A response to Jen Hatmaker

First of all, I don’t know Jen Hatmaker. Second of all, she’s waaaay more hip, ‘in,” connected and choon than I am. Third, I’ll probably make some mommy bloggers mad at me for this entry. Jen (not that we’re on first name basis, but it’s only three letters and easy to refer to her that way) is a fantastic writer and has authored several Christian books and Bible studies. Her blog is consistently well-traveled and popular (unlike other blogs whose URLs rhyme with ferny lie rot bomb). She recently wrote a blog entry that has exploded in the Christian blogosphere. That’s probably why you haven’t read it. It’s titled, And Then the Conference Uninvited Me to Speak.

She describes a recent experience in being uninvited to speak by a large church. Having not been invited to speak in large churches in the first place, I figure that I’ve had similar experiences so I could readily identify with her indignation. Her blog entry is a beautifully-written description of the importance of Christians having a loving heart towards all people. She expresses deep concern for how some in the American church have turned off genuine seekers by their arrogance and judgmental attitude.

I loved her description of her traditional, Bible-belt upbringing:

I grew up immersed in typical Christian subculture: heavy emphasis on morality, fairly dogmatic, linear and authoritative. Because my experience was so homogenous and my skill set included Flying Right, I found wild success in the paradigm. My interpretations were rarely challenged by diversity, suffering, or disparity. Since the bulls-eye was behaving (we called it “holiness”), I earned an A.

Immediately following that, however she quotes research that seems to indicate that “80 percent of those reared in the church will be ‘disengaged’ by the time they are 29.”

She says:

80 percent. Gone.

From there, she passionately and eloquently urges Christians to a more gracious lifestyle. Count me in for that.

However, the deeper I read into her article, the more uncomfortable I grew with her conclusions. She said:

Jesus is a hero, a brother, a Savior in every since of the word. He is everything good and gracious. His love for us is embarrassing, boundless, without standards at all.

Here’s the problem. I want to agree with all she is saying, but I believe there are at least two mistakes in her blog entry:

1. The research she quotes is both misleading at best and completely erroneous at worst.

Youthministry.com debunked the statistic (and others have been attempting to do so consistently), but these stats are constantly being used as a doomsday cry for the church of “We’re losing young people!” I reviewed Christian sociologist Bradley Wright’s book Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites and Other Lies We’ve Been Told here, and I think it should be added to Jen’s reading list. She would be deeply encouraged by it. He points out how prone statistics are to poor interpretation and application and cites the surveys she mentioned, among many others.

Jen used them to stir our hearts. Our hearts should be stirred by the heart of God for the lostness of people without having to use questionable conclusions by well-intentioned research organizations.

2. Her eloquence about Jesus and His love for all peoples goes a bit too far in claiming that His love is “without standards.”

It is boundless, but it has standards. The standard is this: His love must be received and returned. Jesus’ boundless love isn’t so powerful that every person will go to heaven. We must act in response to His love and His Word. Jen seems to be saying that Christians should unquestioningly love and embrace whatever lifestyle or behaviors people choose.

I totally agree with her that:

Christianity is too thrilling to reduce to middle/upper-middle class First World Problems, encapsulated in issues and gauged by a nebulous moral compass that lost its bearing decades ago.

However, in her zeal to demonstrate the radically amazing, transformative grace of Christ, I wonder… If this were the only blog of hers that someone reads, the only piece of one of her many written works, would she be satisfied that she’s communicated that Jesus is the God of grace and truth in this post? Or is this more reactive to a specific situation that she would never want to become her magnum opus?

At over 400 comments and counting, she’s certainly created a ruckus.

I’m willing to wrap us all in grace, because one day we’ll both discover we got some parts right and other parts wrong. Jesus’ mercy is going to be enough for us all.

I don’t know which “one day” she is referring to, but there is a day foretold in scripture which indicates that while Jesus’ mercy IS enough for all, not all will be recipients of it. Jesus said:

“The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (John 12.48)

I love her heart, but I’m concerned that she’s gone too far in trying to appeal to those who dislike or even hate the church. It is, after all, the bride of Christ, the people of God. We cannot hide with eloquence what might hinder our acceptance with others.

Wrapping Up

Christian leaders and influencers need to be very careful about motivating through statistics. Does the American church have issues? Absolutely! Do we sometimes demonstrate a love deficit? Check. But the solution is not to leave the dance floor upset by someone’s lack of grace and rhythm. I think we need to dance with greater grace… and offer lessons to the side-step-steppers along the way.

On this day...

13 comments

  1. Megan says:
    Hey, I am that “mommy blogger” (which is in itself slightly offensive, I prefer blogger) that is ticked off at you.

    Actually kidding, I am not ticked. But having followed “Jen” since before she was really famous AND read her books, I can see her heart and what she was trying to say. The frustration is in being radical for Christ- living out what the bible says- isn’t what mainstream American Christianity is about, unfortunately. And that is her frustration. That bible believing churches are worried about offending people more than they are for truly living out their faith. If you have read her blog or her books you would know her personality is pretty spunky and she doesn’t sugar coat stuff.

    I can’t argue if her statistics are wrong. If they are wrong she should change them.

    But saying that Jesus’ love isn’t powerful enough? I disagree. I think it is ALL powerful. There is enough of HIS LOVE to send every single person on this earth from all of time to heaven. It is our choice as humans to believe in it, to accept it.

    And if every single person who ever wrote a blog post or A BOOK was judged on that sole piece of writing, then no one should be writing anything. Since we are all imperfect.

    I don’t believe or agree with everything everybody says in the “Christian” arena, but I do think we should spend more time encouraging each other instead of picking each other apart. Especially when we(born again Christians) are all on the SAME side in the end.

    1. Jeff says:
      Megan,

      Maybe you need to re-read what I said. I most definitely did NOT say that Jesus’ love isn’t powerful enough. I said, “It is boundless, but it has standards. The standard is this: His love must be received and returned.”

      Just to clarify.

      And I hope that my response didn’t come off as picking her apart. I love her heart and ministry. But I do think that influential Christian leaders and speakers are held to a higher standard of accountability according to James 3.1:

      “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

      So we should not shy away from pointing out things that may be misinterpreted by those that follow us.

  2. Loree says:
    I understood it to be in context written to Christian brothers and sisters – that Christians of differing denominations got some things right and some things wrong (in their denominational understanding of Scripture) but that Jesus’ mercy (and sacrifice) was enough for us all. I don’t believe, in this particular instance that she intended that statement in the context she wrote it (to Christians – to the church) to be construed to include non-believers being covered on THAT day.

    That said, however, Jesus’ love is without standards. Where in scripture does it say Jesus love is conditional upon return? Salvation is conditional upon acceptance, but Jesus loves even those who on THAT day will be condemned. He has promises specific for those who love him, but I’ve never seen where His love is anything but unconditional.

    1. Jeff says:
      Loree,
      Thanks for your comment. I don’t know that we can say Jesus’ love is without standards. In Luke 19, Jesus tells a chilling parable with clear reference to His right to rule over all people and He concludes it with this comment:

      “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.” (Luke 19:27 ESV)

      Paul comments on those who live in active rejection of Christ as Lord:

      “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18-19 ESV)

      With that said, I do believe that Jesus loves all and desires that all be saved. He also knows those that won’t. Therefore, it’s difficult for us to reconcile His perfect love with His perfect hate of those who reject Him. He will judge and He will condemn those who refuse His love.

      The whole thought is beyond me in depth, but scripture teaches that God’s love may have standards that we’re not comfortable with:

      “As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’
      What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” (Romans 9:13-18 ESV)

  3. Meg Ishikawa says:
    Hi Jeff,
    I stumbled upon your blog while looking for others a bit thrown off by Jen H.’s response to the whole Duck Dynasty thing. I was in agreement with what Kathy Howard says on her blog about what Jen H. had written. As I perused Jen H.’s blog, I found this blog that you are referring to. That too had bothered me. I guess for me this has led me to once again be careful of some of the more “fun type” female teachers I have followed and keep on with solid bloggers such as the man I have termed, “The Evangelical Watchman on the Wall” – Dr. Al Mohler. He knows firsthand the slippery slope we can be on when we say, “Did God really say???” or “Jesus would want to meet the culture where it is!” I love Mohler’s interview in CT a few years ago when he talks about having the scales removed from his eyes by none other than Carl F. Henry. May we all have the scales removed from our eyes to see that God’s Word is yes, full of grace, but also along with this, full of truth. I appreciate your ministry here on this blog. Thank you for staying true to Scripture.
    1. Jeff says:
      Meg, thanks for your comments. My main goal in responding to some of the things I see that Christian leaders post and write is to remind us all that our leaders, myself included, are imperfect followers of a perfect God. Sometimes we get it wrong. Sometimes we nuance it wrong. When we do, let’s treat each other with love and respect, but let’s not hesitate to graciously point out when something we write or say can be misleading or might be communicated in a more helpful way. Overall, Jen Hatmaker has a wonderful ministry, and I appreciate her colorful creativity in applying God’s Word in gracious, healing ways.
  4. Allison says:
    I have to say the few things I’ve read from Jen H make me rather nervous for the many women I hear speak so highly of her. She seems very ambitious yet quite ambigous. She is very bold about the “love/grace” and rather wishy washy on “truth” (which isn’t loving at all). I won’t go on, but suffice to say I’m just bothered that she has such a following and that she isn’t being more closely looked at. I believe people are being led astray.
    1. Jeff says:
      Thanks for commenting, Allison. I can’t speak to that since I really don’t read or listen to her at all. Your comment about people being led astray may be extreme until there is clear evidence of a consistent pattern of unbibilcal teaching or unwise application of scripture. Until then, I think we should assume the best and exercise grace.
    2. Sherri says:
      Allison, I agree with you. Not just because of what I’ve heard, but from what I’ve read and seen. I was recently invited to a “book club” of Christian moms so I bought her latest book, For The Love. While she is extremely funny and highly like-able, I have found myself overwhelmed with frustration as my reading has “settled” past the humor. Her (30-min!) video blog we watched before the discussion just added to my angst. Her perspective has become the politically-correct way to talk and think in Christian culture and I’m sorely grieved because it is not Biblical. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has a red flag.
  5. Wendy says:
    Hi Jeff…thanks for speaking out and writing this. I used to read her books until my eyes were opened..whether her intentions are noble or not….she is a leader in the Christian field and whoever is should tread carefully. Jesus should not be labeled as anything other than what he is…the King of Kings and Lord of Lords…a hero? A brother? If He is on the same level as us(or at least something we can aspire to like a hero or a big brother)…then we can downplay some of His words as “take or leave according to one’s own interpretation.”
    It’s a slippery slope…the eloquent words and poetic prose in her writing(much like Ann Voskamp’s) leave much room for error and mucking up scripture…a great place to break apart truth without the reader even realizing what’s going on.
  6. Sherri says:
    Thanks for this article. I appreciate that you are trying to be gracious, but as someone who has recently read her writings and heard her speak, I think there is even more to be concerned about than a misguided statistic. Jen Hatmaker seems to have (at least) one foot firmly planted in the world and encourages her readers (many of whom are young moms) to do the same. By “the world” I mean worldly culture and customs. I see many young women (and older ones?) being sucked in because of her great humor to a carnal and misguided way of thinking and living, all in the name of Jesus. Scary.
    1. Jeff says:
      Sherri, thanks for your sober encouragement to caution. Since writing that post, I’ve not followed Jen much at all, so I’m not aware of recent publications or emphases.
  7. Susanna says:
    I appreciate hearing someone say this. I’m disappointed, but no longer shocked at the huge following she has. Just from what I have seen, I want to bash my head against the wall seeig my friends like and follow her posts. I keep asking, so what does that mean? Where is the gospel? Where is the fear of the Lord? It’s gone. I have not seen it mentioned. What is present is an immersion of culture, brashness toward the church or dogma, and the refusal to draw any definitive biblical lines. I’m perplexed. This is where the church is at large. I’m not kidding myself anymore.

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