Posts Tagged 'Paul Young'

Highly Recommended Companion to ‘The Shack’: Finding God in The Shack by Randal Rauser

https://i0.wp.com/www.theooze.com/blog/uploaded_images/finding-god-rauser-770580.jpgAs some of you know, I am a back-cover endorser on the runaway-bestseller The Shack. I said

Finally! A guy-meets-God novel that has literary integrity and spiritual daring. The Shack cuts through the clichés of both religion and bad writing to reveal something compelling and beautiful about life’s integral dance with the Divine. This story reads like a prayer–like the best kind of prayer, filled with sweat and wonder and transparency and surprise. When I read it, I felt like I was fellowshipping with God. If you read one work of fiction this year, let this be it.

I stand whole-heartedly behind my endorsement. And yet even I have been surprised by the wide range of impassioned responses the book has received, ranging from people receiving it as a literally-true story straight from the mouth of God on the one hand, or a witch’s brew of New Age heresy on the other. The Internet is filled with armchair speculation on the literary and spiritual merits of The Shack – much of it rather un-inspiring.

So imagine my delight when I found out that Authentic Media was publishing Finding God in The Shack, an interrogative-yet-playful tome by theologian and author Randal Rauser. Rauser takes readers on a fascinating journey through the pages of the story that has ignited the church’s interest in theodicy (”the problem of evil”) and the Trinity, a doctrine that has long been locked away in seminary classrooms. “As a theologian, it is wonderful-if a bit humbling-to witness the Trinity now emerging as a topic of lively conversations at the local coffee shop, and all because of a novel,” Rauser says. “But while those conversations have not typically lacked for enthusiasm and conviction, many of them would benefit from some deeper background as to the theological issues at stake.”

As Rauser explores the intricacies of the plot, he addresses many of the book’s complex and controversial issues. In the process, he takes a stab at why God the Father is revealed as an African-American woman, defends the book’s theology of the Trinity against charges of heresy, and considers its provocative denial of a Trinitarian hierarchy (with a nod toward the eastern Cappadocian Mothers & Fathers). At its heart The Shack is a response to evil, and Rauser offers an honest and illuminating discussion of the book’s explanation for why God allows evil, how the atoning work of Christ offers new hope to a suffering world, and ultimately how this hope extends to all of creation.

If you’ve been inspired, challenged, or even threatened by Young’s novel, you owe it to yourself to read Finding God in The Shack. You’ll find that it’s like inviting an insightful, even-handed conversation partner across your table. As Rauser puts it:

“It is true that The Shack asks some hard questions and occasionally takes positions with which we might well disagree. But surely the answer is not found in shielding people from the conversation, but rather in leading them through it,” Rauser states. “After all, it is through wrestling with new ideas that one learns to deal with the nuance and complexity that characterize an intellectually mature faith. The Shack will not answer all our questions, nor does it aspire to. But we can be thankful that it has started a great conversation.”

Searching for a Better God?

Frankly, I am. But how to get there? It was probably in reading Brennan Manning that I first puhttps://i1.wp.com/www.splinteredlightbooks.com/slb/images/items/120x1000/7827.JPGt words to the need to ‘heal my image of God’ – to renew my inner (and social) imaging of God from sub-divine images of domination and spite and terror that had unwittingly accumulated around it throughout my life and upbringing. Everything from the churches we attend to the TV preachers we watch to the ways we read the Bible can warp our view of the God whom the author of 1 John exclaims “is love.” Healing this image has for me involved loving fellowships, grace in strangers’ presence, more attentive reading of Scripture, and time spent in the fire and darkness of contemplative silence.

With that said, voices like Peter Rollins remind us that graven ideologies are just as insidious (and idolatrous) as graven images when allowed to harden into certitude; talk about God can only be provisional at best, seeing as God is inscrutable, ineffable, and dwelling in a light unapproachable to our consciousness. Even the revelation of God in Jesus obscures as much as it discloses. This critique against holding too-tightly to one’s view of God holds equally to calloused, fearful legalists as it does blissed-out grace heads. As Walter Brueggemann says, “God is irascible.”

It is with both of these powerful perspectives that Wade Bradshaw’s important new book Searching for a Better God argues. It’s brand new from the always-eclectic Authentic Media.

For previous generations, the key question among spiritual quest-ians was ‘Does God exist?’ Christianity’s apologia, sermons, and defenses were geared to this one question. For the current generation, however, the question is shifting: It’s not always so much ‘Does God exist,’ but ‘Why does God matter’? And, ‘What kind of God is God?’ For a generation aware of human trafficking and AIDS ravaging Africa and Tsunamis that kill thousands at random, the question of God’s goodness, or God’s morality takes center stage. Is God good or is God cruel?

There are, of course, many ways of approaching this question. In Searching For A Better God, Bradshaw argues that the God we think we know is a mistaken caricature and his nature is misunderstood. So far, so good eh? Manning, Marcus Borg and Paul Young would agree. But Bradshaw takes God’s questioners to the task in a somewhat different way. He feels that God’s interlocutors have concluded that they are actually morally superior to God and that God is less than adequate.  Even some in the church, Bradshaw charges, have begun to suspect this same thing.

Bradshaw, who is Reformed in spiritual orientation, does not equivocate: “This growing suspicion that God exists but is not worthy of our affection or devotion is subtly robbing the world of its one true hope.  God cannot be a source of hope, not because He isn’t real, but because He would not be good to know and to live with forever.  This is what I call the New Story.”

Bradshaw depicts this New Story in three questions:

  • Is God Angry?
  • Is God Distant?
  • Is God a Bully?

Shockingly, for Bradshaw the answer to all three may indeed be yes, but this very divine passion serves us well.  Bradshaw highlights a need for revelation rather than reimagination.

In the author’s estimation, the Church Universal today is responding to culture’s three questions in one of three ways. One group doesn’t want to listen to the suspicions of the New Story at all, thereby refusing to pay them any attention. (The fundamentalists and conservative Evangelicals – and presumably some in his own Reformed camp – would fit here) The second group, persuaded by the New Story, sees the need to modify the old teachings and bring them into line with what is considered obviously moral today.  (I think he’d put emerging and progressive Christians in this camp) But, there is a third path that Bradshaw claims is the Christian way because it follows God’s example…the culturally-savvy Calvinista that produces such incognito delights as Paste Magazine and Asthmatic Kitty records, for instance. Not to mention more-overt ordinary joes like Why We’re Not Emergent authors Ted Kluck and Kevin DeYoung, the latter of whom emailed me the other day and is the first ever person to ask for his church (University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan) to be removed from zoecarnate.com’s church directory! Oh, the unrepentant emergent sinners that must have been darkening their door! But I digress…

“The third path,” to return to the matter immediately at hand, “listens to the morality of the day and questions its common sense. Our task is to answer the many suspicions of the New Story and to find out where the suspicions and questions are coming from.  This hard way is the Christian path to wisdom and hope.”

[An aside: Its interesting just how many different people can utilize the idea of the third way.]

I think most of my blog readers will find Searching for a Better God a challenging read, particularly if you’re not a conservative Calvinist. But don’t let this keep you from opening the book. You should know that Bradshaw’s brand of Reformed faith comes out in the tradition of L’Abri, the 1960s family of Christian communes set up by winsome evangelical intellectual and cultural critic Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer’s analyses of culture-at-large make me break out in hives, but I can’t fault time for not going out into culture, asking questions, and posing questions in return from a stance of (presumed) Christian orthodoxy. While I may not agree with his cultural theology, I can’t fault the overall L’Abri process. Bradshaw is a worthy standard-bearer to this approach, and deserves to be listened to.

Related:

Capturing the Low Ground by Wade Bradshaw

Not Your Father’s L’Abri in Christianity Today

Pheonix Rising review

Apologizing for God – a review at Sensual Jesus

Agapetheism by Kevin Beck

L’Abri compatriot Udo Middelmann‘s The Innocence of God.  A similarly-provocative L’Abri-related tome from Authentic, attempting to balance Calvinism and Open Theism with regards to God’s character and activity in the world. I helped edit this one; it was quite the experience.

The Shack – Too Edgy for Christian Publishing?

‘Big Evangelical’ acquisitions editor Mick Silva and lit agent extraordinaire Chip MacGregor offer two nuanced takes.

As many readers here know, I’ve been friends with Windblown co-publisher Wayne Jacobsen for years. (We have similar house-church-like roots, though neither of us exactly claim that nom de plume now) When he approached me in (I guess it was) late 2006 about this novel he’d acquired, he and co-publisher Brad Cummings knew they had something special on their hands. I agreed, so much so that we gave their newly-minted Windblown Media a super-good deal on TheOOZE’s time-tested grassroots blog publicity.

I should probably clarify something right now: The deal wasn’t quite as good as the oftquoted $300 pre-Hachette acquisition ‘total marketing budget.’ That was a benignly unaware statement said early on and picked up the the newswires. Nonetheless, we were indeed The Shack’s total marketing budget, though, helping facilitate one corner of the word-of-mouth that has made The Shack the runaway hit that it is.

So: ‘Too edgy’ for Christian publishing? Some acquisitions editors still claim they wouldn’t take it, citing poor writing or not living up to ‘the rules’ of novel structure (ie, way too much socratic dialogue – the same ‘problem’ that killed that other best-seller, the A New Kind of Christian trilogy – now available in nice new paperbacks, by the way). So much for what the ‘experts’ say – the people have spoken, and they are compelled.

Of course, ‘the people’ have been wrong before – The Prayer of Jabez, Left Behind, and The Secret, anyone? – but the edge is definitely why people are picking up The Shack – Its depiction of suffering is realistic, its depiction of God is controversial, and God’s depicted outlook on living is most bold. It’s clear to me that both the CBA and ABA markets need to expand their horizons if they want to cultivate readers into the 21st century. Otherwise, authors and readers and going to bypass traditional publishing channels altogether.

Coming up in a couple of days: Is ‘God’ a matter up for discussion? Can we fruitfully (and faithfully) re-vision the Divine? Or is searching for a ‘better God’ a fools errand? And, we continue with our series on Emerging Worship…

Heresy Hunters: I Get By With a Little Help from My Friends

You know you’re doing something worthwhile when all the right people are denouncing you.

A couple of weeks ago Herescope denounced Jay Gary, Diana Butler-Bass, Brian McLaren and myself, who will be hanging out at the World Future Society‘s annual conference in D.C. We’ll be talking about “The Future of the Religious Right” and of global Christian faith in general, but the Heroscope team sees our work as promoting “new theologies and practices,” and “disparaging…of biblical prophecy.” Somehow, they suspect that all this winds up “creating an evolutionary convergence” where we all sing Kumbaya and venerate Gaia and Easter bunnies. As if that’s a bad thing!

Moving along: I’ve already told you the kind of flack The Shack has been getting recently with the heresy-hunter websites. Well, as Steve Knight reports at Emergent Village, now our ‘ol pal Mark Driscoll is in on the action too (you can watch his eight-minute YouTube rant on the E.V. link). Apparently he’s mighty uncomfortable with the sacred feminine, anthropomorphic depictions of God, and the idea of the Trinity (and thus, human relatedness) as mutually submissive rather than chain-of-command hierarchical. Sigh. Co-publisher Wayne Jacobsen blogs his response to the question “Is The Shack Heresy?”

Of course Frank Viola has had his share of critique concerning Pagan Christianity–not all from shrill heresy hunters, but certainly enough of it. Well, Tim Dale over at Karis Productions produced this pretty funny spoof response:

I have two observations about all the shelling and attack from this past month: Most of the people above are friends of mine, and for the most part, we can all laugh this off (in the cases of Frank and Team Shack, they can laugh all the way to the bank, as these books have really struck a chord with most readers and have become best-sellers)–even if we don’t know whether to laugh or cry sometimes. Others, though, are not so fortunate–heresy-hunters can cost people their livelihoods.

I don’t have the privilege of knowing Peter Enns, but his story has been all over the blogosphere recently. As Christianity Today reports, Enns has been suspended from his teaching post at Westminster Theological Seminary for writing his 2005 book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, which takes a hard look at the messy, complex, and human aspects of Scripture from an evangelically-informed text criticism point of view. The Board of Trustees said:

“That for the good of the Seminary (Faculty Manual II.4.C.4) Professor Peter Enns be suspended at the close of this school year, that is May 23, 2008 (Constitution Article III, Section 15), and that the Institutional Personnel Committee (IPC) recommend the appropriate process for the Board to consider whether Professor Enns should be terminated from his employment at the Seminary. Further that the IPC present their recommendations to the Board at its meeting in May 2008.”

I understand that confessionally Christian schools are not as enamored with “freedom of thought at any cost” like their liberal arts counterparts; I get that evangelical higher learning institutions are trying to maintain a precarious balance between intellectual integrity and nurturing creedal faith commitments. All the same, Enns is not Bishop Spong or something–he’s asking questions about Holy Writ that the rest of the Church (and world at large) have been asking since the 19th century. Like it or not, those who read and love the Bible are going to begin pondering its more troubling aspects with greater honesty and ideological flexibility.

Heresy-hunting is far from the world’s worst problem. (Next time, I’m going to blog about sex trafficking. Please try to refrain from throwing yourself off a building.) Nonetheless, it is a downer. As I mused last year, sometimes I wonder why I even bother participating in this kind of ‘dialogue’–it all seems so insular. Sometimes I just want to throw my blog into the ocean (so to speak) and becoming a wandering hermit…with my wife and child, of course. But for now, I suppose I’ll leave everyone with an easily-rebuttable maxim: If you don’t have something kind to blog, don’t blog anything at all.

Related:

Mike Todd’s The Shack Film casting call

John MacArthur launches Nothing Must Change tour

Heretic Hunter video

Brad Cummings and Wayne J have something constructive to say about all of this in their Doctrine Police podcast at The God Journey


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