Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Theology in the Deer Stand

Scaled Quail, originally uploaded by Snakelover61.

View On Black

As previously mentioned, I spent some time this weekend in deer stands in west Texas. I took a lot of bird pictures. Above is one of a scaled quail, also known as a blue quail. I also had lots of time to read. I'm currently reading "Same Kind of Different as Me" by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent. It's a very good book so far, but I'm only about half way through it. The time on stand also gave me the opportunity to reflect on a book I finished a few weeks ago, "The Shack," by William Young. It appears to be all the rage for Christian reading and I picked up my copy at Life Way. Given the controversy around this book, I thought I'd give you my thoughts on it. Warning: "Heavy" blogging ahead!

In case you're not familiar with it, "The Shack" is a work of fiction about theology. Yeah, I know, it sounds strange to mix the two, but the author does it fairly well. There are a lot of reviews available online, so I won't delve into the synopsis of the book, but suffice to say it's an extremely emotional read, especially for parents. The author uses heavy emotions, more so than reason, to sway the reader toward theology.

For that reason, I think it's important to set emotion aside and rely on reasoning when examining "The Shack." Now, when reading a fiction book about theology, I think you have to use The Bible as the plumb line. As such, the theology of the book can be divided into three categories. First, there are those things in which "The Shack" and The Bible are in agreement. Thankfully, that represents a fairly large percentage of the book. Yea!

Second, there are those things in "The Shack" that The Bible doesn't refute. That is, things that could be true or could happen, but are not specifically addressed in The Bible. For instance, God the Father in "The Shack" presents Himself as a black woman. Some have a problem with this, but I don't. While God always refers to Himself in masculine terms in scripture, there is nothing there (at least to my knowledge) that would keep Him from appearing as a woman anymore than as a burning bush. So I'm fine with that category too. Call it "poetic license" if you will. After all, this is fiction that we're talking about. Hey, it could happen! Perhaps the largest percentage of the book falls into this broad category. So far, so good!

The last category is those things in which "The Shack" contradicts The Bible. Of course, it is those things that bother me, although they are admittedly only a very small percentage of the book. And, for the most part, they seem innocent enough. But there is a word for dangerous things that seem innocent. That word is insidious. An example of this is in "The Shack," is that God the Father explains nail scars in His own wrists saying that Jesus was never alone, that the Father and the Holy Spirit were right there with Him on the cross. I'm sorry, but this is just bad theology that contradicts the roles of the Trinity described in The Bible. And, while hard for us to wrap our minds around, those three distinct roles have huge spiritual significance. Here's why it's important…

The wages of sin is death and spiritual death is defined as the separation from God. I suppose this is the reason the Word became flesh in the first place. Jesus, in his humanity, overcame the separation of man from God by paying for our sin on the cross. We were spiritually dead in our sin. But when we accepted Jesus as our savior, we became alive in Christ. Are you with me so far? So if the Father hadn't separated Himself from Jesus, then Jesus couldn't have died spiritually. If He hadn't died spiritually, then He couldn't have paid for our sin. If He hadn't paid for our sin, then that terrible debt would still be ours to pay. See why this "little thing" matters? No, fortunately for us, the Father did let Jesus go through the absolute hell of separation from Him. And, thankfully, Jesus was NOT in error when He asked, "Father, why have you forsaken Me?" Jesus doesn't make mistakes, nor does He lie.

As I said, all this may seem like just one small point, but it's huge in its spiritual implications. In "The Shack," William Young reinvents some of the "wheels" that God invented. I don't really think it was intentional on the author's part. But don't reinvent those wheels, brother. God knew what He was doing and no one can improve on it. And this is just one example of things that I think fall into this dangerous category of biblical contradiction.

Here's the weird part… Overall, I enjoyed the book! So much so that I would almost like to recommend it, but I just can't with a clear conscious. You may think that if the book is mostly good that I'm throwing out the baby with the bath water. But in spiritual matters, I think it's important to be extra careful so that we don't end up worshipping an idol. Anytime you worship a god that you or someone else has made up in your own mind or in your emotions, no matter how appealing that god may be and no matter how much you might wish God to be that way, that is still a form of idolatry that the scripture warns us to avoid. Imagine if I baked you some brownies and said, "By the way, there's just a little poison in there. But really… it's only a tiny little bit of poison, you can just eat around it." Hello? I think you'd throw out ALL the brownies without worrying about missing the yummy part. If not, you're a choc-aholic and you need help!

Having said all that, I wouldn't blame you if you read it anyway just to find out for yourself. Hey, that's exactly what I did, even after being warned of the bad theology! So eat the brownies if you're so inclined, just don't say I didn't warn you about the poison. If you truly want to know God, there's only one infallible source that I know of… His Word.


Primitiques 'n Poetry said...

This book touched my life in such a way that I would recommend it to any Christian I know. I may do a review of it, myself. Or I may not. But, my relationship with God, Jesus and The Holy Spirit has never been what it is now, because of this book. I do agree with what you are referring to as "poison". But, the beauty of the words and the lessons that I learned far outweigh the untruth of that matter. ~Mindy

Primitiques 'n Poetry said...

What I meant to say is that I agree with you, in regard to what you refer to as "poison". I do believe that Christ was alone on the cross. ~Mindy

Margo said...

I'm always hesitant to jump on the "book bandwagons" that a lot of Christians seem to jump on. I've never read the book but I had misgivings about it when I first heard about it. Just as I did for the "Prayer of Joab". All we need is in the Bible. Thank you for your review.

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David said...

Margo, the book is not all bad, but it flirts with the sort of "I'm ok, you're ok" new age philosophy that's so prevalent today. I read the review of one "new ager" who absolutely loved the book and came away with the idea that it supported his "all roads lead to God" viewpoint. That wasn't my take on it, but I can see why he would say that and I think that's part of the danger; unlike the bible, you can bend and mold the ideas in this book to make God almost anyone you want Him to be. I think that's part of the reason the book is so popular; it makes people feel comfortable with themselves, Christians and non-Christians alike.

Of course, being comfortable with yourself isn't necessarily a bad thing and the concepts of God's love, forgiveness and mercy are powerfully portrayed and mostly spot on. But the book all but ignores the other half of the gospel. That is, the part about allowing Christ to live in and through us.

If someone uses the book to get excited about God's love and, as a result, then goes on to study His Word and eventually gets the full picture of God, correcting Young's many errors in the process, then it could be a very positive thing. But if someone reads the book and just stops there, they could actually be worse off than if they'd never read it. Because they will have a very incomplete understanding of God. Thankfully, the God of the bible is far greater than He is portrayed in "The Shack."

I see the book as a two-edged sword; leading to a more complete understanding of God's love for some and to a false god or idol to others. So it could be either helpful or dangerous, depending on what you do with it. I suspect that you have a strong foundation in the bible and would not be harmed by reading "The Shack." It's those who lack the scriptural foundation that I worry about.