Archive for the ‘judgement’ Tag

REVIEWING ‘THE SHACK’

You may have heard of William Paul Young’s ‘The Shack’; the US-bestselling phenomenon which has ‘cut through the clichés of both religion and bad writing to reveal something compelling and beautiful about life’s integral dance with the divine’ (Mike Morrell). In the eyes of some it has almost become a religious text in itself, worthy of evangelising through schemes such as ‘The Missy Project’, set up by ‘a team of us who have read and been touched by The Shack (and) are convinced this book deserves a reading across the broadest reaches of our culture’. Some churches, such as Grace Chapel in Tennessee are ‘joyfully giving copies away by the case’.

 

The Shack is an inexpertly crafted tale of a man angrily grieving the tragic death of his daughter at the hands of a serial killer. Receiving a mysterious note from ‘Papa’, he returns to the scene of his greatest loss to find waiting for him his maker in three persons. A weekend of conversation and revelation ensues, leading him to better understand and deal with his loss. The book was lent to me by my brother, albeit in the weary expectation that I would find plenty wrong with it. Is he right? Well, yes, there is a huge amount ‘wrong with it’ theologically. It plays to every subtle liberalising distortion of biblical truth that characterises so much of our Christianity. It places little stock in the value of church or Bible (probably why few who so campaign for the book seem to give that dusty old tome so much as a mention), and campaigns hard for a ‘God is Love’ reading of the universe, whilst entirely neglecting that God is also Just, Righteous and promises Judgement, a terrifying prospect for most. It sets enormous stall in free will, insisting that ‘true love never forces’, and firmly endorses that there are many paths up the mountain to God, stating that ‘Those who love me (Jesus) come from every system that exists… Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslim’. It denies that Jesus was ‘forsaken’ or punished on the cross (‘Regardless of what he felt at that moment, I (God) never left him’), assures us of our great freedom in Christian conduct (‘that is why you won’t find the word responsibility in the Scriptures’) and sees great worth in a man ultimately acting ‘like a child’, criticising any suggestion of hierarchy or authority in human relationships, particularly in those between men and women.

 

I do intend to say nice things about the book as well. But add these reservations together and you do have something potentially dangerous, particularly if put into the hands of a non-believer. Anybody signing up to faith as a result of exposure to this God, as opposed to the biblical model, may well end up considerably startled when they read of God turning from Saul because he refused to slaughter every Amalekite, or may blanch when they read Joel’s analogy of sinners trampled in a winepress. It is not that these passages undermine the fact God is good or loving. It is because God is good, and pure, and holy, that He cannot abide sin and cannot leave it unpunished. It is then because God is loving that He gave His only son to take this punishment in our place. But it remains the case that, for those who reject God’s gift of salvation by His son, punishment remains upon the eternal agenda. If the unbeliever never understands the danger he is in then he will never understand his true need for Jesus. The Shack never alerts us to the scale of our predicament; instead it hints at salvation for each sinner mentioned within the book without ever setting out the requirement for faith and repentance on their part. Indeed, the worst single line in the whole book is as follows, issued from the mouth of God: ‘I don’t need to punish people for sin’. I understand I do the line a disservice by starving it of context, but it should still never have been put on paper.

 

But for me, bearing in mind my last post, perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the book was simply how, for want of a better word, wussy the depiction was of all three members of the Trinity – but of Jesus in particular. Here is our very model of manhood. Here is the greatest of leaders, who stilled the winds with a word, who physically threw the money-lenders from the temple, who faced down the leaders of the day as ‘hypocrites’ and as a ‘brood of vipers’, who all but wordlessly faced one of history’s cruellest deaths and inspired thousands to die for his name. Yet, alongside the woman God and the female Holy Spirit, we have here the tamest depiction of the Son of Man – male yes, but constantly kissing, hugging, crying and laughing at things that really aren’t at all funny (a constant failing of the book). Let Jesus be a man! Let him have a real sense of humour! Let us not neuter the Bible and its template for humanity.

 

Ha! That’s over 700 words of criticism. I’m not sure this is going to be an entirely even-handed depiction of pros and cons. But then I’m not sure it deserves to be. Yet I didn’t regret reading it. Really I didn’t. There were times when I was very glad I did. It does certainly connect on an emotional level, reminding us that the Christian walk is a relationship with a God who cares. It reminded me of a line from an old Adrian Plass book – ‘God is nice and he likes me’. I’m not sure I agree that God is ‘nice’; Switzerland is ‘nice’, orchids are ‘nice’, whereas God is something rather more awe-inspiring… However, there is some value in hearing it said once in a while – pricking the cold bubble of doctrine I occasionally tend to stand within. There is also true wisdom about God to be found amidst the Shack. For example I love the idea that ‘He embraces even the darker shades of life as part of some incredibly rich and profound tapestry; crafted masterfully by invisible hands of love’. More than anything, it inspired in me a genuine excitement, a thrill at the thought of heaven and of meeting my saviour. Young conjures a sense of wonder and certainly keeps you turning the pages to see what other treasures lie in store for Mack, the central character.

 

Even so, by way of conclusion, I repeat again; push this into the hands of the undiscerning unbeliever, and they may find it difficult to filter out the good from the misleading. Therefore I would recommend it only sparingly. Read the Shack as you would any other work – taking what is helpful and remaining wary of that which is contrary to God’s Word (eg The Bible!). Resist strongly the idea that this is some new revelation bringing Western culture to an enhanced version of the truth and enjoy it simply as an interesting and flawed work of fiction.

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ST. JADE THE BRAVE

THOUGHTS VAGUELY RELATING TO HELL Part 2 (Part 1 Here)

 

“Why does everyone suddenly love someone if they die young?”

 

So asked a GCSE student during a lesson last week. We were talking about JFK at the time – a largely unpopular President whom everyone pretended to have voted for and supported following his tragic assassination at the hands of killers unknown (ooh, controversial!) – but I’m sure he was also thinking of reality TV star Jade Goody, recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. The transformation of this young woman in the eyes of the press has truly been astonishing to behold. No longer the racist; no longer the shamelessly talent-free ‘reality TV’ attention-seeker, ridiculed for her lack of intelligence or obscene antics… Now she is ‘Brave Jade’, ‘Jade the Hero’. Why? Because she is about to die. Neither is she alone in this metamorphosis. Her fiancé – the convicted criminal who cheated on her – is now her knight in shining armour, giving her the fairy-tale wedding she ‘deserves’; whilst her friends and bridesmaids are ‘angels’, at least according to the front page of the Mirror.

 

Now let’s get this straight. I am not lacking compassion. I was as shocked and saddened as anyone else vaguely acquainted with Jade through the media when I heard that this young woman was set to leave her children motherless. It reminds us that death is an aberration; that death is a curse… But it will happen to all of us – every one (Second Coming notwithstanding!). So the question IS valid – why do we deify those afflicted early? Why do they get painted in these fairytale colours we all know to be absurd? Well the answer I came up with in class was imperfect, but I was still pleased enough with it to come home and write about it! It ran roughly as follows.

 

Despite how it may seem, most people are NOT atheists. Most people are agnostic or are uncommitted theists of various degrees, actively choosing, under usual circumstances, to not think about the things that really matter. Death terrifies the world as it forces them to confront big possibilities they’ve been running from – possibilities like judgement and punishment, perhaps on an eternal scale. This is, frankly, too much. Hell is unthinkably frightening. Not just for Jade, but for everyone. Therefore, the whitewash begins. In a matter of months or weeks, the tabloids, as one, will be writing of how Jade is ‘in heaven’, ‘looking down’ upon her children. In order for this to work, they first need to wipe her slate clean – purge her of her sins and ‘fit her for Heaven, to live with Thee there’, to quote a popular carol! Man is trying to take the place of God once again.

 

I’m not sure there’s a great deal more to say here, other than to state the obvious: Jade needs to place her faith in Jesus if she is to meaningfully assuage, in any way, the fear she must be experiencing right now. As for the tabloid audience – they need to realise that death doesn’t make someone a ‘hero’… they should realise we’re all destined for that same path, and try therefore to work out honestly how to prepare for the possibility that they will one day face their creator. They will, I’m sure, feel far from heroic once the day arrives.