This is a fair warning to anyone who doesn't want to read another word that might be construed as criticism of Ann Voskamp, her blog, her book, or her ideas. Click away!
That said, my goal is not ever to be critical of Ann Voskamp. My goal is to present the discussion, look at the various points, and make an assessment, and hopefully a careful one, of what's been said. Because there has been discussion. This first post is simply an attempt to let you readers know what's been going on.
First Ann has a beautiful blog, A Holy Experience.
She's also written a much-loved book, One Thousand Gifts.
(Please see the bottom of this post for links to my reviews of the chapters of her book.)
Last year, I wrote a blog post about Ann's blog. It wasn't about her book, because I'd never touched her book. It was meant to be rather light-hearted. It caused a bit of a stir in my usually uninhabited comment section. I only ever intended to address her writing style, compliment her on her content, and ask a simple question, which was answered rather quickly.
That was last summer.
Then sometime last week a facebook friend posted a book review of One Thousand Gifts, written by Tim Challies, a pastor in Canada. You may read it here. He wrote it because he was asked to. Generally, the review was not complimentary. He first addresses her unusual style, and then her content, discussing both without any seeming bias or preference. Then Challies turns to the area of his concern, Voskamp's use of sexual metaphor and imagery in her description of her relationship with God. Although Voskamp's habit of uncomfortable (to me) intimacy on her blog was something that bothered me when I read it for several years, I'd never read it so clearly described, until Challies's review. He ends by saying he would not recommend the book.
Immediately on the heels of this review, another one emerged online. Bob DeWaay, a U.S. pastor and writer on Critical Issues Commentary, wrote a lengthier and more academic assessment of Voskamp's book. You may read it here. He rather harshly mimics her style, but moves on to summarize his criticisms of her book. "Where her work warrants challenge is in her reliance on panentheism,
romanticism, sensual language and those whose viewpoints she
approvingly cites." Please note that panentheism is NOT the same as pantheism. I had to look them up to make sure I understood the difference. DeWaay diligently fleshes out his points, quotes from Voskamp frequently to support his arguments, and ends by stating that she is, without doubt, a mystic. Like Challies he does not recommend the book. His review takes into account more theological and cultural issues, and his conclusions about Voskamp's work are more harsh and scathing. I wouldn't consider either pastor to be rude or mean in these reviews. They are simply doing what they're supposed to do: warn Christians about error that they see.
Both men commend Voskamp for her emphasis on thankfulness, a practice sorely lacking among Christians. Both frown upon her frequent references to theologians and writers who are mystics, Catholics, or otherwise not in conformity with whatever is their list of acceptable people to quote. Both dislike that she felt compelled to fly to Paris and achieve her highest experience with God in a Catholic cathedral. I must say, I found the Notre Dame quite lovely myself although I had no mystical experience there.
My intent is to do what I've put off doing: read the book. I don't own a copy, and I don't intend to spend money on it. I've got a hold on it at the library. When I've finished the book, I'll get back to you on the topics that most concern me: whether Voskamp is a mystic in her writings, and what I think of her use of sexual metaphor and imagery.
Voskamp herself has responded in her own way, on her blog, to the criticism -- I think particularly of Rev. DeWaay. You can read her post here. I'm not quite sure, but I think she may be comparing the trauma of his review to a heart attack. She flatly denies being a mystic, and claims not even to know the meaning of the word. She demonstrates her own fear of having her writings negatively received. (Don't we all!?) And on another page, which you can read here, she pulls in the "big guns" by having Marvin Olasky, editor of World Magazine, defend her use of sexual metaphor in her descriptions of her relationship with God. The page is basically a long list of quotes from various Christians and a few Scripture passages, which seem to give precedence to this type of writing.
I will not do another "light-hearted" post on this writer. I will not address her writing style, which is simply a matter of preference and has no place in a serious critique. My intent is to find as much common ground as possible, as much to commend as possible, and clearly state any concerns that I see. Anyone is free to disagree with my amateur assessment. I am no pastor, no theologian. I have a BA and an MA in literary studies, and have taught high school English for about 15 years. As well as I can, I will pick apart her book and dissect it for you. That's what I do, as a professional. Anybody who has been telling me to read the book, that's what you've been asking for. This critique will probably take at least two posts.
Here are links to my chapter reviews of 1000 Gifts:
Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7 , Chapter 8