After a conversation on Facebook, I promised you all that I would read Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts and get back with you on my findings.
I’ve read it and now you must fasten your seatbelts. It is going to be one of my longer posts. But I’ve tried to do my best at finding facts and not just opinions, even my own. (I’ve included many links for you that hold much more information than I can put here.)
We are not writing this review to criticize any one church or person, but only to point out that there are some false teachings creeping in amongst us. And we need to be aware of them. Consider this review simply a challenge to take everything we read back to the Word of God!
An author is best understood by who has influenced their thinking. This sheds light on the book, the author’s belief, and the directions they are headed.
This is a list of authors that Ann Voskamp quotes directly in her book. You can find reference to the author and their book at the back of One Thousand Gifts under the “notes” section or at the heading of the chapter where they are quoted.
These are not just cute quotes thrown in at random, but these are people that Ann herself describes as “saints, ancient, wise, and great” within her book.
We’re going to take a few moments to look at these authors. And in doing so, you will first need to know the definitions to some words that will be listed.
Definition of mystic: of or relating to religious mysteries or occult rites and practices; one who practices or believes in mysticism or a given form of mysticism.
Another definition of mystic: (Spirituality, New Age, Astrology & Self-help / Alternative Belief Systems) a person who achieves mystical experience or an apprehension of divine mysteries.
Definition of contemplative: contemplative means that one is marked by or given to contemplation, and more specifically of or relating to a religious order that is devoted to prayer and atonement; pertaining especially to a contemplative Roman Catholic religious or one of the contemplative Roman Catholic religious orders.
Roman Catholic priest and writer of 40 books regarding spirituality
What he believes:
“Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God.” — From Sabbatical Journey, Henri Nouwen’s last book page 51, 1998 Hardcover Edition (Lighthouse Trails Research) [emphasis added]
What the Bible says: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.” John 14:6
Roman Catholic priest, author, contemplative
“I am deeply distressed by what I only can call in our Christian culture the idolatry of the Scriptures. For many Christians, the Bible is not a pointer to God but God himself. In a word—bibliolatry. God cannot be confined within the covers of a leather-bound book. I develop a nasty rash around people who speak as if mere scrutiny of its pages will reveal precisely how God thinks and precisely what God wants.” — Brennan Manning, Signature of Jesus, pp. 188-189 (Lighthouse Trails Research)
“In The Signature of Jesus, another one of Manning’s books, he teaches his readers how to pray, using an eight-word mantra.3 He says, “the first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer” (p. 212). The second step is “without moving your lips, repeat the sacred word [or phrase] inwardly, slowly, and often.” If distractions come, “simply return to listening to your sacred word” (p. 218). He also encourages his readers to “celebrate the darkness” because “the ego has to break; and this breaking is like entering into a great darkness” (p. 145). Jesus said, “He who follows me shall not walk in the darkness” (John 8:12).” (www.reachingcatholics.org) [emphasis added]
Ann personally recommends his book The Ragamuffin Gospel on her blog.
What the Bible says: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do . . . After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven . . .” Matthew 6:7,9
Jesus did not “stop thinking about God at the time of prayer” as Brennan Manning’s first step advises.
Teresa of Avila
Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic nun, writer
What she wrote about:
The main thread throughout her writings is “the ascent of the soul in four stages”.
First stage was “mental prayer”, second – “prayer of quiet”, third – “devotion of union”, and fourth – “devotion of ecstasy or rapture”.
Here is a quote regarding the fourth stage: “a passive state, in which the consciousness of being in the body disappears . . . . Sense activity ceases; memory and imagination are also absorbed in God or intoxicated. Body and spirit are in the throes of a sweet, happy pain, alternating between a fearful fiery glow, a complete impotence and unconsciousness, and a spell of strangulation, intermitted sometimes by such an ecstatic flight that the body is literally lifted into space. This after half an hour is followed by a reactionary relaxation of a few hours in a swoon-like weakness, attended by a negation of all the faculties in the union with God. From this the subject awakens in tears; it is the climax of mystical experience, productive of the trance. (Indeed, she was said to have been observed levitating during Mass on more than one occasion (The Interior Castle St Teresa Of Avila translated by Mirabai Starr.)” (to see all four stages described, visit this source)
*See more on Teresa of Avila below in section Sexual language/mystical union*
Julian of Norwich
Regarded as one of the most important Christian mystics, contemplative
What she believed:
“Julian believed that it was inaccurate to speak of God’s granting forgiveness for sins because forgiving would mean that committing the sin was wrong. Julian preached that sin should be seen as a part of the learning process of life, not malice that needed forgiveness. Julian writes that God sees us as perfect and waits for the day when humans’ souls mature so that evil and sin will no longer hinder one’s life.” (wikipedia) [emphasis added]
“Rather than seeing Hell merely as a place of punishment Julian saw that sin itself was the hardest hell, and the true hell which the Savior came to redeem us from.” (source)
What the Bible says: “Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels……And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” Matthew 25:41, 46
Julian of Norwich was said to have had sixteen visions in which she claims God spoke directly to her. On page 89 of One Thousand Gifts, Ann says this:
“I hear the echo, truth words whispering down time’s cavern, words that Julian of Norwich heard: See that I am in everything. See that I do everything. See that I have never stopped ordering my works, nor ever shall, eternally…..”
Ann obviously believed these visions were true, for she calls them “truth words” and this lady she calls an “ancient, wise woman”. This Catholic lady who was considered a most important Christian mystic.
What the Bible says: “For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15)
He is not in the moon, the grass, or the trees.
Dominican Priest of the Roman Catholic Church
One of his quotes:
“The only begotten Son of God…assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” (source)
What the Bible says: “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:4
Jean Pierre de Cassaude
Jesuit priest, author
Jean Pierre de Cassaude wrote a book on contemplative prayer which “leads the reader step by step into deep mystical prayer”. (source)
New Age American author
Quote from one of her books:
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. (source)
In her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, she references not only Christ, but also Sufism, Buddhism, the Eskimo’s religion, and Hasidic Jews, among others. She is currently a member of the Roman Catholic Church.
What the Bible says: “I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved….” John 10:9
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
French philosopher, Jesuit priest
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is considered “a darling with New Age writers” (source)
“Teilhard argued in Darwinian terms with respect to biology, and supported the synthetic model of evolution…..” (source)
His book The Phenomenon of Man “entails the notion that evolution is becoming an increasingly optional process.” (source)
What the Bible says: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1
Books on prayer and spiritual disciplines personally recommended by Ann:
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster — “… Foster’s book is an encyclopedia of unbiblical teaching, which leads the unsuspecting reader away from Christ and into mysticism or worse.” (source)
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun (a primer on Eastern style meditation)
and two books by Emerging church author Phyllis Tickle (see emergent church links below) *Ann is reported to be a proponent of the Emerging Church*
While reading the chapter where Ann describes the “original sin” – meaning the sin of the Fall, it greatly troubled me. She described it as “the sin of ingratitude” and goes on to place an enormous amount of emphasis on our thankfulness being tied to our salvation. I knew I couldn’t explain why it bothered me and so was going to leave it out of this post altogether. Then I came across this explanation:
However, Voskamp goes astray early in the book by redefining original sin as that of ingratitude (p. 15) rather than willful rebelliousness against the will of God as taught in Scripture. As a result salvation is obtained not by faith alone, as the Bible states (Eph 2:8-9), but by faith plus thanksgiving. “Jesus,” we are assured, “counts thanksgiving as integral in a faith that saves” (p. 39). The book virtually ends on this note. The author writes, “What that first and catastrophic sin of ingratitude ruptured…union…can be repaired by exact inverse of the Garden: lifestyle gratitude …” (p. 220). In the last quote Voskamp is not only speaking of salvation but mystical union as well, a subject I will return to in a moment.
The tragedy is that by missing the biblical truth concerning both original sin and personal sin Voskamp is askew on much of her approach to the Christian life. She sees the Christian life as chasing after joy through the means of thanksgiving. But the Christian life is that of following Christ, joy and thanksgiving are both by-products and steps of obedience. ” (source)
Ann leaves out that the remedy for the Fall is repentance of sin and belief in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” It does not say “if you are thankful in all things”. Thankfulness is simply an affirmation that the Spirit is living within us.
In chapter 6, Ann talks of her “inner eye”. This was another thing that troubled me while reading this so I looked it up. The term “inner eye” or “third eye” is associated with New Age and mysticism. It is a term of divination. Here is what Wikipedia said about this inner eye (emphasis added):
The third eye (also known as the inner eye) is a mystical and esoteric concept referring to a speculative invisible eye which provides perception beyond ordinary sight……..The third eye is referred to the gate that leads within to inner realms and spaces of higher consciousness. In New Age spirituality, the third eye often symbolizes a state of enlightenment or the evocation of mental images having deeply personal spiritual or psychological significance. The third eye is often associated with religious visions, clairvoyance, the ability to observe chakras and auras, precognition, and out-of-body experiences. People who are claimed to have the capacity to utilize their third eyes are sometimes known as seers.
It was also interesting to note that the well-known (and satanic in my opinion) Harry Potter series also utilizes the term Inner Eye.
The ability “to see” is a major thread all throughout New Age-ism.
Purgation, Illumination, and Union
On page 208, Ann says:
But they thought the steps to God-consummation were but three: purgation, illumination, union. Had my own journey of transformation into the full life taken me on the same pilgrimage of the ancients who had built and passed under these stone arches?
She then goes on to describe each of these three steps on the two following pages, 209 & 210.
So what are these three steps she talk about?
“The journey to mystical experience, almost universally, involves three stages: purgation, illumination and union.” (source – click here for more info on mysticism)
“…panentheism is essentially a combination of theism (God is the supreme being) and pantheism (God is everything). While pantheism says that God and the universe are coextensive, panentheism claims the God is greater than the universe and that the universe is contained within God. Panentheism holds that God is the “supreme effect” of the universe. God is everything in the universe, but God also is greater than the universe. Events and changes in the universe affect and change God. As the universe grows and learns, God also increases in knowledge and being.
Panentheism is most definitely not biblical. In fact, it is extreme heresy that impugns the character of God and makes Him more like a man. God is present everywhere (Psalm 139:7-8), but God is not everything. God knows everything, whether actual or possible (Psalm 139:1-6; Romans 11:33-35). God does not learn because He already has all knowledge. God is “affected” by things that occur in the universe, but only in that sin angers Him and holiness pleases Him. Our actions do not change God or impact His essential being.” (source)
Sexual Language/Mystical Union
I know some of you were wondering “is she going to bring that one up?” I won’t say much except this.
As Christians, we should try to model our behavior and conversation after one person: Christ. And there is not one single instance where His relationship to God is described in sensual, sexual terms. Nor is there a time when His disciples used such candid language.
The New Testament church is referred to as the “Bride of Christ” often, but never in sensual or sexual terms. Many references to the infilling of the Holy Ghost and close communion with God are in the Bible but again, NEVER are these instances described in sensual or sexual terms. Also never are the Biblical examples of Communion with God/infilling of the Holy Spirit a result of viewing or emanating from a physical object or place. Such as Ann describing the feeling when she enters the Cathedral of Notre Dame or the climax as she touches the picture of the Last Supper.
One more extremely important thing to note. Teresa of Avila, whom Ann seems to hold great admiration for and whom we’ve listed above, was quoted in One Thousand Gifts in the chapter we are referring to – The Joy of Intimacy.
You need to know that Teresa of Avila wrote a book titled The Interior Castle which describes seven steps to mystical union with God. (source) Why does this sound so familiar?
Lessons I Learned
Little ol’ me has been made to feel even smaller through this book review. Do I realize how how extremely important it is for me to watch what words I say? Can I truly comprehend how the words I type out can affect other people?
Does Ann realize this, too? God is holding each of us accountable for what we teach as being Biblical.
And of equal or even greater importance — do I realize how necessary it is to the survival of my soul that I take everything I read back to the pure, infallible Word of God?
So can I recommend One Thousand Gifts? Sadly – no, I cannot.
Her basic message of giving thanks in all things is one that we have all heard and agree with whole-heartedly! Unfortunately, her method, influences, and unbiblical views on the things we’ve talked about make this a book I cannot, as a Bible-believing Christian, recommend to anyone. In my opinion, an off-kilter view of salvation (with elements of truth mixed in) such as portrayed in this book, is in many ways more dangerous and influential to a Christian seeking God then a blatantly evil book that our minds would dismiss immediately.
I know some of you will not agree. And before you leave a comment on this regard, I urge you to read all the links I’ve put here for you. They hold much more info on how mysticism and New Age is creeping into our churches. Let us not be a part of it.
And, as some of you mentioned, it is true that if we are strong in the Word, we are better able to weed out the bad and keep the good. But what about the weaker Christian? We must take responsibility for our brother also by what we recommend as Biblical, when it well may not be.
I leave you with this one challenge.
Be a Berean.
“These [men of Berea] were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” Acts 17:11
I strongly plead with you to take every single thing you read, whether it be on this blog, the web, or in a book, back to the pure and holy Word of God. See for yourself if it is true.
I am fallible. Ann is fallible.
God and His Word are not!
Review Links on One Thousand Gifts:
Links on Emerging Church:
*written in collaboration with Lowell, my husband*
Behind the Review of One Thousand Gifts (added 10/13/2012)
I’m not even sure how to begin this post. But from the response we’ve received to our caution on One Thousand Gifts, Lowell and I both feel we should maybe state our reasons behind it.
As I read my way through One Thousand Gifts, I also was researching the authors that were quoted throughout the book. By the time I got to the end, my heart was heavy with what I had found concerning these authors and also the things Lowell and I both believed were doctrinal errors within the book itself.
But I also knew that my own opinions of the quoted authors would not be acceptable, so I decided to find quotes either from the authors themselves or from others who have spent much time researching them. I was hoping this would be a simple way to let their own words describe them, rather than me. This was done with the hope you would be able to make your own informed decision.
However, it looks like that backfired on us since some readers believed that we misquoted or misrepresented them. In researching them, we didn’t have the time to read all the books these authors had written, so Lowell and I both took the quotes at face value. This is the way I would expect people to take the words I write, so I was simply doing the same. And for those of you who didn’t know this, Lowell has researched and written almost as much as me on this review.
I used the heading “What He/she Believes” to make it simpler for you. This may not have been the best since not all quotes started out with “I believe”. So I have since changed the headings appropriate for each quote. And a “thank you” to those of you who pointed this out.
The description underneath the author’s name was meant to inform you what this person was, and most of that I got straight from the online encyclopedia. I also provided links so that if you had questions, you could do some research on your own.
So while you will find a few minor changes on the original post, you will find our concern is still the same.
In fact, it is even more real.
After getting some negative feedback as well as much positive, I have been researching yet more to see if I truly did misrepresent these people. But if anything, our hearts have been made heavier.
So while we were hoping our motives of caution and concern behind the review would shine through, we will also be the first to say that we are human. Our intent from the beginning was not to cause division, but to point out seeming Biblical conflicts and be a word of caution to our fellow travelers along the Way. Our methods or wording may not have been the way you would have written it, so we’ll simply ask you to believe that we are still learning.
~ Lowell and Kendra