Ann Voskamp: When Good Writing Meets Bad Theology

There can be no questioning Ann Vokamp’s talents as a writer. Her ability to paint pictures with words in her latest book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are is admirable. But unfortunately her theology isn’t on par with her writing, and the book overall leaves you wanting. In a nutshell, the central point of One Thousand Gifts is simple: “Eucharisteo – thanksgiving – always precedes the miracle.” And after retelling the tragedy of her family’s life, and confronting the age old question “Where is God in the midst of suffering and evil?” through her own personal tragedies, Ann quickly arrives at the conclusion that Eucharisteo, thankfulness is the answer to everything: “gratitude is what births trust…the true belief.”

As nice as Ann’s catch phrases may sound, they don’t mirror the Gospel, and her central point is quickly lost as it fails to align with the heart of Scripture. Scripture informs us that salvation comes through faith and that through grace. Faith doesn’t find us by choosing gratitude, as Ann asserts in the book, any more than we can will ourselves to do good works and earn God’s favor.

Logically, Eucharisteo (thankfulness) cannot precede God’s grace. Gratitude punctuates his grace. Gratitude is our spiritual response to God’s unfathomable mercies and thankfulness always requires an object to be thankful over. As far as Christianity goes: God gives, we rejoice. We don’t rejoice, and then demand that God is beholden to us to give. In fact, the greatest miracle of all, to see Jesus as the supreme and ultimate treasure of life, is a gift that Scripture tells us finds his people when they were ” dead in their trespasses and sins” and “while they were yet sinners.” God gives us the greatest of all possible graces in a state of ungratefulness – even as he blesses his enemies with the same common graces, that Ann lauds throughout the book, while mired in lives that are wholly ungrateful. Ann overlooks these key Scriptures when she repeatedly confuses her gratitude for what gratitude actually is. It’s our response to him, not something we conjure up.

As the book evolves, so does Ann’s definition of euchariesto, and soon the word gets stretched beyond recognition. The word at times becomes a placeholder for all heavenly things…grace, faith, love, mercy, and eventually you begin to wonder why Ann is waging so hard to replace so many simple biblical concepts – almost as if she’s trying to brand a new movement or fad.

From Ann’s introduction to “the eucharisteo life,” she soon explains how she came to embrace it through making a list of 1,000 things for which she is grateful . But what’s interesting about the list is what’s missing. Ann has all sorts of pleasant things in her list: “leafy life scent of the florist shop,” “moonlight on pillows,” “new toothbrushes,” “kisses in the dark” and “wind flying cold wild in hair.” Yet in One Thousand Gifts there’s little mention of specific things she’s grateful to Jesus for. This was probably most surprising aspect of the book, a once struggling Christian immersed in the hardships of life, extolling how she had found true salvation in a grateful life, that doesn’t seem to include the things about Jesus that she’s truly thankful for. Creation, family, friends – these are all things that rests on Christ’s gifts, but they aren’t things that directly rest him. Though God’s earthly mercies are certainly things to be thankful for, they aren’t the end of the road. These are things that urge us on into the deeper eternal realities they point to in Christ. As Christians, eternal things are things where all our hopes must lie, and while these are things Ann will flirt with in the book, she never seems able plunge into them. She never seems able to get beyond the earthly.

Ann’s philosophical journey through the book also seems to slip in and out of her ability to remain in a grateful state-of-mind rather than relying on the Spirit of God within to carry her when she lacks the strength to do so. Gratitude in the Christian’s life rises and falls daily. But Ann puts both the existence and health of faith squarely on the back of one’s gratefulness. So what happens when the soul is dry? Is there no faith? Was there no faith? Ann really doesn’t address these hardships much since her epiphanies, as if spiritual hardship is a thing she’s mostly long left behind.

One Thousand Gifts isn’t irredeemable. Ann’s exhortations to live a grateful life, her willingness to honestly confront death and the problems it presents to the self-absorbed Christianity of this age, an appreciation for God see through the wisdom of his creation and to remind us that gratitude is an essential component of saving faith are notable things. I appreciated her reminders that point us to those Scriptures that urge us to be content and rejoice in all things, to number our days and to take joy in God. But these are things the reader must sift out on their own, and Ann’s overemphasis of gratitude often eclipses the central pleas of the New Testament writers to embrace Jesus by a simple, unwavering faith regardless of how we feel.

7 thoughts on “Ann Voskamp: When Good Writing Meets Bad Theology

  1. Hi Rachel,

    Thanks for the comment. I’m not surprised by the reaction, it is human nature, but I too am concerned by the force with which her fans defend her. I like Ann’s writing and her passion, but her theology has some glaring holes in it that no one seems to want to deal with.
    Brad

  2. “Theology” and “doctrine” have become anathema to the new breed of “Christian” Mystics for whom the Bible is NOT the Word of God and who reject what doesn’t fit into their own particular “Christianity.” It is truly the last days. Thanks for clearly identifying the theological difficulties of the book.

  3. Amen, amen and amen. I read this book and felt sick over it the whole way through. The heart of the Gospel isn’t present. Christ’s work on the cross and His atoning sacrifice alone saves us. Not our thankfulness as she states in the first chapter. Voskamp’s sensually laced language in the last chapter turns Jesus into a High Prince rather than High Priest.

  4. I never heard of Ann Voskamp until a few days ago. As I read another blogger’s 1000 list, I liked the idea and asked to borrow it. She, in turn, credited Ann Voscamp and I googled her. Haven’t read her book so bear that in mind. However, I think some of the comments here are exactly what drive many people to look twice at the Christian religion. It’s not really Christian principles that people doubt. It is the inference that Christianity is a tiny box, that it boils down to one statement. You believe that or you’re out. Not just out from the Christian church but out from heaven and everlasting life. I think you are so very wrong as one “God” stands with open arms to all. Certainly not in a rigid, narrow manner but open to all people, regardless of the womb in which they were born…..and we all know beliefs begin in the womb. I trust God with all my heart and have faith in Jesus. I open and close each day with gratitude for all that is. And it is through this gratitude that I so easily connect and practice my personal relationship with God. God is so much bigger and awesome and omnipotent than splitting hairs on which comes first….gratitude or faith and other such matters of varying opinion. God made us thinking people and loves when we search and rejoices when our search leads to Him.
    Respectfully,
    Sandra Wilkes

  5. Sandra,

    I’m not sure what your point is here. Do you object to the notion that Scripture, with which Christianity rises or falls, says plainly that the only pathway to God is through Jesus Christ? Is your issue with me, Scripture or the Christian religion in general?

    Brad

  6. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
    I am a Christian and a student of God’s Word for 40+ years. I pasted that passage from Philippians, not because I doubt Ann’s motives, to assert that her contribution is a positive one to The body of believers. It is undoubtedly true that I don’t see much about Jesus death and resurrection in her writing. I don’t think her book or blog could be counted as doctrinal. I would agree that she probably overemphasizes “Eucharisteo” but until I hear her saying that the new birth that Jesus talked to Nicodemus about starts with “Eucharisteo”, I will see her writing primarily as one Christian’s valuable insight into Jesus work in her life and others. I must say, though that when I read her book, it felt a little too much like a pretty picture rather than a story with a happy and instructive ending. To be honest, Eucharisteo felt a little nebulous. The more I read, the harder it was to define.

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