Thinking Out Loud

March 12, 2017

“…The arts should be evaluated artistically, not just theologically.”

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:13 am

On Friday, Internet Monk ran two articles back-to-back by the site’s founder, the late Michael Spencer. The subject was The Shack, both the movie and the book, though Spencer did not live to see the movie. I have reproduced the second of the two articles here because it deals with some general principles, but for added context, I encourage you to read both, which you may do so at this link: Fridays with Michael Spencer…On “The Shack” but for those who choose not to click, here is the second part.

Difficult Concept Workshop: Repeat After Me…”The Shack Is A Story”

by Michael Spencer

I just finished doing another interview about my writing on The Shack. My posts on The Shack have attracted a lot of readers, which is good, because if nothing else, The Shack is a phenomenon that needs to be discussed and better understood.

It seems that a willingness to denounce The Shack has become the latest indicator of orthodoxy among those evangelicals who are keeping an eye on the rest of us. It’s a lot less trouble than checking out someone’s views on limited atonement, that’s for sure.

Hear me loud and clear: it’s every pastor and Christian’s duty to speak up if they feel The Shack is spiritually harmful. I’d only add one point: it’s equally the right of those who find The Shack helpful to say so.

Obviously, The Shack isn’t for everyone. Like a lot of Christian fiction, it has a certain amount of gawky awkwardness. No one will ever call William Young a skilled wordsmith. I wouldn’t teach The Shack in a theology class, even though I find Young’s willingness to explore the Trinity commendable and personally helpful.

(Oh… I probably would use The Shack to discuss whether the Trinity is a hierarchy, a belief that critics of The Shack seem to hold as essential.)

It’s the presentation of God in The Shack that creates the controversy with the critics and the buzz with the fans, but the longer I’ve talked about this story with other Christians, I have to wonder if all the focus on Young’s “Trinity” isn’t missing the larger point of the book- a point that many theological watchblogs don’t seem to see at all.

The Shack is a pilgrimage. It’s an allegorical account of one person’s history with God; a history deeply affected by the theme of “The Great Sadness.” It’s a journey, and overlooking what’s going on in Mack’s journey is a certain prescription of seeing The Shack as a failed critique of Knowing God.

I’ve come to believe that the most significant reason for The Shack’s early success- certainly the reason I picked it up- is the endorsement from Eugene Peterson on the cover, an endorsement where Peterson refers to Young’s book as another “Pilgrim’s Progress.” That’s not a random compliment.

The Knights of Reformed Orthodoxy like to talk about Pilgrim’s Progress as if it is Calvin’s Institutes made into a movie. In reality, Bunyan’s Book is a personal pilgrimage, one that illustrated his version of Christian experience and retold his own experiences.

Even Spurgeon realized that Bunyan’s theology wasn’t completely dependable. The loss of the “burden” comes after a long search for relief, a storyline that reflected Bunyan’s own struggles with assurance and obsessive subjectivity. Few pastors today would endorse a version of the Gospel that left people wandering in advanced states of conviction, unable to find any way to receive forgiveness. Bunyan’s particular personality has too much influence on his presentation of belief and assurance.

But what Bunyan does illustrate is valuable in a manner much different than a theological outline. He tells the story of a journey from guilt to forgiveness, the confrontation with worldly powers, spiritual conflict, imperfect fellow believers and the inertia and resistance within ourselves. We can measure Bunyan’s book by measurements of correct theology, but I believe most of us know that this isn’t the proper measurement for Pilgrim’s Progress. We should measure it as a presentation of one Christian’s life.

It’s a story of a journey.

The same could be said of many other books. Take C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. It’s the journey of grieving the death of a spouse. Along the way, God’s appearances are all over the map because the “pilgrim” is moving in his journey through “the Great Sadness.”

Be clear: I agree with Ben Witherington III that Young’s book could use a theological revision, but I believe his adventurous exploration of God’s character is set against “the Great Sadness,” not “the Great Theological Examination.” When someone analyzes The Shack and finds 13 major heresies, I’d suggest you look very closely at the list. Some are legitimate concerns. Some are brutal victims of context and some are not heresies at all, but the critic’s discomfort with the medium.

Young is talking about a God who draws you out of your hiding place. If I understand Young’s own journey, this is the primary image in the book: A God who invites you and meets in the the very place where “the Great Sadness” entered your experience in a way that you understand the love that comes to you from the Trinity.

This journey is what should capture the reader. In one sense, The Shack is a bit of Rorschach test, and if you put it in front of someone and what they see is “emerging church heresy!” and “God is a black woman,” then you’ve learned what that person was most looking for in the book: a familiar and historically orthodox affirmation of God and a similar affirmation of who are the good guys.

But what about those who look at the book and see Mack’s journey? The Great Sadness? The God who draws you out and meets you in the place of your greatest loss? What if that reader sees the theological awkwardness and occasional imprecision, but sees those problems in balance alongside Mack’s journey to self-forgiveness, resolution and renewed intimacy with God? Maybe that’s why so many people who know good theology STILL like The Shack?

There is enough in The Shack to give all of us plenty to blog about, so don’t expect posts to end anytime soon. But I’m wondering if anyone is understanding that The Shack isn’t selling because there’s such a hunger for theological junk food. No, there’s a hunger for someone to compellingly narrate the central mystery of God, the Trinity. There’s a hunger for a God who is reconciling toward those who have believed and then turned away because they can no longer understand a God who allowed “The Great Sadness.” There is a hunger for a God who comes into our life story and walks with us to the places that are the most hurtful.

In other words, the theological fact checkers are probably missing what is so appealing to readers of The Shack, even as they see some crimes in progress. It is a contemporary Pilgrim’s Progress, but the pilgrim is a not a 17th century puritan, but a 21st century evangelical. The burden isn’t sin, but the hurtful events of the past. The journey is not the way to heaven, but the way back to believing in a God of goodness, kindness and love.

If Paul Young writes a book of theology, it should be better than The Shack. But if he writes his story, it is The Shack. I don’t buy it all, and most people I’ve talked to don’t either. But that’s not the point. It’s Young’s journey that he’s recounting and we’re reading, and that’s how we’re reading it: a story.

Note to writers: When it comes to fiction, don’t listen to the critics who want to take you down for your theology. Tell the story that’s in you, whether it passes the orthodoxy test or not. This isn’t Puritan Massachusetts yet. WRITE THE STORY. The people who read stories as theology lectures are NEVER going to approve.  -M.S.


Something we rarely do here is close comments; but if you have one, it is better posted at the original source.

The post title here is a quote from the first part of what ran Friday. I would have like to have run both, but it’s a best practice to send them the internet traffic.

July 23, 2016

Weekend Link List

  • A 40 year flashback to a 3-part series Sports Illustrated on religion in sports.
  • A must-listen podcast for anyone in business or management: The value of giving value, aka Donald Miller goes to Chick-fil-A.
  • CT visits The Ark Encounter. I loved this quote:

Ark Encounter Review at CT

Flocks by Night

  • There are five ways you can respond to terrorists attacks, and none of them involve hashtags.
  • Reaching the online world: InterVarsity launches Ministry in Digital Spaces.
  • Video of the Week(end): They make choir arrangements of modern worship songs. I already knew that. Just never pictured it included newer bands like Rend Collective:

June 20, 2016

Profile: Artist James Ruddle

James Ruddle Henderson Bridge

Henderson MuralThis one has an interesting story. It started with our oldest son, who moved into a townhouse complex about two blocks from where he had been living before, at Tyndale University. As we got to know the area we noticed a very large mural under a railway bridge, and on one occasion, walking to get some pizza, we took some pictures. My youngest son tried to match the pose of one figure — he missed the whole leg crossing thing — but put it on his Facebook page. (The picture at the top only shows half of it, the rest wraps around the corner.)

But it just so happened he was standing next to the name of the artist who had painted the mural; no small feat considering the size of the thing. One of his friends posted, “James Ruddle is an awesome Christian artist! Love his work.”

It was like someone activated the push-button starter on the journalist in me. I was determined to know more. So I checked out JamesRuddle.com and clicking on ‘Community Projects’ found the story of how the bridge mural was painted over six days.

Then I clicked on ‘Christian Art,’ which was, after all, the object of my search, only to discover we’ve encountered him before here on the blog, just not by name. He was the artistic director for the centerpiece of “The Gospel” a video we featured here to highlight the performing arts efforts of a local church east of Toronto, C4; which also became an art installation in the main lobby of the church.

C4 Church - Gospel Video Cross

The video bears another look, so…

His Wikipedia page also caught my interest, describing the time he spent 72 hours in a box to paint the walls and ceiling of the McMaster University Student Center. A story on a large triptych in a local church describes his unusual technique which blends both art and welding skills.

James is definitely a one-of-a-kind artist. You can follow his various projects on Twitter @jamesruddle and on his YouTube channel, The James Show (where you can see his blowtorch technique in action) and at Deviant Art (where you can see his latest project, portraits of the Royal Family.)


It’s amazing how your story can partially overlap on someone else’s journey. Two of the churches mentioned in links in this piece — Carruther’s Creek (aka C4) and Forest Brook Community Church — are both located in the eastern part of the Greater Toronto Area, and are both churches that until recently we would get to visit every summer. We attended C4 for two years, and were married in the church for which Forest Brook is a ‘daughter-church.’ (They didn’t speak of ‘plants’ back then, but rather used the more interesting term, ‘hiving off.’) If you know someone who lives in Scarborough, Pickering, Ajax, Whitby or doesn’t mind driving a distance; we recommend both churches.

December 11, 2015

The Ultimate Dumbing Down of Christian Publishing

Coloring Books

Some Christian bloggers feel a compulsion to weigh in on every trending topic, but most are ignoring this one entirely. I’m talking about the growth market of stress-relieving adult coloring books. Never heard of it? The uniquely Christian editions simply mirror something taking place in the larger publishing market except that we Christianize it through the adding of a few Bible verses, though maybe not on every page.

Adult Coloring Book for ChristiansDominating the religious market is Today is Going to be a Great Day! released by Christian Art Gifts, a worldwide consortium of manufacturers and distributors best known for their line of Bible cases. It probably offers the best deal on a price-per-page basis.

But Baker Book Group offers one also, Live Loved containing the writing of Margaret Feinberg, which has author name recognition. On Wednesday, I noticed this title on a list of possible blog review titles. How do you review a coloring book? I dared to ask this, and was told to, “…see this as an experience, and review based on that. Perhaps talk about what you reflected on or if you felt anything during, or coming away from the experience.”

I’ll have to get out my colored pens. Or is it pencils? I know nothing about this genre. Anything I was to color would look like it had been done by a 5-year old. It wouldn’t make the refrigerator door of a preschool, even a politically correct one where everybody’s pictures get posted. I am always coloring outside the lines, which, on reflection, would be a great name for a blog.

Some Christian bookstores are finding this whole trend to be a cash cow. They are in fact selling the pens, or markers, or whatever you use to share this stress-relieving experience. I’m hearing of stores ordering 500 copies at a time of Today... This is Christmas 2015’s Jesus Calling, a veritable gift to Christian merchants.

Where does all this lead? When you have a trend, build a Bible around it; ergo Journaling Bibles:

Bible Journaling full size

“Don’t write in your Bible;” I was told as a child. Hence a vast scripture collection adorns my shelves that are void of any underlining or highlighting. But now we have the sample pages above where apparently every one of us is potentially the next Timothy Botts. It’s a Bible marking adventure that makes Kay Arthur’s intricate inductive study method of Bible marking (see below) appear downright drab by comparison. Again, I know people awaiting the Winter release of these Bibles with baited breath.

So what is this blogger going to say in response?

I have no words. I just don’t get it. Coloring books? This is what it comes down to in a world that faces so many spiritual challenges right now? The gifts under the tree this Christmas are going to be coloring books for adults?

I guess I said it all when I wrote the headline for today’s piece.

 


If you want to take pen (or pens) to Bible, I propose that this might be a better use of your time:

Inductive Bible Study

 

February 18, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Morality in the 21st Century

Morality in the 21st Century

 

  • Mama Mea Culpa? – Ravi Zacharias on President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast: “For those who did not hear the talk, it is sufficient to say that it was the most ill-advised and poorly chosen reprimand ever given at a National Prayer Breakfast. I have been to several and have never, ever heard such absence of wisdom in a setting such as this…Citing the Crusades, he used the single most inflammatory word he could have with which to feed the insatiable rage of the extremists. That is exactly what they want to hear…
  • When You’ve Lost the Calvinists, You’ve Lost the Battle – Justin Taylor at no less than The Gospel Coalition is not on-side with ‘literal’ six day creationism: “It is commonly suggested that this is such a “plain reading” of Scripture—so obviously clear and true—that the only people who doubt it are those who have been influenced by Charles Darwin and his neo-Darwinian successors…So it may come as a surprise to some contemporary conservatives that some of the great stalwarts of the faith were not convinced of this interpretation…I want to suggest there are some good, textual reasons…”  (Of course, not everyone agreed.)
  • When It’s Time for a Time Out – A look at what it means to be “disqualified from ministry” and the related issue of restoration. “My point is that those who minister for God don’t live unimpeachable lives. By “unimpeachable” I mean perfect. But the sins we are often quick to use to disqualify someone from ministry are far less severe than denying Christ [or] adjusting the Gospel to make it square with our prejudice.”
  • If a First Century Christian Time Traveled to Your Church – “If Americanized Christians were to see how the first Christians lived, it would be denounced as some sort of communist cult being led by folks who distorted the Gospel…If Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort were to fly back in time to see how the first Christians– those who walked and talked with Jesus– were doing things, they’d say they were totally doing it wrong, and have succumbed to liberalism.”
  • Essay of the Week: What Makes a Movie/CD Christian? – “[William Romanowski] argues, when [Amy] Grant began to abandon explicitly Christian lyrics in favor of ones focused on romance, many Christians became uneasy and were forced to reconsider their paradigm for Christian art. Was Amy Grant enough of a Christian singer? The fact that Grant resisted easy categorization prompted discussion and debate. She defied the strict sacred/secular bifurcation. Of course, the only difference between Christian Grant and secular Grant was the lyrics. Christian art, the logic went, is Christian art only if it explicitly communicates its Christian-ness.”
  • Reinventing The Christian Bookstore – Even as the Family Christian bookstore chain enters Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a former university textbook store has been re-purposed as a center for the Christian community in Winnipeg, Manitoba that is part retail, part library and includes many other parts: “Materials from the lending library, owned and operated by Mennonite Church Canada, sit in the middle of the spacious store, with catalogue stickers indicating the items are for loan, not for sale…” The university president adds, “We didn’t want to build only a library, but we wanted to build a public gathering place.”
  • Missing the Moment – We’ve all seen the pictures where people are so busy with their smartphones they miss something awesome taking place right next to them. Tyler Blanski addressed this and many other social media challenges in a November article that we just discovered: “…Mixing social media with daily life diminishes daily life. When I’m with my son, I want him to be able to take for granted that I am there. And no matter how often I might look up from my phone, if our time together is material for social media, I will never be more than half there. I want him to grow up in a home that is a safe haven, not a stage.”
  • Lost in Translation? – The NIV, ESV, Amplified, KJV and several others get together for a dinner party. (I hesitated to title this link, ‘If Translations Could Speak.’) A great premise if you’ve always wondered what they all think of each other. [NIV to ESV] “Look, I know you’re the new kid on the block, and that a bunch of pastors are all like, ‘Rah, rah, ESV, our study Bible can beat up your study Bible.’ But just because you’re new and polished doesn’t mean you’re better. Some of us have been around for a long time and have seen a lot of things.”
  • The Vanity and Toxicity of Conversation Toppers: “We may not realize it, but there is an art to making good conversation. Such artistry is not simply the goal of talk show hosts and salesmen but should be something that each one of us practices, especially those who serve as pastors.”
  • One for the Road – Next Sunday’s worship: Looking for something new that is both hymn-like and chorus-like and also lyrically deep? You could do this song with a driving rhythm section or a classically trained choir.

Short Takes:

Sometimes preachers talk about people being "too busy for God..." I found it interesting that in December, when we get busy, readership at Christianity 201 drops noticeably. When things get hectic, we do put spiritual disciplines on the back burner.

Sometimes preachers talk about people being “too busy for God…” I found it interesting that in December, when we get hectic, readership at Christianity 201 drops noticeably; some of us do tend to put spiritual disciplines on the back burner at busy times.

April 16, 2009

Another Spiritual Lego Masterpiece

Filed under: Christianity, Humor — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:32 pm

lego-statue-of-jesusFirst it was the Lego Church, now it’s Lego Jesus.   This time the story takes us to Sweden:

STOCKHOLM (AFP) – While most Christians mark Easter with prayers and song, one Swedish church opened its mass Sunday by unveiling a life-size Lego statue of Jesus Christ, its pastor told AFP.

Churchgoers had donated nearly 30,000 Lego bricks to build the 1.78 metre (5.8 foot) high statue, said Per Wilder, the pastor of the Oensta Gryta Church in Vaesteras, about 110 kilometres (70 miles) west of Stockholm.

Everything in my heart says “kitsch,” but as photographed, it’s actually rather striking.  Or at least it will be until some three-year-old starts playing with it.  (“Hey, Daddy, look what I found; it’s Jesus’ hand…”)

You can continue reading the whole Yahoo News story here.

.

So now then, what other primitive media can we incorporate into church architecture?   And is this a form of ‘graven image’ or is it more an ‘interlocking brick’ image?

February 7, 2009

The Life of Christ in Cats

Filed under: Christianity, Humor, Jesus, Religion — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:30 pm

Okay, I love cats probably more than most of you, but this is simply wrong. Funny; creative; but ultimately wrong.

christ-in-cats-w1

Strangely, on the subject of irreverence, on the subject of not treating the things of God with proper respect; the first verse that popped into my mind was, “Do not give that which is holy to dogs.”   The advertising line at the top should read, “If you truly know what discernment is, you won’t bring this collector plate into your home.”

Collector plate source (Wuffworld; woof.me.uk)

HT: James Kingley at Churchy Design.

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