Thinking Out Loud

June 23, 2009

Trinity: The Word Itself Isn’t There, But Ya Got a Better Idea?

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:35 pm

trinity 1trinity 2

Here they are:  The “trinitarian” verses of the Bible gathered together on one stage, one special time, at one low price,  for this special event!

Matthew 3: 16, 17 NIV

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 28: 19 NLT

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

John 15: 26 ESV

[Jesus speaking] 26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

Acts 2: 33 NIRV

33 Jesus has been given a place of honor at the right hand of God. He has received the Holy Spirit from the Father. This is what God had promised. It is Jesus who has poured out what you now see and hear.

II Cor. 13: 14 The Message

14The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Ephesians 2: 17 – 18  TNIV

17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

I Thess. 1: 2-5a  CEV

2We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray, 3we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4My dear friends, God loves you, and we know he has chosen you to be his people. 5When we told you the good news, it was with the power and assurance that come from the Holy Spirit, and not simply with words…

I Peter 1: 1 – 2  NIV (UK)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,  To God’s elect, strangers in the world … 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:  Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Also included in this list is the longer passage at I Cor. 12: 4-13.

The passage from Acts was on a poster in my bedroom when I was younger.   In the Living Bible, it read, simply, “The Father gave the authority to the Son to send the Holy Spirit.”

February 13, 2009

February 14: A Day for Lovers and Florists

Filed under: Christianity, family, marriage — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:51 pm


Twenty-two years ago, Valentine’s Day also fell on a Saturday.   It was bitterly cold and  I was heading to a special noon Saturday event at our church for which someone had forgotten to turn on the heat.   But I’m glad I went, because it was our wedding day.

Having your anniversary and Valentine’s Day coincide each year brings some challenges.   At first, my lovely bride thought perhaps she was being shortchanged on any cards, or flowers or chocolates that might be coming her way.    On the other hand, I was growing weary  of putting on boots and scarves and gloves and hats; and scraping ice rain off the car, so that we could go to a nice restaurant on the very night they were completely overbooked and overburdened.

So we decided that we would observe the anniversary part of the day on a six-month offset basis on August 14th.   We live in Canada, but we live adjacent to a beach town (yes, I know “Canadian beach town” is certainly an oxymoron) where we can go for a walk along the boardwalk after dinner downtown.   We don’t get to do that every year, but try to put something like that together.   No matter how crazy the day has been, I try to get myself in ‘vacation mode’ for that brief dinner; an ‘echo’ of what our lives would be like if circumstances didn’t make things so stressed.

But you know, it doesn’t matter what day it is, every day is a day to celebrate the joy of having someone else with whom to share life; even on those days it seems like nothing is going right and nothing will ever go right again.   I think our worst days together are better than our best days had God not brought us together.

As I write this, I realize that among my readers are the single, the separated, the divorced and the widowed.   I don’t know what your perception is of Valentine’s Day in general or what I’ve written in particular, but maybe you wish this day would just go away.   I believe however, that while much has been written about the spiritual sense of love; the God of love; we are sometimes missing the true impact concerning the spiritual sense of relationship; the God of relationship.

It was only recently brought home to me that part of the concept of the triune God that we call the doctrine of the Trinity is the idea that there is a relationship within the Godhead between the Father and the Son, the Father and the Spirit, the Son and the Spirit; a relationship which has existed before the dawning of what we call time.   We serve a God who is a God of relationship and we who are Christ-followers are partakers in an overflow of love from that internal relationship first and foremost.  Out of that, God extends the offer of relationship to us.

Here’s how I put it in a song written nearly 30 years ago:

Now the feelings we have for the ones that we love
Were established in heaven by God above
As a preview for the day when from his throne on high
He calls a bride to a groom and a groom to a bride

So while I am thankful for my wife and what we have accomplished together; I am astounded to think that earthly marriage is just a hint of something better, yet to come.

By all means, have a Happy Valentine’s Day, but remember this is just a model of something else, a foretaste of glory divine.

Oh yes… Ruth, your gift is in the fridge.   Or at least it will be.

December 20, 2008

Critique of The Shack to Release in February

findinggodintheshackWell, you knew it was bound to happen, but this is the first book about the popular novel that I am aware of, and you can bet it won’t be the last.  Finding God in The Shack is by Randal Rauser, associate professor of historical theology at Taylor Seminar, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.   He writes on theology, apologetics and popular culture.   The book is releasing in February through Paternoster Press, a division of the worldwide STL organization.

The publisher marketing for the book (see below) appears to indicate a response to the book that is supportive of the The Shack‘s theological treatment.   That could upset people who are looking for ammunition to criticize the book, especially those who have been outspoken critics without actually reading it.   No doubt those titles will follow.

I am always skeptical as to whether or not books like this are written to allow further conversation on the themes in other popular Christian literature — I’m aware of at least six critiques of the Left Behind series — or if they are written from an opportunist vantage, trying to capitalize on the popularity of something else.   I know that’s unfair; nor are we to judge the motives of someone else; but as a bookseller, it’s easy to all that skepticism to creep in.

That said though, I do actually hope this is the first of many such titles, because there is so much discussion taking place now on theological matters that it would be healthy and beneficial to allow those dialogs to continue, especially among those who have never considered weightier theological matters before.   The Shack has brought many new people to the theological roundtable.   One other Canadian who would be good to hear from on this would be John Stackhouse of Regent College, whose debrief of the book is the third of three radio interviews available online from the Haven Today radio program*.   Plus, I’m sure a number of American, British or Australian writers would be itching to weigh in on this.

Here is the publisher marketing for Finding God in The Shack:

What would it be like to lose your youngest child to a serial killer? And then to have God invite you out for a conversation at the very shack where the terrible deed took place? And then imagine that the door to that shack of horrors opened . . . and before you knew it you had been swept up in the motherly embrace of a large African American woman? This most unlikely of stories, as told in William Young’s The Shack, has become a runaway bestseller and it is easy to see why. The book brings us on a redemptive journey through the shacks of deepest pain and suffering in our lives, guided by the triune God of Christian faith. But even as lives have been transformed through this book, other readers have sternly denounced it as a hodgepodge of serious theological error, even heresy. With one pastor urging his congregation to read it and another forbidding his congregation to, many Christians have simply been left confused.

Aware both of the excitement and uncertainty generated by The Shack, theologian Randal Rauser takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the pages of the story. In successive chapters he explores many of the books complex and controversial issues. Thus he explains why God the Father is revealed as an African American woman, he defends the books theology of the Trinity against charges of heresy and he considers its provocative denial of a Trinitarian hierarchy. But at its heart The Shack is a response to evil and so Rauser spends the final three chapters considering the books explanation for why God allows evil, how the atoning work of Christ offers new hope for a suffering world and ultimately how this hope extends to all of creation. Through these chapters Rauseroffers an honest and illuminating discussion which opens up a new depth to the conversation while providing the reader with new opportunities for Finding God in The Shack.

*For the earlier two programs with the author of the book itself, use the same link and modify the last four digits to program 1661 and 1662.   See also our post on this topic a few days ago with the link to an Australian radio show podcast.

December 18, 2008

An Even Better Interview with Shack Author Paul Young

Filed under: books, Christianity, theology — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:36 pm

sheridan-voseyshack-promoI thought I’d heard some good stuff from Wm. Paul Young, author of The Shack on Drew Marshall’s various interviews with him, but Australian Sheridan Voysey, host of Open House on Hope 103.2* contains some great clarification on those issues in the books which have caused controversy.   Voysey clearly doesn’t buy-in entirely on every aspect of the popular title, but is also very affirming on most of the book’s content.   On his part, Young is clearly at home paul-young1on this interview and gives solid scripture background for elements of the story.   This is one of the few downloads I listened to twice.

You can download the podcast or listen online here.

Upper Photo: Author, speaker and broadcaster Sheridan Voysey explores life, faith and culture from a Christian perspective. Sheridan Voysey is author of Unseen Footprints: Encountering the Divine Along the Journey of Life (Scripture Union, 2005). Visit Sheridan’s personal website The Thought Factory. Lower Photo: Shack author William “Paul” Young

*103.2?  That last number is even, not odd.   Does Australia use a different FM frequency spacing than we do in North America?   That can’t be right; because we listen to 96.5 in Brisbane online.  That’s an odd number in the decimal place.  What’s their system?

NOTE: The article Paul Young refers to in the interview, “The Beauty of Ambiguity (Mystery)” is available on his webpage, (American spelling of rumor) and can be linked here.

September 3, 2008

Guest Blog – Dr. David Fowler on The Shack

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:32 am

While the theological implications of the popular novel are at the forefront of debate, here’s a somewhat different take…

Well, I have read the book.  What do I think?  I actually have more concern about the “sociological” side of the book than the “theological” side. While the book is largely a fictional exploration of the Trinity that is very moving and engaging (and at times brought tears to my eyes) I think the real “issue” will be how folks now view the church. There are several statements in the book that give the clear impression that “God is good”, “organized church……not necessary and not so good”. I said this to my wife the moment I was finished reading it.  While we both enjoyed it and found it moving….we read it from a perspective of being in the church and understanding the short comings of the local church but still committed to work in the world of human limitations as we find it in the visible local church which is the visible body of Christ.

Many people will read The Shack and say to themselves,

  • “I knew it….God is interested in my life and me personally”
  • “I don’t need that organized, institutionalized, politicized, narrowly focused, guilt inducing association called the church”.
  • “I can have all the rich relationship with God without any of the guilt, hassle, inconvenience, obligation, of that time and money demanding association.”
  • “God is so much bigger than that so why grovel around in the lesser when I can ‘free myself’ to enjoy the joys of the more fuller relationship with Him.”

Why do I say this? Because my unchurched, unsaved neighbors who read it and loved it and who bought more copies to share with their friends….came to exactly this conclusion. So while I love the book….it will ultimately make the job of convincing anyone who is exploring Christianity by reading The Shack about the need to be in a local church and having a relationship with other believers — that they will actually spend eternity with — that much more difficult.  In fact the book sort of makes it sound like Jesus wouldn’t want to be in a local church either. I guess if that gets them into the Kingdom….in some form….I can live with it….but somehow it leaves me with a little bit of “pain”. I guess I also have to ask myself if that is the case, then maybe I don’t want to share it with anyone and in fact, anything that bereft of some balancing ecclesiology is in fact really somewhat heretical. I mean we all struggle with local churches… and we know they are not perfect, or in some cases even good….but we simply don’t have anything better or different to replace them with that “works” in some way that is enduring.

In some ways I think The Shack has potential to do much more damage to the local church than did the Da vinci Code. That was a frontal assault on the church which most Christians vigorously rejected. This is somewhat of an unintentional attack on the necessity of the church as an institution and basically gets an arguably theologically “sort of correct” version of God saying, “You don’t really need the church”. What is likely to happen the next time someone gets disappointed with a local church is that they will remember The Shack and say passionately to God…..”I love you”….. and then just skip going to church….and probably not come back.

Of course they will never stop to consider their kids that will not read The Shack or probably continue with the children’s and youth program or the church or maybe even with faith.  There will be no relationship [for those kids] with a youth pastor formed that could have helped them in their struggles or questioning of their beliefs.  There will be no interest in or passion for the missionaries that are planting churches that no longer get supported, or the local food bank, youth shelter or meals on wheels programs that the local church was sponsoring that ministered to the community that now just have that many fewer resources to continue on with etc.  That will never cross their mind.  All they will think is that God loves “ME”.  So while I love the book in some ways….I think in the long run it will do as much damage as good for the Christian movement. While perhaps without trying, what it will wind up promoting is a kind of egocentric Christianity where it “is all about me….oh yeah and God, too.”

David Fowler is a church planter and pastor in Ontario, Canada with the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church and has an earned doctorate in education from the University of Toronto.   He originally wrote this as a personal note to me, but gave permission to use it here.   Some of my response to him is in the comments section.   Yours are invited, too!

For an additional comment on The Shack on this blog, click here.

There’s also another short post on this blog here that links to a series of three radio interviews, two with the author and one with a theologian from Regent University.

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