Edition Resources

ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY: THEOLOGY AND FEAR
 
 
 
Coleman, Will (1998). “Being Christian in a world of fear: The Challenge of Doing Theology within a Violent Society.” in Walter Brueggemann and George W. Stroup, eds. Many Voices, One God Louisville, Ky : Westminster/John Knox Press. pp. 35-45.
 
Coleman explores how we can be Christian in a world of fear, paranoia and anxiety. Yahweh is the one who builds and protects (Ps 127:1-2; 33:16-22), yet our culture thrives on fear and pursues other sources of security, such as guns.  The rationale for violent behavior has been extracted from the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam that privilege a “chosen people,” often at the expense of heathens and infidels. The more we militarize our streets and homes, the more fearful and less secure we become. Coleman holds up James and 1 John as resources for conquering fear.  In James 4:1-7, conflicts arise from tensions within ourselves and between others. War, murder and intrigue happen when we can’t distinguish between our allegiance to God and the values of dominant cultural structures. Injustice signals a need for radical transformation in Christian thought and practice. James asks Christians to resist the powers of injustice and unrighteousness in order to return to faithfulness to God. The letter of James suggests a spirituality that is grounded in a deep sense of commitment to God through the transformation of our “worldly fears” into courageous acts of faithful responsiveness in the world.
 
 
Jones, Gregory L. (2002). “What We Fear,” Christian Century, vol. 119, no. 25.
 
“We will not live in fear.” President Bush told the American people, and the way the way to ensure that we to will not live in fear is to attack Iraq. Can we live without fear if we exert our power and eliminate the threat of our enemies? What will cast out fear – the overpowering use of violence, or perfect love (1 John 4:18)?   What would it mean to believe that the way to cast out fear is to learn more perfectly how to love?  We might have to be willing to recognize the costs of such love. We may be inflicting violence in order to avoid suffering. Strike them before they can hurt us, so we don’t have to suffer.   But has overpowering force cast out our fears, or diminished our capacity for love?
 
 
Keizer, Garret (2002). “Anger as Fear,” in The Enigma of Anger: Essays on a Sometimes Deadly Sin.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
 
Episcopal priest Garret Keizer’s wise and beautiful confessions and ruminations on his own anger include an essay titled “Anger as Fear,” in which Keizer explores the notion that anger is nothing but fear. He is humbled to consider that his “robust capacities for anger” might be connected to anything as “paltry as fear.” Is it an indication of cowardice? He reviews situations in his life, and discovers that he was indeed angry because he was also afraid.   Anger may arise from fear; it may also arise from recognizing the fear, and loathing it. It’s futile to eliminate it; anger is a feeling like any other. Anger is constructive so long as the fear is reasonable. If anger is nothing but fear, what do we fear that has much power over out emotions? We are afraid of losing a battle. We are afraid of suffering, even though we worship a man nailed to a cross. “I am afraid because I do not wish to end up like the person I believe to be the end of all human love, hope and striving,” Keizer writes. He concludes, “Whom do I love, and what does that love require? Sometimes it requires me to wield my anger like a sharp sword. But more often it requires me to suffer, and to do so fearlessly and without complaint.”
 
 
Kierkegaard, Soren (1981). The Concept of Anxiety. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
 
The Concept of Anxiety(1844)is Kierkegaard’s fundamental discovery that anxiety is a primal element in man, the very sign of being human. Kierkegaard deals with the relationship between anxiety and existential guilt (traditionally called “original sin”) — a sense of ‘guilt’ that is not related to moral misbehavior. He describes anxiety as a stage that is necessary before one makes the leap of faith into Christianity, the stage where one shudders at one’s freedom. Anxiety can lead to sin, sin compounds the anxiety of freedom, and freedom is lost through sin. This cycle of sinfulness and anxiety can be broken only by faith.
 
 
Kierkegaard, Soren (1986). Fear and Trembling. New York: Penguin Classics.
 
Fear and Trembling, written in 1843, deals with the conflict between the ethical and the religious—namely, Abraham’s decision to sacrifice his son in obedience to God’s command.  According to Kierkegaard, Abraham believed in the absurd and got his son back after proving his faith, showing that with God anything is possible. Abraham demonstrates that one can be forced to disregard ethics if God commands it, which is the paradoxical nature of religion.  God can accomplish what to the human mind is absurd; and, by having faith in the absurd, one can recover what was lost.
 
 
May, Rollo (1977). The Meaning of Anxiety. New York: W. W. Norton.
 
Anxiety is a stimulus toward creativity, not a symptom to be removed, according to Rollo May. When you’re in a situation of anxiety, you can of course run away from it through pills, cocaine, meditation, etc –– but that’s not constructive.   None of those things lead you to creative activity.  When you’re anxious, it’s as though the world is knocking at your door, and you need to create, you need to make something, you need to do something.  Anxiety, for people who have found their own heart and their own souls, for them it is a stimulus toward creativity, toward courage. It’s what makes us human beings.  Our knowledge of our death is what gives us a normal anxiety that says to us, “Make the most of these years you are alive.” When May lets himself feel that anxiety, then he applies himself to new ideas, he writes books, he communicates with his fellows. We’re aware that what we do matters, and that we only have about seventy or eighty or ninety years in which to do it, so why not do it and get joy out of it, rather than running away from it?
 
 
May, William F. (2003).The shift in political anxieties in the West: from “the Russians are coming” to “the coming anarchy,” Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics, 23 no 2, pp. 1-17.
The West’s biggest political anxiety is shifting from injustice (tyranny) to anarchy, according to May. Both anxieties are found in scripture. 1 Samuel warns against the social evil of injustice (tyranny), kings that rule arbitrarily and oppressively. Tyranny dominated Western concerns during the Cold War. The book of Judges identifies the social evil of anarchy: “In these days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Worries about anarchy have come to the fore since the 1990s. Although 9/11 seized Americans with anxiety, most high civilizations die of suicide, not murder. The biggest internal threats of anarchy in the US are the permanent underclass, burgeoning jail populations, huge gap between wealthy and poor, decline of inner cities, and the “secession of the successful” – the withdrawal of American ruling classes into gated communities and private schools. May argues that order ultimately derives from justice. Jews and Christians express this priority when they proclaim that the God of order and peace is, first and foremost, righteous and just. The prophets saw God’s justice is a way of creating order, whereas rulers see justice as a threat. Likewise in the New Testament, ordering and doing justly are anchored in the final reign of charity. 
 
 
 
Christian spiritual authors flourished in England during a calamitous century (roughly 1350 and 1450). The dazzling spiritual insights of these medieval mystics (Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Richard Rolle) are unparalleled in their diversity of tradition, style and approach. Nuth describes the contribution of each author to the developing voice of the English mystical tradition. The first chapter raises some provocative questions about calamities of the fourteenth century and the developments in Christian spirituality. The last chapter relates the insights of the English mystics for our own calamitous age. 
 
 
Robinson, Anthony B (2004). “Vicious cycles: the anxious congregation.”  Christian Century, vol. 121, issue 22, pp. 8-9.
 
Many congregations and clergy are caught in vicious cycles, according to Robinson. They operate in a climate of anxiety, heightened by their awareness of decline and vulnerability, expressed in statements like “we must do better.” But this anxiety only leads to more activity without clear sense of purpose. When a congregation is not effective or successful, it gets more depressed, fatigued, and scattered – and people are even more vulnerable a downward spiral of anxiety, activity, fatigue and anxiety. Clergy and lay leaders throw up their hands: “Nothing I or we do makes any difference.”
            Psalm 127 speaks to a congregation experiencing sleepless nights and eating the “bread of anxious toil.” The letter to the Hebrews reflects on vicious and virtuous cycles. The old priesthood is characterized by relentless, repetitive and ultimately ineffective activity. “Every priest stands day after day at his service offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins” (10:11). The priests of the old cult are like rats on a wheel, constantly running faster and faster but getting nowhere. In contrast, “When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”   Robinson says that this confidence in powers that are not our own can help clergy and congregations to focus on “the one thing” or the few things needful and central. Our trust in God’s work and grace leads us to focus.
 
 
Tournier, Paul (1976). The Strong and the Weak. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
 
“Fear creates what it fears,” writes Paul Tournier, a Swiss physician and Christian counselor who probes Christian experience with the light of medicine, psychology and scripture. He dismisses the notion that there are two kinds of people –– the strong and the weak –– as illusion. Only the masks we wear are different. Some of us cope with life by strutting (strong) and others by cringing (weak), some by optimism (strong) and others by pessimism (weak). “These appearances . . . hide an identical personality . . . all men, in fact, are weak. All are weak because all are afraid . . . they are all afraid of other men, and of God, of themselves, of life and death.” The strong repress the conscience; the weak repress their aggressiveness. Neither is whole nor truly free. The freedom of the spirit (the freedom in which Christ makes one free) is the freedom of knowing God, being accepted by God's grace, and living intimately ad honestly with God through prayer. In the life of the spirit, the strong can stop pretending to be above pain and fear, and the weak can come out from behind the shield of past hurts and failures. The strong can relax and be cared for, while the weak can stretch and assert themselves. 
 
 
Von Balthasar, Hans Urs (1952). The Christian and Anxiety.  Ignatius Press.
 
Von Balthasar wrote during the anxiety crisis of the modern mind, and the many philosophical and psychological efforts to interpret and overcome it (Kierkegaard, Freud, Heidegger). He advances a theology of anxiety, arguing that the biblical approach gets more traction on anxiety than Kierkegaard’s psychological approach. He turns away from the “feverish questioning of the modern soul” –– its culture, its religious anxiety and religion of anxiety –– and turns toward the source of revelation. For Von Balthasar, the Word of God offers distance from Christian prophets of doom, who announce the demise of everything, and those who ignore anxiety and bewilderment and “blithely carry on a serene theology of irrelevance.”
            He begins with a scriptural review of anxiety and what it means in scripture, pulling together many threads from the wisdom literature (e.g. Proverbs, Wisdom, Sirach, etc).. He explores the diversity of scriptural references, their distinctions, interrelationships and dynamics. Out of this comes his Christian theology of anxiety. He also explores the essence of anxiety, where the philosophical-theological efforts at interpretation (Kierkegaard and his successors) take place. Von Balthasar says that the Christian faith does not offer a ready made response, but is simultaneously a journey through the torment of the cross and the liberation from fear by the gift of grace.  He emphasizes how much confidence in God leads to a hope which is inexhaustible.
 
 
Wright, H. Norman (1989). Uncovering Your Hidden Fears. Wheaton, IL: Tynedale House Publishers.
 
Norman Wright, a Christian counselor and author, wrote this book to help people conquer their fears. He focuses on the fear of life –– the fear of being hurt, being rejected, making a mistake, showing our imperfections, and failing as a person. This very accessible book includes practical steps on overcoming fears.