Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A review of The Shack

As any reader of this blog could attest, I love the word of God. I believe it is an amazing gift from our Father and we should treasure it and study its priceless truths. Recently, a book has been published called The Shack. I read a book review of this work of fiction and have reprinted part of that review below. Someone might ask “Have you read this book and if not, why would you reproduce a negative review of it? Shouldn’t you be open-minded enough to examine it for yourself?” No, I have not read it. I’m somewhat busy this time of year with the biggest audit our office performs. Furthermore, this is college football season. Finally, I have a 4 year old, a 21 month old, and my wife at home. I don’t have a lot of free time for frivolous reading. Also, if someone tells me a stove is hot I don’t have to touch it to confirm that it is hot. The decision to read this book or not isn’t like an audit where I have to obtain sufficient competent evidential matter to corroborate the reviewer’s assertion that the book stinks. In much the same way as I am sure you have decided not to see a movie base on a review of that movie, I have decided not to read this garbage (calling it garbage is kind). If that makes me an uneducated, narrow-minded, fundamentalist hick I will wear that title with pride. After all, I’ve been called much worse. I post below the excerpt from the review regarding how The Shack appears to regard the Bible. You can find the whole review here.

There are few doctrines more important to settle than the doctrine of revelation. It is this doctrine that teaches us how God has chosen to reveal Himself to human beings. While every theistic religion teaches that God chooses to communicate with humans, they vary radically in the ways He does so. Christians are known as being a people of the book, people who cling to the Scripture as the revealed will of God. The Bible, we believe, is a unique gift given to us as an expression of God's love—as an expression of Himself. Not surprisingly, revelation is central to The Shack.

Christians hold to the belief that the Bible is the only infallible source of God’s revelation to us. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured. The best place to begin with understanding the Bible is to learn what it says about itself. The Bible testifies to its own uniqueness and sufficiency. “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). It testifies to its own perfection and power. “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). It testifies to its own completeness. “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Revelation 22:18,19).

Clearly the Bible demands for itself a place of prominence and preeminence. It demands that it be held as God’s most important revelation to us, Some people believe, though, that the revelation given to us in the Bible needs to be supplemented or superseded by fresh revelation. This is especially a temptation in an age like ours where we tend to value what is new more than what is ancient. A question worth asking is this one: does The Shack point Christians to the unfailing standard of Scripture or does it point them to new and fresh revelation?

Ever since humans fell into sin, the history of God’s communication with people has been a history of mediation. Mediation is a concept we encounter often today. We hear of sports contracts being settled by mediation; we hear of lawyers becoming involved in mediation between divorcing couples. These (situations) hint at mediation as we understand it from the Bible. In rejecting God’s goodness and benevolence and in putting himself in place of God, our forefather Adam erected a barrier between himself and God. The close communion that had once existed was ruptured and destroyed. No longer would God come walking with humans in the cool of the day; no longer would He allow them to stay in His Garden. He forced them out and barred the way so they could not return. The very next passage of Scripture relates the first murder. Human history had taken a drastic, horrifying turn for the worse. The lines of communication had been shattered.

From that time, God no longer allowed people to commune with Him in the same way. From that point on, man could no longer approach God as he had in the Garden. He had to approach God through a mediator. When we think of mediators we may think first of Moses, a man to whom God revealed Himself and a man whose task it was to then make the will of God known to the Israelites. After Moses was Joshua, and after Joshua were judges and prophets. There were priests to stand between God and man, offering to God sacrifices on behalf of the people and bestowing God’s blessings and curses on His behalf. Always there were mediators, always there were people standing between God and man. Always people must have realized their inability to approach God as they were. Always they must have wondered, “How can we approach God directly?”

God's revelation to us is now mediated. We may long for im-mediate or unmediated communication, but today our sin stands between us and the Holy God. God has given his full and perfect and sufficient revelation in the Bible. It is in the Bible that God gives us the rule as to how we may know Him and how we may live in a way that honors Him. How will God reveal himself to us according to William Young? “You will learn to hear my thoughts in yours” (195), says Sarayu. “You might see me in a piece of art, or music, or silence, or through people, or in Creation, or in your joy and sorrow. My ability to communicate is limitless, living and transforming, and it will always be tuned to Papa’s goodness and love. And you will hear and see me in the Bible in fresh ways. Just don’t look for rules and principles; look for relationship—a way of coming to be with us” (198). He may reveal Himself savingly through stories that merely and loosely parallel the story of Jesus' sacrifice (185). Young consistently downplays Scripture at the expense of personal experience. What Young indicates in The Shack is that we must expect God to reveal Himself in unmediated ways. God will reveal Himself to us in the Scripture, but only as one way out of many. Nowhere is Scripture given the place of prominence or uniqueness that it demands of itself. But without the Scripture as our norm, as our rule, we are subject to every whim. Only when we maintain the superiority of the Bible can we measure all of our behavior and all of our beliefs against the perfect measure given to us by God.

Despite the Bible's testimony to its own unique qualities, the majority of The Shack's references to Scripture are negative in their tone. They do not affirm the Bible as God’s perfect revelation to us, but instead focus on its abuse at the hands of those who profess
Christ or on supposed old-fashioned notions about it. Early in the book, for example, the reader learns that Mack has a seminary education, but one that downplayed the means God uses to reveal Himself. “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” (65-66)? Yet nowhere would the Bible indicate that it is God's voice “reduced” to paper. Nowhere would the Bible downplay its own importance as written revelation. There is nothing reductionistic about the Bible or the fact that it is written revelation! We must not downplay the beauty, the power or the sufficiency of the Bible.


Just reading the review makes me want to find the author of The Shack and challenge him to a 10 round bout of Rock “Em Sock “Em Robots just so I could knock his robot’s head off. It wouldn’t change anything but it sure would make me feel a whole lot better. As Worf said in Star Trek: Insurrection “Definitely feeling aggressive tendencies, sir.” I’m surprised the book doesn’t come with a forward by Oprah Winfrey, Rick Warren, or Joel Osteen.

8 comments:

Lionel Woods said...

Hello,

It is funny that you say this:

I don’t have a lot of free time for frivolous reading. Also, if someone tells me a stove is hot I don’t have to touch it to confirm that it is hot. The decision to read this book or not isn’t like an audit where I have to obtain sufficient competent evidential matter to corroborate the reviewer’s assertion that the book stinks. In much the same way as I am sure you have decided not to see a movie base on a review of that movie, I have decided not to read this garbage (calling it garbage is kind). If that makes me an uneducated, narrow-minded, fundamentalist hick I will wear that title with pride. After all, I’ve been called much worse. I post below the excerpt from the review regarding how The Shack appears to regard the Bible.

I believe this to be an unwise statement. Though you may vehemently disagree. I think to pass on a review of a book is much different than passing on a movie. I wouldn't say a movie sucked or that this restaraunt were horrible without first examining it.

To say that the work is "garbarage", and to say that is nice, seems a bit odd to me, given you never read the work.

I just want to challenge you as a brother in the Lord that it is not wise nor faithful to make such assertions. If you even decide to "pass" on the work to perpetrate a negative review without first reading through a work doesn't sound right to me. I have passed on many things, but I have never said "you shouldn't either" because it is bad also. Especially given the many testominies of God's work of Grace in the hearts of many who have read it (and given the fact that the author adheres to the biblcal gospel thus making him my brother and whatever I say of him if not said to build up, rather that is in admonishment or exhortation is sin).

Joe Blackmon said...

Lionel

I completely disagree with you. First of all, deciding to read a book or watch a movie are quite similar. Second of all, no where in what I wrote (the text not in italics) did I say that anyone should not read it but rather I, with the permission of the author I might add, reprinted part of a review. Based on the review I read, the book is garbage. Lastly, I totally dismiss your suggestion that anything I wrote in post about the book (or in the author's review in italics) was in any way sinful. I didn't make one statement about the author of the Shack other than the joking reference to wanting to play him in a game of Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots (linked to a YouTube commercial to drive home the point that it was tounge in cheek). This man decided to make his work public. Therefore, he has opened it up to public scruitiny.

I had intended this to be a one shot reprint of a section of this review but I now think that perhaps passing along the remainder of the review would be good idea.

Thank you.

Lionel Woods said...

You don't think calling someones work "garbage" is sinful? What if I came over your house for dinner and I said "your wife cooked this, man this is garbage". What would your wife think? Do you think it would cause any tension unnecessary at that? Just curious, because I know it would in my home.

Joe Blackmon said...

Lionel

I think there's a pretty huge difference between being in someone's home as a guest and eating a meal then calling that meal "garbage" as opposed to reading a review with quotes from a book (with page numbers, I might add) that is sopping with theological heresy and calling that work "garbage" because of the theological heresy. I'm not saying the author isn't a Christian or that he's not a nice guy. I'm saying that what he wrote has the potential to lead people astray because of the incredible amount of heresy packaged in a feel good, warm fuzzy book. I feel it is important to educate people about what this book is saying so they can decide for themselves if they want to read it. If posting this review causes one person to think "You know, I'll find something else to read" then I will feel this post has been worth it.

And to answer your question, no, I don't think what I wrote was in any way sinful.

Lionel Woods said...

But Joe,

What if someone reads it and says hey I disagree here and here, but there are some really good things that I took from the book that helps me relate to God a bit better. Because the other side may go to far and I agree from what I have read in the book I think they could have presented God as a man (the bible does) and sin as sin (I think the bible does that to) while also showing the supreme graciousness of God.

I am just saying that many of the testomines of strong believers would disagree with you and they have actually read the book not reviews of the book. And the book is fiction so to call it heresey (which the author outright denies)could be labeled slander. The author doesn't believe that "God is a black woman" He is attempting to shatter the idea that God doesn't care for them, he uses fiction as a way to do this. I much prefer Desiring God but that is because I have a very good grasp of grace. Many in our purpose driven works oriented culture do not and many of the theologians have seemed to forgot that they were lost and scared (some may have never been). This book would have been a huge blessing to me if I would have received it 6 years ago in a very legalistic works oriented church.

I again wouldn't recommend due to I believe there are a good mixture of works out there that may be a bit more theologically faithful; however, I wouldn't write it off as "garbage". Maybe disagreement, or theologically light, but "garbage" seems a bit hars, maybe we disagree with that and that is okay. I ask that if I ever write something, say "I disagree strongly" because "garbage" may be a discouragement.

Joe Blackmon said...

Lionel

I agree. Garbage was the wrong word. The next time I review the work I won't call it garbage.

If you or another Christian wants to dig in that book to find something useful, it's your time to use as you wish. Knock yourself out.

Oh, FYI, slander is spoken. In print, it would be called libel. There are also very specific definitions, legally speaking, as to whether someone has committed libel. This blog post does not fit those definitions. If it did, people who call atheletes or actors names when those people perform badly would be guilty. We'd have no newspaper sports writers.

I hope you'll catch part II of my review of The Shack.

Lionel Woods said...

No you are right for the quote you provided, I question if this Mr. Young is embracing the biblical gospel! I am afraid that I am leaning towards the other. Though I have listened to him and his testimony is solid "but from the abundance of the heart, the fingers type".

I did want to poke at your garbage comment though.

Joe Blackmon said...

Lionel

Poke away my brother.

I'm glad you've got a sense of humor and can disagree without being disagreeable.