Did you hear about this? Recently, Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts was reviewed by Tim Challies. In his review, Mr. Challies was a little bit mean. He had some problems with what he considered were some mystical aspects of the book, and his review, while not nasty, was rather cold and dismissive.
And Ann, bless her heart, responded by sending him an email inviting him to come and have dinner at her home.
Now I already love Ann, and her gracious response did not surprise me a bit. But what I really love about this story is the way her email affected Mr. Challies. He was, in fact, so affected that he apologized online for his review. He didn’t apologize for the problems he had with Ann’s book, but he did express his regret for the way he went about the sharing of his thoughts.
Looking back at my review, and perhaps even more, the process of writing it, there are at least two things that concern me. The first is that I would have said certain things differently had I known that she and I might soon be sharing a meal together. Let me give an example. Of Voskamp’s literary style I wrote, “There is clearly a kind of appeal to it so that those who don’t hate it, love it.” I ask myself, Would I have said that to a friend, that her words are hate-able, as if that could not be hurtful? Would I have said that to someone I had planned to share a meal with a few weeks later? Probably not. Why, then, would I say it at all?
The second concern is that I fear that I might have said certain things differently had I considered her an “insider,” a fellow member of whatever little circle of the Christian world I inhabit. That one may concern me even more. When writing about Voskamp’s experience in Notre Dame I asked, “What does she not understand about the gospel that her ecstasies have to happen in a place dedicated to a false gospel of salvation by grace plus works rather than a gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone?” Would I have asked it that way if Ann was someone I might be on a panel with at the next conference I attend? Probably not. I may even have assumed different things about the way she understands the gospel. And maybe I would have put more effort into discussing some of the book’s strengths and showing how they balance the weaknesses. I hope not, but I can’t deny that somewhere in my mind lurks this insider and outsider kind of thinking which somehow encourages me to extend greater courtesy to one group than another.
I did poorly here and I can see that I need to grow in my ability to critique the ideas in a book even while being kind and loving to its author. There was reason for the shame I felt when I saw that name in my inbox. I had put effort into reading the book and understanding and critiquing it, but no real effort into showing love and respect for the author. I had assumed poor motives and in arrogance and thoughtlessness had squelched useful discussion of the book’s strengths and weaknesses.
There is value in engaging the ideas in any book, and especially a book about this Christian life, but the desire to uphold truth has no business coming into conflict with love for another person. Truth and love are to be held together as friends, not separated as if they are enemies. In my desire to say what was true, I failed to love. I ask Ann’s forgiveness for this.
This apology impresses me. Tim Challies’ humble words make me want to stand up and clap. These words convict me, because I have been Ann, but I have also been Tim.
In this amazing time of technology, when thoughts can be thrown up on a screen and sent out into the world with a simple tap of a finger, how much do I really think about the people my words are affecting? Those I engage online are not avatars, they are flesh and blood and spirit and soul.
I need to be able to distinguish between a person and her message. I need to be able to disagree with or question a message without diminishing the messenger. Because when the line between a person and her message is blurred, the chasm opens and widens and deepens, and who wants that?
It’s hard to have a conversation, let alone a relationship, across a chasm. But across a dinner table, well, that will work.
I need to remember the story of Ann and Tim.