The Shack: The Good, the Bad, and the Moinks

The Shack, by William Paul Young has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide since its publication in 2007. It has now been made into a major motion picture. Having heard and read many fine reviews of each, I thought I would see the movie for myself and get a sense of it.

Synopsis

The story surrounds the life of a man named MacKenzie Philips, (not toe be confused with the actress by the same name) who grows up with an abusive father who is an elder in his church. He later marries and has three kids. His youngest, his baby, is kidnapped and murdered. In the midst of his grief he meets God. After spending a weekend with the three Persons, he finally comes to some closure on the death of his daughter, as well as the abusive father. He returns home where he begins helping his family heal.

The Good

The way the Problem of Evil is addressed is well done, pointing out that the creation of free creatures entails the possibility for evil and suffering. Moreover, Mac is forced to admit that when he is the judge he cannot pass his own standards. Additionally, he is presented with a situation in which he must choose for one of his children to be saved and another to be damned. His response is to offer himself, and in so doing he comes to better understand the heart of God for the lost.

The love of God is portrayed in a moving way that can inspire the viewer to love God more. (More on this in the Moinks) The whole story is powerful in its emotional appeal. It is so easy to identify with Mac, to feel his pain, and to celebrate the resolution in the lives of sympathetic characters. Who doesn’t love a story where brokenness is healed and reconciliation is attained. I sure do. I won’t say too much about my own emotional reactions lest I be required to surrender my man card.

The Bad

While I understand that the book on which the movie is based is a novel, make no mistake, the author intends to persuade with the book and the movie. In fact, he has since published a nonfiction book, Lies We Believe About God. Unfortunately, what Young wants to persuade you of is that God does not judge, is not in control, and that hell does not exist, that Jesus’ death on the cross had nothing to do with sin. In fact, sin is not even a thing on Young’s view. Young would also have us believe that all are going to be reconciled to God. No need for faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  (While some have objected to portraying God as a woman, I don’t think that is such a big deal, especially considering the more serious problems.)

The Moinks

“Okay, wait a minute. What’s a moink?” I’m glad you asked. A moink is a bacon-wrapped meatball coated with a glaze. (Ok, I just had to stop typing to clean the drool off the keyboard.) What have moinks got to do with The Shack? Another great question. In the movie, Mac puts strychnine poison in his father’s booze. (The implication is that he killed him, but that wasn’t 100% clear to me unless I missed an important scene.) The point is that Mac at least tried to poison his father by mixing a toxic substance with something his father liked. Likewise, the dangerously bad theology (any theology that suggests that you have no need to be reconciled to God is dangerously bad) wrapped in such a wonderful story is like putting strychnine in moinks. You would die smiling, but you would die.

Really, the danger of The Shack is an illustration of the danger of taking any form of entertainment in uncritically. We must always think through what we consume with our minds fully engaged. The risk of well-made movies is that the viewer is invited to lose herself in the story. When you do that, ideas are presented in a way that can bypass your reasoning faculties, appealing to your emotions in a powerful way. Emotions are wonderful servants, but terrible masters. If you read the book or watch the movie, do NOT turn your mind off. Remember, we are to love God with all our minds.

 

Saving the Bible From Ourselves by Glenn R. Paauw A Review

 

Author

Glenn R. Paauw is a graduate of Calvin College and Calvin Seminary, where he studied Theology and Philosophy. He is the vice president, global Bible engagement, at Biblica and a senior fellow at the Institute for Bible Reading.

 

Thesis

Paauw was prompted to write Saving the Bible From Ourselves by research that showed while the average American household has four Bibles (and the average Christian home has ten) there is an increasing Biblical illiteracy. We have lots of Bibles, but no one seems to know what its message is. The cause of this seems to be a tendency toward isolated people reading

isolated verses. In this book, Paauw advocates a return to reading large passages in community.

 

Synopsis

The book is organized into 14 chapters, really seven couplets, in which Paauw describes an aspect of the problem, followed by a proposed solution.  In Chapters 1 and 2, we see the contrast between the “Complicated Bible” and the “Elegant Bible.” By complicated here, Paauw is referring to the manner in which the text on the page is cluttered and chopped with chapter and verse numbers, which have only been in use for the last 500 years, as well as chapter headings, cross references, and notes. An elegant Bible would simply have the text laid out to be read in a more natural reading. (I can tell you that for me, reading a Bible with all those notes and references is like a hound dog with ADD trying to heard squirrels.)

In chapters 3 and 4, Paauw addresses one of my pet peeves when he compares the Snacking Bible with the Feasting Bible. When we isolate verses, we tend to see them as bearing meaning in isolation. As a result, there is a whole cottage industry of putting verses on coffee cups and cross-stitched pillows, etc. There you can see verses like Jeremiah 29:11, “‘ For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Nice, right? So if verses are stand-alone ideas from the Word of God, why do we never see a coffee cup with Deuteronomy 28:65? “The LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart.” The point is that verse numbers were added to aid with research. They are not part of the text, and have caused some confusion. (Though I could imagine a bumper sticker with Numbers 21:16, “From there they continued on to Beer.”) As the author points out, using the Bible like this is like snacking on what Philip Yancy called, “Scripture McNuggets.” Rather, Paauw advocates reading large portions, whole books when possible. In this way, we feast, rather than snack. Moreover, such feasting leads to greater understanding of the text.

In chapters 5 and 6, Paauw argues that rather than seeing every single event in the Bible as a direct intervention from God, recognizing that the world is itself a direct intervention of God, and the realm in which he dwells with us and that the events are history that we need not look for the most outlandish understanding. An example he gives is how as a fourth-grader he was shocked to learn that the rainbow was probably not created after the Flood, but rather was already a thing, and God used that as a reminder of his covenant.

In chapters 7 and 8, Paauw challenges the idea that the Bible is a theological treatise, or a “how-to” manual. Rather it is an ongoing story, our story and His, and should be read as such. This is not to say that we cannot derive theology from it. We can and we should. However, when we lose the story, we lose the meaning. In chapter 9, we are encouraged to see how this would look in our lives.

In chapters 10 and 11, Paauw contrasts the “Otherworldly Bible” with the “Earthly Bible.” Here, he rejects the tendency to see Christianity as a means of escaping the evil physical realm to the heavenly one in favor of seeing our mission as redeeming the world God created.

In 12 and 13, he makes the case for reading in community by differentiating “My Private Bible” from the “Synagogue Bible.” Finally, in 14 and 15, the author laments the loss of beauty in the pages of the Bible where there once could be found bright, colorful illustrations, as well as beautiful script on high quality media.

 

Analysis

I find much of what Paauw says here compelling. As I mentioned above, the isolation of verses out of context, or “verse jacking,”[1] is a pet peeve of mine. I am a strong advocate of, as Greg Koukl teaches, “Never read a Bible verse.” That is, never read A Bible verse. The method of reading promoted here will avoid many of the pitfalls from isolating verses. Moreover, I have begun to read Books of the Bible, which is an edition of the NIV without chapter and verse numbers, as well as some other interesting features. I can tell you that my ADD is much less active in this text. I suppose it could be argue that Paauw’s book is a written infomercial for Books of the Bible, but that’s okay.

While I tend to agree with Paauw’s view that salvation entails far more involvement with the redemption of the created order than most Christians seem to think, I think that when he claims that the idea of gaining heaven or avoiding hell as a way to invoke urgency offers a false dichotomy. Scripture does seem to paint a clear picture of judgment. It seems reasonable to think in terms of both/and. We are saved to work for the redemption of the world and go to be with the Lord until the ultimate redemption, the resurrection.

 

Even if you find you don’t agree with all of Paauw’s conclusion, you will agree with me that the book is worth the read. It is accessible for readers at a high school level or higher.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The author cites, “The highly-descriptive and provocative term “verse jacking” was coined by my colleague John Dunham in “High Fructose Scripture,” Leadership Journal (online), June 5, 2007, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ le/ 2007/ june-online-only/ high-fructose-scripture.html.”

 

 

When a Good Church Goes Bad by Casey Sabella: A Review

Casey Sabella has been a pastor for over 40 years, currently serving as pastor of Motion Church. I have known him personally for about 25 of those. Having served as long as he has in leadership positions, he has an insider’s perspective that lends a poignant quality to this work.

When a Good Church Goes Bad is a case study of how trust can be abused. In this his second edition, Sabella adds what he has learned in the years since his experience how his own life experience beforehand contributed to his involvement with a church that went bad, and how he participated in that fall.

The book is arranged in twelve chapters, starting with Sabella’s own testimony of coming to faith. In the chapters that follow, Sabella charts the rise and fall of the church, including insights into the character of the pastor, Sabella’s own contribution to its rise and fall, as well as realization of how his background and upbringing set the stage for these events.

It is easy to think from the title that this is some kind of exposé on a church complete with salacious details. In fact, this is a cautionary tale of how our own baggage, combined with the absence of accountability, can lead to disaster. An important takeaway is, if my church has problems, I may well be part of the problem.

Casey Sabella handles this difficult issue with a good balance of honest introspection and critical analysis of leadership structures and practices. This book is a must-read.

Podcasts You Should Know About Part 1

Over the next several posts, I will highlight some really useful resources for Christians. Obviously, being the geek that I am, the emphasis will be on apologetics resources, but many of the websites and podcasts I will profile have a broad range of information for any Christian interested in growing in the area of the life of the mind.

 

Unlike other “Top…” lists, I will start with what I think is the number one ministry in this field, and the rest will be in no particular order. Far an away my favorite (and arguably the best) is Stand to Reason. Greg Koukl has been like a long-distance (and occasionally up close) mentor to me since around 2000. He has had a radio presence for over 20 years, and the show has been available online since before there were podcasts. It is still available as a live stream on Tuesday evenings from 4-6:00 pm PDT (7-9 EDT) or the show can be downloaded as two one-hour podcasts on Wednesday and Friday. There is also a shorter podcast released twice a week called #STR Ask.

Additionally, he offers a wide range of resources from books (two of which he has written or co-written) as well as short booklets, called Ambassadors’ Guides, which are available in paper or electronic editions. STR also offers instructional DVDs like Tactics. These resources and podcasts can also be accessed through their mobile apps.

Finally, Greg and his team are available to speak to your church or ministry. More content can be found on their blog, as well as the bimonthly newsletters, such as Solid Ground.

 

STR is a valuable resource to help Christians think more carefully about and communicate their faith.

 

Egg On My Face: The Problem of Theological Claims Based On Experience

 

 

About a week ago, I posted the following on Facebook: “So, it turns out healing is a thing. I went to a healing service last night at Christian Life Church. I have had a hip injury for the past year or so, which I feel as low-back pain. As of last night, it is gone. Praise God!” How had I come to this conclusion? During the service, the speaker asked for those who needed healing to raise their hands, which I did. He then said, “Some of you need to let go of bitterness.” I felt a strong conviction that this applied to me, as well as a strong emotional reaction to the realization. When I acknowledge this, I felt a sensation in the area of my back where I have felt the symptoms of my injury. When I tested it, I felt no more symptoms. (I admit that the symptoms come and go, and are not continuously felt.) From these circumstances, I inferred that I had been healed. Based on my conviction that any healing I experience is not just for me, I shared this with the congregation and social media. Thursday morning, I realized I had made a humiliating error. My symptoms were back in full. It was clear that no such healing had occurred. Needless to say, my “quiet time” on Thursday was anything but. I would have been content to not have been healed (and I still am) but I felt really embarrassed. I was angry with God for “allowing” this to happen. In addition to the egg on my face, I was concerned about the reactions this would invoke by skeptics of divine healing. Two people in particular come to mind. One is a classmate from Biola who is skeptical of “faith healing” and the other is my wife. For them, I would point out that my experience of non-healing is no more proof that God does not heal than my (false) experience proved that He does. All this proves is that I was not healed. For those who are unconvinced of miracles in general and healings in particular, I would recommend Miracles by Craig Keener, and Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life by Eric Metaxas. In these works, you will find more than ample evidence of the continuation of God’s miraculous work.

So why the buzz kill? Why not leave it alone? I need to set the record straight. I care about the truth. Even the Apostle Paul said that proclaiming the resurrection, if it did not happen, would be bearing false witness about God. Likewise, to leave the record uncorrected would be me bearing false witness about God.

I am content with or without my injury. It is annoying, not debilitating. My faith is in God, not in any particular favor he might do for me. He took the initiative to reconcile me to him by the person and work of Jesus Christ. He has already blessed me beyond measure.

So Now I’m a Christian. Now What? Part 6: The Incarnation Continued

“Okay, so Jesus is one person with two natures, one divine and one human. And the point of all this…?

 

How important is it that God became flesh? To borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul, “great in every way!” First, as a man, God himself experienced suffering, and therefore can sympathize with our weakness. (Hebrews 4:14) He knows by experience what it means to be tired, to grieve, to hunger and thirst, and most of all, he knows what it means to suffer injustice. The only truly innocent man that ever lived was falsely accused of a capital crime and executed.

Even more importantly, however, by living his life perfectly obedient to God, and because of his death, which he experienced willingly, Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Law both by obedience, and by providing a substitute for sin. In the Old Testament, sins had to be atoned for by the death of an innocent substitute. This usually meant an animal. This is why John the Baptist called Jesus the “Lamb of God.” Because he lived perfectly, he had no sin of his own to pay for. One way we can know that is because he didn’t stay dead. About 40 hours after he was buried, Jesus rose from the dead. As Paul said, “He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” By coming to faith in Jesus, we become united with him. Because of this union, we die with him, and are raised again (spiritually now, bodily later) so that he takes on our sin, and gives us his righteousness.

Finally, because he rose from the dead, we can trust him to raise us at the end of the age just as he promised. This life, no matter how pleasant or painful, is extremely short compared to the eternity we will live. This is why Paul could say, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

God became flesh and lived among us, and died for us. Because of this, we are reconciled to God, and have hope in the resurrection, and eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth (2Peter 3:31) He promised, and he is able to come through. How do we know? We know because he rose from the dead. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

 

 

“Doubting Thomas” Can’t Catch a Break

Preachers love to use “Doubting Thomas” as a negative sermon illustration (my church’s NextGen pastor excepted) but why does everyone point the finger at him? Who did he doubt? None of the gospel accounts of the resurrection place Thomas at the tomb. He wasn’t there when Jesus first appeared to the 10 (11 counting Thomas.) But was he the first skeptic among the disciples that day? Luke 24 contains a report of the women finding the empty tomb and encountering the risen Jesus. What happened when they reported this to the apostles? “…the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.” (Verses 10b-11) What? They would not believe? Who’s doubting now? In the Gospel of John, when the disciples heard the report that the tomb was empty did they believe? No, they went and investigated, and then they believed. (Again, no mention of Thomas being there.) In both accounts, the disciples did not believe the report until they investigated for themselves.

Fast forward to Sunday night, and Jesus appears to the ten. Afterwards, the ten tell Thomas what they saw, and he refuses to believe. How is he any different?

It can be argued that after hanging out with the other ten guys for the last three years or so that he should have given them the benefit of the doubt. To be fair, however, this was a truly unique event in history. Moreover, it was a unique event that had direct personal implications. All 11 were grieving Jesus’ death. With the exception of those people they had seen Jesus raise from the dead (in a manner very different from Jesus’ own resurrection) they recognized that typically people tended to stay dead, especially when they die by crucifixion. However, just because Thomas had the boldness to say what the other 10 were thinking just that morning is no reason to single him out as a hardened skeptic. Thomas was in good company.