Let me preface this latest, and perhaps last, installment of my rambling thoughts surrounding The Shack by saying that, without regard to the negative reviews I have read, I wanted to like this book. I wanted to find an authentic depiction of a struggle with fundamental tensions regarding the nature of a good God in a world of suffering. However, my experience in The Shack thus far leads me to think I would be wasting my time to wade through to the completion of Young’s excretal narrative. My primary objections to Young’s thoughts are theological, rather than literary, though I have those objections, too.
As a follow-up to the previous installment on my review of The Shack, I think Young almost verges into the realm of tri-theism in his depiction of a Trinitarian God. It was a subtle issue for me because, if I were prone, quite honestly, to stray from orthodoxy, I would probably drift in that direction. Too, it is hard for me to define why I see such an aberration in The Shack, but I know it is there. I think my impression stems from the distinctiveness, the separateness of the personalities found in Young’s god. I also find the physical incarnation of all three members of Young’s trinity to be disconcerting and unbiblical.
Further thoughts and concerns regarding Young’s unfolding of the Trinitarian nature of God refer to the lack of hierarchy found in his trinity. At one point, Papa tells Mack, “We don’t need power over the other…Hierarchy would make no sense among us.” However, we find the Christ being obedient to the Father, even unto death, an obedience found in a hierarchy based on mutual love, not power, but a hierarchy non-the-less.
Further mutations to orthodox Trinitarian theology occur when Young depicts Papa, his female African-American incarnation of the Father, bearing scars of the Messiah’s crucifixion, bringing confusion to each member of the Trinity’s redemptive role in securing the salvation of His children. Here we find, without regards to my concern for his seeming tri-theism,Young perhaps swinging towards a kind of modalism wherein there is actually little ontological distinction between the members of the Trinity.
The key is this: if one thinks good theology is but of a peripheral concern when approaching books that are, even if nominally fictional, theological in nature, that make clear, but questionable, doctrinal statements about God, then I will not be able formulate a convincing case for my concerns. One will be content to simply find solace in the easy sentimentality found in the Shack without regard to this influential book being a theological train wreak.
I am at a decision point, and I decide this: I will lay The Shack aside, review it no further, for I find myself parroting the same concerns as other discerning readers and reviewers. As said previously, I am already bent towards an often unhealthy cynicism, and this type of reading feeds that part of me. I want to read, now, something to clean the cerebral palate. I will go back to reading some old, dead guy named Sibbes.
I saw a sign in someones yard today that declared: “Elect Jesus As Your Lord!” Now, I do not in any way shape or form infer anything ill about the character of the person who displayed this sign in their yard. I know nothing about the family that lives in the house that sits behind this sign, nor do I infer that nothing ‘good’ ever comes from such faddish displays of faith.
However, does not this sign, albeit without intention, portray a Jesus that seems a bit weak and needy? Is He awaiting a majority vote before He acts? Is the mighty Lion of Judah, is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords restrained by some political process? Is He not the absolute Lord of salvation, of the created order; is He not a mighty Redeemer? He elected me that all glory should go to Him; I do not elect Him that any glory should go to me.
I think of a sermon I listened to a number of months ago at a moderately sized community church wherein the well-intentioned pastor, after having two members of the church ride their large, loud motorcycles through the poorly ventilated church to park them in front of the stage to make some point, perfumed by carbon monoxide, about God’s timing, declared that Jesus is a ‘gentleman’ who would never force His will on anyone. Is that a biblical understanding of the sovereignty and power of Jesus?
I saw a tee shirt for sale at a large book retailer a few weeks ago. The front of the shirt was a ripoff of the Staples Easy Button. “Jesus” replaced the “Easy” on the button. Wasn’t easy for Jesus.
“Discernment is not created in God’s people by brokenness, humility, reverence, and repentance. It is created by biblical truth and the application of truth by the power of the Holy Spirit to our hearts and minds. When that happens, then the brokenness, humility, reverence, and repentance will have the strong fiber of the full counsel of God in them. They will be profoundly Christian and not merely religious and emotional and psychological.
The common denominator of those who follow the Antichrist will not be “charismatic.” It will be, as Paul says, “they refused to love the truth.”
The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)
Our test for every Lakeland that comes along should first be doctrinal and expositional. Is this awakening carried along by a “love for the truth” and a passion to hear the whole counsel of God proclaimed?”
Part of a pastors, an under-shepherd’s responsibility to the flock to protect it from ravenous wolves. If the under-shepherd does not have the ability to discern between a fellow shepherd and a wolf, then the sheep will suffer. Following is a quote from the blog of Perry Noble, pastor of NewSpring Community Church.
“I have a philosophy of ministry that I used to not have-here it is, I can learn something valuable from any ministry that God is blessing-period!
I want to learn from people who do ministry differently than me…and it is amazing to me how stupid and insecure pastors and church leaders are when it comes to this.
For example-anytime I mention TD Jakes or Joel Osteen on this website we have idiots e-mail in with their “concerns” about issues in regards to their theology or teaching style. (As if the person e-mailing is perfect and has it all figured out!)
BUT, I’ve said it before and I will say it again…I have an incredible amount of respect for both of those men. God is blessing their ministries in an incredible way…and I know there are tons of things that I could learn from them. Just because you are trying to learn something from someone doesn’t mean that you believe exactly like them!
(And for those who feel like you can only learn from just like you…please repent to God for being shallow and ridiculous!)
By the way-I’ve had the privilege of meeting Joel…but haven’t gotten to have lunch with Bishop Jakes yet…if anyone can make that connection I would be much obliged!!! (I’m serious!”)
I have some thoughts and questions, mostly rhetorical in nature, on the aforementioned.
- First, as per an earlier post, I am concerned about the ‘deeds, not creeds’ mentality that seems to infect so many churches. Deeds and doctrine go hand in hand. One ignores either at ones peril. The preceding quote seems to be, at least peripherally, an outgrowth of an anti-creedal, or anti-doctrinal, sentiment.
- Second, how does one discern that a ministry is being blessed by God? Is the number of people drawn to a ministry the only litmus test for Divine sanction? Just because a church or ministry is large and may do good works, does that necessarily infer that it is healthy?
- Third, is it appropriate for one to question an under-shepherd’s theology or teaching style? Is theology and teaching style important? Are there biblically sanctioned and biblically prohibited theologies and forms of teaching style and worship? Does the church sometime unwittingly engage strange fire?
- Fourth, how do we approach, as disciples of Christ, those who are in error, be they an under- shepherd or one whom the under-shepherd is charged with protecting? Do we approach an young, immature disciple of Christ who may hold error differently that how we would approach on who teaches, one who shepherds, one who wields great influence over others?
There are surface tensions in scripture about harboring a judgmental attitude verses the call to judge righteously. That being said, the Old and New Testament is absolutely rich with calls to discern, to be Bereans, to be on the watch for false teachers. A young minister, one whom I hold in high esteem, once stated in a sermon that it is not always easy to identify the wolves that prey on the flock. They do not wear name-tags that state they are teachers of error. Their books do not come with warning labels as to which chapters are unbiblical. The ministries of those whose message is questioned may sometimes benefit the poor and needy. They may be of benefit to the community. Can we, or should we, ignore error because the good they do? What is the difference between error and heresy? The interesting thing about most wolves is that they are not always wrong in all the teach all the time. They may actually have an edifying word or two at times. Therein lies the need for the gift of discernment.
In speaking to the questions raised in the preceding paragraph, perhaps a word or two is in order specifically concerning T.D Jakes and Joel Osteen, the two men mentioned in the blog quote at the start of this post. There are many who strongly suspect that T.D. Jakes rejects the orthodox understanding of the Trinity. Rather, he seems to adopt a modalist view wherein that God sometimes acts as Father, sometimes acts as Son, and sometimes acts as Holy Spirit, the doctrinal position of the Oneness Pentecostal Church to which Jakes has been affiliated. His recent views seems, to me, at very best, to equivocate a bit on this subject. Is the doctrine of the Trinity important? The Gospel looses coherency without this Biblical doctrine. Historically, the church calls those who reject the fundamental doctrine of the Trinity heretics. Beyond Jake’s beliefs of the Trinitarian nature being called into question, Jake also seems to flirt strongly with the prosperity gospel and preaches a psychology driven human-centric message. More could be said on Jakes, but for the sake of brevity, I will move on the Joel Osteen.
Before I proceed, understand without doubt that I am not questioning Osteen’s (or Jakes), status as a true Christian. It is not my job to make that judgment. However, I strongly and without any reservation whatsoever question Osteen’s and Jake’s overarching message. Also, I have listened to Osteen’s messages as well as read the thoughts of others on Osteen. I have also listened to a bit to Jakes as well as reading what others have to say about him. That all being said, Osteen preaches another Gospel; he preaches an ear tickling human-centric message. He seems to reckon sin to be merely a falling short of our God-given potential. He has, on more than on occasion and on national television, at best waffled, and at worst, denied that Christ is the only way to the Father. The pastor of what may be the largest congregation in the world fails absolutely to present the clear message of the Gospel on national television. He, too, embraces a health, wealth, and prosperity Gospel. His God, his Creator, seems to exist to serve and bless the created rather than the other way around. His is the gospel of Anthony Roberts baptized with an occasional Bible verse. Again, for the sake of brevity (so much more could be said), I will conclude articulating my thoughts on Jakes and Osteen.
The pastor whom I quote at the beginning of this post has on multiple occasions, both on his blog and from the stage of his church, expressed disdain for those who want to ‘go deeper’. Pastors influence. Pastors with a big stage, with a big congregation, with a big budget, exert a substantial influence. There is horrific danger to the church when the under-shepherd points his flock to the wolves and say to his flock, “I want to embrace and learn from the wolves!” Such an attitude implies that heresy is benign. Such a pastor, one who calls those in his flock who have questions about a false teacher idiots, will not ultimately answer to the flock or the wolves but to the Great Shepherd of the sheep. With great influence comes great accountability.
\Rant mode off.
Here are a couple of links from IX Marks that may be of interests:
In closing, discernment is not so much as being able to tell right from wrong, but more right from almost right.
I have just started delving into, as the the subject line suggests, covenantal and dispensational theology. Thus far, I tend to lean in the direction indicated by following quote from Erik Raymond at Irish Calvinist:
- Some people think it is odd that we could be both Reformed and Dispensational. I like to remind folks that it is the same approach to the Bible that produces both for me. I am not Reformed because Calvin was Reformed and I am not Dispensational because Ryrie is. I think the Bible teaches Reformed soteriology (doctrine of salvation) and Dispensational eschatology (doctrine of things to come).
I now exercise my prerogative to engage in a bit of somewhat off-topic rambling (or perhaps it is not so off-topic)……….
We are called biblically to think correctly and clearly about doctrine, to be discerning. I also understand that I am probably wrong on a few things I hold to be true. Seriously
I know this to be correct because I have changed my thinking about a number of things I once held to be correct. There are, however, some things I hold to tenaciously and will die for. Those things would be the essentials for authentic faith in Christ as proclaimed in, for example, the Apostles Creed. Other doctrines may be important, but perhaps not so important that they should cause a division. Depending on the sensitivity of circumstances, the individuals involved, and the subject matter, I may sometimes rather remain silent on peripheral doctrinal issues.
There are times, though, when it is admittedly difficult for me to assign a level of importance to an issue. I am specifically thinking about a recent post of mine on tithing, on the wisdom of the post. I will not, however, remove the post from this blog for it truly reflects my current thinking on the subject. In retrospect, I feel as if I am probably diverging quite a bit from the mainstream on the subject of tithing. I am a bit uncomfortable with the post.
That all being said, I strive, and sometimes admittedly fail, to be irenic in discussions of things not critical. I know brothers in Christ who I feel to be quite incorrect in their understanding of, for example, some aspects, and not necessarily unimportant ones, of reformed theology (specifically the doctrine of election), but have a love of Christ, a heart of humility and service, and a heart for missions that leaves me humbled.
In the end, this is our call and goal, be our camp reformed, evangelical, charismatic, etc….to be conformed to the image of Christ Jesus by sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.