Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Call Back to God by a President of the U.S.A.

I'm almost a day late in posting this (unless you are actually reading this on Thursday), but I just read this quote and felt I needed to share it with my readers. These words are especially significant in light of the words of the Prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 18:7-10). Oh, how I wish that every American elementary and secondary student had had these words read to them on this day. The quote is found in the Missional Church Network web site (click on title of this post):

“We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.

Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

– President Abraham Lincoln, 1863

In these tumultuous times I long for leadership that will call this country back to God. A President and a Congress that will recognize the indebtedness that we as a People have to our Divine Creator, and how desperate we need his mercy and grace in the days ahead.

Shalam Shalum (stay healthy, at peace and prosperous) in 2009

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Prison Tennis - Video - - ESPN

Prison Tennis - Video - - ESPN

This gives a twist to Jesus' words, "I was in prison, and you came to Me" (Matthew 25:36). I suppose one can share God's love and forgiveness through many avenues. This is just one form of prison visitation I had not seen before. I pray that some among the ones playing with inmates will share Christ, the only One who will not only "reform" but will "transform" all prisoners into free men and women.
Shalam Shalum (stay healthy, at peace and prosperous) in 2009

The Shack - Day 6: Concluding Thoughts

There is much more that can be discussed in this brief consideration of The Shack. One of the things I want to touch on is the negative response the book has received from Christian leaders. For example, Albert Mohler, called The Shack "deeply subversive," "scripturally incorrect" and downright "dangerous." (, 5/29/2008). One of today’s young and influential Christian leaders, Mark Driscoll, says, "If you haven't read The Shack, don't!" (, 5/29/2008). While I understand, and agree with some of the criticism thrust against this book, I have to disagree with the rejection that many have expressed about reading and using the book because I consider it a legitimate tool for engaging folks spiritually.

According to USATODAY, The Shack is the author’s metaphor for an ugly, dark place hidden so deeply within him that it seemed beyond God's healing reach ( Yet, we know from personal experience, that nothing in our lives is too deep, so far, that God can’t reach. The book demonstrates a God of compassion and mercy who is moving among humanity to bring her back to relationship with Him. Sentences such as “Mack, I’m sorry,” speaking of Missy’s death. Or, “That’s why you’re here, Mack. I want to heal the wound that has grown inside of you, and between us” (90, 91) are reflective of the tenderness displayed by the Persons of the Trinity toward Mack and each one who draws near to God.

As a theodicy I believe The Shack provides helpful answers (although not complete) to those who are trying to make sense of God and suffering. Papa reminds Mack that “there are millions of reasons to allow pain and hurt and suffering rather than to eradicate them.” And, “But your choices are also not stronger than my purposes, and I will use every choice you make for the ultimate good and the most loving outcome” (124). Of course, God’s glory and worship as the purpose of all things, and for the well being of humanity, is missing from the discussion. But again, this is not a theological, and less, exhaustive treatise of God’s purposes and ways.

I understand what Mohler, Driscoll, and others, are saying. For example, some will probably object that man’s sin and responsibility to God was not clearly developed in The Shack, and they’re right. Little is also said about the final authority of Scripture to communicate to man God’s plans and thoughts. However, Young does amply make clear that man’s problems are largely the result of his desire to live independently of God and of one another because of fear (90). And Young does present Jesus in a unique light in his role as Savior of humanity (although this could be clearer). He continually draws upon the significance of Jesus’ death as the basis for reconciliation and even hints at what one must do to be right with God or have a true relationship with him (229).

Although I would embrace reading and discussing The Shack, I don’t think it is necessary to go out and buy a copy. Those who do read it need to keep in mind the limitations of the book, the heretical tendencies, the lack of centering on the Bible and Jesus alone for salvation which the book displays (some say subversively undermining cardinal Christian truths).

At the same time, we must remember that this is theological fiction and that it can constructively be used as an excellent point of entry for a culture that is searching, analyzing, evaluating, accepting and rejecting. John exhorted his readers to “Test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). If we apply this principle carefully we can safely use cultural tools to flame discussions centering on God and Jesus, and hopefully lead seekers not only to our Redeemer and true friend, but to the “King of kings, and Lord of Lords.”
Shalam Shalum (stay healthy, at peace and prosperous) in 2009

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Shack - Day 5: Confessions, Forgiveness & Reconciliation

One of the most moving sections of The Shack is the healing that begins to take place in the heart of Mack. His time with the Trinity and the experiences he lived during that short weekend had a cleansing and restorative effect on him. God gave Mack the opportunity to sit as judge over the world. In his grief over the guilt of humanity, including that of his children who would need to pay for their sins, Mack cries out, “Could I go instead? . . . I’ll go in their place. . . .Please let me go for my children, please, I would be happy to . . . Please, I am begging you. . .” (164). Sarayu approvingly said to Mack, “Now you sound like Jesus. You have judged well, Mackenzie. I am so proud of you!” When Mack confessed his confusion about any judgment he had pronounced, Sarayu explained: “Oh, but you have. You have judged them worthy of love, even if it cost you everything. That is how Jesus loves” (164; See Hebrews 12:3).

But there was more. Mack’s lost and pain had made him stand as judge over God. He ultimately held God responsible for Missy’s death and could not embrace God without reservations. Sarayu explained: “It is you humans who have embraced evil and Papa has responded with goodness.” “Give up being his judge and know Papa for who he is. Then you will be able to embrace his love in the midst of your pain, instead of pushing him away with your self-centered perception of how you think the universe should be. Papa has crawled inside of your world to be with you, to be with Missy” (166; notice how Papa is now spoken of as a ‘he’; see Page 91).

As Mack began opening his heart to trust in Papa he received the unexpected gift of seeing Missy playing in what appeared to be heaven. The next few pages of the book are heart-warming, and a powerful picture of our future destiny with redeemed loved ones in eternity (166-179; read his description of the true nature of the Church on page 179).

But, the process of healing for Mack was far from over. He is confronted with two challenges necessary to finish his journey to wholeness and restoration: forgive his father, and forgive Missy’s murderer. Mack’s sentiments to Papa revealed his lingering deep hate and resentment regarding his little daughter’s murderer: “Redeem him? . . . I don’t want you to redeem him! I want you to hurt him, to punish him, to put him in hell” (228).

Papa reminded Mack of Jesus’ death and payment from the law’s demands for obedience and of his love for all men. “. . . he too is my son. I want to redeem him” (228). God’s love and compassion for even this serial killer was deep: “But I do” [love him] . . . “not for what he’s become, but for the broken child that has been twisted by his pain. I want to help you take on that nature that finds more power in love and forgiveness than hate” (229). Papa reminded Mack of the destruction that unforgiveness had caused in his own life (228-229).

Some have criticized Young on this emphasis of forgiving someone who is unrepentant. However, both Jesus, and Stephen forgave those who killed them even though they had not asked for forgiveness (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60; See also Eph. 4:32). The forgiveness talked about in The Shack was therapeutic; it would prevent Mack from carrying endlessly the hate that filled his heart for his dad and for Missy’s murderer. However, I do believe that we are exhorted to “forgive one another” our sins (Eph. 4:32), even when those we forgive have not acknowledged their own sins or repented. That doesn’t mean that we are not responsible to ask for forgiveness from God and those we hurt, but that the person we have offended can release us from our guilt against them. It opens the door for us to come back with a repented heart and to have the forgiveness applied to us in time. The potentiality of forgiveness, we could say, can be extended from our part to others, and will be applied and enjoyed in time by the repentant sinner.

Tomorrow I’ll finish this review with some concluding thoughts on The Shack and will discuss what other Christians are saying about the book.
Shalam Shalum (stay healthy, at peace and prosperous) in 2009

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Shack - Day 4: The Trinity

Probably the most significant theological objection to The Shack is how the Trinity reveals itself to Mack. For example, the reasoning behind God revealing himself as a ‘she’ is Mack’s broken relationship with his human father. Papa tells Mack: “Hasn’t it always been a problem for you to embrace me as your father? And after what you’ve been through, you couldn’t very well handle a father right now, could you?” (92; See also, page 91). This inability to honor and love the person of God the Father is further pronounced as the story thickens, when Papa objects that many see Jesus as a figure of love and forgiveness while considering God as stern and inapproachable. Papa wondered how strange that man had made this distinction since Jesus came to show humanity – in his own love and compassion, and sacrifice – the very nature of God the Father (See John 14:7-9). The dialogue is insightful because in fact the Bible doesn’t allow for a dichotomy to exist among the God of the Old and New Testament. On both ends God is revealed as Holy, Righteous, Merciful, Gracious, Compassionate, and as Judge.

Although Young resists the idea of submission and hierarchy to describe the relationship among the Trinity, the Bible does teach that the Son and the Spirit submit in their unique roles (not in their attributes as God) to the Father. There is no Scripture, that I am aware of, that shows the Father submitting to the wishes or orders of the Son or the Spirit. This is simply the way the Bible reveals the Persons of the Trinity and we should adhere to God’s self revelation of his tripartite role (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:3; James 3:9, “Lord and Father”). Theologian Millard Erickson writes, “. . . the Son did not become less than the Father during his earthly incarnation, but he did subordinate himself functionally to the Father’s will. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is now subordinated to the ministry of the Son (see John 14-16) as well as to the will of the Father, but this does not imply that he is less than they are” (Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 338).

The Trinity is a doctrine of inference, but one that can be well established by the evidence of Scripture. Each Person of the Godhead is distinct from the other, yet each is very God, or of the same eternal essence and attributes. God is Spirit, as well as a Person (John 4:24: See 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:15-16). Furthermore, although the Bible at times does associate God’s actions with motherly characteristics to emphasize his tenderness and compassion, akin mostly to motherly behavior (e.g., Isaiah 66:12-13), Jesus gave us the example of how to refer to God when he prayed, “Our Father in heaven. . .” (Matthew 6:9ff.).

The Son is eternal (see Isaiah 9:6) and is the only Person of the Trinity that has a human body. Even in Old Testament times, a Christophany is believed by some to be the manifestation of Christ in human form before his incarnation in history. The Holy Spirit has never appeared with a human body, always takes a supportive role to the Son, and works in the heart of people to convict them of their need for God (John 16:8-11; See metaphor of the garden, page 132).

The Shack absolutely gets it wrong when, for example, it says: “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human” (98). First, taken alone, Young here comes close to the heresy of modalism, or the teaching that the one Person of God takes a different manifestation or role at certain times in history (See Sabellius). Modalists teach that the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are identical-they are successive revelations of the same person.” (Erickson, 334). Again, the only Person of the Triune God to take on human flesh and to limit himself was the Second, the Son (See John 1:14).

To his credit, Young does get it right when he goes on to speak about Jesus as “fully God,” yet also “fully human” (98). He also gets it right when he asserts about Jesus that “although he is fully God, he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything. He has only lived out of his relationship with me, living in the very same manner that I desire to be in relationship with every human being” (98). Jesus continually reiterated that he couldn’t do anything unless the Father directed him (See John 5:20). As our Second Adam he lived a perfect life, not out of His deity, but out of his humanity in complete submission to the Father’s will (See Hebrews 4:15). This is why he could die on our behalf as a perfect substitute.

Sarayu gets it partially right when talking about the reason for the death of Christ. She tells Mack: “For love. He chose the way of the cross where mercy triumphs over justice because of love. Would you instead prefer he’d chosen justice for everyone?” (165). It is true that if God had only applied his justice to humanity, without giving us his Son, we would be without hope. In his great love, however, he sent his Son as our sin payment. Both God’s justice and God’s mercy kissed at the point of Calvary’s Cross. The cross demonstrates both God’s justice – without the shedding of blood there can’t be remission of sin – and God’s mercy, the Son of God, the Holy One dying for unholy men and women.

Although The Shack reveals the Persons of the Trinity in an unbiblical ‘form’, it does a good job of presenting the fellowship, the love, and the purposes of each Person in a lively (remember fictional/imagined) manner (e.g., 120). On the other hand, Young gets the discussion on authority and submission wrong not only with the Trinity but also in other human relationships. Authority and submission is not about persons being ‘better’ than others, but are important in both the economy of the Trinity, in terms of their distinctive roles to which they submit to, and are also needed in human relationships as well. Although we could refer to God always as ‘Father,’ other names for God such as ‘Creator,” and ‘Holy One,’ should also be used when addressing him. However, the description of God as ‘mother’ is simply not a way in which the Bible has chosen to reveal his nature and role. The book’s depiction of God in ‘motherly’ form, nonetheless, could be used as an entry point to begin shedding light on the true revelation of God and his attributes.(To be continued on Friday.)
Shalam Shalum (stay healthy, at peace and prosperous) in 2009

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Shack - Day 3: A Theodicy

“I’m not who you think I am, Mackenzie” (Papa, 95). The more I think through the book, and re-read it, the more I’m convinced that it is apparent that one of the main goals of the author in writing The Shack was to present a theodicy. A theodicy is an explanation or defense of God’s goodness in light of the reality of evil, pain and suffering. The book is a response for the reason God allows evil to go on in general, and in the life of Mack, in particular. Why had God allowed (caused) The Great Sadness in Mack’s life?

The questions surrounding a theodicy are many, but well known to most people. How can evil exist if God is good? If God is all-powerful then why does he allow senseless suffering to happen? If God is all-powerful, then why doesn’t he just control man’s actions and limit the pain? Why do I have to suffer? For Mack, his question was, “Why did my Missy have to die the way she did?” The book is full of arguments that ‘defend’ God in light of unexplainable senseless evil and pain (See for example, pages: 90, 91, 94, 95, 99, 124, 125, 126, 132, 133, 146, 165, 166, 178, and 188).

On one occasion Mack asks Sarayu (the personification of the Holy Spirit), “What am I supposed to think? I just don’t understand how God could love Missy and let her go through that horror. She was innocent. She didn’t do anything to deserve that” (165). This in fact is a legitimate objection. Some of the writers in the Book of Psalms wrestle with how to deal with what we know about God’s goodness and power in light of his hesitancy to intervene against the evil that surrounds us (e.g., Psalm 10, 73; see also Habakkuk 1). To Mack’s next accusation about God not stopping Missy’s death, Sarayu says: “No, he didn’t. He doesn’t stop a lot of things that cause him pain. Your world is severely broken. You demanded your independence, and now you are angry with the one who love you enough to give it to you. Nothing is as it should be, as Papa desires it to be, and as it will be one day” (165).

The explanations the author provides for suffering constitute the better theological sections of the book. They affirm the reality of evil, a God who allows man to live out the actions which often come from the evil in his own heart, a God who suffers with his creation, who redeems the pain of those willing to give up their independence, and a God who one day will categorically do away with evil.

The Scriptures affirm both God’s goodness and his will to allow evil to continue, at least for now. Furthermore, although God hasn’t chosen to disclose the reasons behind most of our suffering he will often use pain to bring about the good. In another conversation with Mack Papa tells him: “Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me” (188).

This reminds me of the very subject of evil that Jesus’ disciples brought up concerning a particular man born blind. Had the blind man sinned to deserve his fate, or did his parents cause his suffering? Jesus responded, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). Of course, space here doesn’t allow us to ponder more deeply the theology of suffering which is much broader than this statement given by Jesus.

It is important to recognize that the sections on the reasons for suffering are probably one of the best points of entry in The Shack. People quickly identify with Mack’s tragedy because everyone’s life is sprinkled with moments of evil and suffering. Sooner or later, tragedy or great suffering of some kind or some unexplained pain will come to each of our lives. This is the great given of life.

How can we use the book at this juncture? For example, a simple question to a seeker, or reader of the book who wishes to discuss it, could be: What do you think of how Papa explains the reasons for why God allows suffering? This is an open-ended question that will invite opinions and give you an opportunity to discuss what the Bible teaches. It would also be helpful to share your own sufferings in life, some of the doubts or unexplained questions you have, and how you have chosen (and been able) to continue believing in God and his goodness.

Tomorrow we will look at the Trinity and the matter of hierarchy in the Godhead.
Shalam Shalum (stay healthy, at peace and prosperous) in 2009

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Shack - Day 2: A Theological Awakening

The Shack is having a powerful effect on readers. For example, here’s one comment left at the book’s web site: “This book has allowed me to finally deal with my emotions and forgive someone who has so desperately needed it. Amazingly, I had been in therapy with Christian counselors who could not reach me the way The Shack finally did. . . .Today, because I have finally been able to forgive, I feel so light and so happy. Now I want ‘Papa’ to work on my abuser and allow him to give up his grief too” (From the web site:

What is The Shack about? Mack lost his little daughter the last day of what had been a most delightful camping trip with his children. The question burning in his heart for the last three years had been, “How could God have allowed this atrocity to happen to a little girl?” As he returned to the shack Mack had the opportunity to ask God - ‘himself’ - about that day and about his unwillingness to save his daughter.

When he returned to the shack, and to his utter surprise, the ‘Trinity’ was waiting for him. However, what he found to be the true nature of God was nothing short of a paradigm shift in his theology. To his shock God the ‘mother’ and not the Father, welcomed him with open arms, as she revealed herself to him as a very pleasant, down to earth, African-American woman. Jesus appeared to Mack as male, and most perfectly, as one from a Mid-Eastern Jewish descent. The Holy Spirit manifested itself as a short inquisitive and always helpful Asian woman with a tender heart and who usually stayed in the background. Together, the Trinity helped Mack through a journey of soul searching, forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing.

During the weekend each person of the Trinity took turns to spend time alone with Mack, probing him with questions, answering his doubts, and patiently allowing their love to work its way into Mack’s heart. Each of the cycle of conversations that each person of the Trinity had with Mack helped him understand why God allows things to happen, and offered deep conversations and opportunities for reflection regarding God’s nature, love, and purposes. The Three Persons of the Trinity also talked among themselves and displayed deep affection, love, and acceptance for each other which helped Mack understand the real meaning of relationships and fellowship.

Along with a twisted presentation of the Trinity, The Shack also briefly touches on how God values the religions of the world as means of drawing people to himself (184). The book comes short of presenting a full blown affirmation of universalism but does provide the hope that through the search of man for God through their own understanding of the Divine they too will have an opportunity to find forgiveness through Christ. (Among scholars today there are at least 5 views which debate the question of “Who can be saved”? in light of today’s world religions.)

The weekend at The Shack produced a roller coaster of emotions that continually filled Mack’s heart. At the end, however, Mack makes peace with God, as well as with his abusive father, and his daughter’s murderer.

What does The Shack teach about evil in the world? What does it teach about the Trinity? What does it say about sin and salvation? What does it say about Jesus? And why has the book’s message touched thousands of people? These are the questions we’ll begin to address tomorrow.
Shalam Shalum (stay healthy, at peace and prosperous) in 2009