Christian Fiction Must Be . . . You Know, Christian; Or, The Shack Is Back

This past week, I saw the TV add for the upcoming The Shack movie. I’d seen the trailer some time ago, but was dismayed that the promotion was reaching a TV audience. And in LA. We don’t often hear about “Christian” projects here.

There’s no doubt that The Shack positions itself as Christian. After all, Jesus shows up, albeit in imaginary form. But is it Christian?

What constitutes “Christian fiction”? That’s a question we at Spec Faith have answered and revisited since our inception some ten years ago (see for example this early post by one of the founding members of Spec Faith).

Not only have writers and readers debated what constitutes Christian fiction, and particularly Christian speculative fiction, we’ve debated the rightness of and the need for good doctrine in our fiction (see for example “Reading Choices: Realism, Truth, And The Bible“). “Doctrine” encompasses both theology and beliefs concerning morality, and we’ve discussed those too (see for example “Marcher Lord Press and the Hinterlands Imprint“).

On top of these generalized discussions, we’ve also posted articles and comments specifically about The Shack. But that was eight years ago, when the book was still on the top of best-selling lists and Christians and non-Christians alike were passing it around from one person to another and discussing it over coffee.

Now the movie version of Paul Young’s book is about to come to a theater near you, and the question no one could answer back then is bound to resurface: Is The Shack truly Christian?

There are some specific issues that came under scrutiny concerning the book.

Some people stumbled over the most glaring issue right from the gate. I mean, isn’t it blasphemous to depict God the Father as anything but a Father?

I understand how portraying God as other than how He portrays Himself, can be troublesome. At the same time, I can see how others accept “God’s” explanation: that He needed to reveal Himself to the main character in a way he could receive Him.

That being said, I suggest one of the central problems of the story surfaces within the discussion of this rather peripheral issue. The Shack has little use for the Bible. Hence, God the Father is easily replaced by the needs of the character.

There are other major issues—the attitude toward the Church and universal salvation and an understanding of the Trinity.

Yet more than one Christian has reported how life changing The Shack was for them, how they wept as they read it, how they understood God’s forgiveness in a way they never had before.

So . . . is it Christian?

Can it be Christian if it shows God in ways He does not show Himself? If it does not point people to His word or His body, the Church? If it falsely claims universal salvation?

On the other hand, how can it not be Christian if it gave many believers renewed faith and deeper love for God and a deeper understanding of forgiveness?

On one hand, The Shack may not tick all the intellectual, theological boxes, but on the other, it more than makes up for that lack by the emotional, spiritual juice it provides.

In thinking about the “what makes something Christian” question, I have to look at the object itself, not the results that may come from it.

The Apostle Paul did just the opposite when he was imprisoned in Philippi and a bunch of so-called Christian brethren started preaching. Paul identified their motives as envy and strife and selfish ambition (Phil. 1:15, 17), but he basically said, so what? As long as they preached Christ, who cared that they had bad motives?

the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. (vv 17-18a)

Paul was only concerned with the bottom line: the result. These “brethren,” false or true, were telling people about Jesus.

So, isn’t that the best test? Shouldn’t we be applauding The Shack, if the movie is successful, because it is bringing people to Christ?

I said above that I have to look at the object itself, because my question is, Is The Shack truly Christian? Lots of things can bring people to Christ. War has been known to do so. A friend of mine came to Christ by reading a novel. Others look at the heavens and know they need to find the One who made them. After 9/11, here in the US any number of people turned to God in the midst of their fear and uncertainty.

Would we say war is “Christian” because some soldiers reported coming to Christ when faced with their own mortality? No, certainly not. God can and does use whatever means He wishes, but His use of the thing does not baptize it as emblematic of His Good News.

So I reject the idea that The Shack must be Christian because people report a deeper relationship with God after having read it.

When Paul talked about those so-called brethren in Philippi, he gave no indication that they were preaching anything but what was true about Christ. Elsewhere, however, he addressed those who were not preaching the truth.

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds. (2 Cor. 11:13-15)

In writing to the Galatians he also brought up the matter:

But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. (Gal 2:4)

Clearly, Paul was not hesitant to call out those who were not preaching the gospel but who were masquerading as if they were fellow believers. The same is true throughout the Bible about false teachers and false prophets. Jesus Himself made some of the strongest statements about “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” about false prophets misleading many, even about false Christs.

So determining who is and who isn’t a Christian, what is and what isn’t true Christian teaching, seems like an important aptitude.

Yet I know people will hold back for fear of judging. We aren’t supposed to judge each other, are we?

We’re not.

But that doesn’t mean we’re to put our brains on hold, either. We can still think. We can still look at the story on the screen and compare it with what the Bible says. Which is, after all, the unchanging, authoritative Truth by which we know what “Christian” means.

This article is a re-post of the one I published today at Speculative Faith.

Published in: on February 20, 2017 at 5:45 pm  Comments (11)  
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What’s New with The Shack

“Nothing that matters has changed for me. I’m not shipping out soldering tips and cleaning toilets, but if all this went away tomorrow, I would be fine.”

So said William P. Young, author of The Shack, a year and a half ago in an interview for an article in Writer’s Digest. Apparently he’s rethought this position.

Three days ago the Los Angeles Times reported that the author of the “Cinderella” book and his publishing/collaborative partners are suing each other.

It’s all about the money. Publishing partner Hachette Book Group has gotten into the act too and is suing all parties concerned.

The sad thing, as I see it, is that once again God’s name will be dragged into the mud because of the behavior of people professing Christ.

After all, one of the main themes in The Shack was love:

Clearly, Mr. Young stresses God’s love and relationship—within the God-head, between God and Man, and ultimately between Man and Man.
– A Christian Worldview of Fiction, “God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 4”

So when Mr. Young wrote The Shack, he valued love and relationship. And as late as January 2009 he didn’t care if all his money and fame from the book went away. But three months ago, all that changed.

Now apparently he wants a bigger share of the pie. His partners want recognition as co-authors, and Hachette wants to protect itself from being taken to the cleaners.

I can’t help but think that none of this is surprising.

When Man thinks he knows God apart from the revealed truth of Scripture, there are bound to be weaknesses in his belief system. I don’t pretend to know what Mr. Young’s belief system is exactly other than what I read in his book.

There he preached a non-judgmental gospel, but I suspect he’s hoping for judgment in his favor when his suit against Windblown Media goes to trial.

Why is it OK to seek judgment here on earth but not expect God to seek judgment in heaven?

Published in: on July 16, 2010 at 3:59 pm  Comments (6)  
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God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 10

I’m going to backtrack a little. Last Friday I said I would look at good and evil as William P. Young’s The Shack portrays them, but the thing is, I have no disagreement with Mr. Young’s characterization of good and evil.

My point of contention comes with the idea that Man’s problems result from choosing independence, although there’s a great deal of truth in that statement.

[Jesus is talking] “In Eden you abandoned relationship with us to assert your own independence … By choosing to declare what’s good and evil you seek to determine your own destiny. It was this turning that has caused so much pain.” (p. 146-147)

Mr. Young holds Man’s choice for independence in opposition to disobedience, however. In other words, Man’s condition isn’t a result of violating the standard of a Holy God but in choosing to create our own standard. In addition, the idea that God holds Man to a standard and finds him wanting is belittled:

[Papa talking] “For now I just want you to be with me and discover that our relationship is not about performance or you having to please me. I’m not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way. I am good, and I desire only what is best for you. You cannot find that through guilt or condemnation or coercion, only through a relationship of love.” (p. 126)

Later Jesus tells Mack

“My words [expectancy instead of expectation and respond instead of responsibility] are alive and dynamic—full of life and possibility; yours are dead, full of law and fear and judgment. That is why you won’t find the word responsibility in the Scriptures.” (p. 205)

Before this Mack discusses God’s wrath with Papa:

“But if you are God, aren’t you the one spilling out great bowls of wrath and throwing people into a burning lake of fire? … Honestly, don’t you enjoy punishing those who disappoint you?”

At that, Papa stopped her preparations and turned toward Mack. He could see a deep sadness in her eyes. “I am not who you think I am, Mackenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.” (p. 119-120)

[I have to add an aside here and point out the distortions in the passage. The Bible does indeed say God (actually his angels) is the one who will spill great bowls of wrath and who throws people into a lake of fire, but it does not say He enjoys punishing anyone. That line conjures up the image of a cruel sadist, not a loving Creator. Because such an image is easy to reject, the natural reaction is therefore to reject what comes before it—a God who pours out wrath on sin, who punishes those opposed to Him.

Look too at the statements about sin. “Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside.” True. Sin devastates. But does that mean the previous line is true: “I don’t need to punish people for sin”? Just like Satan saying, Surely you won’t die, this questions God’s word. He was the one who told Adam he would die if he ate of the fruit, but now Mr. Young says God doesn’t need to punish people for sin.

And finally, it is God’s joy to “cure” sin, but His love does not negate His justice. That’s the beauty of Christ’s redemptive substitution, taking our deserved punishment upon Himself.]

Once again truth resides alongside falsehood. God is not a bully but He is demanding. Jesus did say He came not to condemn the world but to save it, however He went on to say, “He who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18 – emphasis mine)

The fact is, God is Holy—so Holy that our sin separates us from Him. Because of our sin, it is not even within our power to choose to “stop such an insane lust for independence” (p. 136).

Sin is a much bigger problem than Mr. Young paints.

God is holy and He has made holiness the moral condition necessary to the health of His universe … Whatever is holy is healthy; evil is a moral sickness that must end ultimately in death (The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer, p. 113).

Thanks be to God that He did not leave us without a Redeemer!

If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ (I Peter 1:17-19)

[Series concluded – A final thought in The Pursuit of God]

Published in: on June 8, 2009 at 12:07 pm  Comments (4)  
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God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 9

I guess the last area I want to talk about regarding The Shack by William P. Young is sin. However, this subject may take more time to develop—more time than I have today, anyway.

Maybe I’ll start by stating a couple things about sin from a Biblical perspective. First, sin came into the world through Adam and his disobedience to God’s righteous decree. Eve was deceived, but Adam knew what he was doing when he chose against God.

From that point on, children born to Adam are in his likeness. Their nature (my nature) is sinful, and sin separates us all from God, despite the fact that He intended us to be in a friendship kind of closeness with Him.

Rather than leaving us in our sin, however, God chose to redeem us because He loves us. Also being a just God, He did not pretend we never sinned. Being truthful, He also needed to keep His word to Adam that disobedience would result in death.

In fact, Satan had tried to trap God into a compromise. When he asked Eve about eating from the forbidden tree, she relayed the punishment God warned against. Satan’s response? “You surely shall not die!” So if Adam ate of the tree, God would either have to break His love relationship or His word. Or so Satan thought~

God, in His perfect wisdom, had other plans. 😉

The question is, how does The Shack portray sin? To answer that question, I have to go one step further back and ask, how does The Shack portray good and evil? Now you see why this post is only scratching the surface on this topic!

I’ll start with the first hint I saw regarding Man’s nature. This came in a discussion about Jesus’s nature. Papa is talking:

“So, when you look at Jesus and it appears that he’s flying, he really is … flying [metaphorically]. But what you are actually seeing is me; my life in him. That’s how he lives and acts as a true human, how every human is designed to live—out of my life.

“A bird’s not defined by being grounded but by his ability to fly. Remember this, humans are not defined by their limitations, but by the intentions that I have for them; not by what they seem to be, but by everything it means to be created in my image.” (p. 100, emphasis mine)

I understand Mr. Young to say that Man is not defined by his sin but by how God created him before he sinned.

Scripture, on the other hand, teaches that we are all marred image bearers. We aren’t defined only by our sin or by God’s intention for us. But because both are true, we are defined as creatures made in God’s image AND as fallen beings with sin natures.

Next time, a look at good and evil as The Shack explains things.

Series continued in Part 10.

Published in: on June 5, 2009 at 3:36 pm  Comments (1)  
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God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 8

Regarding theology in The Shack by William P. Young, Lizard Eater, a blogger who describes herself as one who had been “on the journey to ministerial life (to be a Unitarian Universalist minister)” says the following:

I was expecting a fictional depiction of standard Protestant dogma — think Godspell, not Jesus Christ Superstar — and instead … huh, he’s talking about universal salvation. Huh, that’s pretty panentheist. Hmmm.

So my question is, How is it that a universalist has no problem identifying Mr. Young’s theology but so many evangelical Christians seem blind to it?

I already identified other possible reasons this story resonates with some Christians in Part 3 of this series, but that still doesn’t explain why so many are missing the parts of the book that contradict Scripture.

In part I think the answer lies in the fact that readers read expecting to find what they are looking for. A few months back, for instance, I mentioned in my review of Blaggard’s Moon that I thought a certain character in a certain part of the book served as a type of Christ. Great … except when the author, George Bryan Polivka, commented, saying he never intended that character to serve as a type of Christ. Why did I see it? Because I was looking for it. In the reverse, I think we can miss things we are not looking for.

However, I think the other part of the answer lies with what and how Mr. Young wrote. One technique he used is Character Shock. I described this earlier in one of my comments. It works like this. At statementss that seem plainly in conflict with truth, the main character of the story, Mack, reacts as the reader might be reacting, but he reasons that his thinking is a result of his religious conditioning. Essentially he’s talked himself—and at the same time, the reader—into keeping an open mind.

Here’s the example I used in the comment:

“Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone.”

That came as a shock to Mack’s religious system.

Another technique is to embed truth with error and vice versa. Here’s an example of this:

[Jesus is talking] “I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu.” (p. 110)

If Jesus is the best way, by implication there are other ways, though not as good.

Compare that to the Bible:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)

The implied lie in The Shack is of itself harder to recognize than a boldface lie (e.g. There are more ways to God than through Jesus). But when the line is couched in a paragraph that contains apparent explanation or clarification, then it becomes even harder to recognize. Here’s the rest of that paragraph:

“I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu. To see me is to see them. The love you sense from me is no different from how they love you. And believe me, Papa and Sarayu are just as real as I am, though as you’ve seen in far different ways.”

While the first line contradicts Scripture, clearly the rest of the paragraph does not.

So how do we know we’re to understand Mr. Young as saying there are other ways to God when he says Jesus is the best way as opposed to the only way? Mr. Young makes the same point using different words in other places in the book. Here’s the part that our universalist friend quoted that gave her an understanding of his theology.

[Jesus talking] “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.” (p. 182, emphasis mine)

Once again this speech contradicts what Jesus says in John about no one seeing or knowing the Father apart from the Son—there is no transformation into sons and daughters of God apart from Christ.

Another technique Mr. Young uses to blur the lines between truth and error is to introduce a contradictory thought, then change the subject. Here’s one example:

[Jesus is talking] “Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.”

Mack was surprised. “How can that be? Why would the God of the universe want to be submitted to me?”

“Because we want you to join us in our circle of relationship. I don’t want slaves to my will; I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me.”

“And that’s how you want us to love each other, I suppose? I mean between husbands and wives, parents and children. I guess in any relationship? (pp. 145-146)”

And the conversation continues about human relationships before moving on to the nature of good and evil, with no other discussion about God submitting to man.

Well, what about that line? Does God submit to man? What does Scripture have to say?

That’s the question we have to continually ask if we are to be discerning readers. If we are to sort through the hodge-podge of ideas Mr. Young presents as true and dodge the techniques that obfuscate more than illuminate. Which statements are true, and which aren’t? Only the discerning reader knows for sure! 😉

Series continued in Part 9.

Published in: on June 4, 2009 at 12:59 pm  Comments (8)  
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God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 7

Part of me is feeling a little Shack weary, but I have a couple more topics I want to address in conjunction with the still-popular novel, The Shack by William P. Young. Yes, still popular. I saw the book listed in Monday’s newspaper as #2 on the Associated Press list of best-sellers, trade paperbacks category.

I think these last two points might be interconnected, and they both relate to my mantra—we must learn to read with discernment! For a Christian, discernment necessitates measuring what we read by the standard of God’s Word.

My first question is, How does The Shack treat the Bible? The Bible itself claims to be God-breathed, given for our instruction, correction, reproof. The Bible itself examines portions of itself as if it is true and reliable and authoritative.

Paul, for example, discusses The Law (recorded in the first five books of the Old Testament) and its place for the Christian. Jesus references the prophets, and the gospels report that He explained what the Law and the prophets had to say about the Messiah. The book of Hebrews uses a short reference in Genesis to an obscure king as the fundamental illustration of who Christ is. Paul makes lengthy comparisons between Jesus and Adam, whose life is only recorded in Genesis.

You get the point. The New Testament authors viewed the Old Testament as proper material upon which to base an argument or a principle.

So, how does the Bible come across in The Shack?

First, I’d say, the Bible comes across as insufficient:

In seminary [Mack] had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scriptures, properly interpreted, of course.

In addition, the Bible of The Shack limits God:

God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’s access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?

Third, as demonstrated in the last line of the above quote, the Bible of The Shack promotes guilt but apparently this is only as it is misused:

The Bible doesn’t teach you to follow rules. It is a picture of Jesus. While words may tell you what God is like and even what he may want from you, you cannot do any of it on your own. … It is true that relationships are a whole lot messier than rules, but rules will never give you answers to the deep questions of the heart and they will never love you.

Certainly the Bible is a picture of Jesus, but part of that picture includes things like Jesus saying, Take up your cross and follow Me. Or, Love God and love your neighbor. Or, If you love Me, obey My commandments. The Bible of The Shack seems to strip God’s Word of anything that could be construed as legalistic, ignoring the fact that legalism is actually an attitude of the heart.

Finally, The Shack implies that believing the Bible to be true is unimportant.

[Mack talking] “So was there really an actual garden? I mean, Eden and all that?”

[Sarayu answers] “Of course. I told you I have a thing for gardens.”

“That’s going to bother some people. There are lots of people who think it was only a myth.”

“Well, their mistake isn’t fatal. Rumors of glory are often hidden inside of what many consider myths and tales.”

But the Bible is more than “rumors of glory.” It is authoritative, but the philosophy espoused in The Shack takes a stand against authority. As Sean Herriott, a Catholic converted from Protestantism, points out in a section about authority in his excellent review of Mr. Young’s work:

The Shack‘s God says that perfect love means there is no need for a hierarchy of any kind.

Here’s the pertinent passage in The Shack. Sarayu is talking:

“You won’t find the word responsibility in the Scriptures … Religion must use law to empower itself and control the people who they need in order to survive … If I simply gave you a responsibility, I would not have to be with you at all. It would now be a task to perform, an obligation to be met, something to fail … If I change that ‘expectancy’ into an ‘expectation’—spoken or unspoken? Suddenly law has entered into our relationship. You are now expected to perform in a way that meets my expectations. Our living friendship rapidly deteriorates into a dead thing with rules and requirements. It is no longer about you and me but about what friends are supposed to do, or the responsibilities of a good friend.”

I can’t type those words without thinking how deceptive they are. There is a grain of truth, but the premise is false. God’s law does not equal legalism.

God’s expectation for us to be holy is not the problem. His Word laying out the law and chronicling our failure to measure up, and our consequent need for a Savior, is not harming our relationship with God but rather, pointing us to the only way we can enter into that love relationship with Him—one far better than The Shack paints.

Series continued in Part 8.

Published in: on June 3, 2009 at 2:30 pm  Comments (8)  
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God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 6

Business. The May CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award run-off poll will run for two more days. Be sure to vote.

– – –

A Christian Worldview? Am I beating a dead horse by continuing this discussion about The Shack, a novel by William P. Young? Well, nearly a hundred bloggers wrote about the book this past month, so it appears to remain a subject of interest. Besides, as I said when I started this series, this just might be the perfect book for this blog because it so clearly combines the two areas I focus on—fiction and a Christian worldview.

But is The Shack written from a Christian worldview? That’s a tough question. Some would rush to say yes. Mr. Young, after all, came from a Christian background and has done a fair amount of speaking in various churches. Plus, the work is about God!

To be from a Christian worldview, however, I think the work needs to tell the truth about God—not part truth and part lie.

God’s nature. In the last two posts, I’ve made a case for my belief that The Shack misrepresents the divinity of Jesus and trivializes God’s person. Equally troubling is a more subtle inaccurate portrayal of God’s nature.

I think I can say without the need to quote supportive passages that The Shack stresses God’s love. Apparently this aspect of the book is one that has attracted so many fans. I would be in the front line cheering if I felt that the story was drawing attention to God’s love as He revealed it in Scripture, but unfortunately, Mr. Young’s idea of love seems to rule out justice.

Interestingly, on Saturday The Whittenberg Door posted an article on this subject, Love vs. Justice, specifically dealing with The Shack. I agree with the conclusion the Door author reached: “The truth is, if you sacrifice justice for love, you have likewise sacrificed love—for love demands justice.”

Love according to The Shack, however, negates justice. In a discussion with Sophia, a person identified as the personification of God’s wisdom, Mack’s views of Hell are challenged, at first indirectly. Sophia asks him about his love for his children:

“But what about when they do not behave, or make choices other than those you would want them to make, or they are just belligerent and rude? What about when they embarrass you in front of others? How does that affect your love for them?”

Mack responded slowly and deliberately. “It doesn’t, really … I admit that it does affect me and sometimes I get embarrassed or angry, but even when they act badly, they are still my son or my daughter … what they do might affect my pride, but not my love for them.”

I find this stunning because there is no room in this discussion for correcting the children for their benefit. Apparently, only Mack’s pride is at stake. And judging his children would only be a result of his anger. This is not at all true of God, though Sophia later in the conversation goes on to make this analogy between God and Mack, clearly identifying all of mankind as God’s children, not just those who have come to Him through Jesus.

Let me see if I can outline the discussion. After Mack declares his love for his children, Sophia brings him to the judgment seat as the judge of God and the human race (p. 160). When Mack balks, she gets him to confess that he thinks there are people who deserve punishment, like the man who abused and killed his daughter.

She then asks if that man’s father who abused him should also be punished. Mack says yes. Sophia asks how far back Mack thinks this blame should go—to Adam? to God?

Mack admits he think God is to blame. Sophia then says Mack, because he is able to judge God, can judge the world. So he must choose two of his children to send to Hell. Mack balks and finally says he can’t do it, asking if he could go instead.

Her response:

“I am so proud of you!”

“But I haven’t judged anything,” Mack offered in confusion.

“Oh, but you have. You have judged them worthy of love, even if it cost you everything. That is how Jesus loves … And now you know Papa’s heart,” she added, “who loves all his children perfectly.” (p. 163)

The discussion then turns to the issue of suffering.

The point is clear—God loves perfectly and by implication, His love negates justice. This latter conclusion is stated another way towards the end of the book. Papa says, “In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship.” (p. 225) Then at the bottom of the page: “When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment …”

I think the conclusion is clear: the god of The Shack is a god who loves without judgment and consequently without punishment. I believe the theological term for this position is universal salvation.

Series continued in Part 7.

God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 5

Business first. Our May CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award poll ended without identifying a consensus winner, so we’re holding a run-off between the following:

The Run-off Poll will be open through next Tuesday.

– – –

On to The Shack. Without a doubt, my biggest concern about this book by William P. Young is its portrayal of God.

In actual fact, God has revealed Himself in His work of Creation and His Word—prophetic, written, and Incarnate. The latter is often referred to as “special revelation,” I assume because God did something that wouldn’t be considered the norm. Consequently, when He appeared to Moses in the burning bush, bushes didn’t become sacred, nor did lighting them on fire become a way to communicate with God. 😉

The thing that is most notable is how people reacted to special revelation. Here are a few examples (emphasis in each of the verses is mine):

  • Abram (later named Abraham by God) when God came to establish His covenant with him – “Abram fell on his face” (Gen. 17:3a).
  • Jacob, when God appeared to him in a dream – “He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven'” (Gen. 28:17).
  • Moses at the aforementioned burning bush – “Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Ex. 3:6b).
  • Samson’s parents when the angel prophesied his birth – “So Manoah said to his wife, ‘We will surely die, for we have seen God'” (Judges 13:22).
  • The people of Israel at Mount Sinai – “The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain … All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled … Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin'” (Ex. 19:20-20:20).
  • Isaiah in response to a vision of the Lord – “Woe is me, for I am ruined!/Because I am a man of unclean lips,/And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Is. 6:5).
  • Ezekiel in response to his vision of God – “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face” (Ez. 1:28b).
  • Daniel in response to his vision, of an angel or of the pre-incarnate Christ – “Now I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, while the men who were with me did not see the vision; nevertheless, a great dread fell on them, and they ran away to hide themselves. So I was left alone and saw this great vision; yet no strength was left in me, for my natural color turned to a deathly pallor, and I retained no strength” (Dan. 10:7-8).
  • John, Jesus’s beloved disciple, when he saw the vision of the resurrected and glorified Christ – “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One'” (Rev. 1:17-18a).

I’m belaboring this point for a reason. Consistently, throughout Scripture, when people had an encounter with the Living God, they responded with fear and trembling. That’s because God shows Himself to be Almighty, Glorious, Majestic, Holy. He is transcendent, unsurpassable, unique, beyond all we can imagine. His presence left people speechless. All they could do was fall on their faces.

Does the god of The Shack remotely resemble God?

She “messes with Mack” (p. 219); says she submits to him (rather than the other way around – p. 145); is unpredictable on purpose (p. 128), apparently because there’s more fun in mystery (“Who wants to worship a God who can be fully comprehended, eh? Not much mystery in that.” p. 100); refers to being perpetually satisfied as a “perk” for being God (p. 99); tells crude jokes; shows love without showing justice (pp. 161-163)—in other words, appears as anything but He Who is high and lifted up.

My impression, from Mr. Young’s imaginings, is that God the Father is more like a comfortably kind nanny; Jesus, like one of the good ol’ boys; and the Holy Spirit, like an ethereal sister.

Where is worship? The closest comes when Mack stumbles around to say thanks for his meal.

I understand that Mr. Young wants to stress God’s love and the relationship we can have with Him. But I believe this Shack view of God damages the true understanding of our relationship with God. Because He is the ruler of the universe, Creator and sustainer of all that has being, AND He loves me … how can I do other than fall to my knees in amazement and submission.

Seeing God in His glory, recognizing how unworthy I am to be in His presence, let alone be held in His hand, then realizing He sent His Son to bleed and die so I could know Him, astounds me.

Does The Shack help me see a kinder, gentler God who I’d want to hang with? Not at all. While God is infinitely kind and gentle, He is also just and holy. To ignore some of His traits is not to know Him as He has revealed Himself, putting into question the very existence of any true relationship.

Can I imagine chumming with God, as Mack apparently does for several days? Sort of. Like a child does with his dad. But If a child no longer sees his dad as a rightful authority in his life, then he’s no longer relating child to father. The Shack basically ignores God’s authority, His position as King and as Lord. Whatever relationship it is advocating, it is not the one God offers us.

Series continued in Part 6.

Published in: on May 29, 2009 at 1:06 pm  Comments (7)  
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God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 4

    For those of you who may be looking for the May CSFF Top Blogger Award poll, today is the last day to vote.

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Though it is a novel, The Shack by William P. Young has some very specific things to say, particularly about God and our relationship to Him. Perhaps a few lines from the “After Words” can summarize the theme:

[Mack’s] hoping for a new revolution, one of love and kindness—a revolution that revolves around Jesus and what he did for us all and what he continues to do in anyone who has a hunger for reconciliation and a place to call home.
– p. 248

Clearly, Mr. Young stresses God’s love and relationship—within the God-head, between God and Man, and ultimately between Man and Man.

Who can criticize such a worthy endeavor? some might say. I don’t think the endeavor is in question, but the product must be scrutinized, if we are to be discerning.

I applaud Mr. Young’s effort to show God as loving. Clearly, this is the message that resonates with so many readers. But there is a problem.

If I were to tell you that I am the richest person in the world and that I have decided to give my blog readers whatever they ask of me because I’m so happy with them for their support and loyalty, how would you react? With joy? Humility? Gratitude? Or … would you be skeptical about my claims to be the richest person in the world? (Hint: you’re wise if you choose the latter! 😉

You see, I think some of The Shack fans are reacting to what they perceive to be great news without examining the claims. But here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, it’s examination time.

The Other Side of the Ledger. The point that most needs examining in The Shack, from my perspective, is what Mr. Young says about God. Numerous bloggers, including such men as Chuck Colson and Tim Challies, author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, have examined the view of God portrayed in The Shack, so you might wonder why I think it’s necessary to add my voice on the subject.

From the reading I’ve done these past few days, it seems as if most critics have focused on the obvious—Mr. Young’s use of women to portray members of the God-head, the denial of a hierarchy in Mr. Young’s description of the trinity, and his portrayal of the Father and the Spirit in bodily forms.

Those are valid criticisms, and serious ones, but since much has been written already, I won’t spend a lot of time on them other than to say, these are serious matters.

God revealed Himself as Father. His masculine persona is not a construct of religion.

Jesus submitted to the will of the Father, clearly showing there is a hierarchy in the God-head without there being a devaluation of any of the persons.

And the Father revealed Himself in the Old Testament as a burning bush, a pillar of fire, a storm, and a still, small voice, yet Scripture also says no one has seen the Father. The Shack protagonist’s revamped view of God as a kindly woman, then as an older hiker is no more accurate than his previous conception of God as a Gandalf figure. More troubling is the idea that God will change his appearance to accommodate humans:

Mackenzie, I am neither male nor female … If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you.
– p. 93

Later when the God figure appears as a man, this exchange:

Mack shook his head. “You’re still messing with me, aren’t you?’
“Always,” he said with a warm smile …”This morning you’re going to need a father.”
– p. 219

While those points are troubling and have serious ramifications, I want to concentrate on a point that seems to be less often challenged. Mr. Young asserts that Jesus, while fully God and fully human, chose to set aside his divine nature while on earth:

Although [Jesus] is also fully God, he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything. He has only lived out of his relationship with me, living in the very same manner that I desire to be in relationship with every human being. He is just the first to do it to the uttermost—the first to absolutely trust my life within him, the first to believe in my love and my goodness …
– pp. 99-100

This assertion simply is not so! Jesus Himself told John’s disciples who asked Him if He was the Expected One to report what they saw: the blind received sight, lepers were cleansed, the dead raised. These acts, Jesus inferred, testified that, yes, He was the One.

Later, as He moved through a crowded street, He stopped because someone touched Him and He felt power go out of Him. I don’t pretend to understand this, but the point for this discussion is clear—Jesus did in fact have power.

In an opposite case that proves the same thing, when Jesus was in Nazareth, Scripture records that He could do few miracles because the people didn’t believe. Presumably, if Jesus was merely tapping into God’s power, healing would have been available to Him no matter what. The people didn’t believe that this son of their neighbors could really be doing miracles. According to Mr. Young, He wasn’t. Scripture implies, He was.

There’s more. Jesus forgave sins. On the spot. In front of others. In fact it was a source of contention between Him and the Pharisees.

Jesus underwent a transfiguration—a glorification of His body that brought Him into communion with Moses and Elijah. Again, I don’t pretend to understand this, but I recognize that this event was unique to Jesus, an expression of His divinity.

Jesus often demonstrated omniscience. He knew what the Pharisees were thinking from time to time. He knew Peter would find a gold coin in the mouth of a fish; that He would deny Christ three times; that the disciples would find a certain colt tied up in a nearby village; that they would see a man carrying water and follow him to an upper room; that the woman at the well had been married five times before and was currently living with a man who was not her husband; that the widow at the temple had offered her last two coins.

He even demonstrated omnipresence when He saw Nathanael sitting under the fig tree before Phillip called him.

He exercised authority over demons, over nature, over the temple. He claimed authority to interpret the law and explain the prophets.

Ultimately, a man he healed said it best:

Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened he eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.
– John 9:32-33

So here’s the point. How reliable is Mr. Young’s message as it stands, if he doesn’t even begin with a true and accurate picture of who Jesus is?

Series continued in Part 5.

Published in: on May 28, 2009 at 1:21 pm  Comments (13)  
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God and Fiction—A Look at The Shack, Part 3

For those of you who may be looking for the May CSFF Top Blogger Award poll, you’ll find it here.

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Pop Theology continued. Yes, this should look familiar. As I was thinking about this post, I recognized what I believe to be another reason The Shack by William P. Young can be considered pop theology, so I’m delaying my “look at the other side of the ledger.”

In identifying The Shack as pop theology, I already mentioned the lack of depth and the hodge-podge of ideas, some stemming from the Bible and some from eastern mysticism. A third indicator of its pop theology status is the existence of contradictory ideas side by side. Readers of various stripes can easily look at the same passage, see opposite statements, and come away praising the book for its truth, though they each believe something entirely different.

So while some Christians claim The Shack has strengthened their faith, theists can claim the same thing. Here’s one example:

I’ve always believed in a higher power. I wouldn’t say I believe in God, necessarily, at least not in the way He’s written into the bible, but I do believe. The way God is written into this book [The Shack] is a perfect description of what I imagine when I think of God. It’s given me a sense of validation.

Troubled by Uncritical Reactions. Some time ago, Decompose author Mike Duran posted his thoughts about the inordinate praise heaped upon Mr. Young and The Shack. One of Mike’s points especially resonates with me now that I’ve nearly finished reading the book: “One [of his two-fold concerns] was the exuberant, almost rabid, seemingly uncritical response to The Shack” (emphasis mine).

Note the following comment to a post commending Mr. Young and The Shack:

Lastly … what about the critics who have read the book and still thinks it’s heretical?? Check out this website It blows my mind how people have been dissecting it apart, overanalyzing it to death, and searching for a hidden agenda on Paul’s part!! So incredibly misguided. Here’s one comment to the book review…”Thank you so much for standing against this book. So many pastors/churches have fallen under its spell. May God bless you!” And so it goes….

“Misguided” that people are thinking about what they read? Are we instead to give a pass because the reading experience for some people was moving? Or because they found Mr. Young to be an engaging speaker or a compassionate man?

Perhaps this is nothing more than the bandwagon effect that is endemic in our culture, and equally so, it would seem, in our churches. It is a search for rock stars, for Christian Idols, for The Next Big Thing, and that search takes precedence over a close examination of what the work or the person is actually saying.

Perhaps, as Gerald Hiestand said back in October, “Young’s book has struck a chord with the culture at large, and the evangelical culture not least.” But does this fact then give the book a pass when it comes to scrutinizing its message?

Whether the feel-good message, the desire for heroes, or the discovery of an area of need (or some combination of all three) creates the flood of fans, Christians still must apply discernment. We should do so always, no matter what the topic, but how much more so when the book deals directly with our understanding of God and His work in the world!

With that said, expect in the next few days some effort at analysis on my part covering the points of theological disagreement I have with The Shack. I’ll do my best not to overdo, but analysis is analysis. 😉

Series continued in Part 4.