A movie based on William Paul Young’s best-selling book, The Shack, is finally coming out this March 3rd! I am very excited to see this for many reasons.
This post is inspired by Cindy Powell’s post, “Hollywood, please get this one right.” I join her prayer that this movie does justice to the book. But it also got me to thinking about our ideas about theology and God.
If you weren’t living under a rock for the last ten years since the book came out, you know that many self-appointed “What must be believed” Thought Police in the body of Christ condemned the book as false doctrine and dangerous heresy (oh, how we love to throw those words around with impunity!)
One example is a polemic documentary called, “The Shack: It’s Dangerous Doctrine and Full of Error.” It seems their biggest beef is that the book teaches extra-biblical doctrine and violates “Sola Scriptura.” Specifically, about God directly speaking to people outside the Bible as quoted here:
“The book [The Shack] teaches, clearly, that God is communicating with man outside of the Word of God.”
Okay, there’s a problem with this? So God only speaks to us through the text? How is that conclusion not “extra-biblical,” even contradictory to Scripture?
No one is saying that Scripture is still being written, including Young…but Jesus seemed to think His sheep will hear His voice and not follow another. How are we supposed to do that if He isn’t still speaking? In fact, the New Testament also tells us that God speaks through prophecy, words of wisdom and knowledge, dreams, visions, etc….besides when we crack open our Bibles.
These extra-textual (but not necessarily extra-biblical) ways God speaks to us are part and parcel to Peter’s response to what happened on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21). He saw this as a prophetic promise of God fulfilled…what would be seen and heard in all who the Spirit is poured out on…not just the biblical writers.
While God doesn’t change, and Scripture isn’t being added on to…God did give us gifts and manifestations of the Spirit (Rom.12:6-8; 1 Cor.12:1-11) so that we could all grow up into the knowledge of Christ (Eph.4:13-15)…should we not avail ourselves to these gifts…or do we think we’ve “fully arrived” with the Reformer’s understanding 500 years ago?
I’ve talked a lot about this notion that God’s not speaking anymore (Cessationism), and the political motivation behind this doctrine, so I won’t belabor it further here. In my mind, the ironic tragedy here is that while the Reformers put the Bible back in the hands of the people, they took the dynamic life of the Holy Spirit promised in the Bible away from them.
We need to ask ourselves, can our academic training assure us of the correct interpretation of the text, or is it the Holy Spirit who teaches us these things? Without discounting the former, I’m going with the latter.
Here’s a shocker. God is not the Bible text! The “Word of God” is Jesus Christ! (John 1:1; 14). The Bible text testifies of the Word of God. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day didn’t seem to get this either (John 5:39-40). The life is in the relationship (which requires two people interacting), not in the text itself. Otherwise, we’re in danger of bibliolatry.
Yes, the Bible is complete, but God still speaks…although, not in contradiction with the inspired Scripture (but He’s perfectly fine with contradicting our interpretation!)
So, this argument is not valid.
SPOILER ALERT! Don’t read further if you haven’t read the book!
Now, there’s a good chance you don’t have a problem with God still speaking, but you may struggle with the idea of God the Father (“Papa”) being portrayed as a black woman (played by Octavia Spencer in the movie). Our traditional mind reels with potential threats and conspiracy theories about the liberal feminist agenda and the dangers of such slipshod theology.
Well…reel your mind back in for a moment.
If we’re going to be theologically accurate, God could be a woman (of any color) as well as a man…because He’s neither!
“God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent.
Has He said, and will He not do?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (Num.23:19 NKJV)
What we need to understand about biblical language is that, with regard to explaining God, it’s almost always metaphorical and anthropological. He’s no more a man than He’s a chicken that clucks, has feathers, nostrils, arms, wings…or that He’s literally a rock we can stand on and a high tower we can run into!
When we read “Father” we are given language to understand Him relationally…as a Father to a son. Just like we read that He nurtures us like a mother. In fact, Wisdom, part of the seven-fold Spirit of God, can be referred to “she” or “her” (Prov.1:20; 8:1, 11; 9:1; Matt.11:19; Luke 7:35).
We know that God is Spirit (John 4:24), not a human gender, but we have no mental grid for this so God gives us imagery in order to relate to Him. This inability to comprehend God is one of the many reasons why He became a human being (John 1:14), where we could tangibly touch and see Him for the first time (John 1:18; 14:7).
We’re all “sons” of God (Gal.4:6-7). This is not a gender term but a relational one, just like we’re a “chaste virgin” and the “bride” (2 Cor.11:2; Rev.22:17). In fact, in Christ there is neither man nor female… (Gal.3:26-29). Didn’t we get this memo?
All throughout Scripture, God revealed Himself by how we needed Him. In The Shack, this truth is brilliantly laid out when Mack wakes up to find that “Papa” is now a fatherly figure. Why the change? Notice what Papa says:
“The man standing next to him looked a bit like Papa…
“Papa?” Mack asked.
Mack shook his head, “You’re still messing with me, aren’t you?”
“Always, he said with a warm smile, and then answered Mack’s next question before it was asked, “This morning you’re going to need a father.”” (Young, The Shack, p.218-219)
God doesn’t fit into our nice little theological boxes we’ve constructed so that we can snuff out the transcendent mystery and stay safe from something so outside of our control.
I wrote this rather long post to encourage you to see the movie and not let it offend your current understanding of theology. As Young pointed out from the beginning, it’s fiction, not systematic theology. Yet, it reveals a truth that transcends our intellectual ideas about God and theology and reaches in to heal the deepest part of what haunts all of us…our own Great Sadness…what our hearts have always longed for but never dreamed possible.
I agree with Cindy. I hope Hollywood gets this one right. But what’s much more important than literary accuracy is that we all encounter God’s transforming love in the experience. And this story has oodles of it!