Recently a friend from work lent me her copy of the Shack. I have read the reviews, am aware of the controversial nature of the book, and know that my perceptions of this read are going to be colored by the aforementioned. Even so, and even if the wave of controversy surrounding The Shack has long since crested, I will now put down other titles I am reading, focus on The Shack, and render my thoughts on the book as I read my way through it.
First, I know that The Shack was, and is, dearly loved by many. It’s lengthy stay on the New York Times best-seller list attests to that fact. I think it brought a sense of solace to many and made God seem warmly imminent, perhaps for the first time in their lives. I think many people have their own “Shack” somewhere in their history, and I know I do. We all, to some degree, struggle with the very real and very theological problem of persistent evil in the world, and The Shack is one such story of struggle, perhaps a theodicy of sorts.
Next, as mentioned earlier, I am aware of the theological controversy surrounding this book. The reformed tribe, among others, found egregious error, even heresy, in much the theological assertions in The Shack. Others pontificated that this is not a theological textbook, but a mere novel. “Lighten up, man!’ However, I say any theological talk, be it in a novel or a systematic theology, especially when it is warmly received my much of the American evangelical community, is worthy of critique, and what follows is mine.
The First Five Chapters:
From the first page, I find Young’s writing, quite honestly, a bit cloying, as if written by an earnest fourteen year old school-girl with but a modest amount of talent with the written word. Second, I hate overt emotional manipulation. Before going further, let me state that I am a bit of a romantic, at times. At the end of the movie, The Gladiator, my eyes were a bit moist. I found the framing device of Saving Private Ryan a bit sentimental, but, again, my eyes were moist when Tom Hank’s character dies at the end of the film. I have to admit, too, that as a father, Young’s writing made me feel Mack’s pain. I did get a bit misty.
However, is it possible to construct a more cynically and emotionally manipulative framing device than the one presented by The Shack?
First, we find Mack and Missy having just had a discourse on the nature of grace and sacrifice in Mack’s recounting of the story of the Multnomah princess, supposedly an analog of the Gospel, though I think a profoundly weak one. In that story, the princess voluntarily sacrifices her life by jumping off a cliff to her death, something apparently required by an Indian prophesy to save the men of the tribe who were all dying from some illness. As an omen, perhaps, young Missy later asks Mack if God would ever ask her to jump of a cliff? Mack, his heart wrenched by Missy’s question, says no.
Soon after, we find Josh and Kate, two of Mack’s five children, involved in a canoeing mishap wherein Mack, his instincts as a life-guard in his younger days rising up at this moment of crisis, dives into the water and saves his son Josh from drowning. Upon returning to shore, crisis over – at least that one - everyone safe and sound, Mack finds his youngest daughter, ten years old, if memory serves, ominously missing. The stage for The Great Sadness is set.
As the story unfolds, Missy’s body is never found, but the dress, now blood-stained, worn when she was abducted by her killer is located. It is found in a shack in the woods.
I am at the point now where Mack has received an invitation, via a message in his mailbox, from a character called Papa to visit him at the shack, a proposal of which Mack is understandably quite dubious, though intrigued.
Again, is it possible for a Young to construct a more emotionally manipulative framing device, the abduction and murder of his ten year old daughter by a serial killer who preys on young girls for a narrative than the one he constructed in The Shack? He has built a literary device of great manipulative and visceral power seeming designed so as to emotionally deconstruct any critical thought.
I will end this initial installment with a quote, found below, starting at the end of page 65 of the soft-cover edition. My next post, when time allows and sooner rather than later I hope, will be to deconstruct this wretched, sophomoric, post-modern intellectual detritus that passes for profundity and then perhaps examine the next few chapters….if I can muster up the where-with-all to stay the course…
…the thought of God passing notes did not fit well with his theological training. In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?
Quite honestly, and not claiming any unique depth of thought or insight because I honestly have none, the trinitarian nature of God does not cause me any real difficulty. It does not present me with any cognitive dissonance, with heavy tensions, with any real struggles of understanding. Without a trinitarian understanding of God, the Gospel simply falls apart. I accept it because it is true, because it is a doctrine clearly taught in Scripture.
The number of errors, heresies, and misunderstandings in trinitarian theology are, I think, relatively few, though I assert such with qualification in regards to Christology. Essentially, you haven on one hand the heresy of modalism wherein God reveals Himself in three modes, appearing at times as the Father, as the Son, or as the Holy Spirit. The other error is that of tri-theism, that God exists as three separate personalities, as three separate gods. Too, one finds the purely unitarian theology of, well, the Unitarian-Universalists, a theology far outside of Christian orthodoxy though it did find its birth in the church.
Most attempts to describe the trinitarian nature of God, unwittingly I think, lead to error when examined. Using the egg, with the yoke, the white, and the shell, as an aid in understanding the Trinity fails. Worse is using the forms of water – steam, ice, and liquid - as illustration of the trinity in that it is purely modalistic error.
The following graphic perhaps is the best illustration of the nature of the Triune God.
I do not think it can be improved upon.
Not to minimize the mystery of the Trinity, I quite honestly ponder the incarnation of Christ. I try to wrap my mind, with no little difficulty, around the wonder of the Triune Godhead, in the Person of Christ, taking on flesh to become our Perfect Sacrifice.
The potential for error and heresy in understanding the nature of the God-Man Christ may easily be fallen into and is also related to one’s understanding of Trinitarian theology.
On top of the aforementioned errors in understanding the Trinitarian nature of the Godhead, some of the potential pitfalls in understanding the being of Christ are as follows:
- Denials of Christ’s Divinity – Ebonism, Arianism (today’s Jehovah’s Witness) , Nestorianism, Socinianism, Liberalism, Humanism, Unitarianism.
- Denials of Christ’s humanity – Docetism, Marcionism, Gnosticism, Apollinarianism, Monarchianism, Patripassianism, Sabellianism, Adoptionism, Dynamic Monarchianism.
- Denials and confusions of Christ’s two natures – Monophysitism, Eutychianism, Monothelitism.
In contrast to the above, the Biblical, historical, and correct Christology is Chalcedonian.
Delving in to Christology may appear to some dry, cold doctrine…a useless intellectual exercise in theology that adds little to one’s worship experience. In today’s mostly anti-theological ecclesiastical climate that is often more experience driven than doctrinally driven, in a milieu where church attenders are more likely fed a low calorie, pragmatic diet of life-coaching and moralism rather than a theologically rich meal of expository preaching, the danger the American church straying into error and heresy is perhaps waxing higher than anytime in her history. When Joel Osteen, mostly Christless and a bit gnostic in his Christianity, leads the largest congregation in America and other megachurch leaders look to him as a model of success, woe is us. When influential church leaders look to modalist T.D. Jakes as a role model and call those who exhibit discernment idiots, woe is us.
Christmas is upon us. The incarnation of Christ is the heart of the matter. Forget the legalistic, fictional Santa Clause. He brings no good news of redemption to anyone. Forget the frenzied, mindless materialism of the season. Forget the silly culture war skirmishes over greetings and creches. God has forever more taken on flesh, humbling Himself and reaching down to His rebellious creation and has redeemed His children, taking our sin as His own and clothing us in His righteousness as we repent and believe, those abilities themselves a gift from the Giver of all good gifts.
As an addendum and speaking of Joel Osteen, here is his seasons greetings for us:
HT: Wartburg Watch
There is reason for concern over the church.
One more addendum….
Here is an interesting quiz to determine if you are a heretic….I am Chalcedonian!
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.
Sometimes, when I find myself sprawled out on the couch and channel surfing, I will occasionally, out of curiosity, pause and briefly watch programing on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. I find myself fascinated by the more egregious examples, the pulpit prostitutes, of the prosperity ‘gospel’ in much the way a bird may be fascinated by a snake. At best, TBN sometimes unintentionally endorses doctrinal error and confusion; at worst, they enable con games that prey on the credulous in the name of the ‘gospel.’
As an addendum, I truly desire to maintain an irenic, gracious tone as I ‘blog’, to be respectful, but sometimes, when I listen to millionaire ‘evangelists’…………….