Review: Sam Wells, Be Not Afraid: Facing Fear with Faith (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2011)
If there is a prevailing mood in my parish these days, it’s anxiety. My people are anxious that their kids and grandkids are not going to be able to live the life that they did; that they are looking at a generation which, for the first time in a very long time, will not do as well as the one previous. They are anxious about the global politics and how they impinge upon them. The European debt crisis, the sluggish economic recovery in the US, the potential for the war in Syria to expand to expand beyond its borders: these aren’t far away problems. Their potential and actual impact upon friends, family, to say nothing of personal savings, makes them “down the street” instead of “across the world” events. They are anxious about their health—what will the next round of tests say?—their jobs—when will it be my turn to be axed?–
And I’m not immune. When I tuck my kids into bed, when I pray for them, when I talk with my wife about them, I feel fear. My trust in God is not so resilient, so strong as to be immune from these sorts of questions. Is yours?
If your faith community is like mine, if you are like me, you will devour Sam Wells’ book, Be Not Afraid: Facing Fear With Faith (Brazos, 2011). Some of you might know Wells as the Dean of the Chapel at Duke Univserity or as a major young theological ethicist and interpreter of Stanley Hauerwas. Others of you might know him as the newly appointed rector of St. Martin’s in the Fields, London. Wells has worn academic and pastoral hats in his career. In this book, we hear the heart of the parish priest (indeed, much of it reads like it found its first life in the pulpit). It is a popularly written, engaging call not to refuse fear so much as to meet fear with the deep resources provided by Christian faith.
The book falls into five parts, with each inviting readers to be not afraid of death, weakness, power, difference, faith and finally life. The material is theologically and ethically rich. It is presented in a way that it would be a fine discussion book for a small group or Sunday School class of college age or higher. And while clearly not an academic text, academics will find much here to chew on—as I certainly did.
I was particularly struck by the arrangement of the first and last parts—be not afraid of death, and be not afraid of life—and how everything else: weakness, power, difference and faith fit in between. Wells, throughout, invites us to life and to live all the while finding our courage in Christ, who is our life.