I’ve struggled quite a bit with how to approach this review—so much so that I let it sit in my “draft” folder for over three months. The simple fact is that I loved this book . . . until I didn’t. I conducted a very non-scientific Facebook poll and came to the conclusion that Jen Hatmaker’s style and my reading desires do not intersect. I made the mistake of picking up this book and expecting it to substantive. Mea culpa. Keep this in mind, because my review is constructed accordingly.
The thing with Jen Hatmaker is that she is profusely funny. In For the Love, she is so funny that, while reading chapter 2, I had to move rooms so my sweet husband could keep studying Hebrew. But when I finished the book, I had to ask a (disturbing?) question: What, exactly, was her point?
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t believe this book is inherently unhelpful. There is plenty about how we women need to ease up on one another. This is true. (I’ve only watched the “Mommy Wars” from the sidelines, but it looks tougher than Monday Night Football.) The introduction sets forth the thesis as love your neighbor. This is a fantastic premise for a Christian living title―something the church definitely needs to talk about. I assumed that the full volume would orbit around this central point. But, when I arrived at page 207, I was nothing but confused. I spent longer than I care to admit trying to decipher how exactly one is to love her neighbor, according to Jen Hatmaker. After all of this deliberation, these are my thoughts on For the Love. (Note: If you’re a Hatmaker fan, you may not like this.)
Like I said, Jen Hatmaker is hilarious. Chapter two, “On Turning Forty,” had me in stitches. (It helps if you are near that bulls-eye, age-wise.) Her writing style is accessible and friendly; to read her work almost feels like you’re lunching with an old friend. These are fantastic things, and they’ll probably go a long way toward getting more women to read the book.
The Less Impressive
My initial hesitation came with this statement, found on p. 8: “God has no agenda other than your highest good in His kingdom.” Respectfully, I disagree. His agenda is His own glory, then the good of His children who are found in Christ. And my ultimate good is that I am conformed to the image of Christ. I want to believe that the author knows this truth, but I can only believe the words that she wrote.
Not much farther into the book, Jen asserts that we should be less concerned with our calling in life―Should I be a teacher? a missionary? a nanny? WHAT IS MY CALLING IN LIFE?―and focus on what she defines as our calling: to use our God-given gifts. I agree that it is common for our calling to be over-spiritualized, and for many of us to wait on some sort of mystical, divine revelation before moving forward. I don’t think that is biblical or healthy. But I paused because it felt a bit like she was saying we needed not consider it with much weight at all. I walked away unsure of how to approach the concept of calling; all I knew was that, according to the author, we’re approaching it the wrong way.
These two things were big enough for me to hesitate to recommend this book to someone else.
Often, I felt whiplashed while reading this book. The chapters are grouped into four units, but to my mind the distinctions were not clear. I think this lack of clarity is due to the sporadically introduced humor chapters. I found “Thank-You Notes” (think Jimmy Fallon) funny the first time; but the second, third, and fourth times, I found them distracting. Here lies the issue: So much of what Jen writes is distractingly funny. I found myself wondering why, when the premise of the book is so good, she felt the need to use humor to such an enormous degree. (I read 7 and really enjoyed it. I remember it being humorous, but not this over-the-top. Though it also spoke to my pre-existing, strong bent toward minimalism, so I might have just been more tolerant. )
That’s more than three concerns, isn’t it? Well, I have another.
My biggest issue is that not much is clear, other than the fact that Jen’s funny. I don’t recall reading the Gospel a single time. There is talk of how Jesus is sufficient, but sufficient how? To what end? And why in the world does that relate to us loving our neighbor? I think the author assumes too much knowledge on the part of the reader. Sure, most of my friends who will click to read this post probably know the answer to those questions. But what about the brand-new believer who doesn’t? Shouldn’t a book like this be crystal clear in its message? Hatmaker’s failure to be explicit in how loving our neighbor is an outworking of the Gospel leaves ample room for serious misinterpretation. For instance, at the end of the chapter about identifying and nurturing our gifts, I was unclear regarding why we should do that. Is it for self-glorification? to attain better life balance? simply to help others in a way that is following a moral command? No! We identify our giftings and seek to use them because that is wise stewardship and because doing so glorifies our Father in heaven. But because this is not explicitly stated, a new believer could take this as a moral command―and only that.
Overall, I suppose I was disappointed because Jen Hatmaker has so many eyes and ears turned toward her, and she didn’t (in this case) take advantage of it from a gospel perspective. I was disappointed that she didn’t handle the word of God with more boldness when she had the chance to do so. (There are around ten Scripture references in all of the 207 pages. She quotes more from studies and secular books than she does from the Bible. What does that say about the importance and sufficiency of Scripture to a new believer, or to one who is looking on from the outside?)
I won’t go so far as to suggest that we avoid this book altogether; it is certainly entertaining. I do recommend approaching it with the levity that seems to have been intended, and you might just enjoy it. But, as a friend of mine said, it’s just “too much fluff for me.”
Soli Deo gloria,