more reviews of The Shack

some big guns have turned their attention to Wm P. Young’s book, The Shack. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian has read it and Dr. Al Mohler is concerned about the discernment ability of modern evangelicals in light of the fact that this book is so popular among them.

If you remember my main concern with the book was its false portrayal of God.

my summary is:

I am afraid that if someone reads the Shack and falls in love with Papa, then all they have fallen in love with is a fictional African American woman who likes to cook and give hugs. They have not been led to God. They have not fallen in love with the biblical Jesus.
They have instead been distracted by an anthropomorphic three headed idol created by Wm. Paul Young.

Therefore, I was pleased to see Tim Keller say:

But here is my main problem with the book. Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible. In the prophets the reader will find a God who is constantly condemning and vowing judgment on his enemies, while the Persons of the Triune-God of The Shack repeatedly deny that sin is any offense to them. The reader of Psalm 119 is filled with delight at God’s statutes, decrees, and laws, yet the God of The Shack insists that he doesn’t give us any rules or even have any expectations of human beings. All he wants is relationship. The reader of the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Isaiah will learn that the holiness of God makes his immediate presence dangerous or fatal to us. Someone may counter (as Young seems to do, on p.192) that because of Jesus, God is now only a God of love, making all talk of holiness, wrath, and law obsolete. But when John, one of Jesus’ closest friends, long after the crucifixion sees the risen Christ in person on the isle of Patmos, John ‘fell at his feet as dead.’ (Rev.1:17.) The Shack effectively deconstructs the holiness and transcendence of God. It is simply not there. In its place is unconditional love, period. The God of The Shack has none of the balance and complexity of the Biblical God. Half a God is not God at all.

I also very much enjoyed Dr. Mohler’s take. He points out the numerous serious theological concerns and wonders why so many people fail to see how the book contradicts Biblical theology.

here are some of the problems but be sure to read the whole article for others:

The relationship of the Father to the Son, revealed in a text like John 17, is rejected in favor of an absolute equality of authority among the persons of the Trinity. “Papa” explains that “we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity.” In one of the most bizarre paragraphs of the book, Jesus tells Mack: “Papa is as much submitted to me as I am to him, or Sarayu to me, or Papa to her. Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.”

The theorized submission of the Trinity to a human being — or to all human beings — is a theological innovation of the most extreme and dangerous sort. The essence of idolatry is self-worship, and this notion of the Trinity submitted (in any sense) to humanity is inescapably idolatrous.

The most controversial aspects of The Shack’s message have revolved around questions of universalism, universal redemption, and ultimate reconciliation. Jesus tells Mack: “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions.” Jesus adds, “I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, my Beloved.”

Mack then asks the obvious question — do all roads lead to Christ? Jesus responds, “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.”

Given the context, it is impossible not to draw essentially universalistic or inclusivistic conclusions about Young’s meaning. “Papa” chides Mack that he is now reconciled to the whole world. Mack retorts, “The whole world? You mean those who believe in you, right?” “Papa” responds, “The whole world, Mack.”

emphasis added.

I think the bit that I bolded above is why the book is so popular. self love and self worship has been honed to a fine art in our culture including our church culture. we like hearing ourselves say to each other “you’re good enough, you’re smart enough and doggone it, people like you.”

We very much would like to believe that God believes the same thing about us that we believe about ourselves.


truth in love

Paul reminded the Ephesian church that only with truth would there be mature Christian unity and only if truth was spoken in love.

Truth cannot be ducked or minimized in any way, but it must be softened with compassion. It is not compassionate to downplay or minimize or disregard truth.

Dr. Mohler wrote about this the other day in the context of homosexuality.

first the truth:

The homosexual rights movement understands that the evangelical church is one of the last resistance movements committed to a biblical morality. Because of this, the movement has adopted a strategy of isolating Christian opposition, and forcing change by political action and cultural pressure. Can we count on evangelicals to remain steadfastly biblical on this issue?

Not hardly. Scientific surveys and informal observation reveal that we have experienced a significant loss of conviction among youth and young adults. No moral revolution can succeed without shaping and changing the minds of young people and children. Inevitably, the schools have become crucial battlegrounds for the culture war. The Christian worldview has been undermined by pervasive curricula that teach moral relativism, reduce moral commandments to personal values, and promote homosexuality as a legitimate and attractive lifestyle option.

Our churches must teach the basics of biblical morality to Christians who will otherwise never know that the Bible prescribes a model for sexual relationships. Young people must be told the truth about homosexuality–and taught to esteem marriage as God’s intention for human sexual relatedness.

The times demand Christian courage. These days, courage means that preachers and Christian leaders must set an agenda for biblical confrontation, and not shrink from dealing with the full range of issues related to homosexuality. We must talk about what the Bible teaches about gender–what it means to be a man or a woman. We must talk about God’s gift of sex and the covenant of marriage. And we must talk honestly about what homosexuality is, and why God has condemned this sin as an abomination in His sight.

but with compassion:

And yet, even as courage is required, the times call for another Christian virtue as well–compassion. The tragic fact is that every congregation is almost certain to include persons struggling with homosexual desire or even involved in homosexual acts. Outside the walls of the church, homosexuals are waiting to see if the Christian church has anything more to say, after we declare that homosexuality is a sin.

Liberal churches have redefined compassion to mean that the church changes its message to meet modern demands. They argue that to tell a homosexual he is a sinner is uncompassionate and intolerant. This is like arguing that a physician is intolerant because he tells a patient she has cancer. But, in the culture of political correctness, this argument holds a powerful attraction.

Biblical Christians know that compassion requires telling the truth, and refusing to call sin something sinless. To hide or deny the sinfulness of sin is to lie, and there is no compassion in such a deadly deception. True compassion demands speaking the truth in love–and there is the problem. Far too often, our courage is more evident than our compassion.

Go read the rest. Great stuff.

that Newsweek cover story

Newsweek has a cover story on “the End of Christian America.” here is an optimistic bit from the article:

Let’s be clear: while the percentage of Christians may be shrinking, rumors of the death of Christianity are greatly exaggerated. Being less Christian does not necessarily mean that America is post-Christian. A third of Americans say they are born again; this figure, along with the decline of politically moderate-to liberal mainline Protestants, led the ARIS authors to note that “these trends … suggest a movement towards more conservative beliefs and particularly to a more ‘evangelical’ outlook among Christians.” With rising numbers of Hispanic immigrants bolstering the Roman Catholic Church in America, and given the popularity of Pentecostalism, a rapidly growing Christian milieu in the United States and globally, there is no doubt that the nation remains vibrantly religious—far more so, for instance, than Europe.

Al Mohler’s somber response is here and concludes:

I appreciate the care, respect, and insight that mark this essay by Jon Meacham. I also appreciated our conversation about an issue that concerns us both. Still, I hope I did not reflect too much gloom in my analysis. This much I know — Jesus Christ is Lord, and His kingdom is forever. Our proper Christian response to this new challenge is not gloom, but concern. And our first concern must be to see that the Gospel is preached as Good News to the perishing — including all those in post-Christian America.

Here is Dan Kimball’s response which includes this:

So I think maybe there is a decline of a certain shape and sub-culture(s) of “Christian America” as the article states. But at the same time, there is a rising and surging of missional church leaders, church planters, and Christians who have already recognized that we are in a “post-Christian” America as the article states. But that recognition has simply fueled creativity, prayer and passion for mission and because God is God, people are coming to a saving faith in Jesus. Churches may die out in geographic places, but the Spirit is alive and powerful and changing lives, even though certain local churches may close their doors or types of churches lose their effectiveness. So it is ironically quite an exciting time period in the midst of this gloomy title and cover. It feels as though some expressions of church and Christianity maybe is fading out. But at the same time there is excitement and energy and hope as churches who have already recognized what this article says about being in a “post-Christian” country – and have made changes to become churches on mission.

courtesy of Vitamin Z

related statistic from page 89 of Skye Jethani’s book The Divine Commodity via Vitamin Z:

Today, half of all churchgoers in the United States attend the largest 10 percent of churches. What often goes unoticed, however, are the fifty smaller churches that close their doors every week.

what is happening around us? what does it mean for the future of our country? what can we do about it, if anything?


Complementarianism. Isn’t that a great word? It represents one of the most hated Biblical doctrines in our modern world. Mark Driscoll was reviled for believing in this doctrine long before he was taken to task for being too vulgar.

Complementarianism is the doctrine that men and women are different and that God has provided for them different and complementary roles to play in the church, the body of Christ. Where this doctrine meets resistance in our culture is in its requirement that only men lead the church in the role of pastor/elder.

You can see why the secular world we live in despises this doctrine. What is much less understandable is why ostensibly Christian people would deny this Biblical doctrine. See, for example, this article by Mary Zeiss Stange.

It is a truth so familiar as to have become cliché: Women are the driving force behind organized religion. They fill the pews, they bring their children into the fold. The Pew data help make sense of these facts. But the same data highlight the cruel irony that in far too many religious contexts in this country, women remain second-class citizens.

Another of the findings of Pew’s 2008 Religious Landscape Survey was that, among people who pray “more than seldom,” a significant proportion across most religious groups say their prayers are regularly answered, at least once a week or once a month. This religious demographic was not broken down by gender.

But it is fair to assume that, given women’s greater likelihood to pray at all, a sizable number of these supplicants are women. It is equally fair to assume that, if religious equality is what they are praying for, many of them are going to have to wait a while longer.

emphasis added.

That last sentence gives her game away. Number 1, she assumes that complementarians don’t have “religious equality.” This is because her definition of equality is completely secular. In other words, she judges “religious equality” by the purely secular metric of “advancement opportunity.” Number 2, she assumes that christian women might be praying for something, her vision of “religious equality”, that is on its face contrary to God’s word and therefore sinful.

Here is Dr. Al Mohler’s response to Professor Stange.

Thus, this article gets right to the heart of the issues at stake. Professor Stange writes from a recognizable point of view. She sees equal access to leadership as integral to genuine equality for women. If any office in the church is limited to men, women are treated as unequals. Following her logic, this pattern can only be explained by prejudice and intractable tradition — thus the stained-glass ceiling as a religious form of the so-called “glass ceiling” that has limited the role of women in other sectors of society.

Professor Stange points her argument toward the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention as examples of denominations that illustrate the “stained-glass ceiling.” She does recognize that both the Roman Catholics and the Southern Baptists base their understanding on theological commitments, but she sees this pattern as rooted in prejudice that should be overcome.
Completely missing from her analysis is any concession that God might actually have ordered this pattern of leadership restriction for our good and His glory. Her perspective on the issue is fundamentally secular in approach. In this view, where men alone can hold positions of authority and responsibility, prejudice must be the cause and access to these positions for women must be the solution.
Nevertheless, those who believe that the church is an institution established by Jesus Christ and who believe that the Bible is our sole final authority for belief and practice must obey what the Bible teaches. This means that we must also follow the pattern set out in the Scripture as the pattern set out by God himself.

Men and women are indeed equally created in the image of God, equally in need of the Gospel, and equal in terms of salvation. Both men and women are called to lives of discipleship, service, and witness. Mary Zeiss Stange is surely right when she suggests that churches depend upon the dedicated service and faithfulness of women. But this does not mean that the pattern for the church set forth in the Bible is to be rejected in light of current conceptions of gender equality. Those who believe that the Bible is indeed the inerrant and infallible written revelation of God are obligated to perpetuate and honor the pattern of leadership ordered within the text of Scripture.

Time Magazine noticed us

everybody is buzzing about number 3 on Time Magazine’s Top Ten Ideas Changing the World Right Now.

here, let them explain:

Calvinism is back, and not just musically. John Calvin’s 16th century reply to medieval Catholicism’s buy-your-way-out-of-purgatory excesses is Evangelicalism’s latest success story, complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination’s logical consequence, predestination: the belief that before time’s dawn, God decided whom he would save (or not), unaffected by any subsequent human action or decision.
No more. Neo-Calvinist ministers and authors don’t operate quite on a Rick Warren scale. But, notes Ted Olsen, a managing editor at Christianity Today, “everyone knows where the energy and the passion are in the Evangelical world” — with the pioneering new-Calvinist John Piper of Minneapolis, Seattle’s pugnacious Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Seminary of the huge Southern Baptist Convention. The Calvinist-flavored ESV Study Bible sold out its first printing, and Reformed blogs like Between Two Worlds are among cyber-Christendom’s hottest links.

fascinating. nice to be noticed, but with a raised profile comes increased responsibility. Jesus’ admonition to His disciples in Matthew 10:16 applies to us as well: “16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

The world is watching. Again, Time Magazine:

Calvin’s 500th birthday will be this July. It will be interesting to see whether Calvin’s latest legacy will be classic Protestant backbiting or whether, during these hard times, more Christians searching for security will submit their wills to the austerely demanding God of their country’s infancy.

God’s glory

Al Mohler also touches on the question that I quoted from John Piper the other day.

First he starts with an important reminder:

Human beings are trapped in a human frame of reference. When we think of motivation, we inevitably start with our own self-conscious knowledge of our own motivations. For a human to seek his or her own glory is narcissism in purest form. Human egotism is constantly on display. And, if we are honest, we know that we seek our own glory as a reflex.

then he gets to the meat of the matter:

The Bible tells us that God does all things for the sake of his own glory. As God spoke to his people through the prophet Ezekiel: “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes” [Ezekiel 36:22-23].

God’s saving acts are for the sake of his own glory, even as his people are redeemed. He acts to vindicate his own name and to display his own power and holiness. Creation itself displays his glory, extending to every atom and molecule. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” sings the Psalmist, and God created the world for the purpose of putting his glory on display [Psalm 19:1].

As Herman Bavinck expressed this truth, “God can rest in nothing other than himself and cannot be satisfied with anything less than himself. He has no alternative but to seek his own honor.” Similarly, though from a very different theological perspective, Karl Barth defined God’s glory as “his dignity and right, not only to maintain, but to prove and declare, to denote and almost as it were to make himself conspicuous and everywhere apparent as the One he is.”

This is merely the logic of what it means for God to be the one perfect being. As such, he cannot look beyond himself for anything or anyone greater. In an often-overlooked passage in Hebrews, we are told that “when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself” [Hebrews 6:13]. When humans take an oath, we naturally invoke God’s name. When God makes a promise, he can invoke no greater name then his own. This is not evidence of selfishness or narcissism — only an irrefutable logic.

Even so, some who are troubled by this question may remain puzzled. Even when God is understood to be the one perfect being, this still appears to be a cold logic.

The most important corrective to this misunderstanding is to realize that God’s glory is a generous and self-giving glory. His glory is his own joy, and the display of his glory brings his creatures true joy.

When a human glorifies himself, he robs others of joy. Self-aggrandizement and human megalomania cause hurt and harm to others, not blessing and joy.

But when God displays and exhibits his glory, he shares joy with his creatures and wholeness with all creation. Put most directly, without the knowledge of God’s glory, we would be robbed of true joy. God would be less than perfect — even selfish — if he did not display his glory and allow us to share in the divine joy and fulfillment.

emphasis added

Go read the rest, and especially the conclusion. excellent.

Making it plausible or unthinkable

Al Mohler has completed posting a six part series on abortion which is the edited transcript of the sermon he gave on Sanctity of Life Sunday. excellent message excellently presented.

here are the links to the parts for some weekend reading.

part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6

and here is an excerpt from part 5 that reinforces Benjamin’s points in his comments to this post.

Abortion is a Gospel issue because the extinguishing and termination of a life within the womb is not merely homicide, it is robbing God of His glory – the glory that rightly is His, displayed in every single human life.

Abortion is an act of defiance against the Creator. Is it an act of violence against this unborn child? Yes, it is an act of violence that leads even to homicide against this child. But it is also an act of defiance against God. It is the willful act of denying God His glory. God made this human being in His image. Before the person even was formed in the womb he was known by the Creator, and before he or she was formed, he or she was loved by God.
Abortion is a Gospel issue because it is such a graphic sin that it points us to the very heart of the human rebellion of God against sin and it points to the very heart of why we so desperately need Christ.

You know, there may be someone reading this today, there may be someone reading this ten years from now – and you are someone who has experienced an abortion. There may be someone who has experienced not only one, but multiple abortions. There may be someone here who is haunted by empty footsteps. The sight of every stroller and crib brings a pang of conscience.

I have good news for you. I know who you are. You are a murderer. I have good news for you. I know who you are. You are a sinner. I have good news for you. There is a savior. I have other news for you. You are in the company of fellow murderers.

You see, the story of the Bible, the story of the Gospel is that when Jesus Christ was sent by the Father, those Jesus was sent to save, killed him. Jesus himself told the parable of the wicked tenants within the vineyard. Because of their wickedness – a picture of our human wickedness – when the vineyard owner sends his own son, the tenants killed him!

I want to tell you, if you have yourself chosen abortion, if you have experienced abortion – you are a murderer. But you are in the company of fellow murderers with blood on our hands because sinful humanity killed the sinless Son of God.

If that is where the story ended, then death would have its victory, sin would have its victory, and that would be the end of it. We would have nothing to say and we would just go home and live out whatever remains of our lives in the despair of a people who know no hope.

But that is not where the story ends, because that is where the Gospel turns and tells us that even in light of the fact that we are sinners beyond even our own imagination to understand our sin, even though we rob God of His glory, even though we do everything we can and everything within our power to do new ways of doing evil, even though the Apostle Paul makes clear – “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – God loved us so much! It was His purpose in the very beginning before we ever existed. He knew us and He loved us, before we were formed in the world He had a plan for us and He sent His Son, to die on the Cross, to shed His blood, to pay the penalty for our sin, to pay a price that we could not pay, to die in our place, and yes, by that one death, to accomplish salvation for sinners.