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Thursday, June 29, 2006 

The Problematic Anne Lamott

Recently, I have become aware of the incredible popularity of Anne Lamott among Evangelical Christians. I heard conflicting reports from different sides regarding either her piety or her need for repentance. And while I do not write this in order to pass judgment on whether or not the woman is truly a follower of Jesus Christ, I do find many of her positions and actions to be quite problematic for one who claims to be a disciple of Christ. But before some of my readers get irritated with me for bringing this up, let me say that what I find most disturbing is not so much her actions and views, but her unwavering belief that she is absolutely in the right in certain areas, though unable to defend her actions from a truly Christian worldview.

Take for instance, an interview with Christianity Today published in the January 2003 edition of the magazine, in which Lamott admits to being pro-abortion and to dating a non-believer, about whom she says, "he loves God. It's just that he doesn't quite commit. He's been sober as long as I have, and we both have a higher power. I call mine Jesus." In the article, the author tells of sending Lamott a later email to ask her the question, "Do you think that people from other faiths who don't believe in Jesus are God's children and will go to heaven?" Her response: "Yes". And she goes on to add, "I think Jesus is divine love manifest on earth, as it comes through the community of Christians." The author says she describes Jesus as the "beautiful Jewish uncle" who says, "Well, I can show you the way." She continues, "Only Jesus has come to me, and I experience God's love in an immediate and personal way through his companionship." And finishes by adding that non-believers in unevangelized countries "feel Divine Love come to them through more local teachings, through other expressions of that love." In summary, she's a classic universalist.

Going back to the point about her being pro-abortion -- she is adamantly so. An article by Albert Mohler entitled, "Anne Lamott and Her Evangelical Audience", expresses her fervor even more clearly as he addresses an op-ed column in the Los Angeles Times in which she recounted a recent panel discussion of which she was a part. She expresses unwavering, unilateral support for abortion on demand, stating, "fetuses are not babies yet; that there was actually a real difference between pro-abortion people, like me, and Klaus Barbie."

What brought me to write this post is the most recent article by Albert Mohler on Anne Lamott, entitled, "Anne Lamott Kills a Man -- And Writes About It." Mohler discusses Lamott's essay in her July 26, 2006 op-ed column in the Los Angeles Times, "At Death's Window," in which she "traces her involvement in the assisted suicide of a close friend." I encourage you to read the article, but I think Mohler sums it up well when he says,
With the ease of an author beginning to write on a clean sheet of paper, Lamott effectively jettisons Christian concern for the preservation of life and dismisses centuries of Christian conviction on the questions of life and death. She describes herself as a Christian, but there is nothing even remotely Christian, in any distinctive sense, to be found in her essay on a matter as serious as ending a man's life.
Anne Lamott's popularity is due much to her willingness to describe herself as wretched, dirty, and in need of God. But what I, and others, find most disturbing about her is that in the areas where she most needs to seek God's counsel, she sides instead with a "culture of death" and the ease of a universalist understanding of salvation, both of which are views that fall very far from the worldview the Bible teaches. Anne Lamott is no doubt a gifted writer, but her positions and actions are areas her Evangelical readers should find problematic and thus, in which they need to be concerned.


**UPDATE**
Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Executive Director of the Henry Institute has highlighted Mohler's article on his blog, Moore to the Point, and asked a very poignant question, "...why is Anne Lamott not in prison after confessing murder?" After all, unless the event occurred in North Carolina, Utah, Wyoming, or Utah, it is illegal for someone to assist in a suicide in this country. And if I am correct, Oregon only permits physician-assisted suicides, but no others. It is likely though, that the event took place in Calfornia, where she resides. If this is true, then Lamott is guilty of a crime and could face prosecution for her open admission of guilt in the LA Times.

I've read a few Anne Lamott books and I think she's fantastic. No, I don't agree with everything she says or stands for, but in the end, her writing has been incredibly helpful for me. Is it possible that someone can have a different opinion on certain issues but still provide a great benefit?

We all have our wacky perspectives. For instance, you and I have probably not sold all our possesions and given the money to the poor, right? Jesus says that's something we should do in order to follow him, yet we've chosen not to. So isn't that "problematic" as well?

Maybe we should be busy removing the planks from our own eyes, but by the looks of the majority of your writings on this blog, maybe you're finished with that already.....

Zach,

Thanks for stopping by, I am guessing this is your first time here. First, yes, we can reap benefits from people with which we disagree. I never said we couldn't. I still think her positions are problematic to the Christian worldview and I think that Christians who support someone with such positions as universalism and pro-abortion-on-demand should be aware of that fact and realize how out of touch with a Biblical worldview she is.

Now, let me apologize now for my tone in the following paragraphs. I don't mean to be condescending, but to offer a polemic for my position and answer your assault on my character and website. So here goes.

As for your reading of Scripture, I think you miss Jesus' words in both the texts you mention. First, Jesus tells this to the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19:16ff. Notice that the man asks what he can do to inherit eternal life. Wrong question. Jesus immediately rebukes him for having called Him good. See Romans 3:10-20 for more on this. Now Jesus answers the man by saying that only One is good and that he must keep the commandments to inherit eternal life. The man asks wrong question #2 - "Which ones?" Jesus answers "basically all of them" (which we know is impossible and this is made plain by the Sermon on the Mount). Yet, the man claims he has, and asks wrong question #3 -- "what am I lacking?" Jesus answers again, this time not to give a universal decree for all Christians to follow as you indicated in your post, but to indict this young man on his own failure to follow the Commandments, "Go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come follow me." Why did Jesus say this? Because He was certain of the response.

Now, notice closely Jesus' final words in this passage, after He tells His disciples that it is hard for a rich man to enter heaven. The disciples ask Him quite appropriately, "Then who can be saved?" He answers, "With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

We can't earn our salvation, and we can't save ourselves. No amount of work, no keeping of the commandments (however well WE think we are doing so) will help. THAT is the point of this text, not to call all Christians to sell their possessions and give to the poor. And this is universally recognized by the Church throughout Church History. The disciples didn't sell all their possessions, the Church Fathers didn't, and neither did the Reformers or the Anabaptists. So, my answer to your question, Zach, "So isn't that 'problematic' as well?", is NO, it's not.

And even if it was, Anne Lamott's not doing it either, so, I am on equal ground in criticizing her. This isn't about what she does as much as it is about what she believes and how that conflicts with the Christian worldview so clearly articulated in Scripture.

You see in your second Scripture allusion you missed the point of that passage as well. In Matthew 7 (during Jesus' Sermon on the Mount), He says these words,

Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

Notice, the second verse here. It is the key to this whole passage and is often completely ignored by people who like to quote vv.1 and 3-4. But it is the most important very in this passage. Why, because it is a "gar" clause, the Greek word "for", which indicates purpose. In verse 2 Jesus is telling the people why they shouldn't judge. He clearly states, "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you." Why is this important to our discussion? Well, you have suggested that because I am not perfect in every way I can't criticize anything anyone else does, but this wasn't Jesus intention here. In fact, it was quite the opposite, as indicated in v.5 when He tells His audience that once the log is out of your eye to indeed take the speck out of your brother's eye. And the words he uses are in one-to-one relationship with one another. A log is a big piece of wood and a speck is referring to a piece of sawdust. His use of hypocrite is another clue. Jesus is telling people that in the SAME manner they judged, they will be judged. An example is when Jesus chides the Pharisees who look down on the prostitues, yet he knows the lust in their hearts for sexual immorality. Thus he calls them hypocrites and tells them that even lust in their hearts is adultery.

So, for me to say that it is problematic for Anne Lamott to believe in abortion-on-demand and universalism is to believe I will be judged in that same manner, which I heartily think will be the case, because I think both are Biblically problematic and that is why I do not hold to either.

So your cheap shots here are not arguments at all, but rather strawmen built from a misreading of Scripture. Sure, I am not perfect, but Paul clearly says in 1 Cor. 5:12, "For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?", which is clearly a rhetorical question expecting a YES answer here. Those who are inside the Church and claim to be Christians we should be calling to Biblical fidelity and exposing as having views contrary to Scripture and a Biblical worldview. I am guessing you would do the same if it were Pat Robertson or Ralph Reed in the hot seat. And you would be right to do so. I wouldn't tell you that you shouldn't based on these verses. So, please just don't take cheap shots at me for doing the same thing with someone you agree with and admire.

But, thanks for stopping by and I hope you will examine the website and some of my arguments for what I believe is true according to Scripture. But, if you are going to disagree, I ask that you do so in a rational and Biblical way. Thanks again for your comment and may God bless you as you continue to seek His face.

I don't know how much you've had to deal with these people--put "Emergent" in the title of one of your posts, and I can all but guarantee that you'll have plenty of drive-by comments like this--nor have I read Lamott, but she appears to fit a profile that is becoming horribly common: a bowdlerized, universalistic gospel combined with a confession that one (humbly!) doesn't really know anything but also combined with a (supposedly humble) assertion that you don't know anything either!

The one thing they appear to hold to consistently is that it appears to be considered rude to state that someone else is absolutely wrong.

Most of these people, in my experience, mean well. However, in their desire not to be judgmental, divisive, and arrogant, they embrace logical and doctrinal errors that are--ironically--about as judgmental, divisive, and arrogant as can be imagined.

It's enough to drive you nuts, if you let it.

Daniel, I was recently introduced to your blog, and am enjoying it very much. I have read and enjoyed Anne Lamott. Am I dismayed by her pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia stance? Yes. Having said that, it seems evident to me through her writings that she believes in the atoning sacrifice of Christ and accepts the gift of salvation freely given. If she is also universalist, it does not mean she isn't Christian. Christian universalism is not an oxymoron, as unpopular as the concept may be among modern-day Christians. There is ample and excellent scholarship which makes a good case for Christian universalism - that is, that Christ died for all, that God wills all to be saved, and ultimately God's will shall come to pass. I have not heard Lamott articulate that argument, however, so I don't know where she stands on it. Lamott's gift to us, in my opinion, is in her openness and vulnerability in sharing her faith journey with us.

Light,

I am glad you are enjoying the blog and I hope you find it helpful to your Christian walk. As for Lamott, I think it is always good to be able to read authors with which you disagree and yet still take something away that is helpful. I do that often with guys like Brian McLaren. My aim in pointing this out about Lamott is that she is becoming a sort of guru, it seems, in some Christian circles and I think people need to be aware of her problematic theology and practice before they buy all that she is selling. It seems to me that when someone starts with a presupposition like universalism, that so defies the teachings of Jesus in every way, that anyone reading her ought to be suspicious of her other conclusions regarding the Christian life.

Now, let me address what you said here:

Christian universalism is not an oxymoron, as unpopular as the concept may be among modern-day Christians. There is ample and excellent scholarship which makes a good case for Christian universalism - that is, that Christ died for all, that God wills all to be saved, and ultimately God's will shall come to pass.

I might be wrong, because it is easy to misunderstand tone and motive in blog comments, but you seem to suggest in your tone here that I am uninformed about universalism, which is certainly not the case. I have written a previous post entitled, "The Holy Spirit and the Exclusivity of the Gospel" which addresses this issue. You can click on the link and check it out yourself. I have also researched the issue during and after seminary and addressed the it in my preaching on a couple of occasions. I disagree completely that it represents anything that could be described as "excellent scholarship." In fact, I find the bulk of universalists' arguments to be emotionally-driven and hermeneutically unsound. Jesus spoke of hell as often or more so than He spoke of heaven, thus, in my estimation, to conclude that it is not a place for people who reject His salvation through faith is to be either be blind to the words He spoke in regards to this or simply to reject them outright.

Let me offer you a link to several well written and "scholarly" articles on the internet which address this issue. I pray that you would read these and reconsider your tolerance of such bad theology. The link also includes several mp3 lectures and sermons. Here it is: Truth & the Christian Worldview.

I am sorry if my tone is harsh in regards to this issue, but one a small amount of historical research on universalism within Christianity reveals that it is a huge stumbling block to the Great Commission. One struggles to find a theological view that has been more detrimental to the growth of the Church than has universalism. So I am pursuaded on two fronts: the theological/Biblical and the practical, that universalism is an untenable position within Christian orthodoxy. I hope after listening and reading a bit of what you find on that site that you will come to the same position. Regardless of your final conclusions, please let me know what you think after reading and listening to some of the resources over there and if you found anything helpful.

Thanks again for reading my blog. I pray that God will continue to bless your life and that He will guide your heart as you pray through these sorts of theological and practical issues.

Best regards from NY!
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"What do you do when a good tree bears bad fruit, and a bad tree bears good fruit? Look closer."

-Mike Yankoski

Anne Lamott is an inspiration and the only thing that hasn't totally cut me off from a spiritual life. It's super encouraging that the Christian community is so high handed to believe that Anne Lamott is WRONG to be so certain, and to say so with SUCH CERTAINTY.

This kind of hyperbolic double standard is why I get nauseous whenever I read this proselytizing type of analysis.

Anonymous,

Thanks for stopping by. As to your comment, two things strike me. First, the Bible never teaches that "spirituality" in and of itself is a virtue. Rather, the Bible clearly teaches that we are all spiritual beings who have sinned and are in need of a Savior. Without the Savior that God sent - Jesus Christ, His Son who died on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins of those who place their faith in Him - spirituality does nothing good in one's life. Only through faith in Jesus Christ can we truly embrace our spiritual nature and benefit from it.

Unfortunately, Anne Lamott fails to point people to this reality. She wants Jesus, but doesn't want to believe the Bible, the very Scriptures where we learn of Jesus in the first place. If we reject His Word, we reject the very thing He left us to use to get to know Him.

Second, as to any double standard regarding Lamott's certainty verses my own - I clearly pointed out that Lamott's certainty is problematic not on the basis of her claims alone, but on the basis of the fact that she never defends her claims from the Bible or from a Biblical worldview. She treats Christianity like a buffet where one is free to choose the things he or she likes and reject those things they find objectionable.

This is clearly not the teaching of either Christ or the Bible. Lamott is deceiving herself and unfortunately deceiving others.

In the end, "spiritual" help is really no help at all if it doesn't begin and end with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the truth of God's Word.

Thanks again for stopping by.

As for Universalism... I believe it is another way for society to remove Christian morality.

2 Timothy 4:3 NASB

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,

I haven't read the bible (and I plan to, so that I can understand it better) but I am interested in learning more about Christianity and possibly becoming Christian. All I can say is, Anne Lamott makes me feel it is an inviting, embracing religion based on love, humbling ourselves and trying to do good for others, which is what I figured Jesus to be at his core. Am I wrong? Anne Lamott makes me want to become Christian. I write to those of you reading this blog, who have felt their light dim and their heart sink when reading this blogger’s opinion not only on Anne Lamott’s universalist views but on the faith itself, which seems to be more of the ‘fire and brimstone, fear-mongering, elitist’ Christianity than one born from love and light. You are not alone, and I believe we should keep searching for the true light, rather than just blindly following orders when we have yet to feel the truth in our hearts (then you have the dangers of becoming like the haters from the Westborough Baptist Church, I'm sure of it). When I read Anne Lamott, my heart rises and I feel closer to a spiritual awareness, one that makes me want to learn more about the love-filled faith she embraces and become Christian, for Jesus’s love to make me a better, humble, loving, INCLUSIVE and giving person. That's all I know for sure. If this isn’t Christianity in your opinion, if it is more exclusive and judgmental, than perhaps I need to rethink wanting to convert.

Thanks for your article. I stumbled upon it after googling "Is Anne Lamott a Christian?" I did this because another Christian had suggested her books and after reading just 30 pages of Traveling Mercies, the book seemed off-beat to me. Once I read several quotes by her that were anti-life and non-Biblical, I knew I would not pick up any of her books again. Thanks for exposing her and her lack of knowledge of Truth.

Dear Anonymous who is thinking of converting to Christianity. We must all as believers work out our faith with reverence and trembling, the Bible demonstrates God's power and justice matched by his unsurpassed love. I have read and been touched by Anne Lamott's excellent writing, and poignant moments, however, I would not read her as a theologian. God has revealed himself in His word which is the wisdom of God and not of men, therefore it sometimes feels foreign to us, we are not always satisfied with God as He has revealed himself to us, we do not like to be told that we are a mess and in need of a Savior. Jesus plain and simple is not a popular message, we would rather be told that we are basically good, we would rather be told that our sinful habits aren't really so bad after all; we would like to believe that we will never have to tell anyone that they are wrong, hmmm....Jesus is a stumbling block and a stone that the builders rejected. No one can call him Lord unless the Spirit reveals that truth to a person's heart; at the same time seek the Lord now while He may be found, He never forsakes anyone who calls upon His name; nowhere in all of literature, religious or otherwise will you run across a truth like this; Those who belong to God will never be forsaken by Him, and not a hair of their head will be touched without the knowledge of the almighty and all things will work together for the good and the salvation of those who love the Lord (see the Belgic Confession). Nowhere will you find in any religion a God so beautiful, so capable of saving, and so full of love as this. He is holy and He is love. What God requires, He also provides for fallen humanity. As Christians we never arrive until God fully transforms us at our death, we are works in progress; Christianity is different from other spiritualities, it is set apart; Christians can show the love of God to all people regardless of their sin,for we were all enemies of God until Christ called us, and we still cannot be completely free from sin until our death; we can show God's love and inclusiveness by how we treat others; but this we do without changing the words of the gospel, to some we will be the smell of death, to others the fragrance of life. It's the only way, but it's not always the easy way. May the Holy Spirit reveal Himself to you mightily full of God's great love and grace!

Dear Aspen Blooms, thank you to responding to my previous comment about converting, I appreciate that your response was filled with love, light and understanding! I think all of us strive to be good people, to be the best souls that we can be. I wanted to feel like I am approaching an inner-world of love, a spiritual awareness of doing good for others and never falling short of love and goodness, and I believe the best Christians that I have met in life encompass these traits. You strike me as someone who has this love and light in them as well. I did feel that this blog (not your post but the original blog itself, as well as certain posters' comments) was more on the side of fear and judgement, of stark negativity, than of love and light. That is why I felt a strong need in me to write my original comment. I am not so naive as to think a spiritual journey would be easy, i know that we all struggle to overcome our sins and become better souls, however I do believe love (not fear, and certainly not repetitive preachiness) should lead the way. Thank you for your refreshing, kind post. Let's hope we can all treat each other with more kindness, including our wonderful sister Anne Lammott who has helped so many people feel their own inner light, no matter how small the flame is at the time, it can only grow!

Jesus will save us. We believe and Jesus saves. Even if our world view is off. Even if we've murdered and don't know we have done so. Even if we don't know when a fetus becomes a baby. Anne, you, me --- we are all seeking God's counsel. And I don't seek it perfectly and I don't seek it always for the right reasons or on the right issues. Jesus' blood covers me even when I don't think I need it or know what I need it for, and Jesus' blood covers Anne as well, even if she doesn't know when she needs it or what she needs it for . .

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Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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