Monday, March 29, 2010

P4E.134 A Defense of The Shack

As I said in an earlier post, I recently finished reading William P. Young's The Shack. I know it's not a new book, but I had only peripherally heard about it when it first came out. After reading it, I knew there had to be controversy so I was interested to hear what other people of note had to say about it. I found some reviews, but the one that sticks in my mind is a video of the erstwhile emergent Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, which I've embedded above. I believe that Driscoll highlights many of the criticisms that fundamentalists have voiced. And, I think the spirit in which he critiques the book and the author is also common among them.

I don't want to fall into my own trap here.

I know that what I say from here on could be construed as critical and judgemental. I think both sides of the discussion could claim righteous anger over the misrepresentation of God and Christ. I hope to make some constructive comments here.

In my post, P4E.132 Angry Jesus, I pointed out that Jesus reserved His ire for the Pharisees and Sadducees. I used words like "arrogant," "haughty," "smug," and "mean" to describe the religious leaders of then and now and conjectured that if Jesus were here today, some of today's religious leaders would suffer His anger. Mark Driscoll's scathing review of The Shack is to me a prime example of what I was referring to.

Please understand, The Shack is by no means a classic. It is poorly edited and when you realize that it is Young's first effort it is at the same time unsurprising and inspiring. The Shack was very popular and very controversial for its portrayal of God.

On one hand, Driscoll's church is aptly named Mars Hill, because he seems to put Young and The Shack on trial here. On the other hand, the Greeks at Mars Hill were much more open-minded than Driscoll because they invited Paul to come to explain and discuss his God. I think Driscoll's first directive to his congregation of "if you haven't read it, don't!" is at once, arrogant, haughty, smug and mean. Now, I know some will think me harsh for labelling Driscoll this way. My reply is that "It takes one to know one." In other words, I have also been arrogant, haughty, smug and mean about my "Christianity." This personal experience gives me some insight into how and why people end up this way (and what can be done to stop). Back to the "don't read it" comment, since when does the Church oppose the exploration of spiritual matters? I, for one, am not afraid to let Christianity defend itself in the free marketplace of ideas. Driscoll is condescending to think that the rest of the world can't figure out for themselves what to make of a novel.

Driscoll outlines his criticisms of The Shack in terms of idolatry, goddess worship and modalism (I've also heard the charge of pantheism). The very first and most obvious response is, "It's a novel, not a systematic theology!" But beyond that, would Driscoll and his lot condemn C.S. Lewis as an idolater and animal worshiper because he created Aslan the Lion as a type of Christ for the Chronicles of Narnia? What part of an art form would be admissible? Driscoll acknowledges that God is Spirit and neither male nor female and then mocks Young for daring to portray God as a black woman, a middle-eastern man and an Asian woman. He acknowledges that God is One God in three co-equal persons, a Trinity, and then takes offense that Young would actually write about God as such. If God created the Universe and His glory is revealed by it, how is it wrong to say that He is "in" it? "In" does not mean "is." If I pour my heart and soul into the design of a building, can one say that I am "in" the building? Does that mean the same thing as I "am" the building and the building "is" me? Frankly, God and the Trinity are mysteries. Anyone who claims to understand them is simply lying or deluded.

The amazingly ironic thing is that Driscoll makes Young's point(s) for him. Through his characters, Young lets us know that God is less concerned about rules and expectations and more concerned about relationships. He tells us in no uncertain terms that we should refrain from judging each other and that we are to forgive, unconditionally, just as God does. He warns us about judging God. In essence, I think the thing that appeals to Believers about The Shack is that it gives us an inkling that the God we have wrung out of Scripture is too small. That God, the real God, is a much grander, more robust, more cosmic, more universal, more forgiving, more mysterious, greater God than we have imagined. Certainly much different than the narrow picture of God that Driscoll paints.

Now to Driscoll himself. The amazing thing is that he is not alone. There are thousands of pastors out there like him. I wonder, truly wonder, what happened to him (and those like him) that made him what he has become. I pity him for the tiny corner he has painted himself into. My son described him as having a "cage-fighter" vibe. My wife rightly points out that if you watch and listen, Driscoll sounds and uses gestures like he is mowing people down with a machine gun. I wonder how those in his congregation who raised their hands when he asked who had read The Shack felt when he lambasted them and Young? This man cares nothing for those poor souls who found a loving, caring, careful, gentle-yet-firm, tangible God who cared individually about poor Mack and his missing-presumed-dead little daughter in a book like The Shack. He would rather berate them for being wrong in their thinking and understanding of the Trinity. Is that what we want in our spiritual leadership? I noticed a momentary pause when Driscoll said "Christians are not less than pastors, but Christians are to listen to spiritual leadership..." and that "...we are to honor good leadership." I wondered if at that very moment he had a doubt about how he was presenting the material and whether he was being an example of good spiritual leadership.

I pity Driscoll for it all. I honestly pray for a softening of Driscoll's heart. A yielding to the idea that, if you honestly admit it, the more you search God, the more you realize that you don't know much about Him. I know that some who read this may be fans of Driscoll. I hope you don't take too much offense and I ask you to pray for him as well that he will develop some humility, gentleness, kindness, and open his eyes to a whole other world that lies beyond his horizon.

Peace, Kim

"And I don't know anything about God. I don't mean that in a good way, like when people say that someone is wise because he admits that he doesn't know something. No. Seriously. I just don't know shit about God. Period." Gordon Atkinson- author, former pastor


  1. Howdy Kim. I found your blog after following one of your comments over at the High Calling. Great stuff out here on P4E. Went through a bit of self-induced marital crap myself, about 10 years ago.

    I, too, was a latecomer to The Shack (read it a few months ago). I was also surprised at the criticism of the book by so many, especially Christian folk. I guess my takeaway was that it was a fiction story, which gives the author a room for dramatic license, and I felt the story beautifully fictionalized God's passion to pursue us.

    Good analysis of both The Shack and the claims of this Driscoll guy.

  2. Thanks, Brock! I really appreciate your spirit and your comments. I'm always interested to hear what other guys have gone through in their marriages, especially if they've come out for the better. If you'd be willing to share, I'd be glad to hear it!

  3. We may not know a lot about God since he is infinite and we are not, but what we do know comes from men who walked with Jesus, heard his words, wrote them down and portrayed his heart to us.

    It's very dangerous to try and 'fill in the blanks' as it were with our imagination, and even more dangerous to fall in love with the new ideas. Scolding a believer for being anxious that his faith is being undermined by a fiction writer is just as wrong as scolding a congregation for reading a book which they believe is uplifting and enjoyable to read.

    Driscoll's criticisms are the same as many I have read about the Shack and Young is being portrayed as something of a heretic, but I think it is equally important to listen to these criticisms rather than tossing them out because they have touched something which you hold dear to your heart.

    I used to love CS Lewis' Narnia Chronicles, much the same as I loved Madelaine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time. Yet Lewis himself admitted that he loved the Pagan myths and that he was very much affected and influenced by them. It has always bothered me that he would involve Greek Gods and Goddesses in his stories which seemed to portray Jesus to me so personally, and also that he wrote that Adam's first wife was Lilith (an old story based in Pagan beliefs) rather than Eve. As a child, I didn't think in terms of the categories of literature, I thought in terms of a favourite author whom I considered a friend writing something which caused me consternation.

    These things bothered me as a child (I became a christian at 13) and now I understand why. If as a child this notion of mixing biblical and worldly ideas was disturbing, then it is important to look into the reasons for the disturbance. Is God speaking to us about mixture? The Bible is clear that we can have no fellowship with darkness and pagan ideas are very dark indeed. Are these ideas simply fantasy and therefore harmless? Fantasy is in fact based on fact. The Old Religions worshipped demons and demonic powers, yet we scoff at these now because we are so much more sophisticated.

    Young mixes many new age ideas with biblical ideas and this for his critics is both dangerous and deceptive.

    Please understand that much of the criticism of The Shack comes from those that are concerned for the purity of the faith, and while some of those criticisms may seem less than loving to you, they do come from a place of genuine desire to warn others about deception. It only takes a little leaven to leaven the whole lump, and only a little imagination to mix fact with fiction and come up with a whole nother understanding of who God is.

    Let's remember that God is who the Bible tells us that he is, and that no mere man can imagine a greater reality. While other christians may write great books about their faith, we don't really know who these people are, whether they are genuine believers or not, or what influences them or why they really write what they write.

    It is important I believe not to hold on too dearly to things which move us emotionally, rather to continually hold our affections up to examination to see whether they genuinely are contending for the faith or hindering it.