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.

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August 9, 2016

My Next Novel: Passing the Peace

Filed under: links — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:40 am

So excited to be able to announce this today, with simultaneous announcements in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and coming soon to wherever you buy quality books.

Paul Wilkinson novel

Health officials in rural Indiana are baffled by a plague-like upper respiratory illness that seems to be gripping the members of Cedar Ridge Evangelical Church, so they attend a service and witness the ritual of friendship that Episcopalians know as ‘the passing of the peace,’ where they realize the alpha person spreading the disease is Eric Winston, an overly friendly usher who likes to give hugs. As they try to halt the virus in its tracks, they discover an Amish family down the road from the church is involved in a murder over the contents of a treasure chest dating back to colonial America. Should Ginger, the blonde nurse with the health team confess her admiration for Derk, the handsome farmhand, even if it means revealing her deepest secret and true identity? Is something sinister happening when the team leader, Dr. Murton is playing golf with the pharmaceutical reps? Would you call the disease viral or bacterial? Should Timmy be playing that close to the abandoned well? And why don’t the people of Cedar Ridge Church simply wash their hands more often?

 

July 21, 2015

Shack Author Paul Young’s Newest Releases in Two Months

Paul Young - EveAfter the huge success of The Shack, many publishers were after Paul Young’s third novel, Eve. When first released, The Shack was a game-changer for Christian publishing, its commercial success rivaled only by the controversy it created, with many of the negative responses coming from people who had never read the book. It also was put in the rare situation of having various other books written about it. 

Radio host Drew Marshall once quipped, “There are two kinds of people; people who like The Shack, and people who don’t like The Shack;” indicative of the great divide the book’s portrayal of God created.

After nearly five years, Young reappeared with Crossroads, followed by another three year gap that’s about to change on September 22nd when Eve, a 320-page novel releases simultaneously in hardcover and paperback from Howard, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

From the publisher’s blurb (excerpt):

…When a shipping container washes ashore on an island between our world and the next, John the Collector finds a young woman inside—broken, frozen, and barely alive. With the aid of Healers and Scholars, John oversees her recovery and soon discovers her genetic code connects her to every known human race. She is a girl of prophecy and no one can guess what her survival will mean…

…Eve is a bold, unprecedented exploration of the Creation narrative, true to the original texts and centuries of scholarship—yet with breathtaking discoveries that challenge traditional misconceptions about who we are and how we’re made. As The Shack awakened readers to a personal, non-religious understanding of God, Eve will free us from faulty interpretations that have corrupted human relationships since the Garden of Eden.

Eve opens a refreshing conversation about the equality of men and women within the context of our beginnings, helping us see each other as our Creator does—complete, unique, and not constrained to cultural rules or limitations…

You can read the full blurb at this link.

In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly published on Monday, Howard Vice President and Editor in Chief Ami McConnell said,

I think the thing that I am most proud of is that it’s the product of decades of thought and perhaps even pain on Paul’s part, and it’s a very rich experience. Every read that I’ve done has brought out new levels of awareness and understanding. This is a story that has never been told before. I have been working on just novels – no non-fiction – for a decade, and so I know the tropes. I know what notes you have to hit with certain kinds of stories, and I’m faithful to make sure that authors hit those notes. This is a story I have never read before. It’s a new approach to a story as old as our culture.

You can read more of that interview at this link.

 

June 2, 2014

Author’s Shack Simile Deserves a Fresh Look

The Gate - Dann StoutenIt was inevitable that in the wake of The Shack there would be imitators, and many are probably yet to come. Some of these will succeed and others will be pulped for recycling, but overall, I was surprised to see 2013’s The Gate by Dann Stouten (Revell) turning up at remainder prices earlier this year. This book deserves better, it deserves a second look.

Though I haven’t read the latter, I thought that the book might be well-described as The Shack meets The Five People You Meet in Heaven, but since I’m only qualified to note comparisons to the former, that is the best place to begin.

Like the popular Paul Young novel, Stouten’s novel involves a point of crisis that the author must redeem somehow, though in this case redemption rests on the shoulders of both of the two parties involved, and The Gate‘s “great sadness” is not quite as dark. The book also deals with our need for reconciliation and forgiveness. Both books use fiction as a means of teaching. The two titles have much to say about heaven. Also like Young’s bestseller, this one has great potential appeal to the male reader, accomplished here with the use of auto industry references that will especially resonate with collectors of vintage cars. Finally, like Shack, the book also allows the main character to have interaction with visible representations of all three parts of the triune Godhead; this book’s version of which would probably be less like to attract the controversy which dogged the bestseller.

The book is both peppered with and faithful to scripture, reflecting the author’s vocation as a Dutch Reformed pastor. There are some very teachable moments throughout, thought it was a scene with the main character reading bedtime stories to his daughters that I actually went back to re-read twice. Giving the character three daughters, along with interaction with female relatives throughout the story prevents this narrative from being male-dominated.

Again, I don’t know how this book did not receive wider publicity and marketing on its release, but I’m prepared to help remedy that here, and encourage you to track it down.

August 5, 2010

Rooms by James Rubart

It’s been more than a week since I turned the last page of Rooms by James Rubart.   More than a week to gather my thoughts about the twists and turns of plot and spiritual journey that make up one of the most interesting books I’ve read.

I am not a fiction reader at all, but an increasing percentage of my  reading in the last twelve months has been Christian fiction.    The book came to me by way of a recommendation from the owner of the Christian bookstore in a small town in Eastern Ontario while we were on the first day of our vacation.

Then, in a manner fully in keeping with the spirit of the book itself, a copy showed up unsolicited in the mail. [Insert Twilight Zone theme music here.]   I took it with me on the next leg of our holidays, and began to understand the passion in the store owner’s recommendation.

There are going to be comparisons to The Shack. I say this in the future tense because I’m not sure that this book has hit its stride yet, even though it’s been available for a few months.   Unlike Shack, however, I think Rooms will avoid the doctrinal and theological controversies that dogged the former title, especially given its publication by conservative B&H Fiction (a division of the Baptist company, Broadman & Holman.)

That said, the book is edgy enough in a couple of areas to raise some Baptist eyebrows.   Don’t let the publisher imprint dissuade you.    James Rubart is a comparatively new author, but one who I believe we will be hearing more from in the future.  (I’m already looking forward to Book of Days releasing in 2011…)

There are also going to be comparisons to a title which I have not read, the book House by Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti, as both books are based on a similar premise.   (Although, if you want to stretch things, so also is The Great House of God by Max Lucado, although that’s not close to being a fiction title.)

The protagonist in the story, Micah Taylor,  finds himself the inheritor of a large (9,000 square foot) house with, for lack of a better word, supernatural rooms that appear and disappear — and one that is more constant — representing different aspects of his life history and personality.

And then there’s Rick.   Seems like every book I read lately has a guy who ‘just shows up,’ who has uncanny insights and knowledge.   Echoes of The Noticer by Andy Andrews, So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore by Jake Colsen, and Bo’s Café by a trio of authors.   (Tangent:  All books mentioned in this post, including Rooms, should be high on your list of books you can recommend to a male reader, including those who don’t consider themselves readers.)

Yeah.   That’s about all of the plot that I need to say.   From there you’re on your own.

Given sales figures in the millions, comparing this book to Shack isn’t exactly the worst thing I can do.   However, while that book is something unique that is being used to reach those outside the Christian faith, Rooms may find its audience among the already converted.  I do think there’s room for both types of readers with this book, and I hope it finds a response over the next few months from a variety of readers.   Keep it on your radar.


The reviews:  On one Christian retail site that allows customer reviews, 15 were posted.   One gave the book 4.5 out of 5 stars.   The other fourteen gave it 5 out of 5 stars.   Wow!

The book trailer video:   46-seconds; blink and you miss it.

The picture:  James has one and one only promotional picture which appears everywhere.   Including LinkedIn.  There was one exception — the one on this post — but when I right-clicked it, I ended up with a message reading  “Ephesians 4:32 “(“…let him who stole, steal no more…”) advice which, if taken, would mean and end to photo sharing on any social networking sites.  So I got the picture above from a tribute James did to his father on his personal blog.  Not sure how Ephesians feels about that.  Next time I’m stealing the other picture.

The publisher marketing:  I was a little light here on plot, so here’s more teaser copy from B&H which may contain minor spoilers:

On a rainy spring day in Seattle, young software tycoon Micah Taylor receives a cryptic, twenty-five-year-old letter from a great uncle he never knew. It claims a home awaits him on the Oregon coast that will turn his world inside out. Suspecting a prank, Micah arrives at Cannon Beach to discover a stunning brand new nine-thousand square foot house. And after meeting Sarah Sabin at a nearby ice cream shop, he has two reasons to visit the beach every weekend.

When bizarre things start happening in the rooms of the home, Micah suspects they have some connection to his enigmatic new friend, Rick, the town mechanic. But Rick will only say the house is spiritual. This unnerves Micah because his faith slipped away like the tide years ago, and he wants to keep it that way. But as he slowly discovers, the home isn’t just spiritual, it’s a physical manifestation of his soul, which God uses to heal Micah’s darkest wounds and lead him into an astonishing new destiny.

Comments here:  This is about a book called Rooms; it’s not about a book called Shack. Guide yourselves accordingly.




July 14, 2010

Wednesday Link List

We’re back with the links… some of these have been accumulating for a few weeks, and there have been many great posts lately at Christianity Today, which are represented here:

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