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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The Place Of Truth In Fiction

Truth in FictionFiction as truth? Almost any novelist will tell you that truth is an important component in storytelling. The setting needs to be believably true, the characters need to be true to their personality and experience, and the story needs to be true to its setup and foreshadowing. And all of it needs to ring true with the reader.

Behind the curtain, though, is a story’s theme, and the truth of the theme seems to be at the heart of understanding the place of truth in fiction. According to R. L. Copple in a recent article at Speculative Faith, there are two primary views of truth in fiction:

One view is that fiction is a teaching tool.

In that understanding, Christian fiction’s primary goal and purpose is to relate Biblical truths (as interpreted by a specific community of faith) in a systematic and accurate fashion. Ultimately, it should convey the Gospel message. The fear is that if it doesn’t do so, it will teach people untruths and lead them away from God, not to Him. Thus, any deviation from their perception of Biblical truth is cause for alarm and condemnation.

The other view is that fiction conveys an emotional experience of Christian themes.

Unlike God, who is infallible, authors are not writing the Bible, nor a systematic theology, but a story about fallible characters who may believe the wrong things, misunderstand God, in short, sin. It is a story depicting theology lived out, and thus like real life, messy. Not every question gets answered. Not all resolutions are in tidy, neatly wrapped packages.

The purpose of this type of Christian fiction is to wrestle with Christian themes in an emotionally engaging manner. To help people encounter and incarnate the truth within themselves. The details are only important in conveying the story arc and theme in an engaging manner.(Emphases in the original.)

“The details are only important in conveying the story arc and theme in an engaging manner.” There’s some truth to this statement. In The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, for instance, the important details about Aslan dying on a stone table as a substitute for Edmund didn’t need to be true in the sense that a real lion talked and walked or sacrificed himself. Nor did the details have to match up with precision to that which the allegorical sacrifice depicted–Jesus Christ dying on a cross as the substitute for sinful humans.

However, there were details that did need to remain truthful if the story was to be true. The White Witch, for instance, couldn’t win the battle and become the new Aslan. Such an ending could well have been engaging, and there might even have been an engaging theme, perhaps even a truthful one, such as “Looks are deceiving” or “It’s better to obey those in authority than to rebel.”

Nevertheless, such themes do not mitigate the falsehood of evil winning out against good.

Does that mean, then, that fiction is supposed to teach? Well, sure! Fiction is supposed to teach the same way all of life teaches. For the Christian, this is mandated in Scripture:

You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deut. 11:18-19)

And when you tell stories.

OK, the text doesn’t add he line about stories, but Jesus modeled the use of stories as a teaching device.

I honestly wonder what people mean when they question the idea that stories aren’t supposed to teach truth. It’s as if “teaching” has somehow become a suspect activity. We don’t want to indoctrinate our children or our readers or our colleagues or our friends.

Teaching is not indoctrination! In fact, the best teaching spurs the learner to think critically, to ask the hard questions, to dig for answers, to mull, cogitate, meditate, debate. The best stories, the truthful stories, ought to do that.

The problem isn’t that some stories teach truth and others let readers experience. Rather, it’s that some stories which teach truth do it badly. Of course, some stories that let readers experience, do that badly, too, because they aren’t truthful stories. The Shack had lots of people praising it because of what they experienced, but in the end, the story was filled with falsehood.

The place of truth in fiction? Right dab in the middle, as far as I’m concerned. Stories by Christians should be all about truth. But they ought to be artful in their expression of it, and yes, they should show truth instead of telling readers what is true.

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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Friends with the World

I’ve done a little blog surfing this morning, starting with Church Salt’s “Emerging from Emergents.” The trail led me to a conclusion I hadn’t expected: those identifying with the emerging church are on the decline.

Whether that conclusion is right or wrong, however, isn’t the issue. The thinking the emerging church re-instituted—contrary to the facade they portray to those “outside,” their thinking is little more than warmed over liberalism; they borrow generously from Orthodox Christianity, Gnostic thought, Eastern mysticism, even from a heretical ascetic such as Pelagius—this thinking has seeped into the Church.

One blog post claimed youth groups have espoused emerging church views for years. I wouldn’t doubt it.

But here’s the critical point. We American Christians must re-examine our hearts to see if we have left our First Love.

James, in his letter to Jewish believers scattered from Jerusalem because of persecution, gives a sobering warning:

You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

– James 4:4

“Friendship with the world,” I would suggest, has a lot more to do with how we think than with what we do. In the previous verse, James addresses wrong motives, two verses down he speaks about pride.

Verse 5 he says something translators apparently have wrestled with without coming to a consensus. The New King James says it this way:

Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

In the context of “adultresses” in the last verse, this translation seems to me to make James’s intent clearest. As a husband would be jealous for his wife, so God is jealous for His Bride. And of course He wants our lives to be pure, but He also wants our hearts to be pure—free of wrong motives, without prideful self-will.

I have to believe that “friendship with the world,” then, includes the way we think.

Pastor Ray Stedman, in his commentary “James: The Activity of Faith” says this:

And if you stop believing what the Scriptures say, you will find yourself being drawn to the lies and the alluring illusion of the world around.

Drawn to the lies and illusion of the world seems to define the beliefs the emerging church has introduced. God is not a God of judgment. He is one with his creation. Hell isn’t real and Man does not sin by nature. Salvation is universal. Jesus came not as an atoning sacrifice but to show us a better way—the road of love and peace and unity.

How can I say these false teachings are in our churches? For one thing, I know these same views appear throughout The Shack, and its author, Paul Young, has spoken in the pulpit of any number of churches. I also know that Christians (as well as non-Christians) have raved about the book and its influence on their spiritual lives.

So … can a book, or a way of thinking, that helps people see God in a new way be bad? I mean, shouldn’t we want to know God in a fresh, exciting way?

Our thoughts about God can be new every morning, but I don’t believe we need to borrow from the world’s way of looking at Him to experience Him afresh. Just the opposite. Listening to the lies of the world will kill off true faith.

In the parable of the sower, that’s what happened to the seed that fell on stony ground. The soil was too shallow for roots to take hold.

Writing for the “Spiritually Interested”

I wasn’t going to link to it or even reference the source of these thoughts, but I want to copy a chart, and therefore have to give due credit.

Recently editor Mick Silva has been blogging about writing for seekers, those operating with a postmodern perspective. In one post entitled “Why Is The Shack Still Selling?” he asks

How do these “pioneers” differ from the more traditional Christian book market?

By “pioneers” I believe he means authors who are engaging the “spiritually interested” within the Christian framework (in another post, though, he includes authors such as Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret, and Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now, so I may be assuming too much).

Anyway, here is the chart I found interesting.

    Pioneers value / Traditionalists value
    Mystery over certainty/ Certainty over mystery
    Experiential faith/ Propositional truth
    Freedom from structure/ Structure to their freedom
    Personal authority/ Authority figures
    Love at the expense of truth/ Truth at the expense of love
    Authenticity over status/ Status over authenticity
    Relationship over rules/ Rules over relationship
    Maleable [malleable], interpretive/ Concrete, quantifiable
    A story over principles/ Principles over a story
    Seeking over knowing Knowing over seeking

In many ways, this list is nothing more than a description of a person influenced primarily by postmodernism versus a person influenced primarily by modernism, and to be honest, I don’t see the Christians I know on either side of the chart.

A few years ago, I asked my pastor, Dale Burke, what he thought of postmodernism, and his answer was insightful: it’s just a philosophical approach to life, no more right or wrong than other approaches. We can glean good things from any number of philosophies, but the key is to square what we believe with the Bible.

Well, that puts my pastor, my church, and me decidedly on the side of propositional truth, doesn’t it? Yes, and the first proposition is to love God with all of my being and the second, to love my brother as myself.

So does that mean we are part of the “Pioneers,” putting love over truth?

Yes, except another proposition we believe says we can know the truth and the truth will set you free. And that statement is supplemented by Jesus’s declaration that He is the way, the truth, and the life, that no one comes to the Father except via the Son. Which again shifts us back to the camp of the “Pioneers” because we value relationship over rules.

Sort of. Because Jesus also said, If you love me, you will obey my commandments. So now it seems we’re back on the “Traditionalists” side.

I could go on, but I want to make two salient points.

First, if someone values seeking over knowing, will they ever find? Jesus says, Seek and you will find, ask and it will be given you, knock and the door will be opened. Is someone genuinely—authentically, to use the term ascribed to the “Pioneers”—seeking if he has no intention of finding?

And secondly, the apostle Paul, when he preached in Athens started where the Athenians were—as idol worshipers who loved a good debate and to learn something new.

Granted, authors aren’t preachers, but we have the same mandate as the “professionals”: to go and make disciples. So if there are, as it seems, a host of spiritually interested who have broken free of the humanism and rationalism espoused by modern philosophy, shouldn’t we meet them where they are?

Even so, I think we need to keep Paul as our model. He was committed to preaching Christ, and Him crucified. What he excelled at was showing the Athenians that their “Unknown God” they worshiped was in fact known.

It seems to me, the challenge before Christians is to show seekers that what they’re looking for is the very thing we looked for too. And found.

Knowing the Incomprehensible God

Evangelical Christians are often criticized for claiming to have answers to all problems. Thus, the author of The Shack, William P. Young, stated there are “religious people” who want to keep God, not in a box, but in a book, with leather binding and “guilt” pages.

The emerging church view, predicated by Postmodernism, is that God is Mystery; we can enter into relationship with Him but we can’t understand Him.

Like so many other emerging church views, this one has an element of truth—perhaps an element that has been glossed over in the past. However, the conclusion leads away from Truth.

First the element of truth. God is incomprehensible. I find that to be a much more accurate description than “mysterious,” as I think you’ll see why a bit further down. The fact is, no creature is like the Creator. We sprang from His mind, as did the galaxies that exist beyond our sight. As did the theory of relativity and the string theory and light’s wave-particle duality, as did an untold number of questions we don’t even have enough knowledge to ask.

Unfortunately, Mankind has a tendency to reduce the irreducible. As A. W. Tozer says in The Knowledge of the Holy

Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control. (p. 16)

Thus we have preachers and writers formulating how-to’s for everything from happy marriages to healings and inner peace. The idea is, if we just do our part, God is obligated to do His.

Or, on the other hand, we have preachers and writers saying that God will act just like we want Him to act—with love and forgiveness, never with wrath and justice, because that’s the way of relationship, isn’t it?

Ironic that these folks who so want to free God from preconceived ideas so that he can be the mysterious being they want to worship actually limit him by their own imaginings. They don’t understand how God could possibly be both Love and Justice, so they opt for the trait that gives them what they most want—a God who submits to them (I’d give you the quote from The Shack that says this, but I’ve returned the book to the library) rather than the other way around.

What am I saying? God IS incomprehensible but not mysterious—because He chose to reveal Himself to us. He gave us Scripture to tell us about Himself and He came as God Incarnate to show us Himself.

As a writer, I think that’s pretty cool. God wasn’t content with exposition but gave us The Narrative; He didn’t just tell us, but He went on to show us.

And why would He, unless He intends to be known.

A High View of God

One of my criticisms of The Shack by William P. Young was that it portrays God as less than Who He is. The god of the shack is Nanny-god, regular-Joe god, or ethereal-sister god, but not the High and Holy God revealed in Scripture.

Sadly, others professing the name of Christ also have a low, though different, view of God. I’m thinking particularly of the name-it-and-claim-it crowd that rally around such works as Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now or Become a Better You. I found it interesting that one of the main criticisms in the Publishers Weekly review of Best Life was this issue of how the book portrays God:

Many Christian readers will undoubtedly be put off by the book’s shallow name-it-and-claim-it theology; although the first chapter claims that “we serve the God that created the universe,” the book as a rule suggests the reverse: it’s a treatise on how to get God to serve the demands of self-centered individuals. … Theologically, its materialism and superficial portrayal of God as the granter of earthly wishes will alienate many Christian readers who can imagine a much bigger God. (emphasis mine, here and in the following quotes)

This skewering of who God is evidently is not new. A.W. Tozer wrote about a growing low view of God within the church back in 1961 in his book The Knowledge of the Holy. Today his words seem prophetic:

The message of this book … is called forth by a condition which has existed in the Church for some years and is steadily growing worse. I refer to the loss of the concept of majesty from the popular religious mind. The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. (p. 6)

What I find particularly interesting is what Mr. Tozer identified as the effects of a low view of God:

With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. (p. 6)

Ironic. Mr. Young claims that Man’s greatest need is relationship with God, but by stripping God of His awe, of His justice, of His holiness, he is putting forth ideas that countermand the very thing he advocates.

Mr. Tozer goes on to say

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us … Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. (p. 9)

How important, then, that we look at God’s revelation of Himself rather than at some men’s imaginings of Him, be they hopeful and entertaining or not.

The Pursuit of God

I started two books in the last two days, and although they are drastically different, they have a point of confluence.

The first one, which I found in our church library, is Oprah, Miracles, and the New Earth: A Critique by Erwin Lutzer (Moody Publishers, 2009). Here’s the opening:

More than one hundred million Americans claim n allegiance to a church, synagogue, or temple. Many of them, perhaps the majority, are pursuing some form of what we’ll call Spirituality, hoping to connect with something greater than themselves. They are looking for meaning, seeking for some higher purpose that will fill their inner emptiness and persistent longings for peace. And they are being told that they can do this without believing doctrines, without acknowledging their sins, and without having to commit to believie anything too specific.

I don’t know about you, but my mind immediately traveled to The Shack, for certainly I think this paragraph could have been written with that book in mind. Actually it was not. Rather, Mr. Lutzer wrote with the New Age and eastern mysticism influences in mind.

So far, everything I’ve read confirms my belief that The Shack essentially incorporates elements of eastern mysticism with Christianity. But Mr. Lutzer’s book opened my eyes to how pervasive the influence of this brand of spirituality is … and how influenced by Satan.

To be honest, I felt weighed down, depressed. But then, in preparation for my quiet time, I picked up The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Horizon House, 1948). I’d pulled it off my shelf yesterday in preparing my last Shack post and decided I’d read a bit before putting it away.

Here’s the section that especially served as a salve to my soul:

Religion, so far as it is genuine, is in essence the response of created personalities to the Creating Personality, God. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

God is a Person, and in the deep of His mighty nature He thinks, wills, enjoys, feels, loves, desires, and suffers as any other person may. In making Himself known to us He stays by the familiar pattern of personality. He communicates with us through the avenues of our minds, our wills and our emotions. The continuous and unembarrassed interchange of love and thought between God and the soul of the redeemed man is the throbbing heart of New Testament religion. (pp. 13-14, emphasis mine)

So The Shack can lambaste established religion and New Age writers can claim secret spirituality, but only Christ can give us what our hearts need, and only Scripture can reveal this truth.

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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