Answering Criticisms of my Review of Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts"

In December 2016, I received a lengthy comment on my review of “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. I chose not to publish the comment at that time because to do so would have required a response. I was not sure how to approach the commenter and therefore put it aside. But I never forgot the comment's opening words:

Firstly, it's not a book of theology. 

My original review was written nearly 4 years ago and in that time I have given little thought to Ann Voskamp and her large number of followers. This week I revisited her website to see how things had changed. Less than one week ago and to coincide with Easter, she had published an excerpt from her new book. It started thus:



The blog post ends in the same words:

Voskamp 3.jpg

This is theology. Even the author of the comment would find it difficult to deny. And so, I returned to Voskamp and finally answered the comment.

Why Jesus did not die of a broken heart

In her 30th March 2018 blog post, Ann Voskamp writes:




Wrong. One thousand times wrong.

The Son of God became man in order to die for us. His death had to be public so that there would be witnesses. He endured torture and agony for our sakes. He even suffered the loss of God’s presence for a short time, as expounded in the first half of Psalm 22. But the Lord Jesus Christ was a willing sacrifice for us. Long before the Romans expected him to be dead, he had voluntarily separated his soul from his body. The Lord Jesus Christ did not die a passive victim. He actively gave his life for us. He was not broken. He was valiant. 

And there is more. For the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Not passively. He was not risen like a puppet from a box. He arose. He was and he is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He vanquished death, conquered sin and is now exalted. He is not impotent in the affairs of this world. His will is being done. And he is a terror to his enemies, even if they do not know it yet, as we read in Psalm 2:

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. (verse 12)

This, the Almighty Son of God, commands and demands our praise. By contrast, Voskamp promotes a wilting Jesus onto whom we can project our sorrows and shower our pity. 

If Voskamp had wanted to show the lovingkindness of God towards those in the midst of life's problems, she could have done so by continuing through Psalm 22. Everything changes in verse 21 (“Thou hast heard me”). Then we read:

Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. (v.23-24)

Here is encouragement for the broken and grieving! Here is promise for those who are afflicted. And what is the reason for our comfort? On what grounds can we believe the promise? Read on in Psalm 22:

The kingdom is the LORD’s: and he is the governor among the nations.

All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.

A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.

They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

The Psalmist says that the Lord is King. He is Governor among nations. He is to be worshipped. We are to bow before him knowing that we cannot keep our lives without him. We are to serve him and be his. It is because he is so far above us, transcendent in his majesty and authority, that we can trust in him no matter what the world says. The comfort we have in our sorrows and suffering lies in his omnipotence, omniscience and breath-taking condescension in hearing our prayers. We fear, praise and glorify him. 

Why I do not worship Ann Voskamp

Now for belated replies to the comment left on my original review. For ease of answering I have separated it into portions. (Quotes from the comment have a white background.)

 comment by reader, H.D.T.

comment by reader, H.D.T.


The Lord Jesus died so that we might be justified.  Those who have been justified are adopted into God’s house and are to be sanctified in this life. Sanctification is not completed in this world. It is a growing up to perfection so that we can keep the commandments and walk undefiled in the law of the Lord.

You expect tranquility on this side of Heaven and make the term inclusive of healing, restoration and wholeness. I do not recognise these terms in the Christian sphere; they seem to belong more to the language of mental health. Our peace with God, our joy in his service, is not defined by how we feel or what happens to us in this world. We are not told to seek tranquility or our own well-being. The longer we live for God, the less we should be looking at ourselves. 

 comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.


Her relationship? I do not have a relationship with God. I might be in a relationship with a man. I might have a good relationship with my Mum and Dad. I do not have a relationship with God. It implies a familiarity that must be reversible: that God has a relationship with me.

Job was a righteous man. There was none like him in all the earth. He had endured an extended trial. He was soon to be blessed abundantly. After God had spoken directly to him (towards the end of the book), Job said: “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee?” (Job 40.4). Job did not "have a relationship" with God. He humbled himself as a creature before the Creator, as a sinner before his Judge, as a servant before his Lord. 

You say that One Thousand Gifts "was never written to teach Biblical doctrine on ways we can give thanks". The problem is, that Voskamp presents us with a doctrine. And if it is not Biblical, then what is it?

According to you I am not allowed to “assume” that Voskamp has made up her own doctrine and does not follow the Bible. But you know “undoubtedly” that what she says comes from a “life lived from Biblical principles”. That is double standards.  

I know that she has gained cult status for some Christians but that does not mean that we must all adore her. Which begs the question: Why does it matter to you that I have written a negative review when thousands of people have written positively about Voskamp's writings? Why do you feel the need to defend a woman who is more than capable of speaking for herself and does so often? 

 comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.


I am not denying that we should live prayerful lives and express our total gratitude to the Lord for all his daily mercies to us. But I object to the commercialised rosary that Voskamp has invented. It is a gimmick whereby people are encouraged to look for the good when we might be better to see things as they really are. 

The Book of Psalms is God’s appointed means of us offering praise to him. The Psalms teach us to avoid being overly familiar, as though God is our “mate”. They turn our eyes towards him so that we will then see the world more by his light. We are not connected to God’s heart (a strange idea, to say the least). His Holy Spirit communicates to us through the Word of God. We may see blessings in the ordinary things of life - of course we must. But we must not attribute to those ordinary things direct communication from God, as though the Lord speaks to us and gives us a new word through a sunrise or a toaster. 

The poetical style of writing is not incidental and certainly not irrelevant. Since the dawn of romanticism, Christians have been led astray by the allure of finding spiritual good and spiritual truth in material things. Flowery writing has been one of the standard traps so that people like the sounds of the words and the air of authority in them, and overlook the heresy that is sitting on the page. 

 comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.


I will tell you precisely what is wrong with having a unique way to love God. 

Joseph Smith.

Brigham Young.

Charles Finney.

Henry Ward Beecher.

Charles Taze Russell.

Shall I go on? Everyone who ever started a heretical cult began with a “unique way to love God”. Once people become separated from what Scripture says, they are on a slippery slope to believing anything. If you truly believe that we can express our love to God in any way we choose “as long as our heart is towards Him” then I fear for you. It is the Devil’s own argument right from the Garden of Eden, “Has God said?”

 comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.


I’m sorry, but I’ve seen too many crocodile tears. Do you not know that the easiest way to make people trust you, is to show them a scar. Engage their sympathy. Capture their pity. She’s just like us, you say. She may have a publishing empire and a fortune, but she’s down to earth and just like me. She understands. 

Watch "Elmer Gantry". 

 comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.


My problem is not with the idea of turning our thoughts more towards God. My problem is that Voskamp’s idea of God is twisted and that a religion that leads to "personal healing" is not Christianity. We are supposed to meditate on his Word, not invent our own Bible on a daily basis. God's will has been revealed to us already. 

 comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.


Joining in the "pity party"? Are you serious? The Lord Jesus Christ knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead and yet he wept at his grave. Was he joining in the "pity party"? What did his tears "achieve"? Did it actually overcome anything? Voskamp (according to your reading) would have encouraged him to find the beauty instead - correct? Such flippancy and irreverence.

We do not react to real life in a particular way in order to produce a “desired outcome”. I actually find that deeply offensive and inhuman.

God speaks to us in his Word. The heavens do declare the glory of God, as the Psalmist said. But that does not mean that we identify God with his creation. You try to prove that God "does speak through nature" by appealing to the assumption that God speaks "through humans". I think here we finally see the difference between our religious beliefs. You defend Ann Voskamp because you believe that she has spoken God's words to you. I do not. The godly minister is commissioned to preach God's Word and in that high role he may be blessed very much in his labours, by the Holy Spirit. But that you, or I or Voskamp should be the mouthpiece of God is heresy. And that is why we will never agree: you feel honour bound to defend your idol and hope that she will impart grace to you in every word; I will hold tight to the Scriptures and pray for the end of such heresies.

Propaganda and the BBC's war against Christianity

If a nation is founded on Christian principles and consists of individuals bound by a confession and taught a creed, they are unlikely to be swayed by a story, a film or a piece of music that contravenes those standards. The English surrender to the Arts appeared as Christian belief declined. It has produced a society that is susceptible to be influenced through artistic channels, as expounded in Music Mania.

In Germany, society was controlled by music. In France, by paintings. The English have a most particular weakness for stories. And this weakness was deliberately exploited through Dr. Finlay's Casebook (1962-1971). The programme was well-developed before the propaganda started. The characters were well-known and eminently likeable. Dr. Finlay, hot-headed, impetuous, always learning something. Dr. Cameron, wise, loveable, trustworthy, always inclined to drink something. And Janet, so faithful, so safe and pure, as the housekeeper.

 Dr. Finlay, Dr. Cameron, Janet the housekeeper

Dr. Finlay, Dr. Cameron, Janet the housekeeper

Belle: A Call for Legalised Abortion

Things changed in 1965 with an episode called Belle by Rosemary HillIt was a deliberate attempt by the BBC to promote the need for legalised abortion, 2 years before the law in England was changed. Belle is a back street abortionist, who lures desperate women to her rooms and treats them abominably in return for money (not that doctors work for free!). Some of the women are badly injured in her hands, some die. The doctors are left shaking their heads and given the words (in paraphrase):

What are we supposed to do? The women come to us and we can do nothing to help them? Our hands are tied. So they seek help from someone who can do something. But what a mess. If only the law could be changed!

The young women are treated as victims of circumstance. Their condition is nothing to do with them. They are as innocent as if they had all been raped.

Happy Release: A Call for Legalised Euthanasia

In 1967 there is Happy Release by N. J. Crisp. This time we are treated to euthanasia. A man, who once was a chemist, is looking after a wife with terminal cancer. She is in such pain. She wants to die. Can he not help her? Is there no way? The lady dies far quicker than expected and the doctors are thrust into a moral dilemma:

She is dead. Her suffering is over. If her husband had helped her die, then it was only a mercy. Poor woman. She was so brave. It would not have been anything other than an act of love if her husband had killed her. Who could blame him? Who cares? Perhaps if a doctor could help. Who knows? 

Suicide or murder. Neither would have a stigma. The only possible judgment would be on someone who did nothing and thereby was complicit in causing her agony.

The Conscience Clause: A Call for Compulsory Vaccination

The intention to propagandise was confirmed by the third episode in this style: the 1968 episode The Conscience Clause by Elaine Morgan. Dr. Finlay vaccinates a child against smallpox. She did not want her child vaccinated as she had listened to a local lawyer who is not pro-vaccination (he had been vaccinated as a child and then caught the disease badly). Dr. Finlay persuades her to have the injection. The little baby girl is the beloved first child for the couple. Her father is away at sea and looking forward to meeting her. But before he returns, the child has died in a gruesome, gangrenous way - not fit to be seen - only a few days after the vaccination was administered. Dr. Finlay reproaches himself throughout the episode. Dr. Cameron's character is vehemently pro-vaccination. He expresses little concern for the bereaved parents or for the suffering of the baby. He wants to vindicate the necessity of vaccination through a post-mortem. So, the writer pulls a rabbit out of the hat. It was congenital syphillis. What do you know? The vaccination was just a coincidence. It was all the parent's fault, anyway:

Bernard Shaw says that vaccinations are dangerous.

What medical qualifications does he have, Doctor?

None at all, man.

Then how can he know more than you, Doctor?

How indeed, man!

In Conclusion

It is not that other episodes of Dr. Finlay's casebook are without problems. The premise of Dr. Finlay's world is insidiously subversive because we have all the trappings of a sweet old Scottish town without the Church. Oh, there is from time to time a minister. He is sometimes a cross man who beats his daughter, other times he's an idiot. He is never a respectable, admirable man. And that leaves a void for the doctors to fill. Time and time again, the doctors face a moral dilemma in the lives of their patients. In reality - in the 1920s - the Church was central and the ministers would have known everyone in their parish. They would have been involved in the lives of the people and available to support, advise and counsel. In their absence, the doctors offer a ministry of medicine. They do not always know the answers, but what would we do without them? The legacy of such shows is a nation that adores the NHS to the point of aggressive idolatry today.

As for the propaganda to promote abortion, euthanasia and vaccination, that was a deliberate subversion. A story may be set up in such a way that the characters can only reach the conclusion designed by the writer: that is the point. Back people into a corner so that they will conform to a new standard, as influenced by the television, until they enforce one another into believing righteousness is error and principle is cruelty. Cut off from a Biblical worldview, separated from the Church, and divorced from the law of God. Damned. 

Songs for suffering hearts

As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart. ~ Proverbs 25.20

When Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America, many of the artistic types in my social media feed merged into a single repetitive voice: On the one hand, they thought the world had come to an abrupt end; on the other hand, they believed that the inevitable misery would be good for Art.

You see, they believe that Art comes from suffering. (By having their will crossed in a political verdict, they think they are suffering.) They also believe that, if they make music, recite poetry and tell stories in the face of evil, then their Art will atone for the sins of the world. 

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The Search for Happy Music

Some years ago I signed a contract to become a library track composer for a company in New York. They wanted one thing: happy music.

The task did not seem too difficult. I had written happy music before. Unfortunately, such works had always been in conjunction with visuals or words, which tended to inform the listener that the music was happy. So, while I attempted to produce such stimuli for myself, the resulting compositions were not really "happy". There was melody, sweetness, sincerity, harmony, beauty, but happiness proved elusive.

Since then, I have scored many promotional films. The nature of film production inevitably includes some stages of revision, but the only suggestion ever made for my music is that it should be more upbeat / happy. These two experiences - in promos and library composition - have aroused my curiosity about what precisely makes music “happy”.

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The Lost English Accent and Style in Singing and Composition

No one asks why Adele speaks like a Londoner and sings like an American.

I once put this down to the obvious commercial reason that to sing in a manner that pleases American audiences is to make your music potentially more successful on the worldwide stage.

But that is too simplistic a solution. Writing Music Mania: How the Victorians joined the cult of Classical Music and why England has never been the same since, made me think about about the effect of accent on musical style. For instance, listen to this:

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Christopher Robin and the Canon of Composers

The Canon of music is not an organic process by which talent is filtered. In Music Mania I show how the Canon is deliberately controlled to produce and promote a particular type of "new music". The musician may be:

  • a) Remembered with reverence and cherished in memory
  • b) Forgotten completely, buried while still alive under change of style
  • c) Remembered with derision as an example to others

Group (a) are the Canonical composers (from J. S. Bach to David Bowie). Group (c) are mocked as composers of Light Music - no matter how well they wrote (from Johann Strauss Jnr. to Ron Goodwin). Group (b) is less easy to characterise by dint of their obscurity. We might say that Vera Lynn is unfairly idolised compared to Gracie Fields, who had a much longer career and did a lot to support the troops. (Ask the generation who are now in their 80s and they smile at Gracie's name.) But there are people even more forgotten. I have given them a voice in Music Mania. We meet G. H. Clutsam, Stiles Allen, Frieda Hempel, Reginald Somerville, Hubert Bath, Ivy St. Helier, Thorpe Bates and Harold Fraser-Simson.

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How the Death of Charles the First changed the Victorian Church

Before the Victorian rediscovery of Christmas, there were two special non-Sabbath days in the English calendar: Easter and January 30th. If the former is obvious, the latter is more obscure. It was set aside in memoriam of Charles the First, 30th January being the date of his execution. (Historians tell us that this was for the rarity of "regicide", although Kings like Richard III were killed in battle. In terms of the execution of a monarch, we need only look to Queen Anne, second wife of Henry VIII. She was given a coronation in her own name and would have been Queen in the event of Henry VIII's death. If Charles I was the victim of regicide, then Queen Anne was even more the victim of regina-cide.)

But what does this have to do with music?

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Review of “Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson” by Daniel Mark Epstein

A biography of such an unusual person was never going to be a straightforward task and Daniel Mark Epstein successfully portrays her life.

We begin with Aimee Kennedy and rehearse the stories that she herself told about her childhood. We observe the transformation first to Aimee Semple, the wife of a Pentecostal missionary; then to Aimee Semple McPherson, the housewife who will not be tied down and leaves her husband to embark on her own evangelistic tours. Between the large-scale events at Angelus Temple, we examine her mysterious disappearance, the breakdown of the relationship with her mother, her daughter’s divorce, Aimee’s short-lived third marriage, the law suit with her daughter until the rather sudden ending - she took too many sleeping pills and never woke up.

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The Triumph of the Musicians (over Donald Trump)?

The scope of Tim Blanning’s The Triumph of Music is to show the musician at one time a patronised servant of his rich masters becoming (in the 20th century) lord of all. Blanning illustrates that the musician's shackles were cast off by people like Bono, who have the ear of politicians and Elton John, whose homosexuality was once counter-cultural and now is not. It is a book that thinks itself far cleverer than it really is, for Blanning is merely repeating the accepted narrative that has been imposed on the history of music. He disregards any history that has not already been told ad nauseam. We might be lulled into believing the model by the simple fact that we have heard the tune so many times before. But it creaks under the scrutiny of a few counter-examples:

  1. Is the signed artist today really so free from the shackles of patronage that he can say what he wants? No. If he oversteps the boundaries of “modern values”, he will be unsigned and out on his ear. So he is not free. 
  2. Is the unsigned but successful artist free? No. Because if he says something that offends his fan base, they will damn him to musical oblivion.
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Why Torrey & Alexander attracted thousands

In writing Music Mania I came across Reuben Torrey & Charles Alexander, noting on p.165:

In 1905 Torrey and Alexander (a preacher-singer combination in the style of Moody and Sankey) took over Albert Hall Mission for 85 consecutive days, performing to 10,000 people every day!

Today they are certainly less well known than Moody and Sankey and their revival missions (held around the world and in major the cities of the United Kingdom) have been overlooked. I have just concluded reading a 1905 biography on the pair.

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The Devil's Tunes? Black Sabbath and Birmingham Cathedral

This week a new work was released after collaboration between Birmingham Cathedral and Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath. The Dean of Birmingham selected the words (based on Psalm 133) and the choral arrangement was by Paul Leddington Wright; but it is Iommi’s name that is attached to this work. 

We might wonder why. After all, fans of Black Sabbath are unlikely to be interested in Christian-themed choral music, whilst regular attenders at Birmingham Cathedral are - hopefully - even less likely to be fans of Black Sabbath, with their occult and horror themes.

Such a collaboration is not only acceptable today, but it is immune to criticism. In Music Mania, we discover the roots of this modern attitude through events that took place in 1875.

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The BBC, 90 years of subverting Christianity in England

John Berger's life and death are being celebrated by the BBC today. His Ways of Seeing programme joins the BBC litany of works that "changed British culture".

The BBC's apparently guileless reporting disguises that fact that from its conception it sought to change British culture. In Music Mania I show how, 1 year after it was granted a Royal Charter, the BBC squandered £2,000 of public money to perform a work by Schoenberg. English composers were aghast that a German composer should be promoted instead of native talent. The amount of money was deemed obscene but was necessary to perform a work with 8 flutes, 5 oboes, 7 clarinets, 10 horns, 5 trumpets, 7 trombones, 6 kettle-drums (and other percussion), 4 harps, full strings, 5 solo singers, 3 male choirs and an 8-part mixed choir. In spite of criticism by the public, the BBC produced another Schoenberg work in 1930, even though in the eyes of the British public his name was "mud".

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The Romantic: Someone who looks for spiritual truth in material things

Since most people are unaware of their own “Romantic” attitudes, the following definitions have been prepared to bring home the practical outworking of Romanticism in our lives today. Anyone who would like to understand the origins of Romanticism should read Tim Blanning’s rather uncritical work, The Romantic Revolution. In Music Mania I demonstrate how music became the exclusive domain of the Romantic movement.

This philosophy appears to be innocent and inoffensive but over time it perverts our perception of truth and destroys our ability to find truth outside of material things. For the Christian this engenders a change from living by faith through the Word of God, to trusting the Art of Man and therefore living by the senses.

If you had once walked in Christendom as “someone who expects to find spiritual truth in material things” you would have been deemed an idolater. After all, what does the idolater do that the Romantic does not? Either you make art or you purchase it from someone else, with the goal of gaining spiritual enlightenment outside of God’s appointed means. 

Not everyone will demonstrate every aspect here defined because people are never consistent. However, Romanticism is often stronger in women than in men, giving rise to a dislocation between the sexes that was unknown before the Enlightenment. Then the difference between the sexes was one of roles in the world - now we have communication problems based on a woman’s desire to live in a Romanticised bubble and a man’s inability to make it happen.

In broader terms, Romanticism encourages people to live selfishly and diminishes their capacity to judge other people’s needs. (The Romantic person will be moved by a television appeal for famine relief in Africa but will be unable to see the mum struggling to afford the weekly shop at the next checkout.) Therefore it has dulled our characters and left us as wraiths. We are sometimes awoken to reality by the magnitude of problems we cannot avoid (sickness, death, tragedy) and it is at such times that we realise the inadequacy of the Romanticised mind. If we cannot find a way to feel good, then who are we and what is left of our lives? Therefore Romanticism is nothing more than well-dressed Humanism, ivy climbing around the tree of our faith, to sap our hope in Christ and make us glad of the ivy’s supportive embrace. 

Life and Death: A Children's Guide

There are times when we are happy and there are times when we are sad. We don’t mind happiness. We don’t stop and worry what it means or whether it will end - we are simply happy. But it is different when we are sad: we want it to stop hurting; we want to feel better. But there is no magic wand. Some people drink too much and take drugs to stop themselves knowing they are sad. But they still feel sad next morning.

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Feel Good Christianity

In late 17th century Scotland, a young farmer waits to meet his fiancée. She is a maid in the nearby hall. Today she is late, so the young man takes out his Bible and leans against a wall to read.

A party of soldiers crosses the bridge, leading to the farm. They are paid by the Crown to hunt down Covenanters. Right now they are searching for the two sons of this farm. Their eyes land on the young farmhand. He looks about the right age to be one of the sons. And what is that in his hand? No one but a Covenanter would read a Bible! The soldiers approach the young man and shoot him dead.

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"Inside Out" Reviewed

Like all films with a fantastical element, Inside Out establishes its own rules. In this case, it sets out that people’s behaviour is governed by their emotions and specifically: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Hate and Disgust. Which raises the first question: why these emotions?Why have fear but not courage? Why have hate but not love? The answer is obvious enough - that for the plot to work, Riley’s character must face a crisis if Joy is lost. For her to be this mentally fragile, she must have mainly negative emotions, which are usually kept in check by Joy.

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"Doctor Barnardo" Reviewed

This is not really a biography of Thomas Barnardo. It does include material related to his family background, but the only further information is notice of his marriage and the births and deaths of his children. Neither is it a detailed study of the work done by the Mission. The author does not discuss the practicalities of day to day running of the homes from the perspective of child or guardian. Instead, he looks at the work through the challenges of organisation, administration and finance.

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The Christian under orders

He who hitches his chariot to a star is not thereby sinking to a lower status. True as this is in worldly matters it is superlatively true in spiritual affairs. The man led by the Spirit of God - the Christ led man - is the man of highest, and not of lowest, dignity. As it is the mark of a Christian man that he is ‘under orders,’ so it is the source of all his dignity that he is ‘under orders’.

~ B. B. Warfield