A Response to Jen Hatmaker

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” — Mark Twain

I hesitate to criticize the words of someone who is very popular and has a huge following in evangelical circles. First, I don’t want to criticize; it’s not fun. Second, critiquing someone’s work takes away time from my own work. Third, when critiquing you run the risk of offending many people who are faithful followers of that person as well as hurting the feelings of the person you are critiquing.

But with that said, there was so much wrong with the following post that I will venture a few words. I will offer a response to Jen Hatmaker’s blog post yesterday, World Vision, Gay Marriage, and a Different Way Through, and I hope that it will be heard in love and truth.

I don’t know Hatmaker personally nor can I claim to be a faithful follower of her ministry. I do, however, appreciate Hatmaker and her ministry. I enjoy her sense of humor and her passion for Christ and His Church. In this post in particular, I commend her for her heart and desire for unity and peace. I agree that as Christians we must learn to rope in our tongues and speak in love to one another.

However, in Hatmaker’s pursuit for unity and peace she walks the thin line of compromising truth. Hopefully this was not her intent, but I believe what she wrote yesterday basically undermined the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture. And if not careful, her words can lead people down a dangerous path of interpreting Scripture how he or she chooses with no regards to hermeneutics or orthodoxy.

Here’s what she said and the issues I have with it:

First, she basically says that if there is a plurality of interpretations we are hopeless. We might as well throw our hands up in the air and allow for an “anything goes” attitude. Hatmaker says, “Godly, respectable leaders have exegeted the Bible and there is absolutely not unanimity on its interpretation. There never has been.” To expect to have complete unanimity on any issue of Scripture is an unrealistic goal. It is usually the case that on secondary issues no one tries to reach for complete unanimity. This is the first of several bad arguments on her part, which I think she is saying that homosexuality is an issue of one’s own interpretation. In other words, Scripture is not clear on the subject; therefore, we should allow all interpretations or at least accept them. Because we disagree on what Scripture says therefore means that Scripture isn’t clear or doesn’t speak absolutely on a subject.

Second, Hatmaker in her rant fails to distinguish between primary (Trinity, deity of Jesus, salvation) and secondary (baptism, spiritual gifts, role of women) issues of faith. She flattens them out. Here’s an example: “There has never been “one way” to interpret scripture. There has never been “one way” to be a biblical church. Even the early church leaders had severe and lasting disagreements about the nature of God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, Salvation, Faith, Works, etc.” Hold up. First of all, it is not true that the Church has been divided on the issue of homosexuality throughout history. Actually, this is only a recent, Western issue. Secondly, the issues she mentions that the early church dealt with were primary issues not secondary issues. One of the ones who disagreed with the early church was Arius; he argued that Jesus was not fully God. A second person was Marcion. He argued that the God of the Old Testament was not the same as the One of the New Testament, and he wanted to cut out half of the New Testament. The early church called these men gnostics and heretics! The church responded with creeds that outlined the basic orthodox beliefs one must hold to in order to be Christian. So should we accept the interpretations of Arius and Marcion simply because they had a different opinion? Should we include them in the tent of legitimate Christianity? Absolutely not. But if you follow Hatmaker’s argument to its logical conclusion, then people like Arius and Marcion would have to be taken as part of the orthodox church. To the extent that Marcion denied the deity of Christ, we find the correlation today with Jehovah’s Witnesses. So would Hatmaker consider Jehovah’s Witnesses as part of orthodox Christianity?

Third, Hatmaker, in her attempt to make the homosexual debate a non-issue, puts Scripture and Christian theology on the stand. To someone who is a weak believer or non believer they might have walked away from their computer or smart phone with a schizophrenic view of Scripture. How can Scripture be trusted when there’s “no one way” to interpret it, and when Christians have always been divided on its interpretation from the beginning? She says, “Historically, Christian theology has always been contextually bound and often inconsistent with itself; an inconvenient truth we prefer to selectively explain.” Later, “Rather, it is simply a reasonable assessment of the trajectory of the kingdom as God has interacted with each new generation of the church.” And, “Reason and humility occupies too small a place in the analysis of the historical church and the progressive interpretation of Scripture.” I fault her for making provocative, pithy statements with half-truths and then not explaining them.

Incidentally, respected author William Webb in his book, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals, takes a progressive trajectory hermeneutic. Webb says that the trajectory of Scripture never gets you to the place of acceptance of practicing homosexuality. So here’s a work done in the spirit of what Hatmaker is saying about progression but concludes differently than her with the issue of homosexuality.

For Hatmaker to throw out words like “trajectory,” “progressive,” “inconsistent,” in a blog post like the one she wrote yesterday without really explaining the argument is very unhelpful and unwise in my opinion. Instead of walking away feeling like I should be more accepting or respectful or loving of others, I walked away from the post asking myself, What is Scripture? Can it be trusted? What does all this mean in regards to other issues? Where does the progression stop?

Here are some wrap-up thoughts:

1. A big pet peeve of mine is when I read blog posts from well-intentioned, very popular people (especially women) who get in over their heads when it comes to what they know. As the saying goes, “A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Unfortunately, many of these authors have no theological education, no background in biblical studies, and yet they want to engage in theological/biblical issues without the knowledge to do so. By God’s grace, I have been able to attain a masters degree in seminary. But if it’s taught me anything, it’s taught me how little I know. In fact I hesitate to write on issues unless I do so after thorough research because I don’t want to mislead people. I say this because the arguments used in Hatmaker’s post, especially in regards to the early church and issues of biblical hermeneutics, tell me that Hatmaker is speaking on issues that she really does not know much about. It doesn’t impress me that she says Scripture “was written across several cultures, 40+ writers, 1500 years, 8 genres, and an entire worldview shift once Jesus hit the scene.” That is very basic. The fact that she flattens primary and secondary issues and doesn’t differentiate between the two OR that she doesn’t argue from a particular hermeneutic but rather from a logic that says because we all disagree it means there’s no absolute truth on the subject tells me she is lacking the knowledge needed to talk about the issue in the way that she does. I’m not trying to be hurtful or prideful in this point. God can, does and will use her despite of (probably) no theological training. However, I would urge her to either stick with what she knows or go to seminary and spend time learning more about church history, biblical theology, etc.

2. If you, after reading Jen’s post, are left confused about Scripture — can it be trusted, is there absolute truth, is the Bible inconsistent — then please e-mail me. I will be glad to help in any way possible. Or, I will point you to resources that will help you.

26 thoughts on “A Response to Jen Hatmaker

  1. Lisa says:

    This is wonderful. Thank you. I read that blog post shortly after she posted it and I was left frustrated and very sad. Thank you for taking the time to compose such a thoughtful response.

  2. Trey Medley says:

    I just didn’t read it that way at all. First, it is completely true that there has never been “one way” to interpret scripture. In the period of the New Testament and immediately following there were the Saducees traditions, the Essene Tradition the Pharisaical tradition a subset of which was the Rabbinical tradition, a subset of which was Midrash. Jesus used Midrash sometimes (though often in very different ways than was typical), yet we would never advocate Midrash today. In the early church there were, at a minimum, the allegorical and typological methods, neither of which are used (at least not in anything remotely resembling those ways) today. When she said these things about the early church, etc., I did not hear “anything goes.” Rather I heard “interpretation is very difficult, very widespread work, and should always be done with a huge measure of humility.” I also did not hear a flattening out. The real question is whether homosexuality is a primary or a secondary issue. While I think we probably share the same view of homosexuality, for me it is a tertiary issue. It *is* important (incredibly important), but baptism, eucharist, worship are all much more important, and even they are only secondary issues. With regard to the fact that the issue of homosexuality has only been a recent concern, this is not really an argument. Recall that in many church contexts, the ownership of slaves was a non-issue (how did the SBC form after all?), the fact that women should be silent was a non-issue in the Western church for hundreds of years during the middle ages, one cannot infer from “this hasn’t been questioned before” to “it is beyond question.” That’s moving from an ‘is’ to an ‘ought.’ Again, I genuinely think we are the same page about the issue itself, but as far as what happened with World Vision, or how we read Jen Hatmaker’s blog, I think we are in very different areas.

    • kristenrpadilla says:

      Thanks, Trey, for your response. I think we can agree to disagree on how we read her blog post. Of course there’s never been one way to interpret Scripture, but to someone who doesn’t know what that means or doesn’t have a background in church history or basic hermeneutics that statement without explanation can be very confusing. There were more than 10 references, in my counting, referring to the disagreement of Christians, the inconsistency of interpretations and theology, the unanimity of interpretations, etc. So it seemed to me that the arguments surrounding Scripture and church history and theology were very negative in nature; she didn’t supply me with a positive hermeneutic in which to wrestle with the issue. I think Preston Sprinkle does a much better job at this, and I would have appealed to guys like him. Also, a lot of her statements sound like rhetorically-driven arguments that don’t say much. For example, “The church has never, not for one millisecond of its entire history, been right about everything.” In regards to your last point, I did not make a statement or inference that the issue “is beyond question” nor did I move from an “is” to an “ought.” Perhaps you read me that way? I was only critiquing her statements that seemed to suggest that the issue or interpretations on homosexuality has been around for some time. In the end I still think her arguments aren’t that great. I wish she would have appealed to Scripture to make her points. If she is going to be appeal to church history and hermeneutics, then a more thorough, detailed explanation would have been needed and helpful, in my opinion. Thanks for your comments; I enjoy reading them and having this dialogue.

    • kristenrpadilla says:

      Just one other thought, Trey. You know and I know about the different traditions of interpretations. Does she know that? If so, it would have been helpful to offer a brief comment or two of background before making the statement, “no one way” to interpret. Imagine reading this post without the knowledge you have. Would you not have more questions than answers about how to read and interpret Scripture? Secondly, she follows up a “no one way” to interpret with an example from the early church: “Even the early church leaders had severe and lasting disagreements about the nature of God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, Salvation, Faith, Works, etc.” Here she starts with, what I would think is, an argument about secondary issues and then uses an example about primary issues. I think I explained well how if you follow this example, in light of the argument used, to its logical conclusion it would be a matter of unorthodoxy. Thus she mixes primary and secondary issues without really differentiating. Just an additional response for whatever it’s worth. 🙂 Thanks again.

      • Courtney Jo Veasey says:

        Kristen…as a PhD student in Biblical Interpretation, when I read through Jen’s blog post I became overwhelmed with how one should respond (this is due to the number of instances which you have addressed so well, that involved underdeveloped blanket statements which revealed Hatmaker’s lack of training and understanding…that, and I am in the middle of a seminar week right now and so the thought of adding a counter blog post pushed me to the edge of crazyville). This is say, I commend you on your well developed, poignant and accurate response to Jen and this situation. I look forward to reading more of your material in the future! Blessings, Courtney Veasey, Director of Women’s Academic Studies, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

  3. Angela Brettschneider says:

    Kristen, thank you for writing this. I want to comment on what you said about someone who may have read the discussion between you and Trey, or read what Trey said, and due to a lack of formal biblical studies, would be left really confused. Well, I can attest to that 🙂 Although I am a Christ follower and have been for the last 13 years, I do lack a good understanding of hermeneutics, and exegesis. But, when I read scripture and ask The Holy Spirit to help me understand, I believe that He will help me. On the flip side, I recognize the value in being able to study the scriptures accurately. It seems clear to me that sexual immorality is considered sin in the eyes of Jesus and the NT writers. And, from what I have always understood in my scripture reading, homosexuality is considered “sexual immorality.” Not to mention, biblically, marriage is only talked about as between man and woman. Because homosexual marriage is not even addressed, I always took that to mean that it was not addressed for a reason- because it is not viewed as marriage in the eyes of God. And, since sexual relations are spoken of as between husband and wife, that leads me to believe that sex outside of any relationship other than husband and wife is sin. I say all of that for a couple of reasons. First of all, does God expect us all to understand the scripture through hermeneutics and exegesis? The majority of people who read the bible will read it and interpret it either through their own eyes, or through The Holy Spirit. Obviously, Christ followers have The Holy Spirit as their interpreter when asked. I wonder if sometimes the more we know, the more we disagree? I heard Fransis Chan say one time that, and I’m paraphrasing, – if we read the bible and throw out all of the things we “know” about scripture, it’s not too difficult to interpret the call to love God, love others, serve the poor, and not sin. I see the same thing when we read about homosexuality and all other sin. It seems pretty clear to me, but then again, I’m not a biblical scholar. So, reading Jen’s blog did make me wonder how people can believe in the authority of scripture if so many people, biblical scholars included, and for centuries, don’t even agree. That comment didn’t seem to be correct in my eyes, but I couldn’t find a way to counter her opinion other than I just couldn’t come to terms with it as being accurate. It’s so sad to me that this issue is splitting the church but I’m not surprised. The enemy loves what is happening. And, because the apostasy of the church will come, it makes we wonder if this is a sign of that. Not an argument I would lay my hat on, but it sure makes me think and be prayerful that I stay close to the word of God and true to Him.
    Would you recommend some good resources on studying the bible more closely? I have a good NT commentary and online bible study tools, but I still haven’t found a good way to study thoroughly and more deeply. I guess I’m not sure where to start. Thanks for reading this and for your thoughts/suggestion. God bless you.

    • kristenrpadilla says:

      Hi Angela,

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting here. I appreciate what you have to say, and I hope I can be of help. I agree with you on your view of biblical marriage — between a man and a woman. I think you are right on. I hope I never come across that I believe Christians cannot read and study the Bible without theological training. That simply isn’t true. You are right to say that the Holy Spirit speaks through His Word to His people. So please do not feel afraid or unqualified to read God’s Word. My point about theological education to Jen Hatmaker had to do with this: Any person who is making being a Bible teacher a profession and influencing hundreds of thousands of people, in my opinion, should receive a theological education. If he/she cannot or will not, then my advice as stated above is that she not make blanket statements regarding interpretive matters, biblical scholarship, church history, Scripture, etc, without explaining what she means. Perhaps I come across a little harsh in this point because I hold her to a higher standard given her position of influence. I know people who have received theological education and they are still way out there or not very thoughtful. But, I think for the most part, having this kind of education for Bible teachers and preachers is helpful to give us discernment on what to say or not to say, how to explain an issue, and how to think through the issue thoughtfully. One of my blogging goals is to bring people closer to God and to help them trust His Word more firmly. I would never want to make off-the-cuff statements that might cause a mistrust of Scripture.

      How you said you felt was exactly what I was concerned about people feeling after reading this post. I did not want people to feel like because biblical scholars can’t agree then we should a) just learn to get along by agreeing to disagree on gay marriage, b) not have confidence in Scripture, or c) not make a stand on something, like marriage, since interpretation is up for grabs.

      As far as where to start, please feel free to e-mail me at kristenrpadilla@gmail.com and we can have a more in-depth discussion. NT commentaries are good, as well as OT commentaries, as study aids. Three good books about how to read and interpret Scripture are: How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (http://amzn.to/1h8Z338), Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes by Randy Richards and Brandon O’Brien (http://amzn.to/1ov526f), and Grasping God’s Word by Scott Duvall and Daniel Hays (http://amzn.to/1ov4VHT).

      I’d love to help you as best I can. Don’t be discouraged! God’s Word is living and active, and He will continually reveal Himself to you through it. Thanks again, and I hope to hear from you more.

  4. Darcie says:

    I’m really not educated enough to debate scriptural truth about this, but I do have the Truth I’ve experienced. I’d like to invite you, and anyone else, to come serve alongside me with many of my homesexual friends in downtown LR. In the past couple years they’ve shown me a clearer picture of Christ than those who were supposed to be my “community” (unfortunately mostly OBU grads) and I am learning so much ministering to and with these people.
    I find truth in love. Fortunately, I found a group of sinners to love me when the formal church failed.

  5. Rhonda says:

    Though I a only occasionally read Jen Hatmakers blog, this opinion of hers left me very uneasy. Thank you for a well written response. I am a pastors wife to a husband with a seminary degree and you are right the more knowledge of scripture should make us see “how little we know.”

  6. Sheb V says:

    Your concluding thoughts-so good! Rachel Held Evans has a Bachelor’s degree in English from an average institution. I’m not sure what makes her an authority on anything much less the Bible/theology

  7. yummypeas8 says:

    Argh! I used to follow Jen Hatmaker, until a few years ago, I followed her twitter account and she did a play by play of the Grammy’s…I didn’t like it. I feel like she has a huge responsibility, and according to scripture as a teacher will be judged more harshly because of her leadership. I think Jen wants to live in the “world” and also be considered a Christian theologian. We know you can’t have it both ways. So, no Jen…”There isn’t “another” way.
    Thanks Kristen, for writing this. It is SO important to speak up when we know we should. My thoughts were verified here, thank you.

  8. Amber says:

    I Think it comes down to this, we need to be seeking God for what is right and how to interpret the Bible. We can study and use the tools we have, but in the end we have to allow the holy spirit to guide us. I believe that there has always been debate, controversy, and a level of disagreement when it comes to interpretation…the very definition of the word gives way to this, for we are making sense of things-in our way, through our eyes. So again, only by God’s leading can we begin to really “iinterpret” His word. As for homosexuality, I believe Jen stands on the principle that God loves us ALL and no sin is bigger than another. Therefore, we must love eachother, regardless of the sin we are in. Jesus surely does. Now, those living this lifestyle will not see it as sin and that is where things get hard…but God is clear, it is not right and it is a sin in His eyes. However, I believe we can believe this, see it as sin, and yet still love-without throwing hate and judgement. We are called to love as God loves. Only He judges our sins.

  9. Michael says:

    So I’m a little late to this discussion (like, really late) but I couldn’t help but comment. Kristen, I’ve been studying on the rise of gurus in our culture, including the religious ones. I think Jen Hatmaker has some interesting stuff, and my wife is one of the 4500 (which is 4500 women who wanted to be the 500 who helped her with something, but they still wanted to feel like they had a connection with her, so they formed the 4500). After my wife told me that I got a huge red flag. Why do they care so much about being part of her brain trust? What deep insights does Jen Hatmaker have that should make people her loyal followers? I think, like many authors, she has some good things to say, but it’s as if people are looking for some spiritual guide (guru) to help them make decisions about things, and they turn to her because they like her wit, writing style, and theological outlook at life. I’m worried that Christians are losing their ability to study, think for themselves, and resist following a person instead of following Christ. This age of blogging is making heroes out of ordinary people, which is fine, until they start informing their doctrine. Jen’s article for me raised the same red flags that you mention in your article, and the sad thing is many Christians who love Jen will read it and not see an issue with what she’s saying. I’m sure Jen would hate being called a guru or having lots of followers, but it’s a product of our self-help dependent culture. How do we lead people back to a biblical perspective instead of this cult of personality we seem enamored with? And how in the world do you teach church history and a biblical perspective to people who are totally happy being ignorant of such things? BTW I’m a minister, and the first thing I tell my congregation is….DON”T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT!!! Look at the scriptures for yourself.

  10. Susanna says:

    Well said. I saw her post, her myriad of followers loving it, and figured it was just one more thing I would be alone in thinking or worrying about. Bold to speak out when the sayer is this popular. Well done.

  11. Sarah says:

    Wow! I couldn’t agree more. I came across this tonight researching Hatmaker after seeing some unsettling posts of hers on FB. I have questioned many of her “spiritual” posts for years. Thank you for your boldness to speak out.

    • kristenrpadilla says:

      Thanks, Sarah! It is never fun speaking out, but I felt strongly about that blog post she wrote. I don’t think she’s a heretic; rather, I think she sometimes speaks on things she doesn’t really know or have a good grasp on. I think it’s good to pray for her, though! Yours, Kristen

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