Jen Hatmaker and the Made-to-Order Gospel – Alisa Childers

A. W. Tozer once wrote about the problems he saw in the Christianity of his day. To counteract the “phrases and mottos that on the surface look great but are not rooted in Scripture or that mostly bolster one’s self-image,” he suggested that Christians demand scriptural proof from every teacher for their teachings. Nearly 60 years after his death, Tozer’s words couldn’t be more relevant. Today, we find many resources—many of which are marketed to women—making dazzling promises to lead the Christian out of discontent and into ultimate satisfaction. But do they pass Tozer’s scriptural-proof test? 

In Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire: The Guide to Being Glorious You, Jen Hatmaker seeks to guide women out of the passenger seat and into the driver seat of their most fulfilled lives. She writes, “[T]hat question you are asking, that dream, that need, that buried anger, that delicious desire, it can all live in the open, and its unveiling be your liberation song. Come get your life!”

The book is the product of the resources, tools, teachers, and leaders that instructed and guided her own life over the past few years. “I gathered it all . . . it’s all in here,” she reveals in a Facebook video. Spanning 12 chapters exploring statements like, “Who I Am,” and “What I Need,” and “What I Want,” and “What I Believe,” and “How I Connect,” Hatmaker’s signature writing style mixes wit with wisdom, sarcasm with hilarity, and whimsy with heartfelt emotion. Her fluid storytelling draws the reader in with ease, offering a comfy front-row seat to her most amusing anecdotes and embarrassing moments. She’s engaging and casts a wide net for a broad audience.

Published by Thomas Nelson, and marketed in both Christian and mainstream spaces, Fierce will appeal to women who may feel dissatisfied with their lives, or with their experiences of church and religion. Her affirmation of same-sex marriage and relationships in 2016 resulted in a falling out with the evangelical church, much of which she chronicles bitterly.

Many resources make dazzling promises to lead the Christian out of discontent and into ultimate satisfaction. But do they pass Tozer’s scriptural-proof test?

Hatmaker’s heart to help women trapped in destructive patterns and dysfunctional mindsets is both evident and commendable. One highlight of the book is when she exposes the chronic unhappiness that results from pursuing the unrealistic goals media holds out for women. While encouraging women to drop the fad diets, extreme beauty procedures, and toxic pursuits of perfection, Hatmaker’s vulnerability is as helpful as it is disarming. “Something in me maintains that pulling on a tiny pair of ‘junior jeans’ will usher me into not just contentment but outright joy. The rot has set,” she writes, in a candid admission of her continued battle in this area. As a woman, this confession is refreshing as I navigate my own journey in undoing some of these poisonous ideas in my thinking. 

Served up with equal parts self-help, psychology, storytelling, and spirituality, Fierce contains some advice that will no doubt be helpful on a practical level. Yet while Hatmaker self-identifies as a Christian leader, her interpretations of Scripture, statistics, and studies seem rooted in a worldview that opposes biblical Christianity.

Who Am I?

According to Hatmaker, I’m “exactly enough.”

I just need to learn my personal “wiring” by determining my Enneagram number, which she credits with helping her to finally see God as “the best of all our qualities, not the worst.” By paying attention to the “deepest parts” of who I am, and uncovering my “inmost being,” I will find “a great and glorious good for the world.” She’s engaging and casts a wide net for a broad audience. The main thesis of the book is, “Do the work to find out what your best looks like.” Offering diagnostic tools, books to read, thought leaders to follow, Facebook groups to join, studies to consider, statistics to analyze and apply, there is no end to the work a woman can do to uncover the best version of herself.

Describing herself as a “Hippie-dippy, Big Love Jesus Type,” Hatmaker describes how God loves us, “like a crazed, obsessed parent who will never shut up about us.” The impression is that I need to look inside myself and realize how adorable I am, rather than deny myself and pick up my cross and follow Jesus. 

The impression is that I need to look inside myself and realize how adorable I am, rather than deny myself and pick up my cross and follow Jesus.

Hatmaker assures me that “I deserve goodness. Full stop.” She continues, “Because you are a cherished human being created by a God who loves you. Because you bear the imprint of heaven. You are worthy of honor; every person is.” 

I agree that because we’re made in God’s image, every person has inherent worth and dignity. This is a glorious truth! Yet Hatmaker omits the part about how we’ve managed to distort that image with our sinful choices. Though she acknowledges human evil, her answer isn’t repentance. Rather, it’s to realize that even the worst evildoers still “have something precious at their core.” Readers are encouraged to practice “self-compassion,” not self-denial.

Where’s the Bible’s message that we’ve sinned against God, which causes us to be separated from him? Where’s the truth that though we deserve death, we can be justified by faith in Jesus and reconciled to God, who then adopts us into his family? The saddest part of getting our condition misdiagnosed is that we lose the beauty of gospel’s cure.

What Is Love?

Love, according to Hatmaker, should be defined by observing the effects an action has on a person’s feelings. Rather than appealing to an objective standard to define love, she writes:

I lack all objectivity. I evaluate the merit of every idea based on how it bears upon actual people. . . . [W]hen “loving God” results in pain, exclusion, harm, or trauma to people, then we are absolutely doing the first part wrong. It is not God in error but us.

This is a fundamental pillar of her worldview, which she credits as being paramount in helping change her mind on issues related to same-sex marriage. 

Such logic gives unequivocal permission to judge every biblical position and worldview question through the lens of emotion. This is a dangerous way to define love because Jesus taught that all manner of evil resides in my heart and emotions. Scripture teaches that I can only discern the will of God once my mind is transformed and renewed in Christ (Rom. 12:2).

According to the Bible, love is patient and kind—absolutely. But love also refuses to delight in evil; instead it rejoices with the truth (1 Cor. 13:6). It is a defining characteristic of God himself (1 John 4:16). And God’s love can’t affirm or celebrate anything that contradicts his holiness. When love is plucked from it’s biblical context, and morality defined through the lens of emotion, one is left with a gospel made in her own image. The only thing left is to “do the work” of self-discovery and improvement.

What Is Truth?

It’s no surprise, then, that Hatmaker redefines “truth” to be a relative catch-all word for what makes someone feel good. She writes, “[Truth] is super-pumped about what we love.” After connecting Jesus with truth, she adds that in Jesus, “everyone belongs . . . until everyone belongs, we’ve replaced truth with a lie.” This, she says, is the world Jesus envisioned. 

God’s love can’t affirm or celebrate anything that contradicts his holiness.

I read this book with a friend who happened to also be reading through the Gospels at the same time. She mentioned how radically different Hatmaker’s description of how Jesus envisioned the world is from what Jesus actually taught. She noted the shocking nature of his words: “Unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:3). Sadly, when contrasted with Hatmaker’s description, Jesus is almost unrecognizable.  

Jesus’s vision for the world isn’t that “everyone belongs.” He was clear that many will not only be excluded but will be separated from him for eternity. To enter his kingdom, we must be “born again” (John 3:3), be “born of the water and of the Spirit (John 3:5), and “do the will of my Father” (Matt. 7:21). Jesus describes a “narrow way” that only “few will find” (Matt. 7:13–14). Who will not inherit his kingdom? To “workers of lawlessness” who reject his free gift of salvation, Jesus will say, “Depart from me.” This might sound a bit jarring, but these are Jesus’s words. Not mine. 

Consequences of Following a Fallen Heart

As already noted, Hatmaker offers some helpful advice. Unfortunately, though, she spends a good bit of time bashing the church, diminishing the clarity of Scripture, and downplaying the necessity of obedience to Jesus’s teachings. Instead of embracing the beauty of grace, she teaches a gospel of works. “Do the work” is the takeaway. Reminiscent of the Osteenian promise of “your best life now,” Fierce will leave the reader with nothing but herself to deal with the consequences of following her fallen heart.

Instead of embracing the beauty of grace, Hatmaker teaches a gospel of works.

Hatmaker seems sincere in her desire to encourage women to follow their dreams. She asks, “Dear reader, YOU ONLY HAVE ONE LIFE TO LIVE. What if you die tomorrow having never given your dream a shot?” This is a good and sobering question. But for the Christian, the promise of eternal life shifts our focus from the very short and temporary phase that happens on earth to the everlasting joy of heaven. To quote Jesus again: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:19).

At the end of the day, Fierce doesn’t pass the scriptural proof test and should be read with utmost discernment. After all, if you die having never started that business, achieved that career goal, written that book, or created that great work of art, you possess the promise of eternity—life with your Creator who loves you and rescued you from your sin. And once you’ve died to yourself, confessed your sin, and given all the pieces of your life to Christ, he will give you a much better dream to follow. This not only awards you the hope of eternity; it offers you a much more viable path to finding real strength and freedom in this life.

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