Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Book Review: The Shack:

Preliminary Matters

I usually stay far away from the Contemporary Christian Fiction category. Like the Contemporary Christian Music genre, I find it to be, in general, of an inferior quality and shallow in content and significant thought. There are, of course, exceptions in the CCM genre that I have discovered and love to listen to, but I cannot, when considered as genre, stomach the shallow and cheesy lyrics, inferior music, and extremely irritating DJs on their radio stations. But even though I have looked for and discovered exceptions in the CCM genre, I have not even bothered in the CCF category. I read and greatly enjoy C.S. Lewis, but everything I have looked at coming out today is like eating unsalted grits off the floor in comparison to a top sirloin steak at a 5 star restaurant. You can listen to a song, roll your eyes, and forget about it, but to invest the time to read books that will most likely be a complete waste of time is somehow less appealing.

My whole point in saying this is that The Shack is not the type of book I normally would pick up and read. But I kept hearing about it and the emotions connected to people’s evaluations were so strong that I felt that I had to read it to know what they were all talking about. Some people felt it was the greatest book that they had ever read. Others thought that it was heresy. I twice had people approach me after I preached at other churches and ask me if a certain statement in the book was heresy or not. This was very intriguing to me and since I had people who kept asking me if I knew anything about it or what I thought about it, I figured that it would be fun to read it and write up a review over my Christmas break. Making the prospect more fun was talking to my sister who had read in the book and had already formed very strong opinions from what she had read (negative opinions) but agreed to read it with me and both put up evaluations on our perspective blogs. I look forward to her review whenever she finishes up.

There are two types of book reviews and evaluations that I cannot stand. The first is the book review that worships a book and its author without any view at all to its faults and shortcomings. This reviewer will get angry at the slightest criticism of the book’s content or author. The other reviewer that frustrates me is the hypercritical type that refuses to interact with or engage the book or the author. This reviewer is either threatened by the slightest difference in another’s viewpoint or just enjoys ripping people apart without any recognition of the contribution of the book or reception of the potential benefit he might receive in reading it. What I have seen of people’s reviews on the recent controversial bestseller The Shack have been almost exclusively in one of the previous categories. They either love the book and are offended at the slightest criticism of it, or they hate the book, tear it apart, and begin organizing a book burning service.

There is a third type of book review however, which may be full as bad as the previous two. It’s the book review that refuses to give a real evaluation. The reviewer will say some good things and some bad things, seemingly out of obligation to both categories. He’ll conclude by saying that the book is worth reading but that there are either some things to be cautious about or some minor yet important shortcomings that one should be aware of. Before I even began reading the book, I had already decided to write such a review. I was going to point out the good things and bad things, say that the book has value but be careful for certain things. But as I think about it, how is this really interacting or any kind of an attempt at an honest review if I decide ahead of time what basically I’m going to say. A good review will point out positive and negative aspects but not out of obligation but from an honest attempt at dialogue. I do have good and bad things to say, but I am trying to give an honest reaction to the book and its contents and not just say what I should say out of an obligation to form.

This review will be an attempt to avoid all of these extremes. The Shack has invoked a lot of strong feelings both ways but it does deserve, methinks, a place in the theological conversation. It is well written and the dude writing it knows theology well. Whether Young’s theology is the correct theology or not is another matter completely.

A quick warning. If you have not read the book and plan to, I may give some things away. I don’t really think that’ll ruin the book for you as it’s not really a mystery novel or anything, but if you would rather read it first then wait on reading this. I will not even try to be sensitive to not ‘ruining the book.’

Okay, enough talking about reviewing the book… review it already!

Book Summary: If you have already read the book you can kind of skim this…

The book begins with a guy who receives a letter in the mail that proposes meeting him at The Shack if he wants to talk, signing it Papa (his wife’s favorite name for God). This invokes an angry response from ‘Mack’ and we begin to go into his past story to see why. He went on a camping trip with his kids (his wife couldn’t go for some reason – work maybe) in the wilderness of Oregon. While he is saving one of his kids from drowning in a canoeing accident, a serial killer kidnaps his 6-year-old daughter and after an extended chase and investigation, they find evidence of her murder in a little shack deep in the woods. They never find the killer and they never find the body but her bloody dress the police find in the shack leaves little doubt that she was dead. This horrific event causes what he calls ‘The Great Sadness’ to descend upon him from which he cannot seem to recover. He blames himself, is angry with God (though he masks it, sort of), and has a hard time communicating effectively with his wife and kids. On a weekend at home alone he receives this note supposedly from ‘Papa’ and there we are, all caught up.

Against, perhaps, his better judgment, he decides to go. If it’s the killer, he’s bringing a gun, if it’s God then he can voice his complaints and have at it. So he drives up to the shack at there he meets God and the real story begins.

But God is not what he expects! Instead of an ‘old white guy with a beard like Gandalf’s’, he finds a big black woman with ‘a questionable sense of humor’. For most the rest of the book he gets to know God. The father is the first person (the big black woman). The Son is a laid back Jewish Carpenter. The Holy Spirit is a small Asian woman who is really hard to see clearly. Ultimately, he gets to see how much God loves everyone and the love that is within the Trinity. What they want from him is not religion or to follow any set of rules or any set of obligations but a relationship. God (the father) listens to Her ipod, not CCM or hymns, but various secular music by musicians past present and future, all of whom She (don’t panic over the pronouns please, at least not yet) loves particularly. She doesn’t get angry with Mack or point out how or why or if he’s wrong but basically just ‘hangs out’ with him without an agenda helping him get to know Her better. Mack hangs out with each of the persons of the trinity, gets to know them and Him (at the same time). They are all God, all one, what one knows they all know, where one is they all are, yet they have different personalities and roles. God doesn’t force anything on Mack because real love ‘doesn’t force itself’ but rather He brings Mack to the place where he can know Him better and ‘heal the wound’ in their relationship. After a while (I don’t have time or space to summarize everything), he goes into a cave for judgment. But the judgment is not God judging him but he gets the chance to judge God. After judging God to be wrong for not preventing his daughter’s death he is forced to judge the world and between his children. He is told to choose two of his children to spend eternity in the ‘new heavens and earth’ and three to spend an eternity in hell. Not able to do this, he begs to be able to suffer in their place. This is the right answer because it was God’s answer, He judged them all worthy of love and sent Jesus to die in their place. Mack begins to realize that he is unworthy of being judge. He learns that it is not institutions or the legalistic following of rules that God wants but love and relationship. Mack enters into a sort of loving and intimate relationship with God, which grows throughout the book. At the end of his time with God in the shack, he is given the choice of going home and back into the world and spending eternity with God like he has been experiencing. Although difficult, he does the ‘right’ thing and goes back into the world for the sake of others (though still remaining in intimate relationship with God). The story end by his getting into a car wreck on the way back, almost dying, slowly recovering and he begins to patch up his earthly relationships and grow in his relationship with God.

Reviewing Various Aspects of the Book

View of God

One of the aspects most difficult for some to get over is viewing God as a big black woman. Criticizing the book on this grounds is not justified, methinks. Young is not saying that God is a woman but clearly affirms that God is neither male nor female, which is completely a correct and orthodox point (the Father actually appears as a man late in the book when Mack needs more of a ‘Father figure’). Nor does he anywhere call God, mother or depart from the idea of God as father. God appears as a ‘big black woman’ for two primary reasons: 1) Because Mack’s bad relationship with his father made it too difficult for him to be able to view God as a male and 2) Because Mack’s preconceived view of God was a old white man with a Gandalf beard. God manifests himself in a way that breaks his stereotypical view of God (rather than reinforcing it). Although some may have a problem with this, I do not. I think it is not only appropriate but also helpful. God is not male (or female). Both male and female are created in God’s image and in some aspect both genders represent something of who He is, the male no more or less than the female. Unfortunately there is one place where it sounds as if the female is closer to representing who God is and the male. Women (typically according to Young) find fulfillment in relationship and men in accomplishment. These both have their problems, the woman because she seeks it in men instead of God. This was stupid, wrong, and really hurt the former point he was trying to make. Men and women are different and reflect God differently. Its not a matter of one being a better or worse representation of who God is. Both were created differently for a purpose and both mess up differently. Oh well. This wasn’t a major point in the book; just a side issue that really ticks me off, so I’ll forgive it. See how wonderfully kind, gracious, and forgiving I am?


Another very interesting aspect of the book was its representation of the Trinity and, though less prominent still present, the complications surrounding the incarnation: Jesus’ human and divine natures. Young assumes certain issues about the Trinity (economic trinity not hierarchical, mutual submission between the members of the godhead etc…), but on the whole does a very good job. It’s not perfect, of course no explanation or picture of the trinity will be, but he does a very good job representing the threeness of God and the oneness of God (more emphasis on the former, however, rather than the latter). As for the submission aspect, he has an agenda here, which I do not think I agree with, all, of course, based upon his understanding of relationship. I’m not going to go into length about any nitpicky stuff regarding his portrayal of the Trinity. Overall I think he did a very good job with it and the imperfections are more related to the genre (Fiction) than to any heresy or unorthodox theology.

The Father

As far as his view of the Father, I think he did a good job overall once again. The issue he is most trying to correct, methinks, is the view that the Father is the unloving, harsh, and ‘mean’ person of the Trinity. He rightly shows that the Father loves His children and that sending Jesus to the cross was a difficult (can I use that word?) thing for him as well. It was very helpful to see him portray what God loving people looked like. ‘Papa’ takes a very special interest in all of ‘Her’ children. She wants a relationship with them and desires good for them. It’s very easy to think of God’s love as a cold love thought of only in distant theological demonstrations, the decision to elect, the sending of Jesus, and the provision of forgiveness and eternal life. These are all good and indispensable. But thinking of God as loving in the way humans are expected to love, laughing with us, rejoicing with us, crying with us, taking interest in us, caring for our smallest concerns, knowing us intimately, helps to bring home what God’s love means in our daily life in ways that we can more readily understand. This was very helpful for me and corrective to some of my ‘cold theology.’


His view of Jesus was both good and bad. Young does a good job, I think, of capturing the human and divine natures of Jesus without division, separation, etc…. He has good and solid explanations of Jesus’ miracles; they are done through the power of the Holy Spirit as a human being, not by his own power. Jesus is very Jewish and very human, which is good, but very cool, laid back, and relaxed, which is far far far too simplistic. The visions of Jesus post-resurrection are so far removed from Mack’s vision of Jesus that He is scarcely recognizable. Jesus’ glorification is not present. Paul and John’s experiences left them blind or almost dead. Mack’s Jesus is a ‘hey what’s up man, how ya doin, lets go walk on some water for fun, happy-go-lucky-drug-free-hippy kind-of-guy.’ The only thing about this Jesus that corresponds to the Jesus of the NT is that he’s Jewish! I can’t imagine that this Jesus would have ever called the Pharisees vipers or cleansed the temple with a whip. We shouldn’t be out of balance by thinking of Jesus as a harsh whip bearing man who insults everybody, but Young’s Jesus is grossly out of balance. I do not think that Young’s vision of Jesus has nearly as much correspondence to the Jesus presented in the New Testament as a picture of what Young thinks the ideal man would look like. The guy he comes up with is a very good man, but not Jesus.

The Holy Spirit

Young’s Holy Spirit is, put simply, weird. I’m not sure where most of this comes from. It is mostly neither good nor bad, affirmed or denied by Scripture. The Bible tells us very little about the Holy Spirit. But there is one very important aspect of the Holy Spirit that he misses. Sarayu (his name for the Holy Spirit in the book) does not draw attention and focus to Jesus at all, which is, methinks, the Holy Spirit’s primary role in the NT. I never saw this in The Shack and I was looking. Maybe I missed it?


Young is obviously more Arminian (in the popular sense of the word) in his theology than I am. That’s okay; I can deal with that. I do not believe or act as if I am the sole judge of truth. I may be wrong, he may be wrong, we both may be wrong. I won’t attack these kinds of theological differences. All wrong theology has problems and will result in an improper view of God and improper praxis, so it is important, but I'm not going to get on a Calvinistic soap box and go after his 'Arminianism'. But I will take issue with some larger problems here. He uses freewill to solve all of the major problems in theodicy and it just doesn’t work. He ignores completely the problem of hell (he mentions hell but never explains or incorporates it). Ultimately God allows people to do sin even though it hurts them and God because he loves them and love does not force anyone to do anything. I’m sorry but this is very insufficient. I’m not saying that free will cannot help answer some of these questions but its much more complicated than that, whatever your theology. My parents made me go to school, did not allow me to eat small plastic objects, made me eat my vegetables, did not allow me to stay up all night, made me go to bed, and refused to allow me to do certain harmful activities because they loved me. Answer me this question, does God send people to hell forever because he loves them or are there other motivating factors? I want to make it clear that I am not questioning his theology, I'll do that elsewhere, just pointing out the deficiency of his answers. God’s love cannot be used to explain every action and aspect of God. God does get angry. God is just. God hates sin. I have found people, and I can be this way at times, who focus too much on God’s justice, hatred of sin, anger, and jealousy without a proper understanding of his grace, mercy, patience, and love. These are not to be understood as being in contradiction, or even in tension, but they must all be understood and realized. I don’t think Young does as good a job with theodicy as his fans think he does. Ultimately he falls far short, just like the rest of us do. That’s okay, but the book doesn’t leave us with the impression that this question hasn’t been answered. It acts like it has answered this question perfectly and completely. Maybe I’m inferring something here, but either way, he doesn’t even nick the surface of theodicy. His answers are insufficient. I can't imagine a godhating atheist being convinced by them.


There have been some people who have accused Young of universalism. This is unfair. He does not affirm universalism or the idea that all ways lead to God. Quite the opposite is, in fact, true. God calls people out of all religion, including Christianity (more on that later) into relationship with him. To paraphrase Young’s Jesus: ‘Not all roads lead to me but I will go on all roads to find you.” Young is not a universalist (as far as I can tell) he just doesn’t deal with the issue of unsaved people. That’s okay, he can’t deal with everything, but he can’t pretend that he has solved the theodicy problem without dealing with it. As for what he would say about unsaved people, I would guess that he would very much like what C. S. Lewis wrote: “the gates of hell are locked from the inside.” I think I agree with that. Are they locked from the outside too? Hmmmm….


Well Surls, if you are reading this, here we go again. Back to the ‘Christianity is not a religion it’s a relationship cliché’! Young takes this statement and runs with it. Good grief! This is where I think he has his primary problem and why he is out of balance on so many other areas. This is also where he is most valuable and helpful in so many ways.

It is helpful because he does such an incredible and awesome job of showing what this means and what it looks (or maybe will/should look) like. Most of us would agree in theory that God has a sense of humor but never think of Him laughing with us. Most of us would agree that God knows and cares about us intimately but don’t imagine that He would take interest in our music, writing, or even personality. WOW! Young does such a good job with that! It was so good and helpful and corrective to think of God that way. But I think I can peg his main problem from which all of his other problems rise. The idea of God wanting a relationship and not religion is the very center of his theology. Almost everything in the book is based on that statement. There is suffering in the world because God wants a relationship. The corrective to every wrong view of God is to understand that God wants a relationship not religion. But he misses some very important aspects of Christianity because of his unbalanced focus and, perhaps, wrong definition of what a relationship is. Young’s God wants relationship and a relationship does not have any obligations or agendas. But God does have an agenda: He is in the process of conforming us into the image of His son, is He not? And God does have obligations: reject the world and its system, turn from your sin and all your other hopes for salvation and embrace Jesus as your hope of salvation. God and Jesus also give commands in the Bible, NT included. God does love people and want a relationship with them, no problems there, but seeing Christianity as merely a relationship will create more problems than it fixes. I’m not saying that it is wrong to use this phrase but care should be taken when we use it. We have to be sure we know that people know what we mean when we say it. If it communicates: “God is not looking for people to follow a set of rules and legalisms but for people to follow Jesus and turn from their sin,” then its good, If, however, it communicates: “God is not looking for people to follow a list of rules, to live a certain way, to believe anything in particular, or to give up anything, just people who are good people who love whatever their idea of God is,” then it is indeed a very very scary and dangerous statement. Unfortunately, I think most people hear the latter concept, not the former. People who have grown up in legalistic churches and backgrounds, or have just grown up in orthodox Christianity will understand it the first way, but the less educated and those growing up in a postchristian culture will not. Unfortunately, whether he intends it or not (and I would guess he doesn’t), I think Young will be read by many as advocating the latter option.

Man Before God

I was originally intending that this would be a long section but I’m getting tired so it’ll be short. Young presents a confrontation between God and man and it seems more than relevant to compare this confrontation with other God-human confrontations found in the Bible and compare them. At first glance, they seem nothing alike. We read about Paul’s confrontation with Jesus on the road to Damascus, John’s vision of Christ in Revelation, Isaiah’s vision of God and His throne, Moses’ dealings with God on Sinai and in the Wilderness, and Ezekiel’s vision of the throne, and there seems very very little to find that corresponds. But the most relevant comparison would not be any of these but God’s meeting with Job. Both are presented with horrific tragedy, both feel that God is unfair, and both meet God face to face. I’ll just make two points of comparison here and then move on to the conclusion.
The more obvious point is the way God is presented and the response this produces in Job. God is awesome, awful, and fearful and Job shuts up. When Job sees God face to face he is not able to voice his complaints. He has nothing to say but ‘I repent’ and ‘I’m putting my hand over my mouth’. God asks Job ‘who are you puny man’, he doesn’t plant a garden with him or cook him dinner. In this there is a very great and important difference. When man is confronted with the Almighty God he shuts up. Mack didn’t.

The less obvious point is where Young is good. In neither Job nor The Shack does God really explain Himself. In The Shack, Mack learns a lot about God but does not learn why Missy had to die. Mack’s answer is not found in God explaining Himself but itn seeing and knowing God. This is exactly the answer that Job receives. God does not explain Himself in Job. Throughout the whole book Job asks myriads of questions. How many does God answer? None. Not a single cotton picking one. God does not need nor is He obligated to answer man’s questions. But God did answer Job in Himself. When Job saw God he saw something of who he was before God and could do or say nothing. He affirms that he spoke without knowledge, things that he didn’t understand. That, ultimately is what Mack’s answer is: ‘These are things you can’t understand, instead of being angry, know me better and trust me.’

Towards Something of a Conclusion

Well this is really long and it’s really late (or early, depending upon your perspective) so this needs to be wrapped up. I am very glad to have read The Shack. It helped me think more deeply about what it means that God loves me and wants to be in relationship with me. It helped give me a better idea of what God is (perhaps) like in relationship with Himself. Most importantly it made me think about God and yearn to know Him better. For that I am grateful and appreciative.

I am also grateful for an enjoyable read. If more books in the Christian Fiction genre were this thought provoking and well written I would, perhaps, hang out there more often. Let’s hope this starts a trend of more theologically aware and mentally stimulating writing in a mostly barren desert of shallow theology and literary swill.

But I cannot recommend this book to everyone. I wish I could. I can and will recommend it to some people who are educated and/or discerning enough to be able to glean value without swallowing the whole thing, but I couldn’t stand up in the pulpit and tell people to read it.

Some people will be irked at me for this review. They’ll tell me that I have to remember the genre, it’s fictional, it’s an allegory. You can’t read it like a theological treatise. True. But I can’t help but ask what effect this will have on people’s view of God. Will it help them better understand their trials and sufferings? Will it help them better understand God? Will it help them better understand who He is, what He’s like and what He demands (and that is the right word, demands)? Overall I think for the average pew-sitter it will move them further away from understanding the God of the Bible. This is unfortunate because there are some very good things in this book that could really help people think about God in ways that they haven’t before but should. It could really help people understand what it means that God loves them and wants a relationship with them. It might even be able to help them understand things like the Trinity better. But at what cost? For the mature and stable Christian, this is a good read if read wisely. For the pastor or theologian it is, perhaps, an essential read given the popularity and influence this book will likely command. But there are far too many people out there who do not seem to be able to think critically when it comes to their faith and spirituality. These people are not only the people who are most likely to be harmed by reading it, but probably the most likely to like it. The people who are able to derive the most benefit from it, more academic-unemotional-serious-logical types will probably not like it or read it, and they probably should. But if you want to find something suitable for everyone to read, give them Job. It does a better job (hehehe). You may, somewhat fairly, object that it is harder for most people to follow. Write a good paraphrase then! Do a Bible Study, write a book, preach a sermon… I don’t know, do something! You figure it out.

I would very much like to hear your feedback on the Shack and my review. Let’s dialogue. I would really like to hear Nate and Austin’s opinion, especially in light of Austin’s previous blog about the term ‘religion’. This book does, regardless of whatever else it does, make you think and makes for great theological dialogue.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Responding to James Holden's Questions

This post's purpose is respond to James' questions left as a reply to my previous blog entry. I did read The Shack while I was in Alaska and will have a review of it up very soon, maybe even tonight.

I said that I wasn't looking to give answers in my last blog but receive answers. That was true. That does not mean that I didn't have answers to my own questions, but only that I am not satisfied with them. Bob Dylan wasn't really the point, which you all probably realized, nor did he really spark my questions as much as my own personal experiences did. Thanks James for your reply and you rightly discerned the influence my own experiences had upon my questions. The main reason I wanted to start blogging was for dialogue so I am grateful for the questions you asked. I hope I can allay your fears a bit. I am not placing my experiences on the level of the Scriptures. Experiences are too flighty and too easily misinterpreted to be the basis of truth. I agree with you that Scripture is true and reliable (and probably agree that there is absolute truth which is found in the Bible, you'd have to define 'absolute truth' for me though. I've always found it to be a very ambiguous term for such an absolute statement!).

But even if experience is an unreliable source of truth, it is an essential source for questions and questions are an essential tool of any serious thinker. And though the Bible is true, reliable, and revelation from God, it does not answer all of our questions. And many of the questions that it does answer are not answered clearly. This is not to find fault with the Bible, but with us humans who distort and misunderstand things all of the time. Even if we say, as I would, that Scripture is sufficient, that is not to say that we should cease to ask questions. If you do, you will ultimately rely upon your own understanding and presuppositions as your source of truth, not the Bible, because you will have no real way to analyze what you read or whatever curve ball life throws at you.

So let's get to James' questions,

So without regarding my experiences or the questions my experience asks I will attempt answers at your questions, on the basis of my theology alone - as best as I can.

1) According to the Bible, what saves a person?

Important question though I don't like the wording. I would answer simply that God saves someone. That's not what you are looking for. You want me to say believing in Jesus, or turning from sin or something along those lines, but really these do not save you. God saves you. Now on what basis does God save you? Isn't it on the basis of his own will? He saves you because he wants to? But here we run into some issues because I believe, based upon my debatable interpretation of Scripture, that God desires the salvation of all. We could go the Piper route and talk about God's differing wills, but, to be quite honest, that sounds ridiculous to me. Ultimately we cannot, methinks, really understand this from God's perspective. So what does God require of us if we wish to be 'saved' (I don't like that word...)? Repentance. Turning from your sin, the world system, and any other hope of salvation and follow Christ. This includes believing that Jesus died and rose from the dead, but believing these facts are not what save you, only prerequisites to really trusting in Jesus to save you.

2) According to the Bible, what keeps a person saved?

The Holy Spirit does. I do not believe that someone is saved forever because they believe in Jesus, no matter what happens afterward. Rather, the Holy Spirit preserves the elect (whatever that means).

3. What does it mean to be sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise?

I'll change the translation a bit to "sealed by the promised Holy Spirit". What does this mean? I'm not sure I can answer this fully, but I'll begin an answer anyway. The seal indicates ownership and, as 1:14 indicates, something of a preview or guarantee of our future inheritance. The real question is who receives this seal? The answer is obvious (I think): the elect. But who are the elect? From our perspective, I don't think that we can answer this.

4. What does Romans have to say about a person's life after he is saved?

Since I don't believe that Romans 7 refers to believers, I'll have to just say that they sound pretty darn near perfect.

5. Was Judas (a man who outwardly must have displayed some measure of faith) a true believer? I assume he gave up a lot to follow Jesus for three years.

Obviously not. But did he really display as much faith as we think? We are told little, but John knew that he stole from the money purse. He may not have seemed that good of a guy. We don't really know, we are told very very little.

6. What about the Pope or mother Theresa?

I think it is very possible that either are/were saved but I don't know. Even if I disagree with their theology, I recognize that it is not correct theology that saves a person (see James 2) but God saves a person. I can't answer this question from a human perspective either because I don't know their hearts. I'm more optimistic about Mother Theresa than I am about the average Baptist.

7. Why is it written, "They went out from us because they were not of us (1 John 2:19)?"

Because those false teachers that left the faith were never truly believers. But here's a better and more relevant question that I cannot answer, maybe you can: Did they know that they were not truly believers? Does anyone?

8. What did Paul mean when he rebuked the Galatians in chapter 3 for thinking that they needed to do something to keep their salvation?

That they were wrong to pervert the gospel by thinking that they had to follow the OTL in order to be saved.


I wasn't advocating works salvation in my last blog. Nor was I questioning the Scriptures. I hope it didn't sound that way. I was merely asking questions that were prompted by, yes, my experiences that do not seem to be clearly answered by Scripture. Here's my question in a nutshell James: Can someone ever really know that they are indeed a true believer? If the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, as you reminded us, how do we know that we aren't deceiving ourselves into thinking that our faith is genuine? If there are those who display, outwardly, evidence that their faith is sincere, yet they fall away, how do we test it? Works, it seems, is an inadequate test.

So for any of you who may have misinterpreted my last post's underlying question here it is more concretely: Can we ever be really assured of our salvation? Does the phrase 'assurance of salvation' even make sense?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different...

Those of you who know the reference in the title can laugh at the title. Those who don't can laugh at me.

The point of the following blog is not to give you answers to any questions. I want your help with questions that haunt and confuse me. Bob Dylan is kind of just a foil.

The latest issue of CT has a couple interesting articles in it that would make good blog posts, especially for Nate (about giving, Africa, AIDS, small gospel, and humility). But one short little blurb has me curious and interested and thinking about important things. This blurb is about Bob Dylan. If you don't like him or his music don't turn me off yet. I'm not going to go on about why I like him or his music. Even if you can't stand the man, I think that the following may be interesting, thought provoking, and informative.

Some really fast background for the ignorant...

Bob Dylan (born Robert Zimmerman or Shabtai Zisel ben Avraham) is well known for his many reinventions of himself and his music. He began as a folk/blues guitar/harmonica player in the clubs of NY and released his first album in 1962. He reinvented himself as a folk-rock singer, and then made enemies of his former fans as he shifted to electric guitar (he even had angry fans try and attack him on stage and one grab an axe to destroy his sound system). He then kind of shifted back to folk rock, then released a country album, and then shifted to pop-rock. Then, in 1979, came the period most important to what I want to talk about. He became a born-again Christian, and a passionate one at that. He used to try and convert his team, his producers and his fans. He released three Evangelical albums, prayed with his band and crew before every concert, and began to talk about Jesus as Lord. Over the years, his faith became more quiet. His next couple albums had Christian and secular songs until there was no more sign of Christianity in his albums. He had one song in one album that some thought was a "reaffirmation of his faith" but there was nothing explicit or obvious. His musical style shifted back to his original folk/blues. As for his religious beliefs many have speculated that he has returned to Judaism, where he started. He has shown up a couple of Jewish services at Synagogues over the years but does not regularly attend anywhere. Others think he is no longer religious at all. In reality, it seems, no one really knows except for Bob Dylan. His religious journey began as a Jew, then to atheism, then to evangelical Christian, and now what?
In 1997 he said this:
"Here's the thing with me and the religious thing. This is the flat-out truth: I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don't find it anywhere else. Songs like "Let Me Rest on a Peaceful Mountain" or "I Saw the Light"—that's my religion. I don't adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I've learned more from the songs than I've learned from any of this kind of entity. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs."

Bob Dylan was always vague in interviews. Now he really doesn't give any. This quote is about the best we have to go on for the last 20 years. What Dylan really believes and subscribes to does not seem to be the same Christianity than I subscribe to, but whether he has any faith or trust in Jesus Christ left? Who knows for sure?

Okay so the CT article and how it got me thinking...
So the CT article was just a little blurb in reaction to a new documentary on Dylan's 'Jesus Years'. It criticizes the documentary for treating Dylan's 'Jesus Years' as a mere "phase in his artistic development." The article holds out hope that Dylan's faith may still be there, subtle and below the surface.

Just reading and thinking about Dylan and his conversion, whether real or not, has brought several important questions about the Christian Life.

1) If Dylan is not a Christian, is he 'no longer a Christian', never a Christian, an apostate beyond hope of redemption, or someone who never really understood the gospel and may still yet receive Christ? Isn't it strange how some people who seem very passionate about their faith, whose faith we would never doubt, lose that passion and their faith? If they were never saved where did that passion come from? How do we know any passion we or anyone else ever has is real? Do these people know that they are not saved or do they think that they are? If he is no longer saved, then how do we define a Christian? Or the elect? Are the elect merely those who persevere? Or is there something noticeably different about them from the outset that distinguishes from those who will not endure? If Dylan's conversion was insincere, do any of you have reasons that Dylan embraced Christianity insincerely? He lost most of his fan base for ten years. He did not gain money. He became more obscure for the decade. Was he merely a confused individual who needed a crutch and found it temporarily in 'Jesus'?

2) If he is still a Christian, how far afield can someone go and remain a believer? Can they lose all outward evidence and still remain a believer as they go through deep struggle and difficulty internally? Can one abandon his faith and remain 'Saved'? Can someone just be a Christian privately? Is it possible that he just quit being public about his faith? Can a real Christian leave everyone in the dark about his faith?

Obviously we cannot definitively or definitely answer questions regarding Bob Dylan's sincerity or present condition. I hope, but very strongly doubt, that his faith in Christ remains. If nothing else thinking about this really scares me. I have known others whose faith seemed obvious before it disappeared when the slightest test approached like snow melts before the sun. How can I know whether my or another's faith is real, fake, or temporary? Are the 'goats' among us aware that they are goats? I don;t think they (hopefully not we) are. Is it possible that someday my or your passion will fade and we will just be Christians internally, with no outward sign or word?

Tell me what you think about these thoughts and questions. Tell me what you think about Bob Dylan. Tell me if this blog post was a waste of time.

Again, I'm looking for help. I'm not seeking to give you answers.

Sources: Wikipedia, Christianity Today (Dec 2008)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Since I'm too busy too actually blog right now...

Since I'm too busy too actually blog right now I thought I'd share some of my intentions for blogging over Christmas break. I think some of them are exciting but for anyone who may read this with any degree of interest I would like your feedback- what sounds exciting to you?

1: Nate, Austin and I are going to translate Ruth and James in order to brush up on our Greek and Hebrew. It seems as if my ThM thesis is going to be based upon the book of James and I just finished a 25 page (after cutting off a few pages) paper on James' theology. So James has been occupying a great deal of my thinking and time. I would like to post some of my thoughts on the book, especially some aspects that are more controversial and difficult. Would this be interesting to read or boring?

2: My sister and I are going to read 'The Shack' over Christmas break. This book has been influential and controversial already. If I come out and say I love the book I know that there will be some people in my circles who will strongly disagree with me. If I come out and dislike the book I know there will be others in other circles who will stop talking to me altogether (just a little hyperbole going on here). This is good! I like stirring up controversy! I am guaranteed success! I would like to post my thoughts and reactions to the book here. Would you be interested in hearing what I think about the book?

3: I plan on finishing up the second (and possibly but unlikely the third) chapter of my Apology of Hell Novel thing. Many of you expressed some interest in this - should I continue writing this or let it die?

Let me know what sounds most interesting to you out of these three options. I plan on doing them all but it's not very likely that I will. Your feedback will influence my decision if you choose to give it.

Now back to writing papers!!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Responses, Explanations, and Apologies

Preliminary Stuff (you don't really have to read this)
I really like the dialogue that Nate, Austin, and I have going on our blogs. It's very helpful to be able to interact with others' ideas and receive feedback for your own. I also appreciate the feedback I received from others. Thanks Brenda for your comments. They were helpful. Thanks for those of you who emailed me reactions to my novel attempt at a novel. According to my facebook blog network, I have twenty something readers. If there are really over twenty people reading this thing, shame on most of you! The purpose of this blog is conversation. I want to learn from our interactions. If you read my blog without giving me feedback you're cheating!!! But I'll forgive you, for now.

A quick and unnecessary apology
My 'Hell-pful Answers' to my 'Hellish Questions' were completely unhelpful. I know this. These are some questions that I am intending on considering in the near future. I just began by trying to raise some questions to get us thinking. My one sentence 'answers' were not intended to settle the question or explain the issue.

Brenda and Keith,
I have tried to subscribe to your blogs but for some reason I get an error message every time I try. I don't know why that is. Any ideas?
All right enough of that....

Engaging with my Blogging Buddies, you have to read this...
Nate's blog has two new posts since my last interaction with it. His first is a reflection upon the Mystery of God. The book of Job, which he mentions, has rocked my view of God. The essence of God's reply to Job is 'who are you puny little man to question me?' God is so much greater, so much wiser, so beyond our understanding that any attempt to fully comprehend Him is doomed to failure. The universe is not only beautiful and glorious, but complex and so huge that we will probably never know how big it really is. How many stars are there? The puniness of man is indeed a humbling thought. Yet God wants us puny humans to know Him. Eternally growing in our knowledge of God will indeed be a highlight of the eternal state.

Puniness brings me to Nate's second post. Most all of us will be very small players on this world's stage. I may sometimes dream of greatness, but in all likelihood, the vast majority of people on this planet will never even know I existed. The willingness to be a small player in God's plan requires a lot of humility. But humility is the most important attitude for us as we approach God. The proud may be applauded and praised by this world, but God delights to use puny and insignificant people. The willingness to submit to this is vital if we truly want to be used by God.

Austin's blog asked for more definitions! May he be thirsty in battle!!! What does spiritual mean? C'mon SURLSY!!! You're killing me man! It means whatever you want it to mean! Haven't you been paying attention? We're postmoderns now! Tell me what it means to you and I'll tell you what it means to me. This interchange is not for the purpose of debate. Whatever works for you is fine, just respect my truth please.
Okay just joking - kind of. If you are talking to an average joe, I think you'll find that they mean different things by 'spiritual' than the Bible means or we seminarians mean. I haven't seen the negative connotation that Heather and Drew are talking about (see comments under Surls' post). I think that spiritual usually relates to one's 'inner self'. Someone who is spiritual is someone who is in touch with himself, nature, God, or whatever. Someone who is spiritual is someone who believes in things besides what you can see. I think it has very little relation to objective truth. It's not truth that you can see but truth that you feel. It's not truth that you persuade others to, you just experience it for yourself. Its not something that can be proved, only felt and experienced.
I do not think we should use the word 'spiritual' without making sure that others know what we mean. I think that the concept is very confusing and murky to most people.
Scriptural definition? Too difficult for me to do quickly. How's this? Spirit is immaterial substance. God is nonphysical. Spiritual is that related to the nonphysical or to the Holy Spirit. But we must not divorce the spiritual and the physical worlds. What we do in the body physically is related to our 'spiritual lives'. This is crappy but I think its the general idea. What do you think Surlsy?

The picture by the way is postmodern art. Tell me what it means to you....

About Me

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Tacoma, Washington, United States
"It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." Fyodor Dostoevsky. I'm a Northwest Baptist Seminary graduate (MDiv) and current student (ThM). I plan on someday going to Africa and teach Bible and Theology at a Bible College or Seminary level. I hope to continue my studies and earn a PhD, either after I go to overseas for a few years or before. I'm a theological conservative, but I like to think outside of the box and challenge conventional thinking and consider myself a free thinker. I am currently serving in my fourth year as a Youth Pastor at Prairie Baptist Fellowship in Yelm Washington. My blogs will reflect my thoughts on both seminary and ministry life, though not (of course) exclusively. I enjoy literature and occasionally try my hand at writing stories and poems. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes..." Paul