Binding the Strong Man and the Outpost of Grace: A theological investigation of fear in young adults

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This work unfolds in three moves to explore the rise in fear and anxiety in young adults and to provide a theological response from a chapel office on a college campus. The first move involves an exegetical reading of the Markan parable (adapted in Matthew) of “Binding the Strong Man”. This parable serves as an overarching metaphor for the nature of both the fearful realities many young adults find themselves in and the nature of the God who seeks to break into that reality and remind us of our innate value and worth in God. The parable asks us to think about whom we follow and call our leader, for whom we follow will form us at the deepest levels individually and collectively.

The second move of this thesis examines frameworks for understanding the anxious lives of young adults today: neurological, psychological, philosophical, and finally theological through an Augustinian lens. Through these frameworks we learn we need a renewed appreciation for the emotional life as the primary place of meaning making. Emotions are intelligent, that is, they have something to tell us about our deepest loves and desires. In particular, it investigates Augustine’s exploration of sophistry and philosophy as guides for constraining fear. Ironically, the deeper he found himself in those fields and frameworks the more disordered his inner life became. His personal experience and the values of ancient Rome serve as a warning for what happens when fear is allowed to run the lives of the ambitious individually and collectively.

The final move of the thesis is to take us into the outpost of grace, a location and people retraining their desires in the direction of Christ. This section highlights one prescriptive piece–that of retraining in belonging—to address the rise of loneliness and its interrelationship with anxiety. The outpost of grace provides new liturgies and habits to replace the cultural norms that disorder our inner lives.




Duke Divinity School





Davis, Preston Andrews (2021). Binding the Strong Man and the Outpost of Grace: A theological investigation of fear in young adults. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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