Revisiting The Shack

April 29, 2009 at 5:23 pm | Posted in Books and Movies, False teaching, Theology | Leave a comment

 

If you think I’ve been rather silent the past week without writing in this blog, then go back and read the comments section on the book review for The Shack.  There have been some good comments and insightful questions, and I’ve tried to answer the questions as best as I could.  Interestingly enough, that post has already become the single most read on this blog, and, since posting it, my average daily readership has more than tripled.

One of the questions asked me to clarify my comment that Young presents an “Arminian understanding of God’s sovereignty.”  You can read my response to that question in the book review post.  However, one of the quotes I ran across in the book, the last one I quoted in my answer to the question, has been bugging me the past two days.  Here’s the quote found on page 225 of the book:  “In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship.”  That’s a scary statement, one that could make me change my opinion on the statement that nothing in this book is objectionable enough to call heresy.

I first took this statement, supposedly from God in the novel, as an indication of Young’s Arminianism – a statement of what theologians call “prevenient grace.”  Scriptures are abundantly clear:  our sin is such that we could never respond to God apart from his working in our lives.  Arminians propose that the invitations in scripture presuppose a measure of grace which overrides depravity and allows people to respond to those invitations, and that measure of grace is given to all people.  In other words, prevenient grace is the doctrine that God has given everybody enough of a measure of grace to respond to his invitations, in spite of their sin.  There is no biblical support for such a doctrine other than the invitations themselves (which is one of the things that convinced me in seminary of the Calvinist position).  However, the more I ponder what Young said here, the more I realize it can’t be prevenient grace he’s presenting.  In my understanding, an Arminian would say that prevenient grace is not forgiveness but the ability to respond to God’s invitation to forgiveness, and only those who respond to that invitation are forgiven.  What Young indicates in this one sentence goes far beyond the typical Arminian understanding.

Young indicates that the only reason we turn to God is for relationship with him, because we have all been forgiven already.  However, the biblical teaching is first that not all are forgiven, and second that we turn to God for justification and forgiveness, and then a relationship with him follows.  Consider these references about God’s wrath and those who are not forgiven:  John 3:18, 3:36; Romans 1:18; and Ephesians 5:6; and add to these the references about “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” which I wrote about just a few posts ago.  Then consider these references about how forgiveness and justification are related to faith and repentance:  Acts 13:38-39; Romans 3:21-24; Titus 3:4-7.

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The Shack

April 23, 2009 at 4:45 pm | Posted in Books and Movies, God's Love, It's All About God, Theology | 2 Comments

          I recently completed reading William Paul Young’s poignant novel The Shack.  I read it because many people had asked me my opinion of it.  Though this best-selling novel is fiction, it clearly was written to present a theological message.  Before I read it I heard everything from “this is the greatest book since the Bible,” to “this book is outright heresy.”  I tend to take a skeptical approach to such things, and I read this book with that same skepticism, but, at the same time, I tried to read carefully the theology presented without prejudging the book.  After seeing some harsh criticisms and high praises, I decided to read it for myself, and then determined to read very little about it, so I could make up my own mind on the matter.

          I’ll say right up front that there’s nothing in this book I find objectionable enough to call heresy and some that is very good theology, but I still have concerns about it.  There are even some people to whom I’d like to give the book because I think its moving presentation would touch them with what they need to hear.  I’ll start this review with the positive and then share my concerns in the end.

          Let me briefly outline the plot for any readers not aware of this book.  Mack is a man who suffers a great tragedy in the abduction and murder of his youngest daughter.  For the next four years “The Great Sadness,” as he calls it, takes over his life, and Mack questions much of what he’s been taught about God.  Then God appears to Mack in the place where his daughter was killed – a dilapidated old cabin in the mountains simply called The Shack.  Through this God encounter, Mack learns that much of what he’d been taught about God was wrong, but he experiences God’s love and purpose with a whole new understanding.

          On the positive side, my biggest concern was with the character of God presented, and Young nailed those concerns.  He clearly presents a Trinitarian theology, including some matters that are missed by so many who would present God’s character through a similar medium.  For example, when he first meets God, he meets three persons and wrestles to understand.  “‘Then,’ Mack struggled to ask, ‘Which of you is God?’  ‘I am,’ said all three in unison.  Mack looked from one to the next, and even though he couldn’t begin to grasp what he was seeing and hearing, he somehow believed them.” (p.87)  And the presentation is clearly not modalism, as some have claimed:  “We are not three gods, and we are not talking about one god with three attitudes,  .  .  .  I am one God and I am three persons, and each of the three is fully and entirely the one.” (p.101)  Young also tells us that God is complete in himself, even though the popular, and wrong, notion is that God created because he was lonely.  “By nature I am completely unlimited, without bounds.  I have always known fullness.  I live in a state of perpetual satisfaction as my normal state of existence.  .  .  .  Just one of the perks of Me being Me.” (p.98f)   Finally, the book shows us the nature of Jesus as fully divine and still human.

          Also on the positive side, Young’s God is a God of love.  If you struggle with the truth that God loves you, especially because of your upbringing or because you think God has let you down, then this would be a great read.  I believe this is the greatest strength of The Shack.  God is good whether we believe it or not, and everything he does for us he does out of his love for us, even if we don’t understand it.  “The real underlying flaw in your life, Mackenzie, is that you don’t think that I’m good.  If you knew that I was good, and that everything – the means, the ends, and all the processes of individual lives – is all covered by my goodness, then while you might not understand what I am doing, you would trust me.  But you don’t.”  (p.126)  I’m afraid that describes too many of us.

          Finally, Young presents the human race as flawed and our only hope as Jesus’ death on the cross.  This truth comes out in many facets through the book, and I won’t take time to quote more than one them here.  In explaining Jesus’ death to his daughters, Mack says, “His daddy didn’t make him die.  Jesus chose to die because he and his daddy love you and me and everyone in the world.  He saved us from our sickness.” (p.31)

          On the negative side, I want to avoid the minor issues.  I could take the author to task on his egalitarian view of men and women and his related misunderstanding of authority in general.  I could write about his usual (but not always) Arminian understanding of God’s sovereignty.  But these matters were not major concerns as I read.  I could, like every negative review I read before deciding not to read any more, complain about Young’s personification of God as a woman.  Though I was at first uncomfortable with the “Aunt Jemima” type woman whom God appeared as, there was reason in the story for God’s appearing that way, and biblically, there is no reason to criticize that point.  God is neither male nor female, and both attributes come from him (Genesis 1:27).  Besides God is sometimes presented as a mother-figure in scripture (Psalm 131, Isaiah 66:13, Luke 13:34).  Mack needed a mother figure more than a father figure at this time in the book, and God accommodated that need.

          My biggest concerns were in two areas, both related to Young’s extension of God’s love beyond biblical mandate.  First, Young’s God doesn’t seem to be a God of ultimate glory.  In his presentation, God’s love for us is the end of the matter and highest purpose God has.  “Mackenzie, my purposes are not for my comfort, or yours.  My purposes are always and only an expression of love.” (p.191)  Though everything God does comes from his character, love for us is not the end of the matter – the ultimate issue.  In the book, the whole universe is all about us – humans.  While looking at the stars with Jesus, “Mack simply lay still, allowing the immensity of space and scattered light to dwarf him, letting his perceptions be scattered by starlight and the thought that everything is about him…about the human race…that all this was for us.” (p.113)  Certainly, God created the universe for us to enjoy, but ultimately he created it for his glory, and The Shack seems to miss that point.  The biblical God has a higher purpose than loving us, for such a view seems to contradict God’s fullness in himself; everything is for the ultimate end of God’s glory.  Even his love for us is not an end in itself; it too is an expression of his glory.  On a related thought, there is no sense of awe when Mack figures out who the God-persons with him are, yet in scripture, when one encounters and realizes God’s presence, there is a fear and awe that causes them to bow down, or feel insignificant.  Isaiah might be the most famous example (Isaiah 6:5), but others would include Moses and Peter.  Even angels, who stand in his presence, are fearsome and awesome creatures, so certainly God is all the more.  I want to be careful not to over criticize here, because the book makes it plain that our significance is found only in God.  I think it would be hard for a fiction work of this nature to emphasize both God’s love and his glory, but this work doesn’t seem to address God’s glory at all.

          My second big concern was the area of obedience to God.  Certainly God loves his people and extends his grace them, and we are to live in that love, but that doesn’t excuse us of obedience.  There seems to be an attitude in the book that it doesn’t matter what we do, because God loves us and offers us his grace.  The entirety of chapter 14, “Verbs and Other Freedoms,” seems to make this point.  Although The Shack correctly emphasizes that rule keeping can’t justify us, and that rules don’t change our character, instead they tend to make us proud, there is no mention of obedience as the expression of our love for God.  We cannot be declared righteous by rule keeping, but when we understand what God in his love has done for us, we want to keep his rules, not out of a need to justify ourselves, but out of our love for him.  The biblical picture is that we love God because he first loved us, and our love is demonstrated by our obedience to his commands.  As Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.”  And “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” (John 14:21-23)  Because The Shack so emphasizes one’s relationship to God, this point would have fit the story nicely, but it too is missing.

          If you struggle to believe that God is good and that he loves you dearly, then The Shack would be a great read.  Just don’t consider it a work of technical theology.

AN ADDED NOTE:  Concerning God’s love being the ultimate end of all things rather than his glory I wanted to add this note.  At the beginning of chapter six, “A Piece of p,” Young includes this quote from Jacques Ellul.  “No matter what God’s power may be, the first aspect of God is never that of the absolute Master, the Almighty.  It is that of the God who puts himself on our human level and limits himself.”  Although Young didn’t say this himself, he must have included it because he agrees with it; it summarizes what he was trying to say in the chapter. When I read this quote in the book, I wrote “Wrong!” in the margin.  What makes God putting himself on our level so amazing is exactly the fact that God is first and foremost the Almighty.

          This of course plays into the obedience issue as well; the reason obedience to God is an expression of love to God is because God is the Almighty.  We don’t express our love to other people by total obedience because there are times when not obeying a faulty human would be the best expression of love.  That never happens with a sovereign God.

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

April 20, 2009 at 3:06 pm | Posted in False teaching, Questions for Pastor Glenn, Theology | Leave a comment

I have often been asked questions about “the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit,” as it is called in the New Testament.  This sin, which is called an eternal sin that cannot be forgiven, naturally raises questions for followers of Jesus, who understandably don’t want to be guilty of it.  This grievous sin is mentioned in all three Synoptic Gospels: Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:29; and Luke 12:10.  The passage I’m most familiar with is the one in Mark, so I will refer specifically to that passage.  The context in Matthew is identical.  The context of the Luke version is similar enough that the same argument holds there too.  To arrive at the correct understanding, we must look at the entire story in Mark 3:20-30 rather than jump immediately into verse 29.

Jesus was drawing a crowd everywhere he went in his Galilean ministry.  Rightly so, because word had gone out that he was healing many and casting out demons (Mark 1:28; 1:45; 3:8).  Because he was gathering such a large crowd, the religious leaders were jealous of him and wanted to kill him (3:6).  Killing Jesus would have been hard since he was so popular, so they tried first to discredit him in the eyes of the crowd.  They did so by saying his works were from the devil (3:22 – You might notice that these Pharisees were from Jerusalem, not Galilee, probably because they were more influential Pharisees who had gone to Galilee with the sole purpose of trapping or discrediting Jesus).  Jesus answered their charge with two parables, one about a divided kingdom and one about the strong man.  The first demonstrates that Jesus has an authority that is other than Satan; the second demonstrates that he has an authority that is greater than Satan.  Both of these truths are things the Pharisees in the story refused to admit. In other words, they stubbornly refused to admit who Jesus really was.

Jesus follows these two stories with some encouraging words about forgiveness and then a warning about blasphemy.  I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them.  But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.  He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’” (29-30)

Don’t ignore the good news in the passage.  Every sin and blasphemy of men will be forgiven them!  Sometimes we miss that promise and  jump right to the problem issue.  However, with that said, there’s no way to water down the next phrase.  Whatever this blasphemy is, it is unforgivable.  This is a serious matter, and we best know what Jesus was talking about.  I’ve have heard four possibilities suggested.

First, this blasphemy could be speaking against the Holy Spirit or, more pointedly, cursing the Holy Spirit.  This fits the common understanding of blasphemy.  However, it simply doesn’t fit this context.  There is no reason why Jesus would say that here, especially in light of the closing comment in verse 30, that Jesus said these words because of the accusations of the Pharisees.

Second, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit has been said to be unconfessed sin.  One job of the Holy Spirit is to convict people of sin; ignoring that conviction would be a rejection of the Holy Spirit.  Like the first option, this too does not fit this context, especially in light of verse 30.  However, this option has a deeper problem; it makes our confession of sin the basis of our forgiveness of that sin.  This is absolutely not biblical.  The basis of forgiveness is always Jesus’ death as the substitute for our deserved punishment.  And on that basis, God forgives his people whether they confess everyone of their sins or not!  (For some of you this is a radical statement.  I would encourage you to read the following verses and especially note the tenses of forgiveness – it is an already done deal!  Romans 8:1-4; Ephesians 1:7-8, 2:1-10; Colossians 1:13-14, 2:13-14; Hebrews 10:11-13.  Right now some of you are saying, “But what about 1 John 1:9?  Doesn’t it say that we must confess our sins?”  Since this is not the topic of this post, I don’t have time to go into depth on 1 John 1:9; suffice it to say that passage deals with the believers attitude toward sin – one is not a true believer unless he readily admits he is a sinner.  Maybe that can be a topic for another post someday!  Now back to the main topic for this post.)  If the basis of forgiveness is my confession, then I am trusting in myself rather than in Christ.

Third, some have said blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is crediting God’s work to Satan.  This option certainly fits the context of the passage; that’s exactly what the Pharisees were doing.  However, churches do this all the time.  One theological expression calling another heretical, even when God is at work in both situations!  Even the Apostle Paul was guilty of this!  In his early career, he said the Jesus movement was an evil work of the devil (Acts 9:1-2).  He even calls himself “a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent man,” yet “the grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly!”  (Read 1 Timothy 1:12-17)  Certainly Paul is an example proving that crediting God’s work to the devil is not unforgivable.

Fourth, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit could be a stubborn refusal to recognize who Jesus is.  This explanation fits the context of this passage; it’s what the Pharisees were doing.  It fits the entire biblical teaching on forgiveness and salvation; note some of the passages in option 2.  This fits the biblical teaching about the Holy Spirit also.  One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to teach people who Jesus is; a stubborn refusal to see that is a stubborn rejection of the Holy Spirit.

Do you recognize who Jesus is?  Do you recognize that he is God in human form?  Have you accepted his death on the cross as the substitute for your deserved punishment?  If you answer no, then a prolonged stubbornness in that position is eternally dangerous.  However, you can still come to Jesus, and all who come to him will be accepted and forgiven.  If you can answer yes, then blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is not a possibility for you.  Take God at his word and believe it.  The one believing in him has eternal life!  (John 3:18, 36; 1 John 5:11-13)

Asserting Independence

April 17, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment

Whom do I really trust?  When rights, freedoms and authority are taken away, and when people face their biggest challenges, whether they be health issues, money problems, job losses, relationships, or mental struggles, they often reassert their independence more fiercely.  Those moments probably reveal whom one really trusts.  If I assert my independence on those occasions, I am making a statement that my ultimate trust in is me; but I f I turn to God and deny my rights, then I am making a statement that my ultimate trust in is God.  Jesus’ prescription for discipleship is this, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23.  The emphasis of this prescription must be on the denial of self and the taking of one’s cross; otherwise, we would have this redundant thought, “whoever wants to follow me must follow me.”  Imagine that, if one is really a follower of Jesus, he will deny himself.  Rather than assert his independence more fiercely, he will deny self even to the point of taking up an instrument of death to self.  I can’t say that I’m really there yet.  May God give me the strength to deny myself and trust in him.  Whenever my world seems to fall apart, or whenever my rights and freedoms are taken away, may I trust in God’s love and faithfulness rather than my own perceived independence.

A Good Measure

April 15, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment

“Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”   Luke 6:38

                I have often heard this verse quoted as support for financial giving to the Lord’s work – especially the church.  But in its context, I don’t see that as the meaning here at all.  The context is one of giving mercy and love in contrast to giving judgment and condemnation.  Notice the discussion both before and after this famous verse.  Before it we see these commands of Jesus: “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you.”  “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them.”  “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.”  “Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”  (verses 27-37)  And then in the verses that follow, we find these famous words, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”  Probably Jesus’ most famous saying about judging others.

                Although there is some reference to giving of one’s possessions to others (verses 29-30, 34 – though no mention of giving to the Lord’s work), it appears that the idea of these verses is not finances at all.  The main idea of these verses is knowing what God has given us in grace, love, mercy and possessions, and passing those gifts on to others rather than tightly holding on to them.  This would be equivalent to James’ words, “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.  Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2:13)

                Like the Pharisees, I tend to focus on the matter of giving my finances while ignoring the more important matters of justice and mercy.  Lord, help me to look on others with the same measure of mercy and grace that you offer me.

Hope Springs Eternal

April 8, 2009 at 11:02 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day,
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair.  The rest

clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast.
They thought, “if only Casey could but get a whack at that.
We’d put up even money now, with Casey at the bat.”

                                                — Ernest L. Thayer

 

            I think often, this time of year, about the famous line “hope springs eternal in the human breast.”  As a long-time Colorado Rockies fans, we know that feeling of hope which springs eternal.  And like the Mudville fans, we too are usually disappointed by that hope, and we too have no joy when the scenario plays out.  If you don’t know the ending of the poem  .  .  .

 

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright.
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.
And, somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout,
but there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.

 

            Here is another spring thought which relates to Easter rather than baseball.  When I read the following words on the opening day of Rockies’ baseball season, I thought again of that “hope which springs eternal.”  There is no such thing as eternal hope, when that hope is put in temporal things, like baseball.  But from God we have a living hope.  “In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3)  The same power which raised Jesus from the dead is available, through God’s grace, to give us a hope which springs eternal.  And unlike baseball hopes, this one is rooted in non-temporal things.  This hope is given because of God’s mercy, which is eternal; it is through Jesus’ resurrection, which is both powerful and eternal; it comes from the new birth – birth by the Spirit of God, and that is living and powerful and eternal.  “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, by the living and enduring word of God.” (v.23)

            Do you, like the fans in Mudville, have a hope based on temporal things, or have you been born again and given a living hope based on eternal things?  This spring season, put your hope in Jesus, who was raised from the dead.  Then God will give you the true “hope which springs eternal.”

 

 

A Prayer-Wimp Theologian

April 3, 2009 at 10:08 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Prayer, Theology | Leave a comment

Ephesians 1-3.  Twice in these chapters Paul says, “For this reason” I pray.  Both of these comments follow a theological discussion.  As one who loves theology, and as one who is a prayer wimp, I find this fascinating.  When the great theologian discusses things like the incredible spiritual blessings we have in Christ, he follows it up with a prayer for the people to whom he writes.  In this prayer he asks God to give the Ephesians a deeper knowledge of God and a deeper knowledge of the hope, riches and inheritance they have in Christ.  “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (1:17-19).  He goes on to talk about that “incomparably great power” as resurrection power.  Here are all these blessing in Christ; they are amazing blessings; and they are all yours.  Now I pray you would know them and that you would know the power behind them.

                After a discussion of the grace, unity and riches we have in Christ, he follows up with a prayer that Christ would dwell in their hearts and that they would know God’s incredible love – a love that is beyond human knowledge.  In recent days, this has become my favorite of the biblical prayers:  “that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (3:17-19 – for a memory tool, notice how these verse numbers compare to the passage above).

                As a prayer-wimp theologian, I should begin using the great theological truths of the Bible as a basis for my prayers.  In fact, if I am a theologian, then I have no excuse for a wimpy prayer life.  When I don’t know what to pray for someone, just asking that they would know those great truths is a perfect beginning.  These two prayers in Ephesians can serve as examples.  The Reformed doctrines are wonderful truths that I should wish all to know, and I should pray to that end, especially for people I know and care about.  I prayed for the congregation at Village today that, as we face this resurrection season, we would know God’s resurrection power in our lives and in our church; that the power which raised Jesus from the dead would raise the deadness in us to new life; and that, through his power, more people would come to know his amazing love.

Anniversary

April 1, 2009 at 4:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

This isn’t an Aprils Fool’s Day joke.  You have reached Pastor Glenn’s blog; it just looks different.  Today marks one year since I began this blog, so I decided to change the look for a while.

I also wanted to take the opportunity to thank all who have been reading these scattered thoughts over the months.  If God has used anything said here for growth or encouragement in your lives, then he gets all the glory.

For those who are interested, here is a summary of the most read postings I’ve made over the last year.  If you haven’t read these, they might be worth your time.  By far my most read blog has been one of the earliest ones called “Micaiah and Today’s False Prophets.”  This post continues to find new readers almost a year after I wrote it.  The second most read article is called “Burnout in Ministry.”   The fact that I’ve linked a few other articles to this one has probably helped, but I think it is an issue many deal with on a regular basis.  And tied with that one for second is “Life Can Be Empty.”  This article is a presentation of the Gospel using the book of Ecclesiastes, and because of it’s nature, I linked to it in the sidebar hoping it would get more readers.  (Now I see it’s on the top of the page)  Finally the fourth most read blog has been the recent “John Piper on the TNIV.”

Thanks again for reading.  May God, out of his glorious riches, strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge –that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

 

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