Anne Kennedy was bemused to find Rachel Hollis’ best-selling book, Girl, Wash Your Face, in the Christian living section of the bookstore next to the Bibles. Hollis describes herself as a Christian but her self-help advice is anything but Christian, Kennedy believes.
“She does mention Christianity and her faith in Jesus but in terms of the book itself, there’s really nothing that would distinguish it from any other kind of self-help thing that’s on the market and there’s lots of them. She quotes some Bible verses but she doesn’t really rely on a Christian worldview at all to motivate behavior,” Kennedy, author of Nailed It: 365 Sarcastic Devotions for Angry and Worn-Out People, said on a recent Christian Research Institute podcast.
The 2018 book, published by Thomas Nelson, has so far sold over 3.5 million copies and propelled her career as a motivational speaker and blogger among women, including Christians. She has another book out this year, titled Girl, Stop Apologizing.
Hollis is the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher and grew up in Weedpatch, California. She described what she does to The New York Times as “preaching.”
“In the church I grew up in, or honestly in any church I’ve gone to, the pastor always is using stories from their real life to illustrate a point to you. So that is what I do,” the popular mother of four explained.
Kennedy believes her popularity soared due to her relatability — showing both the messy and the amazing parts of her life — and her brilliance in marketing. She summed up Hollis' main message as: don’t be a victim, you owe it to yourself to reach your potential, and when you do you’ll be happy.
“It’s a very American middle-class idea that you would have potential that you would live into,” Kennedy noted. “That’s not a Christian idea at all. It doesn’t take into account actual sin, it doesn’t take into account evil of any kind, it doesn’t take into account the wide variety of human ability and circumstance.
“This sort of utopian idea that every single person could be a butterfly if they just tried really hard is just not grounded in reality. There’s no sin and so there’s no redemption. There’s just a lot of hard work for the individual.”
Kennedy admitted she did find Hollis’ advice — though “generic” — to be helpful considering she herself is not a particularly motivated person.
“It was helpful to have her repeat over and over that I’m not a victim of my circumstances, that I can make positive change in my own life to make things better,” she noted.
“But of course as Christians, we know most of that stuff. We may not want to hear it so it maybe is helpful to have somebody who’s young and energetic and driven telling me, who’s middle-aged, to get up off the couch and take a walk.”
At the same time, she found all the advice very “this-worldly.”
“You should be in shape because that’s healthy,” Kennedy said of Hollis’ message. “Being rich is a lot nicer than being poor so you should try really hard to have a lot of money so that you can be comfortable and you can do all the things you want.”
And while Hollis doesn’t state it explicitly, Kennedy believes it’s implied that if one doesn’t reach their goals such as an ideal weight or certain amount of money or success, then there is shame associated with that.
“I don’t think she’s a Christian at all,” she commented. “A Christian who’s really trying to sort out their life in a godly way … I don’t think that her book will be helpful in that at all.
“Her worldview is in no way representative of classical Christianity. She’s inclusive, affirming of LGBT, all religions are fine, doesn’t have any even vague understanding of what redemption and the cross and faith in Jesus were to actually look like. She invokes the name of Jesus periodically, she quotes some verses but nothing that she says at all represents a Christian worldview. So it is interesting to me that she is marketed as a Christian.”
She isn’t alone in expressing concerns over the book being touted as Christian.
Sarah Liberty Hardee, who blogs at christcenteredmama.com, couldn’t finish reading Girl, Wash Your Face due to Hollis’: “misinterpretation” of the Bible, statement that it’s wrong to believe one’s faith is right while others are wrong, and taking on the burden of being her own shepherd and savior.
“Christianity isn’t about trying harder and pushing through to your goals. Jesus wouldn’t advise His dear daughters to ‘try harder,’ He would say ‘child come rest upon Me – all who are weary, come rest, let Me wash your feet and serve you and dress you in My righteousness,’” Hardee wrote.
Alisa Childers, a former CCM artist, also found it troubling that Hollis makes it “all about you” and that everything depends on “you.” But the biggest lie she found in Hollis’ book is that sin isn’t a problem.
“Sisters, I can’t state this plainly enough: Sin is your enemy, and you absolutely can’t save yourself from it. You’re not in control of that situation,” Childers wrote on The Gospel Coalition. “But this is where the good news comes in. God sent his Son to live a sinless life, so that he could take the punishment of our sin on himself. He paid for it.”