With that, here’s my review of Julie Roys’ Redeeming the Feminine Soul: God’s Surprising Vision for Womanhood.
Not knowing much about Roys, I had read some of her work on the Internet. She struck me as a formidable Christian journalist, and still does. My wife is an avid reader and I thought she’d enjoy something different, so I bought it for her.
Jimmy Hamilton got saved in 1975 in his mid-thirties. “In coming to Christ I was broken, in great distress. I called upon his name and he rescued me” (30). And from that moment he has desired to tell others about his Lord and Savior, “I’ve been a street preacher for thirty-eight of my forty years as a Christian. ” (30).
Now 75, Jimmy Hamilton continues his peripatetic (an English transliteration of the Greek word meaning “itinerant”) preaching ministry, daily sharing Christ on the streets of his native Glasgow, Scotland. And having just written his first book, he clearly has no plans to slow down yet. “The Lord called me to preach the gospel,” he writes, “so I’ll stop when he tells me to stop or when he calls me home” (202).
Offers readers a book review of Ed Welch’s book “A Small Book for the Anxious Heart”
Note: I received a promotional copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. -AR
When the email announcing Ed Welch’s new book, A Small Book for the Anxious Heart, hit my inbox offering me a promotional copy, I was very interested. Anyone familiar with biblical counseling has surely benefited from an article or book of his over the years.
As his bio notes, Ed Welch, MDiv, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and faculty member at CCEF. He earned a PhD in counseling (neuropsychology) from the University of Utah and has a Master of Divinity degree from Biblical Theological Seminary. Welch has been counseling for over thirty years and has written extensively on the topics of depression, fear, and addictions. In other words (my words) Welch is one of the most well-known figures of the second generation of Biblical Counselors.
Instead of trumpeting all that, the marketing for the book humbly suggests, There is no quick fix for fear and worry, but the new devotional from Edward T. Welch seeks to help.
A Small Book for the Anxious Heart is just that, a small book. It is 50-day devotional, with each day’s reading around 500 words, plus two or three short “Response” questions to help stir the reader to quiet reflection or beginning steps of action. Why 50 days, I don’t know. Why not 30? Why not 60? Fifty may well be an even number, but for a devotional book length it seems odd to me.
The entries themselves seem to have little to no order or progression. By Day 18 it dawned on me that I could have been reading Day 1, and I thought the same when I got to Day 50. There does not need to be progression, but the lack of it is significant for a reason I’ll discuss later.
Day 1 starts out promisingly enough. “[God’s] words to us cluster around two themes: your God is very near, and he gives the grace and power you need for today. The aim of this book is to help us become more skillful in how we identify our fears and anxieties, hear God’s good words, and grow” (emphasis added). Clearly Welch earnestly desires to serve others and that is, of course, admirable.
The problem though, is that by the end of Day 1’s devotional and for the rest of the book, it misses the mark. And I really wish I did not have to write that. A few examples will follow, but since I mentioned Day 1, here is a statement near the end of the day’s reading,
“God never intended us to bear the overwhelming burdens of life by ourselves. Instead, he gives himself—just the right person to bear them with us” (emphasis added). The problem is, God does not want us bearing our burdens at all. He tells us, commands us, to “roll them off” onto Him (Ps 55:22), to cast our cares on him, for he cares for us (1 Pe 5:7), to lay our heavy loads at Jesus’ feet and take up his light burden instead (Mt 11:28-30). Welch’s statement sounds comforting, but isn’t. It is intended to be help, but doesn’t.
By Day 18 the book feels long. Hypothetically, the reader has lived almost three weeks since starting the book and yet at this point the book feels very much still at Square One. And it continues that way for 32 more days. Overall, where there are the occasional sentences and sections of solid theology and pointing to Christ, on the whole the book is minimally encouraging. By the end it feels like seven weeks + 1 day of revisiting the same wounds, at first dressing them, but never leaving them alone to heal. Every day is like lifting the bandage to look at how they’re doing.
A Soft Word Turns Away
A recurring problem in reading this book is the pulling back from using Bible-language, substituting softer words for those God uses in his Word. For example, nowhere that I could find does the book specifically mention the need to “repent” of the “sin/s” of anxiety and worry. Welch does say “why not confess your sin of unbelief right now?” (Day 10), and similar on Day 18, but these are only close, not exactly where the reader needs to be to biblically deal with their problem. He follows up that Day 10 exhortation with the sentence, “It [confession of sin] is an efficient way to interrupt the tailspin of fear and anxiety.” There are two problems with what is being said here. First, Christians do more than “confess” their sins to God—acknowledging them—we repent of them, which includes the element of not just confessing them but also of forsaking them. Second, we aren’t primarily to repent (“confess”) of sins to feel better or get relief, but to acknowledge we have sinned against a Holy, Just, and Perfect God; it’s primarily to honor God’s holiness and submit to his authority over us.
A second example of this soft approach is found on Day 18 where Welch writes, “It is our breaking trust with God that separates us from him, his love, and his protection.” I’m honestly not trying to be nit-picky here. I am trying give quotes to support my impressions. It’s more than “breaking trust” with God that separates us, it is our sins, our rebellion, our—as RC Sproul put it—“cosmic treason”. Our failure to train others in thinking and speaking in biblical language leads us inevitably to either minimize God’s holiness or minimize our sin, or both. Day 28 (“Tomorrow”) and Day 30 (“Judgment”) are perhaps the strongest language in the book about dealing with our sin.
A third example is on Day 36, where Welch writes, “The problem is when our wants shift into needs, which might more accurately be called loves.” Ed Welch has been serving the Body of Christ at least twice as long as I have been a Christian. He is smarter than me, has counseled tens of thousands of hours longer than I ever will, and I write all of this with great respect to my elder brother in Christ. However, when our wants shift into perceived needs, the Bible does not gently suggest them to be mere “loves”; it calls them idols. Welch knows this.
If we are to disciple believers into wholeness and hope in Christ, and affirm that he can save them from their fears and anxieties, I’ve always been told we must love them enough to be clear, and that means using the words God uses if we are to counsel them from his Word.
A Disappointing Role Model
My disappointment with Welch’s quoting Eugene Peterson‘s Bible paraphrase The Message was only surpassed by his praise for Peterson the man. The popular paraphrase is also fraught with errors, causing at least one evangelical leader, Justin Peters, to call it “not only a poor paraphrase, but it is, in fact, heretical.” Whereas Al Mohler, in his essay about Peterson’s very public retraction of his full endorsement of gay marriage, describes Peterson as a man who “has never been very clear about controversial questions, or on many crucial biblical and theological questions. His writings were categorized as ‘pastoral theology,’ and there is little explicit doctrine in his books,” Welch regards him as “one of an endless number of God’s children who point the way for us and show us what is possible.” I don’t see Welch’s quoting of The Message or speaking of Peterson as egregious, only unfortunate.
There are some excellent passages, for sure in this book. Consider this tender and pastoral note of encouragement Welch offers readers:
His love means that he will be close and nothing can separate you from him. His strength means that he is an ever-present help in trouble and he will make things right. These two are joined into one event: Christ and him crucified. In Jesus Christ, we see that God became our suffering servant who identifies with the weak and oppressed, and he takes their burden on himself. In Jesus Christ, we see the mighty God who takes up the cause of the weak and brings justice to the oppressed. He is the King who has inaugurated his kingdom that will conquer death itself. […]The entire Bible is meant to open your eyes to those truths about Jesus, who was seen by all, but for now is just barely out of sight.
“A Small Book for the Anxious Heart” by Ed Welch, Day 23
But then, again, more problems emerge. On Day 42 Welch makes a comment about God and the Garden of Eden I have never heard anyone suggest, “The garden of Eden was God’s house on earth, and he walked with his people in the garden. When we left the garden, he left with us and promised that, in the end, sin would not interfere with his purpose” (emphasis added). Huh? I looked up the verb used in Gen 3:23. It is shalach, and it means “to send”, which by definition indicates the one doing the sending stays while the one sent departs. In fact, Matthew Poole in his commentary (and Gill agrees) says, “the Lord God sent him forth, or expelled him with shame and violence, and so as never to restore him thither; for it is the same word which is used concerning divorced wives” (emphases in original).
No man or woman could write a book like A Small Book for the Anxious Heart unless they were writing from a place of deep compassion for their wounded readers, desiring to help point the way out of their darkness and misery and into the light of hope and peace in Christ. As he stated at the outset, Welch’s heart’s desire is to “help” readers, and of that there is no doubt. As well-meaning a resource as it is intended to be, A Small Book for the Anxious Heart regrettably misses its noble goal.
A Small Book for the Anxious Heart by Ed T. Welch was published in October 2019 by New Growth Press. I received a promotional copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
Pontius Pilate wasn’t really searching for truth when he asked Jesus, “What is Truth?” He was scoffing at the notion that Truth existed, or that the Man before him was Truth itself. Although they are dying out, bookstores are temples for seekers searching for Truth, asking the same question.
Searching for Truth in a Bookstore
Time was, if you wanted a book you had to physically go to a place and buy it. You could browse shelves and shelves, or you would ask a clerk, and they would help you find one. Then, if you found one, you would pay, and immediately take it in hand and read it. Those places were called bookstores (catchy, right?).
OK, so maybe I’m exaggerating just a little bit. I mention bookstores because I want to tell you my bookstore story:
Just about everything in the Christian life is a call to do what our natural man hates. We are called to not love the world or the things in it, to not worry or be anxious, to love and serve others above our own selves… Every command of God is a command to abandon our fallen natures. In this era of “born this way,” God says, in effect, “So what? I say do this, not that.”
Obedience to God is only possible through the power of Christ in us, through the Holy Spirit. We may have been “born this way” but through the double-miracle of repentance and faith, God changes us. We go from darkness to light. Death to Life. “Born this way” to born again. He replaces our heart of stone, the Bible says, and gives us a heart of flesh.
And while all of that is glorious and true, there remains an inner struggle. The Old Man, wretched and decaying and continuing to want to feast on sin, still exists within us. Practically speaking, we don’t always want to obey God rather than man. We’d rather dance at the edge of darkness. We’d rather serve Mammon. Sometimes we’d rather hold onto our anger/fear/doubts/what have you, then let it go.
The New Man, thank God, has the upper hand in the fight though, and is helped every moment by the invisible Person of the Holy Spirit and the power of Christ in us. Humanly speaking, it is our duty to be pliable. Obedient. Even when we don’t feel like it or don’t fully understand how.
As I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount recently I was reminded again of all of this. How exactly does one turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) when someone slaps us not with their hand but with their words or actions? How exactly do we love our enemies (5:44)? Surely it’s not a sappy, Hallmark card artificial gushiness. Jesus says to greet them (5:47). How do we do that? Do we smile? Shake hands? Act as though we really don’t wish them out of our lives? What does forgiving those who wronged us, even if it’s a brother or sister we love, look like (6:14), especially if they don’t even know they wronged us?
Reading the Sermon on the Mount again, I wrestled with these questions and my own weak-willed obedience. I want to obey. I know I should I obey. I know I must obey. But like a child being told he must he his vegetables, even at 48 years old I am prone to pitching quite the inner temper tantrum. I’m reminded again of the comfort of Scripture; I am not alone in my heart’s cry, “Oh wretched man that I am!”
The answer and consolation is found in Matthew 5:45, “[do these things] that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” What does that look like in us, exactly? How are we to “be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48), especially since we are woefully imperfect?
First, let’s acknowledge it is contrary to our fallen human nature to do these things. Second, admit that sometimes we just don’t want to. He knows our hearts anyway! Just admit it! But then, thirdly, speak candidly in love to God admitting our weakness and seeking his grace. We really do love God and, thus, really do, deeper down, want to obey. We know He is good and right and these commands–like vegetables–are good for us. Fourthly and finally, with the Lord as our model (as always), step out in faith and obedience. He sends his rain on the just and the unjust–who hate him daily; the least we can do is pray, forgive, smile, and wave.
G.K. Chesterton famously said, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” At least try earnestly to obey the Lord and his commands. You and I won’t get it exactly right, but that’s still way better than getting it completely wrong.