In one vignette, she describes a conversation with a friend about Peter walking on the Sea of Galilee. In the short exchange, Voskamp makes the sudden realization that Peter sank into the waves, not because he took his eyes off Christ, but because he failed to believe in himself (85). After all, her argument proceeds, Jesus believed in Peter, so all Peter needed to do was to believe in himself. The Broken Way veers toward a “believe in yourself” flavor throughout the book.
You don’t get to apologize for your work.” In the writing classes I help teach, we peer-review every student’s work. Inevitably, students in the hot seat of critique will open their mouths and begin to explain what they meant. Before the students can get the words out, however, the professor will raise her hand and remind them that writers don’t get to apologize for their work.
It’s the governing principle of peer-reviewing one’s writing. An author’s work either stands on its own, or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t—if the book or article needs an apologist—it fails to accomplish its goal.
Even more, when non-fiction writing overuses metaphor and ill-defined terms, the author loses clear meaning and risks misleading his or her readers.
A Beautiful Display of Creative Ambiguity
The universal praise coming from early-release readers prompted me to pick up Ann Voskamp’s recent New York Times bestseller, The Broken Way, published by Zondervan. In nearly every pre-release interview, Voskamp shows herself passionate about all people who suffer internally or from violence in the world around them.
Voskamp’s very unique writing style has also earned her high praise. Painting with “poetic prose,” Voskamp sets out to address the topic of “brokenness” in the human experience. The Broken Way displays candid vulnerability in personal stories—communicating fears common to parents, friends, and spouses of all kinds.
Against brokenness, Voskamp finds help in a cross penned on her wrist. The book aims at unpacking the practical how-tos of what she terms a “cruciform life.” She points her readers toward the sufficiency of Christ in the midst of their “brokenness.” Her anecdotes connect quickly and deeply with the reader’s own struggles, pain, and fears.
Voskamp’s poetic and story-driven prose, however, introduces ambiguity that becomes problematic throughout The Broken Way. By employing personal epiphany, jargon, and absolute statements, Voskamp surrenders authority and clarity for creativity.
And, ultimately, this is precisely where the book proves so dangerous. The book’s contents are, indeed, creative. By speaking through metaphors and personal anecdotes rather than plain language, she allows the reader to conclude almost anything about the meaning of the book. For any reader without a solid theological grounding, Voskamp’s writing opens the door to heterodoxy.
Lots of Ann. Not a lot of Jesus.
Throughout the book, her personal epiphanies introduce a Gnostic flavor that goes unchecked—Voskamp’s source of authority is often a spiritualized higher knowledge instead of revealed scripture.
For example, when she attempts to answer the question posed at the beginning—“How in the holy name of God do you live with your one broken heart?” (15)—Voskamp leaves her Bible untouched and instead relies on her own introspective musings. When she does cite scripture, she often uses paraphrases, quotes from The Message, or mashups of verses taken out of context that support her personal “higher up and deeper in” knowledge (15).