A Feature Review of
Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times
Reviewed by Ryan Johnson
We live in a society where fear has become ubiquitous. It looms behind every corner, and for many it is impossible to go through a day without feeling its effects. Those of us tasked with the responsibility of leading others are left wondering how to guide people to hope and courage through a labyrinth of fears. Adam Hamilton, in his typical pastoral way, offers a resource for just such a purpose in his new book Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times.
In truth, fear is nothing new. It has been a constant theme in civilizations and the hearts of humankind throughout history. In fact, looking through scripture one sees the constant refrain, “Do not be afraid.” Fear is part of the human experience. Hamilton makes the point early on in his book that fear can be a useful thing and, in many cases, it keeps us alive. Having a healthy level of fear when getting near the edge of a cliff, for example, heightens our awareness and keeps us from danger. Yet, there are other types of fear that need to be grappled with because they have a way of inhibiting us from living life and reaching our potential.
Hamilton begins the book with a description of fear and briefly explains the underlying biology. The amygdala releases hormones which cause our body to prepare against a perceived threat. In other words, it is the body’s way of getting us ready for either fight or flight and it is such a powerful reaction that it doesn’t matter if the threat is real or not. Hamilton shares a number of stories that demonstrate how traumatic experiences, even ones where the person cannot recall them, can create this physical reaction when similar circumstances arise. Clarifying the problem and what is at stake, Hamilton moves on to introduce a concept that he applies throughout the book. He lays out his steps in dealing with fear through the acronym: “Face your fears with faith, Examine your assumptions in light of the facts, Attack your anxieties with action, Release your cares to God.” (27)
Once the concept of fear has been addressed and his way of dealing with fear has been introduced, Hamilton then describes how to address particular fears. He examines several different categories of fears by addressing some of the individual fears from each. The first of these deals with societal issues such as race, terrorism, and politics. In each of these chapters, he seeks to bring to light the facts of the situation that he is addressing rather than what is popularly believed. One can almost hear the preacher in Hamilton as he shares an analogy at the beginning of the chapter that ties into his overarching message accompanied by examples, stories, and scriptural application.
While not an academic treatise on fear and its effects, Unafraid is well-researched and Hamilton is quick to suggest additional resources for further study. The book serves as an introduction for understanding many different fears, examining some of the pertinent facts in a new light, and finding a helpful guide to move forward. He discusses things such as the societal issues that we hear on the media, the personal fears of not being good enough, the fear of the unknown or the future, and fears of aging and physical health. The sheer number of fears from diverse categories ensures that everyone reading will be able to find a place where they most readily connect.
Hamilton has a way of moving the reader from being a dispassionate observer to an active participant in wrestling with their own fears. As he began to discuss the fears of displeasing others and of failure, I found myself making this transition and becoming introspective. The way he described each fear made me respond with a nod of agreement and a “Yep, that’s how it is.” In his section on the fear of failure he examines one of the root causes. He says, “A culture that makes success or at least the appearance of it the only option for everyone … exacts a steep cost: if you don’t succeed, you’re often left feeling that you are a loser.” (86) Indeed, this mentality of success and what it looks like resonated with me and had me reexamining how my fear of failure can restrict me from reaching my potential. Through personal experiences and scripture, Hamilton goes on to share ways of overcoming this fear.
The book succeeds in its purpose of helping people address their fears and demonstrating the usefulness of the acronym mentioned above. Hamilton examines so many fears that one would expect it to feel redundant after a while, yet he manages, through unique stories and proper exegesis of scripture, to keep the reader engaged throughout the entirety of the book. The brevity of each chapter, however, hampers his ability to offer adequate solutions to each fear. At times his applications boil down to simple phrases which can come across as being overly simplistic or as obvious platitudes that sound good but are in practice far more difficult. This is, of course, the difficulty of finding practical applications that fit a wide variety of audiences in a short, pithy way.
We live in a world where fear is rampant even though we live at a time when we are safer than any time previous. The causes for this are numerous from fake news to the media to the way that social media is being used. All of this requires a response from leaders in our country to address fear and to speak life. Hamilton offers his response to fear in his book Unafraid and offers courage and hope. While the book is certainly not the definitive conversation on fear, it does serve as a great starting point for living with hope and courage. It invites readers to examine their fears, do the proper research, and come up with solid plans of action for the future. As a pastor, I find this as a helpful resource in addressing the fears of my congregation. It has created a deeper understanding of the fear of others whose experience differs from mine and that perhaps is reason enough to read it.
Ryan Johnson currently serves as a Campus Pastor at CrossPoint UMC in Harrisburg, PA. He enjoys reading, being outside, and traveling with his wonderful wife. He also keeps a blog at https://muddlingspirituality.wordpress.com/