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:
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.)
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.
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?
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.
I will tell you precisely what is wrong with having a unique way to love God.
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?”
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".
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.
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.