Title: Permission to Speak Freely
Author: Anne Jackson
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2010)
“What is one thing you feel you can’t say in church?”
When Anne Jackson published that question on her blog in May, 2008, she wasn’t prepared for the response. 497 comments (and counting) later, she knew she’d hit on something significant: A large number of people feel like they can’t be open and honest about their struggles with their church.
Jackson knows something about this. As the daughter of a Southern Baptist pastor, Jackson struggled with pornography addiction, sexual promiscuity, substance abuse, sexual abuse at the hands of a youth pastor and depression. For years, she never felt the freedom to share these things with anyone but those closest to her (including her husband). In Permission to Speak Freely, Jackson shares her struggles and what she’s learned about the healing & freedom that comes from opening up about our sins, temptations and abuses we may have faced.
This book is messy. Jackson’s writing is alternatingly funny, raw, and at times all-together heartbreaking. Reading her struggles with depression and attempts to push away her husband… this really hit me hard as a man whose wife struggles with depression.
In all honesty, the fact that she could even gather up the courage to share her struggles the way she has in Permission to Speak Freely is to be applauded. It’s extremely helpful for others to know they’re not alone in facing depression, sexual temptation, pornography addictions… The worst thing we can do to ourselves in our sin is to convince ourselves that we’re the only ones who face whatever it is that tempts or has power over us. Sharing her experiences with pornography, drugs and depression shows others that they too can overcome. They can speak up. They can be healed. They can have hope.
This—what she refers to in the book as “the gift of going second”—is a great gift indeed.
There were, however, a some things in the pages of Permission to Speak Freely that didn’t sit quite right. Jackson has tendency to fall into a victim mentality; that we’re broken, hurt people who have been sinned against and the mistakes we make are tied to the sins of others. While I don’t want to minimize the sinful acts that are perpetrated against many every day, including the author, when we do wrong—when we look at pornography, when we start seeking comfort in drugs, alcohol or sex—it’s not just making a “mistake.” It’s committing a sin.
Secondly, there’s a tragic distortion of the wrath of God on page 90. There, Jackson writes:
God’s wrath isn’t always expressed in anger—that’s what we think of when we hear that term. The “wrath of God” is actually better explained as a feeling of grief mixed with a desire to reconnect and restore.
She picked this up from a bad Bible teacher, so I don’t want to sound like I’m coming down on her too hard, but there are a lot of problems with this statement. The biggest being that it’s completely contradictory to what the Bible teaches. Over and over again, whenever we see the wrath of God mentioned in Scripture, we don’t see a desire to reconnect and restore; it’s a desire for divine justice against sin. Call me crazy, but “the great winepress of the wrath of God” (Rev. 14:19-20) isn’t exactly imagery that conveys this idea.
Thirdly, as I read Jackson’s accounts of her depression, I couldn’t help but notice that all the solutions mentioned were therapy and medication alone. What I wonder, although I do believe many cases of depression are related to chemical imbalance, is whether or not she’s considered the possibility that the source of her depression is in the spiritual, rather than physical realm.
Finally, for all it’s strength in offering readers “the gift of going second,” it misses the greatest gift of all—that is the atonement for our sins in Christ’s death on the cross. In theological terms, the book focuses a great deal on expiation—that is, that Christ took away the stain of sin committed against us. And that’s important point to focus on, especially when dealing with those who have been abused. But the cross is about more than taking away our hurts and giving us a new relationship with God; it is about appeasing the wrath of God so that we can have a relationship with Him.
Permission to Speak Freely is a thought-provoking read with a lot to offer, but it’s far from flawless. That might not be a bad thing, depending on your perspective. For me, the issues noted above really hurt my enjoyment of the book; so if you do read it, do so with your Bible open. Take what’s good and true, but don’t use it as the foundation for your understanding of forgiveness and freedom.
A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the publisher.