Saturday, January 17, 2009

"A book about God that gets God wrong."

The Shack: The Review

As promised I read The Shack by William Young over Christmas vacation. As promised I also read Twilight over Christmas vacation. Well, I did read Twilight…some of it. I read the first twenty pages and that was enough. It’s not my style. There are many books I never finished: I’m relieved to say Twilight is in that literary refuse heap. Before I jump into the review, here are three other sources you need to read and hear:
Issues Etc.
Tim Challie's thorough review
A concise and powerful review by Wayne Elliott
A great review by Jim Pierce.

I did read and finish The Shack, reflected on it reread some critiques I referenced in an earlier post. The Shack is also not my kind of book. That was my hunch before I started the literary journey. I’m a bit cynical of the one-fad-fits-all mentality, especially when it comes to religious books. I’m wary of any book, idea, event and/or organization that engages the masses and claims to transcend all religious denominations.

Perhaps that’s an extension of my cynical nature or perhaps I take God seriously when he tells us in 1 John 4: 1-3 "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world."
Now before you label me some close-minded, stubborn, German ogre who only believes Lutherans will be in heaven. You are right – and wrong. My genealogy can be traced to German descendants who made sure I attended church, learned my catechism and studied the Bible. I was also baptized and confirmed. I am also a synodically trained Lutheran high school teacher who, just like every other called Lutheran educator, vowed to uphold and defend God’s Word and The Lutheran Confessions. Never have I uttered, articulated or thought that only Lutherans will be in heaven, so get rid of that weak response immediately.
No, the reasons I don’t like The Shack are simply grounded in God’s Word: “Be careful or somebody will capture you by his philosophy, tricking you with meaningless words, as he follows the traditions of men and the elements of the world but not Christ.” Colossians 2:8.
“But even if we or an angel from heaven would bring you any other good news than
what we brought you, a curse be on him! I say again what we said before: If
anyone brings you any other good news than the one you received, a curse be on
him! Do I say this now to get the approval of men – or of God? Or am I trying to
please men? If I were still trying to please men, I wouldn’t be a servant of
Christ.” - Galatians 1:8-9
So let’s begin with the specifics. Yes, I know it’s a work of fiction. Keep works of fiction on the fiction shelf in your library and the fiction shelf in your mind. However, when The Shack falls from the fiction shelf and lands in the non-fiction, 200 section of the Dewey Decimal system, problems surface. If this is fiction, don’t treat it like truthful analysis or application of God the Father, God the Son and/or God the Holy Spirit. Don’t apply it to your understanding of God’s true nature. Don’t say it helped you better understand God’s love like no other book. (A paraphrase of one comment on the back cover.) It’s fiction, remember? I’m not one to apply the tenets of fiction to the God of my salvation and believe that’s a good idea.
Let’s begin with the most appalling quote in the book.
In fact, if the following quote would have been placed on the book jacket, my hunch is that discerning readers would have avoided it entirely. Jesus says to Mack, “I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu.” “The best way.” Really. Now Shak apologists might believe this point is of little concern but God in John 14:6 speaks differently. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
In his inerrant Word, God clearly reveals that Jesus is the only way. If the author, William Young believes Christ is the only way to salvation, why the nebulous explanation of how to get there? The protagonist and all the readers of this book receive the lie that Christ is the “best” way. No, He’s the only way. It doesn’t take much discernment to understand the difference between truths and lies. It’s at this point that two roads diverged in a heretical wood, and it seems that I took the one less traveled. You know, the one that demands scriptural truth in books about God. I guess fans of this book discount God’s severe warnings about avoiding false prophets.
"But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves." 2 Pet 2:1
I guess the admonition concerning false prophets doesn’t apply to fiction.

I also cringed when Young mocked God’s Holy Word by describing it as beliefs “reduced to paper” (65).
“Try as he might, Mack could not escape the desperate possibility that the note just might be from God after all, even if the thought of God passing notes did not fit well with his theological training. In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have then only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects” (65-66).
Young’s irreverence towards the inerrancy of God’s printed Word is obvious. “God’s voice had been reduced to paper.” Reduced? Of all the words in the English language why use reduced? Young mocks God’s medium through which He revealed Himself. So the verities of our God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit have been reduced to what was found in His Word? I have more reverence for God’s Word than to minimize it like that. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” -God, as revealed in II Timothy 3:16. I’m not one to discount God’s active Word by thinking it has been reduced to paper.

The words from Tim Challies’ critique that I mentioned in an earlier post reveal my concern. “Christians hold to the belief that the Bible is the only infallible source of God’s revelation to us. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured. The best place to begin with understanding the Bible is to learn what it says about itself.” William Young’s attitude toward God’s Word is irreverent, wrong and dangerous.Despite all its errors ranging from the Trinity to the redemptive work of Christ, there was something I salvaged from this literary atrocity. “Jesus ignored his question. “Mack, just like love, submission is not something that you can do, especially not on your own. Apart from my life inside of you, you can’t submit to Nan (his wife), or your children or anyone else in your life, including Papa (God.) “You mean,” Mack interjected a little sarcastically, “that I can’t just ask, ‘What Would Jesus Do’?” Jesus chuckled, “Good intentions, bad idea. Let me know how it works for you, if that’s the way you choose to go.” He passed and grew sober. “Seriously, my life was not meant to be an example to copy. Being my follower is not trying to ‘be like Jesus’, it means for your independence to be killed. I came to give you life, real life, my life” (149).
Because of our sinful existence, we need Jesus Christ as our Savior, not as our example or moral guide or good deed gauge. I’ve always been wary about the Christ-as-our-ultimate-example mindset. Yes, Christ is perfect. If my focus is to be perfect like Christ, what happens when I fail? Do I try harder the next time? Do I buy another wristband? Do I buy five more wristbands. How many wristbands or actions or deeds must I do to be like Christ? Where is the forgiveness for my sins? It’s certainly not in my vain attempts to be perfect. That’s Law and it only condemns. God grants and reveals the truth in His Word: “My grace is sufficient for thee.” What we need Christ crucified, not Christ-examplified. Young seems to understand that Christ’s role as Savior, not as example, proffers believers hope. I wonder how this WWJD criticism was received.
Yes, The Shack is an emotionally gripping story. It possesses compassion and renewal with its fictional story line. But as Reverend Todd Wilken stated in his interview on Issues Etc.
“It’s a book about God that gets God wrong.”
If Young’s examples of God’s compassion and love compel you to effusively gush over this book, what is your reaction when, on page 96, God tells Mack that He did not forsake Christ while he was on the cross? What is your reaction when God shows Mack the scars on his wrist that must symbolize God’s death? God had to forsake Christ and God did not die on the cross with Christ. That’s what troubles me about treating this book as something more than fiction.
"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." II Timothy 4:1-4
Why suggest or recommend a book that distorts and mocks God’s Word, obscures the Trinity, disparages Christ as the way the truth and the life?
“But even if we or an angel from heaven would bring you any other good news than what we brought you, a curse be on him! I say again what we said before: If anyone brings you any other good news than the one you received, a curse be on him! Do I say this now to get the approval of men – or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I wouldn’t be a servant of Christ.” - Galatians 1:8-9

I’m sure many disagree with my review. I’m sure many find comfort in the loving compassion of a fictional god that is grounded in fallacy. There is an increasing belief that truth is relative and The Shack fuels that lie. God’s truth is not relative, grounded in men or the world and it certainly can’t be found in this book, despite its secular appeal.

“Be careful or somebody will capture you by his philosophy, tricking you with meaningless words, as he follows the traditions of men and the elements of the world but not Christ.” Colossians 2:8.
The solace, comfort, hope and certainty of salvation is found in a different structure made of wood, Christ's cross. Here Christ cleanses our sins, washes us clean and brings us to God as His redeemed children.
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all daylong; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered,” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creations, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Romans 8:35-39


Julianne said...

I really enjoyed reading the review, I'll have to listen to that Issues Etc. segment when there's time.

Emily said...

Your review has confirmed the fact that I refuse to pick up that book. I would be interested in reading your review on Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne if you ever have enough time to read it. I believe that this is one of the few books I have read that can transcend all denominations. One suggestion if this is a book you might read: prayerfully prepare yourself before reading it. I did not and really should have.

JBrandt said...

Emily, thanks for the kind words. Read everything with a discerning eye, testing the spirits as God commands of us.
"Dear Friends, don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God. Many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize God’s Spirit: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. Any spirit who doesn’t confess this Jesus, isn’t from God.” I John 4:1-3a

Concerning Irresistible Revolution, "that can transcend all denominations". Honestly, that's a red flad for me but it might be worth perusing with discernment during Easter vacation when I have a chance to read some non-school related stuff.
Today, it's off to see Hamlet at Wayne State University. This could be my favorite Shakespearean play.

Emily said...

I would like to admit my ignorance in claiming that Irresistible Revolution can transcend all denominations. As I was reading through some scripture today I realized that the Bible does not even do that.

What I was thinking in my mind as I wrote that was simply that it lays out a very clear and beautiful picture of who Jesus is that no denomination can deny. A picture that is not fictional or based on human emotions but grounded in the Word of God.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. I hope Hamlet was amazing. I can picture in my mind class discussions we had about that play. It is funny to have a photogenic memory.

TL Boehm said...

Wow - I've actually read the book and have heard so many people gushing over it. I did like it but strictly as a fictional write. Possibly because I am a parent, there were parts of the story that really tugged at my sappy heart, but as for helping me develop a relationship with God, I've learned that the only book that will consistently help me there is the Bible. Your review was awesome, well presented, honest, a standout write. Peace.
TL Boehm

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