My Main Problem with The Shack

If you don’t know what The Shack by William P. Young is stop reading and go do something else worthwhile. If you do and you want a Christ-centered review of the content and response check Tim Challies here and Al Mohler here and a little Tim Keller here. Theologically, this book is an absolute mess, and Challies linked above deals with that in detail.

Spoiler Alert:

While I won’t review the whole plot, I will reveal some key moments in the book.

The Main Point

Here’s my main problem with The Shack as art and implied theology: the book fails to live out it’s main thesis.

The Shack is the story of Mack, a man who’s traditional Christian faith failed to survive the tragic loss of his daughter. Mack goes back to the shack where the crime was committed and has visions of the Trinity, in which God speaks to him.

The pinnacle moment comes when Mack enters a nearby cave which serves as a courtroom. To his surprise he is the judge and God is on trial. The moral of the story is simple: to deal with his pain Mack must trust God and submit to him as the judge of the universe. I agree with this premise.

The Main Problem

The only trouble is the rest of the book pretty much in its entirety. Rather than reflect a faith that submits to God as the ultimate authority in the universe, in The Shack, Young deconstructs and undermines the major tenets of Biblical Christianity: the Trinity, the Bible as God’s revelation of himself, the Church, salvation and forgiveness, and more.

As you read The Shack, it becomes clear that Young explicitly or implicitly believes that everything you know about Christianity is wrong. For example: should you read the Bible? Nah. “God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects.” Pastors and theologians are the real problem.

Should you go to church? Why bother? In the book, God’s not even at church: “You’re talking about the church as this woman you’re in love with; I’m pretty sure I haven’t met her… She’s not the place I go on Sundays.”

Does God save? Only if you choose him first. In the book God says, “In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship.” Perhaps the perspective here is everyone is ultimately saved. It’s hard to tell, other than that for Young, God seems to have left the matter up to us. Not a lot of hope in that gospel.

Inconsistent at Best

In the end, Young leaves the impression that we should trust God with our greatest pains and injustices, but we should not trust him in his Word or in his Church. We can’t have it both ways. Either God is the Creator as revealed in the Bible or he isn’t. Whatever the religion is expressed in The Shack, it clearly isn’t Christianity.

Side note- this book is an example of a common reaction to Christianity in the last 10-15 years: it assumes due to abuses and failures within the church that the entire system is irredeemably flawed.

The church is indeed full of broken people who fail, but our hope is not a stripped down Bible-less pro-God mysticism, but rather the gospel of Jesus Christ as proclaimed in God’s Word. Only that God can lead us through our pain.

On Disney Princesses, the Nature of Beauty, and the Glory of God

I have been blessed with 2 daughters, so this post was inevitable at some point in my life. Watching your 3 & 7 year old girls interact with Disney princesses is a truly priceless experience. After the 5th princess (no comments, please), the theological significance of what I was witnessing hit me. Work with me on this, I think it’s worth it.

The Nature of Beauty

When my girls first saw these full size, real life princesses in all their pomp and glory, I noticed 2 consistent responses: captivation and imitation. True beauty captivates us and produces in us a desire to reflect it. Allow me to elaborate.

My girls’ captivation was obvious: they couldn’t take their eyes off of the beautiful princesses. The gleaming dresses, perfect hair, sparkling crowns enthralled them. They couldn’t and certainly wouldn’t look away. True beauty captivates us. If you’ve ever been to the Grand Canyon or seen a majestic mountain range at sunset you get the idea. True beauty captures our attention.

I was expecting captivation, but the imitation caught me by surprise. Now it shouldn’t have, since they were dressed as princesses themselves. Nonetheless, I noticed that my girls mimicked the body language, movements, and even the voices of the princesses. True beauty produces a desire in us to reflect it, or imitate it. The entire fashion industry is built on this principle. What is beautiful shouldn’t only be seen, but it should be shared.

The Glory of God

As I’m sure happens with most dads, when these thoughts hit me in line to see Cinderella I immediately thought of Jonathan Edwards. He spoke about the glory of God as a fountain of perfection, excellence, and beauty. He posited that God’s beauty is meant to be seen and adored (captivation), and also to be repeated and shared (imitation).

In The End for Which God Created the World he said it this way:

…if the fulness of good that is in the fountain is in itself excellent, then the emanation, which is, as it were, an increase, repetition, or multiplication of it, is excellent.

The point is simple: God wants us to be captivated by his beauty, and to imitate it. Those concepts are evident in Paul’s prayer for us in Ephesians 3:16-19:

I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Note especially the end: he prays that we would comprehend Christ’s love that goes beyond knowledge (captivation), and that such comprehension would result in our being filled with God’s fullness (imitation).

Get in Line

We stood in line for what seemed like eternity to see these princesses. But they were worth it: my girls were not disappointed. I wonder, are we in line to see the beauty of God? When was the last time you were captivated by God’s glory? When was the last time you reflected his holiness?

This is what faith in Jesus Christ does to us. By faith, we are now able to be enthralled with God’s perfection. By faith, we are now able to walk by the Holy Spirit and reflect God’s glory here and now.

There’s always a danger to settle for lesser beauties. Don’t. God’s glory is the most magnificent jewel in the universe, and as we experience beauty in various forms, they are meant to drive us to contemplate him. He’s worth standing in line for.

The truth is, we will be captivated by and imitating God’s beauty for eternity. We know that when we finally meet Jesus face to face,

we will be like him because we will see him as he is.

-1 John 3:2

My Initial Thoughts on the CSB

Three weeks ago the kind folks at B&H graciously passed along an advance copy of the Christian Standard Bible, the major revision to the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

I highly respect the translation team led by Tom Schreiner and David Allen, and have enjoyed making reference to the HCSB in my studies. I agree with their general translation philosophy: accuracy and readability in a Bible translation are not mutually exclusive.

After kicking the tires on the CSB for a few weeks, here are my initial thoughts on three of the major changes from the HCSB:

The Elimination of “Yahweh” as a Translation of יהוה

The translation team acknowledges that rendering יהוה as “Yahweh” in the 6,828 times the word occurs would be cumbersome in English. There’s no doubt about this. They also rightly take a page out of the playbook of the New Testament authors themselves who usually render יהוה with κύριος (e.g., Matthew 3:3 quoting Isaiah 40:3). Their solution is to use footnotes in key passages where translating Yahweh is especially important. My preference would be to go ahead and leave Yahweh in those passages, but I understand the translation challenge.

The Removal of “Slave of Christ” as the Default Rendering for עֶבֶד and δοῦλος

They decided to “allow context to decide between ‘slave’ and ‘servant.’” This is the wisest course of action. Because translation deals both with current English word meanings and Biblical word meanings, each context will have the last say.

The Rendering of γλῶσσα as “Tongues” instead of Languages

The translation team decided to reverse their decision in the HCSB to render γλῶσσα as “languages.” They felt that to use “languages” was unintentionally unfrieldly to charismatic theological perspectives. Regardless of the theology, no one I know uses “tongues” in English to mean “languages” outside of a Biblical context (e.g., “I speak four tongues, and I’m learning a fifth”). The translation team sacrificed their accuracy and readability philosophy on this one. “Tongues” is neither more readable nor more accurate. I would rather see accuracy trump denominational concerns.

On Accuracy & Readability

In general, I have been pleased with the accuracy and readability of the CSB. I preach out of the ESV, but several times in recent use I have preferred the CSB rendering for clarity. Here’s an example where to me the ESV was too cumbersome:

Romans 3:25, ESV (the sentence starts in 3:22!)

…whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

Romans 3:25, CSB

God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.

No translation is pefect, if only because our understanding of the original texts is always growing and English is always subtly changing. That being said, I’m liking the CSB so far, and the test drive continues.

Christmas on a Sunday?!

Let me plead with you: worship Jesus with the gathered body of Christ on Christmas day.

This year, as happens from time to time, Christmas falls on a Sunday. Here’s the raw truth: church attendance at most churches on Christmas day is much lower than normal.

Why is this the case? In the best case scenarios, the intertia of family gatherings and traditions simply outweigh the priority of corporate worship. We are busy, and tired, and getting to church with x kids + cousins is just too much. In the worst case scenarios, we love our presents and our traditions more than Jesus.

I would like to offer a counter-cultural voice this year: make going to church on Christmas day a priority for your family.

Here are some reasons to worship with the church on Christmas day:

  1. Attending church on Christmas keeps the focus on Jesus. The point of Christmas is to celebrate the eternal Word becoming flesh to save sinners. Worshipping with the church will help you and your family keep Christ the central focus of your Christmas celebration.
  2. Attending church on Christmas teaches our families that Jesus and his mission are more important than presents and food. It’s hard enough as it is to keep our children focused on Christ in the midst of all the gift giving. When we skip church on Christmas day we unintentionally imply that other things are more important than Jesus and his mission.
  3. Attending church on Christmas encourages the body of Christ, especially those without earthly family. It’s easy to forget, but the church family is the family that will last for eternity. Earthly families are a blessing and important in our lives, but some of us have had to say goodbye to parents or siblings in order to follow Christ. We encourage those without families when we gather with them on a Christmas Sunday.
  4. Attending church on Christmas proves that we can say no to culture. Sometimes we just need to say no to cultural habits to remind ourselves that our agenda isn’t written by our society. From a cultural perspective, Santa overran Jesus many years ago. We can’t change that, but we can make sure it doens’t happen with the culture in our homes.

You might object: “We have a family tradition on Christmas morning. What does it say to my family to choose church over them?” Certainly travel plans and family schedules mean that we can’t all attend corporate worship on Christmas day. But many of us have a choice. I implore you to make the choice with God at the center of your priorities.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Family is good. Christmas is a unique time to share the gospel with many family members. Presents are good. We give gifts because God has given us the gift of a Savior in Jesus and eternal life in him. Traditions are good. They help us honor those who have gone before us. But Jesus and his church is better.

I humbly ask you, especially husbands and fathers, to make this Christmas about Jesus the Christ, and bring your family to worship with the gathered church on December 25th.

Exodus and Christmas

The story of the Exodus is the Christmas story. You might be thinking, “There are no Christmas prophecies in Exodus.” Read on, dear friend, read on.

The apostle John launches his gospel with 18 verses of majestic theological revelation about Jesus as the Word. John 1:14 brings this discussion to its focal point:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.-John 1:14

These bold words, inspired by the Spirit of God, hit the Christmas nail right on the head. They are rightly infused into our advent worship songs, and rightly preached on during the Christmas season. But there’s more to the story. At this point we might expect John to quote or allude to a well known prophesy about the Savior’s coming from the Old Testament. And why not? There are many to choose from. Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6-7 come to mind, or perhaps Micah 5:2?

But John doesn’t go there, he goes to Exodus. That’s right, Exodus. In John 1:14-18 he alludes to Exodus directly or indirectly at least five times. He probably refers to the Tabernacle (Ex. 25-30, 36-40) and God’s glory filling it (Ex. 40:34), to God’s continuing grace (Ex. 33:13), to Moses giving the Law (Ex. 19-40), and to God’s character being full of grace and truth (Ex. 34:6-7).

Why Exodus? If we think about the big of picture of Exodus, we find some interesting Christmas implications. Think of it this way: Exodus is the story of God redeeming the nation of Israel from slavery, speaking the Law to them through a mediator, revealing his grace and glory to them, and instructing them on how to live in fellowship with him through offering sacrifices.

John says this is what Jesus does for us as the Word who became flesh. He lived among us as our mediator, revealing to us the glory of God, full of grace and truth. He makes it possible for us to live in fellowship with God by offering himself as a sacrifice in our place, thereby fulfilling the Law and redeeming us from slavery to sin.

The story of the Exodus is the Christmas story. As we worship this Christmas, let’s praise Jesus for being the fulfillment of the Exodus story:

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.-John 1:17

Thanksgiving for the Supernatural

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.  Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

-2 Thessalonians 1:3-4

Happy Thanksgiving!  This year we are enjoying this unique holiday with our family in Georgia.  That means last night we regrettably missed our GPBC/HBC Thanksgiving Eve service.  That has to be one of my favorite services of the year, because of the testimonies of the church about how God has been working in our lives.  I love hearing the stories of God’s faithfulness to us in spiritual growth!

Spiritual growth is naturally impossible.  No person can simply decide to grow spiritually.  The Spirit of God must be at work for our faith to grow.  This is one reason why Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 that we should give thanks for faith that is growing and love that is increasing.

Spiritual growth starts when the Holy Spirit resurrects a person to spiritual life.  It continues as the Spirit teaches, instructs, convicts of sin, and guides the believer through God’s word and through the community of the church.  Any growth of faith is supernatural, and a primary reason to give thanks to God.

Growing Faith

I have seen faith growing in our church body as we learn more about who God is and what he is doing.  The Bible is our resource here, and the better we know our great God, the better we are able to believe him rather than the world around us.  It’s not just about learning, it’s about increasing in our love for God because we know him better.  I thank God because he is graciously growing our faith!

Increasing Love

I have seen love increasing in our church body as we relate to one another and to people in our community.  Whether it’s a prayer of encouragement or meeting a practical need, our church’s love for others is visibly increasing.  The testimonies of those who have experienced this love is humbling.  I thank God because he is increasing our love for others.

Even in Trial

Supernatural spiritual growth is validated as we face tough times.  Paul recognizes that the Thessalonians’ faith was steadfast through persecutions and afflictions.  This testimony through times of trial was another reason to give thanks for their growing faith.  Many in our church have faced/are facing significant trials.  I thank God because their faith has been steadfast through these turbulent times.

I thank God that our church is filled with growing followers of Jesus.  I can think of so many specific names and faces who bring joy to my heart because of their spiritual growth, some who have been Christians for longer than I’ve been alive and some who are brand new believers.  God is doing a supernatural work in our midst: we are growing in faith and increasing in love.  It is only appropriate that we thank the source of that growth.  Happy Thanksgiving!

So That You May Believe

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

-John 20:30-31

We are headed at full speed into the holiday season.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are upon us, and between Starbucks cups and black Friday advertising, we can’t escape it.  As is our custom at GPBC/HBC, we will be starting a new sermon series that focuses on passages from the Bible that relate to the first advent of Jesus.  This year our text will be the gospel of John 1:1-18.

John wrote his gospel with one clear, unambiguous purpose:

…but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

-John 20:31.

Every syllable in his gospel is aimed at the mark of faith.  Every story contributes to this purpose, including the first eighteen verses which describe Jesus’ arrival on earth.

John doesn’t launch his gospel with the earthly details of Jesus’ birth, but rather with the theological details.  Who is this Jesus who was born?  As he addresses this question in John 1:1-18, he challenges the reader to not only understand, but to believe.

This year, as you and your family celebrate Christmas with all of your traditions, don’t miss the point.  We remember that Jesus was born so that we may believe that he is the Messiah, the very Son of God, and by faith in Jesus, we receive life in his name.

As a bonus, after Christmas we will be continuing in the gospel of John.  What did Jesus do after he arrived on earth?  Why does it matter to us?  What does it mean to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God?

Our gospel of John series starts December 4th at both the Green Pond and Highlands campuses.  Join us as we take a much needed look at the glory of Jesus Christ through the lens of the gospel of John, so that we may believe.