Lots of mess with a little moxie
If you're a Christian woman and you haven't heard of Jen Hatmaker, you might be living under a rock. Her previous books (7, Interrupted, For The Love, etc) have been bestsellers, accompanied by rave reviews and scores of Christian women following Jen on social media and attending conferences where she speaks. My first exposure to Jen Hatmaker was when her book Interrupted came out several years ago. I read it when it came out and mostly loved it. I loved her honesty, her heart for the poor, her heart for being the hands and feet of Jesus in real and practical ways to the church and to the community at large. However, since then she seems to have slipped further and further away from the traditional Gospel of Jesus and closer and closer to what some might term "emergent" theology, capped off with her public announcement that she believes same sex marriages are holy and that God blesses them. I decided to give her newest book, Of Mess And Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out Of This Wild And Glorious Life a shot just to be fair since I did really enjoy Interrupted. Unfortunately, there wasn't much redeemable about this book. Of Mess And Moxie is a series of extremely disjointed essays on wildly different topics, with several funny "How To" sections interspersed randomly throughout the book. It felt like she couldn't pick a coherent theme for the book, and jumped around from topic to topic with nothing really tying it all together. I hate writing negative reviews and I want to extend as much grace as possible to Jen, but I also need to be completely honest, so here goes - the good, the bad, and the ugly:
I'll start with all the good things first, because it kills me to write a negative review of anyone's book - it makes me feel bad. On the positive side, I loved the handful of recipes Jen included (Jen's Grocery Store Day Super Sandwich, Panang Chicken Curry, various smoothie recipes, Aunt Carol's Crunch Salad, Buffalo Chicken Dip, Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Dates, Fried Chicken Sliders With Honey Dijonnaise) and am excited to make them. I'm a big foodie and I LOVE to cook, so this was a fun addition for me. I also enjoyed many of the hilarious How-To lists (there are four collections of these scattered throughout the book), especially "How To Shop At Target", "How To Plan A Family", "How To Get Your Husband To Fix That Thing He's Been Saying For Three Months That He'd Fix", "How To Ensure People Feel Compelled To Pop In For A Visit", "How To Find A Family Pet", and "How To Find A Missing Child". Jen is a gifted writer and very funny. I enjoy reading her hilarious real life stories and can relate to many of them. She seems like someone that would be super fun to hang out with and is obviously very earnest in her beliefs and wants to minister to women and help women grow and cultivate friendships. I did highlight a handful of insights that I found helpful, such as her discussion of God not giving us a spirit of fear on pages 39-40. This really spoke to me and I appreciated her insight there. The other part I really enjoyed was the last chapter, Rewoven (pages 243-250). Jen takes the story of Joseph and shows how God rewove all the tattered shreds of his life into something good, and He will do the same for us. That was an encouragement to my heart. The cover of the book is also super cute!
Now on to the problems...
I started off by reading the praise in the beginning for the book. Instead of using celebrity endorsements, she opted to use endorsements from her "tribe" - her Facebook group/launch team. I like seeing reviews from real people, so this seemed nice - until I started reading them. With multiple mentions of craft beer and drinking wine, Netflix, irreverence, and "feeling all the feelings", it was pretty clear that the target audience for this book is upper-middle-class hipsters in their 30s-40s (not my demographic - I'm in my early 30s, but decidedly not a hipster in any way, shape, or form, and sadly not upper-middle-class). Never fear though, the reviewers didn't write the book, Jen did, so I'm not going to judge a book by its reviewers.
Then I started turning the pages. I ran into problems just in the Introduction - she immediately mentions drinking alcohol, then proceeds to call out and publicly shame a woman who wrote a warning against Jen's ministry/theology/etc, calling her "an older gal" (right after saying this book is for all ladies, young and old), and calling it a "church-lady-finger-wagging article". This made me feel super, super uncomfortable as Jen's mantra is supposedly being all-inclusive and grace-filled/loving to EVERYONE. However, the Introduction closes on a high note of stating that we don't have to wait for a Someday Life to enjoy the life we have right here in front of us and promises to show us how we can find our moxie in the middle of our boring, ordinary lives. Pushing away my uneasiness and feeling mildly inspired, I went ahead and turned to the first chapter.
Things got more and more difficult from there. On page 2 of the book, there is a curse word. In fact, at final count, the book contains at least five different curse words throughout. I'm pretty surprised a Christian publisher (Thomas Nelson) is okay with publishing a Christian book with cursing sprinkled throughout, but maybe that's just me. All I know is that I expect Christian books to be edifying, and cursing is not really aligned with that goal - James 3:10 immediately came to mind ("Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.). It felt like she was trying to be edgy and cool (I'm a Christian, but I can still curse!) but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth (no pun intended). She also comes off as very irreverent in many of her comments.
Moving on, the next thing I noticed was the near-constant positive reference to drinking alcohol. Jen appears to glamorize drinking throughout the book. She talks up Happy Hour with friends, drinking wine at home, going out for margaritas, and more, over and over and over again. In this 254 page book, drinking alcohol is mentioned (in a positive light, and glamorized) at least 30 times. In fact, it's mentioned in nearly every chapter. Let that sink in for a minute ... especially for those of us who come from alcoholic homes, families, and/or have struggled with drinking ourselves before getting saved. Romans 14:21 kept playing through my mind as I read this book: "It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak." Not only does Jen make it seem like it's a-ok for Christians to drink alcohol frequently, she normalizes it and makes you feel as if you're missing out on something fun and exciting if you don't partake. This is egregious to me in a culture where drinking is such a serious issue that many people, Christians and non-Christians, struggle with. The Bible has much to say about alcohol and drunkenness: Ephesians 5:18 (And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;) which suggests you are not filled with the Holy Spirit when you are filled with wine; the story from Genesis 9 where Noah gets drunk and his son exposes his nakedness; Genesis 19 where Lot gets drunk and his daughters sleep with him and become pregnant by him; Leviticus 10:9 (and many others) warning against drinking "wine and strong drink"; Proverbs 20:1 which warns "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise."; Proverbs 23:20 which warns, "Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh:"; Proverbs 23:29-35 which is very clear about the problems with wine and alcohol ("Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.") I understand some Christians believe that you may drink alcohol so long as you do not get drunk - as the Bible is extremely clear that drunkenness is a sin - but I refer back to Romans 14:21 and not causing unbelievers, new believers, and non-Christians to stumble, or to give a bad testimony.
But moving on from alcohol, another issue I have with Jen is her seeming to be wishy-washy and flip-flopping constantly. Over the past decade or so she's gone from a traditional preacher's wife holding orthodox positions, to a minimalist, to a social justice warrior and advocate for the poor, to her current position(s). She even states "When people read my books out of order, they are like, Wait, what?" A warning bell went off as James 1:8 popped into my mind: "A double minded man is unstable in all his ways." She seems to have a problem nailing down one belief system to live by, and while I completely understand and advocate for growth and healthy, positive change, certain things don't change. We have the Bible as our unchangeable, unerring guide to life and certain things are set in stone. Her constant changing is a warning sign to me that she's not stable minded.
Another disturbing thread woven throughout the book is Jen's dismissing of salvation, repentance, and sanctification and emphasis on "love" and "grace". On page 82, in the midst of a discussion about loving sinners, she writes, "You can love truly, without conditions, without agenda, without a fork in the road, without disapproval, without fear, without obligation. You can love someone with a different ideology, different religious conviction, different sexual identity, ideas, background, ethnicity, opinions, different anything. You can love someone society condemns. You can love someone the church condemns. You have no other responsibility than to represent Jesus well, which should leave that person feeling absurdly loved, welcomed, cherished. There is no other end game. You are not anyone's savior; you are a sister." While this sounds good and lovely and Christlike on the surface, in reality it is not entirely true. There is a kernel of truth to it - Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39) and says that people will know we are Christians because of how we love (John 13:35). However, Jesus never just loved people and left them in their sin. He loved them, but required repentance - such as the story of the woman at the well when Jesus doesn't condemn her, but tells her to go and sin no more (John 8:11). Jesus never leaves someone in their sin without calling for repentance of that sin. We can love people abundantly, but we are commanded to share the Gospel with everyone so that they can repent and be saved, such as in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). And we are never called to have our closest advisers and closest friends be unsaved people. In fact, the Bible warns of this over and over: "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14); "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3); "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful." (Psalm 1:1); "But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat." (1 Corinthians 5:11); "A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself." (Titus 3:10-11); etc. People should feel welcomed, accepted, and loved in our churches, homes, and lives, but not to the exclusion of overlooking sin or preaching the whole counsel of God. We don't want people to die and go to hell because we didn't share the full Gospel with them so that we wouldn't make them uncomfortable or appear unloving - in fact, I believe is is more unloving to NOT share the full Gospel of Jesus Christ with people for fear of offending them, because their eternal soul is on the line.
Finally, Jen advocates for women preaching and holding leadership positions in the church (page 127), which is clearly forbidden in the Bible, in 1 Timothy 2:12 and other places: "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." Women should absolutely teach and train other women as Titus 2 suggests, but should not be preaching from the pulpit on a Sunday morning or leading men in the church. This is clearly unbiblical. She also references watching a number of TV shows that I would consider a bit inappropriate (Breaking Bad, Parenthood, etc) and references them in a positive light. The entire tone of the book seems worldly, rather than pointing to Christ and the new life we can have in Him.
Overall, Of Mess And Moxie is heavy on the superficial and fluff and very low on Scripture, biblical applications, and edification. The Bible and Jesus are rarely mentioned and seem to almost be an afterthought in certain portions. If you took out a few handfuls of sentences, it could be a completely secular book. It's fun to read and seems good on the surface, but lacks any true depth or biblical underpinnings. It reminds me of 2 Timothy 3:5-7: "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."
If you are a Christian woman looking for a book to edify you and encourage you in your walk with the Lord, I unfortunately cannot really recommend this book. There are many, many wonderful (and funny!) books geared toward Christian women that are scripturally sound and have a ton to glean from, but this isn't one of them. I gave it 2 stars because there are some redeeming qualities, but the overarching problems are too many to recommend it. It might be a fun and lighthearted book for a mature Christian woman rooted in her faith to read (chew on the meat and spit out the bones), but I wouldn't recommend it to a new or baby Christian. I'm sure this won't be a popular review, but I just can't get behind much of Jen Hatmaker's theology. She unfortunately seems to have gone off the rails with this one.
I received a copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in order to provide an honest and unbiased review. All opinions are my own.