Thursday, June 19, 2008

True or False? Fact or Fiction?

I just ran across this great video by Bill Moyers dealing with our visual culture. It is inspired by the teachings of Neil Postman, a brilliant cultural and mass media critic. His writings and theories are extremely important, and prophetic.

What Moyers and Postman are getting at is the same point that most concerns me with "The Shack" by William Young. Fact and Truth are no longer relevant. It's just a matter of aesthetics; it's a matter of whether I like something or not. Truth is no longer something worthy of consideration.

Of course I know that "The Shack" is a work of fiction. I have no problem with this, but I must point out that truth and falsity still stands within fiction. For instance, if I'm reading a fictional work where a character explains that 2+2=5, then I can rightfully conclude that this is not true. It's fiction, but it's not going to influence my thoughts about mathematics. However, how can we as Christians be encouraged by a fictional story that conveys contradictions to the truth?

Decoding "The Davinci Code", I mean "The Shack"

We live in a world where fact and fiction blur. As a matter of fact, our postmodern world doesn't care about fact or fiction.

Earlier today I was thinking about the book "The Davinci Code." The Christian world was in an uproar over this book because of its challenge to scriptural authority. Book after book was written by Christians to decode the Davinci Code. The book is a well spun piece of entertainment. It can suck the reader into its entertaining grip. It presents history as though it were fact, but so much is fiction. And of course, Christians were aware that the myths would overpower most people's thinking so that they would take it as fact. Yet, I find it ironic that the Christian community is the number one consumer of "The Shack", which I find far more disturbing in its subversion of scripture. It is much more subtle in its presentation because "The Shack" presents no devil's advocate; rather God comes to us in sheep's skin. In the end, "The Shack" is a much greater threat to Christian thought than "The Davinci Code" could ever dream to be.

These lyrics from the OC Supertones have been running through my head today:

See wisdom and knowledge is one thing that we lack
You’ve been a christian how long and you’re still on similac
So I call on martin luther and all the reformation back
Then the common people couldn’t read god’s revelation
You had to be a monk or a priest or read latin
That was all before the revolution happened
But the fire cooled down ever since that generation
We put down the Bible and picked up the PlayStation
And we can't defend our faith
cause we don't even know it
We say we love his word but pick a funny way to show it.
The world walks by and we don’t have a thing to say
I call ’em as I see ’em
And that’s what I see today
-from "Return of the Revolution" by the Supertones

God the Father according to THE SHACK

(This is only based upon the 1st 94 pages of the book)

On page 94 of "The Shack" by William P. Young, Mack says to God the Father, who is at this moment a woman who goes by the name Papa:

"But then... why is there such an emphasis on you being a Father? I mean, it seems to be the way you most reveal yourself."
"Well," responded Papa, turning away from him and bustling around the kitchen, "there are many reasons for that, and some of them go very deep. Let me say for now that we knew once the Creation was broken, true fathering would be much more lacking than mothering. Don't misunderstand me, both are needed -- but an emphasis on fathering is necessary because of the enormity of its absence."

I will make three points about this controversial stance:

  1. According to Young, even before the fall, God knew that fathering would be lacking in an imperfect world, so He decided to emphasize this facet of his being. Or is it that we can see the areas of greatest potential for God to be imaged forth as being the most attacked and distorted? The enemy can only counterfeit and distort, he doesn't create. Therefore, we can detect the potential areas for greatest glory by looking at the areas that are most distorted and deficient in creation. But, of course, this would mean that the father/maleness of God is the genuine expression of God. This doesn't demean femininity in any way, nor does it relegate women to inferior status. Femaleness is part of the image of God; there is no denial in this. However, the point here is simply that the deficiency of fatherhood has a reason; and Young fails to acknowledge that the reason is that God's primary expression of himself is that of Father, which is why the enemy has so distorted this image.
  2. Consider the fact that if we were to apply "Papa's" reasoning with Mack about appearing as a woman ("Hasn't it always been a problem for you to embrace me as your father? And after what you've been through you couldn't very well handle a father right now, could you?" p.93), we would need to apply this to all of humanity since this is the story of most of humanity -- an absence of true fatherhood. If mothering is the cure, why would God decide to emphasize His fatherhood with all of humanity except for Mack? Why wouldn't He help Mack to understand Him as a Father? Why would he do the absolute opposite to the rest of the world, and fail to comfort the world as He did Mack? Like Mack, the world would be able to embrace God better if He were to reveal himself as mother. This is a circular argument.
  3. Most of all, Young's argument disregards the concept of Truth. Young doesn't portray the Father-hood of God as Truth; it's simply a counterbalance; even though he applies fatherhood with contradiction. The Bible reveals God in masculine terms. God always speaks of himself in the masculine. I can only think of a couple of verses where he uses imagery that parallels that of a woman (1. as a woman in labor gasping and about to cry out 2. as a mother who will not forget her children). Nevertheless, the overwhelming revelation of God is in masculine terms. The New Testament emphasizes the Fatherhood of God with a new depth of revelation beyond the old covenant. Further, Jesus is the Son, and His bride is the church. The only way to deny the TRUTH of this revelation of God in scripture is to deny the authority of scripture. Young does both. He denies the authority of scripture, and yet claims that God is the author of scripture: Papa tells Mack that He purposely emphasized His masculinity. So the authority of scripture is denied, but the author of scripture is God. The scriptures speak with authority about God as Father. Yet, Young's portrayal of God is that He was simply humoring us at best, which leaves us with a God we can't trust.
*****Please note that I am not criticizing Young's allegorical portrayal of God as a woman. Though I don't particularly dig his imagery, it's a personal matter of taste. I do concede to the function of allegory and fiction. However, I am criticizing what comes out of God's mouth. If Papa had never explained why she was appearing as a female, I wouldn't have made this critique. Or if it had been a better explanation like: "I felt like messing with your mind", I wouldn't have critiqued.

For more on fatherhood check out my follow up post.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Be CAREFUL with the word "Heresy"

So far, in Young's "The Shack" I have found nothing that I would consider heresy (as of p. 95). Questionable yes, heresy no. I would be careful to use the word heresy. Oftentimes Christians throw that word out when there is a difference of opinion regarding theology. We all have bad theology to some extent. And I believe that heresy can only be reserved for transgression of the most basic orthodox tenets of our faith. A great guide for this would be the apostle's creed:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Christian Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
I will highlight a few trouble spots and share a few thoughts.

pp.65 last paragraph discussion about the Bible
Mack is thinking back to his experience in seminary and he remembers how he was taught that God no longer communicates with man through any other means than the Bible. This particular passage has taken a lot of criticism.
  • On the one hand, I don't believe that the author was saying what his critics claim. If you read only a clip of this passage on a critic's website it will probably sound bad, which is why you need to read the whole context. It's important to note that Mack is not questioning the value or authority of scriptures so much as he is dealing with the view that God does not speak to us today outside of scripture. Many people believe that visions, dreams, and other supernatural communication with God are not biblical. This is the point in contention here. If you believe that God doesn't communicate outside of the Bible, then you'll be at odds with Young. However, it is possible to believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God and that although his primary communication to man is through the Bible, he also communicates in other ways. As long as these communications line up with scripture, they can be regarded as legitimate interactions with God (though not more authoritative than scripture).
The Father as a Woman

What strikes me the most is that this woman seems to be like the oracle in the Matrix. As a matter of fact her voice seems to sync with the oracle. That bothers me.

Further, I don't believe that the Father would appear as a woman. I really don't think he would take on the form of a human other than in the person of his Son. But I really don't know. I mean I guess God can visit us how he pleases. He visited Abraham, but I don't know if the Father was there; or were the angels representing God.
  • One light note: the only non-critical perspective I could summon from this was that I remembered a joke about how God likes to break out of our boxes: One time there was a black and white preacher who fought all the time over whether God is really black or white. One day they ended up killing each other. So when they were at the gates St. Peter said, "Oh, I don't know if I can let you in since you killed each other. I'm going to have to ask God." So he tells them to sit in the waiting room. While they're waiting they get into another fight, and as they're slinging punches they hear the sound of huge footsteps approaching, "boom, boom, boom, boom...." The door flies open. God sticks his head in and says, "Wuz up hombres?!"
p 94 Mack asks why there is such an emphasis in scripture on God being a Father. The reply from God is nothing short of heartbreaking. I truly feel grieved about this response, which is from the pen of Young and far from the TRUTH. I am now realizing that I will need to do a separate post for this subject.

Monday, June 9, 2008

"The Shack" by William Young

The Shack by William Young is a literary phenomenon as of late. I've heard a wide range of views on the book, so I decided I'm going to go on ahead and read it myself. I must admit that I have some reservations about the theology of this book. At first, when I heard about it, I thought, "what's the big fuss? Why do people always get so worked up over something a little different?" But the more I've heard, the more I'm suspicious that there is more than just a different perspective. As terribly unpopular as this might sound, right thinking about God is essential. Bad theology wrapped in pathos changes minds for the worse.

I don't deem myself some keeper of the faith. I am no fundamentalist, yet I believe the scriptures are the inerrant word of God. I believe it's the primary source of God's revelation to humanity. I also believe that God speaks in multitudes of ways through people, vision, dreams, revelations, and day to day circumstance. I have no problem with this, and I have no fear of experience. As a matter of fact I think experience is essential to acquire biblical knowledge.

However, I am deeply concerned about the corrosion of thought within our entertainment saturated culture. Fact and fiction have blurred together. The news is reported by entertainment conglomerates. What we see is what we believe. Critical thinking is less common, and therefore most everything is accepted as true. It all looks real in our virtual world. It feels so real. Therefore, it must be real. As a matter of fact, what's real is boring and so we turn to our visual techno entertainment "realities." Our productions of art that supposedly represent the world but in fact have enslaved the world to mimicking and loving the art more than the reality...

These might not seem like theological concerns, and honestly it's this social reality that concerns me more than any other. The postmodern departure from a logo-centric world has left the church with a dangerous propensity to abandon the true master narrative for lesser stories that sound so good. Stories like this one by Young might grab our hearts and ring "true" in our souls. But we forget how convoluted our world has become with the simulation of fact to create fiction to create fact to create fiction to create fact...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

John Eldredge, The Way of the Wild Heart

This video is an interview with John Eldredge, author of "The Way of the Wild Heart". He hits on some points even in this video that weigh heavily upon my heart. The idea of rites of passage for boys has almost vanished from our culture, and its consequences are terrible. I am pained when I see how easily our adolescent boys slip off into the oblivion of inflated ego, peer worship, impulsivity, techno consumer gluttony, visual fantasy, and peter-pan escapism. How can we the church be so passive as to let this keep happening? The problem isn't video games, it isn't Hollywood, or the internet. It's a Fatherless generation. Maybe even a manless culture. Where are the men? Why aren't men of God reproducing men of God? Where is the Spirit of Elijah to turn the hearts of the Fathers back to their children?