Saturday, May 4, 2013

Book Review & Discernment- "7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess" by Jen Hatmaker, part 1

Part 2 here

The Shack got women talking. The Secret titillated them. A Thousand Gifts made them swoon. Now, 7:An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker is causing another stir among the female brethren. Here is the Amazon.com book blurb-
American life can be excessive, to say the least. That’s what Jen Hatmaker had to admit after taking in hurricane victims who commented on the extravagance of her family’s upper middle class home. She once considered herself unmotivated by the lure of prosperity, but upon being called “rich” by an undeniably poor child, evidence to the contrary mounted, and a social experiment turned spiritual was born."

"7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence."

"Food. Clothes. Spending. Media. Possessions. Waste. Stress. They would spend thirty days on each topic, boiling it down to the number seven. Only eat seven foods, wear seven articles of clothing, and spend money in seven places. Eliminate use of seven media types, give away seven things each day for one month, adopt seven green habits, and observe “seven sacred pauses.” So, what’s the payoff from living a deeply reduced life? It’s the discovery of a greatly increased God—a call toward Christ-like simplicity and generosity that transcends social experiment to become a radically better existence."
Where do I begin.

OK, as always begin with the language that is being presented and carefully scrutinize it, and then compare it to the bible.

First, the impetus of the book worrisome. A kid called them 'rich' so they changed their life? Were they ashamed to be called rich by a poor child? Guilty of the blessings God had sent them? If they were prosperous in contrast to a poor kid, then it was an opportunity to do more with their means. It is not a sin to be rich, even by comparison to others. Abraham was wealthy. So was Job. David. Solomon. Nicodemus. Joseph of Arithamea. Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod's household, and Susanna; helped Jesus out of their own means. (Luke 8:3). It is the love of money that rots. Was this family loving money too much? Or just ashamed of what they had? There is a difference.

If they were attempting to shepherd their means in more Godly fashion, then that is fine. But it seemed that they were ashamed of their status in life. The bible has much to say about money, Godly living, shepherding resources, and excess, yet they did not consult with the word. They are off to a bad start.

What was their source for proceeding? They created a man-made outline to guide their behavior rather than consult the bible. By what standards did they decide on seven? On food, clothing, spending? What about giving?

Stress? Stress is part of life. Ask Paul. Peter. Stephen. Any martyr. Any Christian. We are at war with the powers and principalities of this world, and that is stressful. Do they think they deserve a stress-free life? What was the source of their stress? If they had made unGodly decisions about work, to the expense of their children, that is one matter. If they simply want the 'good life' that is another. Achieving it by man-made means and monastic 'simplicity' is not the way.

We have had a wave of these try harder "faith" type books these last couple of years. We suffered through Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs and A Year of Biblical Womanhood Rachel Held Evans. In my opinion, this current wave of 'do something, try harder, strip away the consumerism so we can get close to God' kind of books began with David Platt's "Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream." That was a book that made it seem like those who were not doing big and bold things for God and coming home after work to sit on their American couch were second rate.

This past January, I wrote,

"You might remember I talked about the time when David Platt's book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream came out. Christians all over the place got on the bandwagon and decided that their plain-jane faith was unremarkable and they needed an adrenaline shot of daring and a radical change to prove to God that they're really a Christian who means it. Let's contrast the fancy lights and high volume indoctrination of charismatic faith preached at Passion 2013 with this-" and I linked to John MacArthur's essay called "An Unremarkable Faith".

MacArthur's essay extolled the virtues of a plain old Godly life lived by biblical standards (which is actually harder to do than sell everything and run off to Burma.). And I mentioned Radical again this past March, referencing Southern View Chapel's treatment of Platt's book in fall of 2011. They write,

"A similar voice is David Platt’s and his book Radical: [Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream]. Platt offers better balance than Chan but still propagates a two-tiered gospel composed of the true gospel of redemption and the social gospel. While Platt is careful to elevate the true gospel, the social gospel of feeding the hungry and giving to the poor is the primary focus of the book and accounts for its popularity.[26] He writes, “As we meet needs on earth, we are proclaiming a gospel that transforms lives for eternity.”[27] The author does not advocate the social agenda as opposed to true evangelism, as mentioned above, but he does say that caring for the poor is evidence of salvation. As a matter of fact “rich people who neglect the poor are not the people of God.”[28] However, when we turn to the New Testament, we find that, while Christians are to be loving and generous to all people, they are never told to attempt to remedy the consequences of the sin of unbelieving humanity through social action."

7:An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess is a natural outgrowth of books like Platt's Radical. We can see influences of Platt in the blurb when we read that following the author's example will lead to "a radically better existence."

Are we to seek a radically better existence for ourselves on this earth? It is not our home. It is our battleground. Are we to seek a radically better existence for others on this earth through experiments like social gospel? No. Better their book be titled "An Experimental Mutiny Against Sin" because that is what Christians are called to do, witness for Christ against sin and Him alone as the way to overcome it.

I sidetracked about the Jacobs, Evans, and Platt books because I wanted you to see how these things are connected in waves. Platt's book was seminal and damaging. We see that now.

Back to An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. The blurb says the family discovered that once they dispensed with their stuff, they found "a greatly increased God"? So, God 'increases' if we recycle? People, God doesn't change depending on what WE do.

The phrase in the blurb says it all: "a social experiment turned spiritual was born". They didn't consult the bible and adopt biblical standards in repentance and to seek God, they performed legalistic and rigid actions and a byproduct of that was that their own experience seemed to bring them closer to God. It's backwards. That is how one knows they are false.

Now, let's see what the bible has to say about riches.

Let's substitute Abraham's name for their name and see if this social experiment makes as much sense. From the blurb:
American life can be excessive, to say the least. That’s what Jen Hatmaker had to admit after taking in hurricane victims who commented on the extravagance of her family’s upper middle class home. She once considered herself unmotivated by the lure of prosperity, but upon being called “rich” by an undeniably poor child, evidence to the contrary mounted, and a social experiment turned spiritual was born.
From the bible-
Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the
A painting of Abraham's departure by József Molnár
Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. (Gen 13:2-4).
Blending the two-

"And Abram was called "rich" by a poor slave from Pharaoh's house and Abram felt guilty for his excesses. And lo, Abram chose the number seven and gave 7 cows to the child, and 7 pieces of silver to the beggar by the gate and 7 pieces of gold to the cripple by the road. And a grand social experiment was born, and behold, Abram felt closer to God and God was increased because of Abram's works."

BAH HA HA HA -- stupid, eh?

Now, it is not stupid to shepherd your means wisely. It is not stupid to care for the poor. It is not stupid to have compassion on those less fortunate. All those things are good. We are reminded of the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Some people are richer than others and that is the way God set it up (Matthew 25:15). It is what we do with what we have that He is looking for. (Matthew 24:28). How we go about witnessing for Jesus regarding those important topics is what matters. How we share our means is what is at stake. Is what we are doing for the right reasons and done in the right way? Because there are right and wrong reasons and a right and a wrong way, as the parable shows.

In the next part of this book review, I'll explore what the reference in the book's "seven sacred pauses" means. The meat of the problem with the book "7: An experimental Mutiny Against Excess" is contained in that phrase, and I'll explicitly tell you why this 'discipline' is very, very bad. Is what we are doing for the cause of Christ Godly and deep, grounded in His word? Or is what we are doing for the cause of Christ superficial and wrong headed, off track and thus of the kingdom of darkness? This book is in the latter group and in the next part I'll clearly show you how they went about it in the wrong way, and thus why the book is to be avoided.

Part 2 here

8 comments:

  1. Elizabeth,

    Thank you so much for reviewing this book. I was hoping you would after sending you that email about it. I've seen woman after woman post 5 star reviews about how much they love this book, but it never did sit well with my spirit. It had liberalism and mysticism written all over it.

    Concerning David Platt's book Radical. You're right. We can see now that it started a bad trend in Christianity, although I believe his intentions were good. He came dangerously close to creating a two-tiered Christianity in that book. I'm glad he clarified some things in his follow book Radical Together. Jared Wilson wrote a great review on it http://tgcreviews.com/reviews/radical-together/.

    With that said, I attend David's church Brook Hills. My wife and I are currently signed up for new membership orientation after visiting for several months. I have no doubt that Platt is grounded in Biblical truth. His latest book 'Follow Me: A Call to Die. A Call to Live' is much better. I am almost finished with it with just one chapter left. Tim Challies gave it a much better review than Radical.

    Thanks again for the helpful review and I look forward to part 2!

    Brad
    Birmingham, AL

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    1. Hi Brad,

      Thank YOU for the alert as to this book. I am working on part 2 now, though a nap may delay publication ;)

      I agree that Platt is grounded in truth. I like him. He put in an unfortunate mixture of messages which satan used to touch off a craze that has devolved since then. This is a good essay on the topic
      "The New Legalism: Missional, Radical, Narcissistic, and Shamed"
      http://blog.acton.org/archives/53944-the-new-legalism-missional-radical-narcissistic-and-shamed.html

      Part 2 will focus on the Seven Sacred Pauses/Divine Hours/Catholic prayers; and how and why women love this book. :(

      Thanks for the news that his next book is better!!!

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  2. Thanks for the Abraham analogy. I've always had a heart for powerful analogies. I think there's something Biblical about that -- Jesus spoke in parables, after all, which are extended analogies.

    :)

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  3. It seems to me that these books are all rooted in some form of legalism. I think if we study The Word, we can get all the info we need in how to live the Christian life and with conviction.

    Pam
    p.s. If I hear the word "missional" once more, I think I will scream!!

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    Replies
    1. Pam, I agree! Legalism the try harder religion. I noted a good link above in comment to Brad I'll bring to your attention also. That pastor feels the same as you!

      The ‘new legalism’
      http://www.worldmag.com/2013/05/the_new_legalism
      How the push to be ‘radical’ and ‘missional’ discourages ordinary people in ordinary places from doing ordinary things to the glory of God . Being a ‘radical,’ ‘missional’ Christian is slowly becoming the ‘new legalism.’ We need more ordinary God and people lovers (Matt 22:36-40).

      more at link

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  4. Thanks, Elizabeth, I will definitely check that out. Have a great Sunday!
    pam

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  5. Eilzabeth,

    AMEN! (Should I say it 7 times?) HAHA. Sorry. Anyhow, I've never heard of this book, but I have seen others written in a similar vein. You are absolutely right- it's all legalism. The women at my former church studied one of those "try harder" books - I did not participate. The next book they chose was one on combating insecurity. Go figure. (I didn't participate in that study either, and lived gloriously free from the spiritual rollercoaster.)

    Brilliant: "MacArthur's essay [Unremarkable Faith] extolled the virtues of a plain old Godly life lived by biblical standards (which is actually harder to do than sell everything and run off to Burma.)" Just brilliant.

    Thank you also for pointing out the snare of "guilt tripping". Oh far too common in churches today, takes many forms. Shaming and manipulating God's people into various works is NOT the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

    20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch !" 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use )-in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men ? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. - Colossians 2

    17 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. - 1 Timothy 6

    In the Colossians passage, notice how these asceticism based activities have the appearance of wisdom, but are of NO worth. They are SELF-made religion. Self being the operative word.

    In the 1 Timothy passage, notice the instruction was NOT to tell those who are rich to "throw it all away" or to "feel ashamed" or to "reduce life to 7 foods, etc", but rather to put their hope in God, to ENJOY their blessings, and especially to be RICH IN GOOD WORKS WITH A GENEROUS HEART!

    Great post, I think I shall read part 2, and bookmark these links!

    YSIC
    -carolyn

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  6. I expected this book to be about how to take the "stuff" out of our lives and put God in its place. The author tried to go there, but this experiment failed. All of her self-imposed reductions seemed to put the focus on her, not God.

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