According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Thomas Oord - Review of William P. Young's Book and Recent Movie, "The Shack," Part 1/2


Introduction

I loved "The Shack" when I read it, and felt the movie that came out in March 2017 was very close to the original book's message. Frankly, its themes of the love of God, man's free will to love or unlove, and the tragedy of life when beset by sin, is one of those deep areas hard to understand but tells of God's love so plainly that it becomes the very substance which makes sense of all else in this thing called life. And it is the deep realization of God's love which the author, William P. Young, wished to express based upon a severe tragedy in his early life many years ago.

What I liked about the book is that Young took all the gnarly accusations of God and centered them into a fictious figure suffering an awful tragedy who began, in parable form, the long, hard process of working out what he believed was true and later, needed to correct, about the love of God in intricate dialogue and restorative venues. Which means watching the film will not be enough. It will require a thorough reading of Young's easily read (but deeply disturbing) book, The Shack, which must also be in order. And for its themes to truly sink in, a sharing of Mac's discoveries with fellow book club members.

To do this I've provided two reviews - one by Olson, who presents a list a questions for a reader or a book club to work through along with a companion volume. And secondly by Oord, who moves to the larger themes present in the book while presenting his own companion volume related to those larger themes.

Now I hesitate to advise forming "a bible study with church members" because so many in the evangelical church will misunderstand the theology behind the book (both Olson and Oord speak to this problem). For myself, it was when thinking/praying/meditating through The Shack that I discovered  the paucity in my own thoughts about God, and then, over many years later, finally began to form my current blog/reference/website Relevancy22 to speak to this oversight and subsequent re-orientation of my thoughts about God.

Relizedly, throughout Relevancy22 the basic themes of The Shack can be found under dozens and dozens and dozens of topical headings if churchly direction is needed. But it would be best to begin on your own. If your journey is like mine, you'll find yourself re-thinking many of the church's errant teachings on God, His work and ways. For myself, The Shack's most basic message brought me back to the God I knew was there but hidden in the theology of the church thus creating conflict where it did not need to exist. This is the beauty of "Finding God" somewhere along life's journey. His/Her love comes to you from the most curious places to catch us back up to Himself/Herself even as Young learned and wished to present through the (autobiographical) novel's thoughtful arguments and penetrating lessons.

Enjoy!

R.E. Slater
March 22, 2017

Related Links:

Part 1 - Thomas Oord: Review of "The Shack"
Partr 2 - Roger Olson: Review of "The Shack"



The Shack: Official 2017 Movie Trailer



A Love Theologian Reviews The Shack
blog link

by Thomas Oord
March 14th, 2017

I watched The Shack twice last weekend. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the movie. It presents God in a way I mostly find helpful. But there were some ideas that didn’t sit well with me.

I recorded a Facebook Live review of the movie, and you can access it by clicking the photo here. But I thought it would be good to put in print some of the ideas I mentioned in the video.

Thomas J. Oord: The Shack Movie



To put my review in context, I should say a few words about me. I’m a university professor of theology and philosophy who endorses open and relational theology. I’m the author or editor of more than 20 books, including my recent book, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (IVP Academic).

The Plot

Amazon link
My comments in this essay pertain to my viewing of the movie. The movie follows the basic plot of the book by the same name. But, of course, it doesn’t include all of the details and dialogue.

For those unfamiliar with the plot of The Shack, it revolves around the abduction and killing of a [beloved] young girl. The girl’s father – Mackenzie, or Mac – cannot fathom why a loving and powerful God – if such a God exists – could allow such a horrible evil.

Mac gets a strange letter summoning him back to the shack in which police found evidence of his daughter’s death. Mac returns, finds no one, and nearly commits suicide. Upon leaving the shack, however, Mac encounters a young man who invites him to meet God. Mac spends several days back at the shack, which has miraculously become a warm home. There he speaks with God as a trinity, with God as Father played by a Black woman; as Son played by an actor with middle-eastern features; and the Holy Spirit played by an Asian actress. He also climbs [up] to a cave and meets Wisdom played by a white woman. I mention the gender and race of the actors, because they play an important role in how the author, Paul Young, wants the reader to think about God.

The vast majority of the movie portrays Mac in conversation or encounters with God and [with] those who have died. Mac has questions about evil and suffering, guilt and forgiveness. And he gets answers, while being questioned himself.

Depicting God in Movies

Before I explore the key issues raised by The Shack, let me say a few words about the attempt to portray God in movies.

If God is whom most believers think, God cannot be depicted in movies. That is, most believers think God is omnipresent and unseen. Consequently, no image could portray God.

The Shack depicts God as three individual people (or four, if you count Wisdom). I admit that this way of depicting God is not my favorite, but I don’t think this amounts to a major criticism of the movie. It strikes me a little too much like tri-theism. But this isn’t a major criticism, because as I said it’s impossible to picture God.

I like when God is portrayed as personal, so that’s a plus for The Shack, in my view. And this movie’s portrayal of God is better than Oh, God’s George Burns, Bruce Almighty’s Morgan Freeman, or Dogma’s Alanis Morrisette.



My Overall Opinion of The Shack

I liked this movie. The acting and cinematography was average; I doubt it will win any academy awards. But the theological issues it addresses are incredibly important, and the movie kept my attention throughout.

What I like most about The Shack is its emphasis upon God’s love. Like many people, Mac views God as stern, wrathful, and an aloof sovereign king. But the movie portrays God as warm, loving, accepting, and caring.

In the movie, God is called “Papa” by Mac’s daughter and others. This reminds me, of course, of Jesus saying God is “abba,” which is a name of intimacy. God often talks about being “especially fond” of people.

The atmosphere at the Shack when the Trinity is present is one of joy, laughter, dancing, smiles, understanding, and openness. It made me want to hang out with everyone, and I liked that!

Evil and Suffering

I like that the writers have Mac ask God the hard questions about evil and suffering. “You have unlimited power,” Mac says to Papa, “but you let my Missy die!” At another point in the movie, Mac says to God that “you have a bad habit of turning your back on those you supposedly love.”

The movie offers several answers to Mac’s questions about evil and suffering. I like most of them. Here are the answers I like:

God Doesn’t Cause EvilThe Shack portrays God as one who does not cause evil. “I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies,” says God. “But that doesn’t mean I orchestrate them.”

God is Present in the Midst of Suffering – God as portrayed in the movie is with those who suffer, feeling their pain, and working for good. “I’m in the middle of everything,” says God, “working for your good.” Papa talks about the death of the Son and says, “What my Son chose to do cost us both dearly. Love leaves a mark. We were there together. I never left him. I never left you.”

God Wants to Heal Those Who Suffer – Mac growls at God, “My daughter is dead. There’s nothing you could say that could justify that.” The Spirit responds, “We are not justifying anything. We would like to heal it. If you would let us.” Later in the movie, God says to Mac, “If pain is left resolved, you can forget what you were created for. That’s not what I want for you.”

God Doesn’t Punish – In one of my favorite parts of the movie, God denies Mac’s claim that God punishes creatures in fits of wrath. “Everyone knows you punish the people who disappoint you,”  says Mac. God responds: “No. I don’t need to punish. Sin is its own punishment.”


Evil, Providence and the Love of God
(in an Open and Relational (Process) Theology)

Homebrewed Christianity interviews Tom Oord


What I Don’t Like in The Shack

While there is much about The Shack that I like, I noticed that the movie doesn’t solve the most difficult question we (and Mac) ask about evil: “Why doesn’t God PREVENT genuine evil?”

The movie rightly says God doesn’t cause evil. But I noticed that whenever Mac asks the more difficult question – why doesn’t God prevent evil – he gets either silence or an appeal to mystery.

For instance, Mac says, “You’re the almighty God with limitless power. But you let my little girl die. You abandoned her.” Instead of God giving an answer for why God let the girl die, the responses Mac gets is “I was always with her.”

At one point in the film, Mac asks, “What good comes from being murdered by a sick monster? You don’t stop evil.” He gets no answer. Mac says, “God may not do evil, but he didn’t stop the evil. How can Papa allow Missy’s death?” Again, no answer.

The best Wisdom can say in response to Mac’s questions is this: “What happened to Missy is the work of evil. No one in your world is immune from it.” But that’s not a satisfying answer, at least if we think God created the world from nothing.

Several times, God says to Mac that “you misunderstand the mystery.” In the garden scene, the Spirit says, “You’re trying to make sense of the world looking at an incomplete picture.” In the cave scene, Wisdom questions Mac’s ability to know good and evil from his limited perspective.



The Problem with Mystery

While I like much of theology of The Shack, my major objection is that it appeals to mystery when the question arises of why God doesn’t prevent evil.

Of course, anytime we think about the ways of God, we must admit to knowing in part. Some role for mystery is necessary, in the sense that we should never say our views of God are 100% true. We cannot be certain that what we believe about God is entirely true.

But appealing to mystery on this key issue, The Shack's major and helpful claims about God’s love are in jeopardy of being undermined! Here’s what I mean:

The major idea of The Shack is that we should come to accept, deep down, that God loves us. I totally buy that idea, and it has been a central theme in much of my work. But when the Spirit and Wisdom chide Mac for thinking he can judge what is right and wrong / loving or not loving, the implicit claim is that we cannot know the meaning of goodness/love.

If we cannot know the meaning of goodness/love, how are we supposed to be confident that we can accept, deep down, that God loves us? If we cannot judge what is loving in one case, we can’t know what is loving in the other. It makes no sense for God to want Mac to know God’s own love, and then turn around and question Mac’s ability to know what is loving.

I’ve written about the proper role of mystery elsewhere. Here’s a link to my blog essay, “Avoiding the Mystery Card.”

An Answer for The Shack

As I see it, The Shack could have overcome the problem of appealing to mystery and the problem of our knowing what is loving if it had said God cannot prevent evil unilaterally. Paul Young should consider reconceiving God’s power.

My own work has focused on this crucial issue. I’ve argued for a view I call “essential kenosis,” which says God’s nature of love necessarily self-gives and other-empowers. Because God must love in this way, God cannot withdraw, override, or fail to provide freedom to others, including those who use that freedom to do horrific things like kill little girls.

I’ve written about this in many places, including as the central theme of my book The Uncontrolling Love of God. If you can’t get the book, you might check this blog essay for the key ideas, “God Can’t.”

Other Themes of Note

To conclude, let me mention a few other parts of the movie that struck me as important.

Not Religion: About Jesus – In the conversation between Jesus and Mac, Jesus says, “Religion is way too much work. I don’t want slaves. I want friends.” He also says that he’s not interested in label as much as seeing people transformed. “I don’t care what you call [people who follow me],” says Jesus, “I just want people to change by knowing me. To feel truly loved.”

Free Will ­– I’m a theologian who believes we have genuine but limited freedom. I was happy to see the themes of freedom in the movie. “You’re free to go anytime,” God tells Mac. “I don’t want prisoners.” Jesus says to Mac: “You can do whatever you want. You’re free to choose.” And when Mac asks, “Does what I do really matter?” God responds, “Absolutely! The universe changes for the better with your kindness. If anything matters, then everything matters.”

ForgivenessSome of the most powerful moments in the movie pertained to forgiving those who do evil. Mac has been abused by his father. In one scene, he meets his deceased father in a scene the bridges this life and the next. Mac forgives his father. Mac also forgives the man who killed his daughter, Missy. He learns that forgiving benefits him more than anyone else. Forgiveness is an important part of healing the hurts we carry. I always need to be reminded of this truth.

Conclusion

I recommend you watch The Shack. It argues powerfully that God is always loving and especially fond of every one of us. It rightly says God is with us in our suffering, does not orchestrate evil, does not punish, and works to bring healing.

The movie doesn’t answer, however, the question of why God doesn’t prevent evil in the first place. For an answer to that question, I recommend my own work, especially as expressed in The Uncontrolling Love of God. As I see it, God cannot prevent evil unilaterally, because God’s love is self-giving, others-empowering, and always uncontrolling.


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