I’m not gonna lie to you…I always hesitate before I write about controversial issues in Christianity. I hesitate because I know I will receive ungraceful responses that will cause painful memories to resurface. Painful memories of being restricted by the electronic fence of legalism. I have come to realize that many leaders choose that method of “controlling” the flock. Some don’t know anything else. Some don’t wish to risk the messy and dirty work of being a real shepherd. But the damage is devastating to trusting sheep who are wounded.
I knew that writing about The Shack would stir up some ugly responses from a few readers. Perhaps my disclaimer in the original post deterred a few negative responders. Perhaps some have simply given up on me. But most of the comments have been legitimate and thoughtful. I wrote a response to a blog written by David Robinson about my original article. He graciously responded to my followup and asked some fair questions. Here is David’s response.
I appreciate your desire to address this matter objectively and compassionately. You demonstrate a lot of Christian charity to me in what you say, and I am grateful for it.
My question is this: do you feel (Tim) Challies’ review was in any way less than fully gracious, caring, and balanced? Or do you feel it was a model of the kind of gentleness and balance you wish to see from Christians in this kind of matter?
Response: This gives me a chance to make an important clarification. I feel that both of the articles I referenced gave a thoughtful analysis of the book from very different perspectives. My pleas were addressed to the angry and often strident comments I encountered on many websites and blogs. My desire to balance the debate was to offer both sides and some thoughts on how to communicate your take on the book with grace and love.
I have a less specific question to ask: is it wrong to disparage or even mock a book, speech, or other communication that blurs or even distorts essential doctrine?
Response: Okay, you asked me. I think it is always wrong to disparage and mock another persons point of view because it shuts down communication. That doesn’t mean you let it slide. I used Paul’s response to the citizens of Athens as my role model. He was ticked off by what he saw. I can imagine how it would have looked if Paul had addressed this situation like some ministries do today.
Dateline – Athens. Saint Paul announced a boycott of tourism to Athens, Greece in a sharply worded press release today. “The followers of Jesus can no longer support these godless pagans,” Paul declared from a protest outside the Parthenon. “God will judge these vile sinners.” Dozens of sign waving Christians shouted at those visiting the various shrines of false gods. Paul left the city and planned to spread his protest throughout the civilized world.
Instead Paul chose to stay and preach the truth in love. And the book of Acts reports that some believed. I believe that God can use any communication of Biblical truth. He is, after all, God. But isn’t it reasonable to believe that we are far more effective ambassadors when we stay on the dual tracks of truth and grace? Getting off either track can be deadly. I have to be honest and tell you I dismiss anyone who mocks or disparages my views. If they show a shred of grace I respond and the results are often good. Wounded people will almost always go into hiddenness when they are mocked or disparaged. And they will take it personally if you mock or disparage something they feel is good even if your heart is to help or protect them.
I will just put myself out there by saying this: I believe every major heresy gets a large portion of the truth of God correct. But what makes it a cult, and not orthodox Christianity, is that it distorts an essential aspect of the God’s self-revelation in the process. All the critiques I have read take the book to task for exactly that reason.
Response: I agree. But instead of taking a sincere person to task I am suggesting you equip yourself with the facts about the book and then engage them. Ask questions to see how the book affected them.
“What did you like about the book?”
“How did it change your views?”
The answers will give you insight into their heart, their past and their theology. From that foundation you can come alongside that person and help them address what is really going on. Some people will simply see The Shack as a work of fiction and the doctrinal points will have no impact. Others will find some interesting thoughts and dismiss other parts of the book. That was my take. I suspect that only a few will go off a theological cliff because of this book. I remember that there was so much concern about The DaVinci Code, The Gospel of Judas, The Golden Compass and so on. Each of those events had a much lesser impact than some feared. Most of the Christians I know are intelligent enough to test the spirits. We should instruct and not condemn those who are not discerning.
Thank you for your grace to me personally, and your candor with regard to my comments.
Thank you for the same. Isn’t graceful dialogue fun?
Another writer raised some good questions.
Reader Matt posed a couple of concerns.
I have a lot of mixed emotions about The Shack. Rather than emoting on your blog (I’ll save that for mine), let me just ask: what did you think of it? Did you think Tim’s assessment was fair? Also, in the interest of full disclosure, maybe your statement about author Wayne Jacobson’s response should include the fact that he is the publisher of The Shack.
Response: You just disclaimed Mr. Jacobson’s connection for me. Thanks. I liked The Shack. I love to be challenged in my thinking. Do I agree with all or even most of the theology presented? No. But the portrayal of God’s grace and caring was profound and can be helpful to wounded souls. God’s grace and love is truth. If we can get hurting people to trust that then we have a chance to restore many wounded lambs to the body of Christ.
And for (blog commenter) David, who said: I understood what the author was doing in attempting to get his point across…what was he trying to get across, exactly? Most everyone I’ve read on the blogosphere describes the book as giving them insights on God that they’ve never gotten before. Do you agree with that? And if so, does it bother you that people are getting insights about God from someplace other than His Word?
I think the message is simple. God does not give up on you. He loves you. Because of evil and sin bad things happen but God is not uncaring about those events. It does not bother me at all that people get insights from places other than His Word. I get insight from books, music, movies and countless other sources. I do have a biblical responsibility to weigh my insights against scripture and see if they are true. But God can speak through anything from nature to media to music. Don’t limit His creative and your own ability to find something sacred in unlikely places. You will limit your capacity for God to use all of His glorious creation to speak to your heart. Try looking for Him in unexpected places. You may be surprised to find Him there.