Long Stack – The Shack and Windblown Media’s Response

 

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That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting (Eph.4:14)

 

WINDBLOWN MEDIA’s RESPONSE TO IT’s CRITICS – A STUDY IN CONFLICT OF INTEREST

Those who have been captured by this story are encouraged to search the Scriptures to see if these things are so and not trust us or the ravings of those who misinterpret this book, either threatened by its success, or those who want to ride on it to push their own fear-based agenda.”

By Wayne Jacobsen, collaborator on The Shack

We knew it would happen eventually. Frankly we thought it would happen far sooner and in far greater quantity than we have seen to date. But we knew The Shack was edgy enough to prompt some significant backlash, which is why so many publishing companies didn’t want to take it on at the beginning.

I never thought everyone was going to love this book. Art is incredibly subjective as to whether a story and style are appealing. I have no problem with a spirited discussion of some of the theological issues raised in The Shack. The books I love most are the ones that challenge my theological constructs and invite a robust discussion among friends, whether I agree with everything in them or not in the end,. That is especially true of a work of fiction where people will bring their own interpretations of the same events or conversations. I never view a book as all good or all bad. It’s like eating chicken. Enjoy the meat and toss the bones.

What is surprising, however, is the hostile tone of false accusation and the conspiracy theories that some are willing to put on this book. Some have even warned others not to read it or they will be led into deception. It saddens me that people want to use a book like this to polarize God’s family, whether it’s overenthusiastic reader thrusting it in someone’s face telling them they ‘must read’ this book, or when people read their own theological agendas into a work, then denounce it as heresy.

If you’re interested, read it for yourself. Don’t let someone else do your thinking for you. If it helps convey the reality of Jesus to you, great! If all you can see is sinister motives and false teaching in it, then put it aside. I don’t have time to give a point-by-point rebuttal to the reviews I’ve read, but I would like to make some comments on some of the issues that have come up since I’m getting way too many emails asking me what I think of some of the questions they raise. I’ll also admit at the outset, that I’m biased. Admittedly, I’m biased. I was part of a team with the author of working on this manuscript for over a year and am part of the company formed to print and distribute this book. But I’m also well acquainted with the purpose and passions of this book.

What do I think? I tire of the self-appointed doctrine police, especially when they toss around false accusations like ‘new age conspiracy’, ‘counterfeit Jesus’ or ‘heresy’ to promote fear in people as a way of advancing their own agenda. What many of them don’t realize is that research actually shows that more people will buy a book after reading a negative review than they do after reading a positive one. It piques their curiosity as to why someone would take so much time to denounce someone else’s book.

But such reviews also confuse people who are afraid of being seduced into error and for those I think the false accusations demand a response. Let me assure any of you reading this that all three of us who worked on this book are deeply committed followers of Jesus Christ who have a passion for the Truth of the Scriptures and who have studied and taught the life of Jesus over the vast majority of our lifetimes. But none of us would begin to pretend that we have a complete picture of all that God is or that our theology is flawless. We are all still growing in our appreciation for him and our desire to be like him, and we hope this book encourages you to that process as well. In the end, this says the best stuff we know about God at this point in our journeys. Is it a complete picture of him? Of course not! Who could put all that he is into a little story like this one? But if it is a catalyst to get thousands of people to talk about theology—who God is and how he makes himself known in the world—we would be blessed.

This is a story of one believer’s brokenness and how God reached into that pain and pulled him out and as such is a compelling story of God’s redemption. The pain and healing come straight from a life that was broken by guilt and shame at an incredibly deep level and he compresses into a weekend the lessons that helped him walk out of that pain and find life in Jesus again.

That said, the content of this book does take a harsh look at how many of our religious institutions and practices have blinded people to the simple Gospel and replaced it with a religion of rules and rituals that have long ceased to reflect the Lord of Glory. Some will disagree with that assessment and the solutions this book offers, and the reviews that do so honestly merit discussion. But those who confuse the issues by making up their own back-story for the book, or ascribing motives to its publication without ever finding out the truth, only prove our point.

Here are some brief comments on the major issues that have been raised about The Shack:

Does the book promote universalism?

Some people can find a universalist under every bush. This book flatly states that all roads do not lead to Jesus, while it affirms that Jesus can find his followers wherever they may have wandered into sin or false beliefs. Just because he can find followers in the most unlikely places, does not validate those places. I don’t know how we could have been clearer, but people will quote portions out of that context and draw a false conclusion.

Does it devalue Scripture?

Just because we didn’t put Scriptural addresses with their numbers and colons at every allusion in the story, does not mean that the Bible isn’t the key source in virtually every conversation Mack has with God. Scriptural teachings and references appear on almost every page. They are reworded in ways to be relevant to those reading the story, but at every point we sought to be true to the way God has revealed himself in the Bible except for the literary characterizations that move the story forward. At its core the book is one long Bible study as Mack seeks to resolve his anger at God.

Is this God too nice?

Others have claimed that the God of The Shack is simply too nice, or having him in humorous human situations trivializes him. Really? Who wants to be on that side of the argument? For those who think this God is too easy, please tell me in what way does he let Mack off on anything? He holds his feet to the fire about every lie in his mind and every broken place in his heart. I guess what people these critics cannot see is confrontation and healing inside a relationship of love and compassion. This is not the angry and tyrannical God that religion has been using for 2000 years to beat people into conformity and we are not surprised that this threatens the self-proclaimed doctrine police.

One reviewer even thought this passage from The Shack was a mockery of the true God: “I’m not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way. I am good, and I desire only what is best for you. You cannot find that through guilt or condemnation….” That wasn’t mocking God but a view of God that sees him as a demanding, self-centered tyrant. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ revealed himself as the God who would lay down his life for us to redeem us to himself.

The words, “I don’t want slaves to do my will; I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me,” are simply a reflection of John 15:15. Unfortunately those who tend toward legalism among us have no idea how much more completely Jesus transforms us out of a relationship of love, than we could ever muster in our gritted-teeth obedience. This is at the heart of the new covenant—that love will fulfill the law, where human effort cannot.

Does it distort or demean the Trinity?

One of the concerns expressed about The Shack is that it presents the Trinity outside of a hierarchy. In fact many religious traditions think they find their basis for hierarchical organizations in what they’ve assumed about the Trinity. To look at the Trinity as a relationship without the need for command and control is one of the intriguing parts of this story. If they walk in complete unity, why would a hierarchy be needed? They live in love and honor each other. While in the flesh Jesus did walk in obedience to the Father as our example, elsewhere Scripture speaks of their complete unity, love and glory in relating to each other. Different functions need not imply a different status.

This extends in other ways to look at how healed people can relate to each other inside their relationship with God that defines authority and submission in ways most are not used to, but that are far more consistent with what we see in the early believers and in the teaching of Scripture. It is also true of many believers around the world who are learning to experience the life of Father’s family without all the hierarchical maintenance and drama that has plagued followers of Christ since the third century.

People may see this differently and find this challenging, if only because it represents some thought they have not been exposed to before. Here we might be better off having a discussion instead of dragging out the ‘heretic’ label when it is unwarranted.

Does it leave out discussions about church, salvation and other important aspects of Christianity?

This is some of the most curious complaints I’ve ever read. This is the story about God making himself available to one of his followers who is being swallowed up by tragedy and his crisis of faith in God’s goodness over it. This is not a treatise on every element of theological study. Perhaps we should have paused in the story to have an altar call, or perhaps we should have drug a pipe organ into the woods and enlisted a choir to hold a service, but that was not the point.

Is this a Feminist God?

The book uses some characterizations of God to mess with the religious stereotypes only to get people to consider God as he really is, not how we have reconstituted him as a white, male autocrat bent on religious conformity. There are important reasons in the story why God takes the expressions he does for Mack, which underlines his nature to meet us where we are, to lead us to where he is. While Jesus was incarnated as man, God as a spirit has no gender, even though we fully embrace that he has taken on the imagery of the Father to express his heart and mind to us. We also recognize Scripture uses traditional female imagery to help us understand other aspects of God’s person, as when Jesus compares himself to a hen gathering chicks, or David likens himself to a weaned child in his mother’s arms.

Has it touched people too deeply?

Some reviewers point to Amazon.com reviews and people who have claimed it had a transforming effect on their spiritual lives as proof of its demonic origin. Please! How absurd is that? Do we prefer books that leave people untouched? This book touches lives because it deals with God in the midst of pain in an honest, straightforward way and because for many this is the first time they have seen the power of theology worked out inside a relationship with God himself.

Does The Shack promote Ultimate Reconciliation (UR)?

It does not. While some of that was in earlier versions because of the author’s partiality at the time to some aspects of what people call UR, I made it clear at the outset that I didn’t embrace UR as sound teaching and didn’t want to be involved in a project that promoted it. In my view UR is an extrapolation of Scripture to humanistic conclusions about our Father’s love that has to be forced on the biblical text.

Since I don’t believe in UR and wholeheartedly embrace the finished product, I think those who see UR here, either positively or negatively are reading into the text. To me that was the beauty of the collaboration. Three hearts weighed in on the theology to make it as true as we could muster. The process also helped shape our theologies in honest, protracted discussions. I think the author would say that some of that dialog significantly affected his views. This book represents growth in that area for all of us. Holding him to the conclusions he may have embraced years earlier would be unfair to the ongoing process of God in his life and theology.

That said, however, I’m not afraid to have that discussion with people I regard as brothers and sisters since many have held that view in the course of theological history. Also keep in mind that the heretic hunters lump many absurd notions into what they call UR, but when I actually talk to those people partial to some view of ultimate reconciliation they do not endorse all the absurdities ascribed to them. This is a heavily nuanced discussion with UR meaning a lot of different things to different people. For myself, I am convinced that Jesus is someone we have to accept through repentance and belief in this age to participate in his life.

Throughout The Shack Mack’s choices are in play, determining what he will let God do in his life through their encounter. He is no victim of God’s process. He is a willing participant at every juncture. And even though Papa says ‘He is reconciled to all men” he also notes that, “not all men are reconciled to me.”

Is the author promoting the emergent movement?

This guilt-by-association tactic is completely contrived. Neither the author, nor Brad and I at Windblown have ever been part of the emergent conversation. Some of their bloggers have written about the book, but we have not had any significant contact with the leaders of that movement and they have not been the core audience that has embraced this book.

That said I have met many people in the emergent conversation that have proved to be brothers and sisters in the faith. While I’m not nuts about all they do, a lot of the statements made about them by critics are as false as what some say about The Shack. They do deeply embrace the Scriptures. As I see it they are not trying to re-invent Christianity, but trying to communicate it in ways that captures a new generation. While I don’t agree with many of the conclusions they’re sorting through at the moment, they are not raving humanists. I have found them passionate seekers of the Lord Jesus Christ, who are asking some wonderful questions about God and how he makes himself known in us.

Does The Shack promote new age philosophy or Hinduism?

Amazingly some people have made assumptions about some of the names to think there is some eastern mysticism here, but when you hear how Paul selected the names he did it wasn’t to make veiled references to Hinduism, black Madonnas, or anything else. It was to uncover facets of God’s character that are clear in the Scriptures.

It’s amazing how much people will make up to indulge their fantasies and falsely label something to fit their own conclusions. Some have even insisted that Mack flying in his dreams was veiled instructions in astral travel. Absolutely absurd! Has this man never read fiction, or had a dream? Just because someone screams there is a demon under that bush, doesn’t mean there is.

We realize this would be a challenging read for those who see no difference between the religious conditioning that underlies Christianity as it is often presented in the 21st Century and the simple, powerful life in Christ that Jesus offered to his followers. Our hope was to help people see how the Loving Creator can penetrate our defenses and lead us to healing. Our prayer is that through this book people will see the God of the Bible as Jesus presented him to be—an endearing reality who wants to love us out of our sin and bondage and into his life. This is a message of grace and healing that does not condone or excuse sin, but shows God destroying it through the dynamic relationship he wants with each of his children.

We realize folks will disagree. We planned on it. We appreciate the interaction of those who have honest concerns and questions. Those who have been captured by this story are encouraged to search the Scriptures to see if these things are so and not trust us or the ravings of those who misinterpret this book, either threatened by its success, or those who want to ride on it to push their own fear-based agenda.

http://windblownmedia.com/about-wbm/is-the-shack-heresy.html

“The Shack is a Christian novel by Canadian author William P. Young, a former office manager and hotel night clerk, published in 2007.[1] The novel was self-published but became a USA Today bestseller, having sold 1 million copies as of June 8, 2008.[2] It was the #1 paperback trade fiction seller on The New York Times Best Seller list from June 2008 to early 2010,[3] in a publishing partnership with Hachette Book Group USA’s FaithWords imprint (Hodder & Stoughton in the UK). In 2009 it was awarded the “Diamond Award” for sales of over 10 million copies by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shack

In writing this post, I am assuming that readers are familiar with the ‘fictional’ work “The Shack” as referred above. Since the new movie of the book has recently opened around the world, it would be hard to imagine many who have not heard of it. If you are unfamiliar, there are a number of excellent reviews online which will give you a comprehensive understanding. It would take too long to précis the plot of the book, but the main gist is that a grieving father meets God in the shape of two women and a man in the shack where his daughter was murdered. The book centres on the conversation he has with God in the shack, and most of the controversy surrounding this book has been centred on the portrayal of the Trinity as female, or partially female, and the promotion of the heresy of Universalism.

In the article by the publishers Windblown Media, or more pertinently Wayne Jacobsen, there is a full scale reply to critics regarding the book. I wanted to address Jacobsen’s response as it contains a number of revealing attitudes which then present proof that neither the author, nor the publisher/author of this book and subsequent film are trying to enable Christians to grow closer to God they are simply out to make money from Christians.

I have wanted for some years to publish a dissection of Wayne Jacobsen’s “Is The Shack Heresy” and with the news that the long awaited film of the book is now out, I felt it timely to talk about this article. Apparently, Oprah Winfrey was considered for the part of one of the female leads (one of the Trinity as portrayed in ‘The Shack’) which doesn’t surprise me at all. She thinks she is a Christian and is certainly influential, but it doesn’t matter how many networks you own, you are still not God.

I will start by saying I have not read the Shack. I tried to read it, but after only a couple of pages, I began to feel very strange, as though I was being drawn into something which was stronger than me. I decided to go against the usual reasoning which says it is fair to read a work before you challenge it. What I am actually challenging here is this article rather than the book (although it amounts to the same thing) and the responses which I feel are far too tired and well-used. Unfortunately, in my experience, these responses are more often heard from the sorts of men who have catapulted Christians into the arms of works like “The Shack” in the first place.

While I have not read the whole book, I have read enough excerpts and enough critiques to make me very concerned. I am even more concerned about a film which will not stick to the novel, they never do, and will add other worldly elements to the script and therefore lead Christians even further down a whole nother path away from God’s word.

If I write a fictional story about you in which I represent you in a way which is not true to who you are, I am distorting how others see you. I may claim that it is fictional, but it still has real-life applications. This is the very issue which plagues celebrities, actors and others in the public eye. The media makes up stuff about them all the time. It may not be the truth, but for somebody who doesn’t know you, it becomes truth and for somebody who cares for you a great deal, it is insulting because it doesn’t portray you as you actually are. I would guarantee that if I wrote a story portraying you in a way which was both false and misleading you would get pretty upset about it. That is why people hate ‘The Shack’ so vehemently. It lies about God. You can’t claim that it is fiction and therefore you have the right to say what you like. On the Windblown Media site Wayne Jacobsen makes it perfectly clear that ‘The Shack’ was meant to be a theological work, with references to the scripture on just about every page. I have yet to see a theological work whose position in the library catalogue system is ‘fiction’.

Wayne Jacobsen in his article at Windblown Media fairly mocks those who read the criticism of the Shack but don’t read the book. People are told to read the book for themselves and not allow others to tell them what to think. But aren’t we being told what to think by Windblown? I have always been highly sceptical of any organisation which arranges it’s own in-house investigation of itself. The findings will always be coloured by self-interest. Therefore, Windblown actually comes across looking defensive and in fact the tone of the defense is pretty immature. It is the sarcastic rejoinder of the teenager who is trying to project sophistication and wisdom “Really, that’s what you got out of the book”, or even “You people really aren’t very smart are you”. It is snide, patronising and disingenuous.

We knew it would happen eventually. Frankly we thought it would happen far sooner and in far greater quantity than we have seen to date. But we knew The Shack was edgy enough to prompt some significant backlash, which is why so many publishing companies didn’t want to take it on at the beginning.

I never thought everyone was going to love this book. Art is incredibly subjective as to whether a story and style are appealing. I have no problem with a spirited discussion of some of the theological issues raised in The Shack. The books I love most are the ones that challenge my theological constructs and invite a robust discussion among friends, whether I agree with everything in them or not in the end,. That is especially true of a work of fiction where people will bring their own interpretations of the same events or conversations. I never view a book as all good or all bad. It’s like eating chicken. Enjoy the meat and toss the bones. “

Jacobsen starts by saying “told you so” . Apparently the publishers knew it was going to cause controversy because it was so ‘edgy’. Hey, it’s a cool book and we knew it was going to cause trouble, that’s why we published it. But elsewhere in this response, he also claims that this book is only fictional and therefore people are making too much of it. Now you can’t have it both ways, either you use the defense (with a dismissive shoulder shrug) “hey it’s JUST fiction, you square dudes need to chill ax”, or you use the defense “hey we knew you square dudes needed to be shaken up a bit”.

The “I never thought everyone was going to enjoy this book” message is also more than slightly disingenuous. The revelation that the authors of the book were looking right from the beginning to make the book into a movie reveals that they knew darn well it was going to be widely read. It is controversial, therefore you publish it because it is going to sell despite the fact that many people will buy it because they know they aren’t going to like it. That is how marketers make money. It is my belief that those publishers who didn’t publish were more concerned with alienating their existing market of Christian readers who had traditional views. Those were probably publishers of books which sell really well in Christian book shops.

This book sold well everywhere and its position and longevity on the New York Times bestseller list affirms that it was making people take notice. It is not a book which would appeal to traditional Christians, and the authors knew that which is why they published it. Yet even for those who were always going to oppose the controversial portrayals of God and other theological issues, there was always the insistence that you have to read the book in order to be able to judge it. Well, it ain’t necessarily so. You don’t have to eat something in order to know it is poison. Yet, even if most of the Christians who were concerned about the book bought it out of curiosity, that right there is a huge boost in your sales figures.

I think that the argument that people should read the book first before they criticise is just a misdirection.  They are not upset that you haven’t read the whole thing, they are upset that you are so critical of it.  Their unspoken insinuation is that if you read the book you would not be so critical.  This is a trite and frankly infantile response.  Are they saying that their book is so great that anyone who reads it is going to love it?  Nobody loves every book they read.  And I doubt the criticism would be any less strident considering that the critics of the book generally fall into the camp of bible believing, conservative Christians who feel strongly about the posturing of post-modern pro-millenial ‘artists’ who wish to perform the usual false teacher’s bait and switch on the unsuspecting public.  This is not just a work of fiction, it is a lie.  And a lie can be sandwiched into a parable, a metaphor or a fairytale in the same way that a truth can.

They knew what sells as Jacobsen admits in this article. This is also affirmed by their insistence in a 2010 law suit that profits from the book be distributed according to authorship. See this LA Times article here. Young claimed he was the author, Windblown claimed they had just as much right to authorship and also that Young didn’t want the book made into a movie as they had originally agreed. Books, as we all know, which get made into movies (The Da Vinci Code or Harry Potter franchise for example) tend to sell well as books even during and after the movies, giving rise to further books and ultimately a highly successful and profitable market arises selling not only books and movie paraphernalia but spin off books from other authors, as well as fan fiction. It is a highly lucrative enterprise which every author dreams of entering into. Authors of books like this become billionaires overnight; not to mention the publishers, printers, agents and sellers of the book. .

I have no problem with a spirited discussion of some of the theological issues raised in The Shack. The books I love most are the ones that challenge my theological constructs and invite a robust discussion among friends, whether I agree with everything in them or not in the end,. That is especially true of a work of fiction where people will bring their own interpretations of the same events or conversations. I never view a book as all good or all bad. It’s like eating chicken. Enjoy the meat and toss the bones

I don’t know about Wayne, but I prefer eating chicken without bones, and even the bones of a chicken, as every good chef knows, are used for making stock. So, chicken analogies aside, this statement reminds me of pre-pubescent boys pouring petrol down an anthill just to see what would happen when they light it.

The publisher states that he loves books which challenge his theological constructs. Yet in his next sentence he claims that this is especially true of works of fiction where people bring their own interpretations of the same events. This book is a work of fiction which discusses theological issues. In other words we are talking pretend stuff about a real person. The real person we are discussing is God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, the most important real people in the universe, your maker, and your Lord. Where is the reverence and respect? You either do a fictional story about a real person who is by definition not that important because he is merely human so chill out all you people getting hostile out there, or this is a fictional story about a real person who is worshipped by millions around the world. Dang right this is going to be controversial Wayne. So stop pretending it is ‘just a story’ because you knew it was going to cause problems, remember? How did you know it was going to cause problems? Because nobody else would publish it? Wrong! Because your conscience was telling you that people wouldn’t like what was being said about God because it goes against the already accepted ideas of who God is. (The books I love the most are the ones which challenge my theological constructs) Which in layman’s terms (or cool dudism) means telling me what I believe about God is wrong. You can’t tell people that what they believe about God is wrong and then chastise them for getting hostile about it.

Wayne also tells us that he never views a book as all good or all bad. So, is he suggesting that ‘The Shack’ has some bad in it? If that is the case then he might need to explain why he hasn’t bothered to explain which bits he might think were bad? The bits which challenge our theological constructs perhaps?

It saddens me that people want to use a book like this to polarize God’s family, whether it’s over-enthusiastic reader thrusting it in someone’s face telling them they ‘must read’ this book, or when people read their own theological agendas into a work, then denounce it as heresy.”

Now back to the disingenuous thing. First of all Jacobsen tell us that he love books which challenge people’s ideas about God then he tells us that it saddens him that people want to use a book like this to polarise God’s family. Apparently publishing a book that you knew was going to be controversial isn’t deliberately trying to polarise God’s family. People are also apparently either too enthusiastic, and telling others they ‘must read’ this book, or they are denouncing it as heresy (because they read their own theological agendas into it). Now let’s deconstruct this. You have a publisher telling their reading public that it saddens them when the public who bought this book (proceeds going to Wayne Jacobsen et al) actually want other people to read it? I don’t think so Wayne. Remember, you knew it was going to be controversial, that’s why you published it because, remember, controversial books sell really well. Then they get made into movies. Then the authors of the book sue each other because they aren’t getting all the money from sales that they deserve. Because they are not only the authors of the book, they publish it as well. So, we aren’t going into hypocrisy overdrive here.

Then on the other side of the argument, Wayne also feels sad when people denounce the work as heresy. No, you don’t. You don’t feel sad. What you are feeling is the rise in blood pressure when your book starts selling like hot cakes because people denounce it as heresy.

Now Wayne starts to get a little tense. He doesn’t like it when people just accept other people’s reviews of the book. He would like the members of the public to read the book for themselves, preferably buying their own copy, which would increase sales.

If you’re interested, read it for yourself. Don’t let someone else do your thinking for you. If it helps convey the reality of Jesus to you, great! If all you can see is sinister motives and false teaching in it, then put it aside

Now I am confused. You have two different attitudes conveyed in one paragraph. If this book helps convey the reality of Jesus then we think that is wonderful. Then the interestingly worded sentence, “If all you can see is sinister motives etc.” The words ‘If all’ suggests that Wayne is not as upset about polarising God’s family as he thinks he is. In fact he himself is polarising God’s family in this statement. Apparently you either read the book and see Jesus, or you read the book and see sinister motives and false teaching, and the words ‘if all you can see’ make it clear which side Wayne comes down on. So, you either get it or you don’t and if you don’t then we don’t care, just chuck the thing, but don’t get all hot under the collar about it.

I don’t have time to give a point-by-point rebuttal to the reviews I’ve read, but I would like to make some comments on some of the issues that have come up since I’m getting way too many emails asking me what I think of some of the questions they raise. I’ll also admit at the outset, that I’m biased. Admittedly, I’m biased. I was part of a team with the author of working on this manuscript for over a year and am part of the company formed to print and distribute this book. But I’m also well acquainted with the purpose and passions of this book.

Jacobsen’s attitude here is that of an overworked boss who has to take time to answer questions his staff have even though it is making him late for his dinner date. He also mentions that he is getting ‘way too many’ emails asking for his opinion. Why is this a bad thing? I would have thought this would signify, I don’t know, popularity, respect, or even just availability. However, he seems to find this kind of thing irritating.

What do I think? I tire of the self-appointed doctrine police, especially when they toss around false accusations like ‘new age conspiracy’, ‘counterfeit Jesus’ or ‘heresy’ to promote fear in people as a way of advancing their own agenda. What many of them don’t realize is that research actually shows that more people will buy a book after reading a negative review than they do after reading a positive one. It piques their curiosity as to why someone would take so much time to denounce someone else’s book. (my emphasis)

Jacobsen states that he hates the ‘doctrine police’ because they use words like ‘new age conspiracy’ or ‘heresy’ in order to advance their own agenda. And this is different to you advancing your own agenda of book sales in what way Wayne? Actually he answers the question with the next couple of sentences. Since he is so close to the publishing and writing business he gives us a lesson about why people buy controversial books. Hang on Wayne. Either you are saddened at people who ‘polarise God’s family’ or you are having a great day because your books are selling like hot cakes because of the negative reviews! You are right, you are well acquainted with the purposes of this book, and of the agendas of marketers and merchandisers. Conflict of interest is clearly not a problem for you.

The next paragraph is a master study in conflict of interest, and just conflictedness in general. Let’s look at it.

But such reviews also confuse people who are afraid of being seduced into error and for those I think the false accusations demand a response. Let me assure any of you reading this that all three of us who worked on this book are deeply committed followers of Jesus Christ who have a passion for the Truth of the Scriptures and who have studied and taught the life of Jesus over the vast majority of our lifetimes. But none of us would begin to pretend that we have a complete picture of all that God is or that our theology is flawless. We are all still growing in our appreciation for him and our desire to be like him, and we hope this book encourages you to that process as well. In the end, this says the best stuff we know about God at this point in our journeys. Is it a complete picture of him? Of course not! Who could put all that he is into a little story like this one? But if it is a catalyst to get thousands of people to talk about theology—who God is and how he makes himself known in the world—we would be blessed (my emphasis)

Jacobsen states that he hates that bad reviews confuse people who are afraid of being seduced into error. What? In what way do bad reviews confuse people? People who want to know what this book is about (challenging theological constructs) will read both good and bad reviews. The bad reviews tell you what is bad about the book and the good reviews tell you what is good about the book, according to the authors of same. But Wayne hates that bad reviews confuse people who don’t want to be seduced into error, interesting language here. Wayne first of all tells you that he knows the book will be controversial but he loves books which challenge theological contructs so they published the book (which he helped to write). Then he tells you it saddens him that people are polarised about the book, and he hates when people write bad reviews because it confuses people. Right. He both wants people to see the book as good, even though bad reviews actually make the book (and future film) sell better.

Then he starts getting real upset and gets into defending his book. False accusations (and we know they are false why? Because they disagree with Wayne, the publisher and co-author) demand a reponse. Do they? Actually genuinely false accusations don’t demand a response, but your readers do, so you are going to keep everyone happy here by giving them what they want. Hence the diatribe.

So now we get the statement of faith. Jacobsen and his co-authors are committed followers of Jesus Christ who have a passion for the truth of the scriptures (truth and scriptures capitalised) who also apparently love to challenge theological contructs. Why? Because it sells books. Otherwise gentlemen, you would have kept your theological challenges to your emergent conversation around the coffee table and left off trying to merchandise them to ‘God’s family’ in order to make a profit through books and film deals (and out of court settlements) so get down off your religious high horses. Wayne states again gratuitously that he doesn’t have the whole understanding of God, and that his theology is not complete. So why get upset when somebody challenges it?

Wayne says that if this book is a catalyst for people to start talking theology (because lets face it accepted theology has been all talked out and new theology sells better than the King James – it also makes for a better film script) then that’s great. Now Wayne claims that this book is a catalyst to talk about who God is. How exactly? By presenting a completely different view of Him than the bible, then claiming that this is the same God? Well, that would surely lead people to just condemn the book out of hand. The ones sure of their faith I mean. The ones not sure of their faith are going to get confused and afraid of being seduced. Like the ones he mentioned earlier. The ones who are being led astray by those sure of their faith and condemning the book. So, is this book meant as a catalyst for discussion, or does Wayne Jacobsen et al really just want people to believe that this book is a great book which helps them get closer to Jesus?

I don’t think Wayne really knows what he wants, or at least he isn’t keen to be honest about it in these pages. If nothing else he is double minded, and scripture tells us that the double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.

Now we get some publishers blurb about this being a story of one man’s redemption. Apparently years of pain and grief are wiped away in one weekend’s retreat with Oprah Winfrey, and a couple of special guests. Really? I spent 15 years in a religious cult and spent 9 years trying to find healing and redemption, and in the end I went back to the scriptures and re-discovered my faith and the power of the gospel in a couple of weeks reading Romans. No lady spirit guides, no extremely cold dilapidated old shed and no controversial ‘christian fiction’ regardless of how well the rest of the world loves it.

That said, the content of this book does take a harsh look at how many of our religious institutions and practices have blinded people to the simple Gospel and replaced it with a religion of rules and rituals that have long ceased to reflect the Lord of Glory. Some will disagree with that assessment and the solutions this book offers, and the reviews that do so honestly merit discussion. But those who confuse the issues by making up their own back-story for the book, or ascribing motives to its publication without ever finding out the truth, only prove our point.

Now we are getting into even more confusion. One minute Wayne is talking emotionally about a couple of deeply committed Christian guys who are writing a little book about God and wanting people to talk about who He is and the way He manifests himself. Now he admits the content of this book takes a harsh look at how many religious institutions and practices have blinded people to the simple Gospel and replaced it with a religion of rules which cease to reflect God. Actually religion and rules never reflected God and were never intended to. So they never reflected God in the first place (talking third century and beyond now) and can’t then be suggested as having previously reflected the glory of God. A book can’t be both a little story which encourages people to talk about God and a harsh commentary on Christian institutions. You either have a theological book which critiques religion, or you have a parable type book which gently introduces the person of God into the lives of those who are hurting. Hurting people don’t need to be told that religion is bad, they already know that. Inflaming already hurting people against an institution which is only going to attack them further is a little gratuitous; again, the petrol down the ant hill.

I find it interesting that Jacobsen states that this book offers solutions to the institutionalised church. Which solutions were they then? Fantasy goddesses and a groovy middle eastern guy sitting in a humpy talking about God? Actually the answers are in the Bible already, and can be found by those who have accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ as is found in the bible. But then the bible doesn’t sell as well as the Shack, mainly because it isn’t as controversial….surprisingly.

Does the book promote universalism?

Some people can find a universalist under every bush. This book flatly states that all roads do not lead to Jesus, while it affirms that Jesus can find his followers wherever they may have wandered into sin or false beliefs. Just because he can find followers in the most unlikely places, does not validate those places. I don’t know how we could have been clearer, but people will quote portions out of that context and draw a false conclusion.

Okay now we get into the nitty gritty. Does this book promote universalism? This is an oft-stated perception of the book. Now if you are going to rebut an argument you need to use the proper method. You take quotes from the book as evidence for your argument against universalism, you rebut the argument with evidence not opinion. Wayne starts with a sarcastic and not very helpful put down. He states that this book says that all roads do not lead to Jesus. The book also says that Jesus is the best way to God. Both of these statements are not flat denials of universalism, they are well crafted non-statements. No, it is widely accepted that all roads do not lead to Jesus. But that is not what universalism is about. Universalism states that all people will be saved regardless of their spiritual condition (without having accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour). There is also the assumption that a loving God would not commit anyone to eternal punishment. There are plenty of reviews which cite quotes from the book which confirm this idea. On pages 119-120 for example ‘Papa’ or one of the fictional trinity posing as God says “I am not who you think I am, Mackenzie. 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”.

Actual scripture, from the Bible, tell us in Romans 6:16 “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness? “

I have just rebutted ‘The Shack’s theological error by using quotes from the Bible, the book of God’s actual words.

Yet Jacobsen doesn’t bother rebutting his detractors with actual quotes which prove his point. Now he is the co-author of this book, he could easily explain what he meant by these statements, instead he goes straight to an ad hominem argument. Apparently, opponents of universalism see universalists under every bush. Is this meant to be ironic? God saves everyone, therefore we are all universalists whether we know it or not, and hey, there will in fact be one under every bush because people are in fact everywhere?

Too much of a stretch maybe.

Jacobsen says that Jesus can find his followers wherever they may have wandered into sin or false beliefs. I have news for you, those who wander into sin are sinners who need to come to Jesus in order to be forgiven. If they cry out to him, he will come to them, but first they need to recognise their sin and repent of it. False beliefs, well, we all know those who have come out of heretical churches, so I am not arguing that one. But that is not what universalism says. It doesn’t teach that Jesus can’t save you whatever mess you may have found yourself in. Jacobsen has consoled himself by attacking his detractors by using the argument ‘people will always draw false conclusions’ without actually showing why and how these conclusions are false. Sorry, but you lost that one by default.

Does it devalue Scripture?

Just because we didn’t put Scriptural addresses with their numbers and colons at every allusion in the story, does not mean that the Bible isn’t the key source in virtually every conversation Mack has with God. Scriptural teachings and references appear on almost every page. They are reworded in ways to be relevant to those reading the story, but at every point we sought to be true to the way God has revealed himself in the Bible except for the literary characterizations that move the story forward. At its core the book is one long Bible study as Mack seeks to resolve his anger at God. (emphasis mine)

OK, now this is where Mr. Jacobsen proves that after years as a professional pastor (you know those dudes who make money off professing believers by taking advantage of that evil religious empire which Jacobsen hates) he still doesn’t know what the Bible says about God. Or does he?

In a straw man argument Jacobsen suggests that his opponents expect him to use scriptural references in the book to prove that his book has taken its key concepts from scripture. I don’t think that is their problem Wayne. Nobody expects a novel writer to use chapter and verse. You don’t see the books in your local bookstore labelled Christian fiction full of scriptures, Actually in the good ones you do. I remember reading Bodie Thoecne’s novels and the vast majority of them were fictional but they did occasionally quote the bible. But then they were just books intended to edify Christians not sell like hot cakes because they were controversial.

Apparently, according to Jacobsen, scriptural teachings and references appear on almost every page. Too many to mention by actual page number we assume. Not even one as an example? That’s too bad. It would have been helpful to rebut the argument with evidence. Apparently these scriptural references are reworded (I think your detractors would agree with that) in order to be relevant to the reader (what does that mean). According to Jacobsen, he and his co-authors sought to stay true to the way God reveals himself in the bible except for the (big important phrase)  literary characterisations which move the story forward. I find these euphemistic explanations entirely frustrating. A person attempting to explain a book which has already caused a lot of concern needs to be able to use direct uncompromising language which states in no uncertain terms what they book is about. Unfortunately, all I am seeing in these attempts at addressing issues are sarcastic put downs and generalisations without any proof texts.

popeye

Now, I am not a genius, but last time I read Jesus’, Paul’s, Peter’s John’s words or any one of the other authors of scripture, I did not see any large African women or small Asian women. How can you claim that this book promotes a biblical revelation of who God is when the only time we see Him is either in non-human form (as per Moses) or in the form of a thirty something Jewish man. No women, no other identities. The Holy Spirit is not mentioned in this way, nor is Jesus. I am pretty sure that is quite straightforward, and that is what people have a problem with. You are representing the almighty in fairly arbitrary terms, certainly not in scriptural terms.

Apparently this book is one long bible study. You haven’t given us any evidence of that either Mr. Jacobsen.

Is this God too nice?

Others have claimed that the God of The Shack is simply too nice, or having him in humorous human situations trivializes him. Really? Who wants to be on that side of the argument? For those who think this God is too easy, please tell me in what way does he let Mack off on anything? He holds his feet to the fire about every lie in his mind and every broken place in his heart. I guess what people these critics cannot see is confrontation and healing inside a relationship of love and compassion. This is not the angry and tyrannical God that religion has been using for 2000 years to beat people into conformity and we are not surprised that this threatens the self-proclaimed doctrine police.

At last, in this section of the article we see some quotes from the book, but not to back up Jacobsen’s argument. They are quotes from somebody else who apparently didn’t like the way God was portrayed. Further on Jacobsen quotes John 15:15 but only to beat somebody over the head with it because they are apparently too legalistic and don’t understand his portrayal of God as Oprah Winfrey.

Does it distort or demean the Trinity?

This extends in other ways to look at how healed people can relate to each other inside their relationship with God that defines authority and submission in ways most are not used to, but that are far more consistent with what we see in the early believers and in the teaching of Scripture. It is also true of many believers around the world who are learning to experience the life of Father’s family without all the hierarchical maintenance and drama that has plagued followers of Christ since the third century.

People may see this differently and find this challenging, if only because it represents some thought they have not been exposed to before. Here we might be better off having a discussion instead of dragging out the ‘heretic’ label when it is unwarranted. (my emphasis)

In general, Jacobsen does not confront his detractors head on, unless he does it in a demeaning and petty way. Those who criticise his work are considered to be narrow minded legalists who want God to be portrayed in the same way he has always been. How dare they contradict Wayne Jacobsen who is lets face it a former pastor who went to bible school and has paid his dues. He KNOWS who God is. I think the problem people have with this Wayne is that, well, so do they. Nobody wants to see God portrayed in other than the way he is portrayed in the bible.

You want to both promote controversy (why?) and accuse those who don’t want to engage in this as being either pedants or cowards.

This is the typical attack that rebels like to use. At heart, I think Jacobsen, and he won’t agree with me, is a hippy. He wants to stir up the ants nest and have people discussing God, but he doesn’t want to simply ask questions, he wants to portray God as a woman first of all, but have this woman use words which God has never used in order to ‘move the story forward’, and promote theological discussion. I am also deeply aware, as a woman, that women have always been oppressed by institutional religion. They are the wives and mothers and have no other presence in the church. They are not meant to preach or teach or have any authority, yet in ‘The Shack’ they are being used as a picture of God. Perhaps this is allowing those who have a problem with father figures to see somebody other than a man. Excuse me but this is exactly the sort of gender confusion that the world is engaged in at present. Maleness and Femaleness are no longer relevant. Whether you are gay, transgender, or any other form of sexual deviancy, the point is that you love somebody else and they love you back, love is not dependant upon gender. Now this idea is being superimposed upon God.

What Young is doing perhaps unconsciously is seeing God through the 21st century’s young person’s lens (scuse the pun). We are all being forced to look through this lens whether we consider it perverse or not, and now God is being reflected back to us as a woman. Not just one, but two. God is two thirds female apparently. Yet since this book is fictional, and you can use the term fictional to mean imaginary and not real, then you can assume that this God is not real. The problem is, that they are trying to portray this God as a picture of the real God. It doesn’t work like that. Some have suggested that this book is as much of a classic as “Pilgrim’s Progress”, but even PP has some issues. The issue of a works based salvation perhaps. Why did Christian carry that burden with him nearly all the way to the Celestial City when Jesus tells us to come to Him and He will give us rest because his yoke is easy and his burden light. Not even Bunyan gets it all right. As is the way with metaphors and parables, they can be stretched beyond the point. A little goes a long way with types and shadows, and even Jesus only spoke in very short parables not many paged novels.

Jacobsen has already stated that he loves books which promote controversy, and as a publisher and future film producer, there are clear conflicts of interest, which he has partially admitted to. These conflicts of interest however have not been completely resolved. He tries to defend the book but does so by attacking his critics rather than by proving that what they are saying is wrong. I get the strong impression that this is another PR exercise. Except it comes across as being motivated by the authors own hurt that his book is not being accepted as a theological work.

He says again in the last paragraph that he expected controversy and planned on it. Did he? I don’t think so or the overwhelming sense of outrage and hurt which comes across from this article would not be so overwhelming. A little miffed perhaps, but not to the point of refusing to properly and professionally addressing the concerns. My conclusion is that Wayne Jacobsen et al knew that this book would be controversial and he knew that it would sell well. I think any other issue is beside the point. If this book was truly a work to encourage Christians and promote the gospel, it would not have been on the New York Bestseller List. We are either friends with the world or friends with God, but not both. If we are friends with God, the world will hate us. Not exactly the best conditions for creating either a best seller or a blockbuster movie.

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