Thursday, October 30, 2008

Book Review, The Shack, by William P. Young

Since July of 2008 or earlier, one book has held the coveted top place on the New York Times Bestseller list for trade paperback fiction (see
The Shack, written by William P. Young, tells the story of Mack, and how he suffered under a father who was an abusive alcoholic growing up. If his background weren’t bad enough to drive a man towards rock bottom, Mack suffers even more from a recent loss, when his daughter went missing.
One day, years after the tragic events, Mack slips and hits his head, then receives an invitation from God to go back to the shack where his kidnapped daughter Missy’s trail left off, and meet God there.
Mack does meet God, or Papa, as she is called. Yes, she. The old, wooden, run down shack is transformed into the most pleasant cabin by a river Mack could imagine, with sunny days, a beautiful garden, fish waiting to be caught and eaten, Papa continuously cooking in the kitchen and serving him, and the entire Holy Trinity is there as well. The purpose of the visit is because Mack needs healing, not just from the pain of his missing daughter, but also the unresolved pain of his childhood.
Papa is portrayed as an African-American woman, first to defy the stereotype of a Caucasian/Anglo God who has an old white beard, kind of like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings; second, because Mack is not ready to see God as Father because of Mack’s horrible experience with his own father. God contextualizes his messages all throughout the Bible and today in different cultures, and this is therapeutic for Mack in the book, but God never appeared other than a male in Scripture.
Jesus is the most accurately portrayed member of the Holy Trinity in this book. Jesus even looks Jewish. Surayu, the Holy Spirit (a name from another language) is a woman/spirit. Young paints the Spirit as the most difficult member of the Trinity to put in a box. She is full of color, phases in and out of focus, and travels as a spirit would, as opposed to the other members of the Trinity who are human beings to Mack.
What do I think of The Shack? I have recommended it as a good read for those who need healing from a significant loss, as a starting point. If you read this book alone, you will have an incomplete understanding of the biblical view of the Trinity, at best. The patient compassion of God in dealing with our hurt is well represented here, as is the reminder that God felt deep pain when God the Son died for the sin of the world (not just sins, but sin itself). There is no doubt, this book will help heal all who have been wounded and are limping because of it.
On the theology of the book, I emphasize to the reader that The Shack should not be considered as a tool for studying sound biblical theology; neither do I think Young had that in mind. It is a tool for healing deep pain and loss. Whenever we read an author’s work and he has God explaining theology, and whenever that theology sounds logical or rational, we are tempted to take it at face value. But mature Christians must always compare it to Scripture and the complete biblical and systematic theology of the Bible. In light of this, I must point out some pages that contain theology to watch out for:
First, on page 99, Papa explains that Jesus never used His deity while on earth, but always acted out of His humanity. He could have used his powers as God the Son, but He didn’t. He performed miracles because he fully lived out his relationship of love with the Father as God wants every human to do. Implied is that any human can do anything Jesus did while on earth, if he only has a close enough relationship with God. Mack asks about healing the blind, and Papa replies that Jesus depended on God and trusted God’s life and power to work in Him and through Him. Then he states, “Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone.” What is the problem with this? Young states, “That came as a shock to Mack’s religious system.” That’s a good thing, and it should come as a shock to our own religious system. Jesus is fully God and fully human, and we can’t have one half Jesus and not the other. Events such as the transfiguration, forgiving the lame man’s sins (something the religious leaders commented that only God could do) were not meant to demonstrate how a human can be used by God. They were meant to show that God had become human. He did not use His powers at times, but He could have called 10,000 angels and they would have come to their Lord’s aid on the cross.
There are some parts of the book where Young takes creative license, such as the discussion on p. 106, where God states He limits His knowledge when communicating with people on purpose in order to see it from their perspective. This can be harmless speculation, but be careful of drawing God’s boundaries. The discussion on p. 122 is inconsistent with the creeds of Christianity, because we do hold that the Son proceeds from the Father eternally, and the Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son.
However, p. 145 hits the essence of Christian community. Jesus explains that while He is Lord, He has never forced His will upon any of His subjects. He exemplifies reciprocal submission. On p. 149, Jesus tells Mack that submission is something that a person can do only through Jesus being in him or her. That is very accurate.
On p. 182, Jesus tells Mack that He has followers from every religious background and every political or racial background, and then, “I have no desire to make them Christian.” Young is trying to again separate having relationship and community from established religious systems that are there for the sake of religious systems. However, the goal of Jesus was and is to make Christ followers, which is what a Christian means. Jesus says in the preceding paragraph that He isn’t a Christian, and that would make sense, but His genuine followers are.
On p. 206, God tells Mack that He has no expectations of Mack, and therefore Mack can never disappoint Him. God goes on to explain that priorities and hierarchy are dangerous because they can lead to God having only a portion of our lives. This clashes with Jesus’ teachings in the Bible of clear hierarchy (i.e., “if you want to be the greatest in God’s kingdom, be the servant of all,” and the first and second greatest commandments).
This book has a unique theology in many ways because the author spares no tangent to explain community in the Trinity, community between God and humanity, and finally community between humanity and humanity as it should be (i.e., forgiveness). Everyone has pain, and everyone’s pain is real, and it hurts. As you read this book, read it for that purpose, not so much for the theology. This book is therapeutic and emotionally helpful, but don’t use it for sound theology. I would even wager that Young did not intend it for that purpose. Hopefully The Shack will continue to help many people begin a journey of healing towards their loving God.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Church in Marriage, pt 2, Ephesians 5:22-24

The last entry contains general command for submission--everyone must decide to submit themselves to the other members of the body of Christ. Ephesians 5:21 commands this, and sets up the rest of chapter 5 and beginning of chapter 6.
In Ephesians 5:22, Paul directs his attention to wives, the first application for the marriage. The subject is "How does a wife following Jesus apply the command in verse 21 to her marriage?" Or, "What is God's design for a woman to have a happy marriage?"
In vv. 22–24, wives are to submit themselves to their husbands as to the Lord. What is a wife’s command from the Bible to live like a redeemed person in her marriage?
Is it submission? What does that mean? Never having things her own way?
The word upatassw (uJpatavssw [hupatasso]) (no Greek text for this post yet. To see the spelling in Greek, use the teknia Greek font after copying and pasting the words to a Word doc), meaning “to cause to be in a submissive relationship; to subordinate”
It isn’t in v. 22, but it’s meaning is—most English put it there or it would be confusing (part of translating). It is passive, meaning “be subjected/submitted to one another.” In other words, make yourself available to serve one another. A husband cannot command his wife to serve the Lord by submitting. If he does, he has just taken away an opportunity for her to show her loyalty to Christ. Likewise, a wife cannot command her husband to sacrificially love her. In the same way, if she does, she has just taken away his opportunity to initiate submission to his wife and to the Lord.
Is submission Respect; i. e. v. 33 as well? Yes, read 5.33. The meaning is to subject oneself to her husband as well as to respect him. This is important (below).
Who is it towards? What does “as to the Lord” mean?
It is for the Lord, not for the husband.
Husbands—Men! You are not worthy of the kind of submission the Bible asks your wife to give you! Jesus is! It is for Him! (Sorry husbands!)
A man and wife attended a marriage seminar and a chauvinist speaker rallied the men to believe “The man is in charge! 100% of the house! Wives bow to their husbands’ every command!” The husband drove his wife home and she was fuming, but he was excited. Upon arriving home, he told her point blank, “That’s exactly the way it’s going to be around here from now on! You got it? I’m in charge!” After that he didn’t see her for about 2 weeks. After two weeks, he could start to see her just a little bit out of one eye.
Application: I know that some women will read/hear this message and are hearing exactly what they don’t want to hear. I know it sounds like I’m sentencing you, but trust God’s word.
But this answers the question many women keep asking: “How do I have a happy marriage?” Depart from the mindset that says, “I have a right to do what I want to, when I want to do it, no matter what my husband thinks!” “I’m going to dominate him, and he won’t even know it!”
You’re not only going against your husband (and if he’s loving, why are you doing that?) You’re going against the Lord.
This is just as bad as your husband living as if he did not love you, women. Have you ever met an unloved wife? Shrivelled up women inside. Bitter. Just like a disrespected husband. Awful. Requires deep surgery and counseling.
Objection: But Pastor Nate, you’re old fashioned! That’s not the way the world works today!
Reply: Well then I’d better change, because we all know the world is getting better and better, especially in the U.S. Right?
That is the gospel of late 20th century liberal thinking and has resulted in more and more unhappiness. Dr. Laura Schlessinger shares her views on how the philosophy of women placing themselves first has resulted in unhappiness for them and their families. (see for one example).
The mistake often made when looking at Scripture is to start with our current society and assume that we are better off today than when the Bible was written. We read today into the Bible say, for example, "Since women can be CEO's, certainly the idea of submitting at home is out of date." While we are better off in scientific and medicinal advances, as well as in many other areas, we are far behind the time of Christ in many academic, mental, and spiritual disciplines. The contentment of women being better in the 21st Century than it was at the time Paul wrote Ephesians is debated.
We also assume that equality of value means equality of function. God has designed certain aspects of His economy so that we aren't meant to always understand the "why" behind what He does. For example, why were the Levites alone able to touch the Ark of the Covenant? We don't know exactly why (we guess based on their zeal for God earlier), but we know that when a non-Levite wanted to touch it, he was struck dead. Why did God say in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus one for an elder/overseer/pastor of a church to be a man of one woman? (I do think the Biblical pattern allows for some occasional exceptions, and you can't read Scripture and deny that following a Biblical pattern allows for God to raise up women occasionally as pastor/shepherd of His people. We can get into the percentage of men vs women and other questions or points of view in another entry). The point is, we don't know the "why," but we do know the "what," and need to have faith and obey. Again, this is counter-cultural, and I believe there are rare, occasional exceptions, but that is for another blog.
Speaking of "not knowing the 'why,'" I don't even know why Jesus trusted human beings with sharing the great news of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection as the only payment for mankind's sin, and that all who believe will have eternal life! I suppose that would be like trusting a toddler to deliver a $1million deposit at a bank for you, passing candy stores for several blocks on the way. Why did He tell us to go into all the world? It would have a higher success rate if He would just go into all the world and save people! We don't know the "why," but we do know the "what," and our job is not to keep asking God "why" once we are sure we understand the "what." Trust that He who saved us is able to keep us, and has created everything a certain way for our good and His glory. Usually we're happier doing things God's way.
Here, why did God say that women were to submit to their husbands for leadership in the home and respect them? We don't know the "why," but we do know the "what," and must trust Him and obey.
From my experience in counseling marriages over the last 8 years, I have learned that if there is a failure in marriage, it is either a) the wife is not respecting her husband, b) the husband is not loving his wife, or c) both.
Elizabeth Elliot, one of the Mother Theresa’s of the Protestant world, whose husband was killed by Auca Indians in the 1950’s, said this on wives submitting, “Supreme authority in both church and home has been divinely vested in the male as the representative of Christ, who is Head of the church [Christ is head, not men]. It is in willing submission rather than grudging capitulation that the woman in the church (whether married or single) and the wife in the home find their fulfillment.”[1]
If we obey every desire of our flesh we eventually will end up with nothing, but if we submit ourselves to God’s will, God’s way, we end up with “every good and perfect gift, from above!”
There is one exception: An abusive husband or wife.
What is the bottom line for a wife in applying what Ephesians 5:21 says to her marriage? Respecting your husband. Respecting people is not as important to most women as it is to men. It is difficult for many women to understand why it is so important for us men. Men value another man or woman's respect more than almost any other social quality. Even when men confront other men, usually it is in a joking or sarcastic manner that breaks the ice. Direct confrontation happens only as a last resort, and even then only if the man believes he will come out better in the end. Men don't pick fights with men they believe can beat them.
Wives: Your husband will shrivel up and die if you don’t show him respect. It’s what your man needs more than anything else in marriage besides his eternal salvation from the Lord. A man can walk across broken glass and work ridiculous hours at his job, bend over backwards for his wife, and become a superdad if he believes his wife respects him.
1) do something spontaneous to show your husband that you love him.
2) Find an area he excels in, and encourage him in that. If you believe he deserves credit or praise for accomplishments (past or recent. Recent are more effective), then make sure you tell him.
3) When at an impass (this is the hard part, especially coming from me, a man!) give in and let him take responsibility for leading your home. He will fail sometimes, and hopefully will try to be a servant leader and loving husband.
Application: Wives—start showing respect for your husband. Someone has to start the cycle up again if it has died, where husbands love their wives and wives respect their husbands.
Objection: But Pastor Nate, what do I do if my husband is not loving me? I’m glad you asked . . .
[1] George Sweeting, Who Said That?, s.v. submission.

Monday, October 20, 2008

First Entry, and The Church in Marriage, pt 1

This is my first entry into Ebed Adonai. The term means “servant of the LORD,” (pronounced like "Eved" in Hebrew). Out of respect for all those who consider the Old Testament Scripture sacred, we say "Adonai" for the Lord's Name. I’m a pastor, and the purpose of this blog is to chart my sermons, devotionals and teaching opportunities. It will provide discussion and accountability as well (if anyone reads it!).

The Church in Marriage, pt 1

I read recently of an interview with Vince Lombardi. He was asked about the key ingredients to a successful winning team, such as he had produced in Green Bay over forty years ago. His answer indicated something deeper than the game; a lesson today’s athletes and coaches can be reminded of. He named the basic ingredients for a successful football team, and then said there was one other ingredient that was absolutely essential. Caring for one another. The team had to care for the others guys on the team. Instead of thinking, “Well, this is my blocking assignment, and I’ll do my best,” the guys cared for one another. They thought, “If I don’t block this guy, my teammate’s leg could get broken.” They loved each other.
This illustrates the principle in Ephesians 5:21, which is the theme for the next twenty one verses: “and be submitted to one another in the fear of Christ,” or “out of fear/reverence for Christ.” Examples are given on how to do this as a Christian in marriage (5:22–33), with parent/children relationships (6:1–4), and in working environments (6:5–9). If you haven’t read Ephesians 4:1–6, take a minute to do it before reading this further. That passages is where Paul begins to make specific applications for how we are to treat one another in the church of Jesus Christ. The following is the outline for submitting ourselves to one another, with key points.
I. V. 21, You and I must submit ourselves to one another.
a. Followers of Jesus are to submit to one another because of Jesus.
b. The believers at Ephesus were to submit to one another.
c. Applied in marriage (5:22–33), Home (6:1–4), work environments (6:5–9).
i. The phrase in v. 21 shows us that we are not to place people above ourselves, but our motivation is Christ. We treat others above ourselves not because they are, but because Jesus is. It is out of reverence for our Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the church.
ii. When we were children, we obeyed our babysitters. Why? Not fear of the babysitter, but fear of the parents when they came home
iii. Jesus will come and judge our actions at the judgment seat of Christ. For that reason, if no other, resist the urge to dominate others, and submit yourself. Forsake yourself. Place yourself in subjection.
iv. Be humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love (remember Ephesians 4:1–6). (Read that if you have not recently).

Next time . . . verses 5:22–24, a wife’s application of this in her marriage, if she is a follower of Jesus.