Plenty of Christian women absolutely adore the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It certainly paints some beautiful imagery and stirs emotion in a poetic way. But what if you learned that lurking beneath its gorgeous and masterful painting was a subtle thread of theological poison? While we don’t ever suggest you eliminate sweets from your reading buffet, we do offer an opportunity for you to understand the ingredients and their effect when you consume them. In this case the poison is Panentheism, or the belief that the natural world is divine. That being said, our South Africa sister watchman Elmarie shares this on her excellent ministry site For The Love of His Truth:
If I have a joint of meat on my table of which the smell and the taste at once convince me that it is putrid and unwholesome, should I show discretion by eating the whole of it before giving my judgment that it is not fit for food?
One mouthful is quite enough, and one sentence of some books ought to suffice for a sensible man to reject the whole mass. Let those who can relish such meat feed on it, but I have a taste for better food.
Keep to the study of the Word of God. If it be your duty to expose those evils, encounter them bravely, with prayer to God to help you. But if not, as a humble believer in Jesus, what business have you to taste and best such noxious fare when it is exposed in the market? ~C H Spurgeon (source)
(Please also read An Open Letter To Tim Challies)
Romantic Panentheism: a Review of One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
By Bob DeWaay
We live in a theological age (postmodern) where the rational and cognitive are questioned and replaced by the sensual and mysterious. Many churches promote the idea of worshipping God with all five senses. Feelings trump clear Biblical exegesis, systematic theology, statements of faith, and any other rational approach to Christian theology. Into this milieu comes a book that takes romanticism to a new level, using sensuality to invoke religious feelings and ostensibly true devotion. The book is One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, a Canadian farmer’s wife.
Written entirely in the present tense, using an approach to the English language that takes numerous liberties for the sake of creating poetic feeling (like using adjectives when the rules of grammar demand an adverb and consistently having adjectives follow rather than precede the nouns they modify), Voskamp weaves a tale of discovering devotion to God through encounters with nature and art. In her experience, Voskamp found the secret to joy through what she calls eucharisteo (“giving thanks” transliterated from the Greek).
My purpose is not to begrudge Voskamp her religious feelings, nor to disagree with the basic thesis that Christians ought to give thanks to God in all things, but to object to the panentheistic worldview revealed in the book and the romanticism that accompanies it. First we will explore those two ideas.
Panentheism is the belief that God is in everything. It is to be distinguished from pantheism that teaches that God is everything. The very popular Emergent movement is panentheistic as is New Age theology. Since God is in everything, then God can be discovered and understood through encounters with nature. Voskamp shows that she knows what is wrong with pantheism, but unwittingly (or perhaps not so unwittingly) replaces it with panentheism:
Pantheism, seeing the natural world as divine, is a very different thing than seeing divine God present in all things. I know it here kneeling, the twilight so still: nature is not God but God revealing the weight of Himself, all His glory, through the looking glass of nature.1
Her statement is not a valid implication from passages such as Psalm 19 and Romans 1 that speak of general revelation. For one thing, nature is fallen and does not reveal “all His glory” (Christ does that) and what can be discerned about God through nature is not saving knowledge, but condemning knowledge. Romans makes that clear:
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. (Romans 1:20-23)
Pagan nature religions do not provide messianic salvation. Paul claims that salvation comes only through the gospel (which comes to us through special, not general revelation). The confusion between these two categories is shown throughout Voskamp’s book. For example: “And every moment is a message from the Word-God who can’t stop writing His heart” (Voskamp: 86). The pagans live in the same time-space world that we do and do not thereby have infallible, inerrant, and binding revelation from God. They live in darkness. Seeking messages from God through the moments in this world will lead to pagan mysticism and not anything that is clearly and bindingly revealed by God. Voskamp claims that the ability to see God in everything is the key to getting such messages.
Voskamp would likely recoil from the notion that she is promoting pagan nature religion or mysticism. But she does put Christians on the same footing as the pagans by taking them on a journey with her to find God in nature and art. The concepts about God that are distinctively Christian in her book are borrowed from special revelation (the Bible) and brought with her on her journey of discovery. But she never makes a distinction between general revelation and special revelation and by integrating the two so seamlessly, elevates nature to the status of saving revelation. Since God is supposedly in everything, then God can be found in everything.
Panentheism is found throughout One Thousand Gifts. Since so much of the current evangelical world is being seduced by panentheism, we need to understand what is unbiblical about it. Many are confused and think that panentheism is logical implication from the Christian concept of omnipresence (that God is everywhere). This confusion has left the door open for the New Age to enter the church. That God is not limited spatially (there is nowhere where He is not – Psalm 139:7-10) is a valid, Biblical concept. But panentheism describes an ontological, not spatial category. Ontology is the study of being. It is the study of what something is in its essential nature. Panentheism teaches that God’s essence or being is in everything. This is not the doctrine of omnipresence (though it would affirm it). If God in His essence and essential being is found in everything, then there is nothing unique about Christ (which is precisely the New Age claim). Biblically, nature does not reveal God and His glory in the same way Christ does. Nature reveals God obliquely and only in a condemning, not saving, way. Christ reveals God in His divine nature and speaks God’s inerrant words. Jesus spoke inerrant, binding words that will be our judge on the last day (John 12:48). The moon does no such thing.
As an example of her panentheism, Voskamp describes an experience where she finds salvation by gazing at a full moon in a harvested wheat field:
Has His love lured me out here to really save me? I sit up in the wheat stubble, drawn. That He would care to save. Moon face glows. We are head to head. I am bare; He is bare. All Eye sees me (Voskamp: 115).
Her experience is described in salvific terms: “It’s dawning, my full moon rising. I was lost but know I am found again” (Voskamp: 118). She claims an “inner eye” that sees God in a panentheistic way: “If my inner eye has God seeping up through all things, then can’t I give thanks for anything? . . . The art of deep seeing makes gratitude possible” (Voskamp: 118). In Romans 1, “seeing” God through general revelation in a way that makes all humans culpable is true for all, not just special enlightened ones like Voskamp.
There are other troubling things about the claim that salvation can be found in seeing God in the harvest moon. One is that Voskamp implies that for her, “salvation” is being saved from an unhappy life filled with ingratitude. She never mentions God’s wrath against sin (she does mention sin but not in the context of substitutionary atonement). Another is that she completely confuses and merges general and special revelation. General revelation does not offer saving knowledge, whatever the meaning of her experience “chasing the moon” (her terminology). Yet another is that panentheism is implied here and throughout the book. (Read More)
- An Open Letter To Tim Challies (solasisters.blogspot.com)
- Tim Challies Reviews One Thousand Gifts (solasisters.blogspot.com)
- God in Everything? The Premise of Contemplative Prayer (lighthousetrailsresearch.com)