Job and Bunyan Versus The Shack

I am reblogging this book review of The Shack (originally posted January 7,2009), as it was a post most people found to be helpful.

The book entitled The Shack has been a marketing phenomenon among “evangelicals.” Blurbs compare the Shack to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I am here to tell you that the hype is a bit forced. Let’s do a bit of comparison, first with the book of Job, then with Bunyan, interjecting a bit of C.S. Lewis in for fun.

The Shack is the story of a man whose beautiful daughter is brutally murdered. The man leaves the faith, only to receive a message from God to meet him at the shack, the very place where his daughter was murdered. He then meets God. The Father is a big jolly black woman, the Son is a Jewish carpenter, and the Holy Spirit is a wispy, mysterious Asian woman (we’ll get to that blasphemy in a moment). The upshot of the plot is that God explains to the main character the why’s and the wherefore’s, and the man is healed. The theological upshot is that God is good, but not all-powerful. Young takes Rabbi Kushner’s prong of the dilemma. What is important to notice here is a combination of rationalism and experientalism. On the one hand, Young tears at the heart strings, making the reader bleed for the main character. On the other hand, in order for the man’s faith to be “restored,” God has to explain himself.

Contrast Job. Job lost much more than the man in the story (ten children!), and it was due to the prince of demons being opposed to him, not a mere man, even if Job didn’t know that. He lost all his possessions, and then finally his health. He had much more to complain about than the man in The Shack. He too wanted God to explain. He wanted to vindicate himself as well. But when God finally has His say, He tells Job that He does not have to come to the bar of human reason. Humans have to come to the bar of God. This is where C.S. Lewis comes in. In his brilliant essay entitled “God in the Dock,” he makes the point that the really important thing for autonomous man is that he is the judge, and that God is in the dock. The man may very well be a kindly judge and acquit God of wrong-doing, if God shows Himself up to the task of defending himself. But the really important thing is that man is the judge, and God is in the dock (on trial). Job shows us that the reverse is true. God is the judge, and man is in the dock.

Rationalism always results in God losing one of His attributes. If God is all-powerful and all-good, then how come evil exists? The Bible does not allow us to lessen the difficulty of this question by jettisoning one of these attributes. The reason the problem is so acute for the believer is that God is both all-benevolent and all-powerful.

Just to begin an answer (and not leave the readers hanging), God allows evil to exist for various reasons, but evil will not continue to last. God has dealt with the problem of evil on the cross and the empty tomb, and will finally eradicate the very presence of evil in this world in the future. No other religion, by the way, or atheism, has an answer to this question. Pantheism believes that evil is naturally part of the world. No hope of eradication there. Atheism cannot define right and wrong, so his faith in his own reason becomes shockingly apparent when he confidently talks about the problem of evil. Deists don’t believe that God has anything to do with the world. These all lack hope and eschatology.

Bunyan and Young go in fundamentally different directions. Christian’s journey is to the bar of judgment as a defendant whom God will acquit based on the spotless righteousness of Christ imputed to him. The man’s journey in The Shack is to the bench, where he magnanimously acquits God of wrong-doing, once it becomes evident that God is really powerless to stop it. Of course, if God is powerless to stop evil, then He is also powerless to eradicate evil, and so that road is also a dead end eschatologically speaking.

In talking with one of my friends, he made the very interesting point also about faith. What moves Christian? It is the scroll, the evangelist, the Interpreter, the fellow believers he meets on the way, the key of faith in Doubting Castle. It is the means of grace which compels Christian to a life of faith. In The Shack, it is a one-time rationalistic showdown where God pleads and begs with the man (in effect) not only to give Him a hearing, but to acquit Him of wrong-doing. Ultimately, the man’s faith is in himself.

My friend also noted the contrast between the way in which God is portrayed in the Bible as opposed to how God is portrayed in The Shack. The God of The Shack is hardly a God with the least little hint of awe and majesty. He is not the God of the whirlwind, which is how God treated Job. He is not the God before whom all bow their faces to the ground. Instead, He is a God whose booty sways to the music. Anyone who cannot see the blasphemy and rank heresy of this portrayal of God is seriously lacking in discernment. God is Spirit, and only the Second Person of the Trinity has a human body which exists only in hypostatic union with the divine nature, and is currently a glorified body. I choose to believe the God of the Bible, who will eradicate evil because He is completely omnipotent and completely free of sin.

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58 Comments

  1. chris said,

    January 7, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Lane,
    Be prepared for an assault on your server, because I am pointing everyone I know to your little essay here. Excellent stuff!!

    Thanks for this.
    C

  2. greenbaggins said,

    January 7, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Thanks for your kind words, Chris.

  3. Steven Carr said,

    January 7, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Good stuff, Lane. The Shack is one of the worst heretical books to come out in several years.

  4. jared said,

    January 7, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Lane,

    Great review! One thing though, you say,

    The God of The Shack is hardly a God with the least little hint of awe and majesty. He is not the God of the whirlwind, which is how God treated Job. He is not the God before whom all bow their faces to the ground. Instead, He is a God whose booty sways to the music.

    Can’t God be the God of the whirlwind and</i sway His booty to the music? I mean, whirlwinding is almost there! ;-)

  5. Buck said,

    January 8, 2009 at 4:57 am

    Just finished this fantastic novel last night and I think you must not be religious to enjoy this book. This book is a novel, a parable at least and I think it is written without the fear to be “religiously incorrect”. The Shack is not the Bible and it does not want to be.

    It is a testimony of a guy’s (the author’s) relationship to God and as this I can appreciate it and benefit a lot from it. In Job’s times God has not revealed himself as much as he has to us through Jesus.

    And remember, for religious people Jesus was the the biggest blasphemist. How can a human be God? Not much awe, thunder and whilwind in that, is it? ;-)

  6. January 8, 2009 at 6:18 am

    [...] ‘Job and Bunyan vs. The Shack‘ Green Baggins [...]

  7. January 8, 2009 at 6:45 am

    Fantastically good essay of a book I had mercifully not even heard of. One of your best pieces!

  8. Allen Mickle said,

    January 8, 2009 at 7:13 am

    Greetings,

    I thoroughly enjoyed this and think you posed some excellent contrasts between the biblical record, Bunyan, Lewis, and the theologically repugnant “The Shack.” I hope many read your post and begin to reflect on the dangers of this book. Fiction is one thing, fiction that completely corrupts the nature of God, is another, especially when people find it to be a refreshing look at God.

    Many blessings and keep up the good work.

    Allen Mickle

  9. January 8, 2009 at 9:43 am

    [...] 8, 2009 by Michael Lane Keister over at Green Baggins has a review of the book “The Shack.”  I have not read this book and honestly have not intended to read it, but for those of you that [...]

  10. gairneybridge said,

    January 8, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Excellent review. I’m going to link this!

  11. greenbaggins said,

    January 8, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Buck, you might want to read some more of this blog before you accuse me of being non-religious. I am a pastor of two churches, and I preach the Word of God every Sunday. Secondly, it doesn’t matter what form the book takes: if it disagrees with the Bible, we are not to think of its teaching as true. Period. That goes for novels, short stories, fantasy literature, etc. Thirdly, as I have sought to describe, the man’s relationship with God attempts to be one of judge over God. That is not a healthy relationship with God in any sense of the word. Fourth, your assertion concerning Jesus is most amazing. You must be completely ignorant of twenty centuries of discussion concerning Christology to assert that Jesus is blasphemous. Have you never heard of Chalcedon? Look up the Chalcedonian formulation before you dare to assert that Jesus is blasphemous. And Jesus drove out the money-changers with a whip of cords, was transfigured on a mountaintop, rose up Lazarus from the dead, calmed the wind and the wave, made the deaf to hear, healed the lame, ripped the Temple curtain in two at His death, and was raised from the dead. That’s plenty of whirlwind and awe. Look especially at Thomas’s reaction to Jesus’ resurrection in John 20. “Gentle Jesus meek and mild” is by no means the complete picture of Jesus.

  12. greenbaggins said,

    January 8, 2009 at 10:23 am

    Thank you Jared, Lawrence, and Allen. Glad it is edifying.

  13. January 8, 2009 at 10:31 am

    [...] read quite a few reviews of The Shack (none positive). I would point my readers to the following excellent review over at Green Baggins. It does a good job of pointing out how bad The Shack is both theologically [...]

  14. greenbaggins said,

    January 8, 2009 at 10:36 am

    Hey, Tim, good to see you have a blog. I have linked your blog on my roll.

  15. January 8, 2009 at 11:08 am

    [...] Green Baggins, Job, The Shack, The Trinity Lane Keister provides a solid review of The Shack here. Makes you think that if God showed up to hang out with Mack at the shack he would probably tell [...]

  16. Kevin said,

    January 8, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Beyond excellent, Lane, as always. I linked as well. Keep up the good work.

  17. gairneybridge said,

    January 8, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Thanks, Lane. I appreciate it.

  18. January 8, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    [...] ‘The Shack’ taken to the woodshed At our Presbytery Credentials Committee meeting today, the subject of the heretical book The Shack came up. I’d thankfully never heard of it before. Providentially, when I returned home this afternoon, I found an email from Eric over at Borg Blog referring to a post over at GreenBaggins. [...]

  19. Peter Jones said,

    January 9, 2009 at 11:01 am

    Lane, being a CRE man, I do not often agree with all you say, but this is pitch perfect. You nail it. I especially like the use of Job, who does not get used enough in discussions of good, evil, and God. God does not have to explain Himself. We trust Him because of who He is and what He has done. We do not trust Him because all that happens to us is neatly explained. Man wants to be God. This is the ultimate sin and Young bends to it in the book.
    Peter Jones, Pastor

  20. Reed Here said,

    January 9, 2009 at 11:42 am

    No. 5, Buck:

    Decided to respond after all. I mean no disrespect. Shockingly outrageous comments require hard words back. No disrespect intended, rather hopes you will come, not to your senses, but to Christ’s.

    Christ the biggest blasphemist of his day? That is either the most naive statement, or the most shocking declaration of unbelief I’ve come across in a long time. As you present yourself as a believer, I’ll assume the naiveness.

    If the Pharisees were in the seat of God, if the Saducees we the arbiters of truth, if Man is Supreme, then indeed Jesus was the biggest blasphemist. Whoever taught you this is foolish or devilish.

    Rather than blashemy, Jesus “power” encounters, be they with Pharisee, Saducee, Scribe, Lawyer, or a disciple like Peter, were addressed at crushing the blasphemous belief in which these opponents were trapped. Rather than protecting the Bible, these opponents had so perverted it that they offered praise to Yahweh with their lips and hands, and served the interests of Father Satan better than just about any generation prior.

    Mr. Young and his book The Shack are blasphemous. He takes the teaching of the Bible and twists it to present a God who is fit for man’s convictions of justice.

    Seriously Buck, whereever you picked up such a foolish idea as Jesus the blasphemer, you need to flee it as fast as you can. Regular draughts from the stream will surely poison one eternally.

  21. greenbaggins said,

    January 9, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Thanks for your kind comment, Peter.

  22. Kevin Carr said,

    January 9, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Great peace on “The Shack” Lane. Always thought it had the smell of an outhouse.

  23. January 9, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    [...] blogged about The Shack here. __________________ Rev. Lane Keister Teaching Elder, PCA, North Dakota (working out of bounds in [...]

  24. greenbaggins said,

    January 9, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Hey, Kevin! Welcome to my blog, and thanks for your kind comment.

  25. G.C. Berkley said,

    January 9, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Reed, I think Buck was referring to how the “religious” people of Jesus’ day viewed Him (Pharisees and Saducees).

    Buck said:

    And remember, for religious people Jesus was the the biggest blasphemist.

    I don’t think he was saying that this charge was true.

    However, his comments are naive and misguided. If Young is going to write a book about God, he had better not be “religiously incorrect”.

  26. Reed Here said,

    January 9, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    GC, yeah, I read it that way, although I di get twisted around. Buck was using this idea to support the notion that Young’s book is therefore sound, as if Young was doing what Jesus did, when it is exactly the opposite.

    To the Pharisees, et.al., Jesus was a blasphemer (agreed). Here we have one of those unique opportunities though, if Jesus were here and he read Buck’s comment in support of Young, what would he do (WWJD)? I sugest that he most likely would shout, “blasphemy!” :)

  27. Pete Myers said,

    January 9, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Lane,

    Have you come across Driscoll’s critique of the Shack? He said that it’s not just blasphemous for us to have a picture of an old woman as God. He extended the commandment to include any kind of picture of God, in any context, no matter what. Presumably he must have been refering to mental pictures, too, as he’s reviewing a book that describes God in a physical form.

    So, is the Sistene Chapel idolatrous for that reason? I’ve always found the image of God stretching to Adam, but Adam just lying there a moving, stirring image – moving my Calvinism from my head to my tear ducts.

    I just throw that out there as a bunch of issues for views/corrections on. That seems to be my role here now :)

  28. January 9, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    If The Shack portrays two of the three Persons of the Trinity as female, then I suppose a workable subtitle for The Shack would be, “Jesus Has Two Mommies.” It’s not “just a novel,” it’s the heresy that rushes into the vacuous minds of those who know little to nothing orthodox about God or Christianity.

  29. January 10, 2009 at 8:17 am

    [...] about The Shack Green Baggins wrote a post about the book The Shack. I have posted about this book here. In that post I said, “The [...]

  30. natrimony said,

    January 10, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    I guess technically it should be “Job and Bunyan vs. Young”. Semantics I guess.

    O.K. I’m going to try to very clear. While I definitely don’t agree with the Shack’s portrayal of the Trinity, or the Open Theism. It is a work of fiction alongwith Pilgrim’s Progress (one of my favorite books). It hurts my head to compare “The Shack” with Job or “Pilgrim’s Progress”. Ancient Hebrew wisdom literature vs. pomo emotionalism or Reformational Piety? However, from a hermeneutic standpoint there seem to be some unanswered questions in your critique. In regards to authorial intent: Bunyan clearly wrote Pilgrim’s Progress as an extended allegory/religious commentary for devotional benefit (people weren’t really writing ‘fiction’ as we know it in those days). Has Young done the same thing in writing the Shack? I mean, I’m not seeing it marketed like the typical Evangelical self-help literature (7 steps to Your Purpose Driven Best Life Whatever–plus workbook for $9.95) But, according to current reader response interpretive methodologies perhaps many have confused the Shack for something more (or less) than what it is–a novel.

    It is sad that anyone could skim a paperback from a shelf clearly marked ‘fiction’ and then extrapolate attributes of reality from such a reading. And, while Pilgrim’s Progress is one of my favorite works of literature it is not the Bible either. The fact that a work of allegory/fiction may point to truth does not mean that it is truth. While I believe that Bunyan’s work points one much closer to the truth than the Shack I don’t see either as being a Systematic Theology text. With that said, I can see how a person with their head on straight could appreciate “The Shack” for what it is…fiction. Case in point: While I had serious issues with the angelogy of the Peretti novels…I still thought the demon battling was pretty cool. But, I can separate story from theology.

    However, obviously there are many who can’t (look at the way “The Celestine Prophecy” or “The Da Vinci Code” have transcended their genre). Unfortunately, fiction may all too quickly become reality for non-believers as G.K. Chesterson observed concerning the vacuum of belief. People want to believe good stories. However, when novelists become theologians then, well, I guess you get the emergent church.

  31. Pete Myers said,

    January 10, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    #28, #30,

    An interesting connection, in my opinion, is that the Da Vinci Code also had a strong theme of some kind of divination of the feminine.

    I wonder if these sorts of books are just little evidences of a deeper cultural shift. Modernistic atheism was grounded on a theistic worldview… this worked itself out into a much more consistent postmodernity that is grounded in an atheistic worldview.

    But while the postmodern mindset is grounded in atheism, the postmodern mindset is longing for the numinous… and the obvious place to go is a divine stripped of authority. A feminine divine fits this very well.

    The big dark blackness of no God, therefore no truth, therefore no meaning, leads to the existential feeling of pointlessness, that really really wants a divine “mum” to make it feel better.

    Hmmm… the sort of thoughts you splurge when you should be in bed.

  32. Scott Roper said,

    January 10, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    Pete,

    The reformed position on images is that any image of God is a violation of the second commandment. Driscoll actually doesn’t go far enough as he still allows for images of the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the Westminster Shorter Catechism under Question 109 we find, “The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, … the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature…”

  33. January 11, 2009 at 8:49 am

    [...] should take a look at an excellent piece about it by Lane Keister at Green Baggins titled “Job and Bunyan versus The Shack”.  It will help you explain how and why The Shack is nothing more than Oprah style pop [...]

  34. G.C. Berkley said,

    January 14, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Pete,

    I’ve been in discussions before on this here. I don’t think art depicting Christ, as long as respectfully done, and sticking close to what has been revealed about His appearance in Scripture (in other words, he wasn’t a blue-eyed European but a Middle Eastern Jew) are, in my opinion, not a violation of the 2nd commandment. If anyone wants to say otherwise, we need to scrap the Sistine Chapel, the works of Rembrandt, etc. That is ridiculous, Jesus was and is a man with a face, to say that depicting that face is breaking the 2nd commandment is going beyond the prohibition. Odd how we would have to repent of thinking about Jesus as a man, were the Confession right on this point, isn’t it?

  35. David Gadbois said,

    January 14, 2009 at 11:49 am

    We should scrap the Sistine Chapel. It doesn’t just have images of Jesus, but depicts God the Father as an old man.

  36. Zrim said,

    January 14, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    David,

    Who’s this “we”?

    I’m not one for images (and GCB sure is no help), but shouldn’t one have dominion over a thing before he advocates for its scrapping? Or do you have membership at the Sistene?

  37. G.C. Berkley said,

    January 14, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    And how am I not helping? Was I unclear somewhere?

  38. Zrim said,

    January 14, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    GCB,

    Like you said, this image trail has been dug before around here (and I don’t “see it your way,” as it were). My point is that I don’t want David scrapping a world wonder before I get a chance to see it. And even then, the idea of scrapping the Sistene is not a little ridiculous. i know, me and my silly two-kingdoms.

  39. Reed Here said,

    January 14, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    No. 34, GC (Pete):

    I have sympathy for your position. Indeed, if one were to be consistent with the Bible’s expression of the 2nd Commandment, and apply it to Jesus, then there most certainly would be lots, and lots of violations which we in faith must eschew.

    However, it is the angle of the mental that seems to me to actually support a “consistent” (not intending to be pejorative) position. Consider, if the 2nd Commandment is intended to be applied to Jesus, then this includes mental images. If mental images are included, then all of us stand condemned, and hopelessly so. I don’t know, but that sounds an awful lot like the standard Jesus outlines expressly in Mt 6 (et.al.), and is the position of the Bible. Indeed, the point of the Law is to inform us how hopelessly hopeless it is that we have any hope of hopefully offering even a smidgen of fleshly obedience that has the hope of passing the muster of God’s standard of holiness (intentional repetition, hopefully not merely sloppiness :0).

    As I’ve offered to others when asked concerning my understanding of the 4th Commandment, I’m a strict Sabbatarian who violates the Sabbath every Sunday (in some manner). Thank God for the grace and mercy of God in Christ by which I am forgiven, granted righteousness, adopted, and now being conformed to His image. One day I have the sure hope that I will be both a strict Sabbatarian and a strict by faith maintainer. In that Hope I press on now.

    I look at the 2nd Commandment, in application to Jesus, in very similar terms, Sistene Chapels and Rembrandts notwithstanding.

  40. David Gadbois said,

    January 14, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Zrim, I was sorta speaking hypothetically. I don’t acknowledge Rome to be a true church, so I wouldn’t really expect them to tear down their own idolatrous chapel.

    But if a congregation member from our church was involved in helping out in a painting project like that, we would discipline that member. Both the HC and WLC’s expositions of the 2nd Commandment forbid making images of God whatsoever, whether or not the images are for use in worship or not.

  41. Zrim said,

    January 14, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Reed,

    Re # 39:

    Good points. Just as legalism lowers the stakes and ends up having us worrying about “devils under every doily,” iconoclasm can suggest we should stay out of certain art museums (or worse, demolish them). And I am reminded of that mega-post (Election year cycle) in which the point was made from this side of the table that an idolatrous state is no ground for withdrawal/overthrow.

  42. Zrim said,

    January 14, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    David,

    Re your figure of speech, I know. But allowed for some interesting points to be made.

    Re your hypothetical, I get that too. But sometimes hypotheticals have a way of unhelpfully ignoring the reality we all live in and we end up disciplining figments of imagination (you recall what Calvin said about the mind being an idol factory). I mean, do you really expect a member of your church will be comissioned to paint a Sistene Chapel-like project? Sometimes the bread-and-butter device is good: don’t worry about it until it pops up.

  43. Ron Henzel said,

    January 14, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Actually, the second commandment forbids making images of anything. Now we’re in real trouble!

  44. Reed Here said,

    January 14, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    No. 43, Ron, uhhh, I don’t follow. The reference is to idol making, not simply artistic representation. No graven image (idol), whose use is worship, using the spiritual realm or the material realm for models

    Of course, then the retort is that non-worship images of deity are o.k. I was there until I considered the Bible’s teaching concerning the only response to God, and I ended up agreeing that there are only two responses (worship or rebellion), and only one is proper (worship).

  45. G.C. Berkley said,

    January 14, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Reed,

    I think Ron was joking. Proof-texting at it’s finest!

  46. Reed Here said,

    January 14, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Uhhh, I’m wounded :P

  47. natrimony said,

    January 14, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    David,

    Would your church really discipline a member who painted a picture of Jesus or God?

  48. Ron Henzel said,

    January 15, 2009 at 5:30 am

    Sorry for any confusion caused by my comment (43). I was out last night and could not respond until this morning.

    GCB is technically correct, but my humor was intended to have a point. There have been those among us who have taken the second commandment to a nearly-Muslim extreme. As someone with an avid interest in Renaissance art and history (I teach it at the middle school level) I think there is much misunderstanding over what someone like Michelangelo thought he was doing when he painted God the Father as a bearded old man, and that by focusing on those kinds of details in his work we miss the real significance of what was going on with him and with the Renaissance in general.

    I believe Michelangelo knew that he was painting God in a purely symbolic form for purposes of communication, and almost certainly with a didactic intention, and not for purposes of worshiping his images, even though he was putting them on the ceiling of a chapel. I think that when we reduce the whole matter to a discussion about the second commandment we are doing two things. On the one hand, we are expressing a sincere biblical concern over something that has been a real problem throughout biblical and church history: the tendency of humans to make idols out of just about anything (think: Gideon’s ephod in Judges 8), and as a former Roman Catholic who has seen more of that than I can stomach, I share that concern very profoundly. We should not dismiss the issue lightly. On the other hand, we also forget that the cultural elites of the Renaissance that produced these works were far more sophisticated than we give them credit for being, and in the process of focusing depictions of God the Father (which were actually so rare in both medieval and Renaissance art that I can’t think of another example offhand, except perhaps in a few woodcuts) we not only risk misinterpreting Michelangelo’s work miss a much bigger picture.

    In his book True Spirituality, I think Francis Schaeffer tried to help us grasp this when he wrote:

    On the ceiling of the Sistine chapel in Rome, there are the tremendous frescoes by Michelangelo. Among them is the magnificent picture of the creation of man. God is reaching out His finger, and man, just having been created, reaches out to God as well. But their fingers do not touch. This is a true Christian insight. Man is not an extension of God, cut off like a reproducing amoeba. God created man external to Himself, and they must not touch in the picture. Whatever Michelangelo had in mind, surely those who formulated the Chalcedonian Christology in the early creeds of the Church had this sharply in mind when they said the even in the one person Jesus Christ there is no commingling of the human and the divine natures.

    But there is another part of the fresco of Michelangelo which I would use as an illustration at this present point. The arm of God is thrown backwards, and there are two kinds of figures under His arm. There are some little cherub figures that one would take as the Renaissance idea of the representation of angels. But there is another person under His arm, a beautiful girl. Her face is startled, but she is magnificent. And most people have felt that his is a representation of Eve. She is not yet created, but she is in the mind of God.

    At this point one must say what would be a wrong interpretation of Michelangelo’s painting and what would be right. If he were saying that she was just as “real” in the mind of God as she would be later after he had created her, then that is a non-Christian concept. It is Eastern. Eve became externally, objectively real at that great moment when He put Adam to sleep and He made the female from the male. But if Michelangelo meant that before God created Eve He had already though about her, then this is flamingly true. The thought of God preceded His creative acts.

    [Schaeffer, Complete Works, 3:307, emphasis his.]

    I think Schaeffer does not raise the whole idolatry issue here, even though the title of his book is True Spirituality, because he knows that it is largely irrelevant. And yet, while I also feel very confident in saying that he would have been the last person to endorse the idea of painting over the interior of the Sistine Chapel and making it into a nice, white-walled New England style Presbyterian church, this doesn’t mean he was all Pollyanna about it. In How Should We Then Live? he wrote:

    It is worth reiterating the ways in which the infiltration by humanistic thought—growing over the years but fully developed by 1500—showed itself. First, the authority of the church was made equal to the authority of the Bible. Second, a strong element of human work as added to the work of Christ for salvation. Third, after Thomas Aquinas there had come an increasing synthesis between biblical teaching and pagan thought. This synthesis was not just a borrowing of words but actually of content. It is apparent in many places and could be illustrated in many ways. For example, Raphael in one of his rooms in the Vatican balanced The School of Athens (which represents Greek non-Christian philosophical thought) with his pictoral representation of the church, putting them on opposite walls. The representation of the church is called the Disputà, for it deals with the nature of the mass. Raphael was par excellence the artist of the synthesis. But Michelangelo, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, also combined biblical teaching and non-Christian pagan thought; he made the pagan prophetesses equal to the Old Testament prophets. Dante’s writing show the same mixture.

    [Complete Works, 5:122.]

    The Sistine Chapel, and Renaissance art in general, has the tendency to reflect an idolatry of a more non-traditional kind that had been emerging in Europe at least since the re-discovery of Plato and Aristotle in Greek, which was assisted in large part by the Medici family of Florence in the 15th century, one of whose sons would ascend to the papal chair as Leo X in the 16th. On the one hand, the Renaissance eventually gave us our first printed critical edition of the Greek New Testament and made it widely available in Western Europe, just in time to fuel the Reformation. On the other hand, it also served as a conduit for a whole lot of other ideas dating back to ancient Greece that sped up the theological corrosion of the late-medieval and post-medieval Roman Catholic church.

    So if we could go back in time and prevent the Renaissance from happening (although obviously nothing can thwart God’s sovereign plans), say, with some typically-medieval contrivance such as poisoning all the key players, we would slow down the decay of a church that was already in steep decline and maybe even prevent the greatest spiritual revival of the second millennium of church history.

    Perhaps this will make me the odd man out here, but I am opposed to destroying the artwork of the Sistine Chapel for the same reason I was opposed to the Taliban blowing up Buddhist statues carved into the mountainsides of Afghanistan. Oddly, this puts me in the same company as Lenin, who, when asked by his fellow Communists if it was time to destroy all the fabulous onion-domed cathedrals of Russia after the 1917 revolution, replied that they were the property of the people and part of their heritage, and should be preserved (although the Communist party had a mixed record of following through on this). I do not agree with everything that Renaissance artwork stands for, but I think we need to keep it and study it from a biblical perspective to learn the truth about our past which, with all its faults, by God’s common grace was recorded with immense beauty.

  49. Zrim said,

    January 15, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Ron,

    I am pleased to be calling to offer you the position of curator.

    David,

    We decided to go another way. All the best in your future endeavors.

  50. natrimony said,

    January 15, 2009 at 10:36 am

    Ron,

    That was one of the most well-thought out treatments of this topic I could hope for. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

  51. G.C. Berkley said,

    January 15, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    I’m not adverse to blowing up statues of Buddha though…

    Thanks for the excellent comments Ron!

    David re:#40

    Although the HC and WLC forbid it, perhaps the Lord does not (to the degree asserted).

  52. April 20, 2009 at 10:54 am

    [...] have a review of the Shack here. __________________ Rev. Lane Keister Teaching Elder, PCA, North Dakota (working out of bounds in [...]

  53. June 23, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    Hey, Lane. Just curious: Did you read the book?

  54. greenbaggins said,

    June 24, 2010 at 11:12 am

    Yes, I read it, Kevin. Why do you ask?

  55. June 24, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Just curious. I finally read it myself (and only because so many were asking about it). I am not sure you got Mack judging God right. In fact, when he was given the opportunity, he recoiled in horror.

    I am not sure I would go so far as to call the book heretical and blasphemous now that I read it, although it certainly is Evangelical and Arminian. Which may be the same thing after all. Hehehhe.

  56. greenbaggins said,

    June 24, 2010 at 11:58 am

    You don’t think portraying God the Father as a booty-swaying black woman is blasphemous? Or the Holy Spirit as a wispy, mysterious Asian woman?

  57. June 24, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    I think the book explained why God appeared that way. ;-) Which is why I asked the original question. I’m getting ready to write a review (which will be LARGELY but not entirely negative!) and I was scrolling back to see what you and others had said. It’s been a while.

  58. CD-Host said,

    July 21, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    @Lane —

    Not sure why you wanted to repost a 3 year old essay but a few comments for FWIW.

    My take on Job is very different. I arguably see it as an essay on the question of “is something good because God declares it to be good or does God declare the good to be good”. Job I believe is a reductio ad absurdum which takes the position of a God who does declare that the good is whatever he sees as good. It makes explicit what implied by such a view of God’s sovereignty, what it means for the good to be objectively arbitrary. Structurally it even appears as a debate with two sides
    Job the patient where God promises faithfulness partially present in canonical Job and Job the impatient which is the classic book and most of canonical Job. This is the one where Job’s claims that is suffering is undeserved are taken by Job’s friends as accusations against God and that makes the core of the argument. Because we can not have all of:

    a) A world where pain is dispensed often quite arbitrary
    b) A world where God’s earthly rewards and punishment are just
    c) God being sovereign to that extent

    One has to be false. You address this to some extent in your problem of pain article but FWIW I take Job to be speaking to that saying the opposite of what you have the book’s message being.

    _________

    Arguing that God will some time in the future solve the problem of pain doesn’t answer the question as to the now of the centuries that have passed. If God can intervene and chooses not to, he is effectively creating the suffering. There is no meaningful way to get around it. Trying to say that God cannot be put in the dock it trying to say that Christianity cannot be put in the dock. Either Christianity’s claims are self-contradictory of they are not. And they are going to have to be judged my humankind, the mice aren’t weighing in on the matter.

    That being said this is a review of the Shack and the Shack also ducks the issue by claiming while God “is there” for the victims of suffering it doesn’t answer the question of why the suffering exists.

    _________

    BTW Atheism has no problem defining good and evil. What it does claim is that there are definitions, that is to say constructions of human culture and mostly tied to the nature of humanity.

    ________

    Finally arguing that the Shack’s theology reduces the awe and majesty of God I believe is incorrect. Most theologies of the divine attempt to answer the question about how could there be an incarnation (and moreover a hypostatic union) and at the same time a God wholly above mankind and all of creation. By making the father incarnate I think the Shack allows the reader to see this dilemma in a new light.

    That being said I don’t think The Shack adds much to the theology. The Shack is all over the place theologically in its treatment I can understand fully where Driscoll saw modalism and at the same time the book does at least one preach the orthodox trinity, “We are not three gods, and we are not talking about one god with three attitudes, like a man who is a husband, father, and worker. I am one God and I am three persons, and each of the three is fully and entirely the one.” So mostly the book just contradicts itself while having a somewhat interesting and amusing set of images.


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