Saturday, March 29, 2008

2 Corinthians: An Agitated American

I have been in 2 Corinthians for a few weeks now (and plan to continue for another month at least). I got stuck on Chapter 6 for over a week. But right now Chapter 8 and 9 are really rocking my world. I see how a lot of things in my life have been preparing me for this issue. 

As an American, I read these chapters and am extremely agitated by the the system I find myself a part of. Questions are forming; and while I know there will be plenty of questions, I haven't the slightest idea of how long it will be before I discover any answers. I'm excited. :)

Quick update on the spring break teams: I love them all! They are great, and it has been such a blessing to build relationships with brothers and sisters and to see the growth that has occurred in such a short period of time. I stepped back for a moment and realized how much I am learning (a ton of tiny little skills that fall under the ares of communication, discipleship, administration, teaching, vision casting, and mobilization). 

Last night we had no less then 250 volunteers at Nightstrike. We were down to 2 staff for the week and no interns, but we had a grip of dedicated passionate volunteers to pick up the slack! It was awesome to see the teams step up too, and seize opportunities to lead in areas God had prepared them for throughout this last week.

You know God is working when you can't even fathom half the stuff that ends up happening so beautifully and you have no idea how it all comes together. I could tell you 5 or 6 stories that happened in the last 4 days that would blow your mind, but I am about to head back to finish up with the teams. 

I have acknowledged God's greatness and his incomprehensibility, but it is a whole other thing to come face to face with it in reality. I am in awe of God's hand at work in Portland, in peoples lives, and in His Bride the Church.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Link-O-Rama (3/26/08)

These teams are amazing.For now, it is 2 groups of 15. One is from Monmouth and the other is from Montana. They are high school aged, and so ready to serve and be used! Pray God would be faithful and give them some awesome opportunities and move in their lives! I have a little bit of a break today, as they are on the streets homeless for the day (beautiful weather for it...cold and rainy). 

I have a bunch of tabs open in Safari that I want to unload:

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Christs Body in the Tomb (Easter)

I first posted a work of art titled "Christs Body in the Tomb" back in January. Since then, I have been anticipating it's significance in regard to Easter.

Fyodor Dostoevsky once stated, "A man can even lose his faith from that painting!" Dostoevsky was impacted by this work of art to the extent that he repeats the same words through the central character, the Prince, in his novel The Idiot. More of Dostoevsky's thoughts are revealed through a different character, Ippolit, who is dyeing from consumption (tuberculosis). He sees the painting in Rogozhin's house when he is visiting on business.

Dostoevsky, through the character Ippolit, provides a much more profound artistic analysis of the painting then I could ever hope to create. If the painting strikes you, is unnerving, creating a sense of apprehension and uneasiness, then I really do encourage you to read the following excerpt.

Ippolit states, as the Prince did earlier, that "it produced a strange uneasiness in (him)".
"This picture portrays Christ just taken down from the cross. It seems to me that painters are usually in the habit of portraying Christ, both on the cross and taken down from the cross, as still having a shade of extraordinary beauty in his face; they seek to preserve this beauty for him even in his most horrible suffering. But in Rogozhin's picture there is not a word about beauty; this is in the fullest sense the corpse of a man who had endured infinite suffering before the cross, wounds, torture, beating by the guards, beating by the people as he carried the cross and fell down under it, and had finally suffered on the cross for six hours (at least according to my calculation).

True, it is the face of a man who has only just been taken down from the cross, that is, retaining in itself a great deal of life, of warmth; nothing has had time to become rigid yet, so that the dead man's face even shows suffering as if he were feeling it now (the artist has caught that very well); but the face has not been spared in the least, it is nature alone, and truly as the dead body of any man must be after such torments.

I know that in the first centuries the Christian Church already established that Christ suffered not in appearance but in reality, and that on the cross his body, therefore, was fully and completely subject to the laws of nature. In the picture this face is horribly hurt by blows, swollen, with horrible and bloody bruises, the eyelids are open, they eyes crossed; the large, open whites have a sort of deathly, glassy shine.

But, strangely, when you look at the corpse of this tortured man, a particular and curious question arises: if all his disciple, his chief future apostles, if the women who followed him and stood by the cross, if all those who believed in him and worshiped him had seen a corpse like that (and it was bound to be exactly like that), how could they believe, looking at such a corpse, that this sufferer would resurrect? Here the notion involuntarily occurs to you that if death is so terrible and the laws of nature are so powerful, how can they be overcome? How overcome them, if they were not even defeated now, by the one who defeated nature while he lived, whom nature obeyed, who exclaimed: "Talitha cumi" and the girl arose, "Lazarus, come forth" and the dead man came out?

Nature appears to the viewer of this painting in the shape of some enormous, implacable and dumb beast, or, to put it more correctly, much more correctly, strange though it is - in the shape of some huge machine of the most modern construction, which has senselessly seized, crushed, and swallowed up, blankly and unfeelingly, a great and priceless being - such a being as by himself was worth the whole of nature and all its laws, the whole earth, which was perhaps created solely for the appearance of this being alone! The painting seems precisely to express this notion of a dark, insolent, and senselessly eternal power, to which everything is subjected, and it is conveyed to you involuntarily.

The people who surrounded the dead man, none of whom is in the painting, must have felt horrible anguish and confusion on that evening, which at once smashed all their hope and almost their beliefs. They must have gone off in terrible fear, though each carried within himself a tremendous thought that could never be torn out of him. And if this same teacher could have seen his own image on the eve of the execution, would he have gone to the cross and died as he did? That question also comes to you involuntarily as you look at the painting."
I believe this tension is a good exercise in our faith. It heightens both the reality and the significance of this event in history. And surely as Paul said to the Corinthians "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." It makes Jesus death, and in turn His resurrection, raw and tangible as opposed to sterile and detached.

The joyful news which spread with electric excitement makes sense. That truly, a dead man had risen.
The claim which Paul makes becomes palpable. That Jesus "...was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

...But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive...

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."
(1 Corinthians 15)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thoughts on The Cross (Good Friday)

I want to take a moment to share what has been on my heart over these last few weeks leading up to Easter. Much of the following was sparked as I have been reading through "The Reason for God" by Tim Keller. 

Some have looked at Jesus on the cross as a form of "cosmic child abuse" or refer to Jesus death to that of the primitive religions which demanded blood for their god's wrath to be appeased. 

First, think about the options you are confronted with when you have been wronged. You can seek vengeance for selfish reasons, which leads to yourself become even more cold, self-pitying, and ultimately self-absorbed. Or you can choose to forgive. But forgiveness means refusing to make the offender pay for what they did. You are absorbing the debt, taking the cost of it completely on yourself instead of taking it out on the other. It hurts terribly. Many people would say it feels like a kind of death. But this death leads to a resurrection instead of the life-long living death of bitterness and cynicism; and only when you have lost the need to see the other person hurt will you have any chance of actually bringing about change, reconciliation, and healing. 

Now lets look back to the cross and the claims of "child abuse" or a meaningless archaic "blood sacrifice". This assumes Jesus was just a teacher and his death was simply an example of sacrificial love. But the Christian faith understands Jesus as God. So God did not inflict pain or sacrifice on someone else, but rather on the Cross God absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself. So why did Jesus have to die in order to forgive us? 

"There was a debt to be paid - God himself paid it. 
There was a penalty to be born - God himself bore it."

Forgiveness is always a form of costly suffering. And it is through the acceptance of this forgiveness that we have any chance of actually bringing about change, reconciliation, and healing in a broken world. 

This Easter, as we have the opportunity to reflect on Jesus death and victory in resurrection, my prayer is that we all could discover a deepened sense of God's grace. That we could truly grasp this identity which is at our disposal as Christians, a life buried in God's grace, enabling us to love and serve a suffering world.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A New Commandment (Maundy Thursday)

From John Piper's Desiring God blog:

Today is Maundy Thursday. The name comes from the Latin mandatum, the first word in the Latin rendering of John 13:34, "A new commandment (Mandatum novum) I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." This commandment was given by the Lord on the Thursday before his crucifixion. So Maundy Thursday is the "Thursday of the Commandment."

This is the commandment: "Love one another as I have loved you." But what about Galatians 5:14? "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" If the whole law is fulfilled in "Love your neighbor as yourself," what more can "Love one another as Christ loved you" add to the fulfillment of the whole law?

I would say that Jesus did not replace or change the commandment, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." He filled it out and gave it clear illustration. He is saying,

Here is what I mean by "as yourself." Watch me. I mean: Just as you would want someone to set you free from certain death, so you should set them free from certain death. That is how I am now loving you. My suffering and death is what I mean by ‘as yourself.' You want life. Live to give others life. At any cost.

So John says, "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers" (1 John 3:16). Was Jesus loving us "as he loved himself"? Listen to Ephesians 5:29-30, "No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body."

In the horrors of his suffering Christ was sustained "by the joy that was set before him" (Hebrews 12:2). And that joy was the everlasting gladness of his redeemed people, satisfied in the presence of the risen king.

Therefore, let us see the greatest love in action during these next 24 hours. "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (John 13:1). And let us be so moved by this love that it becomes our own. "He laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers" This is the commandment. This is the Thursday.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tim Keller at Borders

Quick overview of Tim Keller's talk at Borders last night (and then back to studying Spanish):

He talked about the futility of relativism to advance society and overcome injustice. For example an atheist anthropologist working in Africa couldn't stand the injustices done to woman, specifically genital mutilation. When she began discussing this with the woman of the tribes they essentially told her "who are you from your individualistic secular society to tell me what is right and wrong about my culture". To which the anthropologist was confounded. She knew it was wrong, but had no basis for her ethics. She finally just gave up on her research and started an organization to fight for woman's rights in Africa, though she had no evidence for why she was doing so. 

From here he turned it to the abolition of slavery in England. The secularist will say that society simply evolved and came to an understanding that slavery was wrong. But in the midst of injustice, you aren't aware of it. It took a small group of Christians to cast a vision for a better world to which people said "I want that!". This isn't extremely profound, but it really got me thinking about how I can do a better job of "casting the vision"! 

Then things got really interesting. He discussed a "moralistic narrative" (any religion in the world) verse a "grace narrative" (the Gospel). Most Christians live a moralistic narrative because they don't grasp the deep self identity buried in God's grace that they have at their disposal. Consequently, many non-Christians view Christianity as yet another "moralistic narrative". He also discussed how the grace narrative of the Gospel has a built in safe guard to extremism, being that the moralistic narrative inherently spawns a prideful mentality of us verse them.

Ultimately, if you read the book, you won't miss anything. :)

I finally got the low down on the title choice. (I just realized I was wearing my sickle and hammer Soviet Union shirt when I talked to Keller and got him to sign my book. That explains his smirk the whole time we were talking.) He said in the focus groups the secularists/atheists demographic really gravitated to the title because it continues the pop-culture dialog in the same vein as "The God Delusion". 

I can live with that.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Religion and the Gospel

Another great chapter in Tim Keller's "...Belief in an Age of Skepticism"! I have decided to start stressing the subtitle when discussing the book because it more appropriately conveys the contents of the book (as opposed to The Reason for God).

This chapter reminds me of one of my favorite Mark Driscoll sermons; “Examining Two Enemies of the Gospel” (May 30th 2007):

The first enemy is idolatry...“The second enemy of the Gospel is religion, and religion doesn't understand the Gospel."

"Religion says 'if you obey God will love you'. The Gospel says 'because God loves you you can now obey'."

"Religion says that the world is about good people and bad people...and of course we are good, and they are bad, whoever “they” are: 'Mac/PC', 'Ford/Chevy', 'Democrat/Republican', 'left-handed/right-handed', 'smart/short-bus'. The Gospel does not see people in terms of good and bad. We are all bad. If the world was an old western everyone in the world would wear black hats, only Jesus would get a white hat. The Gospel says repentant bad people, and unrepentant bad people... "

"Religion is about using God to receive an idol. The Gospel is about receiving God as the gift.”

Keller tackles this profound difference between "religion" and the "Gospel" with more breadth, a little less shouting, and with more elegance/less brashness.

"His grace both humbles me more deeply than religion can (since I am too flawed to ever save myself through my own effort), yet also affirms me more powerfully than religion can (since I can be absolutely certain of God's unconditional acceptance).

That means that I cannot despise those who do not believe as I do. Since I am not saved by my correct doctrine or practice, then this person before me, even with his or her wrong beliefs, might be morally superior to me in many ways. It also means I do not have to be intimidated by anyone. I am not so insecure that I fear the power or success or talent of people who are different from me. The gospel makes it possible for a person to escape oversensitivity, defensiveness, and the need to criticize others. The Christian's identity is not based on the need to be perceived as a good person, but on God's valuing of you in Christ."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Problem of Sin

This was an exceptional chapter! I especially connected with the section on personal consequences of sin. I have recently been struggling through - and discovering - that hope put in any individual is setting yourself of for disappointment and failure. Keller pulls back and argues this is only one aspect of a bigger issue.

Every persons need to “justify their existence” through the sense of worth and identity. This could play out in the attempt to fulfill duties to family, giving service to society, achievements, gaining or wielding power, seeking human approval, self-discipline, social status, talents, or relationships.

“Even if you say “I will not build my happiness or significance on anyone or anything,” you will actually be building your identity on your personal freedom and independence. If anything threatens that, you will again be without a self.” (pg. 165)

Keller explores how each of these is subverted by sin and is really a hollow identity without any real substance. For example, if one builds their identity on being a good parent, they have no true “self”. They are simply a parent, nothing more and if something goes wrong with their children or parenting there is no “self” left.

“Identity apart from God is inherently unstable.”

If you have aren't quite grasping this idea, disagree with it, are intrigued by it, or relate to it, then go get the book and read because I'm not typing up the whole chapter for you!


Tim Keller is speaking at the downtown Portland Borders this Tuesday at 7:00pm. It's free!

Thursday, March 13, 2008


The New York Times article that I posted yesterday, concerning the tragic death of young Lawrence, has been weighing heavy on my heart. 

I keep asking myself the question; if I was in that 8th grade class at E.O. Green Junior High in Oxnard California, if had been in that computer lab on the morning of February 12 morning (excited by the buzz of Valentines day, and the candy which ensues, and even more excited for my fast approaching birthday), if I had been sitting near Lawrence when our classmate walked in the door wielding a gun, would I have stood up and taken the bullet?

I am reminded of a story Tony Campolo shares in a scene - which will forever be etched on my heart - from Lord Save Us From Your Followers. I found it online and would like to share it.

"There was a boy in our high school named Roger. He was gay. We knew about it. We spread the word on him, and we made his life miserable. When we passed him in the hall, we would call out his name in an effeminate manner. We gestured with our hands and made him the brunt of a lot of cheap jokes. On Fridays after PE class, we would go into the showers, but Roger never went in with us. He was afraid to, and for good reason. When we came out of the showers we would take our wet towels and whip them at his little naked body. We thought that was a fun thing to do.

I wasn't there the day they took Roger, dragged him into the shower room, and shoved him into the corner. Folded up in a fetal position, in the corner of that tile room, he cried as five guys urinated all over him.

That night Roger went home and he went to bed sometime around ten o'clock. They said it was about two o'clock the next morning when he got up and went down to the basement of his house - and hung himself. When they told me, I realized I wasn't a Christian. Oh, I believed all the right stuff. I was as theologically sound as any evangelical could expect to be. I knew what I was supposed to believe and I believed it intensely, but I hadn't surrendered to the Holy Spirit. I had not yet yielded myself and allowed God's Spirit to invade me and transform me into the kind of person I ought to be. If the Holy Spirit had been in me, I would have stood up for Roger.

When the guys came to make fun of him, I would have put one arm around Roger's shoulders and waved the guys off with the other and said, "Leave him alone. He's my friend. Don't mess with him." But I was afraid to be his friend. I was afraid to stand up for Roger, because I knew that if you stand up for somebody like Roger, people will begin to say nasty things about you too. And so I kept my distance, and I failed to be the loving person that Christ wanted me to be. The work of the Holy Spirit was not evident in my life. If it had been, Roger might be alive today."

This is an extract from

'Let Me Tell You A Story'

by Tony Campolo

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What is Wrong With This World?

I wake up and skim the headlines...

"In recent weeks, the victim, Lawrence King, 15, had said publicly that he was gay, classmates said, enduring harassment from a group of schoolmates, including the 14-year-old boy charged in his death." (

"A 15-year-old boy kicked and stamped to death a woman because she was dressed as a Goth, a court heard." (

My heart aches for this broken world. Oh God, heal the broken and comfort the suffering.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Argument for God from the Violence of Nature

More from Tim Keller's The Reason for God:

"Why would we know this? To sharpen our focus on the significance of this indelible knowledge of moral obligation, consider the observations of writer Annie Dillard. Dillard lived for a year by a creek in the mountains of Virginia expecting to be inspired and refreshed by closeness to “nature”. Instead, she came to realize that nature was completely ruled by one central principle – violence by the strong against the weak.

“There is not a person in the world that behaves as badly as praying-mantises. But wait, you say, there is no right or wrong in nature; right and wrong is a human concept! Precisely! We are moral creatures in an amoral world...Or consider the is only human feeling that is freakishly amiss...All right then – it is our emotions that are amiss. We are freaks, the world is fine, and let us all go have lobotomies to restore us to a natural state. We can leave... lobotomized, go back to the creek, and live on its banks as untroubled as any muskrat or reed. You first.”

Annie Dillard saw that all of nature is based on violence. Yet we inescapably believe it is wrong for stronger human individuals or groups to kill weaker ones. if violence is totally natural why would it be wrong for strong humans to trample weak ones? There is no basis for moral obligation unless we argue that nature is in some part unnatural. We can't know that nature is broken in some way unless there is some supernatural standard of normalcy apart from nature by which we can judge right and wrong.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

I Am Legend (Alternate Ending)

Watch it here.

If you remember from the original ending, the butterfly tattoo is on the mother of the son and when the "zombie" is crashing the glass it cracks in the form of a butterfly (which helps Dr. Neville piece the solution together). Instead the tattoo is on zombie girl on the stretcher and her zombie friend intentionally smears the image of a butterfly to communicate his yearning for his companion. 

One thing I do like, it portrays their humanity. Different scenes in the movie allude to the fact that they still have a sliver of humanity left in them - however warped and grotesque it may appear to be. 

But there are a couple overarching ideas shifted thats I really don't like. 

Where is the beautiful image of self sacrifice on the part of Dr. Robert Neville? Not to mention, what legend* is created by the conclusion of the movie? The title makes a claim which is not delivered. 

What happens to the demonstration of redemption and restoration? There is still a weak empty sense of hope for the rest of humanity, as the three drive off into the sunset broadcasting a message to a possibly non-existent people. But what about the restoration of the REST of humanity that has fallen into darkness? This hope seems empty as well. 

Overall, I feel it falls flat.

*I understand Dr. Neville is originally intended - in the book - to be the "legend" through a paradigm shift. He is the only man left on earth and he is viewed as a mystical creature that lives in the light, in contrast to vampires being legendary creatures that roam around under the cover of night. But this idea isn't developed in light of the alternate ending either, so I don't buy it in regard to the movies story.

Sigur Rós: "Heima"/"At Home"

For any Sigur Rós fans out there:

Some of the shots filmed in Iceland from this video are gorgeous. Combined with their music, which speaks to my soul in a way few songs do, it is a work of beautiful art.

Friday, March 07, 2008

God The Playwright

Here are some more excerpts from Tim Kellers The Reason for God:

Keller refers to C.S. Lewis metaphor in regard to knowing the truth about God when he writes that he believes in God “as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” 

"Imagine trying to look directly at the sun in order to learn about it. You can't do it. It will burn out your retinas, ruining your capacity to take it in. A far better way to learn about the existence, power, and quality of the sun is to look at the world it shows you, to recognize how it sustains everything you see and enables you to see it. 

Here, then, we have a way forward. We should not try to “look into the sun”, as it were, demanding irrefutable proofs for God. Instead we should “look at what the sun shows us.” Which account of the world has the most “explanatory power” to make sense of what we see in the world and in ourselves? We have a sense that the world is not the way it ought to be. We have a sense that we are very flawed and yet very great. We have a longing for love and beauty that nothing in this world can fulfill. We have a deep need to know meaning and purpose. Which worldview best accounts for these things?" (Pg. 122)

And yet another C.S. Lewis reference...

“When a Russian cosmonaut returned from space and reported that he had not found God, C.S. Lewis responded that this was like Hamlet going into the attic of his castle looking for Shakespeare.” 

Keller expounds on this analogy and wraps it up with the thought that “If there is a God, we characters in his play have to hope that he put some information about himself in the play. but Christians believe he did more than give us information. He wrote himself into the play as the main character in history, when Jesus was born in a manger and rose from the dead. He is the one with whom we have to do." (Pg 123)

I don't think it's a bad thing that my favorite parts of this book are when Keller expands on C.S. Lewis quotes (which is at least once in just about every section). Also know, if I posted everything that I liked about this book I would be failing my Spanish classes. I'm just trying to give you a taste of it to wet your appetite. He tackles some really complex post-modern philosophical ideas that everyone has been too afraid to touch, but I would have to be quoting multiple pages to get that stuff across. 

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Reason for God

I am realizing that I really don't have time in my life to do thorough book reviews. But I can tell you when I really like a book, and (when time allows) share something that really stands out. 

My brother got me a copy of Tim Keller's The Reason for God for my birthday. I first heard about Keller after reading The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, to which he contributed my favorite section.

In The Reason for God he systematically evaluates modern - and valid - criticisms of Christianity using literature, philosophy, real-life conversations, and reasoning to explain how faith in a Christian God is a soundly rational belief, held by thoughtful people of intellectual integrity with a deep compassion for those who truly want to know the truth. And he does all of with great easy and clarity. 

I have never been able to swallow a comparison of C.S. Lewis with any author (his writing have been very influential in my life, especially Mere Christianity), but Keller comes the closest - intellectually and philosophically, he isn't quite there in literary terms - I have ever seen.

In the chapter titled "The Church is Responsible for So Much Injustice" he discuss the Biblical critique of religion (among other issues such as character flaws, religion and violence, and fanaticism). 

"Extremism and fanaticism, which lead to injustice and oppression, are a constant danger within any body of religious believers. For Christians, however, the antidote is not to tone down and moderate their faith, but rather grasp a fuller and truer faith in Christ. The Biblical prophets understood this well. In fact, the scholar Merold Westphal documents how Marx's analysis of religion as an instrument of oppression was anticipated by the Hebrew prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and even by the message of the New Testament gospels. Marx, according to Westphal, was unoriginal in his critique of religion - the Bible beat him to it! 

Jesus conducts a major critique of religion. His famous Sermon on the Mount does not criticize the irreligious people, but rather religious ones. In his famous discourse the people he criticizes pray, give to the poor, and seek to live according to the Bible, but they do so in order to get acclaim and power for themselves. They believe they will get leverage over others and even over God because of their spiritual performance. This makes them judgmental and condemning, quick to give criticism, and unwilling to take it. They are fanatics." (Pg. 58)

Chew on that for awhile. This is the type of stuff that will mess you up... in a good way!

I'm currently listening to the brand new instrumental album by Nine Inch Nails; Ghost (Follow the link and you can download the first 9 tracks for free). Good stuff!

Monday, March 03, 2008

A (Good) Theological Response to "The Shack"

I wrote a review of The Shack after I read it in November. Since then my copy of has made it's rounds from one eager pair of hands to the next. A part of me regrets advocating the book so strongly when it first came out. However, I still hold to it being a beneficial story when kept in a proper relation with Scripture. I think it is easy to go into a piece of fiction not being properly prepared for how a story communicates to your soul. Stories are a powerful tool that speak a language that subverts logic as it connects to emotions and past experiences of the reader. 

Because of some of the issues raised in the book, it has sparked great discussion. Jonathan, pastor of missions at Good Shepherd, wrote a wonderful followup response to a round table discussion held after church a couple weeks ago.

Question, Seek, Find, Grow (My best attempt to answer all the people asking theological questions about the book "The Shack")
By Jonathan Martin

When I was young I would often go into the living room with big questions for my Dad to answer.

“Dad, can a person lose his salvation?”
“That’s a good question. What do you believe Jonathan?”
“I think he can.”
“Why do you believe that? What does the Bible have to say?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Here are some passages to look up.”

Instead of answers, my Dad gave me a hunger to question, seek, find, and grow. Is my theology all nice and neat and correct now? I wish. I have so far to go and so much to learn. But may we "Learn together".

We, the staff, here at Good Shepherd have been getting non-stop questions about the wildly popular book called “The Shack”. I was handed a copy about six months ago and I read it to my family. Local author, Paul Young, has done a superb job of breaking our preconceived notions of who God is and has painted a beautiful picture of a God, who above all, loves and desires relationship with his creatures. He also treats the problem of pain and suffering in a magnificent way. I especially liked the chapter, “Here come Da Judge.”

The main reason I really like this book is that it creates an amazing opportunity to talk theology. Tragically, few Americans ever talk about theology - which I believe to be the world’s greatest and most important topic of conversation. This book provides the greatest opportunity in years to engage in discussions about the God we say we worship.

The greatest compliment you can give a book is to talk about it. I was a literature major and have loved to debate over an author’s meaning, philosophy, and theology. This is good. It is not being unkind to the author to do this. Authors love this.

Some people love this book so much that they get very frustrated or downright angry when I do this with “The Shack”. I find that phenomenon quite fascinating. What is it about this book that rings such a chord that when one dares to discuss its possible shortcomings – they call it “book bashing”? What about this book seems almost sacred to so many?

Anyway there are a number of questions the book raises in my mind and in the minds of the other pastors on staff here. I have wrestled with these questions with my wife and kids and have spent hours with friends talking theology both with those who agree with and disagree with me. The discussions are valuable and I learn. I love it!!!!!

If the book somehow seems sacred to you, maybe you don’t want to ask these questions. But if it is all good, and you want to be stretched in what you believe about God – wrestle with them. Here is my simple exercise “Read the quotes in “The Shack” in context, and then see if you can reconcile the book’s content with these quotes from the Bible as read in their context.”

Some friends I know can do it, and I can reconcile a number of them in my mind. Others I know simply cannot. But no matter these are good things to talk about. What we believe to be true about God is what we live out and is truly the most important thing about us.

I do feel really bad when people get angry at me and say I am throwing a bucket of cold water on a great book. If you feel that way, you might not want to do the following exercise. I actually look at it - not as throwing a bucket of cold water - but as fanning the flame of a great “God” discussion. If we want to be challenged to think biblically, I think this might do us all some good.

“I never left him at that moment” (on the cross)” p.96 - Mark 15:33-39, 2 Cor 5:21

I don’t need to punish people for sin: sins it’s own punishment. p.120 - Rev 6:16,17 Acts 5:1-11,
Romans 2:5 ,6, Rev 2:4,.14-16,20-24 3:15-19

“No concept of final authority” or hierarchy in the Godhead 122-124, 145 - 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Mark 14:32-42, Rev 2:26-27

“I don’t create institutions – never have, never will” p. 178, 179 - Romans 13, 1 Peter 3, Luke 12:42 , Dan 4:24-35, Rev 11;15 , 20:6

“These institutions are all a vain effort …. They are all false” 179 Luke 20:25, 1 Tm 6:1, Col 1:16 REV 2:26,27

“Guilt will never help you find freedom in me” p.187 - 2 Cor 7:10, John 16:8

“You never disappoint me” p 187, 206 - Mark 3:5 Ephesians 4:30 Prov24:17

“I’m not frustrated or disappointed. I’m thrilled” p 187 - Eph 5:10, 1 Cor 5:9, 1Thess 2:4,15 Heb 13:16, 21 1 John 3:22

You won’t find the word responsibility in the Scriptures pp 203-05 – Luke 12: 47-49, Matt 11:28,29 Matt 12:36, Matthew 25:20-30 24: 45-47

I’m omniscient- so I have no expectations, p. 206. - 1 Cor 4:2 Micah 6:8 Matt 12:36

In my relationship with those men I will never bring up what they did or shame them or embarrass them. Pg 225 - Acts 7:51-60 , Luke 9:26

In Jesus I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me. p .225 - Luke 12:8-10, Acts 8:22

“The whole world – you mean those who believe in you right?” “The whole world Mack” p. 192 Acts 10:43, Luke 19:27, Luke 24:47, Acts 2:38, 1John 2:1 , Acts 28:16,

“I am now fully reconciled to the world” p 192

So now that God has reconciled himself to the world – go at it and wrestle these passages and get into some great conversations about the God of the Bible, and may it push us to His word and into real relationship with Him.