“Finding Jesus in the Storm: The Spiritual Lives of Christians With Mental Health Challenges” by John Swinton. Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2020). 224 pp., $25.
By Jan Kilby
In John Swinton’s book “Finding Jesus in the Storm: The Spiritual Lives of Christians With Mental Health Challenges,” he examines the faith lives of Christians living with what he calls “unconventional” mental health experiences. He focuses especially on depression, schizophrenia and bipolar syndrome.
His goal is educating readers about such challenges. By doing so, he hopes that those in medicine, ministry and society will improve the way they relate to those experiencing them.
His book is not about the causes of mental disorders, though he cites several, but on how those of faith experience them. Swinton focuses not on curing but on healing. He reminds readers that “healing comes to us from God, but it also comes to us from other human beings.”
In relation to these ideas, Swinton cites writer Richard Arrandale’s suggestion of “reframing mental health in terms of a journey,” not a battle. Swinton says that those on a journey need many resources. These include “guides, friends … and, for Christians, ultimately the guidance of God’s Spirit.” He also says these help them “survive even the most powerful and disturbing storms.”
Swinton assures readers there is “nothing in the realm of mental health and ill health or anywhere else that can separate us from God’s love.” This idea is expressed in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans chapter 8, verse 39.
Swinton is a professor of practical theology and pastoral care at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He also is an ordained minister in the Church of Scotland.
This scholar is known for his interest in the theology of disability. He has written 16 books and many articles. He speaks internationally, and some of his talks are on YouTube.com. He previously worked as a nurse for 16 years in the fields of mental health and learning disabilities. He later served as a community mental health chaplain.
In this book, Swinton shares the results of a two-year qualitative research study he did that involved interviewing Christians living with mental health challenges.
He cites cross-cultural research from medicine, psychology and theology about such challenges. Just as important is his inclusion of testimony from the people he interviewed in his study.
He begins his book by discussing the art of description as it relates to mental illness. He relays the negative ways that people with mental health difficulties have been described by many in the medical community. He also explains reasons for this. He then redescribes such difficulties to provide a more complete understanding of them.
He devotes most of his book to redescribing diagnosis, depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder for the same purpose.
Finally, he suggests how those in ministry and in society can heal the harm done to those with mental health challenges. He gives examples of healing practices in culture, liturgy and biblical interpretation. He also offers those related to theology, epistemology, testimonies and relationships.
His book includes an appendix of mental health resources and an extensive bibliography.
Swinton’s insight, faith, compassion, idealism, optimism and excellent writing are what make “Finding Jesus in the Storm” outstanding. He inspires readers to live Jesus’ call to love one another and offers practical ways to do so.
This book should especially appeal to those in pastoral ministry, church leadership and religious and secular mental health services. Swinton’s message is a timely contribution that promotes greater inclusiveness in churches and society.
Jan Kilby is a writer in San Antonio, Texas.