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(460.3) Spiritual Formation 2017.3 – Interpreting Key Passages in the Bible Used to Promote Contemplative Spirituality – EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY

Some of the key verses used to promote and defend CONTEMPLATIVE SPIRITUALITY are usually taken out of context.  There are several contemporary authors/speakers who promote a Christian walk that moves further away from the Bible and prayer to a walk that looks INWARD and seeks to be drawn CLOSER to become UNIFIED with God in the DEEPEST part of our soul.  The problem is that Scripture discusses our sanctification and growth involving our dedication to God’s word and Biblical prayer – NOT in chasing after ancient mystical approaches that we find in the early church.   There are other religions that promote the idea of being unified with God by being unified with all of humanity – but Christianity is not it. To summarize – passages from the Bible are used to justify this seeking to be close to God in the DEEPEST part of the soul so that they can ultimately become unified with God.  But, the passages referred are usually taken out of context to arrive at their conclusion.

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In the following book, Relentless Spirituality: Embracing The Spiritual Disciplines of A.B. Simpson, by Dr. Gary Keisling illustrates a simple example of this.  The foreword was written by DALLAS WILLARD – a huge influence on the church accepting contemplative/spiritual formation.  

The book uses phraseology that quickly tips off the reader of the perspective that promotes a more mystical approach (e.g. SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES).

First, let me say that my intention is not to be critical of Keisling but rather, my review is focused on how Scripture is used to come up with relentless alternative interpretations of the Bible that may not be justified when those passages are looked at in context.

Keisling discusses the disciplines such as SILENCE and SOLITUDE.  He states that “both have complimentary roles in SPIRITUAL FORMATION”.  Solitude unfolds in two dimensions.  First, there is solitude that is in response to Jesus’ invitation: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (NIV Mark 6:31) .

Now, look at that verse again and ask yourself what is actually being said in the passage.  In context, look at the entire chapter to get an understanding of the context of verse 31.  Again, ask yourself, how should verse 31 be interpreted?

Keisling states that – “Christ’s disciples were invited to join Jesus in doing something they had seen Him do in the past and would certainly see Him to again in the future.  It was an invitation………..to be alone and draw close to God.”

Hold the phone.  Was that the reasons stated in this passage of Scripture?  Read the passage again.  Read it from another translation – NKJV: “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while”.  You can read in a number of both literal and dynamic translations and they say the same thing.

=> I would say that Jesus was inviting the disciples to literally “get some rest”.  Radical idea?  This passage doesn’t say or even imply that Jesus was calling them to engage in a Spiritual Discipline of drawing close to God.  Keisling states that we are to “draw close to the Presence of the Almighty.”  

He goes on to explain that “these steps of spiritual formation are an essential part of life in Christ”.  Really?  “These steps” are an essential part of our spiritual formation – yet Christiandom is just finding out about it now?

=> QUESTION: Where does the Bible instruct us to be in SILENCE and SOLITUDE with respect to our devotional life in our walk with Christ?

=> If you find a passage in the Bible, ask yourself first – are you interpreting the passage correctly?

=> Then ask yourself is the passage asking us to engage in SILENCE and SOLITUDE as a part of our normative walk in Christ?

In my opinion, the so-called disciplines of SILENCE and SOLITUDE find themselves to be silent in the Bible.  With the huge emphasis today on this topic, I think it very important to note that many look at early church traditions (that many consider being mystical) more so than look to see what Scripture actually says on these issues.  

There are other key passages that supporters of CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER take out of context making their case for Spiritual Formation. We will look at a few in the near future.

 

 

(460) Spiritual Formation 2017.1 – EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY

We will begin a new series on the topic of SPIRITUAL FORMATION.  We have looked at this topic in the past but it was more along the lines of it being piecemeal.  I intend this series to be more comprehensive in scope.

I. INTRODUCTION – CONCEPTS & DEFINITIONS

One of the challenges in looking at this topic relates to the various definitions for the phrase SPIRITUAL FORMATION.  They range from the traditional, more common and more original meaning involving growth coming from a mystical & contemplative perspective.  Today, we find some combining this aspect with a more historical and biblical concept of discipleship or sanctification.

Here are few definitions by well-known authors today relating to this topic – the authors who have had a foundational impact on Evangelicals primarily include RICHARD FOSTER and DALLAS WILLARD, which we discuss further as we go along in this study. 

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Spiritual Formation – D.Simeone

=> Richard Foster  – Author of the Spiritual Formation Bible

“By now enough water has gone under the Christian Spiritual Formation bridge that we can give some assessment of where we have come and what yet needs to be done. When I first began writing in the field in the late 70s and early 80s the term “Spiritual Formation” was hardly known, except for highly specialized references in relation to the Catholic orders. Today it is a rare person who has not heard the term. Seminary courses in Spiritual Formation proliferate like baby rabbits. Huge numbers are seeking to become certified as Spiritual Directors to answer the cry of multiplied thousands for spiritual direction. And more.” Spiritual Formation, A Pastoral Letter by Richard Foster

=> Larry Crabb

“The next reformation is due. It will focus on what it means to know God with a power that changes who we are and how we relate. I predict the Spiritual Formation Forum will play a vital role in the Spirit’s next great movement.” Larry Crabb, The Association of Christian Counselors, Willow Creek Association

“The Practice offers Saturday morning meetings which provide a rhythm of worship, teaching on a particular spiritual discipline and time to experience or “practice” that discipline. This practice time allows participants to get a fuller understanding of how to incorporate the discipline in their daily lives.” Spiritual Formation at Willow Creek.

RESEARCH: SPIRITUAL FORMATION

SPIRITUAL FORMATION is the process of apparent spiritual development through engaging in a set of behaviors, termed disciplines. Advocates believe these disciplines help shape the character of the practitioner into the likeness of Christ.

Though superficially similar to discipleship, spiritual formation is not merely concerned with biblical exhortation and instruction in orthodox doctrine, but also with the teaching of “many practices that opened [the believer] to the presence and direction of God, and nurtured the character traits of Christ into fruition”.1

The Renovaré website states:

Spiritual formation is a process, but it is also a journey through which we open our hearts to a deeper connection with God. We are not bystanders in our spiritual lives, we are active participants with God, who is ever inviting us into relationship with him.2

HISTORY

1974
William Menninger discovers the book, The Cloud of Unknowing:

In 1974, Father William Meninger, a Trappist monk and retreat master at St. Josephs Abbey in Spencer, Mass. found a dusty little book in the abbey library, The Cloud of Unknowing. As he read it he was delighted to discover that this anonymous 14th century book presented contemplative meditation as a teachable, spiritual process enabling the ordinary person to enter and receive a direct experience of union with God.3

Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington and others who were students of Menninger disseminate these teachings.4

 

1978
Richard Foster writes THE CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE.=> This book launched spiritual formation into mainstream evangelicalism, and continues to be used today.

In The Celebration of Discipline, Foster shares the practices of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches that originated with the Desert Mothers and Fathers.

=> The Celebration of Discipline presents spiritual formation as attainable through the “spiritual disciplines.”

=> These disciplines are seen as a means of growing in spiritual maturity and depth. “In fact, the implication was that without the use of these ancient contemplative methods true ‘spiritual formation’ was not possible.”5

1988
Dallas Willard, a close associate of Richard Foster, writes The Spirit of the Disciplines. This book “reveals how the key to self-transformation resides in the practice of the spiritual disciplines, and how their practice affirms human life to the fullest.”6 

The Spirit of the Disciplines is based on Willard’s understanding of Matt. 11:29–30. Willard teaches that the “yoke” spoken of by Jesus in this passage is to attempt to emulate the life of Christ in every way possible. Willard teaches that this emulation occurs through the practice of the disciplines.7 (For a comprehensive teaching on this passage in Matthew, read or listen to Dr. John MacArthur’s sermon, Jesus’ Personal Invitation, Part 2.)

Richard Foster founds Renovaré. This organization seeks “to resource, fuel, model, and advocate more intentional living and spiritual formation among Christians and those wanting a deeper connection with God. A foundational presence in the spiritual formation movement for over 20 years, Renovaré is Christian in commitment, ecumenical in breadth, and international in scope.”8

PRESENT
The ideas presented by Foster and Willard continue to be propagated through the works and teachings of others.
Spiritual formation is a primary teaching found in what has come to be known as the emerging church. Brian McLaren, a key leader in that movement, has acknowledged that both Foster and Willard are considered “key mentors for the emerging church.”9

SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES

According to proponents of spiritual formation, various “spiritual disciplines” must be practiced in order to experience true spiritual growth:

Christian spiritual formation is a God-ordained process that shapes our entire person so that we take on the character and being of Christ himself.

Properly employed…these disciplines help us attain increasing levels of spiritual maturity so that we respond to our life circumstances with the mind of Christ.10

In his book, The Celebration of Discipline, as well as on his Renovaré website, Richard Foster lists these disciplines as:11

MEDITATION
Entering into a “listening silence” in order to “hear God’s voice.” Similar to the meditation of Eastern religions.
PRAYER
An “interactive conversation” with God. Practiced as contemplative prayer.
FASTING
“The voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.”
STUDY
“The mind taking on an order conforming to the order of whatever we concentrate upon.”
SIMPLICITY
“The joyful unconcern for possessions we experience as we truly ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ (Matt 6:33).”
SOLITUDE
A “state of mind” for one to be “found by God and freed from competing loyalties.”
SUBMISSION
Letting “go of the burden of always needing to get our own way.”
SERVICE
“A pattern of service as a lifestyle…At the center is found a contentment in hiddenness, indiscriminancy.”
CONFESSION
Confession of sin to other professing believers.
WORSHIP
“Entering into the supra-natural experience of the Shekanyah, or glory, of God.”
GUIDANCE
Learning to “heed the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Jesus.” “It is the perception that we have heard the Kol Yahweh, the voice of God.”
CELEBRATION
Celebrating God in all facets of life.

Since the disciplines are not defined in Scripture, no concrete, definitive list is available. Consequently, Willard notes that we should not “assume that our particular list will be right for others.”12 This confirms the subjective nature of these practices.

[Christian Research Network]

 

Part 2 (2017.2) will continue on this subject matter in the next posting.

(458) SPIRITUAL FORMATION – Emerging Trends in the Church Today

SPIRITUAL FORMATION & CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER BY JOHN MACARTHUR 

We will look at the topic of Spiritual Formation.  Additional postings are planned. This one is from John MacArthur.

I can’t say I always agree with John MacArthur, but I must also say that I respect his view of the Bible and his gift of teaching from the Bible.  A valuable and rare gem in today’s world of television personalities and among authors invited to speak at churches and seminaries.

He answers a question about CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER and SPIRITUAL FORMATION in the church.  He brings up the point that in the Evangelical Church today, many are following after a so-called DEEPER path to becoming close to God.  They are “Digging DEEP to find their spiritual core and spiritual center” with Bible words thrown on top to make it all sound good.  The assumption is that Spiritual truth is something originating inside of you and found intuitively.  MacArthur is quick to say – Not true – it is outside of you.  It is in a book – God’s word.   Divine revelation is external to you.  Looking deep inside of you is not where God’s truth lives.

It is when that truth gets into our minds, then we can look at that truth inside of you (e.g. in your mind).

Popular teachings today are re-introducing MYSTICISM to the church. Ancient so-called wisdom from early church fathers, Roman Catholicism, and Emerging Church leaders such as Dallas Williard and Richard Foster have become popular today withing the church.

Christian leaders are confused themselves about this subject and it has embedded itself in Christian colleges, seminaries and now churches.  More to follow.

 

(457) 61% CHRISTIANS AGREE WITH ‘NEW SPIRITUALITY’ – Emerging Trends in the Church Today.

Practicing Christians Agreeing with ‘New Spirituality’

From several perspectives, this blog exists to inform Christians of some of the nonbiblical influences that have developed within Christianity from other religious philosophies. Even more so, it is important to understand that point out how much of these trends are occurring from within the church itself.  New practices are being combined with Christian beliefs and practices along with new words and phrases used to describe these practices that are not found in Scripture.

From my perspective, similar trends in the church today reflect a departure from the practice of biblical discipleship.  More and more churches seek to spread the latest fad for growing the church while leaving behind one of our most important callings from God’s word – discipleship. Christians today are less equipped, less knowledgeable, less experienced in the basics of the faith.  This has impacted all Christians but especially younger Christians growing up in a church that succumbed to these trends.

The book of Jude reminded believers of their duty to fight for the truth.  This is such an important issue to Jude when he took up his pen to write about our common salvation, he was compelled by the Holy Spirit to encourage us “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

3 aBeloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our bcommon salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you ccontend earnestly for dthe faith which was once for all edelivered to fthe 1saints. 4 For certain persons have acrept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand 1 bmarked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn cthe grace of our God into dlicentiousness and edeny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (NASB)

Survey: 61 Percent of Practicing Christians Agree With Some ‘New Spirituality’ Beliefs

BRANDON SHOWALTER , CP REPORTER

May 10, 2017 | 12:28 PM

A new survey reveals the scope of influence of non-Christian belief systems on the mindsets of practicing Christians, with large percentages of them agreeing with ideas from other faiths and secular philosophies.

The research from Barna in cooperation with Summit Ministries released this week measured how much the central beliefs of other worldviews like “new spirituality,” secularism, postmodernism, and Marxism have affected the beliefs of Christians about the world and how it should be.

Their “widespread influence upon Christian thinking is evident not only among competing worldviews, but even among competing religions,” the survey report reads.

In a web-based survey conducted in March of 1,456 practicing Christians, researchers asked the sample if they agreed with several statements that are rooted in so-called “new spirituality.Sixty-one percent of them affirmed at least one of the questions.

Nearly 30 percent agreed that “all people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they use for that spiritual being.” About that same percentage of people said they believe that “meaning and purpose come from becoming one with all that is.”

The influence of this spirituality has also seeped into the thinking of Christians on matters of ethics, with approximately one third believing in a form of karma. Thirty-two percent of respondents said they agreed with the statement “if you do good, you will receive good, and if you do bad, you will receive bad,” which although not found in Scripture appeals to a sense of justice many have.

“This research really crystallizes what Barna has been tracking in our country as an ongoing shift away from Christianity as the basis for a shared worldview,” said Brooke Hempell, senior vice president of research for Barna, in the report.

What Do Americans Think of Jesus: Man, Myth or God?

“We have observed and reported on increasing pluralism, relativism and moral decline among Americans and even in the Church. Nevertheless, it is striking how pervasive some of these beliefs are among people who are actively engaged in the Christian faith.”

Because fragments and similarities to Christian teachings exist within other systems of thought, this poses a challenge.

“[S]ome may recognize and latch on to these ideas, not realizing they are distortions of biblical truths,” Hempell noted.

“The call for the Church, and its teachers and thinkers, is to help Christians dissect popular beliefs before allowing them to settle in their own ideology.”

The survey also presented statements rooted in postmodernism, secularism, and Marxism, asking Christians if they agreed with them. Those numbers were lower than those who agreed with “new spirituality.” Still, overall, 54 percent agreed with some postmodernist views, 36 percent accepted ideas associated with Marxism and 29 percent said they believe ideas based on secularism.

More specifically, ten percent of practicing Christians said they believed the “secular” view that “a belief has to be proven by science to know that it is true.” The postmodern statement “what is morally right or wrong depends on what an individual believes” resonated strongly with 23 percent of practicing Christians. Eleven percent of respondents agreed with the Marxist statement “Private property encourages greed and envy.”

Demographically, men, often at a two to one ratio, were more open to these non-Christian worldviews than women in all categories. In about half of the survey’s questions, Americans of color were more likely than white Americans to lend credence to non-Christian worldviews.

Millennials and Gen-Xers, who came of age in a culture under considerably less influence of the Christian faith, were eight times as likely to embrace non-Christian worldviews than were respondents from the Baby Boomer and Elder generations, the study found.

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/survey-61-percent-of-practicing-christians-agree-with-some-new-spirituality-beliefs-183173/#5BXtXAbXgqsLD6ME.99

(456) THE BENEDICT OPTION (Part 2) – Emerging Trends in the Church Today

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher

It is ironic that as the church celebrates the 500th anniversary of 41QY+zZAzfL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_the Protestant Reformation, current trends today shows a church that has blended many of their differences, theological principles, and practices together. On the surface, that may seem like a good thing to see the church unified.  

In some respects, reality says that some of this actually has benefited the church. Interaction on several social issues that at times consume the headlines such as abortion and same-sex marriage have benefited from a unity in presenting a biblical view on these issues that otherwise usually gets silenced by the gatekeepers of a secular society.  I would hope that this unity continues to stand strong when based on biblical principles.  The unity isn’t always shared by Christians by and large.  Several Protestant denominations approve of either abortion and/or gay marriage.  Some will even go as far as approving gay ordination of ministers within their particular denomination.  On the Roman Catholic side, on some of these issues, the Church has been a strong tower with respect to upholding biblical principles.  But like some Protestants, the lay Catholic may hold a personal view that is far from what the church teaches.  In addition to that, we have a Pope today who routinely makes statements that imply (directly or indirectly) some difference of views on issues long held by the church for centuries.

That said, biblical unity shouldn’t depend on the views from various Christian denominations. Rather, biblical unity settles on Christ and a truly a biblical view of the issues.   The important consideration is not necessarily what your church believes but rather what does God say in His word.  There lies an important difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.  Roman Catholicism upholds church tradition on equal authority with the Bible. Protestants hold the Bible as the ultimate authority.  It is a key difference between the two groups – insurmountable to many.  There are several other major differences, but just to state one more key difference is the view of how one becomes a Christian – a works-based versus grace through faith alone based approach.  Again, a huge difference between these two groups.  

Rod Dreher, the author of The Benedict Option, was a Roman Catholic and now adheres to Eastern Orthodoxy.  Dreher writes in his book about the need for Christians today to learn to apply the practices of the sixth-century monk, Saint Benedict. Benedict was the founder of the monastic Benedictine order.  The reason is that Dreher believes that there is no reverse of the culture war which began with the sexual revolution in the 1960s and ended in the defeat for Christian conservatives (pp. 3,79) and there is no hope of being reversed (p. 89). Dreher points to the time of Saint Benedict where the monastic community formed in the early centuries of the church with the intent of preserving the faith for future generations.  In his view, the monastic system preserved the faith through the medieval period (pp. 4,29,236).  He takes that further to state that in order for our faith to survive today, we must “learn habits of the heart forgotten by believers in the West” (p. 4).  Therefore, the Benedict Option is a call to undertaking the long and patient work of reclaiming the real world from the alienation brought on by modern-day life.

Dreher traces the moral fall of modern society to five landmark events that rocked Western civilization:

  • In the fourteenth century, the loss of belief in the integral connection between God and Creation—or, in philosophic terms, transcendent reality and material reality.
  • The collapse of religious unity and religious authority in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.
  • The eighteenth-century Enlightenment, which displaced the Christian religion with the cult of Reason, privatized religious life, and inaugurated the age of democracy.
  • The Industrial Revolution (ca. 1760—1840) and the growth of capitalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  • The Sexual Revolution (1960—present) (p. 23).
    • [G. Gilley @ tottministries.org]

I would agree that these events “rocked” society at the time, but I don’t necessarily attribute all of these events as responsible for the fall of society?  Some of these events clearly adversely affected society (e.g. sexual revolution) but with the others listed, one will need to ask what would the alternative have been if some of these events listed above didn’t take place?  In other words, the alternative would most likely have been far worse (alternatives to Democracy, Growth of Capitalism….etc.). 

Specifically, Dreher’s Catholicism comes out with his listing of the Protestant Reformation as being responsible for the collapse of religious unity and authority.  Again, a series of events that “rocked” society but in this case, a unity developed against the traditions of the church (Roman Catholicism), the authority of the Pope and instead focused more on God’s grace found in His word. People began looking at the Bible for truth – even to the point of giving up their life for the spread of God’s word. So much more could be said on this issue.

With little surprise to me, in addition to putting down the Reformation, Dreher introduces several aspects of contemplative mysticism, also found in early Roman Catholicism. Practices are recommended which have little similarity to Biblical practices and instead mirror mystical practices from other Eastern religious beliefs (e.g. Eastern Mysticism)

Check out a few of these in the following quotes from his latest book.

In this quote, contemplative practices such as praying the Jesus Prayer repeatedly, lectio divina, silent prayer, stilling the mind…..etc.

 

Imagine that you are at a Catholic mass in a dreary 1970s-era suburban church that looks like a converted Pizza Hut. The next Sunday you are at a high Catholic mass in New York City, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The Scripture reading is the same in both places, and Jesus is just as present in the Eucharist at Our Lady of Pizza Hut as at St. Patrick’s. Chances are, though, that you had to work harder to conjure a sense of the true holiness of the mass in the suburban church than in the cathedral—though theologically speaking, the “information” conveyed in Word and Sacrament in both places was the same. This is the difference liturgy can make. (Dreher, Rod. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, pp. 106-107, Penguin Publishing Group; emphasis added)

I told the priest how, in response to a personal crisis, my own orthodox priest back in Louisiana had assigned me a strict daily prayer rule, praying the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) for about an hour each day. It was dull and difficult at first, but I did it out of obedience. Every day, for a seemingly endless hour, silent prayer. In time, though, the hour seemed much shorter, and I discovered that the peace I had conspicuously lacked in my soul came forth. (The Benedict Option, p. 59)

For the monks, prayer is not simply words they speak. Each monk spends several hours daily doing lectio divina, a Benedictine method of Scripture study that involves reading a Scripture passage, meditating on it, praying about it, and finally contemplating its meaning for the soul. (The Benedict Option, pp. 58-59)

The Reformation broke the religious unity [with Rome] of Europe. In Protestant lands, it birthed an unresolvable crisis in religious authority, which over the coming centuries would cause unending schisms. The Benedict Option, p. 45, emphasis added)

If you don’t control your own attention, there are plenty of people eager to do it for you. The first step in regaining cognitive control is creating a space of silence in which you can think. During a deep spiritual crisis in my own life, the toxic tide of chronic anxiety did not began to recede from my mind until my priest ordered me to take up a daily rule of contemplative prayer. Stilling my mind for an hour of prayer was incredibly difficult, but it eventually opened up a beachhead in which the Holy Spirit could work to calm the stormy waters within.  (The Benedict Option, pp. 227-228, emphasis added)

In a 2017 Christianity Today article titled, “The Benedict Option’s Vision for a Christian Village” by Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option, Dreher says the following. Our deciphering is in brackets:

I have written The Benedict Option to wake up the church, and to encourage it to act to strengthen itself [unify by removing the barriers between Protestantism and Catholicism], while there is still time. If we want to survive, we have to return to the roots of our faith [not biblical roots, monastic roots of the desert fathers and other mystics], both in thought and in deed. We are going to have to learn habits of the heart [contemplative prayer practices – Nouwen called it moving from the moral (doctrine) to the mystical] forgotten by believers in the West [that’s what Merton taught]. We are going to have to change our lives, and our approach to life, in radical ways. In short, we are going to have to be the church, without compromise, no matter what it costs [the cost is going to be the death of biblical truth]. (source)

Several remarks by Dreher show a promotion of contemplative practices & mysticism which today is a major concern and a major reason NOT to read or support his recommendations.  With Dreher’s turn towards Eastern Orthodoxy, mysticism plays into an even larger part of the religious practices that is promoted within the church.

Dreher’s ECUMENICAL unifying of the church glosses over why the church separated in the first place.  Even more concerning are that these are growing trends in the church today.  But the unification is in spite of Biblical truth instead of Biblical truth.  Issues ranging from how one is saved through a works-based system of man-made theology or a Scripture inspired view of grace alone is a critical difference between Catholicism and Protestantism.  It is disappointing to see some major Protestant leaders such as Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, John Piper…etc., come out stressing the importance of this book and recommending that we ought to read Dreher’s book.

Future postings will continue to look at the effect of mysticism in the church along with addressing the ecumenical trends in some parts of the church today.

(455) THE BENEDICT OPTION – Emerging Trends in the Church Today

THE BENEDICT OPTION

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A new book by Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option, is getting a great deal of exposure and write-ups across many branches of Christianity.  It is promoting a strategy for Christians to engage in our post-Christian nation that we find ourselves today.

I will most likely be writing more about the book in the near future, but for now, I will give a few comments based on reading some reviews and listening to a podcast with Rod Dreher describing his book and why he wrote it.

I heard a podcast interview at the Impact 360 Institute –

http://impact360institute.org/podcasts/should-christians-take-the-benedict-option-an-interview-with-rod-dreher

My brief review from listening to Dreher’s comments in the interview include the following comments:

Rod Dreher does make some very good points. He identifies some of the problems that Christians in our society face today. His point is well taken – college kids and young adults just don’t know about the basics of the faith and have grown up in the church but still lack discipleship in their walk.

However, where I would disagree with Dreher is in what he recommends as a solution. 

Since the popularity of groups such as the Emerging Church…etc., there has been a trend to look negatively at the church today and instead look back to the so-called “early church” to see supposed “true Christianity” as a guide to how we should live out our faith today.  The problem with this approach is, although it is not their intention, they move further from God’s word and look instead to tradition. Worse, much of their tradition is along the lines of ancient Roman Catholic & Eastern Orthodox mysticism. It is a mystical approach to faith that aligns itself very closely with Eastern Mysticism and includes practices that mirror practices from Buddhism, Hinduism….etc. There are many examples of Catholic and Orthodox priests and scholars having Buddhist monks teach in their seminaries on how to meditate and pray according to these traditions that align very closely with Buddhism….etc.

They don’t abandon the faith and to their credit, they include prayer and Bible study as a part of their focus. But they introduce practices that have no basis in the Bible and mix in with Christian practices. The most dangerous perspective of this approach is how it is introduced to Christians – it’s done in a very subtle manner. The results of which show that it can be difficult to identify what these practices actually are to Christians. They then use Christian sounding terms to describe these practices and Christians today have become desensitized to their actual meaning.

For example, terminology that includes words and phrases such as “formation”. “rhythms”, “silence”, “stillness”, “solitude”, “contemplative”...etc. are included with concepts such as meditation and prayer. The problem is that these phrases describe Eastern Mystical practices, not biblical practices outlined in Scripture. Biblical meditation is different than mediation being promoted by those promoting a contemplative faith. Eastern Orthodoxy is filled with these types of mystical practices. The take even reading the Bible and use a practice called Lectio Divina which doesn’t encourage the participant to understand what Scripture is saying but instead through repetition of words, phrases, periods of silence….etc., they are to experience a closeness to God. What? Is that what the Bible calls us to do?

In addition, patterning our walk today after a monastic lifestyle makes no sense.  Granted, Dreher states that his intention is not to recommend living like monks lived in the 6th century.  But, much of what is presented is copying the lifestyle and theology of these monks who have left civilization to live as hermits – I don’t think that is what Jesus had in mind when giving us our marching order with the Great Commission.  That is biblical discipleship.  

The Evangelical Church today has been inundated with these practices. We would be wise to cut out the middleman and go directly to God’s word for our edification and spiritual growth. True discipleship has to focus on God’s word, not these alternative practices that have more similarity to Eastern Mysticism than they do the Bible.

(447) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY: THE SHACK – Review by Marcia Montenegro

Several concerns about the new movie, The Shack, based on the best-selling novel by William P. Young.  The following article is a review by Marcia Montenegro: http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_TheShack.html

729230_1_ftc_dpWHAT’S AT THE BACK OF THE SHACK? A LOOK AT WILLIAM, P. YOUNG’S THE SHACK

By Marcia Montenegro

Written November 2008

Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” John 20:29

    Note: Many will say this is fiction and therefore criticisms of Young’s theology in this book are off-limits or irrelevant. But Young is a Christian who places God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as central characters in his book, The Shack.  Why insert obvious lessons that Mack, the main character, is learning about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit if we are to assume that God in this book is fantasy or fiction? The characters who represent God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit make speeches and give spiritual information and advice. Without this, there would not be a story. The fact this book has been a bestseller renders its views of God even more significant. No book presenting religious themes and characters should be immune from examination and, if necessary, criticism. Any reader is perfectly warranted by the book itself to critique any problematic theological content.

All references to The Shack are from the edition by Windblown Media, Newbury Park, CA, 2007. There are many editions of this book, so page numbers cited in the article may not match all editions.

The Invitation

Would you like to take a trip this weekend and visit Jesus in the flesh? See Him face to face? Sit down and eat with Him? I think most Christians – and maybe even some non-Christians – would jump at the chance to do this while still alive on earth. It sure would make our problems just a little smaller if we could somehow have a couple of days like this with Jesus! Instead, Christians since the time of the resurrection are asked to have faith, to know by faith that Jesus is with us every moment. And he is. But it’s often a tough road and our faith tends to spring holes and leaks. Yet, “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).

Mack, Young’s main character in The Shack, does not have to develop faith the way the rest of us do. He gets to visit Jesus – and the whole Trinitarian Godhead, in fact. Mack has gone through a horrendous time, having lost his six-year-old daughter, Missy, to a cruel killer. This understandably places him in a state of anguish, anger, and doubt, wondering how God could allow this tragedy. A note mysteriously delivered to Mack’s mailbox, signed by “Papa” (Mack’s wife’s name for God), invites Mack to the shack, the place of Missy’s torture and death.

Mack Meets God

Mack travels to the shack and finds it renovated into a beautiful cottage with three persons in residence:  a breezy, cheery African-American woman who likes to cook and who gives her name as Elousia; Jesus, a short Middle-Eastern man always at work in a shed; and an Asian looking woman named Sarayu who is “keeper of the gardens.”  Mack soon learns that Elousia is Papa — God the Father — and Sarayu is the Holy Spirit. Jesus is, of course, Jesus.

Mack is in such agony, that his encounter with God’s love over the weekend is startling and transformative. Young depicts this restoration deeply and movingly. No reader can come away from the book without a refreshing reminder of the love and fellowship in the Persons of the Trinity, and how God’s love for us is so deep that we cannot fathom it. Mack and the reader get glimpses of the unity of the Trinity – how the Three Persons of the Godhead are never in discord or disharmony. This aspect of the book is invigorating and inspirational (except for God and the Holy Spirit being women). Unfortunately, the uplifting that is experienced by Mack and the reader is overshadowed by grave errors in other areas. In his zealous endeavors to depict God’s love, Young falls out of balance and, as a result, undermines other equally essential attributes of God.

It’s hard enough as a reader getting used to the woman character being called “Papa” without also reminding one’s self that this woman is God the Father (Note: Young uses female pronouns for God and the Holy Spirit; my use of these pronouns in this article reflects Young’s  choice, not mine). Mack is confused as well, but Papa explains: “If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning” ( 93).  Could this “conditioning” possibly be how we are conditioned by God’s word to view God as “Father?” Well, yes, it would be. What is wrong with being conditioned by the Bible to regard something the way God presents it? In fact, the word of God is our standard for how we should perceive God, and the nature of God is vitally important to get right. God does not reveal himself willy-nilly in this form or that one, akin to the Hindu gods or the capricious gods of Greek mythology.

Although it is true that God is spirit (yet he appears in this book in human form), God is clearly referred to throughout the Bible as male, and Jesus calls God “Father” numerous times.  Jesus is how we are to think of God.  Jesus taught, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him” (John 14:7)  and “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father” (John 6:46). Jesus is not God the Father but He was the revelation of the Father: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9). Papa is not only going against the biblical view of himself, but also seems to be messing with Mack’s(and the reader’s) head. If Papa’s appearance as a woman is of no consequence, then there is nothing wrong with calling God “mother.”  The same objection holds true for the Holy Spirit. (Much later in the story, Papa appears for a short time as a male because God feels Mack needs a father figure at that time).

The appearance of God in human form is rare (and some believe such appearances are God the Son) in the Bible for God and nonexistent for the Holy Spirit. Appearances of God in the Old Testament, such as when the Lord visited Abraham in Genesis 17, and when Jacob wrestled with God in Genesis 32, are called Theophanies.  In the Old Testament, “every theophany wherein God takes on human form foreshadows the incarnation, both in matters of grace and judgment” (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, http://bible.crosswalk.com/Dictionaries/BakersEvangelicalDictionary/bed.cgi?number=T690).

Theophanies do not occur after the incarnation of Jesus; therefore, Mack’s encounter with God in human form is disturbing, especially since God is appearing as a woman. Some believe that Theophanies in the Old Testament were actually Christophanies, appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ. One commentator explains it this way:

“The Son remained eternally with his Father, eternally the Son of God, but not yet human. This is an important fact to remember because when God appears in the OT in a Theophany, this is the Triune God who is appearing. When God speaks his attributes to Moses, this is not only representative of the Father, but of the Spirit and Son also. While the Theophanies certainly point to the day when the Son would be made flesh, we must remember that this had not yet happened. When the Son did come in human form, all Theophanies ceased forever. God must no longer reveal himself through that means. Christ is the final, complete, perfect revelation of the glory of God” (http://doxoblogy.com/2007/02/27/theophanies/).

In The Shack, not only is God the Father in a female form, but God has the wounds of the cross on his/her body (95, 164)! This is definitely beyond the bounds of the Bible because while Jesus incarnated, God the Father did not. Although the Trinity is a unity in substance, in purpose, and in mind, the whole Trinity did not incarnate. The Bible teaches that it was only Jesus who added humanity to his deity. Thus, when Papa states to Mack “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human” and “we now became flesh and blood” (99), he is speaking contrary to Scripture. God the Father and the Holy Spirit never became flesh and blood; neither were all three Persons of the Trinity God the Son! The latter view is a heresy known as modalism (God manifesting as three persons but actually being only one person).

These are not minor blunders; misrepresenting the nature of God and the Trinity should not go down smooth as butter. If a Christian like Young desires to communicate information about God, even in an imaginary setting, he has a responsibility to present uncorrupted the foundational truths underlying Christian belief. While there are many disagreements among Christians on secondary and minor points, there are essentials that have been professed by Christians for over 2,000 years, and the nature of God and a biblical view of the Trinity are among these. Many Christians have even given their lives defending these truths.  Just because the book is fictional does not excuse a Christian writer for serious inaccuracies on the nature of God.

Slashing Scripture

Mack recalls that in seminary, he had been taught that Christians should

“listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated by and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?” (65, 66)

The implication is that God’s voice being “reduced to paper” is somehow insufficient for Christians, although God’s word says “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17; see also Romans 15:4 and 2 Peter 1:20). Is it not a gift to have God’s “voice” on paper? It is not “reduced” this way, but rather preserved. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35), said Jesus. 

Young’s references to “proper authorities,” “intellects,” and “controlled by the intelligentsia” make Christianity sound like an elitist cult with tyrannical leaders telling people what to believe. This is a charge common from unbelievers, but rarely from Christians. While there are Christian cults with such traits, this is not biblical, authentic Christianity; nor do any respected Christians hold such errant ideas. Perhaps Young was in a bad church and is painting all of Christianity with his tainted view. 

And is God “in a book” the same as God “in a box?” It would seem so from what Young writes. Yet it is God Himself, the author of Scripture, who gave us Scripture! Is Young questioning the authority of Scripture? And who is forcing Christians to buy expensive Bibles? And who is trying to make Christians feel guilty (“guilt edges”)? If this were not Young’s view, he would counter or correct it, but he does not. His alternative to this distorted presentation of Christianity is the hazy, foggy theology of Young’s Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu.

A Strange Spirit

Sarayu, the Holy Spirit in the book who appears as a wraithlike, wispy woman, speaks to Mack about rules, and then tells him “I have a great fondness for uncertainty” (203). This is a real head scratcher since there is no biblical basis for such a statement. Why would the Holy Spirit like uncertainty? Does not God know everything, past, present and future? Not only can God (and this goes for all three Persons of the Godhead) not be uncertain, but there is no basis in God’s character that would cause Him to have a penchant for uncertainty. This contradicts the attributes that God has revealed about Himself, such as omniscience and an unchanging nature. Papa states to Mack that “we have put all our eggs in the one human basket [meaning Jesus]. There is no plan B” (192), implying that God was taking a risk, unsure of results. Yet Papa assures Mack he was not taking a risk. So why does Papa use this aphorism? 

At another point, Jesus tells Mack that He wants to be at the center of Mack’s life “where everything in your life . . .  is connected to me but moves with the wind, in and out and back and forth, in an incredible dance of being” (207; this gave me another New Age flashback since Eastern teachers talk about the “dance of life;” it also has panentheistic overtones). As soon as Jesus finishes this unusual speech, Sarayu announces to Mack “And I . . .  I am the wind” (207). Although the biblical Jesus says that those born “of the Spirit” move like the wind (John 3:8), and angels are referred to as wind, for the Holy Spirit to say she/he is the wind is another matter. It can lead to a misapprehension of the Holy Spirit as a force.

A Touch of New Age?

Jesus, in explaining that appearances don’t matter because “Being always transcends appearance,” remarks to Mack that “God, who is the ground of all being, dwells in, around, and through all things – ultimately emerging as the real – and any appearances that mask that reality will fall away” (112). This assertion reminded this writer of Hindu thinking from her New Age days. The Biblical God is omnipresent but He does not dwell in matter! When Mack leaves the cottage later and returns to his regular life, he thinks that this return means “more likely he was back in the un-real world” (237). This statement reinforces the idea that our world is not the “real” world, another New Age belief.

The implication of the claim, “being always transcends appearance,” is that reality is not a truthful representation of what exists. This is a very troubling assertion not only to find in a Christian book, but to find it as a declaration given by the Jesus character.  After all, God created the world, and it has objective existence.  While it is true that appearances can be deceptive, that is not the point of this passage or statement.

The idea that appearances “mask” an ultimate reality is a Hindu and New Age teaching. While it is true that we cannot see the spiritual world in the material world, the material world is real and what we see is not masking another reality. If that were true, then one would have to conclude that appearances are an illusion, a projection of our thoughts, or a mere disguise of true reality. These are all New Age and/or Eastern views.

More specifically, the phrase that God is “the ground of all being” comes from philosopher/theologian Paul Tillich (1886-
1965). Tillich is regarded by many as being a nontheist, that is, one who does not believe in God as a personal being, but rather is “being” itself — the source of all that exists. In fact, Tillich said that “god is not a being, but being itself.” Others view him as a panentheist, one who believes that all is contained in God although God also transcends all. One writer calls Tillich a “transtheist.” Whatever term is used, Tillich’s concept of God effectively renders God impersonal, even if Tillich still claims God to be personal.  Tillich stated in his Systematic Theology that “God does not exist. He is being itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny him”(205).

 It is only reasonable to conclude that Young is quoting Tillich when he has Jesus say that God “is the ground of all being” since these are Tillich’s words.  The next question is whether Young understands the implications of this. He seems to, at least in part, because of the statements that follow this remark. Whether Young fully concurs with Tillich or not is not really relevant here; what does matter is that he quotes Tillich and offers unbiblical views about God and reality. [See Addendum at end of article for additional information on Paul Tillich].

The Jesus character talks in anguish about the misuse of earth to Mack, using the pronouns “her” and “she,” as though the earth is a conscious organism (145). Nowhere in Scripture does the earth have this status because, of course, the earth is no such thing, contrary to the claims of many groups. While humanity should not mistreat the earth’s resources, The Shack’s Jesus speaks of the earth with a bizarre reverence.

No Punishment for Sin?

Papa talks to Mack about being a parent being fond of his/her children, no matter what mess they are in (119; also see 163). (The indication in several parts of the book is that all are God’s children). But Mack is confused; he asks, “What about your wrath?” Papa prevaricates but Mack keeps pushing the question. Finally, Papa replies, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it” (120).

This sounds more like a psychological assessment rather than the words of a holy God. Papa seems to have forgotten Romans 3:23: “For the wages of sin is death” and is overlooking the numerous passages in both Old and New Testaments about the wrath of God, such as Romans 1: 18, 19: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them;” as well as two statements on God’s wrath “on the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6 and Colossians 3:6).

If there is no wrath on sin, and God is just indulgently angry with the “mess” his “kids” are in, then what are we saved from when we are redeemed through faith in Christ? God’s word tells us that it is God’s righteous wrath: “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Romans 5:9). And how is this wrath expressed? It is eternal separation from God (Matthew 25:46; John 5: 28, 29; Revelation 20:15). God’s wrath is not arbitrary, inconsistent, or volatile; it is righteous because it is based on his absolute goodness.

Because sin is downplayed in the book, and because God’s righteous wrath is missing, the price Jesus paid is also missing.  Instead of sin, words such as “brokenness” (161, 191) and “independence” are used (99, 146, 148).

The book talks about how man’s desire to be “independent” of God brings on man’s problems with God.  This choice of words closely resembles Paul Tillich’s statement that man’s estrangement from God came from man’s desire to be independent of God. Is it coincidence that Young so closely repeats Tillich, even using similar words? It is something to wonder about. While there is some truth in the fact that man in his natural state is relying on himself and attempts to act independently of God, the lack of a referral to sin and the sin nature is troubling.  

Further clouding the issue of sin and redemption, Papa tells Mack that he (Mack) needs to forgive his daughter’s murderer because “for you to forgive this man is for you to release him to me and allow me to redeem him” (224). Papa explains that the murderer is also “my son,” and that she (Papa) has forgiven “all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship” (224-225). Mack is not sure he can forgive, and trying to persuade him, Papa remarks that “When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established” (225).

While we are told to forgive, God certainly does not need us to forgive others so that God can redeem them!  Also, there is no complete forgiveness unless a person trusts Christ through faith. Young makes a distinction between being forgiven and having a relationship with God, but we are forgiven and have a relationship with God when we trust Christ. If one is forgiven, why does one need to trust Christ? For a “relationship?” This is confusing and incorrect.

Jesus is not a Christian

Jesus tells Mack “I’m not a Christian” (182). While technically Jesus cannot be called a Christian since a Christian is a Christ follower, Jesus further remarks to Mack that those who come to him (Jesus) have backgrounds as Mormons, Buddhists, Baptists, Muslims, that some are “bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians” but, continues Jesus, “I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved” (182).  This is a baffling statement at the very least, and erroneous at the worst.  How is one “transformed” without becoming a Christian?

The word “Christian” comes from the Bible, which tells us that those who had believed on Christ were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26). First Peter 4:16 says “but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”  Christians are to glorify God “in this name.” Why is Young’s Jesus so negative toward the word “Christian?” This is deeply disconcerting as well as being contrary to scripture.

The repudiation of the word “Christian” implies that one does not need to identify one’s self as a “Christian” or maybe does not need to be one.  Jesus wants to “join them in their transformation,” a phrasing that sounds more like a self-improvement program than redemption from sin.  And why is Jesus “joining them” and not the other way around?

No Expectations from Papa

Papa informs Mack that he has no expectations of Mack, and that Mack can never disappoint him (206). Has Papa not read the Bible? Or did he/she somehow miss the commands given to believers, such as “Love one another” (John 13:34; Romans 13:8; 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 4,9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, and many others);   “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men” (Romans 12:8);   “Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8),  “Render to all what is due them” (Romans 13: 7), and numerous others. Jesus himself says, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). First John 5:3 tells Christians, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (see also John 14:23, John 15:10; 2 John 1:6). 

We cannot earn salvation by keeping any laws or commandments, but there are commandments to believers.  In fact, it is hard to find passages in the New Testament that do not contain commandments. Surely if God has given these, He desires us to strive to keep them (through the power and ministry of the Holy Spirit).

The Fourth Person, Sophia

As if dealing with a female god named Papa and a female Holy Spirit are not enough, Young introduces another female character. In an extended scene, Mack is confronted by a woman (who does not identify herself) with the fact that he has been judging God. This woman can read Mack’s mind (160), and implies that what influenced the man who killed Mack’s daughter is “the man who twisted his son into a terror,” and that a “legacy of brokenness goes all the way back to Adam” (161). This could be interpreted as putting blame for evil acts on a person’s parents or upbringing. However, Ezekiel 18:19-20 states

“‘What?’ you ask. ‘Doesn’t the child pay for the parent’s sins?’ No! For if the child does what is just and right and keeps my decrees, that child will surely live. The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness.” 

The Bible is clear that we each are responsible for our own actions, even though we inherit a sin nature.

Jesus tells Mack later that this woman is Sophia, “a personification of Papa’s wisdom” (171). Mack replies that he thought Sophia, which means “wisdom” in Greek, was a personification in the book of Proverbs (this is true), and says that Sophia “seemed so real.” Jesus responds, “Oh, she’s quite real.” Jesus then whispers to Mack, “She’s part of the mystery surrounding of Sarayu” (171). Jesus first agrees that Sophia is a personification but then contradicts himself and says she is “quite real,” implying that Mack encountered a real person.

In truth, not only is Sophia not a real woman, contrary to what Young’s Jesus asserts, but we discover in the New Testament that Jesus “became for us the wisdom from God” and is “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:30, 24).

The presence of Sophia is disturbing on many levels, not just because she is not a real person, but also because in recent years, Sophia has been represented as almost a goddess by some churches, taking precedence over Jesus Christ (from “Sunday with Sophia” by Katherine Kersten). One commentator notes, “The new teachings about Sophia are actually drawn from the apocryphal books of Baruch, Sirach, and Ecclesiasticus. The only place in the entire Old Testament where wisdom is personified is in the early chapters of Proverbs. And these chapters make it clear that the literary device of personification is being used, and that there is no intent to view ‘wisdom’ as a divine creator god or goddess” (Harold S. Martin, “Paganism at the Re-Imagining Conference in Minneapolis,” http://www.brfwitness.org/Articles/1994v29n3.htm). 

Is There Good in the Shack?

Despite some emotionally gripping twists and turns in the story, and the insights Mack gains through the tragedy of losing his daughter, the undermining of sin and the distorted, if not outright inaccurate portrayals of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are too pervasive to recommend this book. While the book offers the important message that God is loving and desires to comfort those who are hurting, and that he is with us when we are in the darkest places of the heart and mind, it is just as necessary to know God in all of his aspects, which he has revealed to us in his word. All of God’s attributes are always present in perfect balance, but the view of God in this book is a portrait way out of balance.

Undoubtedly, some readers will sense God’s love and grace in the book and may benefit from this. However, good results cannot excuse the serious biblical departures though many will undoubtedly defend the book on this basis. Even if unintended or done in ignorance, erosion or distortion of biblical truth is serious and should not be shrugged away. Sadly, we are in a time now when “doctrine” is an undesirable word (despite instructions in the New Testament to hold to sound doctrine), and when those who critique poor or bad theology are cast in a bad light. None of this, however, should dissuade a Christian from evaluating material according to the Bible.

Summary of major problems with The Shack:

Portrays God the Father and the Holy Spirit in human form

Portrays God the Father and the Holy Spirit as female

States that God the Father and the Holy Spirit incarnated as flesh and blood

States that God and the Holy Spirit became God the Son

A demeaning of God’s majesty

Undermines sin and the price Christ paid on the cross

Undermines God’s righteous wrath and justice

Undermines the Bible, the authority and written word of God

The book’s Jesus character rejects the label “Christian” for those he will “join in their transformation”

Sophia presented as a real person with divine powers

Statements reflecting problematic views of Paul Tillich

Implications of inclusivism

Addendum: Further Information on Paul Tillich

I am including this information on Paul Tillich due to the declaration in the book about God being “the ground of all being,” and statements regarding man’s problem as being “independent of God.” In doing this, I am not claiming that Young follows Tillich, but these statements echo Tillich. It is beneficial to know about Tillich because of his influence on many theologians today, including the well-known Bishop John Shelby Spong, who has denied the essentials of the Christian faith and considers Tillich his favorite theologian. Moreover, panentheism (God is contained in creation but also transcends it) is on the rise in the church today, while at the same time, propositional truth is becoming less popular [a proposition is a statement that is either true or false]. Tillich’s views are considered by some to be panentheistic, and Tillich rejected God’s revelation in the form of propositions.

From John J. Thatamanil, The Immanent Divine: God, Creation, and the Human Predicament (Kindle Edition: Fortress Press, 2006): Thatamanil claims that Tillich’s form of panentheism could be called “transtheistic,” because Tillich “transcends theism” and is neither a theist nor an atheist “in any conventional sense” (10). For Tillich, according to Thatamanil, “God is more than personal” (10). Thatamanil also states that “no modern major Christian theologian has received more sustained attention from Eastern thinkers than Tillich. Thus far, he has been particularly attractive to Buddhist thinkers. Tillich’s own interests lay in this direction. But Tillich’s theology can also find a promising hearing in encounters with Hindu theology” (9). Tillich was apparently influenced by and/or had interest in Zen Buddhism (a footnote on page 10 of his book recommends as a resource on this topic The Formless Self by Joan Stambaugh [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999], pages 55-71). Tillich asserted that “man discovers himself when he discovers God; he discovers something that is identical with himself although it transcends him infinitely, something from which he is estranged, but something from which he never was and never can be separated” (Paul Tillich, “The Two Types of Philosophy in Religion,” in Theology of Culture [NY: Oxford University Press, 1959], 10; quoted on 18). Rather than a supernatural God who intervenes in the natural world, Tillich preferred to see God “as the creative ground of being” (19). Thatamanil likens Tillich’s concept of God to the nondualism of Hinduism. Tillich believed that although all people are present in God because God is the “ground of being,” a person can act independently of God, exercising a freedom that puts distance between them and God and thus bring on estrangement (20-21).

From Stanley J Grenz and Roger E. Olson, 20th Century Theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age (Intervarsity Press, 1997): Tillich rejected the idea of God’s revelation in words or propositions. Therefore, the Bible is not God’s word; rather, revelation is “event and experience that can happen through many different media” (123). 

The remaining portion of this article can be found here – 

http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_TheShack.html