they have a heart for those who are hurting. I’d recommend these books to anyone struggling under the weight of the world.

The next books were ones that I have mixed feelings about. Some of the advice is helpful. But each of these books takes an unbalanced approach to worry and anxiety. In these books, the formula is simple: anxiety = worry, worry = sin, therefore cure = repentance and obedience. This is exactly the kind of oversimplification that David Murray addresses in his book on depression.

Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Worry is so common that we forget it’s actually a sin. … [I]t’s just as sinful to worry as it is to disregard any other command from God. (emphasis original, 90, nook edition)

Little faith! Think about those words. The Lord equates our worry with a lack of faith. (94, nook edition)

God has directed His children not to worry; He’s classified worry as sin. Why? Because worry flows out of a distorted or incomplete view of His nature and character. … Worrying is also sinful because it elevates our thoughts and abilities to a godlike position. (94, nook edition)

We can’t stop our hearts from pounding or our stomach from being tied up in knots. We can’t control our physical symptoms. But we can, by God’s power and grace, offer our joyful obedience to Him – and trust that He will give us confidence and calm in the midst of the storm. (121, nook edition)

Running Scared by Ed Welch

At first, my interest in fear and worry was limited to quieting them for the sake of my own personal well-being. Now the stakes are much higher. My worry is a sign that I am in danger. When in doubt, pray. I am not sure of all the ways I am called by God to act, but I am certainly feeling more desperate, so I can pray. (78, nook edition)

Fear and worry reveal that our faith is indeed small. If you are looking to plumb the depths of worry, you can find it in your mixed allegiances. (85, nook edition)

In other words, worry is usually about seeking something other than God’s kingdom. Worry is a sign that we are trying to have it both ways, with one foot in the kingdom of the world and the other in the kingdom of heaven. (88, nook edition)

The sin-fear connection is inescapable. Therefore, when confronted with worries and fears, we should encourage our instincts to look at our own sin so that we can be people who make peace rather than break it. (216, nook edition)

Without forgiveness of sins, there can be no peace in our relationship with God, and when there is no peace with God, we will have no peace. If you are finding peace elusive, either you still don’t believe you are forgiven or you don’t really care that you are. If you know that sin is your most profound problem, more critical than anything else that worries you, you will know a resolute peace. (220, nook edition)

Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry by Amy Simpson

Worry is a rebellious choice we usually don’t take very seriously. But it is serious. Willful worry amounts to rejection of God’s character and damages our capacity for the life he calls us to. A close look at Scripture show us worry has always been a frequent point of correction between God and his people because it undermines that very faith he requires and rewards. Worry is still chronically undermining the faith and courage of Christians in this age. It is rooted in a theological misunderstanding of who God is, the nature of life in this world and our place in the universe. (16-17)

Choosing to worry is a sin, an act of rebellion against God, a rejection of our assigned place in the universe, a barrier in our relationship with a God who wants us to live is bold purpose rooted in his character. Worry is essentially a spiritual problem, which ultimately cannot be overcome merely through an act of the will – the solution is rooted entirely in who God is. (127)

Be quiet and allow the Holy Spirit to remind you of what the Bible teaches us about God’s character and capabilities. Reminisce about the specific ways God has taken care of you and other people whose stories you know. Express your confidence in God’s wisdom and love, even when life is a bruised and bloody mess. (143)

Why Worry? by Robert Jones

Worry, like other problematic emotions (such as envy, anger, and despair), serves a revelatory function. It reveals the remaining double-mindedness within our souls. As we will see from Jesus’s teaching, worry expresses our remaining inner pockets of idolatry and unbelief. (5)

By his death, resurrection, and ascension he has given new hope, new power, and new identity to all who trust in him. He came to forgive us for our worrying and to help us to change our patterns. While God might not reverse the tough situations that you worry about, he specializes in pardoning, cleansing, and helping you. (5-6)

Worry expresses lingering idolatry in the heart. It signals that in some way you are trusting in yourself—that you are building your life to some degree on things or people other than Jesus. Your anxiety automatically indicates that your heart allegiances are temporarily divided. (6-7)

The antidote to worry, then, is to trust in God. We must replace anxiety with a growing focus on God’s provisions and priorities. (17)

Because of the limited understanding these books have for the root of anxiety, the advice is one-dimensional. As a result, some of these books minimize the usefulness of medications to treat anxiety. All of these books place a heavy burden on those who suffer from anxiety.

Are we all sinners? Absolutely. If we look hard enough, can we find sinful attitudes and behaviors that we should repent of? Of course. Does that mean that all anxiety is rooted in sinful attitudes and behaviors that we need to repent of? Not necessarily.

Let me give an example. Sometimes I go to sleep at night content and peaceful. I have cares and concerns, but nothing is weighing on me. But in the morning, before I even open my eyes, I am gripped by fear, panic, dread, and anxiety. My mind races to figure out why I’m anxious. It may very well latch on to something, but was that what caused the anxiety? No. Often illness or hormones are the root cause for me.

When anxiety grips me that way, being told to look to my own sin is like heaping burdens on me. No one wants to be anxious. Many of us who struggle with anxiety are hanging on to the promises of Scripture and our faith as tightly as we can. We know our sins. They’re painfully clear to us.

Instead of introspection, what we need are words of comfort and hope and a reminder to look away from ourselves to the One who saves. At the foot of the cross, we can lay our burdens down and cast all our cares on Him. He is the God who hears.

I hope these short reviews will help others who are looking for resources on anxiety. My prayer is that we may all know peace, real, lasting peace.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30, NASB