Questions for the Critics

The Shack Part 4

The critics of The Shack appear to be everywhere, at least on social media!  Most of these critics are truth-loving, Bible-believing, truly concerned Christians. They deserve grace and love extended to them. There’s no a need to be offended. Hardy conversation should be welcome within the body of Christ. Yet in many of their calls to discernment, warnings of idolatry and concerns for doctrinal purity I hear a smidgen of hypocrisy. The one that calls for discernment must be aware that when one makes this call, they are potentially bearing a double edged sword that cut both ways. Much care must be taken or they will get cut by the backside of the blade. Let’s process this together and see if their is merit to what I am arguing.

Does your tone sound like you’re against everything? I don’t think it’s only me, but from my vantage point, it appears that the loudest voices against The Shack are the loudest voices against anything innovative, edgy, different, creative. The litany of prophetic cries doesn’t seem to stop, but are they really just scarecrow arguments that justify continual worship at the idol of nostalgia? Their moaning ranges from coffee bars to lighted platforms, from charismatics to Rick Warren, from the extremes of the prosperity gospel to the Christian Coalition, from griping about newer forms of church architecture to contemporary services. I believe most of them are still angry about having chairs rather than pews. If they could hit the reset button, then they would teleport the church back to 1940. Are your scarecrow arguments justifications that keep you from tackling the real difficult issues of change in society and the need for nimble change in the church?

Have you upheld your method over your message?  Could it be these unbalanced technocrats have led the evangelical movement to the edge of the abyss? Could it be that these shallow and aloof platitudes have exiled the masses to hell? How could I say this? From my vantage point, the unwillingness to change has not caused these believers to water down the gospel, but to not communicate the gospel. I don’t want to stand before the Lord having squandered my talents because I was unwilling to take a risk.

Have you missed the whole point? I warn you that purism in the technicalities of Christianity can hide the fact that one has missed the true essence of the faith. Many of these critics offer definitions for what the church should be. They survey their perceived boundaries of acceptable Christianity.  The only problem is their form of Christianity is personified in the church of Ephesus. A church that on the outside had everything “right.” Yet Jesus threatened to close this church because a Christianity that is totally correct in the peripheries can be totally wrong at the core. Yes, the church needs a brain, but Jesus declares boldly that a church without a heart is not a church at all. Have you lost the essence of the faith?

Has your wisdom produced fruit? I have little tolerance with these high-minded, standard-bears that speak platitudes of discernment based on self-assured conservatism and perfect idealism, but fail epically at discerning how to navigate the times, love people well, take advantage of opportunities and connect on a deep level. Their lack of perspective exemplifies why present day evangelicals that have demonstrated a total ineptitude in connecting with post-modern generations in any form of meaningful or missional way. So before you herald the need for discernment, know the sword of the Lord has two edges. This cry for discernment cuts both ways. Make sure you pass the test!

The God of judgement is watching to see if we will invest our talents and opportunities shrewdly. So in regard to The Shack invest your time, energy and conversations judiciously so you can reap the maximum amount of eternal fruit. My friends, be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.  God Speed.

Do’s and Don’ts for Pastor’s and Church Leaders

Part 3-The Shack

If you’re a church leader, then it would behoove you to seize the opportunities that The Shack can bring to your church and ministry.  I want to lay out some practical do’s and don’ts in how to engage people who enjoyed this movie whether you agree or disagree with the movie.

  1. Do start a conversation. Steward that moment wisely. Humbly ask, “What spoke to you about the movie? Why did you cry at that scene?” Listen to learn what was happening in their heart. Listen to understand, then go deeper. The issues of the heart cause people more problems than the issues of our head. When their heart is healed, the head’s an easy fix.
  2. Don’t Ruin the Moment. I believe The Shack is artistic and thoughtful. It promotes wonder and a bigness to God. I believe it will stir hearts of believers and unbelievers alike. So, cynical pastor, I warn you; it will inspire your people. Don’t be a killjoy and rain on their parade. If you meet their excitement with ten reasons why The Shack is heresy, not only will you lose influence with them, but you will lose the opportunity to teach them. Meeting their emotional high and spiritual zeal like a wet blanket projects you’re emotionally small and shallow spiritually.
  3. Do offer positive and measured wisdom. If your parishioners believe you’re so shortsighted that you can’t take the high road by offering measured perspectives that highlight and maximize the good and minimize the bad, then they won’t believe you to be a person worthy of listening to about anything. This will occur no matter how “correct” your laundry list of errors are about the movie. Offering positive and measured wisdom with restraint will serve you well.
  4. Don’t defeat yourself. When you preach weekend after weekend on revival, dedication to Christ and spiritual awakening, when something stirs a desire to be closer to God and you recklessly extinguish it, then you’re not only your worst enemy, but you bring to question everything you’ve ever taught.
  5. Do use it as a talking point to bring people to solid biblical footing. Leader, if you have points of disagreement with The Shack, then force yourself to listen to what spoke to others. I bet you 95% of their joy will be things you affirm. For example…God really loves people…The Father’s not happy when bad things happen to us…The Triune God meets us in our pain….God’s concerned for hurting people. When you find points of agreement, affirm those realities. After you have listened to the joys of your people, and throughly heard them out, then, if you must slip in some of your concerns, then do so subtly.  But I must warn you, and much to your dismay, most people will not have the Trinity or the hypostatic union at the top of their concern list. If you feel you must speak out, then take a tone of clarification not confrontation. Wrap up the conversation in a friendly and happy tone, and say something like, “I wish they could have clarified…” Then no matter what your concern, I’m sure it will be received when delivered in that context or manner.
  6. Do learn from it. Ask yourself, “What about this story grips people?” What is this story speaking to? What is attracting people to this? Whether you agree and or disagree, you’re responsible to understand what’s grabbing the heart of the masses and seek to understand what God is doing in our generation.
  7. Do believe in your people. Listen, your church will not experience a major shift in worldview by watching this movie or reading this book. That’s not how worldviews shift. No grounded believer or, for that matter, a lukewarm cultural Christian will see this movie and walk away and say, “I don’t believe in the Trinity anymore. Tritheism all the way for me, baby!” Or say, “Everyone is going to heaven. I renounce hell.” This is nothing more than condescending pride that assumes people can’t sort through information. It assumes that spiritually minded and sincere people are too stupid to figure out the truth. These critics are based on the premise that our people are so incompetent that they’re totally unable to eat the fish and spit out the bones. Give your people a better shake than that.
  8. Do lead by listening. Learning what makes people tick and what speaks to them is really important if you plan on shepherding their hearts and guiding them in truth. Be attentive to the essence of what people are saying. Speak to the common ground you share. When you address the place of common agreement, your words ring true. When they feel understood and listened to, then freely guide and influence in the direction you feel is most fitting, and speak blessings over what the Holy Spirit is doing in their hearts.

If you take these do’s and don’ts to heart, you’ll earn the leadership credibility to navigate people through many more troubled waters ahead and will earn the right to speak truth when it counts.

Virtues of The Shack

Part 2

In my last blog I looked at why we should turn off the hate on The Shack. If you didn’t read it, then I suggest you click Here to catch up.

Today I want to look at some of the virtues of The Shack.

  1. The Shack is not what you expect. Predictable expectation leads to minimal impact. If Moses is played by an old white guy with a beard, then who didn’t see that coming? Minimal impact. If God the Father is played by a black lady, then you’re like, “Whats going on here?” It grabs your attention and prods at your prejudice. It commands your focus. Let me help my friends who can only think in concrete terms. William Paul Young is not propagating a form of liberal feminism that suggests that God is really a goddess. He is using a literary device to personify part of God’s character. Mainly, his loving kindness. The Father’s mothering nurture is found in the Bible. Just listen to Isaiah 66:13, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” I’m not saying God’s a woman. I’m saying our God demonstrates loving nurture to his people. God created women to reveal this part of his character, and Young personifies that aspect of the Father’s nature in the character, papa. He’s not redefining God. He’s writing a novel that focuses in on one aspect of the Father’s nature, and he’s using a literary devise to maximize his impact.
  2. Theodicy with a heart. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines theodicy as, “the defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.” Through the years I’ve joyfully mulled through many books, articles and references arming my arsenal of apologetics. Many of these have explored the concepts of theodicy. They’ve fed my brain, but none of them have graced my heart. This is where The Shack is different. Young doesn’t approach theodicy from an intellectual argument. Young approaches theodicy from the standpoint of emotional engagement. Young uses his art artfully. He starts with a parent’s worst fear. What can be worse than the thought of your child being tortured? This pings almost every emotion in the human experience throughout the book. Most people will not connect with the refined arguments of theodicy, but they will connect with the emotions of The Shack.
  3. The Shack provides a relational view of God. Most evangelicals solely relate to God as truth. This doesn’t please God or satisfy man. God is looking for worshippers who will worship him in both Spirit AND in truth. To some measure all people want truth, but even authentic seekers desire more than an impersonal map and a compass. People absolutely need the framework that creeds provide, but they also need God. If a person is seeking God, then they’re looking for a relational God. People are designed to crave Spirit and Truth. Right now most Churches in America are offering an unbalanced meal that doesn’t satisfy. If all we’re offering is forgiveness coupled with a worldview, then there’s only a slight difference between Christianity and Judaism or even Confucianism for that matter. A Christian discipleship that doesn’t include fellowship with the Holy Spirit offers nothing more than a worldview. I thank God for the worldview he has given to His people in His Word. If the lost masses were looking for a worldview, then they would be beating down the doors of our churches. People long for more than a worldview. They long for God, and most churches don’t point to a torn veil that gives us access to God. In sharp contrast, The Shack portrays a relational God. It depicts a God that people actually want to know.
  4. The Shack will speak to the heart. Most churches preach solely to the mind. Many people that attend our churches really like that. Whether you believe it or not, there is a large portion of the population that long to have their hearts engaged. There are masses who have visited our churches and all they found was information. Granted, in most cases, it was true information. Nevertheless their heart was not grabbed, and they moved on and put us into the irrelevant category. If you have church attenders and visitors who have had their hearts touched by The Shack, then don’t rationalize away their tender moment. Engage their hearts from your heart.
  5. The Shack is creative. Creativity is why The Shack connects with more artistically minded individuals. Critics of The Shack need to understand there’s a spectrum of artistic people in our society. Many of these people are the Crafty Carols that fund stores like Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts, Michaels and Hobby Lobby, but as one moves across the continuum of artsy culture we find people that… volunteer at the local theater…manage foundations for the arts… are part of urban underground music scenes. We can even press further across the continuum and find more edgy aspects of the art culture that are not engaged with the church on any level. We’ve been relatively good at reaching the Crafty Carols who line our pews, but we have been really bad at reaching others across the continuum. To reach a wider spectrum of people in the art community Christian artists must produce a higher quality and a greater variety of art that will connect with people across the artistic spectrum. I feel The Shack is a good step in that direction. I’m not saying that the uber artsy person that’s a member of the local art guild will be crying at the altar on Sunday after watching The Shack on Saturday; what I am saying is The Shack has the potential to engage people a little further the down the spectrum of the art culture. It has the potential to open doors to slightly more artistic people than what were currently engaging. Let me say it in business terms. The Shack has the potential to break into a different cliental, market, niche, demographic. I think it’s high time to for us as evangelicals to utilize the sanctified imagination as a tool to reach people. It appears that some Christian leaders may say it is an unsanctified imagination run wild, but whatever you call it, it’s creative. Love the movie or hate it, don’t shut the door to new opportunities to reach people, that wont benefit anyone.

When we engage people about The Shack it will behoove us to tout the virtues of the book and movie, and provide clarity to hazy doctrinal positions in a different setting. Our next blog will address pastor’s and other church leaders in the Do’s and Don’t’s of engaging people through The Shack.

 

 

1 John 4

Why All the Haters???

Part 1 - Reflections on The Shack

 

 

Pastor friends and church leaders, I know many of you, just like me, hate pop culture Christian movies. One of the reasons I have such distaste for them is it makes me feel like I’m at work. If I wanted to be emotionally attached to a person in a spiritual crisis, then I would have stayed at the office for an extra hour or two. Some of the other reasons that fuel my bane for these subpar movies is they’re: mindlessly predictable, laden with marketing, lacking imagination, perpetuating cliche Christianity, unthought provoking, provide an answer to every question, generally unartistic, without mystery, shot on a shoe string budget and look like it too. There’s no need for me to go on, I know you cringe just like I do when one of your members walks into your office; places the DVD on your desk and says, “I think we need to have a move night at church ….” You get my point. I feel your pain.

However, I THINK, there could be an exception to the rule. If the movie,The Shack is as good as the book, then I believe it will be a hit. Now before you shout me down with anathema’s and cries of heresy I want you to hear me out.

A Few Concessions

I concede it can be interpreted that, William Paul Young, may have unintentionally ventured off into tritheism. Yet botching it on the the Trinity is not an unforgivable mistake. He’s in good company with most of our Sunday school teachers and volunteer youth pastors. What pastor hasn’t had a children’s pastor botch it on the Trinity or even water baptism? I’m not excusing any of this, but lets be honest. The Trinity is difficult.

The Trinity usually ends up being explained by what it’s not. It’s not modalism, arianism, docetism, partialism, tritheism etc. If you’re anything like me, when you try to explain the Trinity, then you end up backpedalling on some of your statements. “Sorry man; scratch that! What I just said was heresy. Well, it’s more like this… No, no, that’s not quite right either.”

If you believe that Young got it wrong on the Trinity I believe you should cut him some slack. At the end of the day it’s difficult to accurately articulate the Trinity in English. I think this puts Young at a huge liability. Am I the only one that gets my homoousios-es, hypostases-es, consubstantial-es, and perichoresis-es mixed up? I know that double “o” in homoousios is important for some reason. Maybe you can remind me in the comments below?

The Trinity is the most difficult Christian doctrine to explain second to none. Which, in my opinion, is awesome because a God that is everywhere-present, all-knowing, and all-powerful doesn’t need to be easily explained. I’m not saying we need to be lax in orthodoxy, but can we give a little grace to the seminary-drop-out janitor that’s attempting to explain the Trinity to his kids?

As absolute truth-loving evangelicals I believe it’s high time for us to start increasing the complexity of our thought processes. We need more than knee-jerk reactions from leaders that cover their ears and shout heresy. This at best is clumsy and at worst destructive. Let’s turn off the hate and look for opportunities. Let’s be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. The other option is getting stuck with lame Christian movies and works of art forever. So in light of this nightmare, come on, lets reason together about a few things…

  1. Every work that talks about God and Jesus is not a theological treatise. Every Christian writer isn’t writing to reorient and re-anchor the mind to Christian rhetoric, logic and doctrine. Everything is not meant to be a statement of dogma. Young is not looking to undermine any statement of faith. He’s attempting to express how he relates to that statement of faith. He is attempting to put to words his experience with truth. Every agreed upon truth must be given some measure of leniency in interpretation. This interpretation doesn’t have to be solely mental. It can be emotional, even speculative. God has not called us to smother all forms of expression. Demanding that all art toe the line of uniformity, not only destroys artistic expression, but it cuts off all lines of communication with people who think and process differently than us. If we maintain such ridged lines of thought that govern not theology, but art, then the great chasm that exists between evangelicals and the art community will only grow wider. A rhetoric that seeks to answer every question destroys wonder, mystery and awe. Yet this is the very rhetoric that evangelicals demand. This filling of all mental gaps leaves the artist disappointed because their call is not to answer every question, but to lead people to a place that ponders the hugeness and complexity of God. I guess some would says its too risky to ponder the lines of orthodoxy, but a truth that cannot be evaluated or speculated upon is not worthy of the claim of unshakable truth. If we, like Paul, believe that, “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.”. If we believe this statement, if we believe God’s Word, then why not let’s see where awe and pondering can take us? If the love-struck artist steps into error, then why not meet him with loving correction, rather than cries of anathema’s and heresy. Let save those cries for liberal theologians.
  2. We must also understand that it’s not fitting to evaluate one genre of literature with another. There’s no need to look any further than the Bible itself. The truth of the Psalms is that God’s a big enough God to handle our soulful expression and our emotional reactions to truth. We don’t take King David’s, “Why have your forsaken me’s” and his “I’m gonna smash their teeth with rocks” statements and form doctrines out of them. Certainly todays rigid thinking evangelicals would not allow these statements in the Bible. If these statements were written today. David would be another common heretic. These so called blasphemy’s would be ascribed to the all wicked emotions! Thankfully God is not so unaccommodating. Genre is important. If theologian Jurgen Moltmann wants to attack the orthodox view of the Trinity, then excoriate him with line upon line and precept upon precept, and may the conversation be fierce and weighty. If an artist seeks to express and imagine, through allegory, how the Trinity can help a person process grief and heal the heart, then it’s not fair to attack the artist with the same vigor and method as the theologian. It’s like the old adage, “Your comparing apples to oranges.” Not only is this process unfitting, but it is also ineffective. Generally, when art is wrong philosophically, then the best practice is not attacking art with precept. Our non congruent criticisms makes us look petty. Heretical art, if that is what you consider The Shack, can only be defeated by more powerful expressions of art that are more closely rooted in truth. When we use this form of intellectual dishonesty, we look irrelevant, small minded and petty. How much longer do we need to loose in the market place of ideas before we change our strategy?
  3. We also must understand that every Christian work is not a commentary on the full counsel of God. There was one blog I was reading that gave a litany of criticisms against the Shack, but there were two that stuck out to me. One, it doesn’t take sin and repentance seriously. Two, there was not a full portrayal and explanation of judgement. For crying out loud, the novel’s about grief and suffering. Pastors think about our critics in the pew. Every time I preach on love, someone reminds me, “What about judgement, pastor?” If I preach on judgement, then I’m questioned on, “Where’s the love?” If we preach on grace, then “Where’s the law?” If we preach on law, then, “Where’s the grace?” We must keep in mind that the human intellect only has the capacity to think conceptually about one thing at a time. (The only exception would be when arguing with your wife. At that point her IQ jumps 100 points and all bets are off.) We must understand that at any moment when we focus on one issue or topic, it’s at the neglect of another. Only God is able to see and think about a whole matrix of ideas, processing them in balance and keeping them in perfect symmetry. In light of this one must operate under the assumption that there’s always a counter balance to the writers ideas. If Randy Alcorn writes about heaven, then it can’t be assumed that he doesn’t believe in hell. On the contrary it must be assumed that if he believes there is a heaven, then he also believes there’s a hell, unless we hear otherwise. It’s not intellectually honest to declare a work is unbiblical by referring to the counter balance of the ideas that are not represented in the book especially if the author claims to be writing fiction. I learned from hermeneutics that one can’t make an argument from silence. I would argue this holds true while attempting to form a theology from a fiction novel. We should not take a passage out of its intended context. If a passage is not used in context, then that passage doesn’t prove anything. I think this is also a fair standard to hold Young and The Shack to as well.
  4. We must stop assuming the worst and filling in the gaps with the negative. Many articles and blogs assume Young believes in universalism just because he doesn’t explicitly say that he doesn’t believe in universalism. This assumes the worse. Anywhere there’s a gap, there’s a heresy projected in that gap. If you want to know what a person believes, then check out their other words and works. For example, Young was interviewed by Christianity Today by Mark Galli in March 4, 2013, and he was asked directly about this. Listen to his response.

“One question I get, of course, is, “Are you a universalist?” I’m not, because I don’t think you can make that step doctrinally. I don’t think Scripture is that obvious. There is this respect for the human creation’s ability to say no. God will not force love. And we still have to choose to be reconciled. But Colossians says that’s what we are to be praying for, that everything gets reconciled back to him.”

I’m just saying that a direct statement about what he believes about doctrine is a better source for his beliefs than an assumption formed from a non-statement in a novel about a different topic. When one makes a projection like this and then spreads the rumor that Young is a heretic, then that person is guilty of the sin of slander. If a person has read the book, then it’s obvious that he is giving an artistic interpretation of his experience with this doctrine. It’s not his intention or objective to redefine this or any other doctrine. Even if you don’t agree with his method, if you know it’s not his intention to spread the false doctrine, then maybe we can reason together about some opportunities this movie will give us to advance the gospel if we act shrewdly. I like how one writer put it, “Get Your Theology From the Bible and Enjoy ‘The Shack’.”

In the next few blogs I’m going to look at the virtues of The Shack and Do’s and Don’ts for Church Leaders in how we respond to it, and how we can optimize the opportunities that this movie will provide for us.

 

1. Matthew 10:16

2. 2 Corinthians 13:8

3. http://www.ltw.org/read/articles/2017/03/six-major-problems-with-the-shack#.WLbG0KONrvV.facebook

4. http://store.epm.org/product/heaven

5. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/march/love-shack.html

6. http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/63455-get-your-theology-from-the-bible-and-enjoy-the-shack