Discernment And Culture


In a week or so Disney is set to release the movie Beauty And The Beast. Recently the news broke that one of the characters is gay and that a scene occurs in the movie that makes this fact clear. Talk has begun among some Christians that it’s time to “give up on Disney.”

In response, I wrote a post today at Speculative Faith that said, in essence, we need to realize that sinful acts take place in most, if not all, secular entertainment. We need to stop putting one sin on the top as if it’s the unpardonable sin, we need to open our eyes and see the sin in all the stories we read or watch, and we need to think about how those stories agree or disagree with what the Bible says.

On one hand people can take what I wrote about Beauty And The Beast and think I am being charitable toward a movie made by a secular company for a secular audience with a decidedly secular agenda as part of the story. In contrast, I raised more questions about The Shack, a movie written from a book by a professing Christian about a man who finds relationship with God, despite the great tragedy in his life.

So what’s with that? Are my expectations higher for a movie about God?

Maybe. But my cry is and has been for us to read and view stories with discernment. Discernment is even one of the topics under which I file my posts. In one older article I defined discernment and took great pains to explain what I believe about it and its importance.

I can summarize all that more succinctly here: discernment is the ability to spot truth and error. As a Christian I believe the only way to spot truth and error is by holding up God’s word, which is Truth, and using it as the standard.

So when discussing the two movies in question, I have to know first if the Bible says anything about the issues that the movies raise. In regard to Beauty And The Beast, the central issue is the nature of love. Does the Bible deal with the nature of love? It does in deed: parental love, God’s love, love between friends, love for an enemy, love for a spouse, love for a neighbor. Yes, the Bible speaks to the nature of love, so it certainly would provide a standard by which Beauty And The Beast can be compared.

And what if the movie agrees with the Bible’s standard for the most part but has errors in one minor relationship? This is where discernment comes in. My contention is that Beauty And The Beast deserves the same treatment as other books or stories or movies: we Christians recognize what is sinful, call it sin, expose it as behavior that is not desirable or godly, and weigh that fact along with the rest of the story. In some cases and for some people, the sin revealed outweighs any benefit. For others, it may not.

I’ll give a for instance. When I was in college I had to read Emile Zola’s Germinal for a history class. It was not a pretty story, but I learned more about how someone who is hopeless thinks and feels and looks at life than I could have ever learned apart from going through such an experience myself. For me, I could identify the sin and grieve over it for those poor lost people—fictional characters who nevertheless represented real people. Would I recommend that book to everyone? No. It’s sort of like staring at a head on collision on the freeway. Some of us look away because the images will stay with us in an unhealthy way. (I saw enough of those crashes in Driver’s Ed to last my lifetime).

But back to the two movies in question. The second, The Shack, deals with the relationship of man with God. That’s the whole story really. In the midst of pain and suffering, where is God and does He matter?

Clearly the Bible has a LOT to say about a relationship with God. We have examples (Adam and Eve, Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Daniel, and more). We have prayers and answers to prayer. We have prophets reporting what God says, what His judgments are, and why. We have Jesus, God in the flesh, the image of the invisible God, the one who told His disciples they knew the Father because they knew the Son.

So, yes, we can hold the Bible up as the standard by which we can measure a story about a relationship with God.

Again, discernment is in order. First, we need some working knowledge of the Bible if it is to be our standard. Just because something touches us on the emotional level does not make it true! I was so happy for Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she fell in love with . . . the John she’s spent a week with! It was a true Prince Charming story because he rescued her out of prostitution. After he used her as a prostitute for a week! I mean, really? Is that true love? But it was heart warming and had such a happy ending. Didn’t that make it all an example of what true love looks like? NO!

So one of the important things, maybe one of the hardest things, in discernment is to recognize that an emotional response does not validate the truth or the error depicted in the story. What validates truth is the solid rock of God’s word. So how does The Shack measure up to the truth about God revealed in Scripture. And I don’t mean the peripheral things—the metaphorical representation of the trinity, for instance. I’m thinking more about what the movie says about Jesus Christ and His payment of the debt each of us owes because of our sin.

I haven’t seen the movie yet (and may or may not see it), but the book seemed to be more about God’s acceptance rather than about reconciliation with Him because of what Jesus did at the cross. That’s the key I’d look for. Does the story tell the truth about the means to our relationship with God. Is Jesus central to the story of grace?

Can the movie get most of it right but miss on a few points and still be worthwhile? Again, that’s an issue for each person to decide. What I hope is that when either movie misses, Christians will speak up and point out the ways the movie achieves something true and the ways in which it falls into error.

If we close our minds and go with our heart, we’ll potentially fall for all kinds of deception. Better if we watch with eyes wide open and our minds filled with the truth of Scripture.

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Published in: on March 6, 2017 at 6:15 pm  Comments (15)  
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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.

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind?


How does one book take off like wildfire and another die like a match in the wind?

On one agent blog today I read about how she and a fellow agent had gone out to celebrate because their client’s book had stayed on the NYT best-seller list for twelve weeks. In fact, sales were rising, and the title had climbed to #2, with a shot at #1 if things continued to progress. The thing that I noticed in particular was how surprised she was that sales were growing, not shrinking.

Another agent today mentioned an article about how short the life of a link is these days. Apparently, if people don’t respond to your Facebook link or Twitter link within the first couple hours, they aren’t going to respond.

Out of sight, out of mind?

On one hand, this doesn’t surprise me because I know my own Twitter and Facebook habits. As a general rule, I’m not visiting my friends’ walls and reading their updates for the last few days or weeks. Instead, I’m reading the most recent updates whenever I pop over to my home page. Same with Twitter.

On the other hand, though, I’ve thought of book sales as a growing thing — the PyroMarketing approach. Mind you, I haven’t read Greg Stielstra’s book.

I do know that a good portion of new releases only stay on bookstore shelves for three months, that another portion of them are routinely returned to the publisher, never having been in the hands of a potential buyer. So I’m not saying naively that a book is bound to grow in sales simply because a writer tells people about it on Facebook or Twitter. And yet, I’ve believed the publishing marketers who say that word of mouth is the best marketing there is. Consequently, it seems sales should start to rise as word begins to spread.

One more thing to consider. A small press publisher tweeted today that book blog tours are largely worthless. Of course it’s a tweet, so no added information as to why this particular person reached this conclusion. You might guess that I have a different opinion, but here’s a professional who doesn’t see the return for the time spent organizing others to post about her books.

Not so long ago, author and friend Mike Duran hosted a discussion about social media and book marketing. It was interesting to see that some thought the online chatter was overrated.

So I come back to that first agent I mentioned, the one who was so excited their client’s book was increasing in sales. Could it be that the Facebook/Twitter model, something equivalent to a person’s fifteen minutes of fame, is the norm for most books — a quick blaze that fires hot for that three-month window, then burns itself out?

Does this happen because our culture is so ready to move on to the Next Big Thing? But if that were the case, then how is it that Harry Potter could remain such a huge commodity for over a decade?

Is the answer in the lack of persistence on the part of the author and publisher? After all, a book that’s been out for three months is about to be eclipsed by the author’s next release. So the efforts and emphasis now are going toward the book that will be, not the one that was.

In this environment, how, then, can a book/author grow an audience?

I’ve thought some about the phenomenon of The Shack because that book seemed to burn brighter and brighter. In relating its success to the factors I wrote about over at Spec Faith on Monday, I’d say it succeeded because it had three of the five elements I identified.

But The Shack had something I’d never seen before — in the back, the author listed action points for a satisfied reader to take to spread the word about the book. Rather than letting the book fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” category, or hoping that the reader would seek out the author online, this plea to spread the word almost became a part of the book.

It was unique and perhaps unrepeatable. And perhaps that’s the thing that will spread the word about books — something that isn’t an imitation of what others are already doing.

– – – – –

There are still three days left to vote in the “It’s All In The Opening” poll.

Published in: on September 13, 2011 at 6:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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Where Are We Going?


For a long time “edgy” was a buzz word in Christian fiction. I frequently scoffed (or railed or ranted — take your pick 😉 ) at the term because those using it seemed oblivious to what the world considers edgy.

For example, a few months back, in doing some agent research, I ran across an interview with a fantasy writer. Besides comments about her agent, she discussed her latest work. At one point the interviewer asked about one part of the story. The writer admitted she thought she’d get dinged by reviewers because of the edgy content, but surprisingly, no. The scene in question? A human character having sex with his dragon. Her conclusion? With sex, anything goes these days.

I find that content and that conclusion disgusting, but not surprising. This is the “edgy” the world knows — the boundary-pushing against society’s acceptable. Or not. As this author noted, including bestiality in her novel didn’t raise anyone’s ire. Apparently the edge has moved beyond kinky sex. What’s next?

What drives this mad dash to the edge seems to be the pursuit of the new and different. “Fresh” is another term bandied about. Our entertainment-driven (read hedonistic) culture must have the Something that feels like it’s never been done before. We crave that thing that will pique our curiosity, give us a jolt of excitement, cause us to wonder, take us out of our mundane state and transport us Elsewhere. We want to live in a constant state of orgasm.

Once these desires were the signs of mid-life crisis. Now the entire society seems to suffer from perennial adolescent angst, a chasing after Anything, as long as it isn’t boring or ordinary.

In literature we no longer want to be hooked by the end of the first chapter or by the first page, first paragraph, or first line. We must now be hooked by the cover. If it’s not eye-catching, or somehow “sexy,” then it simply is not a good book. Yes, covers are now to be judged because we need to excite buyers before they ever put their hands on the product.

The question is, should we Christians play along? In his most recent blog post “Pushing Your Imagination Envelop” author and friend Mike Duran said

Maybe more than anything else, our culture’s “unacknowledged legislators” [storytellers] are looking for big ideas, new twists, and innovative slants. Yes, it’s evidence that our culture is growing increasingly jaded. But for those of us who traffic in imagination, it’s also evidence that the bar has been raised.

So if you think you’ve nailed your story premise, before you do anything else, find the limits of your credulity, the edges of your imagination envelope and… push it [boldface emphasis added].

I can’t help but wonder if the bar hasn’t been lowered, not raised. Once, writers like George Herbert, John Donne, John Bunyan, Edmund Spencer, and Alexander Pope wrote with “great depth” as a result of their “immersion in Christian and Biblical culture” (see Wikipedia articles on these authors). Now, it seems “great depth” comes from our great imagination.

True, an imaginative work like The Shack by Paul Young caught the fancy of those looking for something startling, even shocking. But depth? There was plenty of imagination, certainly, but little truth. Lots of “edgy” theology slamming against the Bible’s authority.

As I see it, truth puts parameters around our imagination. Our sinful, deluded hearts can conceive of all sorts of evil, and the world seems eager to trundle after the most repugnant fare being offered.

Christians, however, aren’t wandering aimlessly about. We aren’t in search of a quick fix, don’t need to live for the next thrill ride, the next mind-numbing gimmick. We don’t need to medicate our sorrows or drown our pain. Or we ought not.

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).

Now there’s an edgy premise.

Promotion – What Makes A Work Go Viral?


I suppose every author and musician, maybe every dancer or videographer, movie producer, or TV exec wants to know the same thing — what makes a work go viral?

In other words, why did Harry Potter become such a success? Why Eragon? The Passion of the Christ? Twilight? Hunger Games? Left Behind? Shadowmancer? The Da Vinci Code? The Shack? Is there something these books have in common that brought them so much attention?

The first thing I notice is that all except perhaps Hunger Games made the national news for one reason or the other. In most cases the reason was controversy. Harry Potter received criticism from Christians as did The Da Vinci Code. Christians debated the merits of The Shack. Shadowmancer supposedly angered a faction of Christians and came to the US under a cloud of criticism. And Jews objected to The Passion.

Some of the works received national attention because of a human interest aspect. Christopher Paolini began writing Eragon when he was fifteen, self-published, and traveled the country with his parents hand selling the book until it was picked up by a traditional publisher, and made national news.

The Left Behind books found their way in front of network viewers because of their success in the Christian market. (In the same way, Amish stories are now coming out of the ABA — because they continue to sell and sell and sell.) Twilight was a phenom because, of all things, the teenage lovers didn’t have sex.

But the question remains. How did these books garner enough sales to catch the public’s attention?

It seems something first captivated an initial group who started talking. Left Behind had a well-known non-fiction writer as one of the co-authors, and I expect that pulled in a number of initial readers. But I also believe it tapped into a fascination about future events.

The Shack took a different path. The book creators solicited promotion from its readers within its covers. At the end, there were specific action points that were designed to get satisfied readers talking about the book and buying more copies to give away.

Twilight caught the attention of a group of romance lovers with a strict moral code. Perhaps Mormons banded together to support the book initially (pure conjecture on my part).

Shadowmancer, besides claiming religious controversy, also took on the mantle of the “Christian” Harry Potter, possibly earning itself a niche following.

In contrast, The Da Vinci Code may have picked up fans from the new atheist crowd or from any anti-Catholic, and of course once the Pope spoke out against it, the controversy was on.

It appears that the first thing, though, was something within the work itself. The Passion of the Christ had so many unique aspects — a famous actor seeing the project through in the face of rejection from traditional sources (human interest), opposition from a religious group (controversy) which garnered national attention, a non-traditional approach to the subject matter, a highly religious film using Biblical material as its primary source, a select group of unknown actors. In other words, there was lots to talk about.

I already mentioned the content of the Left Behind books. Harry Potter had a unique story world. Hunger Games had a timely, intriguing dystopian concept that tapped into a current cultural phenomenon — reality games.

In other words, either the author or the subject seemed to set the work apart from others, which caused first readers/viewers to pay attention.

In each case, a big budget marketing plan didn’t seem to be responsible for the work’s success. People were. But the people who talked about what they read or viewed first had to have something to talk about, something unique enough that they wanted to pass it along to others.

And viral happened.

Does The Narrow Way Lead To A Big Tent?


Whether or not Rob Bell’s upcoming book Love Wins actually makes a case for universal salvation as the promotional video suggests, it has opened up the conversation about heaven, hell, and who will be saved. For this I am glad. Sadly, his is only one voice in what appears to be a growing number claiming to have discovered what the Bible actually says.

This lust for something new has been with us a long time. The Pharisees of Jesus’s day re-interpreted the Law according to their own traditions, and various groups ever since have done the same thing. Think of the Mormons, interpreting the Bible by the revelation Joseph Smith claimed, or the Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or any number of cults.

More recently, the trend has seeped into Evangelical Christianity. Some time in the early twentieth century, a movement started away from all that “fire and brimstone preaching,” replacing it with the social gospel. Eventually the winds shifted again and evangelism surfaced emphasizing that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life unless you reject Him, in which case you’re not going to heaven.

Now decades later, there is yet again startling, good news, “better than we could ever imagine,” which could only be true if all these years no one has been reading the Bible and no preachers have been preaching from it.

If it’s any comfort, false teaching slipped into the Church right from the start. The Apostle Paul warned the young pastors he mentored about this desire to hear “easier” truth or “better” truth or “newer” truth, whatever was more pleasing:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
– 2 Timothy 4:3-4

So today, in the era of tolerance, some asserting to be part of the church have decided God should be tolerant too. He should set aside the claims that there is a requirement such as believing in Jesus for people to find their way into his presence. Which of course means he must also give up any claim as a righteous judge who will one day hold men accountable for their rebellion. These positions, they tell us, are actually in the Bible, and the Church has just misinterpreted them all these years, putting God in a box, limiting his capacity to love liberally and accept all his children, including those who

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
The Shack, p. 182

All this fits nicely with our culture. Inclusion seems to be the goal, bringing all “faith communities” into The Big Tent. On the surface it sounds so good, so loving.

Except it actually flies in the face of Truth — the very words of Jesus who out of His love for the people He would die for, warned them in no uncertain terms that there was a divide between sheep and goats, growing branches and ones cut off to be thrown into the fire, between wheat and weeds, grain and chaff, between houses built on sand and ones on rock, between faithful servants and unfaithful, between the wise who stayed alert and the foolish who fell asleep. At one point He spelled it out like this:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.
– Matt 7:13-16a (emphasis mine)

If we take Jesus seriously, what’s the loving thing to do — tell people not to worry, that the Big Tent has plenty of room for them, too? Will this help them find the small gate and narrow way? Or will it deceive them into thinking the narrow way and the broad are going to the same destination?

Published in: on March 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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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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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.

Legion and Attacks against God


I’m defining “attacks against God” as that which contradicts or distorts the truth about Him as He has revealed Himself in the Bible. Some attacks against God are subtle and some are overt.

While I didn’t think the attacks in Avatar were subtle, apparently others did. Certainly those in The Shack were subtle enough that thousands of Christians have not seen them in light of the positives they discovered within the pages of the book. (An aside question: would Christians have so readily overlooked the idolatrous goddess worship espoused in Avatar if The Shack hadn’t desensitized many to the idea of God, the woman?)

Coming soon to a theater near you is a movie that appears to be a frontal assault on God and His nature. Legion, scheduled to release January 22, is a science fiction-horror movie or an apocalyptic thriller film, depending on what source you read. Here’s the premise and you can click on this link to see the trailer:

After God loses faith in humanity, the archangel Michael (Paul Bettany), who has become a fallen angel, is the only one standing between mankind and Armageddon. This time using angels to execute the Last Judgment, God’s wrath descends on Earth to exterminate the world’s population. In a desperate, last-chance gambit, Michael leads a group of strangers to a small New Mexico diner to protect a young waitress (Adrianne Palicki) who may be pregnant with Christ in his second coming.

Wikipedia

Here’s what one reviewer has to say:

Now, folks, don’t be too biblical if you want to enjoy this movie.

It focuses on the fallen angels versus mankind when GOD is disdainful of cruel people and their evil deeds.

LEGION the movie is a part supernatural and part horror flick and not a religious picture per se, so don’t reach for your bible.

It’s a mix of the EXORCIST and the TERMINATOR, if you must.

In other words, chill out. Relax. The movie’s just for fun, and boy is it! (“You will be treated to graphic scenes of violence, guns, sexual references and language, plus grotesque images and transformations. But you will enjoy the fast stomping action from tip to toe, heart in your mouth.”)

I know I probably sound like a kill-joy, but heart-in-your-mouth action does not make it okay to lie about God, to distort His character, to besmirch His angels or His Son.

However, the real issue, as I see it, is this “don’t reach for your Bible” attitude. The implication is, nobody was trying to tell the Biblical story, so don’t get all fired up.

However, when someone writes something that contradicts truth, we generally call it a lie. When a story shows God as the antagonist, especially when, by inference, God is the God of the Bible, this is nothing more than the flip side of the Avatar lie: Mother Nature (Eywa) is god, a good god who will protect Mankind as Mankind protects her.

On one hand, an angry God bent on destroying Mankind; on the other a kinder, gentler god who promotes peace and oneness and harmony.

And we are supposed to relax, chill out, not grab for our Bibles? After all, it’s just entertainment.

That’s as big a lie as the others.