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.

 

Is Blind Faith “Pure” Faith?

I recently heard someone I respect a great deal state that faith that does not depend on reasons or evidence a more “pure” faith. Is this really the case?

Before I address this, let me state at the beginning here that I don’t think genuine faith is ever blind. I am sympathetic to what Alvin Plantinga calls “reformed epistemology” which is the idea that a person’s belief in the existence of God and the truth of Christianity are properly basic because of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. This means they are rational in believing, even if they cannot articulate an argument for their truth. To be clear, this is not evidence it is true that is accessible to anyone else. As such, that person’s faith is not really blind.

So what reason might a Christian have for thinking faith without arguments and evidence is more pure than faith supported by reasons and evidence? In Luke 18:17, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”  Does this mean that since children don’t need evidence and argument, then we shouldn’t either? In the context of this short passage where children are brought to Jesus, the emphasis seems to be on humility, rather than credulity. As Darrell Bock points out, “What is commended in children is their inherent dependence, for they bring nothing but themselves to the feet of Jesus.”1  However, why would children come to Jesus? The text says they were brought to him. A child would come to Jesus because someone they trusted brought them to him. So it would seem that this passage (and its parallels in the other synoptics) do not support the idea that child-like reception of the kingdom is a faith without reason.

Another passage sometimes used to argue against arguments (can’t escape them can you?) is John 20:29, “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'” In this passage, “doubting Thomas seems to be getting castigated for demanding evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. (Note the link. I deal with this incident there.) In the context, Thomas was making demands in spite of the testimony of people he knew were trustworthy. In fact, if you go to the next verse, it says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Jesus did miracles because they gave evidence of his claims. He made claims about himself of things you could not see, and supported them with acts you could see. If this is unclear, read Matthew 9:2-8, Mark 2:3-12 or Luke 5:18-26. Each of these tells the account of the paralytic brought to Jesus by four of his friends. Jesus declares the man’s sins forgiven, and heals him for the expressed purpose of proving his authority to do so.

Plantinga’s idea refers to Romans 8: 16 where Paul writes, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” As such, a Christian can have assurance of his salvation even if he cannot articulate it. However, this assurance can be difficult to articulate to someone who has not experienced it. Moreover, how does the Christian respond to the Mormon who claims a “burning in the bossom” as evidence of the truth of Mormonism? Moreover, when faced with the challenges of skeptics, your children will need the support of reasons why their faith is well grounded.
In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul writes, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God…” This is done by, as Peter tells us, “…in your hearts honor(ing) Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15)

Faith that is grounded in nothing more than the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is real faith. It is even rational faith. However, faith bolstered by arguments and evidence is faith that is more stable, and arguably, more Christ-like, and it is more obedient to God’s word.

 

1 Bock, Darrell L.; Bock, Darrell L. (2009-08-19). Luke: The NIV Application Commentary from Biblical Text to Contemporary Life (pp. 462-463). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Improbable Planet by Hugh Ross: a Review

Author

Hugh Ross is an astrophysicist with a PhD from the University of Toronto. He is also the founder and president of Reasons to Believe, a science/faith think tank. In the ongoing conversation between people of faith and those who are not over the philosophy of science, the phrase “god-of-the-gaps” is often tossed around as an accusation against those who hold to some view of divine design or creation. It is claimed that the view is “we don’t know how this came about, so God must have done it.” This dismissal ignores the fact that design proponents who are theists (and not all are) have many lines of argumentation that show the rationality of belief in God. When apparent design is cited as evidence of God’s existence, it is not for the purpose of filling a gap in knowledge, but inferring from what is known. Ross does this very well in his books Creator and the Cosmos, Origins of Life (with Fazale Rana) and Why the Universe Is the Way It Is. In each of these books, Ross addresses how the initial conditions of the universe, the fine tuning of the solar system, and the origin of life are quite consistent with intentional purpose. In Improbable Planet, Ross brings these arguments together to show the whole picture. This is his best work yet.

Using the analogy of a huge construction project, Ross catalogs the steps that must be followed, from producing the materials, to preparing the ground, to laying the foundation, etc, to argue that the universe bears the hallmarks of design for advanced, high-tech civilization.

 

Synopsis

The thesis of the book is that the universe as a whole, and earth in particular, was created for the purpose of redemption: a home for the human race which God would use to defeat evil once and for all. The book is laid out in eighteen chapters. Chapter one lays out point of raising this question. Chapter two describes the results of what the next thirteen chapters would describe. In chapter three, Ross describes how the Big Bang, and subsequent star formation and supernovae produced the necessary building materials. Chapter four shows how rare of a neighborhood a rare planet needs. (Location, location, location.) Chapter five describes the early development of the solar system and the earth-moon system, as well as how these particular conditions make earth a suitable home. Chapter six explains how the interaction of solar system bodies brought about bombardments of the earth that was vital for the life that would later occupy it.

Scientists are frequently announcing the discovery of extrasolar planets. Those who think life must exist elsewhere are looking for planets that could have liquid water on them. They recognize that this is a necessary, though not sufficient condition for life. In chapter seven, Ross notes eight “habitable zones” that must overlap for advanced life to be possible, as well as other conditions. Chapter eight discusses the early origin of life and how it lead to the development of land masses. Here begins the series of life forms that would appear in just the right kinds, and amounts that would prepare the planet for future life forms. Chapter nine through twelve examine how these life forms affected and were affected by the climate, and how they compensated for a changing luminosity of the sun. Chapter thirteen catalogs how the geological and biological history of earth bestowed abundant resources which would be needed for a high-tech civilization. Chapter fourteen walks us through the history of mass speciation and extinction events in earth’s history. Chapter fifteen explains how the ice age cycle has prepared the earth to be able to sustain a population of billions. Chapter sixteen brings us back to the big picture, the why question, and offers an explanation from the Christian worldview.

 

Analysis

As I stated above, I think this is Ross’ best work yet. It lays out his best arguments for design in the universe, the galaxy, the solar system, and the planet. His big picture-to-close up approach, using the construction analogy, is a comprehensive summary of why so many who study these things find confidence in their faith. This book also avoids a lot of unnecessary theological speculation. It can be a little technical for the average lay person, but I think it is worth the effort. I cannot recommend this book more enthusiastically. What readers who may be skeptical need to keep in mind, is that this is a “top down” approach to the question of design. If your starting point is that matter is all there is, you will come away unconvinced. I invite you to read this with an open mind.

 

Shadow of Oz: Theistic Evolution and the Absent God by Wayne Rossiter, a Review.

Author

Wayne Rossiter is Assistant Professor of Biology at Waynsburg University. He received his B.S. from Otterbein University, his M.S. from Ohio State University and his Ph.D. from Rutgers University. Dr. Rossiter teaches Principles of Biology, Ecology and Environmental Biology.

 

Synopsis

In Shadow of Oz, Rossiter argues that given the blatant incompatibility of Darwinian evolution and the Christian worldview, those who try to hold to both do so at the expense of the Christian worldview, and in the name of a paradigm that is in deep trouble.

The book is laid out in seven chapters. In Chapter one, Rossiter tells his own story, and that of the way Darwinian evolution undermines classical Christianity, and outlines the attempts of theistic evolutionists to hold to both. In chapter two, Rossiter argues that the two views are fundamentally incompatible. Chapter 3 is a brief(ish) explanation of the Darwinian model, as well as the problems with trying to reintroduce God into the picture. Chapter four focuses on the Christian view of man, which is the greatest area of incongruity between Christianity and Darwin. In chapter five, Rossiter argues that the theistic evolution would make God the creator of evil. In chapter six, Rossiter gives an overview of the newest findings of science, and the way they call Darwinism into serious question. Finally, chapter seven evaluates theistic evolution in light of the discussion of the previous six chapters.

 

Analysis

Rossiter’s approach is quite even-handed in that rather than evaluating theistic evolution from a particular sectarian point of view, he shows how incompatible it is with mere Christianity. Moreover, Rossiter’s critique of the neo-Darwinian synthesis is grounded in the latest research in the field of biology, not simply from the work of Intelligent Design proponents. His argument is that Christianity is not compatible with Darwinism, that holding to the best of science means one is justified in rejecting Darwinism, and therefore, theistic evolutionists are throwing the baby out with the bath water. There is, however, room for improvement.

 

In chapter 2, Rossiter notes the limited role granted by theistic evolutionists for God’s direct involvement in the world. I would add that they overlook God’s sustaining the universe in its regular adherence to the laws of physics, which itself demands an explanation.

 

While most of Rossiter’s arguments are cogent and well though-out, he seems to misunderstand the views of Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig. Plantinga and Craig acknowledge that “random” changes in an organism is compatible with theism just in case “random” is understood to mean “not occurring for the purpose of benefitting the organism.” Craig argues that for a scientist to go further, such as to say such changes are “undirected” is to step outside of their discipline. Both argue that such changes can look the same whether directed by God to degrade the organism, or truly undirected. Rossiter responds, “Apparently, suggesting that aliens are tinkering with mutations is fantasy, but supposing that a supernatural God is doing it behind the scenes is completely rational.”[1] Given that Craig and Plantinga can point to many points of evidence for God, while there is virtually no evidence best explained by aliens, it is in fact, rational. Rossiter goes on to claim “Craig concludes that it is logical to suppose that evolution is guided or directed by God.”[2] Actually, Craig concludes that it is logically possible that God could direct evolution, and that the scientist who denies this does so out of philosophical commitments, not scientific reasoning.

 

Recommendation

Rossiter’s book is an excellent primer on the latest in findings in the literature and why holding to Darwinism is not only unnecessary, it is ultimately a dead end. Shadow of Oz is accessible for readers with a high school education, and highly useful for understanding how a Christian ought to think about these issues.

 

 

 

[1] Rossiter, Wayne D. (2015-12-08). Shadow of Oz: Theistic Evolution and the Absent God (Kindle Locations 2149-2150). Pickwick Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

[2] Ibid., 2155-2156

Podcasts You Should Know Part 5

Next up in this series is one of our “friends across the pond,” Justin Brierley, with his weekly radio show/ podcast Unbelievable?Unbelievable? Airs every Saturday in the U.K. and is then released as a podcast. Each week, Brierly brings together a Christian and a skeptic to have a dialogue on matters of faith. Sometimes the dialogue is among Christians discussing an area of disagreement in theology. What really stands out in these discussion is the level of civility that is (usually) maintained throughout the conversation. While Brierley makes no secret about where he stands, he is consistently recognized by listeners and guests as a very even-handed moderator of the discussions.

In addition to the show, Brierley has a blog, and serves as the senior editor of Premier Christianity magazine. Be sure to check this podcast out.

Says Who? Part Deux: How Do We Know?

In response to Says Who, byblacksheep had some thoughtful comments that, while missing the point of the original post, I thought they were worth addressing.

Byblacksheep (BBS from here out) said,

“…if we have morals from a perfect God (we know what is good because god said so) we would expect perfect morals from the beginning.”

 

As a Christian, I would affirm that we have morals from a perfect God. As I argued in part uno, God himself is the ground of goodness. However, I would not say “we know that is good because God said so.” What I mean here is that I know of no Christian theologian who would say God has revealed his moral will exhaustively. He has revealed some things, and from those we can infer other things. We obviously can be mistaken about those inferences, but we do not claim they have the same weight of authority as clear revelation. For example, Exodus 20:15 says, “Do not steal.” We can infer from this that there is such a thing as private property of some kind, and that certain rights follow from this. As such while I think what God has revealed of his moral will is perfect, it is not entirely spelled out, which brings me to the second half of the statement above. We would expect this IF we were claiming that the purpose of divine revelation is to give us an exhaustive book or rules by which we must live, and anything that was happening that was wrong was to be called out and condemned. However, that is not the purpose of Scripture. Its overarching narrative is where we came from, what our problem is, what the solution is, and how it will all be resolved.

BBS goes on to say,

            “But our knowledge and our understanding grows…And because of that you would expect the moral codes of earlier civilizations would be just totally wrong and gradually change and be refined over time, which is what we see, globally we have moved in a direction that increases human dignity for all people. Can I definitively say we’ve moved in a direction that is “better?” No I can’t, I will leave that to the philosophers, but what i can do however is look back at the holocaust and say “they got it wrong” I can look back at slavery in the U.S., and slavery across the globe and say “they got it wrong.”

I can agree with BBS that “they got it wrong” but I do so from a worldview that can make sense of that claim. If all we are is molecules in motion, all we can mean when we say “they got it wrong” is that the “molecules in me feel icky about that.” To say they were wrong is to say that they had an obligation to not do that. That implies authority of some kind. Where does that come from? I would argue that the best explanation is a transcendent source in whose image we are made, which is why there is such widespread agreement on big issues like this such that large groups only achieve things like the holocaust by armed force. We have an intuitive sense that such things are wrong. We are also quite capable of ignoring that intuition and/or rationalizing violating it.

BBS also says,

            “…consensus really isn’t how we decide what is moral or not moral. Sure it is how we collectively agree what codes, rules, and norms we are going to follow, but that isn’t necessarily WHY we follow them.”

Again, I would agree. In fact, the why is yet another question. Many people follow moral laws against murder and adultery for no reason other than fear of consequences. While that may make their behavior seem moral on the surface,   Jesus doubled down on the commandments when he said,

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. (Matthew 5:21)

 

and…”

 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (verses 27-28)

 

I will end here for the sake of brevity. Keep an eye out for part drei coming up. (Yes I am using a different language for each sequel number just to be annoying.)

 

 

 

How Not to Look Stupid on Social Media

“Can you believe that church has a waterslide baptismal?

“The NFL is going to ban the National Anthem before football games!”

“Copy and paste the following if you don’t want your pictures and posts used for advertising…”

“Like this post and Facebook will donate money to…”

“The atheist professor dared God to stop a piece of chalk from breaking…”

Einstein humiliated an atheist professor…”

 

 

Many Christians see things on the internet that either enrage or excite them. They then often post or share them on social media. Unfortunately, they rarely fact-check the stories they share or react to. The result is that Christians look naïve, reactionary, and foolish.

I like a rule I learned from Greg Koukl: “Never read a Bible verse.” In other words, never read a verse in isolation. However, I think one verse, though out of context, contains a principle that it would be wise to apply more generally: “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.” The first item above is actually referring to a story posted on a satire website, the Babylon Bee. The folks at the Babylon Bee post hilarious parodies of the Christian subculture. But they are writing satire, not news. It is important that when you see a story that gets you riled up, check the source. If you follow a link to a website and you are not sure, look for a link that says “about” or something like that. At the bottom of every page on the Babylon Bee, you can see “The Babylon Bee is Your Trusted Source For Christian News Satire.” A list of satire sites from around the world can be found here.

As for the rest of the items above, a simple look at websites like snopes.com. or factcheck.org will save you from looking stupid when you share the latest internet myth.

 

As Christians, we are called to be salt and light. We are to display the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11) not to look like religious nuts.

 

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