Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Shack-some thoughts

I have awoken at 4am with jet-lag but I suppose it is an improvement on the 3 am of yesterday! It may be a long week.

I read the Shack last summer and found it to be a thought-provoking read but it left me with a niggle and some theological concerns. One factor that prompted me to read it was the affirmation by Eugene Peterson who is one of my 'go-to' people on matters Jesus and theology.

Here is what has got me thinking. I saw some friends recently and they all had been overwhelmed by this book having read it over Christmas. One said that she had never seen God in this way before and asked me why don't we have preaching that shows us a Jesus like this. She attested to being more passionate and stimulated to follow Jesus by the Shack much more than many other things she had experienced in her church over the last few years. That must be a good thing- surely? The observations of others were similar.

Now, pause a moment, either the Jesus of her churches pulpit is lacking in a way the William P Young's Jesus is not or the two Jesus' are different? Is she being given a false or inadequate/lacking Jesus or has the Shack painted a picture of God that is not that of the bible? Or is it in the Scripture and we just missed it?

Then the inevitable question came,

"David, what do you think?"

I shared a few positive thoughts and then I confess offered a few reservations but felt as though I was pouring cold water on the re-launched Jesus that my friends (who have been following Him most of them for over 20 years) had just discovered. I felt like the party-pooper shutting off the children's music half way through a game of pass -the- parcel.

I love it when people are passionate for Jesus.

I really love it.

But here's my caution. There a lots of wallers who have offered views far more erudite and I list them in a moment but for me there are two passages of Scripture that one may like to consider when reflecting on The Shack.

1. Galatians 1:8

Paul says here 'But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!'. Strong stuff you might agree. The warning here is to always have discerning eyes and ears that the Jesus being preached is the one of the gospel. The Jesus of the cross. The Jesus who calls us to deny ourselves and follow him to Calvary. The Jesus of the nails. This may never perhaps be a Jesus that makes the New York times bestseller lists and achieves popular acclaim with the masses.

2. Phil 1:15-16

Paul also writes, 'It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.'

My second thought is this. People are reading this book. It has some things to commend it but also some heresies that are contrary to sound doctrine. What am I to do? Tell them not to read it. Some did that, mistakenly in my view, with Harry Potter. No, I think not. After all, I have read it and parts of it blessed me. I think God, as he was with the Church in Philippi, is able to work for good and bring things in his time and purpose to completion and correct error.

The more challenging point is this. I want to pastor a church where the Jesus I preach is the one of the gospel-the one of Galatians 1. I want my hearers to be in a place where they are able to form a doctrinal view because they know and understand the gospel. The gospel of the Scriptures. The Jesus of the Scriptures. The Jesus of the Cross.

If you are going to read the Shack then maybe reading it with Knowing God by J I Packer in the other hand might offer you some help in seeing Jesus as he is rather than as we might like him to be. We all tend to want the God as we want him to be that's why the people of Israel kept getting in such a pickle.

Here are some resources:


The case for with William de Young himself

“When the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian cross-fertilize the result is a novel on the order of ‘The Shack.’ This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ did for his. It’s that good!” –Eugene Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, Vancouver, B.C.

“The Shack will leave you craving for the presence of God.” - Michael W. Smith

This article is called 'Is the shack heresy?' written by one of the editors of the book.


Maybe you have no idea what I am talking about so let me introduce you to Mark Driscoll who will give you what one might call the case against the Shack.


There are lots of reviews the widest read and most comprehensive is by Tim Challies but I also commend this post by Dr James de Young.
Andrew has also offered a thoughtful review
which I found helpful


Si said...

Thanks Dave. I don't want to labour any points. I often find Mark Driscoll interesting, insightful, funny and spiritual....and here's the but, in this case I'm not sure he understands Genre in particular or literature in general. This is odd for someone with such a commitment to narrative in his preaching and church leadership, and someone who loves the Bible....the interpretation of which hangs on understanding genre. The Shack is not intended as 'Church Dogmatics Light' It does one or two things very well (such as challenging our view of God, and trying to convey something of the unfolding experience of God as trinity. As with anything it is not a silver bullet against atheism, suffering or mistaught Christians. True it does not deal in any depth with the cross, although that is alluded to. But then it's not claiming to be a complete Christian theology primer in any way. Of course it bears the prejudices of it's maker, but some do we all, and so do many of it's fiercest critics - Driscoll is fantastically partisan on all sorts of theological thoughts. It is what it is. I found its narrative a bit forced and plodding, but enjoyed some of its passages immensely. We had a book group made up of mostly established Christians and found that really profitable. The crucial transition to the encounter at the Shack is very difficult and I am not sure he pulls it off. But there you go the story did draw me in to some extend, and that what a story is supposed to do. As along as you don't take it as what it is not, then I think it has its place.

David Cooke said...

I rather felt Driscoll may not have read the book he was describing? I too have great respect for MD on much that he says but he may just have got this one wrong. Your point on genre is well made-thank you.