Following the publication of this book review, Jennie Allen reached out to me. We spoke on the phone for over an hour! While unfortunately we did not reach an agreement on most of my concerns with the book, I appreciated the discussion. One particularly positive note–we talked about her troublesome comment in the book that the Holy Spirit was a “form” of Jesus (see in the review below). She admitted that that language is not theologically appropriate, and that she planned to change it in upcoming editions of the book! I hope that will be the case!
That being said, our conversation did not change any of my review of the book as it is published at this time. Read on:
I’ve felt restless many times in my life.
Restless as a college student, holed up in my dorm, studying and counting down the months until I’d be released into the “real world”…
Restless as a young teacher, bright-eyed and naive, watching helplessly as my plans to save students from self-destruction slipped right through my fingers…
Restless as a single woman, tossing and turning each night, reaching out for my God in the lonely darkness…
But as difficult as these moments were, as much as they tested my faith–at the end of the day, I always knew where to find my rest. Or, more accurately, Who to rest in.
The fact is, I haven’t been truly restless since I was an unbeliever.
Back when I didn’t know I needed rest. Back when I was content with rebelling against God, without a care for my soul or for His glory. I allowed my grief over losing my mother to harden me toward others. I freely worshipped the god of worldly success, the god of straight A’s and degrees and accolades, a god that is no God at all.
Once the true God saved me from my sin, opened my eyes to Christ, I found my rest–permanently. Like the dove that found a place to land after the flood, I found my Rock, and I haven’t been moved.
I’ve had my fair share of trials, yes, but by God’s power all they’ve done is tighten my grip on Him.
So as much as I can identify with the struggles Jennie Allen addresses in this book, I just can’t accept her solutions. When I’m discontent, feeling restless, the truth is, I have no reason to be. I don’t need “more” to satisfy me, to take away those feelings. The very One who took away my restlessness back in 2010 and made me a new creature is the same One I need to content me now.
Every other place of rest falls short.
That may be the greatest issue I have with Allen’s book, but it isn’t the only one. I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.
PEELING BACK THE LAYERS
Restless was not an easy book to read, let me tell you.
At 210 pages, it’s not exceptionally lengthy. But it felt much longer than that while reading–mostly because it took until midway through the book to actually get what Jennie Allen was trying to teach me. To be honest, it was painful at times to keep going.
Her narrative meanders, gets off track, and often comes across as aimless and random. She is a gifted storyteller, but her stories seem more aesthetic than purposeful. They are beautiful little pictures, but they don’t add up. While many of the things she says are truthful to the Word, they don’t always piece together into a cohesive whole.
The central points Allen makes are vague, nebulous, and often contradictory. And once you do understand what she is trying to teach you, it gets very confusing. Her “project” (as she calls it) is supposed to help you untangle the “threads” of your life, but the book itself is like a messy ball of yarn.
Worst of all, she often appears to embrace biblical teachings, such as the sovereignty of God and His zeal for His glory, only to stray far from them at crucial moments. That is part of why I suffered through reading and studying the whole book–so I can warn you of the false teachings within.
MADE FOR MORE… OF WHAT?
Considering the fact that God never commands us to “dream” in the Bible, Allen makes it seem like the top priority of the Christian woman. Over and over, she explains the importance of dreaming as the key to resolving our discontentment. The book even opens with Allen feeling empty and purposeless as a young wife and mother, and how pursuing her dreams (of leading in ministry) set her free from the burden of that life.
Right from the start, you can see there’s a problem. Is it true that most of us have “lost ourselves” in living out our roles as wives and mothers? Are we all in the dark about some big, secret calling God wants us to follow? Is that really why we are discontent with the life the Lord has given us?
Or, is it actually a sinful heart issue–a heart that has strayed, and needs to come back and find rest in Christ once more?
It’s clear Allen wants us to discover our purpose and what we should be doing with our lives. Yet how we should do that isn’t very clear.
Allen wants us to tap into our natural abilities and spiritual gifts and use them for the kingdom… yet she also wants us to continue doing what we’re currently doing; to put it in her words, “go do something. Anything” (168). She wants us to think big, and lifts up examples of people who go on extraordinary missions for God–making it seem like we shouldn’t be content with just being average women, wives, and mothers. Yet she tells us it’s fine to do the ordinary things at our normal jobs, that those are our true callings after all.
And while at times we are simply encouraged to pursue obedience, through tasks like serving and loving others in the church, she continues to raise the question: “But what if there’s more?”
In all this confusion, one thing remains coherent: Allen wants us to see how much better life could be, if we just did XYZ (whatever XYZ are). Rather than teaching us the secret to contentment, she encourages the opposite–envy and selfish ambition in pursuit of our “dreams.”
THE HOLY SPIRIT IS NOT A “FORM” OF JESUS
While most of the time, Allen’s statements about the Trinity are true, there is one quote that I feel compelled to share–one that is clearly heretical. Perhaps Allen wrote it meaning something other than what it says. Or maybe this is truly her view of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity:
“Jesus ascended and sent a helper to live in and through us…. Jesus promised to give us himself in a very useful form– a form that would invade us and pour through us, comfort and equip us, and remind us that we are headed to a home better than the one we will risk for him now.” (29)
The Holy Spirit is not a “form” of Jesus! He is a Person, fully God, co-equal with the Father and the Son. This may look like a simple mistake, but we have to be very careful whenever we describe any of the members of the Trinity.
FEELINGS VS. “GOD’S WILL”
When it comes to decisions that aren’t outlined in the Word–like who to marry, where to live, what job to have–Allen would have us pray to know the secret will of God and follow our “calling” wherever it leads us (169). Even though God does not ordinarily reveal what we should do in those situations (since they aren’t part of His revealed will in the Bible), Allen believes we can figure it out, and until we do, we will feel restless.
For example, she explains how she has helped many women discern their “calling” to lead in the church or to take on new ministerial positions outside of the home–just by doing her “project” of discovering themselves. Yet dangerously, neither the husbands’ nor church’s authority seem to have any role in the decision process.
In fact, Allen (and interestingly, her husband) try to persuade other husbands to “unleash” (195) their wives and allow them to run with (what she calls) “wild abandon” (212) into the dreams they’ve concocted of themselves–even if there’s a possibility that their motivations are selfish.
This teaching of “feeling” your calling is not only unbiblical, it is dangerous. Confusing our emotions with God’s will can lead us down perilous paths of disobedience.
GOD, THE HUMANITARIAN?
Much of the theology of Restless is good–at least, at first glance. But look again and you begin to see that the God displayed in the book does not completely match the God of Scripture.
First, God’s will appears to prioritize the “betterment of mankind” (66), above anything else. We are told highly emotional, people-centered stories about the plights of individuals and society, and how God wants to send us to fix it all. On the one hand, we certainly should and must help others. But on the other hand, making people’s lives better isn’t our utmost goal, either.
Second, she describes God’s nature in two sections of the book–“How to Find God,” which is a very short “gospel presentation” in the back of the book, and “God’s Story of Himself,” found in chapter 10.
In “How to Find God,” Allen accurately describes the Fall and the sacrifice of Christ. But she leaves out one major thing–that God is the Judge of man, and one day we will all have to answer to Him for our sin. She fails to mention that unless we repent, we will perish in everlasting darkness, in hell. The only motivation she gives for “accept[ing] the blood of Jesus” (210) is that we will be forgiven, adopted, and restful in God.
But without the warning of punishment, the urgency is lost and Jesus is presented as just a nice gift that the unbeliever can accept and enjoy.
Likewise, in “God’s Story of Himself,” Allen pretends to be God’s voice while combining Scripture with her own words and thoughts. It is a first-person narrative with God as the supposed speaker. Not only does that mean putting words into our Lord’s mouth, but what God “says” during the story is very man-centered.
According to Allen, God believes that “our relationship could not be thwarted by your sin” (83), despite the clear teaching of Scripture that sin separates us from God. Again, God’s holiness and judgment and wrath toward man are missing from this story.
Friends, God is not a humanitarian. While He did send His Son to save His people from their sins, helping mankind is not on the top of God’s “to do” list. He saves the elect from hell for His own glory. And the inconvenient truth Allen leaves out is that He will punish all those who don’t trust in His Son for salvation.
THE “JENNIE ALLEN TRANSLATION”
In the Bible, the Lord warns us not to add nor take away from His Word. Yet so many authors throw caution to the wind and do just that.
While Allen does quote from Scripture in the book, she also has a tendency to stray from it into her own (loose) paraphrases. As we saw in the last point, she flippantly speaks for God, saying things that He would never actually say (and never has). Similarly, she makes statements and calls them paraphrases of the Word, in a way reminiscent of the Message “Bible.”
Here is an example. In chapter 13, Allen writes:
“He [God] says, I want to redeem your sufferings into beautiful things. I can make beautiful things out of ashes. Nobody else can do that. I can. I can turn dead and dry bones into living life. I can redeem death and make it alive. I can take the most awful, horrific, terrible circumstances and bring life into them.” (115)
In the note section, we are told this is a paraphrase of Isaiah 61:3. But here is what that verse actually says:
“…to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion,
to give unto them beauty for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
that they might be called trees of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3)
Okay, Allen’s original quote isn’t even a paraphrase! It’s nothing like the Bible verse. My problem isn’t mainly with the meaning of what Allen wrote; the things she said are true about God, for the most part. But I don’t understand why she had to put these words in the Lord’s mouth. Why not simply quote Scripture and explain it? Isn’t the Word enough?
When she does use the Bible, it’s usually out of context, with very little explanation. The verses are just dropped in randomly in between her points, as though to pacify the reader with the appearance of biblical support.
DEMYSTIFYING BIBLICAL WOMANHOOD
In chapter 21, “When Women Dream,” Allen’s views of womanhood and our roles in the church are finally unveiled. I breathed a sigh of relief when coming to this chapter, not because I liked what it contained, but because of the clarity it provided on her unbiblical positions.
Here, she brings up “social and gender pressures” (187) that she believes have stifled women into being restricted as workers at home. But without ever bringing up the Scripture’s teaching on what women are called to do, Allen explains that we should decide what we need to pursue and use our gifts in any way we desire–even if they draw us away from our homes and children and husbands.
Let me clarify that I am not, in principle, against women working outside of the home. Single women and single mothers, of course, usually need to work to provide for themselves, and even married wives and mothers may be able to have a vocation of their own (paid or unpaid). After all, the Proverbs 31 woman spends much of her time outside the home, doing business in the marketplace.
However, I do believe the teaching of Scripture is that the primary calling of a married woman is to serve her husband and her household. Eve was created as a helper for Adam, and repeatedly in the Word, women are called to love and submit to their husbands, care for their children, and adorn their homes. Titus 2:5 calls us to be “keepers at home”:
“…teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” (Titus 2:3-5)
If something we are doing takes us away from this biblical calling, it has to go. For many women, this means not being able to pursue a vocation besides being a full-time mother and homemaker, because of time restraints and the difficulty of multitasking.
But what Allen proposes is that we might find a greater calling that, despite its interference with our homemaking role, must take precedence. She herself has “turn[ed] in the title… [of] stay-at-home mom” (190) to prioritize her ministry.
Allen admits that “my husband might be overshadowed by my calling at times” (189). She also freely acknowledges that her children are often hurt and neglected because of her ministry. But if God has told her to be a helper to her husband and a caretaker of her children, why would His calling force her into disobedience? Simple: it wouldn’t. Perhaps her “calling” isn’t from Him at all?
Hopefully anyone reading this book will see the gaping hole left by this chapter–that while Allen is trying to piece together her own version of what it means to be a woman, she leaves behind Scripture’s teachings.
Rather than demystifying womanhood like the Bible does, she confuses it with her own ideas–ones that, if followed, could end up harming families rather than helping them.
TRUE, EVERLASTING FULFILLMENT
I can’t say I didn’t glean some truths from Restless. It reminded me to devote my gifts and experiences to serving the Lord, and to make sure I’m pursuing Him with my whole heart. But when I’m discontent–a struggle we all have at times–I won’t be looking for some new ministry to start or a special calling I haven’t discovered.
I’ll be looking to Christ, my joy and my Beloved. The one who took away my hunger and my thirst. My Bread of life and my fountain of Living Water. My only God.
Will there come a day when I don’t have time to write anymore? When raising my children and supporting my husband takes precedence over this blog? Most likely.
But I’m ready for that day. I know from experience that, every time I embrace God’s commands, running in His paths, I find peace and fulfillment. Because they lead me to Christ.
Jennie Allen is right. We were made for more. But more of what?
More of Him. That’s all we need.
Despite some of the biblically truthful things Allen teaches in this book, the negatives far outweigh the positives. That is why I have rated it: CHAFF.
(In this review, I didn’t mention anything about Jennie Allen’s associations with false teachers, her role as an Emergent leader, nor her unbiblical conference/movement called IF: The Gathering. I highly suggest that you research by accessing these resources, in the links above.)