Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Initial, Partial, and Rough Thoughts on The Shack

So I realize that my commenting on The Shack is like much of what contemporary “hip” evangelical Christianity does when trying to be relevant to the modern culture – I’m commenting on a book that has been a humungous seller and influence in the modern Christian community. However, now that I think about it, my comments are not like Evangelical Christendom trying to be hip in the fact that The Shack was published 13 months ago while much of culturally relevant Christian stuff lags years or decades behind the culture…but that is not my main point, only an observation.

Before I even write down my rough and preliminary thoughts on The Shack I feel compelled to explain just exactly why I decided to read it. Soon after the book was published I began to hear reports of the serious theological concerns based on the contents of the book related to the doctrine of God and so I decided to find out what the concerns were. I read or listened to the commentary of a few Christians who I greatly respect for their theological commentary related to this issue. Each of these individuals raised the same concerns. Following reading the commentaries on the book, I began to warn friends and relatives to be very wary of The Shack because of the (sometimes) subtle but very serious theological problems in it.

But in doing so I never made the claim to have actually read the book myself, but I was taking the analysis from good and Godly men and women who had read it and raised some good questions and serious concerns. I guess I am not overly surprised at the fact that one of the chief responses that I received from those who love the book was something to the effect of, “You really cannot comment on what the book says if you have not read it yourself.” While I understand the objection raised, I utterly reject it as a valid argument against my stating or defending my concerns. And here’s why….

Have you ever read Hitler’s Mein Kampf? If so, have you ever read it in the original German? Have you heard, read, or seen any summaries or descriptions of what the content and context of Mein Kampf is? Do you have any opinions on what Hitler wrote in that book? Or better yet, if someone asked you whether you thought that Hitler’s Mein Kampf was a good book or a bad book, what would you say? Even if you haven’t read Mein Kampf but you’ve learned enough about what it says, you have the basis for an opinion and a valid enough reason to voice that opinion.

Now, granted, the comparison is very extreme and I am not suggesting that The Shack and Mein Kampf are the same or that their authors are similar or anything like that. The point is simply that to say that one cannot or should not have an opinion on a book unless they have read it themselves is ridiculous. The argument could further go to the requirement to read a book in its original language, or to read all of the source documents that someone used in writing a specific book on a subject, and on and on.

It is totally acceptable, and a wise use of time, to find sources that you can trust (by researching them and testing what they say) and take what they have to say about an issue into consideration when you form an opinion without having read the book, watched the movie, or whatever.

So with what I’ve seen documented about The Shack and the problematic things that it contains, I see no reason that I must read it myself in order to be concerned about its content or before I warn others about it based off of the work done by others who I trust. I decided to read it as part of a project for theology to, in essence, answer the question “What is the doctrine of God in The Shack?” And in order to speak more thoroughly, I am reading it for myself.

My Initial, and brief, thoughts – having read 1/2 - 2/3 of the book so far.

  1. All three members of the Trinity are shown in actual human form and they all eat meals together. My understanding of Biblical theology is that the only member of the Godhead who ever took human form is the Son (see John 1:1-14; Hebrews 1 & 2). I understand that some see various Old Testament examples of God showing Himself to men as Theophanies (God the Father) whereas I see them all as Christophanies (God the Son). There are many reasons that I would say this, but in short it seems to me that one of the distinct roles of the Son is that He is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15) to men whereas the Spirit and the Father are spirit, they do not have bodies.

  2. I don’t have the quote in front of me at this point, but there is a scene where the Character of God the Father, Papa, the African American woman, shows her hands and the main character sees scars on her wrists (page 95 or 96). This goes hand in hand with the first problem listed above, but also it brings into question just exactly what does this mean. And since no further is given (at least as far as I have read), the imagery links the Father with being on the cross which is where the Son received His marks as we see in the Scriptures. A historical example of this type of theological stance is called Patripassionism that says the Father was crucified. Orthodox and Biblical theology rejects that and, rightly, labels that heresy.

  3. “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human.” (p. 99) This is such a muddle, it’s almost hard to know where to begin. But this gets at the whole continuing problem of the blurring and muddling of Trinitarian doctrine. The only incarnate one is the Son. Neither the Father nor the Spirit “became fully human”. But this is not supportable by Scripture nor is it good creative license because of the fact that it is contrary to Scripture.

  4. “We are not three gods, and we are not talking about one god with three attitudes, like a man who is a husband, father, and worker. I am one God and I am three persons, and each of the three is fully and entirely the one.” (p. 101) Okay, now this is just as convoluted as the previous statement. Let me summarize. Hank Hannegraaff, the Bible Answer Man, summarizes the proper distinction in Trinitarian theology when he says that the Trinity is “one what and three who’s”. In other words, proper doctrine affirms the shema (Deut 6:4) in that there is only one God – true monotheism, and that is the “one what” – the what = God. Proper theology also understands that the Father is not the Son who is not the Spirit who is not the Father, and yet they are all God and all eternal. This is the “three who’s”. But what the author of The Shack is saying in this quote is first that he is explicitly denying modalism with the first sentence, but then completely botching it up and confusing it with the second. The character of God the Father is speaking when saying, “I am one God” somewhat affirming the shema, but then goes on to say, “I am three persons”. When one of the members of the Trinity says “I am three persons” that just doesn’t make sense. The one person of the Father is not the other two persons of the Son and the Spirit.

  5. The simple fact that the Father and the Spirit are incarnate as women is really troubling. While I had initially felt that the Trinitarian confusion (much of that is noted above) would be paramount in my concerns, the simple volume of times that God is pictured and referred to as a woman simply makes me very troubled. While the author goes to some great length for why God would have chosen to do this in his novel, the simple fact is that God always portrays Himself and describes Himself with masculine pronouns. There are a few examples in the Scriptures when describing an action of God that feminine language is used, the most notable in my mind being Matt 23:37, but even then it is describing an action using a female bird and not a human woman. It would be no more proper to refer to God as poultry based on this verse than it would to refer to Him as a woman based on this verse. And when I see the movements in various denominations to blur the distinctions between men and women, and even openly referring to “God our Mother” in some hymns in these churches, this is no small or insignificant issue.

There will be more to come as I finish reading the book and continue to study the various Trinitarian and other issues that are raised by it. And I say this simply because of the books depiction of the Trinity in a convoluted and contradictory nature along with blatantly changing how the Triune God of Scripture portrays Himself by portraying the Father and Spirit not only as female but as incarnate human women.


Adam Pastor said...

Greetings Eric Johnson

On the subject of the Trinity,
I recommend this video:
The Human Jesus

Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you to reconsider "The Trinity"

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor

EJ said...

Adam - I saw your comment and went to your blog "Adoni Messiah" and found, rather shockingly the statement, "It still amazes me that for so many years it never really occurred to me that God was not a trinity, or that Jesus was not God."

Unless I misread this in my quick scanning - you deny that Jesus is God, and if so I need not watch a 2 hour video on the Trinity if the deity of Christ is denied.

I find it utterly impossible to read the New Testament and come away concluding that Jesus is not God.

May God grant you grace,

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