The Shack Explosion

When Gandalf described the creature Gollum to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring, he provided a glimpse into our human dilemma: “He hates and loves the Ring, as he hates and loves himself. He will never be rid of his need for it,” Gandalf said.

What is true of Gollum and the Ring is true of me and debate about The Shack, a novel by William Paul Young which has sold 25 million copies in 41 languages since it was published ten years ago. I read the book when someone in another place asked for my feedback because of all the controversy. That was long ago. I had all but forgotten about it. But the saga was only beginning.

This month The Shack was released as a Hollywood movie. The furor has ignited all over again. There may be even more heat the second time around, if that’s possible. This time I don’t have a horse in the race–nobody has asked me about it. But I can’t stay away from the controversy. It draws me in like the Ring ensnared Gollum.

The debate over The Shack is something like a David vs. Goliath story. The author, William Paul Young, was a nobody in the religious publishing world. Not a single Christian publisher would touch the book. Finally, Young self-published The Shack with the help of Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings, who continue to defend the book and movie. In the other corner, critics include true theological heavyweights such as Al Mohler, Tim Challies, Norm Geisler, and the late Chuck Colson. So far the giants haven’t been able to stop the cultural wave created by the little guys.

After three or four hours of searching, reading, and listening online, a few quotes stood out, most of them by Wayne Jacobsen, one of the original collaborators who helped publish The Shack:

From a critic: The Shack is a wonderful, delightful tool of Satan to deceive those who can’t, don’t, or won’t put the effort it takes into [sic] discern the word of God versus the word of an author who has publicly pronounced god as inadequate and has replaced him with this drivel. 

Lots of heat in that quote. Very little light. Is this really a matter of effort? Critics pronounce judgment and drop the “H” word (heresy) like an H-bomb. Name calling is abundant among the critics. Maybe they’re frustrated because the Christian public doesn’t seem to be listening to them.

Wayne Jacobsen (who helped publish the original book): They [specific critics] don’t have honest disagreement with what we wrote, but make up their own interpretations of what we wrote and disagree with it.

Both sides seem to be talking past each other.

Another complaint by Jacobsen: One of the early detractors for The Shack was trying to build a cottage industry out of being the anti-Shack guy. He called me a few months after it was published offering to write a devotional guide to go along with the book. I asked him what he had in mind and he told me he wanted to help people mine the deep truths we’d written about. Having read his previous disdain for the book, I confronted him for his dishonesty. He didn’t want to unpack the story for people, but to attack it. He was surprised I knew and quickly hung up.

If this is accurate, it exposes the depravity and dishonesty by a participant in the Shack controversy. If it’s not accurate, it exposes the depravity and dishonesty by a different participant in the controversy.

A final quote, also by Jacobsen: I love the conversation this book has provoked around the world. I love the conversations about who is God really?

If one of his goals has been to stimulate conversation about the nature of God, he has accomplished his mission.

There are numerous reports about people who have experienced positive life change as a result of their encounter with The Shack. Perhaps time will tell whether the effect is positive in the long term. Someday this Ring of debate will be thrown into the fires of Mt. Doom and destroyed. Until then, may it not consume us. It’s not worth it. There are better things demanding our attention than an argument over a film.

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Persecution

The dreaded “P” word, persecution, has been in the news again recently. There have been stories about religious attacks against people in China, Syria, Somalia, and Egypt. Most of what we hear in our media is about attacks against Christians. However, not all religious discrimination is directed toward Christians. Religious persecution also targets Jews, Muslims and other minorities, even atheists. If Christians are going to speak up for religious liberty as a civil right, let’s be sure to defend the practices of other religions, too. If Christians have the right to plant a church in America, Mus­lims have the same right to build a mosque. As followers of Jesus, we speak up for the dignity of all individuals, not just believers.

About a week ago, several of our elders attended a conference for rural church leaders in Litchfield, Minnesota.  One of the speakers was Leith Anderson, who is president of the National Association for Evangelicals. In a Q&A session, Anderson noted that one of the greatest fears of white evangelicals is the rise of persecution in America. He said he was at a meeting recently in Washington, D.C., where some pastors were asking where they could find help to prepare for the coming hostility. A black pastor stood up and said the black church could teach them how to prepare for persecution because they’ve been dealing with it for 300 years.

Perhaps it’s debatable whether the racial discrimination blacks have suffered in America is worthy to be described as persecution. It might depend on which side of the racial divide you stand. But it doesn’t appear to be debatable that the white evangelical church is afraid of persecution in America. Evangelical news outlets such as The Christian Post have been featuring many reports this week about persecution and the fear of persecution. The current issue of Christianity Today features a cover story on the Benedict Option, written by Rod Dreher. It’s a strategy for Christians in a declining culture, e.g. persecution. World Magazine also prominently features articles on persecution.

A fear of religious persecution may be new to white Americans. But it’s not new to the rest of the world. Religious persecution has been business as usual in many parts of the globe for centuries. For Christians it all started in Acts 4, which is a primer on persecution. This minor event in the life of the early church is the first word, but not the last word, on religious persecution in the book of Acts. Of course, we in America don’t endure the same kinds of religious oppression as much of the rest of the world. There’s really no comparison. But there still is a huge takeaway for us from this story—a les­son in human relations.

Persecution may–or may not–be coming to America. But it’s already reality in much of the world. That’s reason enough to care about it. This Sunday at New Life Church in Clarkfield, Minnesota, we’ll consider the prospect of persecution from the perspective of Acts 4. If you’re in the area, you’re invited to attend as a guest. You can check out what to expect at http://www.newlifecma.com.