Social Anxiety and the Gospel

Any time I come across a moment that the reformed community, primarily because it is my community, attempts to honestly, even in passing, address issues of mental illness and health, my attention is grabbed. As someone who lives with bipolar disorder, PTSD, and panic issues, I am particularly attenuated to the mention of such things. And so, when I came across an article on Core Christianity I was intrigued.

The emphasis placed by Rev. Cruse on the Gospel as fundamental to a proper anthropology and that we are by virtue of our creator’s design communal creatures is excellent and necessary and something which, as someone in the trenches, I am going to address more thoroughly in subsequent posts. But for the purposes of my immediate concern, I will focus on one particular line of logic.

Christians are no more spared from the effects of social anxiety than the rest of the world, but Christians are particularly equipped to address and defeat it. That’s because the only real cure for social anxiety is in the Gospel.

The Lies That Are Feeding Your Social Anxiety and How the Gospel Confronts Them
By Jonathan Landry Cruse 

A primary cause of social anxiety, our perception of our place in the world and our contextual value to it, are themselves products of conditioning events and treatment in the world itself. For example, emotional and physical abuse are instances of external treatment that can have profound effects upon a person’s ability to perceive themselves in healthy, and with Christians, biblically sound ways. In other words, we are taught what our worth is to the world in which we dwell that subsequently sets the standard by which we build our personal worth. Society teaches us what we are worth and we act accordingly.

Undoubtedly our perception is infected with a cognitive distortion powered by the noetic influence of sin. What this also means though, is that social anxiety is not a condition which germinates and flowers in a vacuum, so declaring the gospel as the only true curative to a “social anxiety’ understood in a de-contextualized way seems a tad insensitive, seasoned with some prosperity gospel. Because the next step of a Christian afflicted with some form of social anxiety that seems resistant to the healing balm of the Gospel is to believe that they are afflicted because of a lack of faith, on account of personal sin, or the absence of true saving faith altogether. And as someone who spent a few years of my youth within the prosperity gospel movement, I can attest that those conclusions are common and can wreck the faith of weak brothers and sisters.

The Gospel is indeed a powerful salve and means of inoculation against the destructive consequences of unchecked social anxiety. I think though that it is dangerous to present it as the only real remedy to social anxiety; especially this side of glorification. But it is a conversation we must have because those afflicted with mental illness, not only social anxiety, all too often feel marginalized in an by the Church as those merely suffering from unrepentant sin or looking to escape culpability.