Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I try to read a lot. It doesn’t always work out as much as I’d like, but I’m always reading something. Additionally, almost everything I read is for the benefit of the people in my church. In the year that I’ve been with Central Valley Community Church I’ve been asked questions, confronted with issues directly as well as peripherally, and in all of it I’ve been driven to the Word and to the faithful witnesses of that Word so that I might deal with these things in a mature, informed fashion.
Every once in a while, however, I like to read something from a total nut-job. It helps now and again to be familiar with some false teaching. Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t lull myself to sleep every night with the Book of Mormon in my lap, although, if there were one book that could induce a coma, it would be Joseph Smith’s leather-bound masterpiece of sophomoric futility. That being said, I do like to read false teaching that people are actually listening to and believing. Generally, I don’t worry too much about whether or not CVCC members will have a crisis and suddenly decide Buddha is the answer. What does concern me is material that either obscures the gospel or flatly contradicts it and is simultaneously appreciated and endorsed by the body of Christ. Now, hear me clearly, this is about being faithful to Scripture, something we must not compromise, and any subsequent language that may be interpreted as harsh is not intended to be harsh towards anything but false teaching.
My most recent foray into Heresy Land, to be fair, is not authored by a categorical “nut-job.” He’s relatively mainstream and is even endorsed by Eugene Peterson (oh, say it ain’t so Gene!). It’s also evident that the intentions of the author are “good.” But then again, you know what they say about the pavement on the road to hell. Some of you may have read and liked the book I am about to mock, and if so, don’t assume I’m saying something about you. This is all about William P. Young and his view of The Trinity, presented in the novel, The Shack.
The plot is relatively simple. Our main character, Mack, gets an invitation to meet God in a remote shack. Mack in the shack. You may insert a dissatisfied artistically snobby “sigh” right here. Moving on.
When he meets God in the shack he encounters the Trinity. Jesus is there, God the Father is there, and the Holy Spirit is there. The Trinity is a complex, but glorious and necessary doctrine. To deny it or obscure it is to, at least, blur the lines as to what constitutes right doctrine and at worst, become something other than Christian. Anytime you redefine the nature of God you’re on dangerous ground.
Scripturally we see that there is One True God that eternally exists as three distinct persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – who are each fully and equally God. This is not something that is quick to grasp – yet Scripture consistently testifies to this mysterious truth. This testimony is so abundant and consistent that there is no space in this article to demonstrate it, but this is how orthodox Christianity has always understood God’s nature and self-revelation.
Here, I hope to articulate some essentials of the doctrine from Scripture that The Shack obscures or perverts. First, we have a problem with the image of God that this book portrays. I am afraid that not many Christians understand or take seriously the command to not make for themselves a “graven image” of God. Many think that the second commandment applies only to false idols. But the command obviously extends beyond that.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven…” (Exodus 20:4). This includes, I think, casting Morgan Freeman as God in Evan Almighty, novelizing God the Father and portraying Him as a jovial, African American woman. Yet, that’s how God reveals Himself in The Shack. What’s the problem you ask? God, and God alone, has the prerogative to reveal Himself. We wouldn’t know squat about God if He didn’t reveal Himself, and to my recollection he’s never, in the history of ever, revealed Himself as Oprah.
If you want to portray Jesus, there’s a freedom to do that, because the Son became a man and was raised as a Jew in first century Palestine. That’s why I don't get up in arms every time someone makes a movie about Jesus, though I don’t understand why he’s yet to be portrayed by someone of Jewish descent.
The Holy Spirit was revealed in the shape of a dove at Jesus’ baptism and it could be argued as tongues of fire at Pentecost in Acts 2. This is the pattern we follow. Scripture dictates how we portray and honor God and I don’t see why we would make an exception for art or literature. Nowhere are we permitted to cast God the Father out of stone or create a humanized likeness of Him. In fact, we’re commanded not to. Yet, Mr. Young breaks this command twice over by portraying God the Father as an African American Woman and the Holy Spirit as a fluttery non-descript Asian woman without the courtesy or reverence to veil his narrative in metaphor or allegory.
Further, there is some serious confusion in the book as to the difference between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. There are several examples. As Mack is talking with the “Father” he notices scars on his…I mean…her wrists identical to Jesus’ cross-inflicted wounds. She notes, “Don’t ever think that what my son chose to do didn’t cost us dearly. Love always leaves a significant mark…We were there together.
While the Bible is clear that God was present at the crucifixion (read Psalm 22 to understand that one) it is also clear that God the Father didn’t die on the cross, the Holy Spirit didn’t die on the cross - Jesus died on the cross. Young wholly confuses this category and therefore sacrifices any and all scripturally intended significance for the distinction.
The Scriptural picture is God the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit, submitting to the will of the Father, who is pouring out his wrath on the Son in our place, for our sin. The picture of The Shack is that somehow, The Father and The Spirit were subjected to that punishment as well – and this makes no sense when compared to God’s Word.
Further, God the “mother” tells Mack at one point, “In Jesus we (i.e. the Father and the Spirit) became fully human.” This is a heresy called Modalism. It teaches that essentially, there is no distinction between Father, Son and Spirit but rather, God puts on the Father uniform in some situations, puts on the Son uniform to die for sin, and the Holy Spirit uniform in the hearts and lives of believers.
This is not what Scripture teaches. One example of the Bible distinguishing between the Father, Son and Spirit would be the baptism of Jesus. We see Jesus come out of the water, the Spirit descend in the form of a dove, and the Father speak from Heaven. Additionally, all through the gospels Jesus talks about the Father sending Jesus, not pretending to be Jesus. We see Jesus talk about how he only says and does what the Father tells him to say and do.
God didn’t have to reveal Himself to us, yet he chose to do so through Jesus and through His Word. How can we overlook it for the sake of our entertainment or some form of edification that falls so short of His inspired Word?
The Shack will come and go. But the heresies and false teaching within it are ancient and my prayer is that faithful Christians will come to loathe such fallacy in comparison to the riches and bounty of deep study and time in God’s Holy Word. Because I love you, that is what I want to move you. I do not want us to be swept away by heresy that sounds good or is entertaining. You may be able to get a few good insights out of it but I’m not sure it’s worth navigating through the junk. That would be kinda like making a point to eat at McDonalds because you like the Salad. I don’t want us to be moved by the newest, coolest, seeker sensitive thing. I want us to be moved and shaken by God’s Holy Word. That is my prayer.

1 comment:

Howard Fisher said...

In light of this great post, I recommend James White's, The Forgotten Trinity.