For The Love Review - Disappointed

It is rare that I actually end up reading a "trendy" book right at the height of it's trendiness - but somehow I heard about Jen Hatmaker's For the Love enough in advance that I am able to give a timely review of the "big book to read", for once!  You are welcome, my readers who like book reviews.  I will try to work this out more often.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this book.  Let's start with the positive, shall we?


I have read so many good things about Jen Hatmaker, and know so many people who declare her one of their favorite authors.  After reading her book, I can understand why her writing is so popular.  She has a great sense of humor, and that comes through in much of her writing.  I found myself chuckling several times through this book, which is always a plus.

The chapters honestly felt a little disconnected to me, but once I finished the book I could think back over this seemingly random assortment of topics and see the common thread.  Several chapters also seem to be thrown in for the sheer humor, and I thought that added a fun aspect.

Despite so much of the book being entertaining, I was pleasantly surprised by the snippets of wisdom included throughout, especially regarding relationships.  I very much appreciated the chapters on calling (1 and 3), difficult people (18), and her letters to church attenders and leaders (22).  All of these chapters gave me some insights and encouragement.


There were a couple minor negatives that I am mostly going to gloss over (such as humor that bordered on too irreverent for me, too many references to drinking, and a minor disagreement about the role of parents in education), because there was one larger point that was more concerning to me that I would like to focus on.

The book started to take a downward turn for me at about page 71, with a line about God measuring our "entire existence" by how we love God and love people.  Although Christians should certainly do both, that is a very vague idea.  Lots of people can "love God and love people" and still have no idea who Jesus is.  I don't think God measures our entire existence based on those two things - it is also supremely important what we believe about His Son.

In chapter 13, Hatmaker starts talking about some of the recent statistics about the growing of the "nones", people who claim no religious affiliation, and the decrease in people who identify themselves as Christians (Focus on the Family recently had a broadcast with a really good discussion of the statistics that gave me a better understanding of what is actually going on, for those who would like to know more).  

She then started talking about our post-modern culture, and how the younger generation is leaving the church.  In her view, this is because the younger generation doesn't like when people act like they know all the answers - they think "I don't have all the answers, and neither do you".  I think that is true, but I don't really like how Hatmaker suggests we handle it.  

She says the younger generation wants depth (which I don't disagree with) and suggests pointing to Jesus (of course), but only references Him as the best "example", and talks about His life's "legacy".  It concerned me that she mentioned "the gospel" throughout this chapter, but never clearly spelled it out, and then only referred to Jesus in terms of His example and legacy.  The gospel is so much more than that.  

We are not giving the younger generation, or anyone, "depth" if we are not talking about the reason Jesus came - and he didn't just come to be a good example, He came as God in the flesh to die in our place as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  That is the gospel, that is depth, and it is beautiful, and I think we are losing the younger generation more because we are watering that down.  They don't need just a good example, they need the truth - and sure, no one has all the answers, but God does, and His word is truth.  Unfortunately, I think Hatmaker's book misses the mark on communicating these things, and that is a problem for me.

(Also note, I so appreciated Matt Walsh's perspective on the latest stats and why the church is losing the younger generation, which you can read here: "Maybe Christianity In America Is Dying Because It Is Boring Everyone To Death".)

Ironically, after ironing out all my feelings on this in my head, I sat down to finish the book and came to a chapter entitled "Dear Christians, Please Stop Being Lame", in which she lightly scolds a (maybe) hypothetical Facebook commenter who expresses some of the concerns I mentioned above (although in a not-super-nice way).  

While the chapter's overall point is valid (that we should love our brothers and sisters in Christ and that will show the world how we are different), Hatmaker seemed to suggest that concern or correction of wandering theology is not showing love to each other (I disagree with this).

Now, certainly there is a right and wrong way to address these kind of concerns to someone, and it is important to do that in love - if you cannot address concerns lovingly, you should probably stay silent.

(Also ironically, calling out your critics publicly in a book and talking about how they give you a migraine and you are becoming "intolerant", presumably of their lack of love - pg. 190 - is not necessarily the most loving way to handle disagreement either).

Hatmaker suggests the idea that trying to figure out "rightness and wrongness" is making people feel like outsiders, and then closes it up by suggesting "the highest level of 'right theology' involve[s] loving God and people like Jesus suggested" (pg. 195).  I very much disagree with that, for all the reasons I mentioned in the above paragraphs.

It is dangerous to suggest that we stop striving for right theology.  Yes, there are some areas in God's word that are peripheral and can be interpreted differently, and I agree that no one is going to get every point 100% right, but we should always be going back to the Bible to find the answers.  God does give us answers to the important questions there, and right theology does lead to godly living (including "loving God and people").  To oversimplify "theology" like Hatmaker does takes a lot of the power out of it, and once again, many people can strive to "love God and people" and still not know Jesus.

I hate to be the party pooper by picking apart a trendy book, and I am not trying to be overly harsh.  From this book, I do think Hatmaker understands and believes the heart of the gospel, of what Jesus did in coming to die for our sins.  However, I think she does a poor job (I'm sorry, that sounds harsh again) of communicating the core of our faith, probably because she mainly seems to be writing to believers.  I think it is unfortunate that the opportunity to really explain the facts of the gospel was not seized.  With as much buzz as this book is already getting, many non-believers are going to be reading it too, and possibly finding themselves confused about what they really need to do to be saved.  I, unfortunately, cannot recommend For The Love for this reason.

Note: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

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katecraig said...

yes yes yes! (btw disqus doesn't usually work on my phone, so I pulled out my computer just to comment on this) I haven't read this book, but I've read some other things by her. While I think she has many good things to say, and it appears she practices what she preaches, I'm always left with a bad taste in my mouth. But I've never met anyone who doesn't just rave about her! Now, I am overly sensitive to sarcasm - which means I also don't read things by Matt Walsh. But I don't believe you have to be crude or insulting to be "honest". With Hatmaker's focus and sarcasm, the message I get is that we should love the homeless person on the corner, but it's ok to despise the grey heads in our church. Our generation will have something to add to the last, but we will not have everything right, and it's not ok to just throw out everything they've worked to build. I feel like people are ignoring sanctification in the name of being "honest" and "relatable." Yes, Jesus talked a whole lot about loving people, because the Jews were overly concerned with sanctification. But Paul talked a whole lot about sanctification because the Gentiles weren't concerned enough with it. We need both.

Lindsey Wilkey said...

Thanks for your honest review Callie! I've had similar thoughts about some of her writing before but she is so overwhelmingly popular that I think those things are often overlooked. Thanks for defending the gospel and theology well!

Heather Pedersen said...

I am NOT a fan of Hatmaker at all. I read her book "Seven". It was disheartening to see a book full of fluff being paraded as "life-changing". I think it showed me how disillusioned/overly privilaged our generation has become. I found her blog/facebook (back when I had facebook) extremely disrespectful, irreverent and even crass at times. She disguises it with humor, which makes it hard to pin-point at first. She seems to enjoy playing "victim" a lot...anytime someone challengs her theology it is quickly turned into a whoa is me drama fiasco online. I'm always weary of people who preach "love" and leave TRUTH out. You can't have one without the other. Of course, my biggest issue is her theology which is dripping with post-modernism.

Elizabeth said...

Came back to look for this post again now that we need it! Can't believe this was 2 years ago. I like your advice to get everything you need before starting, so that's what I'm trying to do right now.

slpleslieanne said...

Reading this right now. Enjoyed your review. Curious how I'll feel once I've read it all. Only a few chapters in now.

tpanariso said...

I am really grateful for your honest review! So thorough! I really love Jen's sense of humor, but struggle with her semantics in explaining away certain things - if that makes sense. I am planning on borrowing this book but almost went out and bought it. Thanks.

Faith said...

I really appreciate your honest review here! I had been curious about her book as I heard her speak a few weeks ago at a Women of Faith conference! She did a great job speaking, but several of her blog posts and things I have seen floating around the internet raised some red flags for me as well. Solid theology and the gospel are so much more important than how we "feel"! Thank you for sticking to what you believe and sharing truth!

Susan said...

I appreciate your honesty as well. I'd heard of JH a bit, but heard her speak at a conference a few weeks back. I was taken aback by her point that the only thing important was to love others. Yeah, that's important. But it also leaves out a whole lot of other things. She does seem very trendy and I can see today's church falling for her and her message. In person she came across, again in my opinion, as self-deprecating on the surface but as someone quite sure of the correctness of her own beliefs underneath the surface.

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