Thursday, May 21, 2009

Credibility, Contradictions, And The Shack

Many of you may remember that back in March, I had a number of posts and exchanges with some folks from Central Christian Church in Mesa, Arizona. It was precipitated by a blog post of associate pastor Jeremy Jernigan. It had to do with their embracing of the New York best seller, The Shack by William P. Young.

I began to write a comment on the blog post and soon decided that it might be better to send an email directly to pastor Jernigan in an effort to warn him of some of the problems with this book in a more personal manner. (This is because my family had been members at Central for nine years and my concern was for the body and friends I still had there). His response was ultimately another post that was an attack on evangelists like myself calling our model of outreach "Spam Evangelism." Why Jeremy made this leap is a mystery to me-except that he may have followed my link and found out what I was all about and decided to come from that angle.

Recently, Central had the author of The Shack as a guest for an interview. Strangely enough, this took the place of the regular weekend services- nine of them to be exact. Perhaps I shouldn't speculate, but I have a feeling that they had record numbers turn out for the event.

As I expected, the blogs of the various pastors and their loyal readers were beaming with rave reviews of their new hero. Below are a couple of exerpts.

From pastor Jeremy Jernigan:

"And it wouldn’t be right to mention this book without a reference to the few who so loudly protest it. Here is my advice to you if you’re reading my blog: if someone tells you to stay away from this book, ask them if they’ve ever read it themselves. Their answer may shed some light on the “credibility” of their opinion. Then read the book. You’ll probably love it. If nothing else, it will get you to think about God in ways you’ve probably never thought about before.
To sum it up: hurt people found God this weekend and some religious people “were pissed” (to quote Paul). Reminds me of when Jesus preached."

From Pastor Danny Dodson:

"I must say that I am dismayed and frankly ashamed of some of the attacks and criticism this brother has taken for writing a fictional story as a gift for his children. How brutal some of these critics have been and many of them by their own admission have never even read the book. To post and share such close-minded opinions when you haven't even read for yourself that which you criticize is as hypocritical as one can be. There are many things we Christians should stand strong against and fight against. The Shack isn't one of them. "

Frankly, I'm surprised that the best they could do to defend their position was to throw up this strawman argument of "If you haven't read it, your not credible." They really should know better.

I want to thank Rob-roy for submitting the following response to this position. It is to the point, well written and most importantly, delivered with love.


Thought this would be helpful for many of you who have been asking me questions about various objections you come across. One of the objections that comes up again and again over the years is that to have credibility to comment on a book or movie a person must have seen or read all of it. Reading or seeing part of the book or movie is not credible enough to take comments seriously we are told.

For instance when the Da Vinci Code book and then the movie came out it seemed that it was a prerequisite to have read the whole book or have seen the movie to have “credible” comments and concerns. Or even raise questions. Cleary it is not always a credibility issue to make a decision or express concerns about material such as books or movies based on a sampling of the material.

Another example is this. How much water needs to be tested in order to get a reading? All of it or a sample of it? Is it fair to gauge the entire water supply based on a sample? If the sample shows bad water do you dismiss it because it did not test the whole water supply? You would take the results seriously at the very least.

Recently the latest book to enter the fray is The Shack. Let’s use it as the latest example of this tactic. Some Shack fans have claimed that the critics are not credible unless they have read the entire book (though the majority of the reviews are by those who have read it all). The fans of The Shack who would denounce, question or dismiss the credibility of critics who have not read all of The Shack contradict themselves when they also claim to not believe the Muslim Quran or the LDS Book of Mormon to be words from God if they have not read those books entirely.

Most Christians reject the Gnostic Gospels not having ever read them. Same with the extra biblical writings of the Apocrypha. And they do so never having read those books in their entirety. Does that mean they are not credible in denying the Quran and Book of Mormon? Hardly. Just means there is a double standard at work.

How many times have a seen various churches bring in former LDS or Jehovah Witnesses or even Atheists. Not one time have I heard one of them or the church leaders encourage members to read the Book of Mormon, The New World Translation or Darwin’s Origin of Species or they will not be credible when the reach out to their lost friends who are LDS, JW or Atheistic. What we get is a few samples of the falsehood shared with us about these teachings from credible people and not a call to read those false teachings and decide for ourselves. And here is the point. We can read those books. We are not told not to read the books. We are told however that they are false. Not to read them as truth. And in the course of the class the parts that are the most false are highlighted. That is what many have done in love with The Shack and concerns about it changing the Gospel delivered once and for all by God in His word.

Another example. Every person I know categorically rejects and encourages others to reject the Satanic Bible. And yet none of them have read that version. None of them. They have read parts that are extremely revealing and have heard from others who have read all of it. Apparently though that is not enough. You must read all of Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible or you are simply not being fair or credible.

Based on this logic the vast majority of people at modern churches have credibility issues. The overwhelming majority of professing Christians have not read the entire bible and yet they promote it as God’s word. Wait a minute? To be consistent should there be a credibility check? They should then not profess to be Christians or get baptized having not read all of what they claim to be God’s word right? And yet we know that the overwhelming majority of people saved are saved before they have read the entire bible. Not after.

God can reveal enough light from His word to convert someone without reading it all and then grow them as a result of conversion by having them read the rest for the rest of their lives. Conversely, God can reveal enough error and lies from a book from reading portions of it without needing to take it all in.

I only need a taste of liver and onions for me to stop eating it. It doesn't take eating the whole thing to determine it tastes awful. I don't have to watch all of a movie that starts out offensive in order to determine if it really is. What is interesting is that most people decide not to see movies based on the clips which provide only a sample of the movie. In fact most Christians will not watch R rated movies (or PG 13 either). Why would they be so shallow as to rely on someone else’s review and rating or short samples of the movie to make such a decision? Shouldn’t they see the whole movie first before deciding whether they should see the whole movie? Of course if they do that it is too late. They would have already seen the movie they were trying to determine whether they should see or not. That is the false dilemma of credibility that is created where otherwise the person is not making a truly informed decision right?

Do I need to take meth, cocaine or cyanide to decide for myself whether they are good for me? I think I can be credible in telling others to stay away from meth based on a small sample of information from brief news stories without reading The Journal of American Medicine five volume set on the subject.

The “credibility” spin obscures the point that there are legitimate biblical questions about many parts of The Shack (and Quran, Book of Mormon, Satanic Bible, insert latest fad here) that have been brought to light and no real answers have come. The diversion about credibility does not deal with important concerns and is itself contradictory when applied to the large majority of the Christian culture.

Remember, in the garden God said don't eat of the tree. Eating of the fruit of that tree was bad news to say the least. God made it clear His word was sufficient and they had His word on it. He did not say try the fruit and decide for yourself if it is bad. That was Satan's tactic.

It’s fair to ask someone if they have read and/or how much they have read about the book they are commenting on. It is also fair to address and answer legitimate questions without resorting to “read the book and decide for yourself”. Playing the credibility card does not deal with or answer the serious concerns loving Christians have about the false teaching contained in The Shack and the impact on their brothers and sisters in Christ (and the lost). To be concerned about these things and be quiet…

Now that would be a credibility issue!



Richard said...

I find your repeated attempts to criticize Jeremy and Central in our attempt to reach people through The Shack to be misguided at best.

Rob Roy is comparing The Shack to the Gnostic Gospels, the Book of Mormon, the Quran and the Apocrypha... but while I would not read the Gnostic Gospels on par with the bible, I would read it either in much the same way I'd read a book that opposed my viewpoint in politics, or the same way I would read a historical literary work. The Macabeean revolt is a tremendously interesting read, and teaches something historically. As for the Quran or the LDS works, if it would help us reach people that would prior have been unreachable, why not read those books and understand which truths in their lives you can use as a basis for the revelation of the ultimate Truth?

Perhaps this should be an indictment of our laziness and closed-mindedness rather than our watchfulness and openness.

He is also comparing it to liver and onions, and in doing that, I would ask why are liver and onions still served at restaurants? Because someone likes them, enough to make a liver and onions industry. A vegan would say that meat tastes horrible, but the rest of us enjoy and thank God for our steaks. In this, the writer has incorporated a matter of taste, which is purely subjective and should not be presented as fact.

Finally, The Shack is compared to meth, cocaine and cyanide... and this is just sad hyperbole. Could it hurt someone determined to take it as their theology? Perhaps... but it could also bring a lot of healing, as it has in my church and in so many people both secular and christian.

The Shack is not inherently evil, and the way some of us are treating our brother who has made himself vulnerable through his writing is incredibly sad. One of the biggest issues people have with this book is the issue of "Papa" being a Big Black Woman... but in Paul Young's story, there is a woman who was loving and gentle and kind in his life, who was the embodiment of the Father's love, upon whom this character is based. In Paul's story (The Shack is an allegory for how God reached Paul through his own incredible pain and suffering, including sexual abuse as a child and father issues stemming from childhood as well), God got past Paul's father issues, circumvented those walls by appearing in another way, represented by the loving and nuturing Jehovah Jireh "Big Mama" Papa character. There is so much more to this very personal story, that has been attacked in such hurtful ways... I am thankful that Paul has been so humbled and supported through all of this process, that he knows not to take this horrible treatment as a blow to his pride or to his heart. Still... you've got to realize that for this book, an estimated 75% of the readers are non-christians, and they are seeing the way some of us inside the church are treating the writer of this book that has brought them to consider Christ... and it is liver and onions to their soul, something disgusting that they want nothing to do with.

I don't believe after saying what has been said, that one can truly close with the word "Love". I believe that this is one of the poorest logical arguments I've seen, but that's not what is the worst about this...

What is the worst, in all of this, is the lack of love for Paul Young or the millions who have found healing and a closer walk with Christ from His book.

Shawn said...

Just thought I would add my two cents. Actually, Charles Spurgeon, in one of his sermons spoke on this very thing, and I can hardly presume to add to his already poignant post. So I will quote him here.

"Oftentimes, I believe that the child of God would find it to be his greatest wisdom, whenever he is in company that begins to assail his Lord, or to denounce his faith, just to go about his business, and let the scoffers have their scoffing to themselves. Some of us have thought it our miserable duty to read certain books that have been brought out against the truth, that we might be able to answer them; but it is a perilous calling. The Lord have mercy upon us when we have to go down into these sewers; for the process is not healthy!

"Oh," says a man, "but you must prove all things!" Yes, so I will; but if one should set a joint of meat on his table, and it smelt rather high, I would cut a slice and if I put one bit of it in my mouth, and found it far gone, I should not feel it necessary to eat the whole round of beef to test its sweetness. Some people seem to think that they must read a bad book through; and they must go and hear a bad preacher often before they can be sure of his quality. Why, you can judge many teachings in five minutes! You say to yourself, "No, sir, no, no, no! this is good meat—for dogs. Let them have it, but it is not good meat for me, and I do not intend to poison myself with it."

From Charles Spurgeon's sermon on A Gracious Dismissal.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts. The post I have written is done in love. I understand that you have come to a different conclusion as to my intent and motive. If you are correct then I am dishonest and therefore a liar pretending to put forth love as a mask for my real intent which is hate and disdain for the body of Christ. God knows our hearts in this and He is not fooled. All will be revealed on the final day and I will be held to account. Both for my action and also my inaction.

As for this specific post, the focus was whether "credibility" to comment or question a book can always be dismissed if someone has not read the entire book (not whether The Shack is comparable to the examples in content or impact but whether the "credibility" question associated with it is comparable to other examples). That is a big difference.

Clearly the "credibility" logic is sound in that regard or many Christians are living a contradiction in how they handle many other books, movies, etc. The detailed concerns specific to the content of The Shack were not the purpose of this post nor were the included in this post as those questions were posed in a previous writing.

The Spurgeon quote above is a great summation of the question of "credibility" coming from having read all of a book. By the way, in the single post I wrote with questions and concerns about content in The Shack I did not bring up the images of the Trinity used as issues (although many others have). What I did bring up are legitimate questions that still have gone unanswered in all the few negative responses I have seen. In fact most of the responses I have received from all over the country, including Central attendees, have been remarkably positive and thankful. Even in noting the care, concern and even love found in the writing.

I have not called the author or anyone else names nor have I questioned their love for the Lord. Nor do I question your intent. The questions I have posed have been about the content of the book as it relates to scripture and as to how that content could be promoted by Christian Churches with those questions unresolved.

If you believe those questions I have put forth are not legitimate and that I am not loving to raise them, or raising them in an unloving way you certainly have that right and I pray over your feedback and do not want to discount it. I do believe the questions to be serious and not secondary. I must in the end do as I have been doing which is to rest in the Lord that His judgment of my heart is true in this matter. He has pressed it upon my heart in His word that to say nothing or go along with the crowd would be unloving.

So at the risk of being called unloving and insincere by the very people I love and am so concerned about I must follow my Lord by putting forth His word and trusting Him. To do anything less would be disobedient on my part.

Love, Rob-roy

Anonymous said...

I would also add that I agree in not banning the reading of those books. In fact the post is very clear about being able to read the books. Those who know me are aware that I use the Book of Mormon and Quran (verses from them) to initiate conversations with LDS and Muslims. The post in no way denied reading books of this sort. Promoting them as truth (or fiction delivering truth) is the question. And believing that they are not God's word having not read them in their entirety is the contradiction for those that do. That is entirely different from telling people to not read them which has not been requested or the point put forth.

Liver and Onions is a matter of taste. So are drugs, movies with adult content and even language choices. It is fair to use examples of taste to highlight a separate point that being of how we come to a conclusion in matters that are not of taste.

Keep in mind that many things contrary to God's word a lost world chalks up to "taste". The fact that restaurants still serve liver and onions because there is a market for it is not compelling on it's own because if it were then porn, which is the largest market supported worldwide, has an even better case for being ok. And yes the majority of porn users consider it a taste issue and not a truth issue. I know you will join me in praying for them.

Granted liver and onions is not the same as porn. That is not the point. The point is porn can use the same "market for it" arguement to sustain itself since there is an even greater market for it. Same for movies and tv shows that are not God honoring (to put it kindly).

Whether it be matters of taste or truth the issue of "credibility" being exclusively determined by having to take in 100% of the content does not hold up. That is the central point of this post. Now perhaps I will give liver and onions another shot. But I can't guarantee I will eat the whole plate. :)

Love, Rob-roy