Friday, April 16, 2010

Reminiscing on My Latest Adventure into The Shack

Wednesday night I had opportunity to go and hear Paul Young speak at the Convo (thanks Ashland Seminary for sending the complimentary tickets).  I also had a chance to take a leisurely stroll with Mr. Young yesterday afternoon and talk about some of the things that were on my mind.  I wanted to reflect on a number of things that came up throughout these discussions.

First, let me say that Mr. Young is a very courteous man.  I greatly appreciated him taking time out of what was a jam packed schedule to speak with me one on one.  He could have easily taken the little free time he had to "veg. out" for a while in between his speaking sessions.  I certainly would not have blamed him if he had.  However, he made the extra effort to contact me and meet with me.  As well, our time together was most cordial in every respect.  His demeanor was always cheerful, even when we had points of disagreement. 

I also praise Mr. Young for his ability to communicate.  His presentation on Wednesday night proved that he could tell a good story and keep an audience's attention.  Then, on our stroll through campus together, it became more evident that he could speak about deeper issues in a thoughtful and clear way.

I have to commend him for his wit too.  I always enjoy a man of humor, and Mr. Young was certainly one of those who provoke a hearty laugh. 

Certainly his presentation on Wednesday night was not for lack of content either.  There were a number of quotes that I wrote down which I greatly appreciated.  One example might be his discussion on not being able to live up to God's expectations.  Martin Luther had a similar experience in an earlier century.  After trying his hardest to live up to the law's demands he found that he could not love God at all.  Instead Luther said that he hated God.  To be sure, this is part of what makes grace so great.  God forgives our shortcomings and acts as a loving Father who overlooks our defects.

Another few bullet points might point out some of the other gems from the talk.  Young also said...
  • "Certainty is found in the nature of God."
  • "We are allowed to enter into the love that exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
  • Something along the lines of God being a relational being. (something many Reformed folk often overlook!  No matter how much we love our doctrines, God is not merely a set of propositions to memorize!  He is a person who is to be loved, adored and befriended.)
  • Something to the effect of "God is pleased to dwell in the shack that is us."  To a guy like me who believes in the utter depravity of man, this means a lot.
My time being "in the Shack" though, was not without its negative points. 

Young began his presentation on Wednesday night by talking about the background to his book.  One of the things that he noted was how the book became so popular.  In an amazing way it went from a first publication of 15 copies for his kids and a few close friends to over 40 million copies worldwide.  It sprang from uncharted waters to an instant NY Times bestseller.  His conclusion was that God must be doing something for it to have taken off like that.

This argument couldn't be more pragmatically oriented.  It is simply based on results.  It got results, so God must have done it.  Unfortunately, this is no wise accurate.  Great results and great praise does not necessarily mean that "God is doing something."  We know that people have "itching ears."  That indicates that error is easier to propagate than truth.  As well, Scripture says speaks of false prophets who bring in destructive heresies.  One of the things that will be true of them is that "many will follow their sensuality" (2 Peter 2:1-2).  We can also think of Jezebell and how quickly she was able to propagate Baalism in Israel.  Or, for that matter, think of the Israelites in the wilderness.  It only took 40 days of Moses being away on the mountain for virtually the whole nation to cry out for other gods!

Our American pragmatism has made us believe that the instant hit is solid gospel.  But as I often say, "The only things that spring up fast and large are weeds."  I can honestly say that The Shack is a weed because the content of it does not measure up to what is revealed in the Scriptures.  As has been mentioned before, The Shack is another gospel.  The book makes declarations that are not coherent with orthodox Christianity.  Two examples may be "I [i.e. God] don't need to punish sin, sin is a punishment enough", and, when it comes to salvation, Jesus isn't "the only way, just the best way."

When it comes to Young's presentation Wednesday night, I can't say too much else. He didn't talk all that much about substantial spiritual issues.  He mainly talked about himself and the problems he had personally which led to the writing of the book.  This might sound harsh, but it is true:  The event should not have been called, "Is God Really That Good?"  Instead it should have been called, "Was Paul Really That Messed Up?"  Again, I know that sounds harsh, but that was the reality.  The amount that was said about God was quite minimal.  Almost all that was said about God was captured in the quotes I mentioned above (and I was taking diligent notes!).

The one time he could talk about God in depth was when he was asked a question about the Trinity.  I admit, the question was rather odd: "Does The Shack deny the power of the Trinity?"  I personally don't have a clue what that means.  Nevertheless, it could have been a springboard to talk about the nature of God as it pertained to the book.  This was not the case though.

In the main, I would describe the presentation as mainly consisting of emotional stories about himself and his book.  This can be proven simply by the incredible amount of "Aaaaawwwwww's" that were heard throughout the night.  This did not disappoint me though.  I had mentioned to my wife before going that I didn't think that much would be said and that everyone would be greatly inspired by whatever nothings were said.

I'm glad to say that the interpersonal conversation that I had was much more substantial.  Again, I have to compliment Mr. Young here.  He demonstrated clearly that he had thought long about the issues we spoke about.  Though I do not agree with a good portion of his conclusions, I give him much applause for having worked through it.  Most today don't even bother.

As we talked Mr. Young admitted that he does not see any heirarchy in the Bible, be it in the relationships that exist between husbands & wives or the persons of the Trinity.  He believes that true, loving relationships cannot entail heirarchy.  We discussed a few Scriptures on it, such as Adam & Eve's creation, Adam's fall and Federal headship, and the passages of Scripture where it says, "Wives submit to your husbands."  (On this last one, Young argued that the word "submit" is not in the original language.  I went back and looked, and it was there in every instance.)

However, heirarchy is everywhere in the Bible, and never does it negate a loving relationship.  As a matter of fact, they are for the purpose of allowing loving relationships to exist (i.e. parents to children).  As well, John 17 makes it clear that there most certianly is a heirarchy of relationships within the Trinity.  Christ prays to the Father, asking him to care for his people.  Then in the previous chapters he tells his disciples that he will send the Holy Spirit to them.  Both are examples of positions of authority.

I went on to ask him about the quote from the book I mentioned above and the doctrine of everlasting damnation in hell.  Young confessed that he did believe in hell and that one must have faith in Christ in order to get there.  This is certainly a different stance than what is promoted in his book.  You might note this youtube clip too.  It certainly shows that 1) he gets it dead wrong on the nature of the atonement and 2) there is an overall "slippery-ness" to Mr. Young's beliefs.


Fred said...

So Matt, would you recommend this book to the flock or even to the unrepentant as a way to get to know of God? That seems to be the point that other Christians I have spoken too say are its important parts. It helps us to understand the relationship of the Trinity and demonstrates God's love for us, they say. I say so did a donkey but I do not recommend anyone speak to a donkey for insight. Again it seems to me that we do not believe in the sufficiency of Scripture anymore. We need another story.

Matt Timmons said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly, Fred. We do not take the Bible seriously anymore. Therefore anything passes as good Christian literature. The next thing you know, churches will be passing out books by Daniel Steele.

To use such a flawed piece as an evangelistic tool is completely absurd to me. It would get them thinking about the wrong god and wrong understanding of salvation.

And, as they have said to me so vehemently, "It's only a work of fiction!" Beyond the serious flaws, why use something that is suposedly a fairy tale in your evangelistic/discipleship endeavors. I guess when you compromise Truth, the distinction between fact & reality is meaningless.

People have put this exact same argument to me. They say, "It gets people talking about God." I respond by saying, "Then why don't we have a toppless choir in our church?" It would get people to church and get them thinking about God!

Mormon missionaries can get you thinking about god, but it isn't where you begin if you wish to know the one and only true and living God.

Fred said...

Good point Matt. You know, it would be folly to leave our coffee cup unattended, not keeping an eye on it, at a busy international airport as we go to the next shop to purchase something. The idea here that I want to interject is, like the coffee, the mind is also worth guarding, worth limiting access to it. We can not assume that all that is written, even by the so called "experts" or a nice, pleasant author is true or even good. Our modern society does not have a basis of knowledge to just uncritically accept the ideas and literature of the world, even if it is just called entertaining fiction. Words and ideas are powerful and have consequences.

We have come to think that knowledge is the amount of information we put into our minds. Most information is contrived by another to make you desire or accept their product or view. We as Christians should know better. We need taught by no man for we have the Spirit to guide us into all truth.