Wednesday, October 15, 2014

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (Book Review #98 of 2014)


One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

This book reads like poetry, prose, and a sermon with vivid illustrations at points. Voskamp develops a theology of thanksgiving. She begins with her own realization that Luke 22:19 tells us Jesus gave thanks when he broke the bread and blessed the wine that symbolized his soon-to-be-broken body and blood. The Greek word for this giving thanks is "eucharisteo," which Voskamp holds as the "holy grail" of joy. It holds the root "charis" (grace) and "chara" (joy). A search shows that this word is used 36 times in the New Testament (and probably 360 times in the book)-- giving thanks is central to the life of the believer. "God set (the eucharist) at the very center of Christianity." He said "Do this in remembrance of Me." We begin each week being thankful for the Gospel.


This book is popular among women, including my wife, and reading it reminded me both of Foster and Beebe's Longing for God (my review) and The Shack (my review).Why The Shack? Because the underlying theme of both books is that God is sovereign and good. They both begin with tragedies that lead the authors to ask "How could a good, loving God let this happen?" which leads to the discoveries that we are free to give thanks in the midst of tragedy and pain because "nothing happens to you apart from God's will." When we accept God's gifts with bitterness and self-pity, we're implicitly saying that Satan's way would be better--it's blasphemy. Voskamp rightly states that distrust and worry are atheism. Jesus commanded us not to worry, and most of our anxiety comes from our lack of trust in God. Unlike The Shack, however, Voskamp openly quotes Scripture to explain her points and tell stories to her children. 

Israel was covenanted to regularly observe days of thanks for what God had done for them, just as Jesus commanded us to observe the eucharist "in remembrance of Me." Remembrance should bring joy. But what about the dark memories of death, abuse, pain? Those events, too, were part of God's purpose. Voskamp writes that distance and time makes us appreciate them more for the gifts they were-- though we may never understand fully. Gratitude, she writes, is the foremost characteristic of a disciple. Jesus gave thanks for the very thing that would break and crush him. We give thanks for being able to die, for dying with Christ daily.

I appreciated her observation that we all read Ephesians 5:20, have heard sermons, and have books on our shelves reminding us to "give thanks for everything," but the more we broad-brush say "I'm thankful for everything," the less we're truly thankful for. She accepts a dare to record 1,000 things she's thankful for, developing a discipline of thankfulness. When we count our blessings we find out Who can be counted on. These range from boiled eggs to sorted clothes to the smell of the woods-- everyday things she experiences as a housewife on a farm. At this point, she discovers work as worship, finding that she can worship God by serving others as a housewife-- washing potatoes can be an act of worship. She quotes Dorothy Sayers (doesn't everyone?) on these points but I would have loved to see some Tozer and others in there as well.  



Voskamp has gotten some criticism from people like Tim Challies (I will probably write another post critical of his review for several reasons.) for quoting Dallas Willard, Teresa of Avila, and other "mystics." Challies neglects to mention that she also quotes John Piper, J.I. Packer, Tim Keller, John Calvin, and other Reformed non-mystics heavily. The book gives little information of her education, but she's clearly well-read. Voskamp's words are similar to poems written by John Piper, her quest for the joy parallel's his quest for joy as explained in Desiring God. For Voskamp, the key to joy and "paradise" is in a life of gratefulness and thanksgiving.



When reading this book, I'm very aware that women think differently than men. A man would turn this book into a how-to manual with bullet points summarizing the scripture references. She writes from her own experiences, putting all her emotions out on paper. Women probably trust personal experiences and testimony more and professional credentials less (are there studies backing me up?). I listened to her read the book, so I experienced her tears and her laughter in a personal way.


With all the positive above, there are a few caveats about the book. My biggest issue came at the conclusion where there is a weird scene where she's visiting Notre Dame cathedral in Paris and experiencing a "union" with and "caresses" by God that are a bit disturbing. "God makes love with grace upon grace, every moment a making of His love for us. [C]ouldn’t I make love to God, making every moment love for Him? To know Him the way Adam knew Eve. Spirit skin to spirit skin?” She has a sort of ecstasy here that I find disturbing and off-putting, and it is definitely not akin to how the Apostles wrote about their experience of Jesus in the New Testament.

While the sovereignty and goodness of God are clear, the holiness of God is not so clear. Neither are the entirety of the death, burial, and resurrection. A Christian reading this book can find great encouragement, but a non-Christian reading this book might admire her ability to find joy in her tragedy and trust God to give her all good things, but still be confused as to how that's possible-- through Christ's atonement for our sins, and his physical resurrection. The book is not a complete autobiography, but it is very inward-focused. It is almost entirely about "me." My feelings, my daily life, my children, etc. That got to be a little too much for me.

In all, I give it 3.5 stars out of 5. I enjoyed it, and was encouraged to live with more gratitude and remember to "consider it all joy."

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