Brief Reviews, VOLUME 3

Brief Review: PERMISSION TO SPEAK FREELY – Anne Jackson [Vol. 3, #34]

945991: Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession, and Grace

A Brief Review of

Permission to Speak Freely:
Essays and Art on Fear, Confession, and Grace

By Anne Jackson.
Paperback: Thomas Nelson, 2010.
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Reviewed by Michelle Van Loon (

Anne Jackson has gained quite a following at her blog over the last few years with her honest, insightful writing. She specializes in flinch-free truth-telling about herself, the church, and the broken world around her.

A couple of years ago, she lobbed a great question at her blog readers: What is the one thing you feel you can’t say in the church? Permission To Speak Freely captures the flavor of their responses.  Jackson got hundreds of answers, ranging from “I had an affair on my wife and I still think about the other woman” to “Even though I’m a staff member at my church, most of my deep and significant relationships are with people I met online” to “I was raped by a counselor… I thought he was a friend”.

The book is peppered with these confessions in the form of full-color pages that must have been fun for the graphic designer(s) tasked with properly honoring these anonymous words. But the bulk of the book is simple text featuring Jackson’s reflections and free-verse poetry on the subject of fear and confession. She lays out the mess of the struggles she’s had including the confusion in the wake of the sexual abuse she experienced as a teen, her addictions, her square peg experience as a church staffer and more in order to give readers, as a friend of hers called it, “the gift of going second”:

“Whenever somebody confesses something, and they’re the first to do it, its usually a pretty hard step to take. They don’t know how people will respond. They fear all the judgment and isolation. But they do it anyway.

“What happens on the other side of that confession is something beautiful. When you confess, there somebody on the other side of that confession who could very well be keeping a secret too. So when you go first, you’re opening up this amazing opportunity to trust. You’re saying, ‘I’m broken’. That trust carries so much power with it…”

The book doesn’t read as much like a book as it does a really good blog in print form. This is a strength if you enjoy short, episodic first-person meditations tracing an author’s journey toward “ah ha!”. It is a weakness if you’re looking for more substantial spiritual counsel. Jackson doesn’t address issues like what happens when your confession is met with silence or gossip. Know that the book assumes readers will understand some of the unwritten rules of Christian subculture and the healing that confession will bring to your relationship with God. That said, Permission To Speak Freely definitely has value as a conversation-launcher in the church, affirming that the Truth, in the person of Jesus Christ, really does set us free.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

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