Brian Johnson is the founder of Bethel Music and WorshipU, and integral in the production of over fifteen albums that have influenced the culture of worship across the global church. Brian has written or co-wrote Christian songs to include Undone, No Longer Slaves, Love Came Down, Forever, and One Thing Remains. The book When God Becomes Real is a look at his life and how anxiety impacted his formulation of all of these things he accomplished.

Of course, I didn’t know who Brian Johnson was before I read this book, so I came into this book not knowing anything about him and completely different expectations.

Faith And Mental Health?

The hardest part about this book is that many who interview Brian report this book as talking about mental health. The copy for this book even talks about how this book addresses Brian’s panic attacks and anxiety from a very young age.

That is not this book. This is an autobiography of Brian’s life first and foremost.

I didn’t know who Brian was and while I love his music, it was not what drew me to read this. Further, the discussion of panic attacks as a mental health issue was not fully discussed until halfway through the book and even then were not fleshed out.

How the situation of anxiety was communicated to the reader actually feels more about how Brian saw panic and anxiety initially as being under attack by demonic forces and then in the second half seeing how he later feels he was having anxiety in his adult life. But its unclear if he actually sees a significant difference here because he talks about medication helping but nothing other than God could help. He wrestles with being away from God, but it gets muddy if he believes the disconnect is because of his own sin or mental health as a medical condition.

Is Mental Health Sin?

This response is not uncommon. Is the issue sin or mental health? I get a sense that Brian did not know. I am actually left feeling as if mental health, anxiety in this situation, is actually because of sin. And of course, it is not. Too many pastors may end up using this text as a source of shame for people to quit living in sin with their mental illness and repent.

For us to rely on only God to take something away is missing the point of community, healing, prayer, and support. He talks about someone saying he should go to therapy but never says if he does. He actually has the perfect platform to talk about how therapy, pastoral counseling, or any other version can be helpful…. and he doesn’t.

It feels as if his response is to do it yourself, wait for God, and keep praying. This feels very short-sighted and in fact very dangerous. We cannot discount the impact therapy has for so many people. Mental health is a medical disease that can have very serious medical treatments for it.

Don’t mishear me. God can and will do miraculous things. I think God putting the right person, medication, or information in a person’s life is in and of itself a miracle of God and more common than what Brian talks about in this text. I also know mental health is apart of the result of the Fall of man, but mental health is not sin.

I hope to find a book that is written by a prominent Christian that is able to make these connections. This book misses this expectation and really should be pushed only as an autobiography. I give this book a 3 out of 5.

Published by Jeremy Smith

Jeremy is the Co-Occurring Program Coordinator and a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor at a community mental health center. Jeremy has a history of working as a ministry director for Youth for Christ for 8 years and then working as a mental health and substance use adult counselor in Colorado and Ohio, specifically running an Opioid Residential Treatment Center.

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