Posted by: Billy Marsh | April 30, 2008

More Reflections on The Shack

Since writing the “warning” post on William P. Young’s new Christian novel The Shack last week, I spoke with a friend who came to me wanting to know if I had read it and knew what it was about. He didn’t know that I had already posted on it, and so wasn’t aware just how serious this book’s influence had already become.

He came by to tell me that he had a friend back home whose youth pastor had begun a study based off of The Shack with his youth group. All of the students were reading the book together with the youth pastor, and then, from it’s “teachings,” or I guess a better way of putting it may be its “message,” the youth leader would draw his discussions and material for teaching the group. Moreover, this was an activity that was being performed under the permission of the church’s senior pastor. My friend spoke to his friend who was reporting on this youth pastor’s questionable Bible study materials and told him to go and listen to Mohler’s critique. When his friend spoke with the youth pastor about Mohler’s caveat regarding the theological agenda of Young’s book, he said that the youth pastor’s response was, “Mohler’s always critiquing everything!”

My friend’s second encounter with The Shack occurred last weekend when he ran into an older (not elderly) gentleman in his church (a prominent SBC church here in Fort Worth) who wanted to tell him about the new fiction book he had just read that was so powerful and had changed his life. When my friend found out that this book was in fact none other than Young’s The Shack, he was immediately taken back. Thankfully, by this time, my friend had heeded my advice to go and listen to Mohler’s radio commentary on the book and was ready to respond. However, as he began to question the validity of The Shack’s transformation power due to its hideous portrayal of some of Christianity’s core doctrines of the faith, he observed that the man’s mood seemed to change to the point that he appeared to be somewhat frustrated. Even though my friend (not antagonistically) was simply trying to help this gentleman understand the enormous theological claims that the book makes which are not in any way compatible with an orthodox understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the older man would not receive his counsel and ended the conversation.

Once again, I am totally amazed, whether I should be or not, at Christians’ responses to other Christians who are only trying to safeguard the integrity of the gospel. Yet, an overwhelming amount of Christians seem to be more concerned and committed to a fallible book written by a sinful man that communicates a distorted representation of the Godhead just so they can claim to have found the key to spiritual transformation, possibly from a source that sounds like to me a false gospel.

What are we to make of this situation? Do we just chalk another one up to the rise and effects of postmodernism in the church? Possibly. Its reach is extended so far now that there is little that has been left untouched by its negative influence. However, I would posit that we are seeing not only the results of postmodernism’s grip on evangelical Christianity, but also the church’s failure to educate and equip Christ’s disciples in sound doctrine, thinking that right living is actually possible apart from truth. The theological anti-intellectualism of the mid to late 20th century is obviously still lingering around in the hearts and minds of our people.

Whether or not the harsh critiques of Young’s The Shack are justified, I cannot say absolutely since I haven’t read it, although I would encourage anyone who is reading it or plans to, to scan it with a careful and discerning eye. Still, what alarms me the most about this whole ordeal is how easily Christians are swept away into a charming story that appeals strongly to the affections and are willing to defend its supposed life-changing power, even at the expense of serving an injustice to the portrayal of the One True Living God without whom there is no saving gospel, redemption, or the forgiveness of sins. This shameful scene reminds me of some of the same sentiments that John Stott shares in a book which I would recommend everyone to read, Your Mind Matters, when he observes,

The spirit of anti-intellectualism is prevalent today. The modern world breeds pragmatists, whose first question about any idea is not “Is it true?” but “Does it work?” (14). 

He also cites a quote from Dr. John Mackay, a former president of Princeton Seminary who said, “Commitment without reflection is fanaticism in action. But reflection without commitment is the paralysis of all action(14).” This comment reminds me of one my favorite verses from the book of Proverbs to quote. I have it memorized in the NIV so I’ll just use that version even though I’m a devout ESV man. Proverbs 19:2 states, “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.” Yet, this sound is exactly what I hear ringing obnoxiously loud in my head when I listen to the reactions of Christians who are waving the gospel flag, but are willing to surrender the hill of Christian truth. I guess part of the problem is a sobering truth that we all should just probably admit is a reality, namely, that our people probably wouldn’t be able to recognize sound orthodoxy if it was written on the inside of their eyelids. Yes, they could probably recite to you some of the Baptist distinctives and tell you whether or not they are a Calvinist, or maybe even spell out their take on the end times, but when it comes to what are the absolute, non-negotiable doctrines of the Christian faith, all we may get is a blank stare.

Another point that arises out of this situation is a person’s resoluteness to believe what he or she wants to believe no matter what. James Sire writes in his book, Why Good Arguments Often Fail, “The point is that truth can stare us in the face, and we–even with our desire to know the truth–can not only reject it but also come to hate it (119).” Sire goes on to illustrate his point from the story of the movie director Woody Allen who stated in full honesty when confronted about his romantic relationship with his adopted daughter, “The heart wants what it wants (119).” Between the pragmatism of the age and the timeless fact that people are going to do or believe whatever they want no matter what, the church needs to instill in its people the importance and necessity of truth and its inseparable relationship to true spirituality, and especially the integrity of the Gospel. 

Though I am fully aware that the problems I’m concerned about in contemporary Christianity are not the only ones responsible for causing people to think they can have the Gospel without God, I do believe these matters form a large part of the breakdown. If I could, I’d like to borrow once more from Stott’s book and submit to you his thesis for Your Mind Matters as a healthy and sound resolution that we all should not shrink back from adhering to nor from exhorting others to do the same:

I am not pleading for a dry, humorless, academic Christianity, but for a warm devotion set on fire by truth. I long for this biblical balance and the avoidance of fanatical extremes. I shall urge that the remedy for exaggerated view of the intellect is neither to disparage it, not to neglect it, but to keep it in its God-appointed place, fulfilling its God-appointed role (18).

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Responses

  1. The main conflict I have with Christians I encounter is the believe that one can’t find God without the Gospel. I don’t think its necessary to be transformed through Jesus, but at a certain point in coming to accept everyone you will as well accept him and his message. I just don’t think he is the only way to come to a strong divine faith. To me this is the major divide, and a source of argument that splits both sects and other religions from what could be an otherwise unifying message.

    http://www.QuestioCunctus.com

  2. What it seems that your comment presupposes is that the God whom I profess is the same God whom all other religions profess, and this is most definitely not the case in the least bit. Moreover, what you must understand is that your point of conflict with Christians is not “their” exclusiveness, but rather, God’s exclusiveness as clearly manifested in his revealed Word in the Bible.

    When you say that you don’t think that it is necessary to be transformed by Jesus in order to find God, then you have already betrayed how God himself has purposed salvation to occur. In addition, you also completely disregard Jesus’ (God the Son) own testimony that only he is the truth, the life, and the way to God the Father (John 14:6).

    In your comment, you write, “I just don’t think he is the only way to come to a strong divine faith.” I would agree in part with this statement insofar as participants in other religions do have a strong faith, even though the object of their faith is not the One True Living God of the Bible. I’m not sure what you mean by “divine faith,” though I have a pretty good idea after visiting your website. Your comment does not hide very well your mystic preferences and inclusive suppositions towards the pursuit of and participation with the “divine.”

    Part of the breakdown in much of your argument is when you preface your responses with, “I think” or “I just don’t think.” I would ask you to be respectful enough that when you make definitive stances on the Gospel, God, and Jesus that you would not base them off of what you “think” per se, but rather, what had God objectively and absolutely has said in the Scriptures. If you are wanting to promote the idea that all faiths lead to same God, at least have the decency to acknowledge the fact that Christianity makes no such claim whatsoever.

    I would hope that you would consider Jesus’ claims regarding salvation, spirituality, and God in the New Testament and reflect on the entire economy of salvation depicted in all of the Scriptures, and then decide for yourself what to make of God, his Will, and his Word. If you believe that the Bible is true and is in fact the divinely inspired, inerrant revelation of God, then you cannot simply brush his truth under the rug in order to hope to find him elsewhere on your own terms.

    And with respect to your “unifying message” comment at the end, the Bible clearly teaches that all of those who are saved in Christ will in fact be united as one people under his eternal reign; and when he returns and makes all things new, the heavens and the earth will be joined together as one holy temple where God’s unified people will worship him and live in perfect peace and joy forever.

    If you have further comments, I’d love to dialogue more. Send me an email via the tab above titled, “Contact Billy.”


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