Monday, March 2, 2009

THE SHACK: Heresy or an inspired metaphor?

hi friends, we continue to have a great discussion on masculinity in the previous thread below ... however, several people were interested in discussing the merits and the theological content of the recent best seller, The Shack. We invite you to bring the discussion to this thread.


joe 6-pack said...

John: why don't you lead the way with a brief summary of the book and why you think it is good?

Bama Stephen said...

I will wait for John to share his thoughts here before I go into my own. John and I have had an interesting discussion in response to Ray Ciervo's review of the book over in the CSM Discussion Forum, and I suspect that will be ongoing.

However, if it is beneficial to have a seperate conversation about it here also, I'm game. As John has noted, it's the best-selling God-themed book of the past year, which makes it a significant cultural phenomenon.

John M. said...

OK Joseph. Thanks for putting up the post. One note. I pursued the link to the CSM forum that Bama Stephen put up. In addition to Ray Ciervo's post, Bama Stephen has posted his own review and critique of The Shack. I posted my response to Stephen's post. We can discuss the topic over there also...

I'm going to skip a plot summary. I think most people have heard or read that. If anyone desires one I can put one up.

Reasons I like the book:

The story itself has universal appeal. Nearly everyone has or is aware of a "Great Sadness" that calls God's goodness into question.

The problem of evil and God's goodness is addressed head on in a very creative way that hits you straight in the face.

Many stumble at the imagery used for the Trinity. I admit to being shocked and a little scandalized at first, but I actually came to appreciate it.

The Shack is "outside the box" in what for me is a good way (others hate it; still others think it's heritical).

Personally I like "outside the box" and the analogy the book draws because it makes me think about God in fresh ways and from new perspectives. I don't think God is threatened at all by W. Paul Young representation of Him. We needn't be either.

I came away with a renewed appreciation for how the Trinity functions in harmoy and oneness. I also came away with a large dose of the awareness of God's continual presence and involvement in my life.

The book is a great conversation starter with those who have read it, and can be an excellent bridge into an evangelistic conversation.

If you allow it to, The Shack will expand your understanding of God. Reveal more about his nature and character. Magnify Him from a remote, aloof entity "out there somewhere" to a larger than life present-tense reality. Help you see just how far He will go to draw people to Himself. Show you the vast expanse of His work in His creation.

If you struggle with unforgivenss, grief, depression, sadness, feeling like God doesn't really care, or isn't really involved, this book may help you get out of your own shack. Young says that the "shack" represents wherever you are "stuck" in your relationship with God, yourself and others.

Finally, this may reveal something about the orthodoxy or not) of my theology (I'll leave it to the doctrine police to decide), but during my read, I found Young articulating things through one of the members of the Trinity that created "eureka" moments for me, confirming things that I had thought about, and sparking flashes of insight that opened up new windows into God's incredible, universal, and eternal Big Story.

John M. said...

Hey Bama Stephen. Our post crossed. I guess we were thinking along the same lines. So feel free to jump in here, there or both.

joe 6-pack said...

I might try to read it over Spring Break ... deb says that I am starting to "wear-down." I'm not exactly sure what to do about it.

John M. said...

Let’s see if we can generate some discussion.

Here is The Shack’s William Paul Young on hierarchy within the Godhead: “Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are a circle of relationship, not a chain of command… What you’re seeing here is relationship without any over-lay of power. We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us…”

This is definitely a different take than the traditional view.

So, is this heresy as critics claim, or have we, as Young seems to claim, imposed our sinful, broken ideas of power, authority and hierarchy back onto the Trinity?

Can a non-hierarchical Trinity be found in scripture or does I Corinthians 15 trump the idea?

Brian Emmet said...

I haven't read the book, but if I may respond to the quote: depends on where the author goes with it. Not sure I have a problem with it, although I am a bit uncomfortable with the assumption that authority is somehow intriniscally a bad thing ("we don't need that sort of thing around here in Trinityland.") If the story jumps from this quote to the idea that genuinely spiritual people will have moved beyond any need of authority and will simply live in and enjoy the unity of the Triune God, then the author, while perhaps not a heretic, is simply crazy.

joe 6-pack said...

I agree with Brian that spiritual authority is biblical ... it does not necessarily follow, however, that authority must always be exercised in a top-down hierarchy, although I don't suppose a chain of command is a bad thing in many functional situations, as long as the authority is carefully delimited and defined and not regarded as inherent in the person. Jesus made it pretty clear that his kind of authority is "bottom-up" and emanates from being a servant. There have been many godly bishops, archbishops and cardinals who have led with servants hearts: François Fenelón and Pope John XXIII immediately come to mind, as does Archbishop Romero of El Salvador.

I think the author of the shack must be emphasizing the mutuality and community of the trinity ... there is also delegation and authority -- just not a rigid "over/under" hierarchy but a mutual submission in love with specific functions.

John the Musician said...

I personally found nothing in the book itself which seemed beyond any reasonable consideration. Some of the ideas were new, and I think that many people are able to relate with the story in a way that brings a freshness to their view on God. As far as authority goes, I don't think that this world could survive without some hierarchy in place, but I am open to the possibility that the afterlife contains a relational system in which authority (at least in the worldly sense of the word) isn't needed.

I've been under the impression for some time now that the afterlife, judgment, rewards, all of that is derived from the fact that our thoughts will be utterly open to other and God, and that theirs will be utterly opened to us.


John the Musician said...
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John the Musician said...
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John M. said...

Good comments everyone. I woke up this morning thinking of
John 15:15, "I no longer call you servants but friends."

It seems that as relationships grow and mature they pass the "authority" (or hierarchy) stage and move into friendship.

My wife and I have come to that stage in our marriage. I remember in my 20's and 30's I was very conscious of my place or postition of leadership and authority in my household, and my need to "lead".

I don't think I was ever domineering (Vicki could tell you for sure!), but I was very self-conscious about filling my role. Now we're friends and partners. I suppose if it were necessary I could/would still make a unilateral decision, but it's not; we make them together. Basically, I don't move on something until we're in agreement. The areas where I have made independent decisions have, frankly, not been good ones!

The same pattern carries out in other relationships. Many of the men I used to have "under" me as we used to say, have now become close mutual friends and I receive at least as much leadership and correction or exhortation from them as they do from me. Joseph is a good example.

I've noticed the same with former students since I've beem teaching now for 13 years.

So, if this is true with Jesus and his disciples, and it happens as relationships and people mature, then the Trinity as being absolutely "mature" must function at a very high level of mutuality and mutual submission.

Joseph's last paragraph, I think sums it up well. "I think the author of the shack must be emphasizing the mutuality and community of the trinity ... there is also delegation and authority -- just not a rigid "over/under" hierarchy but a mutual submission in love with specific functions."

Brian Emmet said...

Jesus also says, "You are my friends if you do what I command" (John 15:14). His point about our being his friends is, at least in part, that he has disclosed to us his master's business and expects us to be about it. Thid does not require a rigid or top-down hierarchy, but the presence of authority is clear. The Persons of the Trinity are submitted (an authority-word) to one another in love (a non-authority-word, because love cannot be forced, coerced, compelled or controlled). We tend to see as opposite, and therefore want to separate, things that God apparently sees as in perfect harmony with one another: not "authority or love?" or "authority versus love," but perhaps loving authoritatively or authoritatively loving?

joe 6-pack said...

last night in our god-party we were talking about "truth" and "love" and how to combine the two in our communications.

I just took my Portuguese exam, and I have a couple more classes this week, one tonight and another Friday afternoon. I plan to get out the book, THE SHACK, and start into it over the Spring Break ... this better be good!

John M. said...

I hope you're not disappointed! I look forward to your reactions -- although I would recommend just getting into the book rather than looking for things to comment about.

John M. said...

OK Not much going on here...
Let's try another "Shack" post.

Many crtics have taken a quote from page 99 and accused W.P. Young of heresy.

Here's the quote: Papa is speaking, ..."But instead of scrappping 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. Even though we have always been present in this created universe, we now became flesh and blood..." [The context of this quote treats the incarnation in a fairly traditional manner, but this quote is obviously pushing the envelope.]

The author believes that his statement is biblical, based on the scriptures. (Colossians 1:19,"For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Christ]..." and II Corinthains 5:19 "...namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself..." NASB, NKJ, and the NLT [the NIV phrases it, "...that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ...")

So, is "The Shack" promoting heresy [some form of modalism] here, or is it pushing the envelope of our understanding of the Incarnatioin in line with scripture, and drawing our attention to the incredible depth and mystery held therein?

joe 6-pack said...

hi JOhn, I am up to around page 120 ...

I suppose there is a difference between heresy, imbalance, and false doctrine. So far, I have not found anything that strikes me as blatantly heretical or patently false... I guess there are plenty of gray areas over which two people might disagree without either one being heretical. I read somewhere recently that within global Christianity, one person's heresy is often another person's orthodoxy (this is true even within modern Evangelicalism, especially over end times stuff). I see where evangelicals of the more strict or fundamentalist variety might find themselves uncomfortable, but I don't see anything (yet) that would violate orthodoxy of the first five centuries of the patristic period.

Bama Stephen said...

This is my earlier posted review ...

"The Shack" is a well-told story with a plot that is sure to grip the hearts of all readers: a sweet little girl is kidnapped and her father searches tirelessly for her. Along the way, the father encounters his own dark and tragic past, confronts his worst fears, and finds redemption in the middle of pain and suffering.

The book is a noble effort to display the grace and healing power of God, and God's amazing desire to relate personally with His children. It is not an accident that the book has hit #1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

However, as Ray Ciervo and Gloria Mancuso have already noted (on the CSM webiste discussion the book is fraught with many significant weaknesses in terms of the way that truth is presented and represented. In my opinion, the depictions of God - as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - are not only unorthodox, but are inherently flawed.

While it is a beautiful thought to contemplate the joy and harmony that exists in the fellowship of the Trinity, author William Young offers confused and confusing images of "Papa," "Jesus," "Sarayu," and "Sophia." The continual gender-bending and meaning-shifting characterizations of God owe more to post-modernism than they do to the Holy Scriptures.

Some will say that this is a novel, a work of fiction, a parable, or an allegory, and therefore liberties can be taken with the Godhead. After all, it might be argued, Jesus is represented by a Lion in "The Chronicles of Narnia."

However, unlike "Narnia," which never explicitly purports to be presenting Father, Son, and Holy Spirit directly, "The Shack" does. "The Shack' offers many lengthy, wordy passages of "teaching" about who and what God is and how God functions.

Alternately, we see Father God as an "Oprah" figure (called, confusingly enough, "Papa"), or Jesus as the hippie Zen-master carpenter, or the Holy Spirit as a flighty New-Agey wood-sprite. Just to complete the politically-correct picture, God the Judge is presented as "Sophia," a Native American priestess who lives inside of a mountain cave and speaks in platitudes reminiscent of the lyrics from the songs of Disney's "Pocahontas."

The notion that in this world, Jesus Christ Himself is an inadequate or unrelatable Incarnation of the Father is significantly unscriptural. We don't need another Jesus ... or another Father or Holy Spirit. There is little spoken about how the power of the Cross shapes and transforms our behavior, and many of the admonitions we find in James seem to be missing from the instructions of the "Trinity" (or "Quadhead") represented here.

It was also annoying to wade through the author's subtle-but-noticable attempts at portaying a sort of sanctified Leftism, especially in the continual hosanna's offered to Liberation-theology ministrel Bruce Cockburn ( he of the "if I had a rocket launcher, some son of a b---- would die" fame ) .

I admire the author's intent, inasmuch as he wants people to know of God's grace, redemptive power, and great love. He certainly shows God as not only approachable, but as aggresively seeking us out. That is a deeply moving and important reminder.

However, there is simply too many deep theological flaws intermingled with the truth for me to recommend this book to any believer. For anyone but the most mature or seasoned Christian, this book could cause serious confusion.

I did recommend it to one friend who is agnostic ( and deeply bitter towards "organized religion" ) simply as a bridge, and he read and appreciated the book. In that way, the book may be useful.

So, if you do read the book, read with caution, and realize that like so much of Christian fiction these days, the primary benefit is entertainment rather than true enlightenment or theological accuracy.

Robert said...

I read "Shack" last year. When Aunt Jemima stepped on the stage, I had heartburn. I chose to keep reading with a critical eye. When I was able to step back from the particulars that warranted critique, I was able to give a nod to an uderlying idea. God meets us where we are with all our stuff that colors how we understand Him until we get it better. I am OK with that because it is my story.
Not the same story...but still a story of growing in my understanding of the community of the Trinity.

Its just a book...fiction that can be a starting point for other conversations. The theological soundness of the particulars is another subject.