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Shellacking ‘The Shack’ on Doctrine and Fiction

(Read Shellacking ‘The Shack’ on doctrine and fiction, part I, or Shellacking ‘The Shack’ on doctrine and fiction, part II.) First let me get this out of the way: no, I haven’t yet (and likely won’t anytime soon) read The […]
| Jul 10, 2008 | No comments |

(Read Shellacking ‘The Shack’ on doctrine and fiction, part I, or Shellacking ‘The Shack’ on doctrine and fiction, part II.)

First let me get this out of the way: no, I haven’t yet (and likely won’t anytime soon) read The Shack. This isn’t a disclaimer, or an apology, just an acknowledgement to the inevitable objections that go something like, “you haven’t read the book, so you really can’t say anything about it.”

What I’ve mostly been recently rebutting, though, have been this bestselling book’s defenders, on the Boundless webzine blog and elsewhere, who have been offering mostly emotional objections to those who (correctly) oppose the book on Biblical bases. And even for those times in which I attempt to rebut the book itself, I can do so by appealing to the “authority” of those I trust who have read it, who overall share my views and who profoundly object to the book’s contents. These include the above-mentioned blog and many others, including blogger/author Tim Challies and Don Veinot of Midwest Christian Outreach.

For those who don’t know, The Shack is a book by a guy called William Young, in which a man whose daughter has been abducted and probably killed by a murderer is summoned by God to rendezvous in the shack where the crime took place. Once there, the lead encounters the “trinity” in the form of a clichéd matronly black woman (the “Father”), a smiling Middle-Eastern guy (“Jesus”) and an Asian woman (“the Holy Spirit”). And they talk theology, or rather the author’s version of it, for several dozen pages.

Boundless blogger Tom Neven followed up his initial observations on the book with his July 1 post called “But It’s Only Fiction,” in which he specifically rebutted the idea that you can simply dismiss a story as just a story even if it contains anti-Biblical ideas. This is both bad doctrine as well as bad fiction, Neven contended:

 

While fiction is by definition a story that doesn’t pretend to be true, it still must adhere to certain basic rules. You can create any universe you like, but once you’ve created it, you must stick to its internal logic. If zurts are green and fly and jurts are blue and don’t fly, you cannot willy-nilly switch these “facts” around, even if they are totally products of your imagination. And if for some reason in your story we see a blue jurt that is flying, you’d better have a good narrative explanation for why or else you’ve confused the reader.

[. . .]

If you’re going to ground your fiction in the real world, then it must conform to the rules of the real world we live in. No unicorns or magic squirrels allowed. Even one of my favorite literary genres, Magical Realism, adheres to certain basic rules.

So if you’re going to have God as a character in your real-world fiction, then you must deal with God as he has revealed himself in Scripture. By using the Trinity as characters in this story set in the real world, The Shack author William P. Young is clearly indicating that he’s supposedly talking about the God of Christianity. But God has said certain things about himself in Scripture, and much of what Young does in this novel contradicts that. I don’t care if he’s trying to make God more “accessible.” He’s violated the rules of fiction.

[. . .]

To those people who have snapped up copies of The Shack to give to non-Christian friends, you are doing them no favors. You are introducing them to a false god. You are inoculating them against the claims of the True God of Scripture. And more to the point, you’re just giving them bad fiction.

 

Skewing Scripture and storytelling

In response to that came affirmations from several commentators, myself included (I’m Dr. Ransom on there), along with a few opposing views that fairly much repeated the same point (“it’s only fiction”) or offered overly emotional responses that didn’t contradict Neven’s logical and theological argument at all (“but you see, The Shack changed my life”).

“Many were along the lines that I should just lighten up,” Neven summarized later.

To be sure, many among Shack’s Christian critics will be the same types, God bless ‘em, who pass around email forwards talking about how J.K. Rowling performs daily goat or human sacrifices to Lucifer, or how Madalyn Murray O’Hair, back from the dead, is taking over the Federal Communications Commission and putting TBN out of business (unfortunately, no such luck). But Neven is certainly not one of them — he’s not pulpit-pounding and raging legalistically (perhaps in a southern accent) about how The Shack will send people to Hell.

As I wrote here, just like I could read Harry Potter, or view Star Trek, and sort through the non-Christian elements, I could — if I wanted to — read through The Shack and sort the good from the bad. Thanks to God and great teaching, I’m confident I wouldn’t be swayed from what I know to be true from His revealed Word in Scripture.

However, The Shack doesn’t start with a premise of God’s nonexistence, or complete noninvolvement, as do Harry Potter and Star Trek and many other stories. Instead, “God” is there — but he/she has a completely skewed nature. He/she doesn’t talk all that much about his/her holiness, or revelation in Scripture, or death on the Cross, or judgment of sin or call to repent and be redeemed. Instead, he/she is mostly love, sweet love (supposedly something that in the Church there’s always just too little of).

In response to that often comes the argument that, well, the author doesn’t really believe everyone goes to Heaven by default, or that God is a girl, or that He won’t punish sin. And perhaps it could be unfair to assume a writer is intentionally trying to deceive his readers.

However, according to what I’ve read, this Biblical balance of the Almighty receives precious little press time in The Shack. It’s a severely imbalanced view, even if the author portrayed God the Father as a male and other unorthodoxies were avoided. This won’t be at all helpful to new believers, much less so for nonbelievers. What, then, does it really matter what the author truly believes, if what he has publicly said presents imbalanced or skewed doctrine?

“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” — Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins

 

For your consideration

Many at this point will still be hanging onto the “it’s just a story; what’s the big deal” argument. Perhaps one cannot expect to be able to change their minds. However, one comment on the Boundless blog from a commentator named Rich makes one of the best rhetorical and sensitive arguments I’ve read on the subject.

Say I wanted to communicate to the world about God’s wrath and justice (these are two biblical character qualities of God, just like His love.), so I wrote a fiction book where I depicted God as the serial killer guy from Saw. You read the book, and (rightfully) express concern (outrage would be more appropriate): ‘Rich, I don’t think God is like the guy from Saw. Yeah, I know He’s just and He exhibits wrath on the unrepentant at the judgment seat, but the way you depict Him…well…That’s not quite biblical.’

I respond, ‘Relax. It’s only fiction! I’m not writing a theological treatise! If you read the book, you will learn about God’s justice and be blessed.’

How would you respond? No doubt, you’d respond with incredulity: even though its fiction, I’m communicating something about God, something deeply flawed. The fact that I’m writing fiction doesn’t get me off the hook.

It’s the same with The Shack. If I’m not off the hook in my flawed attempt at communicating about God’s justice, why is Young off the hook when he makes a flawed attempt at communicating about other parts of God’s nature, like His love or Immanence?

You see, we usually only express that blasé attitude when the book in question presents God in a soft light. Why the inconsistency?

I understand that fiction is a slightly more fluid genre than, say, theological papers in a professional journal. But that doesn’t mean we give fiction authors a free ticket to ride when it comes to speaking about God, truth, and reality.

Far from being the “trash heap” of the written word, fiction is an incredibly powerful and important genre. Brian McLaren and others encapsulate their theological ideals in fiction partly because they understand such ideals will be easier for the rank and file to accept if they are captured in a story. For the most part, this is all well and good, but it has a down side: we can easily let our guard down.

Therefore, we should treat fiction as it is: an important and honorable genre worthy of the utmost consideration.

So far, no one on the blog has answered this scenario with how, exactly, they could object to such a reverse-engineered fiction attempt, without facing the same objections.

However, that doesn’t mean an attempted answer doesn’t exist, per se. Any interaction here about the Shack book — or, as with me, reactions to the reactions of its defenders — is most welcome, along with discussions about what or how much, exactly, is “permitted” in Christ-honoring speculative fiction, given what we know from Scripture about God and His Truths.

E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor (with Ted Turnau and Jared Moore) of The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ, which will release in spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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Rebecca LuElla Miller
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COMMENT: AUTHOR: Mark Goodyear DATE: 7/10/2008 4:33:27 PM Exactly what is permitted? All things are permitted. But not all things are beneficial.

More importantly, not all things are beneficial to all people. What is a problem for me, may not be for you and vice versa.

And so we live out our faith with fear and trembling.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: E Stephen Burnett DATE: 7/10/2008 5:09:36 PM When Paul says that “all things are lawful” (1 Corinthians 6:12) — first, he’s quoting and rebutting a Corinthian proverb; second, he didn’t mean that we ought to tolerate false doctrine. His words elsewhere on the subject (such as in Titus 1: 7-16) are very clear that false doctrine is never “beneficial” to any believer — and brings worse results for those who don’t know the true Gospel.

As I wrote elsewhere:

Ultimately, if The Shack were to help readers understand and give glory to the God of the Bible, that’s great. But from what I’ve heard from reasonable, non-fundie critics, I just don’t see how it could benefit me spiritually — it would be like simply reading my ABCs instead of the articles and novels I’m now capable of comprehending. But it’s worse than that: apparently, in this simplified spiritual alphabet, the letters just aren’t written down right — they’re backward, drawn incorrectly, or some left out entirely, or substituted with made-up symbols.

Those who already know the real “alphabet” basics — i.e., the true nature of God and His Truth — will not really be corrupted by books like this, just annoyed, bothered and confused, at least because of the wasted time, but mostly at the inevitable negative results of those who are being taught to think along these un-Biblical ways.

—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Mark Goodyear DATE: 7/10/2008 7:37:58 PM Sorry, Burnett, I didn’t read your post, I was just responding to it. ; )
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Mark Goodyear DATE: 7/10/2008 7:48:35 PM Burnett, that was supposed to be a joke. I’m regretting posting it now. Funny! It’s funny! : )
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: E. Stephen Burnett DATE: 7/10/2008 7:53:51 PM Oh … ha ha, Goodyear! My error. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve been wrangling this issue for a while now and that’s exactly the sort of thing I’ve seen in response … hmm, actually, it’s more substantive a rebuttal than those I’ve seen in response, so I certainly should have known it was sarcastic …
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Rebecca LuElla Miller DATE: 7/11/2008 7:12:49 PM Stephen, thanks for this. I didn’t realize The Shack had replaced Ted Slater’s post about Christianity Today as the hot topic over at Boundless. I should stop by there more often.

A friend and I discussed the book and came to your same conclusions, but I am constantly surprised by believers who rave about the book.

In the end I probably will have to read it myself.

I wanted to bring up one point Tom Neven made. I don’t agree that if a fantasy takes place in this world, a writer then cannot introduce unicorns or what have you.

Introducing the fantastical into the real world simply becomes the rule for that story.

Can I alter God’s character? Sure. That would be the rule for my story (a la Philip Pullman and His Dark Materials). However, my story would then not be true.

It is that last point that is the problem. I believe Christians … well, all of Western culture … have put aside discernment, instead replacing it for what feels good. Or what the voice of authority (often a media person) says. We no longer think for ourselves. We let others tell us what to think, and if our feelings conflict with the voice of authority, then we’re free to disregard it.

Good thought-prompting words, Stephen.

Becky
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DBE DATE: 7/13/2008 6:16:22 PM
But God has said certain things about himself in Scripture, and much of what Young does in this novel contradicts that. I don’t care if he’s trying to make God more “accessible.” He’s violated the rules of fiction.

If this is Young’s honest opinion about the nature of God I dont think it can be said he violated any rule of fiction in writing what he did.

Only that he contradicted your (and the Bible’s) view of God.

But a person is allowed to do that. Whether they can still be a christian while disagreeing with the Bible is another question.

Some who call themselves christian believe the Bible is simply the early and most trusted writings of the christian church—not God’s infallible word.

I’m sure many would not call people holding to such a liberal variety of christianity “real” christians. Regardless, though, this only means it might not be a book christians want to recommend. It doesn’t follow from this that it contradicts the rules of fiction.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Phred DATE: 7/13/2008 8:15:41 PM I am so over church. Up to “here” with christians.
My wife said that I am “unchurched” now…

My biggest woundings have been at the hands of christians in my life (and I use the small ‘c’ intentionally.)

I met Paul, heard him speak, read his book and I saw his heart.

The people who criticize without reading do not have a clue.

The people who set themselves up as ‘protecting’ the rest of us are not shepards… they are legalists and do more damage by keeping people out of a relationship with Christ by setting an example that makes others want to avoid christians and what they stand for.

Wounded people who shoot their wounded, and feel they know what is best for everyone else.

I stumbled on this site through a relationship that is important to me, and I do not deceive myself into believing that I will in some way change anyone’s mind with my post. I just felt that someone needed to tell you that there is a silent group of people out here. They are the ones who visit your church and never come back. They are the ones who take the tract you hand them and walk away. They are the people that you will never connect with, nor will you ever make an impact on because they do not relate to you, nor do they want what you are selling.

So continue to be wise and know all that you know. Continue to be separate from the world and useless as an example to the world as to who Christ is.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: E Stephen Burnett DATE: 7/14/2008 2:26:24 PM Here’s another loving yet firm disclaimer: it’s likely that for some, nothing I or anyone else write(s) critiquing “The Shack” (or other anti-Biblical views) will be taken as loving constructive criticism at all, with a sincere hope for balancing between advocating solid doctrine and doing so in humility.

Some can do their best to speak the Truth in love, yet it will inevitably seem hostile to some, perhaps such as Phred above. It’s here that faith on God’s sovereignty is very helpful!

The people who criticize without reading do not have a clue.

As I said at the beginning (a statement ignored in the above comment), the you-haven’t-read-the-book critique simply doesn’t hold up if indeed my understanding of the book from those who HAVE read it is correct. If Shack defenders can show how I’m completely misunderstanding what the book really says, then I’ll definitely re-evaluate my views.

The people who set themselves up as ‘protecting’ the rest of us are not shepards… they are legalists and do more damage by keeping people out of a relationship with Christ by setting an example that makes others want to avoid christians and what they stand for.

Phred, in your mind, is it possible for someone to defend what the Bible truly says and not seem “legalistic” to you? What is your definition of “legalism”?

Would Paul’s words to Titus seem “legalistic” to you, as Paul directly tells the young pastor to “rebuke those who contradict” sound doctrine? Or what about the apostle’s earlier strong words to the Galatians, that “[i]f anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed”?

Scripture does not at all present a view of letting people persist in their false views of God as “loving,” regardless or how blessed they feel. (And one can’t help wondering if that is really a “blessing” if it does not point to what God has already told us about Himself?)

Would you consider not universally stereotyping all Christians or local churches based on the limited disturbing experiences with professing Christians that you have had? or merely the badly behaving churches you have personally encountered?

Instead, please think of others’ experiences — Christ-followers’ participation in the Kingdom of Heaven for 2,000 years (flaws and all), and the pure fact that Christ-followers and churches upholding the Biblical balance between Grace and Truth do exist. Just because you have not personally seen them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

I pray God will guide troubled persons such as yourself to them if you’re still willing to learn about Him fromHim, instead of from well-intended though misguided human writers who advocate anti-Biblical ideas.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Rebecca LuElla Miller DATE: 7/14/2008 6:56:24 PM Stephen, one of the anti-Biblical ideas I’ve been led to believe The Shack advocates is this anti-church view Phred voices. If “church” is a failed idea, then who failed, because Jesus is the head of the church? He is the vine, and we are the branches.

I don’t see God mentioning anywhere in Scripture the idea that substitute something else for the vine.

The closest thing might be the parable of the land owner who had his servants seed his field, only to discover when the plants matured that the enemy had seeded in look-alike weeds.

This parable, however, was not about the Christian’s connection to God or to each other, but to explain why God doesn’t bring judgment on the weeds right away.

The truth is, there are look-alike weeds in the church. But God said the winnowing will need to wait until the end. Our part is to exercise discernment.

What discernment does it take to walk away from church, from others who profess the name of Christ?

On the other hand, what lack of discernment allows a professing Christian to ignore what the Bible says because a story generated an emotion?

That’s the part I find most troubling.

Becky
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Phred DATE: 7/14/2008 7:41:20 PM First let me say that I was impressed with the gentle (sort of) response you gave to my emotional posting yesterday.
My temperament was set by what happened yesterday on my way to and from church… it was perplexing, and my response was filtered through this:
Operation Rescue was protesting a church who had a series about “We are sorry for…” the different stands that they (Baptists) had taken over the years that may have hurt people … the message really was “We are sorry for… but scripture says…” and they were in the news.
Operation Rescue set up pickets (without ever hearing the whole message preached in the series) to protest this church. The most incredible thing was that they had huge posters with pictures that were extremely graphic and my three children were exposed to this violence. ALSO the entire community saw christians protesting christians and of course this made the news… I drove home ashamed of being associated with christians… not Christ… Not the church but those who use His Name for their own agendas.

Now let me address what you posted:
“As I said at the beginning (a statement ignored in the above comment (Note: IT WAS NOT INGNORED) ), the you-haven’t-read-the-book critique simply doesn’t hold up if indeed my understanding of the book from those who HAVE read it is correct. If Shack defenders can show how I’m completely misunderstanding what the book really says, then I’ll definitely re-evaluate my views.”

Your hypothesis is based on a lot of IF … conjecture and I do not/ will not take anyone seriously who wants to express an opinion on something that they have only second hand knowledge of… it is hearsay and is not even allowed as testimony in a court.
ALSO consider this? I think that christians who “believe” but haven’t read the Bible; who “believe” but have not met Christ, in a relational way, as a living God; are the people who do the most damage. They have not read the book nor have they met the One who they are telling others about… which is what I will discuss in answers to you below. They are in a sense representing what they believe to be true IF what the people who told them is indeed true. (are you tracking with me on this?)

So I jump to the end of your response (will come back to the rest later) where you lose some of the mercy you have shown me and jump to conclusions:
“I pray God will guide troubled persons such as yourself to them if you’re still willing to learn about Him from Him, instead of from well-intended though misguided human writers who advocate anti-Biblical ideas.”

Troubled? Really? Huge assumption… because I express a belief that christians who try to protect others are clueless I am troubled? Is there any credence to the belief that people protecting others from themselves or the world are really just trying to do God’s job for Him? And because I disagree with you and describe christians generally as I have, you subsequently believe that I do not know Jesus and I need your prayers…
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Phred DATE: 7/14/2008 8:26:09 PM …your prayers… (part tto be kept away from human writers who advocate, in your opinion “anti-biblical ideas” IF what you hear from your friends is correct? HUGE leap here Mr. Burnett, although well intentioned I am sure, and although I do see the fruit of love in what you are trying to do, I believe that misguided is a term you should reflect on in a mirror…

Your direct questions:
“If Shack defenders can show how I’m completely misunderstanding what the book really says, then I’ll definitely re-evaluate my views.”

Understand that I believe that you can say anything you want about the Shack, Moby Dick, anything by CS Lewis or the daily news. The reality is that personally your opinion of it has no credibility with me because you have not read it and defending a “I haven’t read it but here is what I think” position is as ludicrous as the post here (AND I thought it was hilarious) by Mr. Goodyear who said he hadn’t read your post, he was just responding to it…” That WAS funny…

I will answer this next question inside out:
What is your definition of “legalism”?
Being in fear for yourself and everyone, and focusing on “doing” instead of “being” in relationship with God. (fear driven not love driven)
Job was like this before he lost it all and through what happened was delivered from fear… by getting to know God personally and understanding who he was in juxtaposition to God.

“Phred, in your mind, is it possible for someone to defend what the Bible truly says and not seem “legalistic” to you?”

In my mind? The troubled one? (sorry) Answer: if someone is trying to “defend” or attack the Bible but has not read it (or read it without understanding that comes through the Holy Spirit through Christ in fellowship with a living God and accountable to healthy people) then they would have no credibility with me.

I am NOT attacking the scriptures when I describe christians as I did in my posts. I am NOT attacking the church
(as Rebecca said: “Stephen, one of the anti-Biblical ideas I’ve been led to believe The Shack advocates is this anti-church view Phred voices. If “church” is a failed idea, then who failed, because Jesus is the head of the church? He is the vine, and we are the branches.” Who failed? Rebecca I believe that no one has failed… but the church I describe is one made up of Pharisees, which Jesus Himself spoke against!)

Consider this? If someone is lost, hard of heart and you try to use the bible as a credible source for your arguments do you think they would listen???
You would use a book that talks about donkeys talking and floods that cover the earth and people rising from the dead as a source for them to believe your arguments? Please consider that the only real evidence they would consider would be your walk (Batman) not your talk or the comic book (their perception) you try to beat them up with. If someone is sitting in a prison cell and you walk in and try to tell them how “troubled” they are… to be cont…
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Phred DATE: 7/14/2008 8:27:27 PM they are and you do not have fruit that they want to replicate in their life, then there is no appetite to hear what you think.

My post in the long run, was not about defending The Shack but was instead a comment I wanted to make about the church/ christians in general. NOT the Vine!
I see a world of christians who are so busy trying to protect (in an unhealthy/ codependent way) everyone; so enamored with their own programs and agendas; I see the church as a huge upside down ark, jammed into the earth with a door only few are allowed in (those who know the secret word) I see a frightened bunch of people who do not trust God for themselves or the welfare of others because they do not know who He is or who they are to Him in Christ. I see the Pharisees pretending to be the church…

What difference does it make if the Shack sells a bunch of copies and creates a dialogue in the world that leads to an appetite/ hunger for more knowledge of God and truth?

My concern is that people will read a book, see a movie, meet God in the wilderness of addiction at an AA meeting and come to the church but they will not be let in… the door will be locked, and all of the christians will be at the new “coliseum” where the christians eat the lions… where they shoot the wounded and build walls in fear that they will be next… and talk about everyone on their gossip/ prayer lists… and those people will go home without meeting Christ because of the well meaning, wounded and without a clue… stumbling blocks they met on a Sunday.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Phred DATE: 7/14/2008 8:54:22 PM “…one of the anti-Biblical ideas I’ve been led to believe The Shack advocates is this anti-church view Phred voices.”

Rebecca, You haven’t read the Shack either have you?

There is no anti-church message there, and I am not “anti-church” either. I am ‘anti-pharisee’
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Xdpaul DATE: 7/14/2008 10:05:05 PM The point in dispute is not the contents of the book The Shack, but its overt message. If anyone’s understanding of the overt message is flawed, then that should be addressed. It is a cheap way out of a dispute to simply claim that one’s opponent is ignorant (which, when you think of it, is all the “you haven’t read it” argument is.)

Now, if anyone in favor of the Shack could say “you don’t understand it, or you aren’t portraying it accurately,” and back that up, that person would have a distinct rhetorical advantage.

But one not need watch, for example, an episode of “The Twilight Zone” to discuss its themes. One not need have read Luther’s small catechism to discuss its meaning. On not need have heard Orson Welles on a Halloween night in the 1930s to grasp its power.

People who critique a work without having read the material are at higher risk for misunderstanding ths source text, but this risk can be greatly reduced by means other than taking the time to read it for oneself.

It defies logic, however, that one is unable to discuss themes raised by a book if one has not read a book. This is akin to saying that one is not qualifed to vote for a politician if the voter has not studied every bill introduced by that politician.

One who has actually read the book should be in the best position to correct those who have not read it. But declaring one’s opponent ignorant and presuming victory is not discussion.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Phred DATE: 7/14/2008 10:28:11 PM The issue is not discussion of the topic it is that there is no credibility …
Motivation is flawed and discussion is moot.
Presumption of victory is not an issue…
I am not in a debate nor am I competing with anyone.
There are no winners if there are no losers… and no losers if there is no one who wins.

But thanks so much for ignoring the issues I raised to discuss the score.. 🙁
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: E Stephen Burnett DATE: 7/15/2008 7:38:44 PM It’s just slightly wearisome to hear, multiple times, the assertion that if-you-haven’t-read-it-then-you-can’t-comment. I’ll deal with it even more in a moment, but suffice it to say, I’ve already explained multiple times — including in the beginning of this column — why it is that yes, I most certainly can appeal to others’ discernment on the issue.

Xdpaul yesterday re-phrased this still-unrebutted argument perfectly:

If anyone’s understanding of the overt message is flawed, then that should be addressed. It is a cheap way out of a dispute to simply claim that one’s opponent is ignorant (which, when you think of it, is all the “you haven’t read it” argument is.)

So far, I’ve heard nothing — yes, nothing — in direct opposition to my appraisal of The Shack’s doctrinal value. If I’m misinformed, tell me how and show me the book’s supposedly actual context or material to back up your view. If my sources are questionable or unfairly biased, do explain how?

But Phred, you haven’t done that. Instead, your they’re-all-hypocrites accusation and recounting of regrettable and bad church experiences take the place of any actual reasoned rebuttals. Pardon the metaphor, but you’re coming to a rhetorical gunfight armed with only a professed knife in your back. This also assumes two things: a) everyone else has had their church lives so good or else unlike you, they are, or have compromised with, hypocrites; b) you’re not a hypocrite and all and it’s everyone else who has that problem. Hmm.

As for Rebecca Miller’s assertion that you’re anti-church, let others discern for themselves whether what you have claimed is consistent:

I am so over church. Up to “here” with christians. My wife said that I am “unchurched” now…

[. . .]

I am not “anti-church” either. I am ‘anti-pharisee’

So, based on merely your own limited experiences, the entire church is run by “Pharisees.” In response, I can only repeat what I said before:

Would you consider not universally stereotyping all Christians or local churches based on the limited disturbing experiences with professing Christians that you have had? or merely the badly behaving churches you have personally encountered?

Instead, please think of others’ experiences — Christ-followers’ participation in the Kingdom of Heaven for 2,000 years (flaws and all), and the pure fact that Christ-followers and churches upholding the Biblical balance between Grace and Truth do exist. Just because you have not personally seen them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

To make your blatant generalizations about all churches as hypocritical or all Christians as “Pharisees” is neither open-minded nor effective — and frankly, nor is it at all representative of the Christlikeness you seem to want others to believe that you have. If I wanted to, I could “pull” the same argument on you — I could demand that you visit, for example, my church, which is among the more Biblically balanced and fantastic congregations in Western civ, before saying anything against The Church as a whole. Then you’d suddenly find yourself in the same “bind” you want to place on me and other Shack critics alone. 🙂 Interesting. …

Now, regarding how we are to deal with Bible critics who haven’t read the Scriptures …

I think that christians who “believe” but haven’t read the Bible; who “believe” but have not met Christ, in a relational way, as a living God; are the people who do the most damage. They have not read the book nor have they met the One who they are telling others about…

Firstly, I don’t know of any serious Christ-followers who care little for reading the Word of the One they claim to believe. Methinks you have too broad a definition of “Christian.” That may also lead to your reactionary stance toward bad behavior just because people claim to be “Christians”. It’s a kind of “optimistic pessimism,” optimistic that everyone who claims Christianity is telling the truth, and pessimistic that they’re all so supposedly disgusting. But Jesus was clear that not everyone who calls him “Lord” or even does good, social-justice deeds is truly among His people.

Secondly, will you react this same way when a Christian — or more likely, a non-Christian — claims to oppose something in the Bible, but admits he/she hasn’t read it? Let’s compare and contrast two hypothetical examples …

In this scenario, you’re a homeowner, and you catch some stereotypical stringy-haired, baggy-pants-wearing juvenile delinquent on your front porch trying to steal a garden gnome. Annoyed, you tell him to knock it off or else you’ll call the police. In response, the guy sneers at you.

GUY: Oh, yeah?! Well — the Bible says not to judge! That’s in the Bible.

Now what are you going to do? This guy has blatantly taken out of context, like so many people, the first verse of Matthew 7 — a much higher crime and misdemeanor, I’d say, than trying to steal a garden gnome. But if you followed your approach to me and The Shack, you would say something like this:

YOU: Have you even read the Bible?

GUY: No I haven’t.

YOU: Well then you just better get your butt out of here and read it, all of it, before you go around trying to quote it at me. Now get out of here.

GUY: Okay, okay, fine. [Bad word here.] (He starts to leave)

YOU: And leave the garden gnome behind.

But that’s not how I would handle it, if someone misquoted the Bible at me. I’d prefer showing them from the Scriptures themselves how they’re wrong. It’s easy to demonstrate the real context of that passage anyway.

YOU: Have you read the Bible?

GUY: No I haven’t.

YOU: You’ve completely misunderstood what it says. But you know, a lot of people do. Firstly, the logic backfires: if you’re judging someone for judging, then you’re guilty of the same sin! That doesn’t make any sense. And we’d have no basis for law or rules at all. Here, let me find an actual Bible. I’ll fetch you an ice-cold Gatorade, too. There we go; have a seat. Now, here’s the passage from which you tried to quote: Matthew 7:1. Instead of just saying never to judge, Jesus says that we are to judge with righteous judgment, without being guilty of the same sin. Otherwise we would be hypocritical. Also, it’s very clear from other Scriptures that we are supposed to judge. Later in this very chapter, Jesus says to watch out for false prophets. That requires judging. It’s all very simple, really, but people want to just use that verse to “toss” it at Christians to get them to shut up. Do you understand?

GUY: Yeah, man. Thanks a lot of the context lesson. “My bad.” I’ll do better next time whenever I try to quote the Bible. (He starts to leave)

YOU: You’re welcome. And leave the garden gnome behind.

This works for other documents misunderstandings, too. (“You can’t hum that hymn in a county courthouse with me here! Separation of church and state!” “Actually, son, you misunderstand the U.S. Constitution; here’s what it does say …”)

But sorry, the simple you-haven’t-read-it-so-you-can’t-comment-at-all trick has no effect. If it did, Mormons would have pinned real Christ-followers down a long time ago. And it must be said — with the utmost of heartfelt hope that you take this to both heart and engaged mind — the Mormons’ “rationale” for proving the Book of Mormon is the infamous Really Good Feelings, a “burning in the bosom.” In other words, if reading the B.M. makes you feel blessed, then supposedly no one can critique that, no matter how anti-Biblical its substance is.

That “logic,” whether intended or not, is the same I’ve seen attempted by the most ardent defenders of not only certain books that not only push anti-Biblical tenets, but oppose just about anything “old” or “orthodox” for several reasons, but rarely Biblically based ones.

Just like the fantasy genre itself, as Rebecca wrote yesterday, Biblical Truth can be “dangerous.” But with great power comes great responsibility — and Truth most certainly can be wielded, and applied, for the cause of God’s righteousness, and Biblically balanced between gracious humility and firm resolve to adhere to what God has said.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Phred DATE: 7/16/2008 8:38:53 PM You win… I am bludgeoned by your logic and intellect.
You seem to have me figured out; placed in a folder and dealt with.

Good for you.

Sorry… I really had no right to stop by and vent on your site.

I will have nothing else to say on this and forgive me if I offended anyone. I really do not believe that real followers of Christ are the ‘christians’ I described and I thought I made this clear.
I also understand that I am a work in progrees, flawed, fragile and grateful for what God has done for me on the cross.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: E. Stephen Burnett DATE: 7/17/2008 2:19:26 AM As you might have already considered, Phred, after further thoughts, “winning” and “bludgeoning” aren’t my or anyone else’s goals here; so don’t worry about that. 🙂

As for whether you had the “right” to comment here, claiming you don’t seems kind of silly at best. So don’t worry about that either, eh wot?

Also, methinks I can safely say that no one here has been “offended” by anything you said. Myself, I don’t offend easily; if I did, that would result in far too many missed opportunities to engage other views, hone my own understanding and practice of Truth, and Lord willing, learn from others — and/or hope that God’s Word will echo through me in Grace and Truth — even more!

Yeah, some may be purely legalistic and over-reactionary — slightly supporting Young’s and other “doctrinally divergent” authors’ excuse to claim that everyone reacts to them only like that — but Christendom isn’t only packed with those types. Rather, some of us, thanks be to God, are (again), striving to spread His Truth with Grace, and not go to one or the other imbalance.

If you have seen that Biblical balance of humble orthodoxy represented here, then I can rejoice and take great comfort in that alone. And anytime someone acknowledges that he/she is a work in progress and nothing without Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross — the Gospel that far too few professing Christian authors uphold — that is even more cause for me to rejoice.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Donald James Parker DATE: 7/17/2008 12:49:39 PM Very interesting review (catchy title to start with). The success of this book really makes you wonder. Is it the touch of God? Or is it the impact of itching ears that don’t wish to hear sound doctrine?
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Rebecca LuElla Miller DATE: 7/21/2008 9:01:58 PM If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say the latter. Things new and different have a way of catching people’s attention, something an over stimulated society longs for.

Becky
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: WayneThomasBatson DATE: 7/24/2008 10:33:27 PM Hi, all. I must admit this topic really does interest me. I’m sorry that so much of the discussion seems heated.

I read The Shack. I liked it. It had an awfully good message about the sovereignty of God, about pain and suffering in the world, and about ultimate victory in heaven.

It did throw me for a loop that God the father was at first depicted as an elderly black woman. Reminded me a lot of the Oracle in The Matrix movie. But Young explained this strange representation as temporary because God knew the main character would not relate properly to a male, father figure.

Perhaps my theological insight on the Trinity is incomplete, but nothing in The Shack really struck me as dangerous.

The passion with which the God characters in the book related to this grief-stricken, broken human being was very inspiring. I wept through much of the book.

And I definitely did NOT get an antichurch message from The Shack. I seem to remember at the end a pastor of some kind visiting the main character in an important way. But I may not be remembering correctly.

I guess my question is: Do those of the critical camp believe that God is acquainted with the horrors of sinful man living in a broken world? Can God relate? Does God have larger plans than we can understand? Does God always redeem the evils of this world?

I believe The Shack teaches these themes.

Now, are there specific doctrinal dangers, things that could deceive readers or lead them to dangerous conclusions? I guess I don’t know.

I’d be interested in knowing.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Xdpaul DATE: 7/31/2008 4:56:06 PM I’m happy to give these a go:

Do those of the critical camp believe that God is acquainted with the horrors of sinful man living in a broken world?

Our God bore the entire planet’s sin upon his shoulders, himself being sinless. He is not only acquainted with the sin of this world, but he died for it.

Can God relate?

Yes. The more important question is are we really willing to relate to God? To die to ourselves, to be humble and be a good neighbor, not for show, but for real?

Does God have larger plans than we can understand?

No. His plan has been revealed to us. A child can understand it. Of course, God being God, the plan unfolds in ways we don’t always anticipate, and there may be extensions (but not contradictions) of the plan that we can’t quite see through the dark lens we have now, but Jesus said to “Follow me.” One can not follow what one can not see. God has revealed himself to us.

Does God always redeem the evils of this world?

No. Hell is place where that which refuses to be redeemed is destroyed. There is darkness that will be overcome by light, but not redeemed. Yes, creation will be redeemed by a new heaven and new earth, but not until sin and the devil is destroyed. There will be no redeemed Hitler in God’s plan. No redeemed demons. No redeemed rejecters of Christ.

Thanks for chiming in with your thoughts. I’m glad to hear someone who is willing to discuss (and, if necessary, defend) the themes of the Shack, instead of rejecting those who question it out of hand. —–