One of the dangers of Christian blogging is dealing with the spiritual hall monitors who seem to live only to smack your heretical knuckles with their ruler of truth. So I risk their wrath (carefully chosen word) with today’s post.
The novel The Shack has begun a wave of debate, hand-wringing, defensiveness and condemnation in Evangelical circles. The book has been called dangerous, subversive and heretical by many critics. I didn’t know any of this when a friend told me that he really enjoyed the book and I should read it. Since I have a book addiction I soon was in possession. I finished The Shack last week. I thought it was a decent and often good read. I was challenged and touched by parts of the story. And, to be honest, I was bothered by some of it. After finishing the book I did some internet research on what others were saying about the book. Some of the critiques were valuable and thoughtful. These writers pointed out where the book deviated from scripture. Some of the orthodox theological missteps were outlined in clear detail. A thorough review of those concerns was written by author/blogger Tim Challies. I would suggest you balance that critique with a defense to those concerns from author Wayne Jacobson. I will stay away from the theological debate because Tim and Wayne have presented both sides for you to evaluate. Instead I want to offer a few gentle propositions to consider for my fellow followers of Jesus as the discussion heats up.
Be careful about disparaging The Shack’s author, William P Young. Please be cautious about assigning motives to a person you don’t know from Adam and Eve’s first house cat. I know that I have been called things that were really surprising by my brothers and sisters in the faith simply because they disagreed with something I wrote. The truth is that I now disagree with some of things I wrote and I still think I am a decent guy. Mr. Young apparently was deeply wounded by Christians who should have protected him. I don’t believe Mr.Young set out to write a book that would rock the evangelical community. Apparently he didn’t even write the book with the thought of being published. It was originally written for family members to help them deal with their pain. It doesn’t seem that he set out with sinister motives to undermine theological orthodoxy. He is a fellow wounded traveler trying to reconcile his woundedness. When his theology goes astray I am suggesting that we gracefully point out those areas and don’t attack Mr. Young. Defending truth with grace is always the most effective tactic. But our passion for truth too often makes grace the first thing we jettison.
Be careful how you share your concerns with others. When I read comments like “are these people just blind to heresy?” I cringe. Because you reinforce the feelings of so many people that are moved by this book. They have experienced a Christianity that is judgmental and sometimes downright mean. If your heart is to be a guardian of truth you will damage that worthy desire by harsh criticism of those who are touched by The Shack.
Be prayerful about why this book has connected so surprisingly with millions. I think I know some reasons why this book is resonating with so many. Those of us raised in the desert of legalism are desperate for the cool, refreshing waters of grace. Those of us who have been wounded by other Christians want more than anything to believe that Jesus does love us and our experience is not how it should be in the church. We need guardians of the truth of God’s Word but we also need those guardians to be shepherds that care and not just condemn. Some of the articles have been so stern that I felt like I would be sent to after school detention when the writer was done. That doesn’t help a wounded believer. Jesus said to both feed and take care of His sheep.
Dogmatically telling people to not read the book may not be the best approach. If we know one thing about the law it is that telling us not do something generally inflames our sin nature. If someone wants to read the book give them thoughtful cautions and then discuss how they felt about the book later.
Don’t automatically decide you won’t read the book. If you don’t want to contribute to Mr. Young’s income then go to the library and check it out. Why should you consider doing that if you believe the book is off base? Because of a principle that I harp on over and over. When people open spiritual doors we should have enough sense to go through them. Instead we tend to slam those doors and then go knock loudly on doors that are closed. Obviously this book is connecting. There is a deep spiritual hunger in America. If a fellow believer or seeker comments on the book it will do little good to look down our spiritual nose and let them know the book is all wrong. The next question will be this one. “Did you read it?” If the answer is no that will be the end of debate for most that are touched by this book. Because it is an emotional book they will disconnect from your concerns if you did not even have enough intellectual curiosity to read the book. Instead I would suggest you read it and then engage the reader. You will be able to get through some pretty intimate doors that this book opens and have a great discussion of truth and grace.
Be aware that God is doing just fine. I have seen some pretty dire warnings about this book. One of the critiques that I read often is that the book makes God small. Aren’t we also making God small by being so concerned about the possible damage done by this book? God can, will and is using this book. I agree the theology gets shaky at times. But the truth is that The Shack is causing many people to think about things they have never considered. Some are willing to try again after being deeply wounded. Shouldn’t we be praying that God will use us to come alongside these souls as they search and seek the truth?
Acknowledge that there are the things this book does well. When you go negative it causes people to get defensive. It does more harm to make people who feel abandoned or hurt by the church feel “stupid” because they don’t know as much theology as you do. If you know that much theology don’t forget the grace sections. Mr. Challis writes these words about some of the positives in the book. “He affirms the absolute nature of what is good and teaches that evil exists only in relation to what is good; he challenges the reader to understand that God is inherently good and that we can only truly trust God if we believe Him to be good; he acknowledges the human tendency to create our image of God by looking at human qualities and assuming that God is simply the same but more so; he attempts to portray the loving relationships within the Trinity; and so on. For these areas I am grateful as they provided helpful correctives to many false understandings of God.”
Recognize the hunger in the world and even in the body of Christ. While some of the theology in The Shack is askew I would suggest that the theology of millions of people in the church is also deficient. We have done a poor job of teaching (or understanding) some of the key teachings of Scripture. Most of us get salvation. We could not be reconciled to a Holy God on our own. But then it seems to get a bit spotty. Too many of us don’t understand key theological truths like who we are in Christ, who God says we are and who God says He is. We know truth but don’t trust it. What is in our head doesn’t invade our heart. The Shack has touched the hearts of millions. The door is open for a thoughtful and real discussion. I pray that we don’t blow it.
P.S. If you want a resource that is theologically sound about the topics above I continue to recommend TrueFaced. It is the best and most challenging book on practical theology I have ever read. Instead of taking readers of The Shack to the woodshed get this book and take them to the room of grace.
Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com.