What Will We Find In “The Shack”?

What Will We Find In “The Shack”?

It is a # 1 New York Times Best Seller.

It’s endorsers read like a “Who’s Who” of modern Christian and even secular media.

Eugene Petersen went so far as to say, “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good.”

It is “The Shack”.

A little novel written by an Oregon salesman and self-published by two former pastors with a $300 marketing budget is lighting up USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list with a wrenching parable about God’s grace.

First-time author William P. Young’s book The Shack, in which the father of a murdered child encounters God the Father as a sarcastic black woman, Jesus as a Middle Eastern laborer and the Holy Spirit as an Asian girl, is No. 8 on the list.

Young says that when he wrote the book in 2005, “my only goal was to get copied and bound at Kinko’s in time for Christmas as a gift to my kids.”

Until The Shack sales soared, he was a manufacturer’s representative for a technology company by day and did website design work on the side. But he had always been a writer, he says, who gave poems and stories as gifts.

He wrote the book to explain his own harrowing journey through pain and misery to “light, love and transformation” in God to his six children, ages 14 to 27.

Eleven years ago, Young says, he was hanging on by a thread, haunted by his history as a victim of sexual abuse, by his own adulterous affair, by a life of shame and pain, all stuffed deep in his psyche.

“The shack” was what he called the ugly place inside where everything awful was hidden away. The book is about confronting evil and stripping the darkness away to reveal a loving God within, he says.

Lynn Garrett, senior religion editor for Publishers Weekly, calls the book’s success “most unusual. It’s every self-published author’s dream to start out this way and sell at this level.”

Why are so many heading for The Shack?

“People are not necessarily concerned with how orthodox the theology is. People are into the story and how the book strikes them emotionally,” Garrett says. http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2008-04-30-shack_N.htm

Those who love the message of “The Shack” are positively evangelical about it. Pastors are basing sermon series around it. Others are forming what are called “Shack Studies” to discuss and encourage application of it.

But as you can imagine, not everyone has found a visit to “The Shack” an edifying experience.

Berit Kjos offers this analysis of the portrait of God contained in “The Shack”.

The Shack opens in the context of tragedy. Four years have passed since the cruel murder of Missy, Mack’s precious six-year-old daughter. Enveloped in grief, he receives a strange invitation. “I’ve missed you,” it says. “I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. Papa.” What could it mean?

Doubtful, but drawn to the meeting, Mack heads for the Oregon wilderness and finds the dilapidated old shack. “God” miraculously transforms it into a cozy cottage, and Mack meets his supposed maker:

“…the door flew open, and he was looking directly into the face of a large beaming African-American woman. Instinctively he jumped back, but he was too slow. With speed that belied her size, she crossed the distance between them and engulfed him in her arms….”[1,p.82]

“Just as she turned… a small, distinctly Asian woman merged from behind her….  He then glanced past her and notices that a third person had emerged… a man. He appeared Middle Eastern.”[1,p.84]

“When they finally stopped giggling, the large woman… said, ‘Okay, we know who you are, but we should probably introduce ourselves to you. …you could call me what Nan [Mack’s wife] does: Papa.’…
     “’And I,’ interrupted the man, who looked to be about in his thirties…. ‘I am Hebrew….’
     “Mack was suddenly staggered by his own realization. “Then, you are….”
     “’Jesus? Yes….’

     “Mack stood dumbfounded…. Just as he was about to crumple to his knees, the Asian woman stepped closer and deflected his attention. ‘And I am Sarayu [the Holy Spirit, Creativity].’ she said…
     “Thoughts tumbled over each other as Mack struggled to figure out what to do…. Since there were three of them, maybe this was a Trinity sort of thing…. ‘Then,’ Mack struggled to ask, ‘which one of you is God?’”
     “’I am,’ said all three in unison.'”
[1,p.86-87]

Their ongoing dialogues reinforce this new view of God. They immerse Mack in spiritual re-education, for each comment contradicts his previous understanding of God. For example, this new “Jesus” never returned to heaven. Was there no real resurrection? Not according to the female “God”:

“Although by nature he is fully God, Jesus is fully human and lives as such. While never losing the innate ability to fly [which he demonstrates in the book], he chooses moment-by-moment to remain grounded. That is why his name is Immanuel, God with us….”[1,p.99-100]

But the Bible tells us that Jesus did return to His heaven after His crucifixion. Besides, neither God our Father nor the Holy Spirit made themselves finite or visible to man. “No one has seen God at any time,” said the true Jesus. (John 1:18) Yet, here we see all three in human form — on earth! “God” explains:

“‘By nature I am completely unlimited… I live in a state of perpetual satisfaction as my normal state of existence:’ she said, quite pleased. ‘Just one of the perks of Me being Me.’
      “That made Mack smile. This lady was fully enjoying herself…
      “We created you to share in that. But then Adam chose to go it on his own, as we knew he would, and everything got messed up. But instead of scrapping the whole Creation we rolled up our sleeves and entered into the middle of the mess—that’s what we have done in Jesus…. When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed. …flesh and blood.”
[1,p.98-99] http://www.crossroad.to/articles2/08/shack.htm

 

As you can tell this is challenging, controversial stuff.

Wayne Jacobsen, a member of the pastoral vetting team behind “The Shack” explains the decidedly unexpected portrait of God in this way:

The book uses some characterizations of God to mess with the religious stereotypes only to get people to consider God as he really is, not how we have reconstituted him as a white, male autocrat bent on religious conformity. There are important reasons in the story why God takes the expressions he does for Mack, which underlines his nature to meet us where we are, to lead us to where he is. While Jesus was incarnated as man, God as a spirit has no gender, even though we fully embrace that he has taken on the imagery of the Father to express his heart and mind to us. We also recognize Scripture uses traditional female imagery to help us understand other aspects of God’s person, as when Jesus compares himself to a hen gathering chicks, or David likens himself to a weaned child in his mother’s arms. http://lifestream.org/blog/2008/03/04/is-the-shack-heresy/“The Shack” certainly has a strong message of grace.

 Those who love the book speak of its eloquent and emotionally moving portrayal of the power of God’s unconditional love to sustain and strengthen those whose lives have been wracked by personal tragedy.

But at what cost?

The book certainly accomplishes its goal of “messing with religious stereotypes”.

But does it stop there?

 Is it possible it is also “messing with” a scripturally based understanding of the nature of God?

My encounter with “The Shack” reminded me of the time I spent in churches involved with the “Faith Movement”.

There was no doubt that the people there loved the Lord and desired to honor His Word.

There was also no doubt that many of the services I attended were emotionally moving and helpful to those who attended.

But there was also no doubt that as I grew to understand God’s Word, I began to see some serious disconnects between the messages being preached and the message of the Bible.

My unease came to a head when I sat in a study where the teacher claimed that in the eternal state God would come up to us and say, “Child, go create a planet for Me.”

At that moment I faced a choice.

There was so much good going on there. I had been built up and strengthened there. I had seen miracles and people being genuinely saved there.

But when leadership began putting words more in keeping with Joseph Smith than Jesus Christ in the mouth of God the Father, I knew where my ultimate loyalties had to lie.

I left.

How does this relate to “The Shack”?

I have no doubt there are many edifying aspects of this fictional story.

I have no doubt hurting people will be blessed by aspects of this book as they accurately reflect the truth of God’s Word.

But whenever we start putting words in God’s mouth that He has never said.

Or describe God in a way he is never presented in the Word.

We are on shaky ground.

Each reader will have to form their own conclusions about “The Shack”.

But as you evaluate this fictional work, could I respectfully encourage you to engage in the following exercise.

If you found yourself in church on Sunday morning, and the pastor began to speak about your relationship with “God the Mother”

Would you sit all the way through the message because you heard that the other things the pastor had to say were very moving and helpful?

Would you come back the next week?

Would you recommend the fellowship to others?

In this light, Lynn Garrett’s observation greatly concerns me.

People are not necessarily concerned with how orthodox the theology is. People are into the story and how the book strikes them emotionally.”

Paul gave us a heads up about the rise of just this kind of acceptance of emotionally impactful but spiritually questionable messages in the Last Days:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;  and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (II Timothy 4:3-4)

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Up, Up and Away!

Up, Up and Away!

How do we know we are in the Last Days?

There are a number of signs of the times the Bible gives us to let us know that heaven’s countdown is ticking.

One of the most interesting spiritual heads up predictions concerning the imminent return of Jesus is found in Daniel 12.

“But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”(Daniel 12:4)

As I shared on this passage last Sunday, I was taken aback at how much knowledge has increased even over the last 25 years.

In 1985, I was finishing up my final semester at Talbot Theological Seminary.

In order to complete my Master’s thesis I had to do research by going to a building called a library. I had to get information from clumsy paper products we used to call “books”.

When I sat down to prepare my final draft, I used an IBM Selectric type writer. This was considered cutting edge technology because if you wanted to use a font like italics, all you had to do was pop off this plastic ball and manually put in another one with a different type face.

It also had a correcting key that would lift errors off the page without having to use all that smelly and messy “White-Out” to cover mistakes.

The night before my paper was due I began the Herculean task of typing up my paper.

Then, about 11 pm, disaster struck. The ribbon (you remember those, don’t you?) broke.

There was no replacement to be found and all the office supply stores were closed!

I managed to finish my paper by manually re-feeding the ribbon back into the machine so I could type another line.

The bottom line? I finished the paper at around 6:15 in the morning. And I also gave new definition to the term “ink stained wretch” as well!

Today, I sit before a HP Pavilion lap top.

Need some research? No more trips to the library. Today I just “Google” things.

Imagine explaining that to someone in 1985.

No doubt about it, as never before, Daniel 12’s prediction that “knowledge will increase” has stunningly come to pass.

But what about this business of “many running to and fro”?

The meaning of the text is that as the time of Jesus’ return would draw near, a quantum leap forward in transportation would also come to pass.

I couldn’t help but think of this when I saw this story break on the Drudge Report today.

Tourists could be launched into space in just 18 months as Branson unveils mothership

Last updated at 11:27am on 29.07.08

The mothership which will launch the first space tourists into the atmosphere was unveiled by Sir Richard Branson in California today.

WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), the carrier aircraft which will be used to launch SpaceShipTwo into orbit, ‘will allow thousands of people to realise their dreams’ and ‘act as a catalyst to transform human access to space’, Sir Richard said.

Speaking at the launch ceremony in the spaceship’s hangar at the Mojave Air and Spaceport in California, the British billionaire, who will be among the first space tourists with his family, said the venture would help the world ‘wake up’ to the fragility of the planet and the importance of protecting Earth.

Space is ‘the final frontier that is so essential to the future of civilisation on this planet’, Sir Richard said.

Mothership: Richard Branson celebrates with his mother, Eve, who the craft has been named after.

‘The first generation of space tourists, many of whom are with us today, will be paving the way as they marvel at the beauty of our planet and experience the freedom of weightlessness and the blackness of space,’ he said. http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/article-23522941-details/Tourists+could+be+launched+into+space+in+just+18+months+as+Branson+unveils+mothership/article.doSpace tourism used to be the stuff of far flung science fiction. Now, within a year and a half it will be a scientific fact.

Talk about “to and fro”!

And talk about another important principle.

So much has changed so rapidly from my wrestling match with a broken type writer ribbon in 1985 it makes my head spin to think about it.

But prior to reading Daniel 12 last week, I hardly seemed to notice it.

Here is an incredibly powerful sign of the time the Bible tells us to look for, and I have to admit I was fairly oblivious to it.

I guess that’s why Jesus’ number one priority for His people and prophecy can be summed up in one word – watchfulness.

Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:42-44)

In 1985 I didn’t expect that within 25 years I would be communicating with people all around the world, by writing articles on something called a lap top computer, hooked into something called the internet, that would make current events and cutting edge knowledge available on a HD ready video screen.

Back then, we thought Pac Man was pretty cool!

If we take Daniel 12 seriously, I wonder what we might expect to see in another 25 years?

When Grief Meets Hope

When Grief Meets HopeWhen a believer in Christ comes face to face with the death of a loved one, the spiritual challenges are intense.

 

Interestingly, one of the most difficult to deal with can come from well meaning people inside the family of God.

Those who are in a struggle with overwhelming grief are sometimes greeted not with sympathy and compassion, but with sternness and even condescension.

“How can you be sad? Your loved one is in heaven. If you really believed that, you would rejoice.”

I know such things are shared with good intentions, but there have been times when I have wanted to beat  these masters of insensitivity over the head with a ten pound version of Strong’s Concordance.

The Bible never says that experiencing grief is the sign of a defective faith.

Remember the shortest verse in the Bible?

Jesus wept. (John 11:35)
When was Jesus moved to tears? When He saw the damage that sin and death had done to the people He created. He shared the sorrow of the family and friends of Lazarus, even though He knew He was going to raise him from the dead.

 

Believers don’t get the “Get Out of Jail Free” card from that kind of emotional pain in this life.

But we are given a priceless gift that can sustain us in the grief.When those who know the Lord grieve, they grieve in hope.

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. (I Thessalonians 4:13)

 

We know that although the pain is real and deep, it isn’t permanent.

There is a reunion waiting for us on the other side.

A man who has given to us a priceless example of this truth in practice is Greg Laurie.

As you know, Greg’s son Christopher died in a tragic car accident last week.

But this weekend at Harvest Christian Fellowship, Greg was able to share one of the most powerful and moving testimonies of the faithfulness of God in the midst of tragedy I have ever had the privilege to hear.

Days after the devastating loss of his 33-year-old son, evangelist Greg Laurie stepped onto the pulpit Sunday and affirmed, “I still believe.”

“I couldn’t think of any place I’d rather be today than at church, worshipping the Lord,” Laurie said during one of Harvest Christian Fellowship’s Sunday services in Riverside, Calif.

His son, Christopher, died in a car accident on his way to Harvest, Thursday morning. His vehicle crashed into the back of a Caltrans truck on the eastbound 91 Freeway.

Laurie had to drive past the area where the crash occurred to get to Harvest on Sunday.

“Last Thursday was the most, I’ll be honest with you, the most devastating day of my life and I felt like time just stood still and I couldn’t imagine this happened,” Pastor Greg Laurie told church attendees as he fought back tears. “But I knew he was in Heaven.”

Christopher began working at Harvest as the art director three years ago. He was, as the older Laurie described him, a prodigal son at times. But in recent years, Christopher had really committed his life to Christ and was growing deep in his faith.

 “My son wasn’t perfect … but the Lord was showing Christopher was really mattered,” Laurie said. “We were marveling at what God was doing in his life. He couldn’t have been in a better place spiritually.”

Laurie and his son had a close relationship. The well-known evangelist had spoiled Christopher, giving his son what he himself couldn’t have growing up in a broken home.

“If you could turn back time, sure you’d do it,” Laurie said to his 15,000-member congregation. The Harvest senior pastor would even take Christopher’s place if he could, he said, but he wasn’t given that choice.

“So I just said, ‘Lord, he’s yours. I dedicated him to you when he was a little boy and I dedicate him back to you,'” Laurie said.

With over 17,000 comments offering condolences and prayers for the Laurie family on the pastor’s blog, Laurie assured everyone, “I’m doing okay. The Lord is with me.”

“I can’t be afraid of suffering and I’m going to continue on with greater commitment,” the pastor said.

Laurie is scheduled to lead Harvest Crusades beginning Aug. 15 in Anaheim, Calif., which will be his 19th annual Southern California evangelistic event. Harvest Crusades are also being held in Philadelphia and New York in October.

Even though the evangelist admitted that heaven is closer to him and earth is “less attractive” to him now, he hasn’t given up on reaching out to tens of thousands of people and bringing them to Christ.

“I have a task to do and I want to do it,” he assured.

And he continued his task by inviting non-Christians, prodigal sons and daughters, and others to accept Christ that Sunday morning.

“Be right with God because you don’t know when life can end.” http://www.christianpost.com/article/20080728/greg-laurie-after-son-s-death-i-still-believe.htmPlease continue to pray for the Laurie family as they lean on the Lord and experience that strange mixture of grief and hope in the days ahead.

Greg Laurie after Son’s Death: I Still Believe


Christopher Laurie