Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Reader Question About "The Shack"

Posted by Christine Pack

A reader wrote the following question regarding our recent post, The Shack Revisited:

Gone With The Wind
I tend to agree with the criticism of The Shack. In fact I have family members and acquaintances who were drawn in by the emotional hyperbole presented in the book. However, I do have a question regarding the criticism of depicting God as a Black woman. If we criticize Young for this do we then have to criticize other authors like CS Lewis for fictional depictions of the Godhead? - signed, "Pilgrim"

Dear Pilgrim - I will grant you that portraying God in any fashion is an exercise fraught with peril, but in an allegory (such as Narnia) when the "God figure" is so clearly drawn, and his attributes made so clear, I tend not to be so troubled by it.  C.S. Lewis, in his Narnia series and other writings, presents allegorical depictions of God that very clearly portray his divine attributes.  This is in distinct contrast to The Shack, in which "Papa/God" is presented with certain attributes which are in direct contradiction to his nature as revealed in Scripture.  More on that later.

Also in the Narnia series, the lines between good and evil are clearly drawn.  It is clear that you either stand with "Aslan/Jesus," or you stand against him.  Not so The Shack, which is a big muddle of Universalism stew.  According the "Papa/God," all people are forgiven by Jesus's death on the Cross, but not all choose to be in relationship with him.  This is a sly form of Universalism, one which I call "Christian Universalism" so as to distinguish it from the straight up Universalism that I encountered in New Age/Integral Spirituality.  This form of Universalism tries to say that yes, Jesus is the way to heaven, but everybody gets there in the end, whether they live a life in relationship with Jesus (preferable) or not (regrettable, but not a deal breaker as far as denying one entry into heaven).  As I said, a very, very sly heresy, and one which goes against the clear teaching of Jesus, when He said:
"I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
And now, Pilgrim, back to "Papa/God" of The Shack, who is presented with certain attributes which are in direct contradiction to his nature as revealed in Scripture.  Here's the one that really galls me:  "Papa/God" in The Shack "teaches" Mack that God's "love" is greater than his justice. Or as the Beatles put it, "All you need is love."  To which I would say, no, thankfully, the Bible presents a God who is both just AND loving.  Because if He were a Judge who did not fulfill the righteous demands of the Law, then He would be the worst kind of judge....wicked and corrupt....letting justice slide, as it were.

Prov 17:15 sets up this conundrum very nicely:
"He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD."
According to this Proverb, a judge who justifies (makes right) the wicked is himself an abomination.  But also, a judge who condemns the righteous would also be wicked.  Different sides of the same coin.  But what do we sing about in our hymns?  Wicked men (us) being made right. A righteous man (Jesus) standing condemned in our place.  How does God do these things without subverting Justice?  God does not - CANNOT - "set aside" justice in order to save wicked men; but what He did do was come up with a plan so amazing that it could only have come from God - its brilliance is supernatural: Someone would come to earth and fulfill all the righteous demands of the Law, and would then give His own life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28).

You might ask, what's the big deal about getting the doctrine of God's justice wrong?  What does it matter that the author (William P. Young) gets doctrine wrong?  What's the big deal?

The problem is that getting doctrine wrong is no small thing.  A "God" of justice who has not love is a hard and cruel taskmaster.  A "God" of love who has not justice is a soft, weak "God" who allows justice to be subverted.  God reveals himself in Scripture as possessing the perfect balance of both justice and love: revealed most magnificently in the Cross, the point at which God's justice and his love meet in perfect balance.  The Cross = God's justice satisfied and God's amazing love personified, simultaneously. 

It matters how we view these things, and how we teach others about God and his nature when we go forth into the world as we are commanded to seek and save that which is lost.  Case in point: I have a friend in missions who loves The Shack so much that she buys it in bulk to hand out.  She was very excited about it being translated into the language of the country in which she and her husband serve in missions.  When I brought up the bad theology in The Shack, she simply said to me, "But people like the "God" presented in The Shack and respond so positively to "Him/Her." "  My response to her was this:  as Christians we're not to use "what works" (pragmatism) in missions; we're to use God's Truth, as revealed in Scripture.  If someone loves the "God" of The Shack, they are responding to an idol of God, a false God, a "God" who is soft and weak," a "God"who subverts justice and saves everybody, a "God" without the force or will to dispense justice....and most sobering of all, a God without salvific power.  This is not the God of the Bible; this is the candy and lollipops "God" of New Age/Integral Spirituality.  But how in the world did this false "God" creep into our churches?  Well, thanks to Purpose Driven churches (who major on "deeds, not creeds") and Emergent churches (who reject the authority of Scripture and embrace another version of "deeds not creeds": social justice), our country is now largely biblically illiterate.  I believe that we are seeing Matthew 13:24-30 being played out in this generation:
Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
  "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'
 " 'An enemy did this,' he replied.  
"The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'  
" 'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.' " 
But, if anyone has ears to hear this teaching, let him hear.

photo credit: Sumi-l via photo pin cc

 Additional Resources 

The Shack, Revisited

William P. Young: "The God of Evangelical Christianity is A Monster"

Michael Youssef's Warning About The Shack

The Author of The Shack Is A Universalist