Last night, the beautiful-inside-and-out Mrs. Nevins and I had a low key date night to movies. We saw La La Land which is a tremendous experience visually and sonically. Holding her hand during the romantic scenes never gets old. The film deserves every award it receives.
As the lights went down and the previews began to roll we almost instantly recognized the one for The Shack. It was also visually stunning and looks to be well produced. Knowing the controversy surrounding the movie I leaned over to my wife and whispered a question about whether she wants to see it or not. “I can’t wait,” she replied with a grin. We’re two peas in a pod.
Reflections on Spiritual Maturity and the Controversy
The controversy over the Shack is one that deeply troubles me and has been lingering in my mind all week. Several friends have shared Albert Mohler’s article condemning the book, the movie, and those who enjoy them. I know the sincerity of those friends and assume the same of Dr. Mohler. But I profoundly disagree with them and had to respond.
And then, I found this wonderful response from Wayne Jacobsen who helped write the book. He puts to words the ideas bouncing around my heart about this book and I want to add some commentary of my own.
Before I get into that, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this so, please, make a comment. This is a discussion not a lecture. 🙂
- The Shack is art not systematic theology. The expectations some Christians place on art are the reason that most Christian movies suck. I think it’s due to a profound misunderstanding of how truth is found. Evangelicals value the “plain truth” and the more explicitly it’s presented, the better. Consequently, they attempt to be rhetorically lofty but end up sounding small. Artists know that truth is contained in the medium, that art challenges assumptions you cannot see, and that art’s job is to raise questions not answer them. Jacobsen writes, “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.” The Shack is art and should be judged as such not as teaching. As art, it is succeeding.
- Spiritual maturity means thoughtfully engaging ideas not avoiding them. Think about how you protect a child from certain ideas until they are ready for them. I have very different conversations about members of the opposite sex with my 15 year old daughter than with my 6 year old son. That’s appropriate for their stages of development. Much is the same on the spiritual journey. It’s appropriate at a certain level of spiritual maturity to move beyond the teachers who weaned you into new ideas, to test them, and hear for yourself where God is leading you (not apart from the Scriptures but with the God of the Scriptures). Reading or watching The Shack may be appropriate for some and not appropriate for others. It may stimulate growth in some and lead others astray. On this point, I agree with the need for discernment.
- Condescension toward people in the process of spiritual growth is unwarranted, uncharitable, and unpastoral. Mohler’s article accuses people who embrace The Shack of “a lack of basic theological knowledge.” This is a stunning admission of failure from a man who has dedicated his life to producing that very thing. Mohler and his followers seem to think they are the gatekeepers of knowledge of God but the gates have already fallen. The gatekeepers just don’t know it yet. Or maybe, his understanding of what people find in the story is simply wrong. Mohler says “The obvious question is this: How is it that so many evangelical Christians seem to be drawn not only to this story, but to the theology presented in the narrative — a theology at so many points in conflict with evangelical convictions?” Could it be that the experience offered by Evangelical leaders is full of condescension and lacking in spiritual life is driving many to look for God in new places?
- Maybe God wants to use The Shack. Is it possible that more people will be led to Christ through the Shack than through all the accumulated reformed teaching of the centuries? Yes, it’s possible. What I’ve learned from podcasting the spiritual journey is that God uses everything to bring people to himself. In the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing stories of how God used a screening of a Josh McDowell film that the organizer thought was a failure and another when God used the faithfulness of an 11 year old girl to reach a man in Central Asia. He’s used the Roman Catholic church, a Christian commune, and so many other things. It’s even possible God will use Albert Mohler’s criticism of the Shack to bring someone to Christ. That’s how He rolls and we need to accept it. Condemning it puts us at odds with God’s work in the world and that is a place I never want to be.
In conclusion, don’t let anyone tell you what God can or cannot do. Be careful about the influences in your life, yes. But also don’t shy away from art that challenges your assumptions. When you engage and trust God to lead good things happen.
I’ve intentionally avoided the theological weeds on specific issues because I think Jacobsen does an excellent job addressing them on his own.
What do you think about The Shack? Will you see it or not? Why?
Keep the faith,