Thursday, March 08, 2018

Book Review: Unafraid by Adam Hamilton

I received an advance copy of Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in the Wilderness in Uncertain Times to review, the latest book by Adam Hamilton, which comes out later this week. Hamilton is pastor of the Church of the Resurrection, the largest United Methodist Church in the United States. This book is published by Penguin Random House. Not positive this is a first, but I think it is, and probably marks an effort to draw a wider audience for his work. 

If you are familiar with Hamilton's other books, you will find Unafraid to have a similar accessible feel. Chapters are short, they contain many personal stories and illustrations, and the book emerges from a sermon series Hamilton preached at his church. It is longer and more in depth than many of his other works, and in terms of style and depth of research, I'd compare it with his earlier Making Sense of the Bible. Paired with his new publisher, Hamilton also makes a clear attempt to reach a wider audience with this work. The book is clearly grounded in his Christian identity, but comments throughout the book are addressed to those who might not start from the same perspective. 

Fear is "False Events Appearing Real," Hamilton quotes from a familiar proverb. (26) Hamilton proposes we respond to fear when we "Face [our] fears with faith, Examine [our] assumptions in light of the facts, Attack [our] anxieties with action, [and] Release [our] care to God." (27) He returns to this acronym throughout the book, sometimes highlighting one particular part of the saying depending on the kind of fear he's addressing. 

Chapters cover subjects like why we fear and why fear is useful, looking at real statistics about crime, terrorism, and illness to help relieve our fears, and how sometimes fear is cultivated in order to hurt and divide. He addresses, chapter by chapter, some of the most common fears. Chapters are devoted to fear of of the other, fear of terrorism, fear of failure, fear of being alone, fear of missing out, fear of a meaningless life, fears related to the future, financial fear, fear of aging, fear of illness, and fear of death. 

Any one of these chapters could be expanded. The book covers a little of everything, which is also one of its challenges. We get as in depth (or not in depth) with fear of the other as we do with fear of missing out, and although the length worked for me on most chapters, I found myself wishing Hamilton dug deeper on what I think are some of the more critical challenges we face as a whole community. Our fear of others can be dangerous, and the ways our fears and privilege intersect needs addressing. What does it mean when people who are in power are also full of fear, and have the power to act on those fears? With mostly equal weight given to all these different themes, it's hard to get into those deep conversations. 

Still, this is easily a resource I could use in my congregation, because I know people are feeling very afraid of so many things they're encountering in our ever-changing world. Hamilton's work is engaging and strikes me as a great conversation starter for communities and groups who want to find a way to talk about something as uncomfortable as what we're afraid of. 

I'll leave you with my favorite sentence: "So many of us live our entire lives paralyzed by fear, just a mile from the Promised Land." (21) Yes. How can you move beyond fear to the places where God is leading? This book provides a solid starting point. 

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