Sunday, 29 March 2009

The Shack

Recently I posted the following apparently innocuous statement as my facebook status: "OddBabble wants to talk about The Shack." The following documents the surprising response:

Susanna Adlem at 18:20 on 27 March
I didn't love it, still reading it though.

Kevin Hargaden at 20:03 on 27 March
I'm in London in a few weeks. Fancy a chat then?

Louiz Kirkebjerg Nielsen at 20:43 on 27 March
I love it love it. Talk to me about it when you have time. x Louiz

Tanya Marlow at 21:49 on 27 March
i half loved it

Rachel Anne Burns at 00:46 on 28 March
haven't read it, though initially wanted to. This and other reviews pretty much some it up for me and I'm happy to leave it alone, wondering why so many Christians pursue a desire to read what is heresy when the bible gives a much more complete picture of who God is and of the nature of and answer to suffering.

Rosalie Lewis Garwood at 02:02 on 28 March
It's a shame that you haven't read this yourself, Rachel. Why would you form an opinion on something you don't know anything about. What about those who mock the Bible and say it isn't God's Word? Do you go along with that too? I have two copies of this book oh my desk and am in the process of reading it. Here is another website you can check out. Maybe it will give you a more balanced view of it.

Rachel Anne Burns at 08:55 on 28 March
I've read the review, but I found nothing in it that would cause me to change my opinion. Should I read pornography in order to form a balanced opinion on it if it's something I know nothing about?

Kevin Hargaden at 09:47 on 28 March
So the Shack is like porn? This is a new kind of argument right here. Your ideas intrigue me Rachel. Can I subscribe to your newsletter?

Badger Burns at 22:24 on 29 March
lol Kev, there was a link pasted of a fair review but did you visit it?The point merely is why put your head under a steam roller just to see what happens

Badger Burns at 22:34 on 29 March
and taking my own medicine now :pI have just read the site suggested by Rosalie. The title of the blogspot kinda put me off kilter immediately. My growing frustration about the book is that whenever any criticism is levelled at it the counter argument that is offered is that it is a work of fiction.My huge criticism of the author and /or publishers is that they are saying that the book is being used massively by God.I dont understand why God would endorse a book saying that Jesus does not want people to become Christians and that we limit God to the pages of the Bible.A book that He Himself chose to 'limit' himself by in describing himself.

My response to all of this is as follows:
I am someone who holds the Bible in the very highest regard: I consider it to be the words breathed of the God who made the universe. I consider it to be infallible. I consider it to be the only and true epistemological, ontological, philosophical, theological, stuffofeverydaylifeological authority.

Yet I see no contradiction between holding this view and believing that as His created creatures create and interact, God provides echoes, glimpses, shadows, pictures, parables and whispers that point to Himself and His character. In this way I can glimpse God in lots of places which are not the Bible.

For example, I was reading about how ants (the most amazing creatures on earth) exist as a superorganism. They interact like one huge insect whose different limbs perform different roles, each for the benefit, growth and nurturing of that wider body. What a helpful analogy for the way Christ longs for the church to function, I thought to myself.

Or there is the Ani DiFranco song which has the line: "What kind of paradise am I looking for? I've got everything I want, but still I want more." Wow, that really reminds me of how much I strive and drive myself in all kinds of ways, but never find myself satisfied by it. She's got it right that I'm looking for a paradise, except that it really exists in heaven, I thought to myself.

Or there is the Victor Hugo novel Les Miserables, and the musical of the same name, in which Jean Valjean, having stolen the silverware of the benevolent bishop who had offered him shelter when no-one else would, finds himself rescued by that same bishop when JV is caught, by claiming to the cops that the silverware was a gift, offering his two silver candlesticks as well, chastising him to the police for leaving in such a rush that he forgot these most valuable pieces. What a clear and creative picture of God's grace in not giving us the punishment we deserve, and heaping blessings on us instead, I thought to myself.

Or there's the work of fiction, The Shack, which is a made up story, but which explicitly seeks to think creatively about God and offers a view of Him, a shadow, a human thought, about something against the backdrop of the final authority of the Bible.
Sure, there are things that William P. Young (is this just actually Will Young having a laugh at us all?) says that I don't agree with and that I don't think are particularly biblical. So, I ignore those things and read on, remembering that The Shack is not the Bible - the Bible is. I'm happy to disagree with one or two lines of a work of fiction.

I should perhaps come clean here and admit that I have a soppy subjective reason for liking The Shack. There's a scene in it where the protagonist spills out his rage towards God about the suffering he has experienced, screaming passionate, bitter and tear-drenched words to a God who responds, not with wrath or retaliation, but by inviting him in to eat a specially cooked dinner.

There may have been a clue [a few posts ago] that I had one or two issues with God that I was pretty hung up about myself. This little passage in this novel reminded me that God knows those angry thoughts already, that good relationships mean communication, not sulking, and that God is gracious, kind, patient, generous, merciful, gentle and compassionate.

This led to a dramatic and renewed intimacy with God that any friend has when they finally admit what's on their mind, make up, & get back to the business of enjoying the relationship. If it's not God who brought that reconciliation about with His daughter, I don't know who did. God can use flawed books that get things wrong, just as he uses flawed people, like me, who get things wrong.

I could easily have spotted any of those things in the Bible, but that same holy book tells me that Jesus calls his followers [sheep]. That's to help us remember that we're often stupid, slow, myopic and in need of a shepherd. Sometimes this sheep needs a bit of outside help to point me back to the Word that is true and reliable. Sometimes God uses flawed, imperfect means to point us back to His perfect Self.

It strikes me as a shame, a real shame, if we close our eyes to the many and wonderful ways that God shows himself through all kinds of creative endeavours, simply because the person creating it sometimes (always, in some way) gets bits of it wrong. We are throwing the God-glimpse baby out with the wider cultural bath water.

Yes, I do get the fact that Young seems to be setting the book up as some kind of new Christian manifesto, and that this means we might handle it differently to a secular song or book about ants. But I still don't feel it's necessary to go to the extreme of saying that by reading it I am expressing a desire to water down the Bible as my ultimate authority. If we are thinking Christians, surely we can read, listen, view anything through the lens of Scripture, discard the parts that contradict it, and rejoice in the creaturely things that help point us back to our, and their, Creator.

I doubt this post will have changed anyone's minds on this, but the joy of a blog is that I get to rant uninterrupted for a while and bask in the warmth of my own opinion before the comments begin to pile up...


kevin hargaden said...

My comment can be the first to pile up.

Ani Di Franco? You know she is a LESBIAN!!!!1!!! (More outraged exclamation points!!!!)

Anne Witton said...

I love what you said, agree with you (of course!) and I think you're brilliant!! xx

JJ said...

Actually... Ani is bisexual... and is now married to a man. Not that this is in any way relevant to anything.

I was not a huge fan of the Shack... not so much the content, but the writing style. It just rubbed me the wrong way for some reason.

That having been said, I did like a lot of what he had to say about the nature of God and the way He views us. The part that really resonated with me was how Poppa would always say "I'm especially fond of ..." whoever she was talking about at that point in time. That really resonated with me as a teacher. I often find myself thinking about different students of mine, and whoever is on my mind at any given moment is the child I care about the most at the moment. That way Young worded that helped me in understanding God's immense, yet somehow intimate love for me.

Incidentally, I stumbled on your blog through a google alert on Ani Difranco (I'm a fan, in case that wasn't evident). If you want to check out my blog (which hasn't been updated in a little while) it's here: Christian, Gay and Confused

Nathan said...

It's funny how people judge your theological standpoint (for this read: "judge you as a person") for whether or not you like a certain book. I love C.S. Lewis but he has some ridiculous views on things. I don't need to agree with the whole thing to find it helpful.

The book seems to have a lot to say about suffering and hurt in God's world and how we can relate honestly to Him about the crap in our lives. Are there better books on the topic? Almost certainly, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be read.

However, if you're reading it as a theology of the Trinity, you're reading the wrong book. All analogies of the Trinity will be flawed, but this one is particularly not helped by all the people saying "Now I've read The Shack I understand the Trinity!" Read it if you want, but not for the Trinity stuff, for the suffering stuff!

What we need is discernment. And discernment means that some people should not read certain things. But everyone should read whatever they do read with a critical eye. Notice and be aware of untrue or unhelpful ideas. But embrace and encourage the good ones!

Good thoughts, OddBabs!

Kath said...

You are as I have always held, a highly articulate genius. Good work Binface. xxxxx