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.

Hints of Cessationism in NT?

(Posted by Paige)

A perennial puzzle that arises as we rub shoulders with our neighbors in the wider church is how we are to understand the claims of “continualists,” who attest that signs and wonders and special manifestations of the Spirit are (and ought to be) normative parts of Christian experience today. As this is a live question in my neck of the woods right now, I recently started thinking through the NT’s teaching, both implied and direct, on the temporary nature of these “special effects.” I’ve come to some interesting, tentative conclusions based mainly on a close study of Hebrews; but before I set these out for scrutiny, I thought I’d offer a question for your consideration and see what good thoughts I get back. Here is my basic query:

Can you identify in the NT any evidence of a shift, whether anticipated or inaugurated, from faith supported by words, sacraments, and miraculous signs to faith supported by words and sacraments alone? (Assume inspired words and the illumination of the Holy Spirit in both cases!)

Note please that I am only interested in NT support for this shift, not what the ECFs had to say about it. I’m also already familiar with the basic cessationist arguments, so no need to repeat Warfield or Calvin on this. What do you see in the NT that suggests a transition from an era that included wonders/sight to an era characterized by words/hearing?

Thanks in advance!

Update:My own contribution can be found in this comment.

Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit

Ephesians 4:30

Audio Version

Many years ago, as the story is told, a devout king was disturbed by the ingratitude of his royal court. He prepared a large banquet for them. When the king and his royal guests were seated, by prearrangement, a beggar shuffled into the hall, sat down at the king’s table, and gorged himself with food. Without saying a word, he then left the room. The guests were furious and asked permission to seize the tramp and tear him limb from limb for his ingratitude. The king replied, “That beggar has done only once to an earthly king what each of you does three times each day to God. You sit there at the table and eat until you area satisfied. Then you walk away without recognizing God, or expressing one word of thanks to Him.” As George Macdonald says, “The careless soul receives the Father’s gifts as if it were a way that things had of dropping into his hand…yet he is ever complaining, as if someone were accountable for the problems which meet him at every turn. For the good that comes to him, he gives no thanks–who is there to thank? At the disappointments that befall him he grumbles–there must be someone to blame!” Would it not be the very height of ingratitude to be saved by someone from death, and then turn around and slap that person because that person didn’t save you in the way you wanted him to save you? Instead of being thankful for your life, you are ungrateful for what you don’t have. I would submit to you that ingratitude best describes what is going on in verse 30.

We will start with the second half of the verse. We who are Christians are sealed with the Holy Spirit. A seal does several things. It is a mark of authenticity. We are truly belonging to God. God says that by sealing us with the Holy Spirit. We can know that we are His if we have the Holy Spirit. Secondly, a seal prevents unauthorized violation of something, or unauthorized entry. You will remember that tombs have been sealed. The idea there was that no one could get in or out. Of course, any seal not authorized by God can be over-ridden by God, as we see in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. His tomb was sealed. That didn’t matter one little bit. One angel was all it took to break that seal. However, no one can break a seal that God sets upon the believer. If a believer is sealed, then no one (and we are to think specifically of Satan and demons) can have entry into that person’s life. This is why I believe that Christians can never be demon-possessed. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit. And I think that the Holy Spirit is just a little bit more powerful than Satan and his demons! So, a seal marks something as true, it prevents unauthorized entry, and, thirdly, it preserves something for later. And perhaps more than the first two ideas, this third idea is prominent here, since Paul tells us that we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. We are like a letter that has a wax seal on it. On that letter we can see this writing: “Do not open until the day of redemption.” The day of redemption obviously refers to that time when our bodies will be redeemed, or resurrected. Our full redemption has been paid by Jesus. However, the application of that redemption comes in stages. Our souls are redeemed when we come to faith in Christ. Our bodies await redemption until the sound of the last trumpet. So, the “letter” of our body is sealed by the Holy Spirit. No one can mess with it. When the Day of Redemption comes, then all those letters will be opened, and we will receive the redemption of our bodies. The Holy Spirit has accomplished all of this.

That is why we are incredibly ungrateful if we grieve the Holy Spirit. The reason Paul tells us what the Holy Spirit does for us is so that we will realize just how much the Holy Spirit (Who is a person, by the way, not a thing) loves us, and also that we will realize how much He has done for us, that we might live lives of gratitude, not ingratitude. If you have been sealed until the day of redemption, then there should be no reason whatsoever to grieve the Holy Spirit. Now, a side note is necessary here. God does not experience emotions the same way we do. We do not know how to describe precisely what God “feels.” The Bible uses many metaphors to describe what God “feels.” However, the Bible also tells us that God does not suffer pain as we suffer pain. So, Paul is describing God in language that we can understand. The Holy Spirit does not sit around wringing His hands in grief because of our sin. Nevertheless, there is a truth about what our sin does to the Holy Spirit that can be described this way. The reason I bring this up is that we are constantly tempted to make God look like us. We want to make God smaller, because then we feel like we can have some measure of control over God. But God is not like that, and He resists (quite successfully!) any attempt on our part to make Him look like us. So, to summarize the point: our sin is not something that the Holy Spirit likes at all. It “grieves” Him. It is enough for us to say that. We should not ascribe the instability of human emotions to God.

That being said, our sin “grieves” the Holy Spirit. Which sin precisely? Well, all sin grieves the Holy Spirit. However, in this context, Paul is talking mostly about the sins of the tongue. The preceding verse tells us that we are not to let unwholesome talk proceed out of our mouths. This means that unwholesome talk grieves the Holy Spirit. So Paul is giving us an additional motive for living the Christian life. Not only are to look at the Ten Commandments as a guide for the Christian life. We are also to look at what the Holy Spirit has done for us and say, “How can I grieve the Holy Spirit? Look at what He has done for me!” The Holy Spirit tells me by His sealing me that I am a child of the King. I had better act like a child of the King!

So, we can remember what we talked about last week and add this verse as an additional motive. However, the application of this verse does not stop there. As Paul goes on to say, bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and every form of malice would also fall under the category of sins that grieve the Holy Spirit. Every sin is ingratitude against God for what He has done for you.

Let me ask you this question, however: have you been sealed with the Holy Spirit? Has the Holy Spirit entered your life, your body? Is your body a temple of the Holy Spirit? This is yet another way of asking the question “Do you believe in Jesus?” All those who believe in Jesus have the Holy Spirit indwelling them. As Jesus says in John, the Father and the Son come to dwell in that person who receives them. How they do that is by the Holy Spirit. Jesus, you see, has a physical body, and He resides in heaven at the right hand of the Father. The Holy Spirit is the way in which He dwells in each one of us. As Paul says in Galatians, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. That is, the fruit of the Spirit dwelling in you is all of these things. That is the life that Jesus now lives inside us. It is the life of the Holy Spirit. This is also what Paul meant when he said that by His resurrection, Jesus became life-giving Spirit. That is, the work of Jesus in the world now is the work that He does by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Son and the Spirit are doing the very same thing. So that is why when I ask whether you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, I am really asking you if you are saved. If you are saved, then you will see fruit in your life. You will become more loving, more joyful, more at peace, more patient, more kind, more self-disciplined. This is ultimately the way in which we avoid grieving the Holy Spirit. It is not enough merely to say that we are going to avoid particular sins. The way in which the Holy Spirit works is that He simultaneously helps us to avoid sin, and builds us up in love and good deeds. There is no gear called “neutral” in the Christian life. By putting us out of the reverse gear of grieving the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is putting us into a forward gear of the fruit of the Spirit. This can be illustrated by a small experiment in thought. First, close your eyes. Now, I would like you to visualize the outside of this church. You can see the steeple, the siding, the parking lot, the trees around. Now, don’t think about the church. Can you do it? No, you cannot. The human brain always has something going on there. There is no neutral gear. The only way I can get you to stop thinking about the church is to replace that thought with something else. So, if you are imagining the front of the church still, I can ask you to think about the Hull cemetery. Imagine the fence surrounding it, the two entrance gates, the trees that are in it, and the fantastic view that you have when you are standing in it. Now if I say that, you can stop thinking about the church and start thinking about the cemetery. This is similar to how the Holy Spirit works. He doesn’t just tell us to stop sinning. He tells us (and empowers us!) to develop the fruit of the Spirit, and to be concentrating on developing that fruit. That is how we can avoid grieving the Holy Spirit. And that is how the Holy Spirit continues to keep us sealed until the Day of Redemption.