cover image Evangelical Anxiety

Evangelical Anxiety

Charles Marsh. HarperOne, $27.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-286273-0

In this spirited memoir, Marsh (God’s Long Summer), a religious studies professor at the University of Virginia, shares his lifelong struggle to reconcile his mental illness with his evangelical faith. He shares how he developed “trust in God and terror of myself” starting with puberty, when the conflict between his carnal urges and evangelicalism’s strict ban on premarital sex racked him with guilt. During Marsh’s first semester at Harvard Divinity School, he suffered a nervous breakdown that marked the beginning of years of acute panic. As a young professor, he began seeing a psychotherapist, though “an evangelical in psychoanalysis seemed a contradiction in terms” because the prevailing evangelical position was that mental illness arose from sin and should be treated with prayer and Bible study. Years later, anti-depressants transformed Marsh’s condition and he realized that “trusting in the Lord” meant accepting the advice of medical professionals even if it clashed with the church’s teachings: “There’s no reason to think God wants you wasted and bare [from mental illness].” Dark and sometimes bawdy humor enlivens the proceedings (“The Word made flesh is messy business,” he quips after wondering if Jesus ever masturbated), making for an endearing and rewardingly unusual account of mental illness and faith. This candid and funny volume hits the mark. (June)