Have you ever clicked on a book online and once you got it, discovered it wasn’t at all what you thought you were getting?
Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life, Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter is one of those reads that turned out to be something I didn’t expect. This was both good and challenging at the same time.
I chose to read it specifically to review it, these are topics that are always in the forefront for Christ followers whether new to the faith or mature. Different seasons of life, circumstances and life in a fallen world all bring most of us to a point where we experience bouts of depression or anxiety beyond what is normal for our lives. There have been many new developments, therapies and treatments for these oftentimes debilitating ailments.
So what does a 17th century pastor have to teach Christians about depression and anxiety? Quite a bit, it turns out.
Richard Baxter was a Puritan pastor and writer who lived in England, and was particularly concerned about depression in the lives of believers. I was familiar with some of his writing that was more devotional in genre, so I expected this book to be primarily one of encouragement. While it is, it is also a deeper look into Baxter’s theology, understanding of both physiology (such as it was in his time) and psychology. Baxter, much like a growing segment of the medical community today, believed the physical, emotional and spiritual components of people were so linked, all three must be tended to for overall well-being of a patient. In this book, theologian J.I Packer partners with physician/psychiatrist Michael S. Lundy to look at some of Baxter’s classic work on the topic.
The first section of the book is by J.I. Packer, who introduces us to Baxter the pastor, and gives a brief biography of his life and theology. The second section is by Dr. Lundy, who looks at Baxter’s work through the lens of a physician. This second section had me looking up medical terms and re-reading sections, this is where the book fell into the not-what-I-expected category. It was helpful to read some of the medical practices and principles from Baxter’s day before reading the section by Baxter, as were the insights by both Packer and Lundy into what they described as Baxter being “a man of his time”. Obviously, medical knowledge in Baxter’s day was limited in comparison to the knowledge we have today, but there were some surprisingly accurate insights as well.
The remainder of the book is from Baxter’s writing. He writes to the patient, to the friends/loved ones of the patient, and in the books appendix, to physicians of his day as to their approach to their patients. As a pastor, the spiritual state of the person is paramount, but his compassion for the limitations emotionally and perhaps mentally of someone suffering is really touching, and practical.
This isn’t devotional reading, and Baxter was fond of lists-of symptoms to identify, of causes of infirmity, and of advice for the afflicted and those who care for them. Like a lot of lists. Helpful here is the many annotations by Dr. Lundy, worth reading for context and application.
I most loved the pastor’s heart, who cares more for the healing of the person than the practices of the faith. He assumes, of course that a person is continuing (or encouraged to be) in fellowship, prayer, and worship services. But he doesn’t see these as the cure-all for the person. Usually, with the depressed and anxious we counsel to press in, immerse yourself in spiritual disciplines, to memorize scripture like Isaiah 26:3. Baxter counsels a rest of deep and challenging thought and solitary prayer. Instead he counsel short confessional and praise prayers, and time in prayer out loud with others. Instead of wrestling with difficult thoughts he suggests light exercise and the reading of light historical fiction. Right away I wanted to know what light historical fiction they were reading in 1650!
This book would be especially helpful for anyone who counsels, or in pastoral ministry. Baxter’s positions on the overall well-being of a person, not just the spiritual is often what is lacking in the church. To have Baxter’s broad view would help many, especially those who think their depression or anxiety is sin related or a lack of faith.
While not what I expected, this is a book I will return to again, there were many practical directives as well as many consoling truths.
Read well, friends.
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Revised, Updated, and Annotated by Michael S. Lundy, MD, Introduction by J.I. Packer
***Thank you to Crossway Books for providing threeladiesoflit.com with a complimentary copy for review. ***This post contains affiliate links, which means purchase made from said links provides a tiny remuneration to the ladies.***