The Second Commandment, Sarah Young and Ann Voskamp

It dawned on me this past week while listening to a sermon by Alistair Begg on the Second Commandment that both Sarah Young and Ann Voskamp trample on the Second Commandment in their books, Jesus Calling and One Thousand Gifts. Both books have been widely popular among women and the men of the church have been dreadfully absent in offering any correction or critique.

Tim Challies tried to make some inroads with the issue, but was contacted by Ann Voskamp in person, and he melted like a chocolate-covered cheesecake in the Texas summer heat. I agree that we should treat both women as sisters in the LORD, but both sisters in the LORD still need correcting on their writing and the women of the church need to be warned that both books have terrible theological problems.

I know that some have suggested since these women are sisters in the LORD, that we probably need to focus on people who are more enemies to the kingdom than Voskamp and Young. I suggest that as those called to stand for the truth, we stand for the truth against those inside the camp as well as outside the camp. Turning a blind eye to such books is not helping the women of the church become more discerning and theologically wise.

As for pastors, we should always seek to reject old wives’ tales according to Paul in his letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:6-11). Both books can fall squarely under the rubric of “old wives’ tales” because they offer up things about God not found in Scripture. We are not commanded anywhere in Scripture to make up things Jesus might say to lonely house wives, as is the case with Jesus Calling. And we are not to envision our love for Christ and God so great that we have sexual desires and experiences with God of the type that Voskamp describes in her chapter The Joy of Intimacy. 

This last one is so far outside the pale of what is acceptable concerning the Second Commandment and how it prescribes our worship of God, both corporately and privately, that I’m shocked at the people trying to defend Voskamp at all. She is telling  us in her book that she had sex with God. I don’t care how spiritual or intellectual you are, when it comes to having sex with God, as her words seem to indicate, you have gone too far in what you worship and how you worship.

 Just listen to her own words:

A stranger on the road, my cold heart burns (Luke 24:32) and He is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh and I am His and He is mine and I want to touch the paint [in the painting mentioned below]. I want to run my fingertips across oils, let the colors saturate my skin, let them run into my blood. I want to be in the painting, Supper at Emmaus, the painting to be in me. I want to be in God and God to be in me, to exchange love and blessings and caresses and, like the apostle-pilgrims, my eyes open and I know it because of this burning of the heart: this moment is a divine interchange. I raise my hand slightly, FINGER imperceptibly the air before the canvas and this is INTERCOURSE DISROBED of its connotations, pure and unADULTERATED: a passing between. A connection, a communicating, an EXCHANGE, between TENDER BRIDEGROOM AND HIS BRIDE…The INTERCOURSE of soul with God is the very CLIMAX of joy.

Yes, emphasis added. Where is such language ever given in Scripture that would lead us to such erotic behavior with the thoughts of God? Yes, I know that the Song of Solomon is quite racy. But the Song of Solomon is between a man and a woman, not a woman and God. Jesus is our Savior, our King, our Redeemer, the lover of our souls and so many other things. But He is not our personal lover to have some sexual experience with on this side of glory.

Let us just ask a few simple questions: first, if I were to write a chapter with the same sensual experience with God, how would that go over? I know in the gay community, I would find all kinds of approval. But for those who are still clinging to the truths of Scripture, it would make me look like the pervert I would be for imagining such a thing.

Secondly, if what she writes is so valuable and acceptable, why don’t we read that chapter to a group of junior and senior high girls in our Sunday schools? How would that go over? If you have daughters, would you read it to them, it doesn’t matter how old they are, would you?

Voskamp goes full out into erotica with God and somehow, we nod hour heads and say this is acceptable? How the church has fallen to the spirit of the age.

God is also not in the paint of the painting or anything else. That is panentheism and is  not found in Scripture. We, as orthodox Christians, see that Scripture teaches God is outside of creation, He is not creation or in creation. In fact, when people make that mistake, God gives them over to their own sin (see Romans 1:18-33). Yes, He holds all things together, but God is not in the chair I sit upon. That is mystic panentheism from the false teachings of the Hindus and Buddhists.

As for Young, she is adding to Scripture by putting words into the mouth of Christ that He did not say.  The problem with this is that Jesus told us what He wanted us to hear in His word. It is sufficient for our spiritual needs. We do not need “other” words from “other” people about what He said and is saying in His word. Both Young and Voskamp fail in that they do not see the sufficiency of Scripture. If they did, they would not go off into their vain imaginations to find more “experiences” with God.

The problem with both books, and the premise behind them, is that they trample on the Second Commandment, which is dealing with how we worship God. The Second Commandment, and how we as Protestants understand it, would help us see that such vain imaginations of these two women are outside the bounds of worship, either in personal worship or corporate worship.

We see this in in the questions the Puritans put forth in the Westminster Larger Catechism (also found in the London Baptist Confession of 1689), about how we are to keep the commandment, and how we break the commandment. The Puritans understood that when it came to the commandments, each commandment was the larger umbrella that encompassed all the rest of Scripture on a particular subject. They get this idea from Jesus, who expanded the Sixth and Seventh commandments to encompass the heart behind the sins. Therefore, the Second Commandment, which prohibits the making of idols for worship, also covers the imagination as well.

Here is how we break the commandment:

The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities,and all worship of them, or service belonging to them, all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it,whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretence whatsoever;  simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt,  hindering,  and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed..

You can see from their understanding of the command, that there would be little room for either Voskamp’s or Young’s works. Let me point out several ways.

First, by making any representations of God. Both Voskamp and Young are doing so in their books. The Bible shows when men start using their imaginations in their worship of God, that it never ends well.

For instance, in Leviticus 10, Nadab and Abihu both offered up profane fire to the LORD and He consumed them for doing so. This shows us that we are not free to use our imagination in worship. He has prescribed how it is that we are to worship Him, and using our imagination to hear more words of Jesus that He did not say, or imagining a sexual encounter with God, are both prohibited.

Secondly, we see that both are adding to God’s word in their books. As I pointed out, nowhere are we given this idea of a sexual encounter with God that Voskamp puts forth. We are not even given this view or idea about heaven. In fact, Christ seems to indicate that there will be no sex in heaven at all because there is no need for procreation. Those who attain the age of the resurrection neither marry nor are given in marriage (Luke 21:34-38). This is not to say that there is not a marriage banquet between the bride and Christ. But to suggest that the event will be sexual in nature is again adding to Scripture.

Third, both books should be rejected on the basis that they are received from others. These books are not from God, or even from church councils, but from their imaginations. For this alone, they should be rejected outright.

I know that many will be upset with what I am saying. After all, we live in an age in which questioning something that is popular and in the church is tantamount to the unforgivable sin. But we still need to stand for truth even in the face of those inside the church when what they put forth is outside the bounds of Scripture.

Part of the problem with this is that what both Voskamp and Young have done is given us details into their own personal private worship times. And like lemmings, the women in the church have perilously followed. Yet, we are given prescriptions for worship under the guise of the Second Commandment as well as prohibitions. Listen to what the Puritans wrote:

The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in his Word; particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the Word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments; church government and discipline; the ministry and maintainance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God; and vowing unto him;as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.

We call these things the normal means of grace. We have failed because we have allowed members of the body to exalt their own personal private times above the ordinary means of grace.  While daily reading of the Bible is good, family worship is better and corporate worship is the best. God never intended us to have the experiences that Young and Voskamp are espousing. He meant for us to worship with other members of the body of Christ, not find our own time to hear new revelation from a false Jesus, or have some orgasmic experience with the Almighty. (BTW, if that sounds offensive, which it does to me, get on to Voskamp, not me).

In all of this we have rejected the normal means of grace. We also reject the Second Commandment and Christ’s admonition to worship in spirit and truth. The church in America has done this and this is the reason that such books are ever written.

Final Thoughts

In reading up on all of this, I’ve seen some defenders of Voskamp make the claim that since she is right about so many other things, why make a big deal about this. “After all,” as they say, “no one is perfect in all their theology.” I agree, no one is. What matters is how one responds when they are confronted with their error in theology. Do they repent, fix the problem, or become more entrenched in their bad theology? I have heard that Young has backed off some of her claims, made a few minor changes to the book, but still continues to sell it in record numbers, just celebrating the 10th anniversary of the book.

I have not heard anything from Voskamp, other than the fact she invited Challies over dinner.

Finally, I also suspect that the reason there has not been more of a dust-up concerning Voskamp is that she really doesn’t get racy until the last chapter. Most Christians who read such books never really get to the last chapter. This might be a good thing.

In all this, it just reiterates what I have said for years: “If a book is popular and found in a Christian bookstore, it’s probably not worth the gas it takes to get to the bookstore.” A fellow pastor I know even concurred in one of his sermons on 1 Timothy recently. He basically said it is always the books with bad theology that sell well. “You can’t give away good theology.” Sadly, as we see with these two books, he is right.

We might add, where are the shepherds of the flock who are charged with protecting the flock from wives’ tales, wolves in sheep’s clothing and other dangers? Where are the men in the pulpits willing to come down from those pulpits and actually guide the women in their Bible studies? Do we not love the women of the church enough to shepherd them, guide them and help them grow in their faith?

Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears (Acts 20:28-31). 

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28 thoughts on “The Second Commandment, Sarah Young and Ann Voskamp

  1. Fred the forever intern

    We are going through this in my Christians ethics class. The prof rightly said that we worship God AS HE PRESCRIBED because when we venture this way or that way- the neglected part of God gets neglected in us and the part we over emphasize, get’s over emphasized in us. We become what we worship. He clearly has told us how we should come to Him and how He is to be worshipped. Thanks for posting this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Fred,
      Yes, your prof is right and that is very important lesson to learn about how we tend to emphasize one aspect of God over and against others, especially when we are not looking at Scripture.

      Glad you are dissecting this book.

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  3. Michele

    Good insights. I find Sarah Young’s book to be disturbing on many levels. As to Ann Voskamp’s book, I originally loved it. Like you mentioned I didn’t really read the last chapter-it was too reminiscent of Teresa of Avila and the mystics for my taste, so I chose to ignore it. But I am thankful for insightful articles that help me evaluate what I read. Voskamp really helped me bring thanksgiving to the forefront of my Christian life, something that has been life changing for me, and an important antidote to all the emphasis on authenticity and being real in our culture, which easily slide into an excuse for complaining. But since reading it and then hearing some criticism, I have sought out more doctrinally robust sources on the topic, which have benefitted me greatly. I do hope that Tim Challies discussions with her will bear good fruit.

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  4. TJ

    “Yes, I know that the Song of Solomon is quite racy. But the Song of Solomon is between a man and a woman, not a woman and God.”

    I think if you’re going to take such a strong stance you’re going to have to explain why you dismiss Song of Solomon so easily. After all, it has been understood as an allegory for Christ and the Church for centuries and in that regard does, in fact, have language very similar to what Voskamp uses. Yet you simply dismiss it out of hand.

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  5. There are two issues here.
    1. The violations of the second commandment found in both books.
    2. The lack of shepherding/oversight by the elders of the church.
    The second, seems to me, to be the more pressing concern. Thank you for addressing both issues in such a straightforward and compelling fashion.

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  6. Stephen Rippon

    I saw this on the Aquila Report and commented on their Facebook page, but I think it might be more helpful to comment directly here as well. On Voskamp’s own blog, there is a collection of quotes on this subject (intimacy with God) from various other theologians in our tradition. Far from it being the “spirit of the age,” there seems to be a rich tradition of appreciating Song of Songs as an allegory–even Puritan and Reformed folks have read it that way. Do you see some difference between the ideas there and Voskamp’s own writing? Do you think Voskamp’s writings are misapplications of the ideas of Piper, Spurgeon, Edwards, and Calvin that are listed here?: http://www.aholyexperience.com/intimacy-with-god/

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    1. Stephen,

      I looked at the references you listed, and there is a mysterious union we have with Christ. And I know the Song of Solomon has been used as the relationship between Christ and His bride. Voskamp is not doing the same thing. She is having a sexual experience by herself, apart from the Body of Christ, with God. None of the writers you have referred to, have suggested that we do the same. I don’t think John Calvin, in what he wrote, or the other writers, would indicate that we are to do any such thing. The difference is sexual ecstasy one is having over thoughts of God, and one understanding the intimacy we have with God.

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    2. Stephen,

      IF the language in the Song of Solomon is ALLERGORICAL, then the very definition of the word implies that intimacy with God is SOMETHING OTHER than sexual. If it was the same, no allegory would be necessary.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Stephen Rippon

        Dear Timothy and cooldat,
        Thank you for your replies. I need to consider this matter some more. I appreciate and share your concern for the proper worship of God.

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  7. Just for clarification, I recognize that the Song of Solomon has been interpreted as between Christ and the church. That being said, I don’t believe that it is instructing us to have such spiritually sensual encounters with Christ. Yes, the writers on Voskamps Intimacy with God do suggest that our relationship is intimate. I’m not disagreeing with that. What I’m disagreeing with is Voskamp’s sensual encounter with God which is outside the bounds of what is right for those who follow Christ. No where are we instructed to have sensual relations with the Almighty. In doing so, we are reducing our God, who is transcendent and apart from Creation, to a god on par with the pagan deities of Paul’s day. If you can support such a position from Scripture, and not just taking the words of mere men (out of context???), then I might be willing to listen to you.

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  8. cgm

    One in-depth paragraph on Young here. If you read Young’s intro in Jesus Calling, (page XIV) she writes “The Bible is the only infallible, inerrant Word of God and I endeavor to keep my writings (MY writings) consistent with that unchanging standard. I have written from the perspective of Jesus speaking, to help readers feel more personally connected to Him. So the first person singular (“I”, “Me”, “My”, “Mine”) always refers to Christ; “you” refers to you, the reader.”.
    This seems pretty clear to me what her intentions are here.

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    1. CGM,

      If we want to have more intimacy and connection with Christ, we are to read His words, not some middle-aged housewife writing to other middle-aged housewives. She is also channeling Christ, and learned it from some New Age guru that had written a similar book which she cited in the introduction, before it was removed for the 10th Anniversary edition. You might spend some time at the Sola Sisters website for more on Young. Here is a link to one of the many articles documenting the problems with this book:

      http://www.solasisters.com/2014/12/sarah-youngs-bestseller-jesus-calling.html

      As I like to say: if you want to hear the words of Jesus, read the Bible. If you want to hear Him audibly, read it out loud.

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  9. Zack

    Pretty sure that particular Baptist confession is of 1689, not 1789.

    See what I did there with the adjectival usage, by the way?

    -zg

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  10. Kevin

    While I find the quotes from these women’s writing disturbing, I couldn’t help but find it ironic that one of the ads that appeared at the bottom of the article was from GoodTipsForMen and contained the following: “The 50 Most Beautiful Women on Earth” accompanied by a bikini clad woman. I know you don’t choose the ads Timothy, but is there not a way to deny certain companies from displaying their ads?

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    1. Hi Kevin,
      Thanks for the heads up. I don’t see the ads and find quite a few ads on most conservative web sites disturbing. So please forgive me on this one. I can have that blocked, but lack the funds to do so now. So maybe when things even out a bit financially, I will pay the fee to remove them.

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  11. Dee

    I’m so glad that you said theologians can be wrong. Amen. I’ve read some of both women’s writing, actually a lot of Ann’s and also really delved into Scripture on the whole intimate relationship with God/Christ. There are many places throughout Scripture where our relationship is compared to the husband/ wife relationship. I always find it interesting when men come out so strongly against that one chapter. As someone mentioned the Puritans and early Reformers certainly didn’t have a hang up using “sexual” terms to describe the relationship between God/Christ and those chosen to become “one” with Christ. Just because she uses flowery language to describe a time when she really felt that oneness does not make her evil.

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    1. Using sexual language to describe our relationship and describing a sexual act with God are just a tad different. Yes, the relationship we have with Christ is very intimate, but not sexual. Sex may give us a picture, but should not lead us to have sex with God or thoughts of God.

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  12. Ben

    What are your thoughts about RC Sproul’s book Poison cup? My kids listen to the audio cd and love it? In the book there is a drawing of the ” King of Life”? Just wrestling with it and would appreciate some feed back.

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  13. julie

    Just spoke with an unbeliever recently. He was raised going to church and hearing the Word preached. He basically said that we just don’t have enough information; the Bible is not enough. It doesn’t tell us enough about God, about the world, etc. This is the attitude of the unbeliever, not the believer. The believer believes God’s revelation of Himself in the scripture and trusts God. He or she seeks the Lord through His Word preached, taught, read, meditated upon and prayed. It is ultimately idolatry and rebellion to say that the scriptures are not enough and to seek more, whether more information or in the form of experiences. It is essentially the occult, is it not, to seek spiritual things outside of scripture? Yet that is exactly what professing Christians are doing and not only that but they will defend it tooth and nail. If we go outside of scripture who knows where we will end up?

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  14. I enjoyed your article and feel you said what needed to be said. People need to know when there are books out there that are not what they should be. I feel there is a large lack of discernment in the church today and that is why people are deceived by many false teachers. You mentioned that the leaders of the church ought to be more concerned about what the women are using in their Bible studies. Amen to that! Another one that is so very popular today is Beth Moore’s materials. I just recently had a discussion with a friend whose church is using her books for a Bible study. Shouldn’t the church leadership approve the books before they are used? I’d think the shepherd should be watching the sheep before the wolves destroy them.

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    1. I agree, the shepherds are charged with oversight of the flock. It is there responsibility, but far too many pastors and elders choose the easier paths of not getting involved. Hopefully that will change in the future.

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