Systematizing A Relationship


The nugget my missions pastor passed on to us on Sunday referred to “high theology.” I know what he was talking about. The previous sermons in the book of Ephesians looked at what Paul was telling the believers about their faith, or more accurately, the result of it.

In chapter one, for instance Paul gives a number of “in Him” statements: He chose us, redeemed us, sealed us. Of course he elaborates some on each of those, so that we can understand them and the great gifts we have.

In chapter two Paul gives several “you once were … but now” statements, tied together with a couple “remember” passages. Again he is clarifying who the believer is: what he was saved from, how he was saved, and what he now enjoys as a result of salvation

This is theology.

As Pastor Mike Erre, our soon to be new senior pastor, said when he preached from Ephesians, the first half is full of indicatives–expressions of simple statements of fact.

Theology.

Paul undergirded a number of his letters in this way. First the indicatives, then the imperatives.

In other words, before he addressed what instruction he needed to give the church, what things they should do to live up to their calling, he first wanted to be sure they understood that calling, especially God’s provisions and promises attached to it.

What struck me today, though, as I was reading a book about the Church, is that today we seem to be systematizing our theology to the point that it would be easy to forget we as believers in Jesus Christ primarily have a relationship.

The particular chapter I was reading followed a discussion of what the kingdom of God meant and whether the kingdom of God is synonymous with the Church (no), whether it has come as Jesus said from time to time or if it is still to come.

The discussion reminded me of the interviews I heard with Rob Bell when his book Love Wins first released (see “If Love Wins, How Come Earthquakes Happen?”). He made much of the fact that Jesus said the kingdom was near, was within, and he ignored any statements that indicate the kingdom is something yet to come.

As I’m thinking about this, I suddenly thought, maybe these scholars are being too scholarly. Maybe they’re trying too hard to understand something, to systematize something that is really easy to understand if you get the fact that it is relational more than it is rational.

Rational things can be analyzed and categorized. Relational things are harder to do so. But to a great degree, relational things are easier to figure out.

Jesus made it quite clear: “If you love me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). He expanded on that moments later:

He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him…If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. (John 14:21-24)

Interestingly, John also records a conversation the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ had with Peter. His repeated question was, Do you love Me? (see John 21:15-17)

I don’t think it requires some kind of understanding of primary languages or a degree in theology to get what Jesus is saying.

If you’ve ever loved someone, you know that you want very much to make them happy. You want to do things they will appreciate, give them things you hope they like. Even if it means giving up what you want. The desire to please them is greater than the desire to go to the movie you want to see or whatever else might be at issue.

Our relationship with God is much the same, Jesus is saying. If I love Him, I’ll want to please Him. It’s not really an academic study, not something we need to understand as much as commit to.

If you’ve been by A Christian Worldview of Fiction before, you probably know that I really like theology. I love studying the Bible and understanding what it says. But I think sometimes we can get so caught up in our study we forget we are dealing with a Person, that we are in a relationship, and that it’s not an overly complicated one–unless we make it so.

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A Choice Keeper Nugget


I’ve really appreciated my church’s missions pastor, Dan Crane, who has stepped in to shoulder the bulk of the preaching while we searched for our next senior pastor. Pastor Dan has a real knack for seeing the way Scripture passages divide in an organized way or how they relate to one another.

So too, this Sunday when he preached from the end of Ephesians 3. As he reminded us, Paul spends the bulk of the first three chapters giving us the truth about our position in Christ and what that means for us.

He then noted some particulars Paul presented for praying for others. Good stuff.

The nugget, though, came right at the end. Paul closes this section with a wonderful statement of praise:

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Pastor Dan’s point regarding these verses? High theology leads to high doxology. Now that’s a keeper.

Published in: on June 18, 2012 at 7:10 pm  Comments Off on A Choice Keeper Nugget  
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Salvation And The Christian Writer


As I was talking with a writer friend the other day, it dawned on me that what I believe about salvation shapes my attitude toward fiction.

By way of background, there has been from time to time, a group of writers who plea for Christians to free their art from any “utilitarian” purpose, such as preaching the gospel.

I’ve been on the fence to a great extent because I do want Christians to write fiction that stands the test of time, and that’s usually a work that bears some kind of mark as “art.” However, I believe wholeheartedly in the idea that a “utilitarian” theme is necessary for fiction to be great art—if the writer doesn’t say something meaningful, then why would that story be around tomorrow, let alone fifty years from now?

But here’s the intersection between that point and my realization about salvation. If a Christian has certain views about salvation—a “God’s sovereign so I have no part in salvation” view or a broad understanding of who is saved (from some form of universalism to a belief that the sincere or the “good” or the consistent are saved)—he may feel little or no urgency to carry the message of Christ to the dying world. (Of course, a third option might be a “let them burn” lack of concern for the lost, but then I’d wonder about the genuineness of that person’s profession of faith).

Am I saying that every piece of fiction a Christian writes should have the gospel message embedded? No, I don’t think I can make any determination what other writers should write. Let’s just say I understand the divide better.

Some writers, myself included, look at fiction as our opportunity to reach thousands of readers, some who may have yet to hear the message of forgiveness in Christ through his redemptive work at the cross. These writers feel an urgency to get this message out to as many people as possible. The world, as we see it, has one and only one hope—Christ Jesus—and here we sit, holding this vital information. How can we watch people stream by our doors day after day and do nothing?

A writer with a different persuasion has no such sense of urgency. Fiction, instead, may be an exploration of spirituality, a personal journey of discovery regarding spiritual matters.

The difference in purpose makes perfect sense based on the difference in theology.

Ironic that some people don’t realize the importance of understanding our own belief system. I recently read a blog post about how dreary it is to read about such topics as original sin (hmmm—wonder if the writer had a particular blog in mind. 😉 ) when what we should be doing is getting out from behind our computers and living like Christians.

I certainly agree that we should live like Christians. I simply think that includes my moments behind the computer.

What fiction writers understand is the need to know our characters at the level of their beliefs—that’s what makes their actions properly motivated. Real life is the same way. Our beliefs inform our actions. How critical that we know what we believe about something so eternal-life giving as salvation.

Published in: on September 13, 2010 at 3:22 pm  Comments (8)  
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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.

– – –

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 http://blog.harvestbiblefellowship.org/?p=679. 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.

God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 2


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

– – –

Pop Theology continued. Yesterday I said the themes in The Shack might best be called pop theology, in part because so many topics are touched upon without any depth. But there’s a more troubling reason I think “pop theology” is a fitting description.

As near as I can determine it, some of the views author William Young expresses are ones that do not come from the Bible. In fact, they clearly clash with Scripture. Nevertheless, these ideas seem to be accepted by a good number of people claiming the name of Christ.

In reality, it’s easy to trace the origins of these views to threads in the culture at large—the culture strongly influenced by Eastern mysticism. In short, The Shack seems like a hodge-podge of thought, some taken from the Bible and some taken from the wisdom of the age. Which, I guess, explains why I found some ground of agreement but some I must dispute.

Areas of Agreement. So what points in particular did I feel Mr. Young made that gave us common ground? One has to do with the idea of yielding to God, of not acting independently. I think this is a significant point, one we Christians need to face, one clearly taught in Scripture. James 4:7 uses the word “submit” (Submit, therefore, to God …”) I Peter 5:6 uses the word “humble” (Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God …”) The idea seems to be to let God be God and in so doing, stop playing God in my own life and circumstances. Certainly the views in The Shack are consistent with this point:

“I feel like a failure with [his wife]. I can’t seem to be [the source of her identity and security and understanding of good and evil] for her.”

“You weren’t made to be. And in trying you’ll only be playing God.”

… “is there any way out of this?”

“It is so simple, but never easy for you. By re-turning. By turning back to me. By giving up your ways of power and manipulation and just come back to me.”
– p. 147

Then two pages later:

“Mack, just like love, submission is not something that you can do, especially not on your own. Apart from my life inside of you, you can’t submit to [your wife], or your children, or anyone else in your life, including [God].”

– p. 149

Another issue with which I agree but which caught me by surprise was Mr. Young’s emphasis on the church as the people, not the building or the institution. Of course! and that’s the point. I don’t know how anyone could actually be a Christian and not agree. I mean the Church is the bride of Christ. Certainly Christ’s bride is not an institution. He is the Vine, we are the branches. Certainly the branches aren’t often-empty buildings. Just recently my church had a service weekend called The Church Has Left the Building. The point was clear in the name, and I thought this was a given.

I’ll name a few other points I agree with that Mr. Young made:

Change comes from the inside, not from following rules.

The Bible is a picture of Jesus.

God should be at the center of a person’s life, not merely a top priority. (I liked the contrast between seeing God as the pinnacle of a pyramid versus the anchor of a mobile).

Would that I could stop here. If that were the case, I’d add my voice to the many who found The Shack truthful. (See for example this blog post and read this explanation of it’s popularity:

That books at both ends of the spectrum are best-sellers shows that readers want to know how to relate to God in a troubled world. The gap-filler is a book that respects the intelligence of people who are hurting in this war-zone of a world, but still affirms the control of our loving and all-powerful Lord. The Shack has scratched this itch. In fact, it is attempting to stop the hemorrhage and bandage the wound. People hunger for a book like The Shack because they have not been satisfied with what their churches have served up on the topic of suffering. I applaud Young for recognizing a need.

Unfortunately, there’s the other side of the ledger, and I’ll look at those next time.

Series continued in Part 3.

God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 1


The Shack by William P. Young might be the perfect book to discuss at A Christian Worldview of Fiction because it is a novel, and it’s all about God. I still have three chapters to read, but already I have lots to say—so much that I feel it’s safe to call this post Part 1.

Overall Reaction. I have to admit, I had some preconceived ideas about The Shack going in. I’d read and heard what others had to say, and I’d even entered into some discussions on the topic. I was prepared to hate the book, quite frankly. I’d heard it was poorly written and that the theology was borderline heresy.

First, I was pleasantly surprised that the writing, while far from high quality, did not make the book painful to read. In addition, I discovered some common theological ground with the author. I guess I had expected there would be none.

This common-ground fact actually strengthens my resolve to preach the need for discernment in reading. Books that are total lies are easy to spot and easy to refute. Books that dip into murk while purporting to shine the light of God’s love into the lives of suffering, disillusioned people … well, those are harder to handle.

General Observations. More than a week ago, in God and Fiction, Part 3 I quoted Doroteos2 who said The Shack was a spiritual Twinkie—spiritual fluff lacking in any nutritional value.

I don’t think I will go that far because hundreds of thousands of people will testify that the book fed their souls. Are they all liars? I don’t think so. However, what I’ve seen in The Shack I believe is pop theology. Like “pop culture” pop theology is based more on popular taste than it is on study. Could this be why The Shack became a best-seller?

One evidence of “pop” anything seems to be a lack of depth. Catch phrases summarize all that a presidential candidate believes or that a beverage or fast food restaurant stands for. The Shack goes beyond catch phrases, but not by much.

I began cataloguing the different subjects the protagonist Mack discusses with one of the God-head personas. The list includes the trinity, good vs. evil, ecology, man/woman relationships, Jesus’s humanity/divinity, guilt, free will, emotions, legalism, God’s goodness, judgmentalism, the road to salvation, heaven, church, the Bible … and I haven’t finished reading it.

The point is, this novel is a slim 248 pages, and that list of topics contains some humdingers. Books, volumes of books, have been written exploring just one of those serious subjects. Yet Mr. Young manages to deal with all of them in 18 chapters of fiction. Not a lot of depth in the treatment of each, I’d say. But there’s a more serious reason to call this pop theology, I think, one I’ll take up in another post.

Continued in Part 2.

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