Thursday Review: Ed Welch on fear

A review of
Edward T. Welch, Running Scared: Fear, Worry and the God of Rest,
New Growth Press, 2008 purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US
and
Edward T. Welch, When I Am Afraid: A Step-By-Step Guide Away from Fear And Anxiety, Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2010 purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US.

When I finished reading Ed Welch’s previous book, When People Are Big and God Is Small purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US, I immediately started reading it a second time. So I approached Welch’s new book, Running Scared, with great anticipation. I was not disappointed. The focus of When People Are Big was the fear of man. Running Scared looks at fear and worry in general. Welch is a faculty member and counsellor with the Christian Counselling and Education Foundation (CCEF). Running Scared combines a model of how to apply theology to life with a light and engaging writing style.

We all have fears, from general anxieties to life-dominating phobias. Some fear is healthy (making one drive safely or treat strange dogs with caution), but we do not want to be overcome by fear. Free societies may resolve the fear of oppression, but increase the fear of personal failure.

Running Scared does not tightly define when fear becomes sin, though Welch does warn us to ‘worry about worry’ because worry is inward-focused, self-reliant and can be life-dominating. Instead Running Scared is a pastoral response, an invitation to turn from fear to trust in God.

Welch begins by encouraging us to listen to our fear. Fear says, “I am vulnerable.” In other words, fear wants to be in control. But the reality is we are dependent so fear is an opportunity to trust God. Fear says, “I need (and I might not get).” If we want comfort, we will fear pain. If we want approval, we will fear criticism. If we want money, we will fear need. “Worry reveals our allegiances. Fear and worry are not mere emotions; they are expressions of what we hold dear.” (161)

The Bible’s most frequent command is, “Do not be afraid.” Welch takes the provision of manna as a paradigm of God’s deliverance. But God provides on a day-by-day basis so we learn to trust him. Sometimes God delivers at the eleventh hour, encouraging us to trust him. Sometimes he allows the things we fear to happen, but then works a bigger deliverance through it. He uses adversity to replace the affections that underlie our fears with truer and better affections for God. The bridge could collapse. The spouse could be unfaithful. But God will give grace so we can accomplish his kingdom purposes

After providing a framework for understanding our fears, Welch explores three common specific worries: worries about money, the fear of man and the fear of death.

The section on the fear of man reprises some of the concepts in When People Are Big. “Whatever you think you need will control you. If you need something from other people – love, acceptance, approval – they hold the key to something very valuable to you. You will live in fear that they might not deliver.” (173-174) The problem is we move from desire to demand and then re-label “demand” as “need”. “Beneath our use of the word need are the things we treasure, even worship.” (184) When I am called concerned for God’s reputation other people’s attitudes will matter to me, but not control me. “Jesus shows us that to be truly human means that our desire to love others out-distances our desire to be loved ourselves.” (179)

Running Scared is more than a theory or approach. It not only tells you what you ought to do; the very act of reading will help counter your worry as the truth is presented in a variety of engaging ways. It is somewhat repetitive if read straight through (especially the final nine chapters), but then it is designed as thirty meditations to be read over a month. Each chapter ends with “a personal response” which points to application, but does so through Welch’s own struggles and questions.

When I Am Afraid is an accompanying workbook on fear with questions for personal application. It tracks the material in Running Scared, but there is enough prose summarizing what is said in Running Scared for When I Am Afraid to stand alone. If you are pastor wanting to help a non-reader struggling with fear then I suggest you use When I Am Afraid with them while you read Running Scared. The questions in When I Am Afraid helpfully reveal our fears and how the gospel speaks specifically to those fears. They are, however, quite personal so I suspect they would only work in a group setting in which the group is already intimate with one another.

In summary: two great resources that would benefit anyone as well as offering hope to those struggling with life-dominating fears.

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