Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Shack

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines on The Shack:

Q:  Is the book, The Shack, Christian?  What does it teach about God?  Should I read it?

This is easily the question which I have been asked more often than any other during the past year.  This popularity to which this book has soared seems to be surpassed only by the size of the controversy surrounding it.  The Shack was authored by William Paul Young as a way for him to pass on his understanding of spiritual things to his children.  At the urging of a few friends, he self-published the book in 2007, and has since sold several million copies.

The events of the book are that Mack, the main character experiences a tragic event in his life, following which he is invited and travels to the “shack” which was the scene of the crime, where he meets God, who is portrayed as a large African-American woman (intended to represent God the Father), a young Middle-eastern man (intended to represent Jesus), and a young Asian girl (intended to represent the Holy Spirit). 

Because of the news I had already heard about the book, I knew this unorthodox portrayal of God was coming before I started to read, but I was willing to look further to see what the author had to say before giving up on the book entirely.

Now, before going further, I must say that the evaluation which follows is necessarily very brief, and therefore incomplete.  Readers who desire a more thorough look at The Shack may find my in-depth evaluation at

To begin, there are some details which The Shack initially gets correct as it attempts to describe God and reconcile the idea of a caring God with the suffering and tragedy which afflict the world.  Early on, the book does acknowledge that there is one God in three persons, as well as acknowledging the fact that Jesus is both fully God and fully human.  These facts are in agreement with the Bible and historic Christian teachings.  There are also many isolated quotes from the book, which seem to be refreshingly Christian in a time where much of Christian literature could more properly be called self-help than theology. 

However, as the book begins to deepen its description of God, it factually denies the teachings it first affirmed.  Instead of the Trinity described in the Bible, The Shack actually teaches a concept called Modalism or Sabellianism, which has been rejected by Christians as false for more than 1700 years.  It also gets Jesus wrong in regard to both his identity and mission, and it undermines the truthfulness and authority of the Bible. 

In addition to Jesus and the Trinity, there are also serious discrepancies between The Shack and the Bible in their views of government, authority, creation, God’s law, divine revelation, knowledge of God, sin, grace, vocation, and the Church.

The Shack is often sold as Christian literature, but is its view of God Christian?  According to its vision of the Trinity and Jesus, it is not.  Is its author a Christian?  Perhaps, but if so, he is a seriously misguided one.  Should you read it?  That depends…

For the mature Christian who is strongly rooted in the Bible’s teachings, reading this book with the careful understanding that it is not an accurate portrayal of the true God will not do any harm.  In fact, since so many people are reading it already, I would urge mature Christians to be knowledgeable enough about this book that they can help guide others around its pitfalls.  On the other hand, for those who are young, new to Christianity, or not already well-grounded in the teachings of the Bible, this book should would not be a wise thing to read, because it will  only serve to obscure, rather than reveal, the real truth about God.

The shack is an interesting read, and it does have the potential to make the reader feel good.  Many have even found great comfort in its message.  Unfortunately, it is a misleading comfort because The Shack depicts a different god than that of the Bible and historic Christianity and leads readers away from the true comfort which flows from the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hardened Heart

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines on the hardening of Pharaoh's Heart:

Q:  What does it mean when it says in Exodus that “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart”?  If God is loving and wants all people to be saved, why would He do that?

The idea of a “hardened heart” is occasionally found throughout the Bible.  When the Bible speaks of a person’s heart being hardened, it means that a person persistently resists God when he reaches out to them through Jesus, the Prophets, or the Apostles, as if their heart had a hard wall around it.  Over half of the instances of this wording are within or in reference to the events between Moses and Pharaoh in Exodus, and the remaining instances of this wording primarily speak of a person hardening their own heart against God or warn the reader not to harden their hearts against God. 

The Bible does say in that “[God] wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4), but that God would also harden a person’s heart against Him is not a contradiction.  Other Old Testament books comment on God’s hardening if Pharaoh’s heart, and clarify what happened.  Samuel points out that Pharaoh actively hardened his own heart against God (1 Samuel 6:6), and Joshua points out that the purpose for which God did this was so that He could save the people of Israel (Joshua 11:20).  Jesus also talks about God hardening the Pharisees’ hearts when they come against Him (John 12:40). 

Two Biblical truths are important to remember when trying to understand why God would harden a person’s heart against Him.  First, if anyone is saved, God always gets all the credit.  Second.  If anyone is lost and condemned, they themselves always bear all of the blame.  In the Bible, God desires to save everyone, but some reject Him.  Sometimes people fear that God might decide to harden their hearts against Him and they will be lost, but it is not necessary to be afraid of this.  God never hardens the heart of those who believe in Him or average unbelievers in the Bible, and it is never done randomly or spitefully. 

The Bible only attributes this action to God on very rare occasions, and in every instance of a heart being hardened in the Bible, it occurs to achieve some greater good.  Pharaoh is hardened so that God can defeat Him and save the people of Israel, who will later give birth to Jesus.  The Pharisees are hardened against Jesus so that they can have Him crucified to suffer punishment for the world’s sins.  Additionally, whenever someone in the Bible is hardened against God, it is always a person who has heard God’s message and seen God’s works, and persistently rejected Him.  God is simply allowing them to have what they already desire by allowing them to reject Him. 

Jesus says in John 6:40, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."  God’s will for the events of world history is to save as many people as possible, by all means necessary.  God knows all things, even those which have not yet happened.  Since He knows that Pharaoh will continue reject Him, He can graciously use his opposition, and even Pharaoh’s death, for His glory and to bring about the salvation of others by freeing the Israelites from slavery and even brought some of the Egyptians to trust in Him when they witnessed these events.  Even when God executes His wrath on an individual, he is doing so for the greater purpose of saving a multitude of others.