Evangelical Anxiety: A Memoir

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


Evangelical Anxiety: A Memoir


Charles Marsh



Publication Date:

June 14, 2022




256 pages


Religious historian Charles Marsh is known for many things. He’s written an acclaimed Bonhoeffer biography, Strange Glory. He’s written about the Civil Rights Movement in The Beloved Community and God’s Long Summer. More recently, he’s contributed to Can I Get A Witness? and People Great Ready, anthologies looking at countercultural dissidents who fought for change. In The Last Days, he’s written about his upbringing—growing up Baptist during the 1960s in a Mississippi town that was also a KKK hotspot. Here, he takes a longer view of his life, exposing a darker side of it: his struggles with anxiety. Marsch hides little—from a mental breakdown his first year at Harvard Divinity School to his therapy years to his mental health today. As he describes his inner journey, he considers what experiences—his family’s dismissal of therapy, a shamed-based approach to teaching about sex, a Christianity that demanded spiritual perfection—set the stage for his anxiety.

Marsh’s book is definitely a memoir—not a guidebook interspersed with anecdotes about his life, but a story where he takes readers deep into his experience. There are insights along the way, but nothing is phrased in sentences that provide an easy takeaway. For example, he talks about his one extramarital sexual experience, focusing on how he slowly had to work with his therapist through the idea that life would go one. He doesn’t deny it was the wrong thing to do; he treats that as a given. For an anxious person, the larger problem is recognizing that one mistake doesn’t mean reality will implode in on them. Healing meant realizing that infidelity was wrong, and he would need to face any resulting damage, but his life would continue. The storytelling approach may frustrate readers used to Christian living books but is perfect for people like him—those tired of churches where any problem got reduced to an easy three-point solution, no empathy or room for admitting the answers may be complicated.

Even though Marsh writes as a baby boomer and his story is wrapped up in the story of the particular Christianity that baby boomer Baptists received in the Deep South, he describes many struggles that matter right now. His discussion about being taught to fear anything sexual until he got married feels especially important now—in the aftermath of the Joshua Harris courtship model crumbling. Christian counseling has advanced considerably since the days when Marsh had to get secular psychoanalysis to find a graceful counselor who could handle his issues—but the pandemic has gotten more people thinking about therapy than ever before, forcing many Christians to consider why they believe “real Christians don’t need therapy.”

A raw, beautifully written look at holding onto faith when the mind runs wild, and finding healing where one least expects it.


Rating (1 to 5 stars)

5 stars

Suggested Audience:

Christians who struggle with anxiety and depression, seeking a no-holds-barred depiction of the chaos it features and the peace that comes with genuine healing.

Christian Impact:

Marsh details his journey to overcome inherited misconceptions about Christianity, and live a life defined by grace instead of fear.

Evangelical Anxiety: A Memoir



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