The sermon recording from February 26, 2017.
The sermon recording from February 19, 2017.
[In light of the upcoming release of the The Shack movie, here is Kevin’s review of book, originally published in January 2009.]
William Paul Young, author of the bestselling book The Shack, grew up as a missionary kid living with the Dani tribe in New Guinea. His childhood and life experiences have greatly shaped his understanding of life and God. Throughout his life, Willie, as he commonly addresses himself and as he appears in the book, has been a writer, though he mostly wrote for his business, friends, and family. Young began The Shack on his daily train commute to work in Portland, Oregon as a series of conversations with God. He originally intended the story to be for his children saying, “I wanted my kids to enjoy a story and through the story to understand their own father better and the God that their father is so in love with. ”1
There are four main characters in The Shack, or perhaps more accurately two main characters, Mack and God, who appears as three persons. God the Father primarily appears as an African-American woman named Elousia or Papa. God the Son is a Jewish handyman named Jesus. God the Holy Spirit appears as a somewhat physically nebulous Asian woman named Sarayu.
The Shack reads as a biographical account of the events leading up to and including a particularly healing and formative weekend that Mack spends in a shack with God. “The Great Sadness” had descended on Mack following his daughter’s abduction and murder by a man known only as the “little lady killer.” As Mack, who has an uncomfortably formal relationship with God, is trying to get on with life he receives a note inviting him to meet at the shack and signed by Papa, the personal name Nan, Mack’s wife, has for God. The Shack at which they are to meet is the very location where the search party found Missy’s bloody dress a few years earlier. When Mack arrives at the shack, with a gun in hand, what unfolds is a multi-day theophanic conversation with the three persons of the Godhead that results in Mack dealing with not only the pain of Missy’s murder but also the pain of his relationship with his own biological father, which has drastically shaped his understanding of God as Father.
On one hand, from a literary standpoint, The Shack is a good book. It is an engaging, easy-to-read, and thought provoking, work of fiction – both literarily and theologically. The fact that Young has had to address whether Mack, the main character, is real or not shows the brilliance of Young’s writing (including the “Foreword” and “After Words”). Some may argue that this is because the book is somewhat deceptive, but it is actually because Young was convincingly realistic and appropriately thorough in the development of both the characters and the parts of the story set in “reality.”
On the other hand, from a theological standpoint The Shack is wanting. Throughout the book, Young repeats multiple heresies and unorthodox teachings through imprecise and unbiblical statements. In the course of a couple hundred pages, Young undermines God’s sovereignty, puts the Father and the Spirit on the cross with Christ, teaches a form of modalism, denies the deity of the incarnate Christ, teaches pantheism, repudiates God’s desire and holy need to vindicate His glory by pouring out His wrath on sin, rejects any economic formulation of the Trinity, affirms universalism, promotes antinomianism, teaches pelagianism, resets the limits of natural theology, diminishes God’s consuming glory, and undermines Christ’s propitiation of God’s wrath. Further, through the fictional theophany Young does this all from the mouth of God.
The very device that makes The Shack brilliant from a literary standpoint heightens the danger of the book from a theological standpoint by masking the half-truths as God’s words. Because the book is so well written, the reader is emotionally involved in the story. The emotional involvement makes it hard for the reader, because of what is at stake with a man whose daughter was brutally murdered and because it is God speaking, to say, “That is wrong; God does not work that way. Any comfort found in this presentation of God is a false comfort.”
While all of the critiques above are certainly serious, they are in a sense secondary to and allowed by the low view of Scripture that Young presents in The Shack. The following paragraph records Mack trying to get his mind around the note he received from God.
“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 them 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. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?”2
Young brilliantly validates the theological musings of his God character by compromising the centrality and authority of Scripture as God’s revealed will, and cynically presenting as orthodox a view of the Bible as God’s authoritative self-revelation that is itself a denial of the priesthood of the believer. What then is a proper view of Scripture? We can begin by considering what the Bible says of itself.
The first statement to be considered comes from the hand of Paul in his second letter to Timothy. “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” (2 Timothy 3.16-17, ESV). Here two claims are made. Scripture is breathed out by God, and Scripture is useful. B.B. Warfield summarizes the force of the first claim. ”What is [theopnustos] is ‘God-breathed,’ produced by the creative breath of the Almighty. And Scripture is called [theopnustos] in order to designate it as ‘God-breathed,’ the product of Divine spiration, the creation of that Spirit who is in all spheres of the Divine activity the executive of the Godhead.”3 The force of the second major claim in this passage is that it posits both intention on the part of God in His inspiration of the Scriptures and efficiency on the part of Scripture.
Paul is clearly writing of the Old Testament in 2 Timothy. Peter likewise affirms the divine origin of the Old Testament when he writes, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1.21, ESV). However, the designation, inspired Word of God, is not to be left for the Old Testament alone. Paul also writes to the Thessalonians, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (2 Thessalonians 2.13, ESV). Here, Paul is recognizing the authority of both his and the other Apostles writings as Word of God. Again, Peter’s witness confirms Paul’s witness that the New Testament, or at least Paul’s writing, carries the same authority as the Old Testament. Peter writes,
And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures (2 Peter 3.15-16, ESV).
Peter’s phrase, “as they do the other Scriptures”, assumes Paul’s writings under the heading Scripture. In addition, the author of Hebrew’s begins his letter with a statement affirming Christ as fulfilling the role the prophets formerly fulfilled. He writes, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1.1-2, ESV). Christ is the means of divine special revelation. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all state explicitly that Jesus Christ, the means of divine special revelation, is the subject of their gospel accounts. Luke attaches Acts to his gospel as the sequel thereby also attaching the authority that rests on the gospel to Acts. John explicitly states in Revelation that this book is “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1.1-2, ESV). Further, Jesus, at the end of his ministry on earth, as attested by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, sent the apostles out with a specific God-ordained teaching ministry. It is easy to understand from the apostolic writings, that their letters are a definite part of this teaching ministry. This taken with Paul’s statement, cited above, in II Thessalonians gives adequate reason to understand all true apostolic writings as the word of God. Therefore, both claims in Paul’s statement in II Timothy 3.16-17 can be appropriately applied to the New Testament based on the biblical parameters defined in Scripture. That is to say, “The holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the word of God.”4 Scripture as the Word of God belongs in a literary category all its own. As the word of God, Scripture has certain characteristics that no other writing or body of writings shares. As outlined above, Scripture is inspired by God. In addition to being an inspired text, as the word of God Scripture is also understood to be infallible and authoritative, characteristics necessarily associated with the divine authorship.5
Again, the reader’s emotional involvement in Mack’s heart-wrenching story bodes well for the skeptical presentation of God as the church has understood Him throughout history. However, once Young throws out Scripture as the only rule of faith and life, the sky is the limit theologically. Unfortunately, the Scriptures never cross the threshold of The Shack.
2. William P. Young, The Shack (Los Angeles: Windblown Media, 2008), 65-66.
3. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, the, vol. I: Revelation and Inspiration (Baker Book House, 2003), 280.
4. Westminster Confession of Faith (Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 2003), 130.
5. William G. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2003), 113.
The slides from the from the the first study in our study of The Christian & The Church in Culture series can be found here. The next study will be this Sunday at 6:30pm at church.
The sermon recording from February 12, 2017.
The sermon recording from January 22, 2017.
The sermon recording from January 15, 2017.
The sermon recording from January 8, 2017.
The sermon recording from January 1, 2017.
The sermon recording from December 25, 2016.