Book Review: “Anxious For Nothing,” by John MacArthur

Anxiety is something we all struggle with, to one degree or another. For some, the battle is so fierce it can be debilitating. For others, it may not seem to bother them all that often or all that much, which then could tempt them to fail to take the spiritual problem it represents seriously. John MacArthur’s study of the subject, Anxious For Nothing: God’s Care for the Cares of Your Soul, may not seem short at first glance—it runs 224 pages in the print edition, although this includes a study guide and an appendix of redacted psalms. But it is worth the effort put in to read it.

The book is composed of nine chapters, plus the aforementioned psalms appendix and discussion guide. As in many of MacArthur’s books, the chapters are edited from sermons preached during MacArthur’s long pulpit ministry at Grace Community Church. The general method, then, is to unpack a passage dealing with the subject and lay out some practical implications.

MacArthur begins his study by framing the topic to include “anxiety, fear, worry, and stress,” and asserting that Christ has granted everything needed for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). He questions the psychological and therapeutic approach of contemporary Christian treatments of the subject. He then proceeds to treat a number of passages in turn. First up is Matthew 6:25-34, from which MacArthur points out that God is in control and the evidence of his care for creation abounds. Next, from Philippians 4:6-9, he points believers to prayer as the primary tool for avoiding anxiety. In chapter 3, the author points to the noted worrier Peter and his words in 1 Peter 5:5-7, stressing the need for humility to fight anxiety. He then proceeds to treat Hebrews 11 and 12 in a single chapter, laying out the role of faith as the end of anxiety and looking to Christ as the antidote to fear; his phrase “When you run in a race, you shouldn’t look at your feet” is memorable and helpful! After finishing that chapter with the Psalms and its praises as a practical way to fight sin, he turns to look at two kinds of ministers that help the anxious believer: angels, and fellow Christians in the church. He reviews how the various spiritual gifts given to the church and the fellowship of the saints helps fight anxiety. Chapter 6 continues looking at anxiety in the context of the church, pastorally examining five groups of “problem people” identified in 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15 and how fear feeds their challenges. Then, in the next chapter, MacArthur presents the doctrine of God’s peace from 2 Thessalonians 3:16 and 18, and explains how it answers and resists anxiety. In the eighth chapter he attacks the evils of discontentment and complaining from Philippians 2:14-16, and along the way, quotes a sociologist who posits that shrinking family sizes in American society have contributed to a rise in self-entitlement in the younger generation. Finally, in the next and last chapter, he finishes looking at Philippians 4:10-19 and lays out several secrets to contentment.

Every Christian would benefit from reading this book, probably more than once. The study and discussion guide at the end makes it particularly useful, as it can be used in a one-on-one or small-group study context (though every participant really should have a copy in that case). Pastors in particular will find,  in Chapter 6, MacArthur’s comments on and taxonomy of “difficult people” to be invaluable. I appreciated MacArthur’s unapologetic supernaturalism as he straightforwardly dealt with the subject of angels, though I wonder if, after pointing out the angel’s guidance of Philip to meet the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, his statement that “angels do the same for us today” runs the risk of making, without warrant, unique events in salvation history prescriptive for everyday Christian experience. And for those of different eschatological perspectives, his premillennial perspective comes out in chapter 5 as he treats angels, though nothing in his arguments depends on his eschatology. Those minor quibbles, however, don’t detract at all from the value of the book.

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