Monday, January 19, 2009

Further and Future Dialogue

This post has two primary purposes and both are reflected in the title, though neither can probably be discovered therein. The first is to further our dialogue on The Shack. If nothing else, this book has encouraged a great deal of dialogue and for that I am very grateful. I am going to respond to my good friend Austin and his thoughts on the Shack, as well as my sister's thoughts and reflections. Both make good contributions to the conversation. This dialogue would be worthless if it did not help us better shape and nuance our views and I hope this post will indicate some movement in my own thoughts and evaluations about this now almost notorious work of fiction. We'll see how long this is a big deal though. Sometimes these fads fade so quickly that you look back three months later embarrassed at how big a deal you thought some temporary fad was going to become. But dialogue, especially theologically focused dialogue, is never a waste of time so I will not fear that we are wasting out time.

The second part of this post will concern the future topics of conversation for trinity of bloggers. Obviously there are others who read and interact with out blogs, and for all of you we are very grateful, and we read and interact with other blogs, but Austin, Nate, and I have formed a little trinity in which we read and interact with each others thoughts and questions. I have some proposals for where to go from here. More on that later.

Talking about The Shack... part two

Responding to Crista,

First of all let me just say how much I love and appreciate my little sister. It may, and probably does, seem like this is said out of obligation but it most emphatically is not. My sister has grown and blossomed into not only a great writer, but a very good thinker. I appreciate her thoughts on the Shack and her obvious commitment to staying true to the truth of God's word. If you wish to read her thoughts they are found here. Do not fear, she is nowhere near as longwinded as I am.

I think one of our major disagreements, as we look at the book, will stem from the way we see words. Remember that it is the gospel that is the stumbling block, not an outdated vocabulary. Trying to witness to someone in greek or latin or hebrew will certainly be a stumbling block but there is absolutely nothing wrong with removing that stumbling block! So it is with many words that we, as Christians use. The word Christian is loaded with connotations that are offensive, many of which have nothing to do with Christianity. Our decision to use or not use the word should take into account the response and perceived meaning of our listeners or readers. Same with Institution, Church, religion etc.... Unfortunately we often replace these words with words that imply other unintended meanings (relationship, follower of Jesus, etc...), or are different but don't really help solve the problem. Nate, Austin, and I have talked a lot about the religion/relationship question and I think we have come to a consensus that neither term is sufficient by itself. Another kind of example is the church that I go to. Our name is "Prairie Baptist Fellowship", substituting fellowship for church. This is good because fellowship does a better job communicating what a church should be. This is very insufficient however, because, outside of our Christian bubble I do not think we use that word anymore. It doesn't actually communicate what we want it to communicate with the audience with which we want to communicate. It might do better than 'church', but it doesn't quite do it. If nothing else, I just want to indicate how very hard, difficult, and complicated all of this is. Don't take this wrongly, but I'm not sure you've had enough interaction with people outside of the Christian community to understand how much we live in a postchristian society. We must reevaluate our language and means through which we communicate if we are ever going to be able to reach people. I want ot make sure you understand that I am not advocating changing the message- we ought to remain committed to the gospel- but changing the language and means through which we communicate that same message. I think that Young's intended audience is not average Christians who go to church every Sunday, but disillusioned people who have either been "hurt" by the church or suspicious towards organized religion. I think he understands these people well and is able to speak their language. But will his book be read by these people? I have no idea.

I primarily agree with what you say about the tameness of God. I think the main problem is his view of submission and authority. He is overtly egalitarian, in every single relationship.

I think the biggest problem with my review, as long as it was, was that I did not interact with Young on the church. He was far too harsh on the church and did not properly focus upon the need we, as human beings, have for the church body, or the obligation we should have to it. Thanks for pointing that out.

As far as the whole thing about the Bible, I understand what you are saying, I think, but I don't have as big a problem with it as you do. You have to understand that one of his purposes was to correct the 'putting of God into a Bible-sized box'. This is very offensive to those of us who place so much importance on the Bible, and rightly so, but it is a fair critique in many ways. Often we think of our own personal Bible reading as the only way we can know and grow in our relationship with God. He wants to remind us of the importance knowing God in other ways, especially prayer. Unfortunately, and this goes back to my previous point, he misses one of the most important sources, the church family. This is unfortunate.

I don't intend this to be a last word between us about the topic. I would appreciate your further thoughts if you have the time and inclination.

Responding to Austin Surls

Secondly, I would like to interact with Austin's thoughts (though not really a review of) on The Shack. I so wholeheartedly sympathize with Austin's lament about Systematic Theologies and Commentaries, but I am short on solutions to the problem. I also want to express my appreciation for Austin's background research on the author and the provision of various links to his blog, defenses of the book, and explanations of some of the controversial aspects of the book. Unfortunately for Austin's newly discovered love of controversy, I have no beefs with his thoughts and have almost nothing else to say.

I will give short responses to his four questions however. I sincerely hope this will make him happy.

Is it okay if people are being deeply affected positively by a book other than the Bible? If that is okay, why is it okay?

Of course! For books written by Christians, is this not a role of the body of Christ? To encourage and help each other? If this comes in book form, so what? If from a nonChristian source, discretion should be used (although this is also true of Christian sources) but I do not believe that they are devoid of any benefit for a believer. In some sense, all truth is God's truth. Human beings, lost or redeemed, still bear God's image and are capable of reflecting that image through their writings, paintings, and poetry. We need to be careful, but with wisdom, we can derive benefit from a great breadth of sources.

Is the Church as bad as Young makes it out to be?

No. The church is not perfect, but it is not as bad as either Young or most of our generation makes it out to be. The church, for all of its faults, is beautiful and we ought ot be extremely grateful for it.

Is it possible to over-emphasize the relational aspect of Christian faith?

Yes, but with so many words spilled about this topic on our blogs already I'm not going to add to them here and now.

What do we do with the Old Testament descriptions of judgment? Does that square with God as presented in the New Testament?

Good question. I think it does square with the God of the New Testament. Remember two things: the wrath of God and Jesus on the Cross, and the book of Revelation. God's wrath does not go away in the NT and His love and mercy are not absent in the OT. This question may warrant further conversation.

Future Dialogue Proposals

Austin Surls wants controversy. Unfortunately we have had a difficult time finding areas with which we all disagree. This is frustrating the poor boy. I may have a solution. Dr. Willsey handed out a list of current controversial trends in theology. It is full of good ideas for future blogging conversations. Austin has the handout, Nate has seen the handout, but here are a few of them that interest me. Let me know (the rest of you too) which interest/excite you the most.

Openness Theology
Emergent Church Movement
Evangelicals and Catholics Together
Divine Immutability
New Perspective on Paul
Gender Roles
Personal and Ecclesiastical Separation
Theology of Worship and Music

I would be willing to go into any of these, and I imagine that there will be good chance for some benefit and controversy along the way. Let me know what yall think.


Sabrina said...

since no one else has responded, i guess i will. ;)

i actually like all those topics quite well, but would be most interested in the emergent church, evangelicals and catholics together, new perspective on paul, gender roles, and bioethics.

Anonymous said...

i would love to hear you guys duke out gender roles or theology of worship.

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