Below are excerpts from the negative part of his review and my rebuttal:
Things that Concern [Scott Lindsey, as written for ReSurgence]
- “You will learn to hear my thoughts in yours”, says Sarayu, the Holy Spirit (195). “You might see me in a piece of art, or music, or silence, or through people, or in Creation, or in your joy and sorrow. My ability to communicate is limitless, living and transforming, and it will always be tuned to Papa’s goodness and love. And you will hear and see me in the Bible in fresh ways. Just don’t look for rules and principles; look for relationship—a way of coming to be with us” (198).
I wish The Shack had an Acts 17:11 tone: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
With the book’s repeated message that the Bible has been twisted by churches and pastors and seminaries (and yes, sometimes it has), I wonder whether readers will walk away from The Shack with a greater love for Scripture and more of a desire to study it, and more of a desire to get involved in their churches and submit to their leaders, as Hebrews 13 commands us to. Sadly, I’m afraid some readers will feel justified in further distancing themselves from both the Scriptures and the church. And some may read meanings into Scripture that the biblical text itself contradicts.
-- My own take: I agree with Scott. The Shack does little to endorse the Bible, which is a weakness in an otherwise excellent novel. I wish Sarayu had explained that God's words in the Bible are not the same thing as the interpretations various churches teach. I wish Sarayu had urged Mack to listen to God's voice speaking to him through the Bible.
However, I wouldn't, as Scott does, link the Bible and church together as though they must go together. Institutional church is its own category. A believer may chose to worship and gather with other believers in an entirely different venue/paradigm than the institutional church and remain within the heart of God, and His word.
- While any book that portrays the Trinity in physical form is going to be subject to criticism, given the premise, I thought it was fine that the Holy Spirit was portrayed as female. I was somewhat concerned that “Papa” was also a female; but the reason for this is later explained in the text, in terms of Mack not being able to accept God as Father because of his bad relationship with his human father. Later Papa is depicted as a male.
In real life, though God certainly reveals himself through any number of godly women, I don’t see biblical examples of God the Father portraying himself as female to people simply because their fathers are absent or aren’t good role models. Because I had a very poor relationship with my earthly father when I came to Christ (later that was redeemed), the Fatherhood of God meant all the more to me.
I certainly believe that God transcends human gender, and I would not discredit the book on this basis. Still, in a New Age culture that is trying to elevate goddess-worship, portraying two of the three members of the triune God in female form for most of the book may not be entirely healthy.
Though I can understand Scott's concern, I think it hardly bears mentioning. It isn't the New Age culture that this book is speaking to, but to a Christian culture which has traditionally relegated women to a lower, lesser role in the church. The book seeks to do for the feminine what the apostle Paul did for women: give them a place at the table with men.
- Is God as tolerant and easy-going as The Shack portrays Him? If He were, I’m not sure it would have been necessary for Christ to go to the cross for us. And if the response is that, since Christ did go to the cross, God is now tolerant and easy-going, I would suggest re-reading the New Testament where God calls us to a life of joyful yet serious holiness.
One reviewer said “Systematic theology was never this good.” This concerns me. While to some readers God will seem bigger, in certain respects God seemed more amusing and friendly, but also somewhat smaller, more manageable, less threatening--someone not to be feared. If the picture of God in The Shack is radically different from the impression people get from just reading the Bible, this raises an obvious question.
Read Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1 and ask yourself if this is the “Papa” of The Shack. Chuck Colson suggests that this book fails to portray God’s person in his awesome greatness http://www.breakpoint.org/listingarticle.asp?ID=7830 Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also expressed this same concern, and pointed out what he considers “undiluted heresy” in The Shack, on his April 11, 2008 radio program: http://www.albertmohler.com/radio_show.php?cdate=2008-04-11
Where is the Great God of Holiness and Transcendence?In Tim Challies’ booklet on the Shack http://www.challies.com/media/The_Shack.pdf he says,
One of the most disturbing aspects of The Shack is the behavior of Mack when he is in the presence of God. When we read in the Bible about those who were given glimpses of God, these people were overwhelmed by His glory. In Isaiah 6 the prophet is allowed to see “the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1). Isaiah reacts by crying out “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5)! Isaiah declares a curse upon himself for being a man whose lips are willing to utter unclean words even in a world created by a God of such glory and perfection.
When Moses encountered God in the burning bush, he hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God's glory (Exodus 3:6). In Exodus 33 Moses is given just a glimpse of God's glory, but God will show only His back, saying, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Genesis 33:20). Examples abound. When we look to the Bible's descriptions of heaven we find that any creatures who are in the presence of God are overwhelmed and overjoyed, crying out about God’s glory day and night. But in The Shack we find a man who stands in the very presence of God and uses foul language (“damn” (140) and “son of a bitch” (224)), who expresses anger to God (which in turn makes God cry) (92), and who snaps at God in his anger (96). This is not a man who is in the presence of One who is far superior to Him, but a man who is in the presence of a peer. This portrayal of the relationship of man to God and God to man is a far cry from the Bible's portrayal.
And indeed it must be because the God of The Shack is only a vague resemblance to the God of the Bible. There is no sense of awe as we, through Mack, come into the presence of God. Gone is the majesty of God when men stand in His holy presence and profane His name. Should God allow in His presence the very sins for which He sent His Son to die? Would a man stand before the Creator of the Universe and curse? What kind of God is the God of The Shack?
Frankly, I find it amusing that a review from ReSurgence would fault the main character for using one or two "bad words" while talking with God. Mark Driscoll has a reputation for rough language in spite of Paul's repeated injunctions that coarse talking is unfitting to a believer (Eph 4:29, 5:4,) Unless Mark Driscoll does not believe in the indwelling Holy Spirit (and I know he does), then he is always in the very presence of God.
But what do we do about the many scriptures Scott Lindsey has gathered to show his point?What should be gathered are the even many more verses that describe what it was like for those who had the privilege of speaking with God "face to face, as with a friend." We are astonished at how emboldened these individuals were (Abraham, Moses, David). They ranted; they demanded; they spoke with breath taking frankness. Just as the main character did in "The Shack."
- I do think that the name Papa is appropriate, as in Romans 8, “Abba, Father.” The paradox of God’s nature involves both transcendence and immanence. But only immanence is apparent in The Shack.
True, it could be argued that only God’s transcendence has been taught in some churches and families, and we can’t expect a book swinging the pendulum back to the middle to avoid going too far to the other extreme. Okay, but imbalance in one place doesn’t justify the opposite imbalance.
Actually, in terms of Jesus, I believe that God was very much swinging the pendulum of understanding in the other direction. Jesus came to make the Father accessible to all, approachable, plain.
- It’s not just about the Father. Read the life and words of Jesus and ask if this is the Son portrayed in The Shack. Since Jesus spoke more about hell than anyone in Scripture, wouldn’t you have expected him to say something or even hint at its reality in this story?Miscellaneous doctrinal issues Paul Young, through his purposeful use of words, (sometimes for shock value) speaks in such a way as to imply or suggest some unbiblical teachings, and doesn't make sufficient efforts to distance himself from false doctrine.
Actually, Scott is demanding the rigors of systematic theology from a novel that was written in the style of narrative theology. The beauty of the narrative is that it does not give the chemical structure and physical properties of water. It allows the reader to experience the refreshment and delicious cleanness of being washed in water.
Paul Young is giving the reader an experience of the loving God, the forgiving God, and is not writing a theological treatise on the attributes of God. You may wish that he had applied systematic theology more liberally. But he is writing to Christians who presumably already are familiar with their particular church's statement of faith (chemical structure and physical properties) and are now ready -- indeed panting as a deer for water -- to experience the God Who loves them.
- In The Shack, God the father says of Jesus on the cross, ““Regardless of what he felt at that moment, I never left him” (96).
But Mark 15 says, “At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
It is an historic doctrine of the Christian faith that Jesus didn’t just feel forsaken (as did David who spoke the words in Psalm 22) but that he actually was forsaken by the Father. David never became sin for humanity, but Jesus actually did (2 Corinthians 5:21). And in becoming sin for us, he had to be punished, and the Father had to turn away from Him, forsaking Him on the cross as the darkness descended in mid-day. This is why Isaiah 53:10 says those harrowing words, “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him [Messiah], putting Him to grief.”
Historic doctrine, for all its value, is not the same thing as scripture itself. It may be the very sage interpretation of scripture given by very wise men. But it is not scripture itself. So long as we have the very words of God which, remember, is living and active, and so long as we have the Holy Spirit Himself Who, remember, indwells every believer, then we have the ability to approach God's word and discover the truth; go deeper with the truth; find new understanding of the truth.
I am not one to throw the baby out with the bath water. Historic doctrine settles many questions. But God's word is not static in the way that historic doctrine is static. Be careful that you do not elevate man's interpretations above the Word.
- On another subject, The Shack has God say, “I don’t create institutions—never have, never will.”
But Romans 13 says, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”
Similarly, God created the institution of marriage and family, and the institution of the church, which is his bride.
God created marriage, but He did not create the institution of marriage. God created the church, but God did not create the institutional church.
The key word here is "institution" and it is a buzz word among those who are seeking to move into a new paradigm of gathering together as believers, worshiping and serving the Lord in community.
Yes, God sets up every government, every authority, but God does not equally countenance those authorities and governments with His blessing and approval.
- God is portrayed in the book as saying, “Guilt will never help you find freedom in me.”
In contrast, Christ says of the Holy Spirit, “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).
Paul writes, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Cor. 7:10). Astonishingly, this is the very verse that should clear up any confusion about what the author was trying to say. But Scott Lindsey takes this in a puzzlingly different direction
Guilt alone will not bring freedom, of course, but responding in repentance to God-inspired guilt will bring us great freedom. I would say God-inspired conviction which causes the pain of guilt that is called conviction by the Holy Spirit, and not the blanket guilt and false guilt that many Christians labor under.
- No Hierarchy in the Triune God?There are several problematic statements about the Trinity. For instance, Papa says,“When we three spoke ourselves into human existence as the Son of God we became painfully human.” He goes on to say, “We became flesh and blood.”
But in the historic Christian understanding of Scripture, the Trinity did not become human. Only Jesus the Son became human. Scripture reveals that the Father sent the Son, but the Father did not leave Heaven and become human.
All I can say is: tread carefully. No finite person can nail down the trinity. God is three Persons, one Being. We do our God, our one God, a great injury if we insist on division in His oneness that go deeper than what has been revealed. Jesus speaks of us receiving the Holy Spirit. He also speaks of the Father and the Son making their home in every believer. There is room to explore what that means.
- Papa says that Jesus is fully human and “has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything.” But don’t we see repeated examples in the gospels of Jesus doing this very thing, showing his divine nature through his miracles, including raising the dead?
No Scott, we never do. Jesus made it very, very clear that He did nothing on His own, but only as the Father gave it to Him. He therefore is the perfect example, and the forerunner, the first born, of those who would live by faith, filled with the Spirit.
The Shack has God the Father say, “Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or 'great chain of being' as your ancestors termed it. What you're seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don't need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us.” He also says, “Papa is as much submitted to me as I am to Him.”
In contrast, Scripture says, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3).
In John 6:38 Jesus says “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”
In John 8:28 he says, “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”
Consider Christ in Gethsemane. Scripture says: Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."
And Christ was not just subject to the Father when he walked the earth. He will be subject to Him forever: “When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:28).
The book portrays all hierarchy as a result of sin, but the Bible shows there is an eternal benevolent hierarchy within the triune God.
Well, not really. Just as the Son exalts the Father, so the Father exalts the Son. Just as the Spirit exalts the Son, so the Son calls the Spirit "One Who is greater than Me, and also "One Who is another Me." (Phil 2:9, Eph 1:19-23, John 14, 16) Jesus said to see Him was to see the Father (John 6). Who raised Jesus from the dead? The Bible says it was the Father Who did it...and the Bible says it was Jesus Who did it...and the Bible says it happened by the power of the Holy Spirit. Who is the judge of the world? The Bible says God...the Father...the Son.
Where is there the top down heirarchy in all this? For a point in time Hebrews says that Jesus was perfected in His humanness. During that point in time Jesus modeled what it was to be a man, to be humbled before the Father, to live in complete and total union with (and therefore in submisison to the will of) the Father, so that we may follow in His steps and be perfected in the same way. It is our destiny, and the Lord Jesus Christ has paved the way in Himself (Hebrews 2:10, 5:9)
- The Shack depicts Jesus as saying, “In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way [as we are to each other].”
Where does Scripture ever say that the Father submits to the Son or the Spirit? Even if Scripture did say that, in what sense does God submit to us? Yes, He serves us, washes our feet, but that is not submission, which in its normal sense is a placement under the authority of another, to do their will.
Jesus came to serve, but God does not place himself under our authority and will. That is a false doctrine that some health and wealth preachers advocate, that when we speak a word God is obligated to fulfill it. Now, I don’t believe that is Paul Young’s intention, but his statement that God submits to us is not true to Scripture.
This is a willful obtuseness in refusing to see what the Lord Jesus did while here on earth. In fact Jesus most certainly did submit Himself to every authority -- He kept the Law perfectly. He even paid His temple tax when He is the Lord of the Temple. Jesus allowed Himself to be arrested, beaten and crucified though there were legions of angels straining at their posts to fight for the God of the Universe.
This is the incredible story of the whole Bible. God desires relationship with us and has thus made HIsmelf available, approachable and even vulnerable to us -- vulnerable to grief, sorrow, pain and even death. For us.
Now I know it is popular to translate submit into the very narrow definition of putting ourselves under someone's authority, but what, then, exactly does Paul mean when he wrote that all believers should submit to each other in Ephesians 5:21? Are we all to have authority over each other, then? Or perhaps a broader, gentler, more beautiful understanding of "submit" is intended. And if this is true, it will have amazing implications for wives.
- Universalism? Are All Forgiven?God says in The Shack that He has already reconciled the whole world. He quotes 2 Cor. 5, “God was in Christ reconciling the world.”
Paul Young’s position is that the world has been redeemed from God’s side, but we must embrace it from ours. Okay, in a sense that might be true, but if taken too far it sounds like everybody’s going to Heaven.
The fuller context of 2 Corinthians 5 says this: All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.
Notice that the apostle Paul is imploring people to be reconciled to God, which means they are not yet reconciled to God. You would not call upon a saved person to become saved, since he already is. So, yes, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, but in another sense this reconciliation is not and never will be experienced by the whole world. If it were, then contrary to Christ’s words in Matthew 7, the way would not be narrow and there would not be few who find it. Most or all would find it. And the road to eternal death would not be broad or even narrow--it would be nonexistent, since everyone is already reconciled to God.
In The Shack, Mack is understandably confused by the notion that the whole world is already reconciled. He asks, “The whole world—you mean those who believe in you right?”
God replies, correcting him, “The whole world Mack.”
It would be nice if the whole world were saved, that all were going to Heaven, and that there was no hell. But according to the Bible, that’s not the case.
Papa says in The Shack: “In Jesus I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me.”
If we were already forgiven, Scripture would not say things like this:
“All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43).
God says that not all have been forgiven or will be:
“Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart” (Acts 8:22).
"I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Luke 12:8-10).
Universalist Tone -- There are at least two kinds of universalism. One maintains that people can be saved apart from the person and work of Christ. Another claims that people can only be saved on the basis of what Christ has done, and eventually must come to recognize that, but that recognition may come after they die and are given a second chance. Then, when given that second chance, all people will choose Christ and be saved.
What is Paul Young’s position here? Does he believe all people will be saved or at least have the opportunity to be saved after death?
Paul wrote an interesting article that may give some insight on this question called "The Beauty of Ambiguity(Mystery).” http://www.windrumors.com/43/the-beauty-of-ambiguity-mystery/
James DeYoung, a professor from Western seminary, has written a lengthy critique of The Shack in which he argues that Paul Young is a universalist, and that The Shack reflects this. See http://theshackreview.com/content/ReviewofTheShack.pdf
Dr. DeYoung, who knows Paul Young personally, shares other concerns too.
I have to say, I agree with Scott on this one. However, tread carefully. Many, many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, born again believers, filled with the Spirit and living by faith, hold to an Arminian view of theology.
This does not make Arminianism right or wrong, it is simply a statement of caution that though we may not like where each other's theological paradigms may lead (if taken to their utmost logical conclusions, because remember, theological paradigms like Arminianism and Calvinism are human constructs devised with human logic), whether to universalism, or a capricious and arbitrary God who saves two grapes off of a bunch and throws the rest away for no discernible reason, we need to respect each other's views in the Lord, for we all are His body.
- When I read it without any preconceived notions, I noticed things in The Shack that hint at universalism. E.g., in the passage where “Papa,” God the Father, says—speaking of Buddhists and Muslims—that he doesn’t desire to make them “Christian.” What the author means by Christian is obviously critical. Some could argue that “Christian” is a cultural designation, that all Americans are Christian, Saudis are Muslim, etc., and that Christian is not a helpful term.
There is some truth to that, but Acts 11 says the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. That wasn’t cultural; it referred to true followers of Christ. So since this is in the Word of God, I don’t think it’s wise to portray God as disregarding the term Christian to the point that he would say he doesn’t want to make people Christian.
Okay, wait. In "The Shack" the word "Christian" is used to denote what we westerners have made it to be today, imbued with all the negative cultural baggage it has in unbelievers' eyes. In Antioch, the word "Christian" was not God's word for His people, but unbelievers' derisive epithet leveled against a people they thought very poorly of. If you ask me, the word "Christian" has really only come full circle, and we can call ourselves something else if we like.
Some understand Papa to be saying that He makes Muslims his children without them needing to become Christians. This is one reason why a number of readers believe the book teaches universalism. Dan Lockwood, president of Multnomah Bible College, in his review of The Shack in a recent school publication, commended some aspects of the book, while expressing his regret that it advocates universalism.
The problem is compounded because Paul Young has God quoting a phrase coined by Buckminster Fuller, a Unitarian-Universalist who wrote a book entitled I Am a Verb. In The Shack, Papa says to Mack, “I am a verb. I am that I am. I will be who I will be. I am a verb! I am alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving. I am a verb.” It’s hard not to link this emphatic statement, put in God’s mouth, to the heretical theological persuasions of the man who coined the term.
Yeah, I had trouble with this too
Jesus says to Mack that he is the “best way” any human can relate to Papa. But this has a different feel from John 14:6, in which Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by Me.” I would probably not make anything of that if I didn’t feel the tones of universalism in a number of the book’s statements.
The other day I saw someone who calls himself a "Christian universalist" defending his position that all will be saved. This universalist recommended a book that everybody should read: The Shack. Now, I don't believe in guilt by association. I'm just saying that since this guy was defending universalism when he recommended The Shack, he, at least, presumably understood it to be on his side.
It would have been very easy for Paul Young, by changing the wording of a few sentences here and there, to shut the door on universalism. He could have had God articulate the biblical and orthodox viewpoint of historic Christianity, that salvation comes in believing in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross on our behalf, and that to not accept God’s gift of eternal life in Christ is to invite an eternity in Hell. Paul didn’t choose to make that clear.
Again, I think Scott ahs a good point here, and I too was disappointed in "The Shack" on this score.
- Accuracy and Precision in LanguageGod tells Mack that he never disappoints him.
Scripture tells a different story, for instance about Jesus and his response to others: “He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts….” (Mark 3:5).
To believers Scripture says “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).
1 John 2:28 encourages believers not to do anything to make Christ ashamed of us (meaning it is possible to do so): “Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.”
Disappointment comes from unmet expectations. God can certainly never suffer from unmet expectations because He is all-knowing, and outside of time. Being distressed is entirely different from being disappointed.
In The Shack, God says "the word responsibility isn't in the Bible.” Of course, no other English word appears in the Bible either, but he is obviously talking about “responsibility” not being in English translations. But this is inaccurate, as I found “responsibility” in five major English translations, which is every one I checked except the KJV. This is the danger of putting words in God’s mouth—when you can show they’re not true it doesn’t look good.
But even apart from having God make this misstatement, what impression is left? That responsibility isn't a biblical concept. Yet isn’t it hard to find something that is more of a biblical concept than responsibility?
A hundred passages demonstrating responsibility could be cited. Here’s one:
"That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
You sense in The Shack that the author is against man-imposed rules and regulations and legalism. Well, okay. But is this what the word “responsibility” means? Do we have the freedom to turn a good word into a bad one without explaining what we mean?
Scott Lindsey answered his own question. We have already turned the word "responsibility" into a heavily loaded code-word to guilt people into doing what we think is culturally holy, into following all the man-made (read Pharisaical) laws that have been building up over the centuries to load down Christians who want to be good. This was never God's intention for us. But as He freed us from the heavy burden of the Pharisaical laws, and the Mosaic Law, we just piled on a new load of laws. We call it legalism, and the apostle Paul speaks against it.
In context there is a possible explanation, because God says, “I’m omniscient—so I have no expectations.”
Well, God is omniscient, but He nonetheless has expectations of us in the normal sense of the word. For instance, look at these passages:
Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful (1 Cor. 4:2).
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).
But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken (Matt. 12:36).
Nope, this can't fly. God says "be holy becasue I AM holy." That's setting the bar. But we cannot say that God experiences disappointment when the bar is not met in the sense that God already knew the bar would not be met. Nothing catches God by surprise or rips the rug out from under His feet.
- God’s transcendence, justice, holiness, and wrathIn theology there is a paradoxical mix of God’s attributes. There is God’s transcendence and his immanence, his Holy Otherness and his intimate Familiarity. God’s attributes are sometimes described as being of two kinds, hard and soft. Hard ones are holiness, justice, wrath. Soft ones are grace, mercy and love. Whether or not you like the terminology, you get the point. A full and accurate picture of God requires both be included.
Well, The Shack is magnificent on the soft attributes of God. It is virtually silent on the hard attributes of God. So if you come to the book well-schooled in God’s holiness, justice and wrath, you will benefit from the exposure to his grace, mercy and love. But if you come without a knowledge of and an appreciation for his “hard” attributes, you will end up seeing half of God, not the whole of God.
Is a half-picture of the true God a false picture of God? If that’s all you have, I’d say yes. I don’t mean it’s fair to expect one book to be fifty/fifty on the hard and soft attributes of God. If I were reading a book on the holiness and justice of God and someone said “there’s not much here on his grace,” I’d say, “Of course not, it’s a book on holiness.” However, if there was virtually no mention of grace and mercy that would be problematic. Similarly, the fact that there is virtually no mention of God’s holiness, justice, and wrath in The Shack is problematic to me.
I’m not expecting complete balance. But I do think it’s fair to expect some clear affirmation of the transcendence of God. If the book is about his immanence, I can understand why 90% of it is on that. But if 10% affirmed his transcendence, it would make for a far more biblically accurate picture of God.
Holiness and fearing God warrant at least a few sentences.
When Mack says something about "I thought you would have more wrath," what an opportunity to briefly but clearly affirm God's holiness and wrath. Papa could say, "Mack, I am holy beyond your comprehension, and wrathful against sin to the degree that I will separate all sin from myself for eternity; that is hell." That's just one sentence. Then he could say, "But you've heard only about my holiness and wrath, and you need to see a different side of me." Then, great, he can go on for page after page and chapter after chapter about grace and forgiveness and acceptance, which is beautiful and right on.
Pastors who are obeying Scripture by teaching true doctrine and correcting false doctrine could then say, "The author affirms God's holiness and wrath, so I can trust that he's not distorting or rejecting Scripture, and resorting to a New Age feel-good redefine-God-however-I-want approach."
Paul originally wrote the book for his children, and perhaps they understand what he means, since they grew up in his home. But a million readers haven’t, and many of them will believe that the words used in the book really mean what they appear to. True, some will misunderstand no matter what. But a lot of people would be greatly helped by more careful word usage, and not be put off by or sucked into biblically incorrect thinking.
I can agree with Scott on this issue with "The Shack," although I will reiterate that the wrath of God is not preached in the vein where it would be best understood. God is love and light, and His wrath flows from His love. His wrath is against sin, and will purge all sin from the beautiful universe He made. God's mission is to cleanse His creation by His wrath.
God's wrath is not the kind of "I hate you" rage and fury that humans experience. It is not a selfish, vindictive, poisonous venom that we would be prone to think of since that's the only kind of wrath we get to see around us.
Jake Colsen has done the best job I have ever, ever seen in correctly teaching God's wrath, and he is friends with Paul Young.
- In The Shack Papa says, in the context of Mack bringing up God pouring out bowls of wrath on people, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it” (120).
It is certainly His joy to cure it. But does that mean God does not actually punish sin? Of course he does, and not exclusively through its natural consequences. Scripture speaks of God’s direct judgment via the flood, on Sodom and Gomorrah, on Dathan and the rebels. In New Testament, he strikes down Ananias and Sapphira for their sin, and judges the sin unto death. He says that some are weak and sick in Corinth because of their abuse of the Lord's Supper, meaning He has punished them.
Countless Scriptures deal with God punishing sin, but here are just a few: But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God will give to each person according to what he has done (Romans 2:5-6).
They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (Rev. 6:16-17).
You have to go no farther than Romans 1 to discover how God punishes sin -- God gives the sinners up to sin's natural consequences (Rom 1:24, 26, 28) Are you curious how such wild prophecies, found in Revelation, ould possibly be fulfilled ? Will it be like science fiction? Will it be very bizarre and freakish? Well, take a look at the news headlines for the last couple of years. We humans will bring on our own apacolypse. God simply is giving us over to our own sin so that we ourselves will kill all the life in our oceans, and turn a third of our plante's water into poison. We ourselves will burn down all our trees. We're doing it right now.
- The Local ChurchOne major point of disagreement I have with Paul Young is on the importance of the local church. Without the church, there is no accountability to others, no context for confrontation and discipline among an assembly of God’s people where there is submission to those in authority, as Hebrews 10 and 13 require of us.
'Before I knew anything about the author, as I read the book I kept saying to myself, “Wow, he’s had really bad church experiences.” Organized religion, by which he means churches, is portrayed unfavorably.
Hebrews 10 says we are not to forsake the church assembly, and Hebrews 13:17 says this:
“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
We need to be in submission to church leaders and other authorities in our life; we shouldn’t think we are qualified to hold ourselves accountable, or to pick and choose our spiritual guides. That structure implies I am my own authority.
We're back to this narrow definition of the Greek word that is translated into the English word "submit." For a better treatise on this issue, I would urge a close reading of Frank Viola's "Straight Talk To Pastors" and "Reimagining Church"
The whole heirarchy of church authority is based on the Roman heirarchy of royalty, not the Bible. But in order to make it work, a heirarchical structure of the trinity had to be presented in order to draw parallels from the trinity to human power structures. Erase the heirarchical model of the trinity, and the rest of this paradigm falls apart.
It might be time to revisit the concept of the institutional church.....
I loved "The Shack," in spite of its weaknesses because this book gives the reader the glorious experience of God's love, His nearness and His grace.