Friday, February 20, 2009

Shack Attack (by Jordan Pickering)

'Shack Attack' by Jordan Pickering

The Shack is part of a new postmodern Christianity, which is trying to shape our faith so that it fits more comfortably into postmodern society. In this project, it has jettisoned much of what is characteristic of Christianity, and reconstructed an image of God that has lost its Family resemblance.

The mistake that Christians will make about The Shack is to assume that because it is fiction, it is not theology. In our postmodern times, story is the favourite way of communicating. So we need to quickly wise up to the fact that Christian novels are works of theology. And they can either be teaching the true gospel or a false one.

The problem with fiction is that it is emotional rather than logical, and it’s message is woven into plot and dialogue and character development. This makes it very difficult to evaluate whether its message is good or bad. Stories don’t need to justify any of their points, or practice careful exegesis of key texts. If a story wants to make you believe something, it can create a loveable, trustworthy hero to advocate that point, and it can put the opposite view in the mouth of a revolting, unlovely scoundrel. The victory can be won, virtually subliminally, through emotion, not reason.

Stories are also difficult to assess because they tend to be ambiguous. The author is not bound to explain everything his characters say, and even if a character says something outrageous, we can’t know whether the author agrees with what his character has said. These problems are certainly true of The Shack.

So, fiction is a problematic medium for theology, and it will require careful thought and keen awareness from us as readers.

Positive things in the book

The Shack addresses two great problems in the Christian life: the problem of pain and grief, and the problem of empty religion.

In terms of his take on pain, the author does a lot of good work in affirming God’s goodness and God’s love in spite of our circumstances. So that’s reassuring. Unfortunately, he also goes too far. His God is not a judge and he’s never angry, and pain in the world is seemingly not God’s doing. It seems as though the author can only explain evil as being out of God’s control. So while there is much good on the subject of pain, it is hard to separate it out from a very faulty doctrine of God. I’d far rather that readers struggle their way through CS Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, than to read something easy and poisonous like The Shack.

Secondly, the author takes aim at the problem of empty religion. He asks a lot of the right questions about this subject, and he points out that relationship with God is at the heart of our faith, not structures and performance and rule keeping. Unfortunately, he once again goes too far. Instead of restoring our worship and church order and lifestyle to a context of relationship with God, he throws out church order and scripture and rule keeping altogether.

So, once again, the good that he does is undone by an overbalance. There are hundreds of books that might inspire readers to genuine relationship with God while opposing Pharisaism (as The Shack tries to do), without discarding the Evangelical faith (as The Shack does), so rather read those.

Concerns with the book

There are many concerns that ought to be addressed, especially problems with the doctrine of the Trinity and with attacks on church order. But let’s focus on two of the more serious issues.


The Shack is a postmodern book, and so the author doesn’t like the idea of truth and authority. That means that scripture cannot be God’s True Word and our final authority. In fact, he speaks of scripture as a book in which we’ve trapped God so that we can control him, and he’s even cynical towards the idea of there being a correct way of interpreting the Bible, because then the teachers can control it.

The Shack holds up direct, face-to-face communication with God as the Christian ideal. The trouble is, far from setting us free, this idea means that Christians will be listening to whatever wind blows through their minds, imagining that this or that thought is actually God’s voice, and then once you’ve got a good one, without scripture, by what standard will you test the spirits to see if they are from God, as John says?

Or, if there is no such thing as correct interpretation of scripture, the alternative is chaos, not freedom. One is able to invent any number of creative interpretations if one bends one’s mind to it. That’s where cults and false teaching come from, and every kind of spiritual captivity. But if we believe that there is in principle a correct interpretation, then it means that we believe in a standard of Truth, and even our leaders are subject to it. If we treat scripture properly, then we hear God speak, and He leads us by His Word. It is this that prevents us from being taken captive. We are not at the mercy of the creativity of our teachers. [The author might protest that, in his scheme, there is no need for teachers at all. I would have to ask in response what he thinks he is then, if not a teacher? People inevitably gravitate around leaders. True Scripture ensures that we and our leaders alike are governed by God, and not deception].


The biggest problem with the book is its doctrine of sin and salvation. It is extremely vague and ambiguous at every step here, and so it’s difficult to say precisely what the book is teaching. However it leans very strongly towards the belief that God does not judge or punish sin:

Papa: “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.” (Pgs 118-120)

In discussion about hell, The Shack forces us to imagine sending one of our own children to hell forever. The lead character finds it impossible to imagine sending someone he loves to hell, and so the implication is that God, who loves infinitely more than we do, would not do so either. This relies on the assumption that God's attitude to sin is the same as ours. It's not. Even the supposed dichotomy between God’s love and God’s judgment is a false one, but, on that basis, The Shack seems to rule out the existence of hell and judgment.

The Shack also teaches that, regardless of whether or not we believe in Him, God has reconciled Himself fully to the world. It never says that the world is thus reconciled to God, but you can’t actually claim to be reconciled to someone if they still hate you. Reconciliation is all or nothing. So if you take the book seriously, it’s saying that everyone will be saved regardless of faith.

And finally, when it speaks about what God requires of us, the book’s answer is ‘nothing at all’. We have no law, no responsibility, and God expects nothing of us. The God character says at one point, “because I have no expectations, you never disappoint me” (pg 206).

So in summary, The Shack is a very dangerous book, because it is sweet and warm and easy to read, but it’s actually selling a religion that has no rule of faith, no community in which you need to serve, and no order or authority. It sells a God who isn’t offended by sin, who makes no demands, has no expectations and is never disappointed in anybody, and who will not judge or condemn. You’ll read the book and wish that you had these characters as your father and mother and best friend, but the portrait of God that the author has drawn is an idol of his own carving. This god might be as warm and loveable as Oprah, but it’s not the Christian God any longer.

For a longer review of 'The Shack' by the same author, Jordan Pickering go to:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Change to Blog Title 'Emerging' to 'Postmodernism'

To try to clear up misunderstandings shown in numerous comments received, I have changed the title of this blog from 'The Emerging Threat of the Emerging Church in South Africa' to

'The Emerging Threat of Postmodernism in the Church in South Africa'. There are three reasons for the change:

* Firstly, there are some people who label themselves 'emerging church' or 'emergent' who are orthodox evangelicals trying to find ways reach culturally people with the gospel, without compromising the gospel. There are some who also use the word 'emerging' and 'emergent' in a flippant way like 'cool' to mean anything that is up to date and in tune with the culture. There are others who have just jumped onto the bandwagon of the movement as they do with many other passing fads, but have not necessarily absorbed the theology. While I believe these people make a mistake to share this label with unorthodox people, I do not wish to alienate them as my brothers in Christ.

* Secondly, some people interpret the 'emerging church' movement as being a legitimate part of the church (the body of Christ). Thus they see attacking the movement as attacking the church or at least a denomination of the church. Really, the movement is not a church or denomination, but a movement spreading false and destructive teaching within the church. Postmodernism within the church is like disease within the body. A doctor fights the disease - not the patient. The term 'emerging church' is problematic because it lends credibilty to the group as part of the 'church'. The new title referring to 'postmodernism in the church' defines the disease more clearly as different from the patient.

* Thirdly, there are probably hundreds of thousands of South African Christians (maybe even a majority amongst under 35 year old urban English home language Christians), who do not call themselves 'emergent' or 'emerging', but who have without realising it, have incorporated false beliefs borrowed from Postmodernism into their Christianity. Many such people will have never even heard the term 'emerging church' and thus may think this blog is not relevant to them.

Many good pastors have churches full of young people who have been deceived by postmodernism - while the good pastor is blissfully unaware that they interpret everything he says through this new lens. The pastor may get frustrated when they don't understand, much less apply what he teaches, but he doesn't know why. Such a pastor might think this blog is not relevant to his church. One denominational leader said that the Emerging Church is a 'non-event'. In saying so, he demonstrates he is tragically out of touch with the youth of his own denomination, which is one of the most seriously infected with postmodern thinking. Reality is that just about every urban English speaking church in South Africa has been infiltrated to some extent by postmodern culture - and probably the more young and educated the members - the more they have been influenced.

How can a pastor or deacon know if the youth of his church have been influenced by postmodernism and the Emerging Church movement?

There are several tests: Firstly, discuss topical issues and listen to their opinions (this is easiest by reading online discussion forums). If you see expression of postmodern viewpoints (e.g. we should tolerate every kind of behaviour including e.g. homosexality and abortion; truth is personal and not absolute; we can never be absolutely sure exactly what the Bible means; Christians have no right to tell non-Christians what to do on ethical issues), then those are clues. Secondly, if your members like books, DVDs and blogs by postmodern/emergent authors (e.g. Brian McLaren; Rob Bell; Doug Paggit, Leonard Sweet, Dan Kimball, Tony Jones, Andrew Jones, Steve Chalke) that is another clue. Most young educated people are now on . This can help you get to know your church members. Here many list their favourite authors and books on their personal profile page - many also list interest groups they are part of, many of which relate to emergent church themes. Thirdly, read their personal blogs and see what opinions they write and who they link to (e.g. other Emerging Church blogs). If they write articles, see who they reference. Nevertheless one or two clues doesn't prove they have fully bought into the Emerging Church agenda, but it does show they are being influenced by it. If members of your church who were previously clear on core Christian doctrinal and ethical teaching, start to doubt and become fuzzy - it is probably worth investigating to check for 'emerging church' influence. If you want to check whether a leader or an author is part of the 'emerging church' movement, then just do a Google web search with the [author's name] and the words 'emerging emergent'. Then just click on a few links to check the context and you should get an idea. Then also do a web search for the author's name or the title of a book and the word 'heresy'. Unfortunately, many orthodox teachers are falsely accused of heresy on the internet, so you have to read the links to check what they are teaching, but it should save you the time of having to read all their works yourself.

Some Christians have misunderstood my articles on the Emergent Church as thinking that I am attacking a 'cult' or minority 'sect'. While many of the beliefs promoted in the Emergent Church are as unorthodox as those in 'cults' (e.g. acceptance of homosexuality; denial of hell; referring to God as feminine etc), the 'Emerging Church' movement is not sectarian as are most 'sects' or 'cults'. It is impacting the mainstream of the Evangelical Church - their books are published by evangelical publishers and on sale in almost all our best Christian bookshops. If the Emergent Church were simply forming a new denomination for their adherents, I would not waste my time attacking them. It is the success they are having in shifting the beliefs of believers of most denominations in the direction of Postmodernism, which is the reason why we must fight to defend the mainstream. If we do not, mainstream evangelicalism risks shifting to a liberal view of scripture, as did most of the Protestant denominations in the early Twentieth Century. If this scenario continues, it is we in orthodox evangelicalism, who believe the Bible is absolute truth and a binding authority that might be marginalised and considered by many to be a 'sect', as occured with many orthodox splinter denominations in the early Twentieth Century.

Neither is all of this shift due to the efforts of the 'Emergent Village' network. The culture of Europe, North America and most of the European language speaking world has in the last few decades shifted in the direction of Postmodernism. Many Christians, lacking adequate teaching on Biblical theology and Christian worldview, bring these false beliefs with them into the church without questioning them.

Thus the need to change the blog title to clarify the threat we are facing.