Sunday, July 15, 2012

Review: One Thousand Gifts, chapter 2

In this chapter, Ann launches into her excitement about the Greek word eucharistio. We recognize this term -- the Eucharist -- the Lord's Supper. She examines this event, and from it she gleans one fundamental, essential fact for herself:  that Jesus gave thanks. That's what the word eucharistio means:  "He gave thanks."

Eucharistio becomes Ann's mantra, her theme song, her banner. When she thinks of the Communion, she thinks of giving thanks. As she reads Scripture, she comes upon passage after passage of thanksgiving. It becomes the face she sees in every crowd; it possesses her mind. I've done this in my own Scripture study before, found things that kind of were there, but honestly ... kind of weren't. Adam has been so helpful to me in this area. I've gone to him full of enthusiasm about something I thought I was finding in Scripture, and he would gently, firmly tell me, "Sorry. You're over-reading. It's not there in the Greek." Or "You're bringing things into the passage that really aren't there."

Exegesis is drawing meaning from the passage that is intended. Eisegesis is putting things into the passage that aren't intended.

Ann reads the passage of Lazarus being raised from the dead, and because Jesus gave thanks to God before raising him, she deduces that it was thanksgiving that raised him. Not the power of God. Not the Holy Spirit. But thanksgiving. "Thanksgiving raises the dead!" she says.

Was Jesus's thanksgiving for the bread/wine really the most important thing going on, that evening? No, it was Jesus's sacrifice, the new covenant in his blood, the participation we have in that. Ann mentions that participation, but to her, the fundamental activity is thanksgiving. I mean, have you ever thought of the Last Supper with the disciples and realized, "Wow! The most important thing happening that night was that Jesus thanked God for the meal"? I have not.  The meal itself is the point.

Ann mentions Matt. 11, where Jesus curses the unbelieving cities, and praises the Father for others who will believe. Jesus praises God for the mystery of salvation, which is hidden from the Jews, and revealed to the Gentiles. But what is the big thing happening in this passage? Giving thanks? Or the mystery of God's salvation and how it is realized?

When Ann reads Scripture, she repeatedly finds the thing that's most important to her, and that's normal. We all do that to some degree. We don't all write best-selling books telling the Christian world that this most important thing is paramount to everyone -- that it's the essential element to our salvation. She calls the Lord's Supper, the table of thanksgiving.

Again, she addresses the passage with the ten lepers. One, a Samaritan, returns to thank Jesus for his healing. Jesus tells him explicitly, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well." This man isn't just healed of leprosy; his soul is made right with God. He is saved, as Ann points out. But she associates the man's salvation with his gratitude. "And when did the leper receive sozo (salvation) -- the saving to the full, whole? When he returned and gave thanks.... Our very saving is associated with our gratitude."

Does she go so far as to say that the man's gratitude produced his salvation? Not quite yet ... but she comes perilously close, I think. Again she says, "If our fall was the non-eucharisteo, the ingratitude, then salvation must be intimately related to eucharisteo, the giving of thanks." And then, "The leper's faith was a faith that said thank you. Is that it? Jesus counts thanksgiving as integral in a faith that saves." (p. 39)

"Jesus counts thanksgiving as integral in a faith that saves." What that means is that gratitude is essential to your salvation. You can't be saved without it. It is "integral."

I can't go there. I'll agree that thanksgiving should be a huge part, a daily part, a minute-by-minute part of a believer's life. That we don't have enough of it. That we sin when we don't thank God. But I cannot redefine salvation by stating that my act of thanksgiving contributes to my salvation. My salvation is produced by Jesus's blood, shed for me, and the faith that He gives me to believe in Him -- period. I don't do a thing. Even my thanksgiving is merely a response, and it's a response that He gives me. But it is a varied by-product, from one person to the next. It is not essential to salvation.

I know Christians who can't drum up a thankful heart. Like Ann was, they are very scarred. But I don't write them off as unsaved. I know pagans who are cheerfully thankful every day -- they'll even say "Thank God!" for things. But they don't believe in Him for salvation. Drug addicts are thankful for their next hit. Robbers are thankful for their loot. Adulterers are thankful for their mistresses. And some of them are thankful to God for these things -- they'll tell you. Is there any redeeming quality to that thanksgiving?

I'll be honest; this is not the area of Voskamp's theology that I thought I'd differ with her on! Of all her views (and in spite of the fact that I didn't participate in her 1000-item list exercise), her emphasis on gratitude was, I assumed, the one part with which I would whole-heartedly agree. So I'm disappointed to find that I don't. I go pretty far up to the edge of the cliff with her, regarding gratitude, but I can't take the leap off the cliff which would redefine justification in my theology.

If I were talking with Ann over a cup of tea, I imagine she'd say, "Well, that's not exactly what I meant." And we'd talk and debate and wrangle and end up with a fun afternoon. But I don't have that. I only have her book. And a book is a very different thing from a conversation. A book is permanent, and once you send it off to the world of publication, you're stuck with what you said in it.

I understand that gratitude was the silver bullet, the elixir, the cure-all for Ann Voskamp, and that's a wonderful thing! It isn't that for everyone. I think she drifts close, in this chapter, to stating that it is. Ann desperately needed joy in her life, and gratitude brought that for her. [By the way, I'd love to go into her exegesis of the word eucharistio, in which she links giving thanks with joy, because of their distant similar root, but I don't have time. However, she makes a bit of error there. It's rather like saying that you and your 7th cousin are intimately connected, because of a distant ancestor. A lot changes as the words are further removed from the root.]

Does gratitude bring joy for everyone? I think it can help. But Paul says to the Philippians, "Make my joy complete; be like-minded." For him, joy came when believers are unified in faith and belief. It doesn't just bring joy, but complete joy! Jesus also felt joy, but it wasn't necessarily when he thanked the Father. "For the joy set before Him endured the cross, bearing the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Jesus felt joy when he looked at the suffering before Him, and realized that it would soon be OVER, and He would be in heaven, past all the suffering, having accomplished His work.

I feel joy when I think of heaven, of the New Earth. I don't have to dredge up joy over fallen things on this fallen planet. I don't have to force myself to thank God for disease, death, sorrow, abandonment. He can redeem those things, and I can praise Him for His redemption. I thank Him, not for the ugly, but when He takes the ugly away. That's the gospel. Like Jesus, I have joy when I think of heaven. I think Ann does too. I just haven't heard her say it yet, but I'm still reading!


  1. Almost every day I say to myself, "the joy of the Lord is my strength." He knows I need His strength to do all that's set before me.

  2. I am about 3/4 of the way through this book. I appreciate what you have to say on it. I am thankful for the reminder to be thankful, but I am also thankful for your delving into this more thoroughly. How many time can you say "thankful" in a sentence :)

  3. Thank you, Sarah. I'm also enjoying the book. And in all fairness to Voskamp, I'm picking out the things that I might take issue with. There is much, much in the book that I agree with her on. I hope these reviews will flesh out a few things that others might miss.

    1. Thank you for investing in truth this way! English teachers do not have excessive free time. I questioned many of the same things, though I savor the "wonderfully true" from which you are pulling with your tweezers. I've been a proud ingrate far too long. So I'm disciplining myself to name graces. I don't think Ann was redefining justification. Her own conversion did not include ongoing thanksgiving or she wouldn't be sharing her long saga of its discovery. Yet page 39 seems to be a redefinition.

  4. I'm so glad you said this:

    "If I were talking with Ann over a cup of tea, I imagine she'd say, "Well, that's not exactly what I meant." And we'd talk and debate and wrangle and end up with a fun afternoon. But I don't have that. I only have her book. And a book is a very different thing from a conversation. A book is permanent, and once you send it off to the world of publication, you're stuck with what you said in it."

    So so true. Good words for me to consider as well, as I think about writing.

    I am reading through your reviews and thankful for them.

  5. I am thankful for your reviews too. I bought this book after my dear husband of 43 years passed away 9 Dec. 2012.

    I am a positive person, and am thankful to God for many things. For his great love and salvation and for the many ways He has blessed me in my life. I'm thankful for lessons learned and still learning. Losing my husband has been devastating to say the least, but God is drawing me closer to Him, working things out that I may or may not ever know about in this life. I am thankful for each new day to trust in Him. Some days it's tough, but He is my strength.

    I came here via Thistle Cove Farm ~ The Title of your blog drew me.

    I miss talking about spiritual things with my husband.

    I enjoyed Ann's book a lot and underlined things that spoke to my heart. I used to visit her blog, but it became 'too much' even for this positive girl. To be honest, I think/know I am a bit envious of her still having her loving husband and wonderful life.


  6. Thank you both, Jess and Lorraine. Lorraine -- glad you found me via Sandra. She's a dear friend. May our good God continue to wrap you in his loving arms and carry you through these days. Our separation from those we love is brief -- a few years -- compared to eternity. I know that is possibly small comfort in the middle of grief. Sandra has such good, honest sisterly help for this grief, doesn't she?


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