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.

 

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.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi. A Review

Author

Nabeel Qureshi is a former Muslim, now a Christian, and author of three books Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, and No God But One: Allah or Jesus and the work under review. He holds an MD from Eastern Virginia Medical School, an MA in Christian apologetics from Biola University, an MA in Religion from Duke University, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in New Testament Studies at Oxford University. Qureshi is also an itinerant speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. His desire in writing this book is encourage people to think carefully about Islam, responding without naiveté or undue fear.

Synopsis

Answering Jihad is organized into three categories, in which Qureshi answers the 18 most common questions he is asked regarding Islam and Christianity. Part 1 gives an introduction and historic overview of the concept of jihad. Part 2 addresses the practice of jihad today, and Part 3 deals with the differences between Islam and Christianity with respect to violence. The end of the book contains some appendices that explain more about Islam in general, as well as the particular sect to which Qureshi’s family belongs.

Analysis

In Part 1, Qureshi offers a compelling argument for the idea that those who practice violent forms of Islam are far more consistent with the teachings of the authoritative, foundational documents and the actions of the founder of Islam. He shows from historical context, as well as the documents themselves, that jihad is properly understood as violent warfare.

In Part 2, Qureshi explores the resurgence of jihad in modern times. His explanation of how moderate Muslims receive their traditions, which is far different from the Protestant tradition of Sola Scriptura. For Muslims, their Imams carry far more authority than an equivalent leader in Christianity. Therefore, if the Imams are teaching Islam as peaceful, then Islam is peaceful. This is especially helpful in light of claims made by some that all peaceful Muslims are merely employing Taqiya, or deception. However, with the advent of the Internet, Muslims have unprecedented access to their foundational documents, the Quran and the Hadiths, which teach a more aggressive Islam. Qureshi notes that exposure to these documents leads to a crisis of faith for these Muslims. They must choose apostasy, violence, or to live in cognitive dissonance.

In Part 3, Qureshi responds to questions and challenges about the seeming similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity. Here he does a good job of differentiating jihad from Old Testament warfare. I thought, however, he could have done a little more research into Jesus’ teaching on “turning the other cheek.” Qureshi claims this is an injunction against even self-defense. However, as J. Warner Wallace points out, “When Jesus told His followers to “turn the other cheek,” He was referring to personal retaliation rather than to responses related to criminal offenses or actions related to military force.” Wallace’s comment was in response to the idea that “turn the other cheek” was a command to be pacifist, but I think it can be applied to self-defense, though not retaliation. One other issue I would take would be with Qureshi’s response to the Crusades and the reports of the taking of Jerusalem. As Rodney Stark points out, “the commonly applied ‘rule of war’ concerning siege warfare was that if a city did not surrender before forcing attackers to take the city by storm (which inevitably caused a very high rate of casualties in the besieging force), the inhabitants could expect to be massacred as an example to others in the future.” (God’s Battalions, 168.) This is not to argue that Christians are to behave this way, but to expect Christians sent to war in medieval times and expecting them to conduct themselves by modern standards is unrealistic. That simply was how wars were fought. It was not a uniquely “Christian” practice.

Qureshi concludes by reminding us that we need to realistic in our view of Islam, while charitable toward Muslims. If we wait until our Muslim neighbors reach that “three-pronged fork in the road” to reach out to them, it may be too late. This point cannot be overemphasized. As Christians, we need to see Muslims as people for whom Christ died.

Recommendation

Despite my nit picking, I highly recommend this book. It is accessible for anyone from late middle school and meaty enough for a graduate student. It is a must read for anyone hoping to have a meaningful interaction with their Muslim neighbors.

 

Balancing Safety with Security: Another Perspective

There has been a lot of discussion about the Syrian refugees and whether Christians should support allowing them to come to the U.S. Many of the concerns raised stem from the possibility that there may be terrorists mixed in, and the idea that Christians are underrepresented among them. (Jonathan Witt addresses this here.) Unfortunately all of the focus seems to be on these two issues. Maybe there is a third issue we are overlooking to our shame.

Syria is a Muslim nation, and under the best of circumstances, it is hostile to Christian missionary work. Add to that the current civil war, and you have a recipe for near certain martyrdom for any Christian who wants to go there to bring the Gospel. In this, I am reminded of a story I heard Ravi Zacharias tell about a man named Sami Dagher. As I recall, Sami Dagher was in Lebenon when Syria invaded in 1976. Dagher told Zacharias that he was complaining in his prayers about the Syrian occupation, when he felt God telling him that he had always complained that he could not bring the Gospel into Syria, and now he sent him 25000 Syrians and he was still complaining. (Paraphrased from memory. I could not find a link on the rzim.org site. I am sure I heard in in a  Let My People Think podcast.)

The point is, we can point out how the Muslim nations in the region are not welcoming any refugees if we want, but none of us are planning any missions trips to Syria any time soon. What we have is an opportunity to share the love of Christ with these refugees in a place where they can safely receive it. (I know there are still hazards from within their community.) Is that safe? Maybe not, but we are not called to be safe, we are called to be faithful. We can push for due diligence with respect to vetting the refugees, but they will probably come, and we need to be prepared to welcome them.

Bait and Switch

In my last post, I discussed a skeptics forum in which there was a dialogue between two scholars from Reasons to Believe, and one from the New England Skeptical Society. The skeptic, Dr. Steven Novella, made an interesting remark. He opened his comments with a joke about someone breaking into his house in the middle of the night and stealing all the furniture, and replacing it with exact replicas. He then claimed that those who hold to some sort of creationism do the same thing by taking the world that just happens to look like it developed by purely natural means and posit a God to explain the gaps in our knowledge.

This seems to be the kind of charge that works for whoever makes it first. It is similar to a corrupt politician accusing others of corruption before he gets caught so it looks like his critics are just saying, “Not me, you!” Do not misunderstand. I am not calling Dr. Novella corrupt. In fact, I think Novella really believes what he says. My point is that theists hold to God’s existence and role in the creation and sustaining of the universe for a variety of reasons. While it may be that there are some who hold to a “god-of-the-gaps,” the arguments presented at the forum were not arguments from ignorance. In fact, from a theistic worldview, and this is relevant because  the scientific revolution was started by theists, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. Part of our worldview is that the universe exists and operates as it does because of God’s creation and providence. Two important ideas stem from this. Theism is not a “science stopper,” and it is just as likely that the materialist is the one “stealing the furniture and replacing it with exact replicas.”

Science stopper?

Materialists claim that appealing to a creator puts an end to inquiry, and therefore is a “science stopper.” This claim is patently false. It was theists, such as Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Leibniz, etc who launched the scientific revolution because they believed that God had created the world, and since God was a rational being, his creation should be rationally ordered and could be studied; therefore such study was an act of devotion. It was not enough for them that God had created the world. They wanted to know how he did it, and how it works. They believed, as materialists do, that the world is governed by regular and predictable laws. The difference is that for the materialists, these laws are mere brute fact. Both the theist and the materialist are interested in seeing how much creative power is in these laws. The important distinction is that for the materialist, supernatural intervention is not possible even in principle. The theist allows for such a possibility. This does not mean, however, that the theist is willing to punt to miracles to fill gaps in knowledge. Arguments for design are made from what is known about designers and their activity. Arguments for the origin of information are based on all of our knowledge about information.

Where’s the furniture?

Scientists, regardless of worldview, operate on a principle of “methodological naturalism.” (MN) On this method, investigations of causes assume a natural cause. This is really not controversial. Where the furniture is switched is when scientists conflate MN with philosophical, or metaphysical, naturalism. MN assumes a natural cause but is blind to supernatural events. philosophical naturalism holds that the material universe is all that exists. It is rare that this bait-and-switch is intentional because very few scientists seem to be well educated when it comes to philosophy. (Not to mention some politicians, but that is another story.) Consequently, many of them are ignorant of philosophical arguments for God from the origin of the universe, such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument. (KCA) Basing our assumptions on the KCA and other arguments, it is not hard to think that a God that created the universe could engage in other acts of intervention. However, materialists will just assume the universe to be a brute reality, and when pressed on its origin, they will appeal to some future discovery that will explain it. In other words, they engage in materialism-of-the-gaps.

It seems to me, materialism tends to be a metaphysics-stopper. Whose furniture is it anyway?

Atheism’s Response to Apologetics Part 2

Since Ryan claims the objective of his book is to respond to bad arguments, I can’t find too much fault with his response to the form of the Moral Argument he quotes in the second chapter. However, not having seen or heard this form, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a Straw Man under attack here.

I am not aware of any theists who justify belief in God by the existence of a concept of morality. Rather the fact that we have moral intuitions leads us to ask what grounds them.

Ryan offers an evolutionary explanation for moral codes, but not one for moral intuitions. If all we had were rules we had to learn, he might have a point, but there are good reasons to think we have moral intuitions before we learn moral codes. As parents we often appeal to a young child’s empathy to correct their behavior. However, that empathy does not account for the “oughtness” of acting according to it. Just because I can imagine how it would feel to be the victim of my actions does not explain why I should not do those actions. In fact in some cases, I ought to do them anyway.

Ryan points to cultural differences as evidence of relativism, but these differences are far more about the facts that inform the application of moral principles than the principles themselves.  He notes an example of an objective moral principle, the wrongness of murder, but jumps quickly back to denying a logical connection to theism.

Comparing moral codes of various religions adds nothing to the discussion since revealed codes are not central to the argument.

Finally, since moral arguments are defeaters for atheism, and not arguments for a particular deity, noting that they do not prove one as more plausible than another is a red herring.

The mosque denied today could be the church denied tomorrow.

WXYZ in Detroit is reporting that the town of Sterling Heights has denied a building permit for a mosque. Now, I am not a Muslim, and I don’t live in Sterling Heights, so I have no direct stake in the matter. However, the reasons given by the planning commission to deny the permit can easily be used against Christian churches (and already has in a number of cases.) It’s a residential neighborhood. So what? People who pray five times a day, preferably at a mosque, should have to commute?

What was even more troubling to me was the reaction of the people there to the decision. The Independent Journal Review published a post about the crowd’s joy at the decision. I find it disturbing, as people were reacting to the mosque out of fear. Having a mosque in the neighborhood does not mean you are inviting a terror cell to set up shop. Moreover, if Muslim terrorists wanted to set up shop there, they could do it without the mosque.

Finally, Muslims are living in these communities. Do you really think denying permits to build mosques is going to make them go away? Maybe we can try something that seems to be lost. How about being good neighbors?