Category: Writing

A Tangled Web of Grace

On Saturday, Ann Voskamp published a blog post entitled a mosaic of grace. In it, she apologizes for “lyrically paraphras[ing] and us[ing] some phrases of [Wade] Mullen’s tweets.” She then offers sweeping praise of Mullen’s words. And in a typical Voskampian crescendo, she finishes with a microsermon on how the Holy Spirit is bringing healing to His people (presumably, in part, through the MeToo hashtag campaign, which she refers to earlier in her post).

Let me first say that I have no doubt that Voskamp genuinely wants to help abused women in some way. I don’t question the sincerity of that. But I do think her post warrants a closer look at how she uses language to, I suggest, manipulate her readers. Voskamp writes in a style that seems to flow straight from her amygdala. Words well up, bubbling forth from deep wells of emotion.

Here is how Voskamp begins her post:

Out of an intimate and vulnerable grief that I shared with my mama regarding sexual abuse in the church, I scrawled down raw, pleading words this past week.

I bled my heart and knew the comforting and undeniable close presence of the Holy Spirit.

Here we see Protagonist Ann, the hero of her own vignette. She is about to confess to appropriating someone else’s words, yet she chooses to frame this admission with a picture of herself “scrawl[ing] down raw, pleading words” as she “bled [her] heart.” The backdrop of her confession then is Voskamp in a visceral state, swept up by raw emotion. (How anyone can stay hemorrhaging like this 24-7, as Voskamp appears to, is too painful to even contemplate.)

I understand that Voskamp is trying at the outset to communicate how agitated she was as she meditated on the pain of the abused. But why does Voskamp not begin her post more simply? I made a mistake. I stole someone else’s words. As a professional writer, I have no excuse for this, and I apologize. I plagiarized, and this is unacceptable. You see, if you’re a writer and you present someone else’s words as your own, it doesn’t really matter why you did so. It’s plagiarism, plain and simple, and you need to call it what it is—even if, in truth, you were just being careless and sloppy. The subject of abuse is a serious one and deserves to be treated seriously. But so does the subject of plagiarism by a professional writer.

Voskamp continues:

Earlier, I had read a thread of tweets of a Mr. Wade Mullen, and in my own heart cry, I lyrically paraphrased and used some phrases of Mr. Mullen’s tweets, a deeply wise and thoughtful minister of the faith, who is pioneering and authoring a much broader and important work to speak to the church, and initially his work was not properly credited, clearly crediting him by name in my article, and my heart sincerely and humbly and relentlessly apologizes, and I do not want there to be any confusion in the least as to the proper accreditation of Mr. Mullen’s profoundly needed and formative work at this unbelievably critical moment in time for the church.

This week I have held weeping women, who can hardly stand for the scars of their abuse. Heard pastors speak with heart-rooted commitment to creating safe communities where souls can heal and flourish. Saw survivors grasp hands in hallways and whisper to each other only those two heart-shattering words, “MeToo.”  Now is a raw and tender time, and there is a chorus of courageous voices rising, and seminal, sacrificial work like Mr. Mullen’s, is being lit of the Spirit of the Living God, to forge a red sea road forward for those of us seeking deliverance from any bondage of abuse.

By conflating the emotional delirium in which she appropriated Mullen’s words and his “formative work at this unbelievably critical moment in time for the church” with her apology, she seems to be engaging in a bit of misdirection. See, I didn’t mean it. And weren’t my intentions good? I mean, I was thinking of all the women “seeking deliverance from any bondage of abuse.” Wait, what were we talking about again?

Never one to miss a chance to sermonize, Voskamp brings it home with a surprisingly tidy message for someone known for her epic brokenness:

The Holy Spirit is moving like a healing hope among His people, and He is working His redemptive seeds into the soil of our personal and collective sorrow, and our Brokenhearted Healer is gently and carefully gathering all of our brokenness to make abundance—to make a mosaic of grace for His glory [emphasis author’s own]. 

Yes, Ann, the Brokenhearted Healer does bring healing and redemption. He forgives all sins—including plagiarism. As I said in a tweet earlier today (if you’ll allow me to plagiarize myself), it is scandalous that a bestselling author who has built a career on brokenness has such a poor grasp on the doctrine of depravity. She is unable to say simply, “I am a liar. I am a thief”—as we all can say along with her.

A Few Editorial Observations on Owen Strachan’s Writing Style

I am not a theologian. And while I don’t believe that the study of Scripture and doctrine should be reserved for theologians, I also know not to wade into waters that are too deep for me and pretend I can swim. (Pretending to swim never ends well.) However, I am an editor and I thought I’d share some observations on Owen Strachan’s blog post pushing back against criticism of what he calls Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission (ERAS). I noticed some quirks in his writing that I think warrant closer examination.

  • Near the start of his post, Strachan says, “Trueman and Goligher did not hold back, God bless ’em.” I want to give Strachan’s choice of words a gracious reading. Perhaps he was just falling into a homey colloquialism and trying to establish a friendly tone. But this phrase also rings a little condescending, something akin to its cousin, “Bless her heart.”
  • The next curious bit follows shortly thereafter: “Personally, I think both ERAS proponents and non-ERAS proponents can dwell together in unity and love. But it seems–guessing at random here–Trueman and Goligher disagree. [emphasis mine]” Maybe this was just a careless wording here, but Strachan is not “guessing at random.” Again, I don’t know if he’s just trying to strike a conversational tone or trying to be funny or what. In the same paragraph, Strachan assures us that this is a “friendly reply.”
  • Strachan later refers to those who confess a Nicene Trinitarianism along with Trueman and Goligher as the “T-G camp.” This makes it sound like Trueman and Goligher got together and formed the Theologians Against Subordination Club (TASC—or as it is more informally known, the TASC Force). Trueman and Goligher are pointing to an ancient understanding of the Trinity, and to reduce their view to a “camp” strikes me as disingenuous. Clearly, Strachan and the ERAS adherents are the outliers here.
  • I’m not a theologian, and even I know how important it is to keep your categories straight. Yet, Strachan veers toward the poetic in his post, and I’m afraid it’s at the cost of his argument. He writes, “If we lose this understanding of Christ, and this God-saturated conception of submission, we lose something very, very close to the beating heart of the Christian faith.” What is a God-saturated conception? I mean, I appreciate poetry. I really do. But I’m supposed to accept his take on submission because it’s “God-saturated.” Owen, you have to work harder than that.
  • Strachan continues, “This is the kind of insight that only the Holy Spirit can unveil, for it is so directly unearthly, so rudely contrary to the way the world views servanthood.” So, your argument is that only the Holy Spirit can confirm that your understanding of submission and the Godhead is correct? While I wholeheartedly affirm that it is the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth, it is a teacher’s responsibility to clearly lay out his lesson. Maybe that’s too much to expect in a single blog post, but I don’t think Strachan should be let off the hook on this point. What I hear is, “If you don’t agree with our teaching of ERAS, then the Holy Spirit has not granted you “this kind of insight.”

This little exercise took longer than I anticipated, and I only made it through Strachan’s first point. Again, this is not primarily a theological critique of Strachan’s blog post (although my final two points creep in that direction). I was struck by the writing choices noted above because they make a noticeable impact on the tone of his piece. I believe there is a mild undercurrent of passive-aggressiveness masked by an attempt to be the more magnanimous soul in the argument. As an outlier who is challenging a doctrinal understanding that has been generally accepted by orthodox Christianity for at least 1700 years, he should feel the heat. I would respect his response more if he had been more openly combative (theologically speaking) and had not tried to present his novel view of the Trinity couched in an appeal to Christian unity.

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