|Why I Love Lauren Winner
A conservative Christian explains her devotion to the girl who met God.
By Phyllis Stine
Editor’s note: Initially, I rejected this piece. Though writer Phyllis Stine intended it to be a glowing appraisal of Lauren F. Winner, I found it harsh towards virtually everyone who is not an evangelical. (Full disclosure: I’m a columnist for Beliefnet.com, where Lauren Winner worked briefly as book review editor. However, we’ve never met or spoken.) Ms. Stine replied that I was “just being a liberal-media type trying to suppress yet another Christian voice.”
Stine insisted that if I refused to publish her article I was “no better than the atheists who forced Judge Moore to remove his Ten Commandments from his Alabama courthouse.” She threatened to complain to her contacts at The Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, and “The 700 Club.” I reconsidered my position; Ms. Stine seemed eager to become a martyr.
Still, I objected to some of her wording in the essay. We argued; we compromised. In the end, we both “won” by publishing this story. Stine scored a “victory for Christ,” as she put it, and I got to offer readers a piece that is, in its own way, strangely entertaining and revealing.John D. Spalding
* * *
Lauren F. Winner is fast becoming my favorite born-again writer. She loves Jesus, she loathes namby-pamby liberals, and she’s got sass up the wazoo. As she revealed in her spiritual memoir, “Girl Meets God,” Winner has a thing for unicorns and fishnet stockings, and her conversion from Judaism to evangelical Christianity involved a dream about being kidnapped by mermaids and rescued by Daniel Day-Lewiswho she later realized was Jesus (sassy!).
She’s also a sucker for Christian “chick lit,” the hot new genre among saved teens and twentysomethings. In a recent issue of World Magazine, that beacon of God’s truth, Winner explains that Christian chick lit novels are evangelical versions of bestsellers like “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” These secular books feature young heroines who are addicted to chocolate and obsessed with shopping, losing weight, and finding the perfect guy. In the Christian adaptations, the main characters are still guy-crazy chocoholics. The difference is, they’re evangelicals, so they worship Jesus as well as shoes, and, unlike their secular peers, they don’t drink, smoke, or have premarital sex.
“It’s fun,” Winner writes, “to curl up with a light-hearted novel whose protagonist reminds me of myself.” Amen, sisterand pass the bon bons!
Winner fills her writing with all sorts of intimate details that make me feel like we’re talking girl to girl over biscuits and gravy. Occasionally, however, she lets slip something that makes me raise an eyebrow, like the fact that she refuses to shave her legs. I’m sorry, Lauren, but that’s just a little too French and unladylike for a good Christian gal to be doing.
Although she often comes across like that spunky friend in your Christian singles group, Lauren Winner is not all sugar and spice. When she reviews books, for example, out come the claws for Christ, as she wages spiritual warfare against the enemies of faith, often in the devil’s own backyardlefty publications like the New York Times Book Review and the Washington Post Book World.
For the TBR, she took on Winifred Gallagher’s Spiritual Genius: The Mastery of Life’s Meaning, a book profiling 10 spiritual luminaries of different faiths. Confronted with so much open exploration among the world’s religions, Winner could have backed away from her convictions as a born-again Christian. Instead, she devoted two-thirds of the review to slamming Gallagher’s “uncritical embrace of ecumenism”the pluralistic idea that different paths can lead to the same truth. Winner knows that a literal belief in our risen Lord Jesus Christ is the only way to God, so she blasted Gallagher for her “spiritual dilettantism” and “pastiche approach to spiritual practice.”
Gallagher’s problem, Winner wrote, is that she “has never had much use for belief per se.” In her memoir, “Working on God,” Gallagher concluded that religion doesn’t need to focus on doctrine and belief, but could find a home in practice. For us evangelicals, of course, beliefthe right beliefis the foundation of our faith, so I was glad that Winner criticized a non-evangelical (in the New York Times, no less!) for missing the boat. She concluded her review by urging the author to confront her spiritual emptiness. “Perhaps in her next book,” she quipped, “Gallagher will invite pilgrims on a journey that doesn’t require them to surrender particularistic claims in favor of a spiritual smorgasbord.”
Now, I could see how such a review might strike non-Chrisitans as self-righteous and condescending. But the unsaved can’t appreciate the role that God plays in Lauren Winner’s work. She prays to God about each book she reviews, and He guides her as she crafts her verdicts.
It all started when Winner worked as the book review editor for Beliefnet.com, a multifaith website devoted to religion and spirituality. At first, Beliefnet seemed spiritually harmless to her, though she felt uneasy working alongside so many non-Christians. Still, as she recalled in an article for Christianity Today, she knew these lost souls needed Christ, so she bravely attempted “on a few occasions, to witnesseven in the ladies room.”
Before long, however, spiritual threats began piling up around herliterally. She found herself surrounded by stacks of books by liberal authors like former Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong and historical Jesus scholar John Dominic Crossan, as well as works with titles like, “If the Buddha Dated.” Finally, she realized that “the spiritual world, even just a spiritual Web site, is a dangerous place.”
This insight hit her like Scripture late one night at work while she was reading a vegetarian Wiccan cookbook. “What am I doing? I thought frantically,” she wrote, “I’ve been spending eight months forming my spiritual self on books about Gaia! I hit the floor. I had words with God. I left the office, and didn’t finish the cookbook review that night.”
Fortunately, Winner had wits enough to assure herself that she probably won’t go to hell for flipping through up a New Age title. “But I do think that Screwtape [Satan] gets really cranky when he loses one to Christ,” she reasoned, “and that he uses whatever tools he’s got to get her back, even innocent-looking pop-spirituality books.”
Her “epiphany with the cookbook” led Winner to change her approach to book reviewing. First, she began praying before she went to work. “I prayed to be surrounded by a battalion of angels,” she wrote. “I prayed that Satan would be kept far behind me. And I prayed before I opened a book, any bookeven one published by a respectable evangelical publisher.”
“I prayed that God would make it clear if I was not supposed to read a book in question,” she continued, “and I prayed that if I was meant to read it, he would give me the right eyes with which to do it. If he told me not to read a book, I didn’t read it; I found someone else to do the necessary mini-review.”
That’s what I call thinking on your feettake the books God says are dangerous and give them to colleagues who are going to hell anyway!
It’s instructive to note which books God let Winner review, and which he forbade. God didn’t say she couldn’t read books about Hinduism, but he told her to avoid books “preaching heterodox Christianity.” Why? Liberal theologians and biblical scholars are as sneaky as snakes in the grass. “I think I am capable of recognizing Hinduism as Hinduism,” she wrote, “but I’m still young in this Christian life, and I may not be able to recognize some of the persuasive-sounding pseudo-Christian arguments for what they are: heresy.”
And let’s face it. At least Hindus, unlike liberals, believe in something, and their ardent devotion, however misdirected, can be instructive. “I may really have something to learn from a devout Hindu,” Winner wrote, “more than I have to learn from a wishy-washy liberal Episcopalian who has sacrificed the core of his faith in the name of inclusivity.”
Alas, not all so-called Christians think Winner’s reviews are divinely inspired. The Catholic League was so enraged by her Washington Post Book World review of Robert Royal’s Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century that they launched a letter-writing campaign against her. Royal’s book explores how millions of Catholics were killed under totalitarian regimes in the 20th century, and the League objected that, among other things, Winner used the review to bring up the Church’s role in the Holocaust. (Wait…. Hear that folks? It’s the world’s smallest violin, playing “Cry Me a River” in St. Peter’s Square!)
Winner really got the Catholic League’s dander up, because they characterized her review as unfair in the worst way“one that misrepresents what the author said and then criticizes him for his ‘failing.’” They also said it was “ideologically driven,” an “angry diatribe” that “resorts to ad hominem attacks,” such as Winner’s remark about the author, Robert Royal: “one doesn’t read a book by the director of Faith and Reason Institute and expect evenhandedness.”
Now, as a lifelong Southern Baptist, I know how touchy Catholics can be when you try to set them straight. But the bottom line is, Lauren Winner is not a Catholic. Nor, like Winifred Gallagher, is she a spiritual dabbler. She’s an evangelical Christian who knows the truth and has a responsibility to bear witness. She’s a book reviewer with God’s lips to her ear. Her job is to call things as she sees them according to her faith, and if that means criticizing an apple for not being an orange, then so be it.
Liberals might whine that such judgments are unfair. But that’s only according to touchy-feely notions of openness and inclusivity that evangelicals don’t necessarily shareespecially when it comes to dealing with homosexuality, relativism, feminism, paganism, atheism, evolutionism, deism, communism, and, yes, liberalism. Our beliefs are biblically based, and liberals should at least treat them with the same p.c. respect they show to the Satanic messages that are backmasked in rock music.
Some lefties get it. In a column earlier this year entitled “Hug an Evangelical,” New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof wrote that liberals who pride themselves on their tolerance should be more tolerant of evangelicalseven those who actively evangelize. We evangelicals are called to stand for Jesus in every word we speak and in every deed we do and, for that matter, in every review we write. For liberals to dismiss us because we are simply trying to lead non-believers to God’s saving truth, “well,” Kristof wrote, “that’s like Christians saying they have nothing against gays who remain celibate.”
In other words, liberals, you’ve made your bed. Now lie in it.
As for you, Lauren Winneryou go, girl!
Phyllis Stine runs Panhandle Crusade, a ministry devoted to “reclaiming western Florida for Jesus Christone trailer park at a time.” She’s at work on a spiritual memoir.
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