New Review of BE NOT ANXIOUS

Monday, August 10, 2009

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are very anxious, and those who are a little anxious. To put it another way: those who are talented at anxiety; and those who aren’t. I’m in the first group. I’m an anxious person.

I’ve just read a book entitled, Be Not Anxious: Pastoral Care of Disquieted Souls by Allan Hugh Cole Jr. (Eerdmans 2008)

Unlike many books about worry that end up being over-simplifications, spouting platitudes and ending up saying, “Stop worrying–just trust God,” this one is well-rounded and wholistic.

Cole gives actual testimonies from anxious people, describing how they feel and what they are up against. He then surveys some Scripture passages about the subject. He follows this with ten (count ’em–ten) theological viewpoints on anxiety–from thinkers such as Martin Luther, Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, etc.

The next chapter presents three psychological views of anxiety: those of Freud, Harry Stack Sullivan, and Aaron Beck/Gary Emery. The third view is that of ‘cognitive restructuring.’ It is this theory and practice that the author comes back to as a major way of dealing with anxiety. I first encountered this approach through Albert Ellis who called it Rational Emotive Therapy. I spent a considerable amount of time reading and learning from this method of transforming negative emotions into positive ones. It has helped me through the years.

Cole goes on to talk about how our perceived relationship to God weighs in on how we experience anxiety. He uses Paul Pruyser’s seven diagnostic concepts to show how to listen to a person’s story and how they deal with anxiety.

He finally comes around to discussing “cognitive restructuring and learning to think differently about God.” Showing the connection between psychology and theology, Cole gives a helpful framework for changing one’s anxious behavior.

The final section is on using ‘faith practices’ to strengthen one’s emotional life.


This is a good and thorough look at anxiety as it relates to faith. I am both an anxious person and a person of faith. I used to think that my anxiety was a sign that I didn’t have enough faith. But as I have learned about the naturalness of anxiety for us all, and specifically about those of us who are ‘talented’ at being anxious, I have come to realize that anxiety is no big deal. It’s part of my temperament; it’s how I’m wired. I have simply learned to manage anxious feelings–and to somewhat lower their intensity.

Cole writes: “Giving up the notion of control over anxiety, paradoxically, sets the stage for learning how better to control anxiety by living with it in a different way. In a sense, this approach resembles ‘turning the other cheek’ to anxiety and thereby diminishing its coercive power.” (p. 116)

After so many years of worrying about my anxiety, I got tired of worrying about it. So, I have given up (for the most part) being anxious about being anxious.

Anxiety can actually be seen as a gift from God to call us to keep seeking alert to our needs and God’s mercy. Kierkegaard said that anxiety quickens us to faith and is useful for the Christian life. He calls anxiety ‘an adventure.’

One of my spiritual directors once told me that my anxiety was my friend–a friend who kept reminding me that I am not in control of life.


All materials © 2018 Allan Hugh Cole, Jr. Web site by Websy Daisy.