Where’s the Gospel? A Book Review: The Scent of Water by Naomi Zacharias.

Zondervan provided me with the book free of charge, for the purpose of review.

(See the current conversation on this review and join it at http://amzn.to/m7R6hI)


This is an autobiography of Naomi Zacharias’ life. She takes the reader through the incredible (and enviable) adventures that 99% of us will never go on. Providing opportunities for children to get liver transplants they will never get, visiting the Red Light district in Amsterdam armed with compassion and hope for the women enslaved there, undercover opps into Afghanistan under the cover of darkness, and much more. Through all of these circumstances she weaves us in and out her story.

Best line of the book:

“I remember the time of fearlessness fondly. But in truth, the naiveté of younger years should not be confused with courage. It is only courage when we know the cost of failure. It is only faith when there is the potential for doubt. And it can only be won when we have to fight for it. (p. 77)”

My Thoughts

Here’s the good stuff. Naomi is completely open and honest throughout the book. She is far from perfect, and she lets us know that early and often. Her life is one filled with adventure, chance and heartbreak. Her openness and honesty was refreshing and instructive. In the chapter “Wild Tresses” she lets us in on some hurtful relationships that were ruined by the monster called porn. As a man, she gives me the perspective that I cannot have on my own: that of a woman. That perspective of feeling betrayed, of feeling insufficient, of being less than what a “woman” ought to be; she saw her man falling for someone who had what she did not and would not ever have. The image of God in a woman is destroyed through porn, and she helps us see this from her own perspective.

She also brings out a helpful perspective on divorce that I have not seen. My thoughts on divorce have been shaped by the Scriptures and books about the Scripture which have taught me “how to think” about divorce. Sadly, in all of my academic studies, Bible-college conversations and conversations in the hallways of churches, my conversations regarding divorce have been theoretical; they have focused on what is good and allowable in divorce. Zacharias recounts for her readers how divorce has affected her, with all of the hurt and pain and recovery (or lack thereof) that happens in a divorce. She helps bring to light the fact that divorced people are looked at as broken, and able to be thrown away or looked at as lesser people. She helped me to feel the rejection of the divorced in the Church of Christ. On the one hand I was ashamed that this was my first time receiving this perspective, and on the other hand I was overwhelmingly glad to have received it. It has caused me to think and feel deeply on the matter from a new perspective that I did not have before.

And now the bad stuff. Naomi heads an outreach arm of her father’s ministry (whom she never mentions in the book by name and only once in conversation) called Wellspring International. The work this ministry does is incredible, and is the basis for many of the stories that she tells. A huge problem I had with this book was that the stories of “hope” never seemed to rely on Hope Himself, Jesus Christ.

Case in point: the afterword is a story about Jacoline who had been rescued from a life of hell by Wellspring International. She was a prostitute turned restraunteer and mom. The story is surely one that is inspiring and will make you cry. But the problem lies in the final line of her story,

No one can tell me there is not a God. He didn’t give up on me. He has given me my own restaurant. I have a family. I am not ashamed of my story. I will tell it to anyone who will listen. My story only matters–I only matter–when you understand where I have come from and the story and power of redemption. All the people along the way–I want to make them proud and thank them for putting their faith in me. For them, for my children, for God…I will succeed (p220).

To her credit, she is giving glory to something outside of herself, glory to “God.” But the way she talks about God would be palatable to Oprah. There is no specificity of Jesus Christ, no specificity of the Gospel, no definition of what the story of redemption is in this woman’s story. The way she ascribes credit to God here is the same way any addict coming out of a 12-step program will give glory to their “Higher Being” who helped them through the program. And this type of thinking is what pervades the book. To be fair there are brief mentions of Christ and His words and work (passingly on p 81; p129-130), but it is obvious that this is not the central focus and theme of the work. If I had no idea who Ravi Zacharias was, and if I had no idea that Zondervan published Christian materials, then I would not be surprised to see this book being endorsed by Oprah or others who love a good story of the human spirit, and of “redemption” as defined as a life being brought from bad to good. That is not redemption. Redemption is found in the purchasing of sinners at the Cross, of sins being forgiven and of a new life lived in the Holy Spirit. I am not asking her to be a theologian; I just want to see Gospel-powered change. All else points back to man and his work. Isn’t that what the story of Babylon was about?

Tim Keller makes the observation that those who are concerned about justice are rarely concerned about justification, and those who are concerned about justification are rarely concerned with justice. I think this book shows a great example of justice for the sake of justice, and with justification being the lesser worry of the two.

I also have to question the wisdom of the rest of the chapter “Wild Tresses.” In following up on the brokenness brought about by porn, she encourages women to go and find out who their “inner goddess” is. Literally. She encourages women to go and read Jean Shinoda Bolen’s book “Goddesses in Everywoman” to help them to see which personalities portrayed in the goddesses match up most in the hearts of women. Naomi is an Artemis who “pursues her own course and appears strong and even defiant.” And she gives this advice unqualified. And there is no biblical wisdom of what a woman should look like. Honestly, I have no idea why she put this chapter in the book; it does nothing for the Christian woman (or any woman for that matter) to be pointed to what God desires of a woman.

This book carries its value in opening our eyes to the things that are happening in this world (“burning brides” in India, for example. Google that; it will break your heart). I am not in saying that Naomi does not find her hope and salvation in Jesus Christ, and I am not saying that the Gospel is not her motivation for doing this. It just seems that there is a disconnect. My hope and prayer is that she continues her work with those who need, that more people get involved in helping those who need, and that, most of all, the Gospel would not only be the foundation for the work, but would be what people are clearly pointed to so that Jesus Christ will get the glory He deserves among those who represent Him.


10 responses to this post.

  1. There’s been quite a discussion on the Amazon.com review I wrote for this book. See it here: http://amzn.to/m7R6hI


  2. Posted by Jan Wismer on May 14, 2011 at 7:16 am

    Thank you for this review. I just heard Naomi on the radio this morning and had come to some of the same conclusions you did about the book. There was no mention of Jesus Christ–only “my faith” and how the Church has let divorcees down. When mentioning her stores of touched lives, Naomi never mentions their being touched by Jesus Christ–only her contact with them. Um.


  3. Posted by Restful on May 15, 2011 at 6:40 am

    I am in my early sixtees, and Naomi is about 30.My opinion is that when you are so heartbroken and disappointed at a young age,and that too with a new marriage, you may not bounce back to normal
    state that quickly.Learning that your new husband enjoys porn is extremely devastating.We don’t know if there were hints about this when she was dating this monster, and probably ignored them thinking that she may be in error. She may be blaming herself tremendously if that is the case.Continued—–


  4. Posted by Restful on May 15, 2011 at 6:50 am

    Deep down she still beleives in Jesus Christ as she was taught. Give her sometime to recover from the shock.Some take a short time and some long.She will receive the reassurance from the holy spirit that God is still near.For the destitute you as a fellow human should provide for the physical needs first–representing Christ. And when they are ready in their spirit to receive the story of redemption they will.I am sure the ministry has made provision for that.Thanks.


  5. […] About « Where’s the Gospel? A Book Review: The Scent of Water by Naomi Zacharias. […]


  6. Posted by Melody on June 7, 2011 at 8:08 am

    Who’s judging who here! Have you been through her pain, trials and tribulations. Healing takes time. It seems to me she beats herself up for not recognizing a problems sooner.
    None one can judge someone until they have lived or gone through that kind of pain.
    I haven’t read the book YET, but plan to buy it this week. I saw her on James and Betty Robison’s Life Today program. I felt her pain and commend her for doing Christ’s work by helping others. That’s why God lets us go through tribulations…there is no one better to help someone else, than the person that has felt the same pain.

    I pray I may do the same!


  7. Posted by jasmina on July 30, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    THank you Brandon for your opinion. I agree it is ashame when we miss the point> Jesus being our Justification.


  8. Posted by Crystal on February 4, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    I really appreciate your review, very fair, non-judgmental and biblical at the same time. I think it’s sad that there usually is a dichotomy when it comes to the gospel and social justice. That ought not be. I’m not inclined to judge Naomi’s motives because I don’t know her heart, but I would agree that there is no true redemption outside of Christ, and hopefully the gospel was preached to these people she came into contact with.


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