Today we will tackle three more theological headings. Forgiveness, Scripture and Revelation, and Salavation. All of today's material comes directly from Tim Challis review that can be found here in it's entirety. Tomorrow or Sunday I will share Tim's conclusion and some additional thought I have on the matter... that is providing my children cooperate.
Much of the story focuses on forgiveness. Mack has to learn to forgive first God (or at least to come to an intellectual understanding of why God was unable to intervene to save Missy) and then, at the book’s culmination, to forgive the murderer. I am adamantly opposed to the idea that we would ever need to forgive God for anything. However, because this teaching is seen only vaguely in the novel, I will pass over it for now and turn to another area of forgiveness—that of unconditional forgiveness.
Nowhere in Scripture will we find the idea that we can or should forgive an unrepentant person for this kind of crime. Rather, Scripture makes it clear that repentance must precede forgiveness. Without repentance there can be no forgiveness. This is true of God’s offer of forgiveness to us and, as we are to model this in our human relationships, must be true of how we offer forgiveness to others. So when, at the book’s climax, Mack cries out “I forgive you” to the murderer (who is not present and has not sought forgiveness) he cannot offer true forgiveness. Neither can true forgiveness exist where Mack is unable to pursue reconciliation with this man. Forgiveness makes no sense and means nothing if we require it in this way. It may make a person feel better about himself, but it cannot bring about true forgiveness and true reconciliation. And so Young teaches a therapeutic, inadequate and unbiblical understanding of forgiveness.
Scripture and Revelation
There are few doctrines more important to Christian living than this one—understanding how it is that God chooses to communicate with human beings. Though the Bible teaches that Scripture is the “norming norm,” many Christians give precedence to other supposed forms of revelation, and particularly promptings, leadings and “still, small voices.” Sure enough, such an emphasis is seen clearly in The Shack. How will we hear from God in day-to-day life (away from the miraculous shack)? “You will learn to hear my thoughts in yours,” says Sarayu. “Of course you will make mistakes; everybody makes mistakes, but you will begin to better recognize my voice as we continue to grow our relationship.” And where will we find the Spirit? “You might see me in a piece of art, or music, or silence, or through people, or in Creation, or in your joy and sorrow. My ability to communicate is limitless, living and transforming, and it will always be tuned to Papa’s goodness and love. And you will hear and see me in the Bible in fresh ways. Just don’t look for rules and principles; look for relationship—a way of coming to be with us.”
Beyond looking for new revelation, The Shack says little about how God has communicated or will continue to communicate with us in Scripture. There are a couple of times that it mentions the Bible, but never does it point to Scripture as a real authority or as the sufficient Word of God. “In seminary [Mac] had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects… Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?” Here we see Young pointing away from Scripture rather than towards it. Through Mack he scoffs at the idea that God has spoken authoritatively and sufficiently through the Bible. And if he points away from Scripture he points towards subjective promptings and leadings.
Though common, such teaching is dangerous and directly detracts from the sufficiency of Scripture. When we admit that God has not, in the Bible, said all that He needs to say to us, we open the doors for all manner of new revelation, much of which may contradict the Bible. What authority is there if not the Bible? Ultimately the issue of revelation is an issue of authority and too many Christians are willing to trust their own authority over the Bible’s. What authority does Young rely on as he brings teaching here in The Shack? Does he look to a higher authority or does he look mostly to himself? The reader can have no confidence that Young loves and respects God’s Word has He chose to give it to us in Scripture.
The book contains surprisingly little teaching about salvation. When Young does discuss conversion, he places it firmly in the camp of relationship but also uses the stereotypical phrases such as “this is not a religion” and “Jesus isn’t a Christian.” Jesus apparently loves all people in exactly the same way, having judged them worthy of his love. Young also wades dangerously close to universalism saying that Jesus has no interest in making people into Christians. Rather, no matter what faith they come from, he wishes to “join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa.” He denies that all roads lead to him (since most roads lead nowhere) but says instead, “I will travel any road to find you.” Whether Young holds to universalism or not, and whether he believes that all faiths can lead a person to God, the book neither affirms nor refutes.