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.


Jeff said...

Mingling the truths of Christianity with contrived heresies like the rehash of the Black Madonna and icon worship is not promoting Christianity. It is diluting true faith in Christ. This is not a shack -- it is an outhouse. It is not a window to the Bible -- it is doorway to Hell.

Young is an antichrist!

Here is his blog post that jibes with his book:
May 24, 2007

"The second element is this: if Jesus drew occasionally upon his `God' capabilities, then how could he qualify as my representative and substitute, let alone model a dependent human life - I can't do that? He would have ceased being a truly human sacrifice.

I am personally convinced that Jesus was born, lived, died, was raised and now reigns as a fully human being, and has not drawn upon his deity ever in that process." Willie P Young

Here is God's blog post:

John 1
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, the gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Jn 1:10-13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

James said...

Jeff's quote came from Mr young himself, you can find the exact quote here in context at The Shack Book Forum

Another enlightening view of Paul Young is his recent interview with Matt Slick. He becomes evasive and appears to be set on being a universalist, that is that all men are saved even without repentance. Listen to Paul Young author of The Shack in an interview with Matt Slick.

Anonymous said...

I really like when people are expressing their opinion and thought. So I like the way you are writing

Anonymous said...

Jeff I am curious how your quoting John 1 has anything to do with refuting Young's position on Christ's humanity. If you read John 1 in its full context it actually seems to support Paul's Youngs argument. The "WORD became FLESH". That means that this person who is the word, who is also the creator God now is a human. The Church Fathers fought hard to keep the doctrine of Christ being fully human and fully divine. That reality remains that Jesus still exists in human form as well as being full of deity. To call Young the antichrist is not only an overstatement but it is misinformed. Read "On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius." It is a short somewhat quick read. It might help to clear some of this up. Here is a link:

DK said...

Chris, Thanks for commenting. I fully agree with your take on John 1. I myself have recently be reading some of the Church Fathers works. What you mentioned as well as On The Apostolic Preaching by St Irenaeus.

How did you come across my blog?

Do you know Samuel Nagel from Multnomah?

Jeff said...

Reply from Jeff
Thank you for this article, Chris. I wonder if you truly read it. Here are a few quotes from it: "Thus by what seems His utter poverty and weakness on the cross He overturns the pomp and parade of idols, and quietly and hiddenly wins over the mockers and unbelievers to recognize Him as God...We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning… For He alone, being Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence both able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father."
Contrary to the assertions/insinuations of Chapter 2, God never had a dilemma He had not foreseen (Eph 1:4).
Interesting to see this (posted by and Anglican) on a Spurgeon website: “He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin,…” Now this Immaculate Conception hogwash is getting closer to Young’s brand of swill.
And now back to somewhat sound theology: “You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.”
I could go on and on sifting through to find the bits of Truth, but let me end with this. Young maintains the Word became flesh and has not drawn on His Deity since, despite all of Jesus’ miracles and fulfillment of prophecy and assertions that those who have seen Him have seen the Father. If Young is right (and pigs can fly), God must have denied His Son’s petitions recorded by John:
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. (Jn 17:1–5 ESV).