Heeding the Angels’ Command

Be Not Afraid:  Facing Fear with Faith by Samuel Wells

A Book Review

Most of the fears that plague us are, fortunately, more mundane than a celestial visitation.  Or is it fortunate, after all?  In taking our fears for granted, we may miss the message they carry to our hearts, for fear is revelatory, churning our soul and our stomach until we discover what we value.

[Fear] is an emotion that identifies what we love.  The quickest way to discover what or whom someone loves is to find out what they are afraid of.  We fear because we don’t want to lose what we love.  We fear intensely when we love intensely . . .

With this in mind, Samuel Wells takes aim for the places in us where fear abides.  Gut, head, heart, and hand — these are the targets for Samuel Wells’ reflections on overcoming fear.

Wells sets his sites on six huge nemeses that keep us awake at night  (death, weakness, power, difference, faith, and life itself), and then chisels away at them in essays that are both incisive and surprising.  His connections between the Bible and life inspire a simultaneous “Wow” and “Of course!” For instance,  having loved Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven since college days, and having taught Jesus’ parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep countless times, how have I missed putting them together?

God is the hound of heaven who searches us out and knows us; God in Christ is the good shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to come and find us; God in Christ is the women who cared so much that she set everything aside to find us . . . Faith is not a heroic journey:  faith is the acceptance of being found.

With an eye for detail balanced by an ability to see Scripture as a whole, Wells crisscrosses between the testaments ( Red Sea crossing to Jesus’ baptism); points out startling similarities between biblical narratives (“If you are the Son of God . . .” was hurled at Jesus in His temptation as well as on the cross); and skewers his reader with theological concepts that are practical and convicting (“The Trinity isn’t a support structure for the Father to be the star.”)

Samuel Wells develops his arguments with a writing style that is as methodical as an equation and as poetic as the gospel.  The progression of thought in his view of healing as the “sandwich filling” between salvation and eternal life occupied my mind for an afternoon on a riding lawn mower.

With humor that is really more a crooked smile than a chuckle, he quotes C.S. Lewis, referring to him simply as “one Irish writer,” and laments the lack of dentists and deodorant in first century Palestine.  Many evangelicals will find that when Wells uses the term “baptism,” we would use the term “salvation,” (and he makes the connection himself in his chapter called “Born Again”), but based on Chapter 21, Wells would say that we should not fear that difference.

Fearless, the author takes on the language of “Father,” challenges us to shed the “cloak” of status,  and invites the body of Christ to use the language of lament to look squarely into the sadness of AIDS.  Most practically, the three words, “Can We Talk,” will go with me as a bridge into my next confrontational conversation.  Most unforgettably, the author brings the journalist’s “Five W’s” into Isaiah 43 to address the “profound and justified fears that can bring us to our knees: death, pain, guilt and isolation.”

I recommend a slow and thoughtful reading of Be Not Afraid, although you will be tempted to take it on in great gulps.  Since Wells has presented it in thirty-one chapters, a chapter a day for a month would be delightful.  And life-changing.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers http://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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