When a book is labeled “Christian nonfiction,” yet manages to climb the ladder to become a #1 New York Times Bestseller, it’s only natural for questions to arise. Maybe that’s why I first heard of this book from Facebook, where I saw a myriad of Christian women asking, “All my friends are reading this–is it theologically sound? Is it worth reading?” Or to put it another way, “Is it wheat, or chaff?”
I’m thankful for these questions. They remind me of the reasons I started this website in the first place, and why I’m coming back to it now after my (over a year long) hiatus. Asking questions is important.
Because at the end of the day, what matters most is not how entertaining the book is, nor how relatable the author seems. If books can be compared to food for the brain, then what we read (and take away from it!) has a direct impact on how well-nourished we are. The Word of God is our ultimate spiritual food as believers. What we need to avoid is the junk food, or worse yet… spiritual poison.
FIRST, A HEART CHECK
Some may be wondering: what is the point of a book review? It may seem that the main purpose is to criticize the author and her work, to test it against Scripture. While there is certainly truth to that, I want to offer an additional purpose.
There is only so much edification that can come from a reviewer highlighting the various things the author got “wrong.” There is only so much good that arises from a list of critiques. My desire is not to wag a finger at Rachel Hollis, or any other author. Nor do I want to spend my time simply focusing on lies and false teachings.
As others have reminded me, it’s far more fruitful to spend time on what is true and honest and right. Isn’t that essentially what the apostle tells us in Philippians 4:8?
What we need–what I need–is a constant state of humility in these things. What if I told you, reading this book gave me a serious heart check? I’m so ready to turn up my nose at some of what Rachel teaches, and yet the Lord encouraged me to take a longer look in my own mirror.
As I read, I started to think… what ways do I have a tendency toward the same patterns of thinking and behavior? Are there any particular false ideas I’m tempted to believe, that come up like red flags in my conscience? What about the “little foxes” of pride, vanity, irreverence, and selfishness, sneaking around in my vineyard, seeking to destroy the grapes–the fruit of the Spirit?
I hope you will experience the same heart check as you read, and that it will be as edifying for you as it has been for me! To aid us in this task, you’ll find a couple questions at the end of each section of this review to ponder in your own heart.
Now to jump into the review!
COUNTERFEITS AND CONTRADICTIONS
I want to start by acknowledging that Rachel does have some good things to say in the book. In particular, she shares poignant episodes from her life that brought me to empathize with the trials she has endured, and I could appreciate her speaking out of her own personal experiences.
But unfortunately, much of Girl, Wash Your Face is fraught with contradictory statements. Since most of what Rachel writes are her own ideas and opinions—not originating in the Bible as the objective standard of truth—this is to be expected. As fallen human beings, each one of us is prone to accept as true only what we want to believe.
Here are some examples of the book’s antithetical creeds:
- “You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are” (xi). Yet she claims to believe in God’s sovereignty, and acknowledges that there are many aspects of life that are out of our control (12, 106).
- She urges the reader to discard any “voice of authority” (61) that might be telling them not to follow their dreams (apparently, including God’s voice!)… but then only a few pages later, raises her own voice of authority to say, “You do not have permission to quit!” (69).
- She claims that “there’s no right way to be” (99), yet constantly encourages the reader to be and “do better”–without defining what that means (200, 213-214).
It’s clear that, if we forsake the guidance of Scripture and follow our own hearts, we are bound to wander off into falsehood. As Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
But even more than its contradictions, one of the greatest problems with this book is the counterfeit form of Christianity it depicts. As we’ll see in a bit, Rachel’s descriptions of God, the gospel, religion, and faith do not match what is contained in Scripture. Instead, they are twisted deceptions that serve to tickle ears rather than convict hearts.
Heart-check:Are there any views, opinions, or even habits we are holding onto, that we know contradict our identity in Christ? How can we lay those aside to pursue greater conformity to Him?
HIS NAME IS HOLY
In Exodus 20 (among other places), God outlines the Ten Commandments, which are a summary of His perfect moral law. In verse 7, He gives us the third commandment:
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
When we think of “taking God’s name in vain,” our first thoughts might be using God’s name as a curse word, or using it irreverently as an expression of disbelief (as in a popular acronym I won’t write out here). These are true and sadly common examples of breaking the third commandment.
But really, any time we use God’s name–or His “attributes, ordinances, words, or works” as the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it–without solemn reverence, we are trespassing against the heart of this law.
To put it positively, we are failing to love and honor His name as holy. And that’s significant, because God’s name represents His being, and all His attributes–including “wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” (WSC, Q4).
Keeping all this in mind, as I read Girl, Wash Your Face, I was disappointed–no, appalled at the many times Rachel used the Lord’s name and attributes in an impious, flippant way. In fact, most of her references to God in the book (and they are not frequent) are either part of a joke she’s making, or just cultural slang. This made it difficult to even finish the chapters at times.
Here is an example (I hesitate to even put the quote here, but for the sake of confirming my testimony):
At home, Sawyer is fighting with Ford over who gets which Lego piece. Jackson has a little attitude he picked up from someone at school, and if he rolls his eyes at me one more time, Lord Jesus,I’m going to rip off both his arms and whack him over the head with them (21).
The profane use of the Lord Jesus’ precious name in her story (not to mention her violent anger toward her son) dishonors Him and His holiness.
Likewise, putting words in God’s mouth is another form of taking His name in vain. Rachel frequently claims, “The Lord told me…” and attributes her own words and thoughts to the Lord, as though He had spoken them Himself. This is extremely common in modern, mainstream “Christian” books, and a form of mysticism, as well as a breach of the third commandment.
Heart-check: Are we daily setting a guard over our lips to prevent us from speaking sinfully and irreverently against God and His Word, even in small ways (such as in jokes)? Do our words and actions demonstrate that we love and honor His holy name?
THROW AWAY THE FILTHY RAGS!
If you look up this book on Amazon and read the reviews–particularly the one-star ones–you’ll see some common themes crop up. One of the most common complaints of the readers?
Rachel’s frequent bragging and boasting of her accomplishments.
She spends inordinate chunks of the book describing all of her achievements, the celebrities she’s met, the accolades she’s received; how she’d been a “child prodigy,” how big her company is now, etc.
I couldn’t help but think of the apostle Paul, in Philippians 3, persuading the church not to put confidence in the flesh. He recounts the great pride and self-righteousness he used to find in his pedigree and good works–things which he considered “gain” before he was converted. But now, he counts those very things he had once boasted of as “loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8).
As it says in Isaiah 64:6, all our self-righteousness is like “filthy rags”–fit only to be thrown away.
To take it further, we can consider that boasting and pride are symptoms of a worse disease–a false understanding of the gospel itself. This is confirmed in the book when Rachel defines “the gospel” this way, in chapter 3 (fitly titled, “Lie: I’m Not Good Enough”):
I studied the gospel and finally grasped the divine knowledge that I am loved and worthy and enough… as I am (30).
According to Rachel (and others who agree with her), the good news has nothing to do with the worship of God or the love of Christ for sinners. It is simply about “me, me, me.” It’s about getting what we want and feeling accepted “just as we are.” It’s about doing things our own way, and yet expecting God to serve us, as though He were a genie.
But that is not the biblical gospel.
So what is the good news that God has for us? Consider these verses as a truthful alternative:
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8, italics added).
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
We are not, as fallen human beings, “worthy and enough.” We are sinful and deficient. We need Christ, His blood shed for our sins, His sacrificial death on the cross taking the wrath we deserve for our rebellion. We need Christ’s righteousness to cover us and restore us to fellowship with our Creator. We need His resurrection to secure our future hope of eternity with God.
But sadly, throughout the book, Rachel advocates for a works-centered view of life. Though she declares that we ought to love and accept ourselves (and others) “as we are,” she contradicts herself by encouraging the readers to fix their own lives and cure themselves of bad habits, all in their own strength:
Girl, get ahold of your life. Stop medicating, stop hiding out, stop being afraid, stop giving away pieces of yourself, stop saying you can’t do it… Get up, right now. Rise up from where you’ve been, scrub away the tears and the pain of yesterday, and start again… Girl, wash your face! (213)
While she gives lip-service to “God-given strength,” she flat-out denies that God has the power on His own to change us; that it really rests in ourselves:
But God, your partner, your mama, and your best friends–none of them can make you into something (good or bad) without your help. You have the ability to change your life (212).
Can you imagine if this were true? What bad news that would be! God, stripped of His power, and me (and you) behind the wheel? All would be lost. Praise be to God that these are lies, and not reality.
The two previous quotes are found in the last chapter of the book, titled “Lie: I Need a Hero.” According to Rachel, we are all our own heroes, changing our lives and saving ourselves. In this way, we can easily substitute “hero” for “Savior,” and we see the problem.
We can’t be our own heroes. We are not heroes, but sinners in need of the Savior. And that is good news… because He is willing and able to save all who cry out to Him for salvation.
Heart check: Are we putting any confidence in ourselves and our own achievements? Do we have any tendencies to (even subconsciously) slip into a works-based view of our daily lives? Are we fully relying on God to save, change, and sanctify us?
BEWARE WORLDLY THINKING
If I had to summarize the gist of the book, it would be this: “worldly thinking.” Though Girl, Wash Your Face is categorized as “Christian,” very little in the book aligns with the truth of God in His Word. The beliefs and behaviors that Rachel esteems are more reflective of what the world applauds, rather than what pleases the Lord.
Consider the fact that she recommends these practices:
- Having worldly and even adulterous (!) fantasies about celebrities and a rich, wealthy lifestyle (142-143).
- As a wife and mother, putting your personal goals and dreams ahead of the needs of your own family (92-95).
- Not denying yourself. Here is the actual quote: “Do you really think God made you–uniquely, wonderful you–in hopes you would deny your true self because it might be off-putting to others? I can’t believe that’s true” (130). Remember what Jesus told us to do–“if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23)!
- Accepting everyone’s religion (and, as she advocates at one point, “sexual orientation”)–in fact, ignoring these things–in order to try to find “commonality” with one another (40-41)
I could go on, but suffice it to say, none of these practices–nor any of the other teachings outlined in this review–are even close to honoring or pleasing God.
Heart check: How much of our thinking reflects God’s Word? Are there areas of thought and practice in our lives where we are tempted to follow the world rather than Christ?
I hope the heart checks scattered throughout this review help us maintain a humble position in light of these things. Yet I cannot in good conscience recommend that anyone read Girl, Wash Your Face. Frankly, it is not a Christian book, and shouldn’t be considered such, though it is sadly making its way through Christian circles. I do hope somehow that Rachel finds this review, and seriously considers what has been shared here.
The final rating is: CHAFF.