Saturday, 18 February 2017

Bracing for The Shack (Attack)

Not long from now William Paul Young’s novel The Shack will be hitting the big screen. And in preparation for the inevitable wave of warnings about watching something that will no doubt plunge one into the depths of the eternal abyss; I have decided to post some thoughts of my own on the Shack. The reason that I am doing this is because when the book was initially released I was among those who were forwarding posts and telling others why they should not read it. The catch though was that like many of those who were writing about it or condemning it from their pulpits I too had not read the book for myself. Yet after hearing the author respond to some of the criticism in his own words and eventually reading the book for myself, I found myself having to repent for the irresponsible manner in which I had conducted myself and for my contribution to the false accusations that were being flung around regarding the book.

I think that it is safe to assume that we can expect a similar uproar surrounding the movie from those whose arguments will be based purely on hearsay. In fact they have already started popping up in my Facebook stream. Now we do not know for sure how true to the book the movie adaption will be, but let me help people out a bit by sharing which accusations laid against the book I found to have substance and which were blatantly unfounded. Starting with the charges that I believe had truth to them; people were highly upset by the idea presented in the book that God suffered along with Christ during His Sons crucifixion. This idea is in direct conflict with the theory of penal substitution which says that God was the one pouring out His wrath on His Son during the events that lead to His death. So if you are looking for the God of penal substitutionary theory in The Shack, not only will you not find it, but you will discover the exact opposite portrayal of a God who had not forsaken His Son but was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.
Secondly, others have said that the book claims that through Christ God has forgiven all of humanity, no longer counting their trespasses against them. I did indeed find this to be taught in The Shack. It seems to draw from the same verse (2 Corinthians 5:19) in the authors thinking as the first accusation did. On a personal note, the problem which I see here is that people seem to be confusing forgiveness with salvation. As if being forgiven automatically makes one ‘saved’. I find this to be problematic when we look not only at verses like the one already mentioned above in Corinthians but also in others as well. For instance, consider when Jesus was hanging on the cross and forgave those who crucified Him. I did not assume that to mean that all who were present at the execution in Calvary would one day be joining Him in eternity. Forgiveness is related to salvation for sure but I would not go so far as to say that they are one and the same thing.

Another charge laid against The Shack is that it promotes the idea that there exists no hierarchical structure within the Trinity. I observed this as well; Young seems to believe and teach that Father, Son and Spirit are fully equal and that submission and obedience are not necessarily signs of rank within the godhead but can also emanate from other sources such as love, trust and unison. Lastly, you will not find the concept of eternal conscious torment in hell in The Shack. I speak under correction here because I read the book many years ago and have only glanced over it briefly again for this blog. But I don’t actually recall any particular view of hell, be it eternal conscious torment, universalism or annihilation being championed in the book. Rather, I found the emphasis to be on God’s heart to save those who are damaged, broken and lost. As to how each individual’s story will end, the book never really gave us anything solid with which to form an opinion on, the author seemed more concerned with bringing across the idea that God is in the business of seeking, saving, restoring and healing those whom sin has entangled.

So if you are part of the reformed tradition within the church chances are that some, if not all four, of the above things might sound like downright heresy to you. Personally I try to read and listen to viewpoints that are different than my own from time to time because our primary objective, especially when it comes to theology, should be about discovering truth rather than about trying to defend the beliefs that we are already comfortable in. If what we know is true, then we have nothing to fear as it will stand strong when it is tested. But if we choose rather to live in a box, well, perhaps you may never be deceived into new falsehoods but you will most likely never grow out of any current flawed ideas you may have either.

Moving on then, there are a lot of charges that are laid against The Shack that range from perplexing to simply ridiculous and I will mention some of the main ones here. I find this to be rather disturbing because many of the claims that don’t hold up under the light lead me to believe that those making them were at best uninformed or at worst deliberately malicious and deceptive. Consider Mark Driscoll’s 8 minute Youtube video given in 2008 before his old church which accused Paul Young of promoting Modalism and goddess worship. The video (which has since being removed) had hundreds of thousands of views but here is the thing, the book does not promote either of those things and it has been reported that Driscoll later admitted that he had not actually read the book when he made his comments public. Now Jesus Himself warned us not to accuse anyone falsely so if we are going to say something publically, it is good practice to go to the source rather than blurt out accusations based on hearsay.

To quote from the book, on page 103 it says, “We are not three gods, and we are not talking about one god with three attitudes, like a man who is a husband, father and worker. I am one God and I am three persons, and each of the three is fully and entirely the one.” This is not Modalism nor is it Tritheism, this is orthodox by any of the major Christian creeds. Similarly, the charge of goddess worship does not hold up. Many people were offended by the presentation of God as a black woman. Let’s be clear, the book does not teach that God is a black woman and it goes through great lengths to explain this. Mack (the main character) had a stereotypical religious image of God in his head of a Gandalf-like character which is the reason given as to why Pappa (the Father in The Shack) appears to Him as a black female. The book is trying to smash our religious perceptions by turning them on their head; it’s not trying to build new ones. On page 95 we read the following, “I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature.” Now we know that God is Spirit, yet scripture always refers to Him in the masculine. So even though I appreciate what Paul has done here I have to admit that a lot of people these days speak of God using words like ‘She’ and ‘Her’ and I wonder if the popularity of The Shack may have contributed in some way to people speaking in this manner. While God is indeed Spirit and even though both genders are derived from His nature; I believe it is wise to stick with the masculine pronouns which Jesus, the Bible and the church have always used.

It is interesting to note here though that the word for the Spirit (ruach) is feminine in Hebrew and gender neutral in Greek. This is probably why Young went with a female character named Sarayu for the Spirit. This brings me to another accusation that has been made which is that The Shack contains New Age teachings in it. People have based that conclusion largely on the name and ethnicity chosen for Sarayu. But the name simply means ‘wind’ and is a clear reference to John 3:8. ‘Wind’ and ‘spirit’ are actually one and the same word in the original biblical languages so the name is actually quite clever (IMO).

Let me end off with a few closing comments and this applies to other books as well. There are things in The Shack that will rock the boat with many religious groups, much of that rocking was and is probably a good thing though. As to how much of what was put forward in the book will make it into the movie adaption remains to be seeing but as ambassadors of Christ let us play fairly in the following ways.

- If you have not read the book and do not intend on watching the movie then be brief and honest in your commentary on it. Stick with something safe like, “From what others have said I think I would rather just not watch/read it.”
- If you have read the Shack or do go out and watch the movie and end up disagreeing with something in it then by all means, voice your concerns but do so in a spirit of love, gentleness and humility. People are more likely to hear you when you reason with them rather than when you are arguing with them.
- Where uncertainty reigns, rather keep quiet. Try find podcasts or interviews with the author to hear his explanations before speaking up. I have heard countless of times authors actually agreeing with the people who are accusing them of certain heresies. Oftentimes, the accusers don’t even realize that the person is saying, “I am with you, I don’t believe that either and I was not saying what you think I was saying.”

For some good insights into what is ‘behind’ The Shack, check out the links below.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Jesus Untangled - A book review

I am a long time admirer of Keith Giles and his work, from every book and blog of his I have read I honestly can’t think of another person whose views across the board are as similar to my own as his are. So I was very excited to receive a review copy of his latest and greatest work thus far entitled Jesus Untangled: Crucifying our Politics to Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb.

This book is very well written and convincingly argued. What Keith has brilliantly done here is take the plain teachings of Jesus and placed them alongside the commonly held views of many American Evangelicals and revealed the vast contrast between the two. In his own words:-

"What if you cannot serve both Caesar and Jesus? What if you were actually called to live here as "a stranger and an alien" in this country? What if you were an ambassador here who was forbidden to pledge allegiance to another flag or nation? What if you were told not to become involved with the affairs of this world but to devote yourself completely to Christ and his kingdom?"

Keith makes a strong case from Scripture that we cannot serve two masters. Honestly I was surprised at just how much the New Testament had to say on this topic. He has also documented how the early church distanced itself from earthly politics up until the time of Constantine, even to the point of separating from those who were trying to live in both camps. He also documents how things went downhill once the church put down its cross and picked up the sword with the power of the state behind it. Historically speaking, every time we have tried to use the state to further the Christian cause we have ended up tarnishing the name of God. The two are at their core, are directly opposed to one another.

This book will challenge you to impact peoples lives from the inside out rather than through the power of politics, not for 'country and flag' but for the sake of Gods kingdom here on earth. It will challenge you to trust in the words of Jesus, particularly those found in the Sermon on the Mount, rather than in the power of your local authorities. A word of warning, Jesus Untangled will challenge you to lay all pride, including that of nationalism at the foot of the cross, it is deeply unpatriotic while simultaneously full of love for America and the people who live there. If that sentence doesn't make sense to you, you might just be a little entangled as well and should read the book.

You can learn more about Jesus Untangled or purchase a copy by clicking over here and you can connect with the author on Twitter by clicking here.

I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Monday, 16 January 2017

John MacArthur versus the emergent church

I recently read the transcript of an old interview Phil Johnson did with John MacArthur, the interview was entitled ‘What’s So Dangerous About the Emerging Church?’ The discussion itself could be summarized in MacArthur’s concern that post-modernism denies the truthfulness of scripture or at least that it can be understood with any degree of certainty. Despite the arrogance that oozed off of the pages much, though certainly not all, of what was said I would probably have to agree with.

However I am not overly concerned as to the actual topic of discussion that was had on the show, I am neither a Calvinist nor part of the emergent tribe. I will provide a link at the bottom of this article for those who want to go and read the particulars of that discussion for themselves. But the reason I have drawn attention to the interview is because it sort of confirmed some things about the NeoReformed crowd that I have long feared. That is that they often sound more like Bible-worshipers than Christ-followers. Yes, I do believe that one can actually make an idol out of the Bible.

Before reading the article, I decided to do a little experiment and jot down how often some key-words were mentioned. The word ‘Bible’ for example came up 47 times, ‘scripture’ 54 times, the ‘word of God’ 22 times, ‘New Testament’ was mentioned 4 times and ‘Old Testament’ 11. In total, 138 times Phil and John referred to the Bible, how much they love it, how it is the foundation of our faith, how it is central to our faith, how it is the truth, how committed too and anchored in it they were and how supreme it is over everything else.

Now I love reading scripture as well, it is the testimony of the prophets and apostles pointing to our Lord Jesus Christ. And we can and should be encouraging Christians to read it, to study it and to test what they have being told about it. It is good to do so, provided that we are using it as a tool to move people toward Jesus. This however is not what I see from the New Calvinists, in this lengthy interview Jesus was only mentioned 10 times and none of those occurrences had anything to do with His supremacy and centrality in all things. He was mentioned from a book title and in a quote from the book which they were condemning. He was mentioned in a couple of scriptural references to belittle two other men and the rest of the time He was mentioned only to validate their point regarding the supremacy and centrality of the Bible.

While I do believe that both Phil and John's  intentions are good and that they mean to lead others to God. I fear that the message they are sharing is unhealthy. The Bible is NOT central to our faith, Jesus is. The Bible is NOT the foundation on which we build, Jesus is (1 Corinthians 3:11). The Bible is not even the Word of God; I know that because the Bible tells me that Jesus is the Word of God (Revelation 19:13). Using Jesus to elevate the written word is like lifting a horse on your back and taking it for a ride, it’s all backwards.

“You search the scriptures because in them you think that you have eternal life but these are they which testify of me” – John 5:39.

If Jesus is only getting 5% the amount of attention as ANYTHING else does in your messages then something is wrong. And I do believe that this same experiment done over again with their writings as well as with like-minded preachers and teachers would yield similar results. When I read the New Testament, I see a bunch of guys who were constantly quoting from scripture with the intention of seeing Christ in it and pointing others to Him, what a man speaks most of is probably a fair reflection of what is dearest to him. Regardless of your tribe, I would encourage you to take the words below to heart.

Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. – Hebrews 12:2.

Post referred to - , October 19, 2006 GTY107

Monday, 2 January 2017

Book Update #2

Hi all and happy new year to each and everyone of you! For the last 4 years I have being working on a book but due to the business of life and other commitments progress was extremely slow. Eventually, I had to stop blogging as I was not getting anywhere trying to do both. I am happy to say though that the end is nigh, the book is in the editing and proof reading phase now and even the cover design is done! My goal is to release it in time for Easter since it is a book about the cross after all. There will be a limited print run (at least initially) to go with my limited budget but ebook versions will be available as well. I am looking into the possibility of making the ebook version available in a ‘Pay what you want’ format from my own blog space as well meaning that you will hopefully be able to get it for free!

Below I have posted some sneak-peak images as well which were taken from one of the earlier drafts to give you an idea about the content. In addition to more book updates there should be more and more regular blog articles popping up here again now as I am once again able to put some focus into other writings. Thanks for sticking around!

Grace and peace to you.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Patmos – Baxter Kruger book review

Although I have visited C.Baxter Kruger’s blog before, this was the first time that I have read one of his books. The book description for Patmos really grabbed my attention and was enough for me to break my sabbatical from blogging to pick it up and to do a review of it; the novel is about a guy named Aiden (from modern North America) who somehow lands up in a cave on Patmos with the apostle John for company. What follows are three days of conversations and experiences that will forever change his theological views and his relationship with God.

There are several conversational topics that are brought up along the way, from John’s explanations of his own gospel and the book of Revelation to what he insists are poorly translated texts in Aiden’s modern English Bible. Many of the conversations that we are invited to share in are amazingly beautiful simply because of the centrality and emphasis of Christ in all of them. My personal favorite chapter deals with the nature of the Trinity which was highly insightful but then again what else would you expect from someone who runs a website called The main emphasis in Patmos though is the idea of separation verses union. Did God in Christ reconcile the world to Himself or is mankind still separated from God but now able to find our way back home? That statement can be interpreted and misinterpreted in numerous ways and it probably will be by many readers. Many will no doubt read universalism into it which the book sometimes did seem to imply even though it never directly speaks of it.

One cannot help but draw comparisons with The Shack when reading Patmos. The concept is similar in that you have this story taking place in a remote place where a guy has this supernatural encounter resulting in a lengthy dialogue that turns the persons world upside down. The story is also used as a means to share certain truths about God (and destroy some false ones) which, on a personal note, I believe to be a powerful and underused method for teaching. I think that it is so easy to take a ‘left brained’ approach to God and systematically put all of our ideas into these neat little boxes that we can make sense of. But fictional works like Patmos and The Shack are probably closer to Jesus’ own style of teaching people about God and about kingdom living. Many of the red letters in the New Testament are found within the parables told by Christ Himself so there is definitely something special about conveying theological truths through the means of stories.

One of the small criticisms that I have is that even readers with a bit of a Charismatic background like myself might find it hard to keep up with the amount of dreams, visions and mystical experiences that are crammed into the three days which cover John and Aiden's time together. I found myself making a conscious decision to not think about it too much and chalk it off to a tool for the author to keep the story flowing and moving in the direction that he wanted it to go in. But let me emphasize that even if you disagree with the author on some of his ideas, Patmos contains so many wonderful ideas and truths that have for the most part been forgotten by the Western church at large, that one would be hard pressed to read it and not be touched by something of the beauty of Christ in it. I really did enjoy Patmos; it is more than just a novel in that it will have you chewing on the theology behind it just as much as the story within it. I love how it portrays the gospel as the news that Jesus is not just some accessory that we add on to our lives but rather it is the good news that He has received us into His own life. Our oneness with Christ and the oneness enjoyed between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as seeing in John 14 and 15 is perhaps my favorite portions of scripture and Baxter’s book expounds on this theme in such a way that you cannot help but excited about it. I highly recommend giving it a read.

You can learn more about the book or buy it by clicking over here and you can connect with the author on Twitter by clicking here.

I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Book update

Hi all

Just a quick message to those of you who have come here looking for new posts only to see that nothing new has been uploaded recently. The reason for this is that I have being working on my book on the cross again. I am pleased to say that the first draft has finally been completed and that I have started work on the second draft already. I am trying to keep the momentum going while it lasts but I am sure that I will be back here adding new content again soon.


Saturday, 23 July 2016

What is sound doctrine?

I am a theology nerd. If you want to have an awkwardly silent conversation with me just ask me about what I do for a living, tell me about your car’s engine and your new shiny phone or bring up some celebrity gossip. I just can’t bring myself to get excited about 'normal' things but ask me about how chiastic structures within scripture influences our hermeneutics (please do, I’m still waiting for this to happen at a party) and my face will light up and we will chat all through the night. So theology is important to me, it effects how we view God, how we view the world and how we treat others. And don't misunderstand what follows either, sometimes we need to correct people who are clearly teaching things that are in error and could cause division and harm down the road.

But I want to focus today specifically on what the Bible speaks about when it refers to sound doctrine which is a bit more specific than theology as a whole. About 9 years back I was in a church that believed its mission was to re-indoctrinate the church with our specific brand of fundamentalism. Right belief (orthodoxy) for us was more important than anything else, perhaps even more so than right living (orthopraxy). Of course this was not openly admitted, I’m not sure people were even aware of it but it was nevertheless evident in our fruits. This was what I thought of when I thought about sound doctrine. But let me shock you and state right at the beginning that sound doctrine has nothing to do with our opinions about Calvinism, our view of eschatology or what we think about dispensationalism. When the authors of scripture wrote about sound doctrine they did not have baptism or the cessationism in mind either. One friend of mine with a similar background says that his old church leaders complained that “when people start talking about love sound doctrine goes out of the window”. It is a common perception that sound doctrine refers to ones intellectual confessions apart form their actual lifestyles. So here is a statement of my own, when people start talking about love we are starting to discover what sound doctrine really is.

Let me explain by looking at scripture itself, many people call the Paul's letters to Titus and Timothy the Pastoral Epistles, if you are familiar with my ecclesiology then you are probably aware that I would disagree. I actually think that Titus and 1 Timothy in particular would better be known as the ‘Sound Doctrine’ epistles. Let’s look at some of the content from each epistle to see why I say that.

 In Titus chapter 2, Paul starts us off with these words:-

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.

let me emphasize that at this point, Paul does not see a squirrel, put down his pen and run off after it, coming back hours later to continue with a new train of thought. No, Paul spells out the things that Titus should be training and teachings others that is in accord with sound doctrine. Verse 2 - 5 carries on:-

"Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God."

I hope that caused you to sit up straight, Paul is not talking about the qualifications of elders here but about what is important pertaining to sound doctrine. He mentions things like self-control, love, purity and kindness. One would expect Paul, of all people, to get into things like the atonement and the sovereignty of God, instead he continues on in the same manner, telling Titus to encourage the young men to be self-controlled and to be an example to them by doing good, showing integrity and so on. He even goes as far as telling him to teach the slaves to honor God by honoring and submitting to their masters. Paul then wraps up the chapter on sound doctrine by giving us the ‘why’ of it:-

"For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. These, then, are the things you should teach." - Titus 2:11-15

Let me give credit where it is due, much of what I picked up above came from an excellent article written by Keith Giles on the same topic. But let me share a little extra from 1 Timothy as well.

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.  The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.  Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. – 1 Timothy 1:3-7

From here onward Paul shares a little bit about things that are contrary to sound doctrine. Interestingly, he does not bring up either evolution or young earth creationism. Rather, he mentions things like ungodliness, sin, profanity, violence, sexual immorality and so on (see verses 8-10). The rest of chapter 1 is devoted to the saving grace and mercies of Christ and how THIS belief deliveries us from all forms of ungodliness. The next 4 chapters lay out much of what was covered in Titus chapter 2, the importance of prayer, modest dress, submission, self –control etc etc. This continues on until we get to chapter 6:3 where Paul starts to wrap up, he starts off this section with these words:-

Teach and urge these things.  If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. – 1 Timothy 6:3-5

Then again in verse 20 and 21:-

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.
Grace be with you.

Wow. Doesn’t this change everything? I think I want to be a fundamentalist again and start pushing doctrine. But this time, it will be different; I’m not going to impose my philosophies on others and anathema those who disagree with me. This time, I am going to encourage others to good works, toward holiness and to follow in the footsteps of Christ. This time, I will look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17 differently:-

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (not for a good college education but) for teaching, for reproof, for correction (toward right living), and for training (not in self righteousness but) in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped (not for recognition as a spiritual guru but for) every good work.