Thinking Out Loud

June 4, 2012

The Christian Blogosphere: East is East and West is West…

Ann Voskamp, Tim Challies: Sometimes we just have to agree to disagree

For those out of the loop, you might want to begin need to start with the excellent summary (and links) from Micha Boyette at Her.meneutics. For those who are familiar with this story, I get into much greater detail in the comments section.

While on the one hand I rather hate to draw attention to last week’s tension between Canadian blogger and Zondervan author Tim Challies and Canadian blogger and Zondervan author Ann Voskamp, it really highlights the spectrum of opinion that we find in the world of Christian blogging.

Though they live a very short distance apart, they are probably light years apart theologically.  For some inexplicable reason, Tim took to reviewing the book a year and a half after publication.  Presumably some among his tribe were concerned and John Piper was not available to deliver a ruling on it.  (Having typed that tongue-in-cheek statement, it is an interesting situation considering Ann is a fan of Piper.)

Tim could not condone the book, to the point of calling it “dangerous.” For some of the more cynical, this might constitute the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. But when über-blogger Challies can’t endorse you’re writing, the weaker among us would be tempted to pack up the team and head home before the first inning.

Not Ann Voskamp.  She took the high road.  She invited him to come for dinner.

Seriously.

You remember that verse, “When your enemy curses and reviles you, invite them to your farm for a delicious feast.”  Yes.  That verse is there.  Just check your concordance.

I mentioned Ann’s book here shortly after it started to take off.  Although I hadn’t read it, I provided an overview focusing on the poetic language she uses, a rarity in Christian publishing.  The book, to some, has been a breath of fresh air, a cup of refreshing water.

But dinner at Ann’s farm would be an awesome experience. I would gladly have trashed the book in this space if I knew it would earn such a prestigious invitation.

So, if you’re reading this, Ann, I just live an hour on the other side of Toronto.

Here’s the link again to the story at CT’s women’s blog, her.meneutics.  Be sure to click all the links, so you can see all of Ann’s pictures.

Read Ann’s blog: A Holy Experience, and Tim’s Challies.com

Learn more about 1,000 Gifts at Zondevan.com (also available in November as a DVD study)

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4 Comments »

  1. I’ve met both authors and I’ve been to Ann’s home. Strangely enough…both writers/bloggers are taking the high road. They just are going in opposite directions….well, maybe not. They’ll both end up at the same place…eventually.

    Comment by David Fisher — June 4, 2012 @ 8:11 am

  2. I’m going to let today’s item stand as it is; but having been pressed to write more, this will probably form tomorrow’s blog post here. So those of you reading this can get a preview.

    To the person who offered this comment:

    I’ve read more informative commentary on the place mats at Burger King.

    I wasn’t trying to restate the story because I think the article at her.meneutics spelled out everything so clearly. Did you click through? Out of hundreds of page views early this morning, only a handful of people actually clicked through to read the story.

    I wasn’t trying to provide a lot of commentary here, I just wanted to share the story; I think Ann’s response was very Christ-like and very consistent with what I saw of her on the interviews at 100 Huntley Street. (Linked in my ‘overview’ of the book which is linked here.)

    But since you asked so nicely…

    I think the type of person who is going to have great issues with this book is probably the same type of person who had issues with The Shack. I can be more objective here because while I was (eventually) very supportive of Paul Young’s book, I saw Ann’s as more of a women’s book — I’m sure the sales figures bear that out — and really, I think only a woman can provide a really thorough review of it.

    But we tend to shy away from anything that’s not produced from within “our group.” My own research has shown that in any particular community, no matter how much media and marketing is given to a particular book title; it will sell so much a better if a local pastor endorses the book from the pulpit.

    The church has long resisted change and innovation, and Ann Voskamp’s book, her blog, her style of public speaking is very unique, very much who she is. I find that frequently the church is awakened by the sound of a different voice; I also find that even those whose message may have some rough meters and uneven cadences causes us to think more than those with a skillfully crafted prose that is the same as every other speaker and writer. (Though I am not saying that Ann Voskamp’s writing is not beautifully structured; but it is unlike everything else currently on offer.)

    Tim Challies writes,

    She either quotes or is influenced by authors like Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Teresa of Avila, Brother Lawrence, Annie Dillard, and Dallas Willard. This brings to the book a deep-rooted mysticism that at times seems even to border on the view that the divine exists within and extends to all parts of nature (a teaching known as panentheism). At heart, mysticism promotes the view that God can be experienced, and perhaps even best experienced, outside of Scripture.

    Tim Challies cited as problematic Ann’s having been influenced by ‘mystics’ like Henri Nouwen and Dallas Willard. Again, I’m not a fan of Willard; we did one of his curriculum DVD series on Sunday nights and it just didn’t connect with me. But I have to allow some respect for the pastor who thought this would be good for our people, and the publishing company that vetted his material.

    And is the revelation we have of God absolutely limited to the revelation in scripture? That’s been debated for centuries. I would argue that all things taught must line up with scripture, but beyond that I am cautiously open.

    So I have no built-in bias for Ann, the book, or the writers who have influenced her; and that said, I still defend her right to have a place at the conversation for Christian women.

    …A couple of weeks ago, Jack, a guy in our community passed away. Jack attended a “King James Only” church his whole life, but he seemed a little too “open” and too intelligent to buy into the doctrinal reasons for clinging to that translation. So I asked him. He just smiled and looked me straight in the eye and said, “It’s just preferences. That’s all it is; preferences.”

    And that’s really all it is in this case.

    Referring to a chapter where Ann compares intimacy with God to sexual ecstasy, he says,

    Sometimes it is best to allow God to define the parameters of our metaphors rather than taking them to a much greater extent. Voskamp would have done well to limit herself here.

    If this is true, what do we do with the “not safe but good” Aslan in Narnia?

    He goes on,

    Why should she have to travel to a Roman Catholic cathedral in a foreign land in order to truly experience the Lord?

    If this is an issue, what are to do with summer camp ministries, where we remove children from familiar influences in order for them to see themselves and see God in a different environment? What are we to the testimonies of those who have truly “found” God in the middle of a brothel, or a casino, or even in the midst of a truly false cult? The Psalmist said, “If I make my bed in hell, you are there.” Is the problem that it was a Catholic cathedral? In fact, are not our greatest experiences of worship and understanding often while we’re away from our routines and comfortable surroundings?

    He concluded,

    I fear that some will see that Voskamp subtly promotes a higher order of holiness, a higher order of relationship with God, and be dissatisfied that they do not have this for themselves.

    Is that not true on some level of each and every Christian book we read? Every church service we attend? Every sermon podcast we listen to? Yes, there is always that “Monday morning letdown;” that return to reality that happens after the spiritual high from Sunday’s service. But 167 hours later, we go back; we go on retreat weekends; we buy another Christian book, because we want to be inspired.

    One Thousand Gifts is probably not my kind of book. But as my friend Jack would say, “That’s just preferences;” and if you’re going to let your personal preferences get in the way, then don’t consider yourself in any way an objective book reviewer of Henri Nouwen or Brennan Manning or The Shack. or One Thousand Gifts.

    The principle of noblesse oblige also applies to people who have been given a huge platform, either in their books, their pastorate or their blog. You must conduct yourself and know that your words will be judged by a higher standard. The very first response, the default response to those outside “our group” must be a gracious one; especially when we propose to judge the entire tenor of someone else’s ministry.

    Placing too much in one particular blogger’s approval or disapproval of something, “in its own subtle way I believe that it can and will prove dangerous, at least to some.”

    Or as the scriptures say, “Not many of you should presume to write book reviews.” It’s there. Just check your concordance.

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 4, 2012 @ 9:34 am

  3. Tim Challies did apologize to Ann. He said that while criticizing her book, he gave no thought to how she would feel about such criticism. I thought that was good and something we all should remember when criticizing anything. I loved the book and bought several copies to give away. I thoroughly enjoy her blog and share it with lots of people.

    Comment by Issy — June 4, 2012 @ 8:57 pm


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