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.

Slavery to the Fear of Death (Heb. 2:15)

(Posted by Paige)

Here’s a theme that I would like to develop into a written piece sometime; I thought I’d toss it out to you here to gather some of your good thinking, and thus expand my own. See which of these questions sparks ideas in you…

1) In what ways have cultures (and individuals), from ancient times to the present, told stories and pursued actions that reflect slavery to the fear of death?

2) In what ways has this universal fear of death been exploited by the powerful?

3)Would fear of death have at all influenced the lives of OT saints (up to and including Jesus’ disciples, pre-resurrection)? In other words, was OT revelation sufficient to remove, or at least mitigate, this universal fear of death?

Here is the text from Hebrews 2:14-15 (ESV):

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

Thanks in advance for your ideas!

How Many Times?

Does a guy have to tell a falsehood before people stop believing him? The Bible clearly teaches us that we cannot know the day or the hour of Christ’s return, and yet Harold Camping claims to know exactly when that will happen. This from someone who has told everyone to leave the church. Now he’s claiming that Christ did come back on Saturday, just in a more spiritual sense. How is this not special pleading, trying to force the facts to fit the theory? It looks just a little too convenient for this utter skeptic to believe. Harold Camping is a heretic. He can’t even say the ecumenical creeds, for crying out loud. You know, the sections that go “I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church”? How credible is it for Camping to claim that he loves Jesus but can’t stand His bride? Plainly, he does not have the eyes of faith to see the bride of Christ as she will be, as pictured in the end of Revelation, which is how I argue we should ultimately see the church. Camping has disgusted me for years, and this weasel-wording around his utter failure does not help the Christian cause in any way, shape, or form. He has made a laughing-stock out of his version of Christianity, which isn’t mine, or 95% of the rest of the church’s, either. What he keeps on failing to realize (and this is only if he is sincere!) is that his predictions bring shame to the name of Christ, and ridicule to God’s people. He needs to repent immediately. He is a false teacher, and is leading people astray from the faith of the Bible.

Is God a Delusion?

Against what Dawkins and Hitchens are saying, this book will be extremely important in the debate. Indeed, this is one of a very few theological books likely to hit the New York Times Bestseller list. Of course, for some of my readers, that may be a reason to shy away from the book! However, if William Edgar gives it such a ringing endorsement, it ought to receive a fair hearing. Incidentally, I would also recommend Douglas Wilson’s blog on this, as he ripped Dawkins to shreds (figuratively speaking, of course).  

Growth in Truth and Love

Ephesians 4:14-16

Audio Version

In a small village that was popular for tourism because it was picturesque, but still very small, a man once walked up to an old man of the village and asked him, “Were any great men born here?” The old man answered, “Nope. Only babies.” We are all born babies in life, and we are all born babies in our spiritual lives as well. People do not become spiritual mature over night. And some people grow slower than others. But Paul is telling us the importance of growth for the Christian life. If we grow in truth and love, then the church will accomplish its mission, and we will be safe from false teaching and the deceptions of men.

It is very important to see how Paul says this, and what feeds into it. The NIV has “then” at the beginning of verse 14. A slightly more literal translation would have “in order that.” The purpose or goal is told to us in our passage. But, we ask, the goal of what? There is a strong connection with what has gone before. This verse is dependent on verse 11, which says “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophes, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” So, the reasons why God gave those kinds of people to the church are to prepare God’s people for works of service, to attain unity in the faith, and to become mature. The reason I am here is to help us all grow (including myself) to a greater maturity. Becoming mature means that we are no longer infants in the faith. There is nothing wrong with infants. We all start there. But so many Christians are content to stay in a perpetual state of infancy. They hear some new teaching or doctrine, and it gets them excited. They want to run with that new teaching or doctrine. But here’s the problem: new doctrine has another word for it: heresy. We stick with the old doctrines. Scripture doesn’t change. Yes, our understanding of Scripture might become better, but still the point is that Scripture does not change. One example is the New Perspective on Paul. This new idea says that Judaism was really a religion of grace, not a religion of works, like the Reformation said it was. Therefore, Paul was not really reacting against a Jewish religion of works, but was rather reacting against the Jews being so narrow and unaccepting. The result of this is that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is changed rather dramatically. Ironically, works are part of justification, according to the New Perspective on Paul, even though they won’t claim that they are doing that. This is something that I have studied so that the old Reformation truths will prevail in our two churches here, and that we will not be blown around with new doctrine like that.

But here is the question: how do we stop being infants? Well, first of all, we have to realize how immature we all are. It will not do to say that we are not infants, and that therefore we have nothing more to learn. Nothing is more sad than to see a person who is older reject learning and instruction, because they think they have arrived. We have never arrived until we go to be with Jesus. The people who have it right here are those people who never stop learning their entire lives. They are never so sure that they are mature. Instead, they are constantly desiring to learn more and more.

Paul introduces two metaphors that help explain what spiritual infants are like. First up is the metaphor of waves. Waves are dangerous. People would know what Paul is talking about, since they lived on the Mediterranean Sea. A ship that is dealing with high waves is going to have a hard time staying on course. The second metaphor is wind. We understand this one in North Dakota. Something has to be quite firmly tied to the ground in order to withstand a North Dakota wind. A spiritual infant is anything but firmly grounded. That is not a fault. It is merely the way things are. One does not become a Christian and simultaneously mature in the faith, contrary to what many people might say. As you know, small children are easily blown about as well. They will believe whatever they are told. They are formable. They change their minds easily, depending on what influences them. It is really quite scary to be a parent in this regard. You have to be so careful in terms of what influences you allow your children to interact with. I fear that we often underestimate the degree of influence that TV, peer groups, and other people have on our children. We make a great mistake if we measure the degree of influence that TV has, for instance, by how much it affects us. It has a great deal more influence on a child than it has on us, as almost all their life experiences have a more profound effect on children than they have on adults. Children, you need to be aware of this as well, and seek to find good influences, good friends, especially church friends. Flee those bad influences. Don’t watch so much TV. Children are often like wet cement. Everything that is dropped on wet cement will form an impression. Adults are not so much like that. Their cement has already hardened. Usually by about the age of 18, our characters are fairly well set, and our cement is hardened. This is a good analogy for what happens in the Christian life as well. What influences do we allow into our spiritual lives? Most of general “evangelical” influences that are out there today in terms of radio preachers, TV preachers, and even most books, are simply not helpful. They are often shallow and wrong. There are good teachers out there today, of course. But don’t feed your spiritual life with junk food. Don’t watch “spiritual TV.” Instead, dig deep into the means of grace. Study the Word. That is the single most important thing to growth in the Christian life. If you want to be spirituall mature, really mature, then you must read and study the Bible. You must ask those difficult doctrinal questions about the existence of evil, the two natures of Christ, God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, the way of salvation. What does baptism mean? What does faith mean? What is justification? What is sanctification? What is the Atonement? If these things are things you do not know about, then it is time to learn more. A great place to start is the confessions of the church. Memorize some of the questions from the Heidelberg Catechism. Read a question or two from the Catechism, and discuss it with your family when you do devotions. The Heidelberg Catechism is so much richer and rewarding than most devotional material that comes out in this day and age. Or take one article from the Belgic Confession. Discuss its meaning, and look up the proof texts. I will say this: merely coming to church on Sunday is simply not enough for spiritual maturity. One day a week in God’s house is crucial. But in and of itself it is not sufficient to counteract all the evil influences that will be thrown your way during the week. You need daily interaction with the things of God.

Believe me, there are people out there who want nothing more than to corrupt the sheep. They want to destroy the sheep. Recently, a man named Richard Dawkins wrote a book about atheism. His express goal is that everyone who starts reading the book as a Christian will end up an atheist when they put down the book. This book is on the bestseller charts, and everyone is talking about it. Atheism, the belief that there is no God, is a wind of doctrine that has been blowing for some time now. We need to be rooted in the teaching of Scripture so that atheism will not blow us off course. We need to know the doctrine of justification, so that the New Perspective will not blow us off course.

Now, we need to be very careful even here. Every teacher makes errors. Every teacher will not be as faithful to the Scripture as ought to be. But we cannot always know someone’s motivation. Not everyone who teaches a false doctrine does so because he hates the sheep and is deliberately trying to deceive them. We need to know only these two things: first, there are people out there who are trying to destroy the sheep; secondly, we cannot always know who they are. That means that the only way we can discern truth from error is to know the truth. The truth will set you free, as Jesus told us. It is really quite confining not to know the truth. It means that such a person will be a slave to every doctrine that comes down the pike. They will change their mind when the next persuasive teacher comes along. That is a miserable way to live, and it is exceptionally dangerous to live the Christian life that way. Don’t be like that. Grow instead in knowledge of Scriptural teaching.

Being mature also means that we speak the truth in love. Maturity has a danger to it as well, and that danger is pride. Pride will say, “I know more than you. So bow down to me.” What is our example? It is Christ. Christ is the anchor that will enable us all to stand firm in the truth, not blown about by every wind and wave of doctrine. Christ is the farthest thing from being deceptive, crafty, scheming, or cunning. Christ instead spoke the truth in love. The truth that He spoke was about Himself. It is his sacrifice on the cross, His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of which we must speak the truth in love. We speak about Christ so that the bodey may grow, so that more people may come into the church, believing Christ.

One interesting thing that we must note here is that we have to love someone quite a bit merely to say anything at all about Jesus. After all, is it not a lack of love that keeps us silent when we should speak? Is it not a lack of love that keeps us inactive when we should be active, inhospitable when we should be inviting? Of course, the passage also refers to the manner in which we speak the truth. We do not bludgeon people with God’s truth. That might be hypocritical or worse. Instead, we seek to apply the Gospel to where people are hurting in an effort to help them see the solution. We empathize with people as much as we can. If we haven’t been in that situation before, we can still use our imaginations to see what it is that they are going through. And this goes for fellow believers, as well as our discussions with unbelievers. This is what it means for each one of us to be doing our work. Every Christian, no matter how young or old, it is our duty to grow. It is our duty to become spiritually mature. Do not relish spiritual infancy. As I said, we all start there. But it is criminal negligence to stay there, when there are so many good resources available for growth in the Christian faith.

Dawkins and All That

I was thinking of doing something on Dawkins. However, there are many good critiques of him out there. And this one is probably the best.