Sky Links, 3-29-17

Photo: Spacebridge by longobord CC 2.0

(Updated, 8-2-22; two more linked articles on The Shack)

Ministry In Your 60's

Doug Paul wrote a piece about why ministry in your 60's is the most fruitful season of your life:
And here is my question: Can you really lead a meaningful Kingdom movement before the age of 50? You could maybe plant seeds for it. But in terms of leading one, growing one, sustaining one…I wonder if you have to be 50 and older.
Because I wonder if the accrued wisdom needed to lead a multiplying Kingdom expression is simply not possible for someone who is younger. For instance, at least in my opinion, I’m not sure Paul was really contributing to a sustainable Kingdom movement in training and sending out his team until the beginning of Acts 19 in Ephesus. At that point in his life, Paul is probably well over 50. Furthermore, I’m more convinced than ever that Paul saw more sustained breakthrough as a broken down, old man in a prison cell, writing letters and warring in prayer for the young pastors he’d invested so much of his life into. The seeds have been planted, the ground had been watered and the Lord was making the thing grow.
This wasn’t sexy work. This wasn’t work that many people saw. But it was Paul bearing the most Kingdom fruit of his life.
Through a lot of brokenness, substantial failure and a smidgen of success, I’ve learned that at the end of the day, Kingdom work has very little do with IQ, smarts, and charismatic gifting. The best strategy and powerful preaching and even hard work is needed, but still incredibly limited. (In fact, I hear that if it can be explained by my own human effort, it’s not really Jesus: “Apart from me, you can do nothing.)
The most powerful Kingdom leadership comes from the wisdom of trying at something for more than 30 years, and all the failure that this entails, and all the way that life in the Spirit for this long a time grows someone. This kind of wisdom and leadership come from people whom the Lord has taken through the crucible of long term, sustained faithfulness and all the pain that comes with it, and all the sanctification this produces.
Our culture and our young leaders may gravitate towards overnight success and people finding it at a young age, but these things aren’t reproducible. And sometimes I think God is just gracious that way. Plus…even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.
I’m starting to find certain things incredibly reproducible, and every day, my ability to do them grows…often most powerfully in the midst of my own mis-steps and failure. I expect that will lead to a lot of gained wisdom in the next 20-40 years, right?
I certainly hope so, or my posture as a disciples of Jesus (a learner and the humility that should come with that posture) is all a sham.
I say this as someone who is 35. And to be honest? For me, I find this liberating.
The Alexander Syndrome: Why 60 is the new 30, by Doug Paul

Going Into The Ministry and the confusing advice of, "Do not enter the ministry, if you can help it."

My pastor used to say, that if you are considering going into full time ministry (he may have actually said, "being a pastor") that you should only do it, if you can not do anything else.  I have been curious about that statement he made, and thought about it, over the years.  I did a little searching and realized that he was quoting Charles Spurgeon or perhaps he had heard this saying from someone else.  Here is the exact quote, taken from Spurgeon's lecture, "The Call To The Ministry" (p. 33):
“Do not enter the ministry if you can help it,”
For me, and for others, we might misunderstand these words of Spurgeon.  Here is the context of the statement:
“The first sign of the heavenly calling is an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work”  In order to a true call to the ministry there must be an irresistible, overwhelming craving and raging thirst for telling to others What God has done to our own souls; what if I call it a kind of such as birds have for rearing their young when the season is come; when the mother bird would sooner die than leave her nest. It was said of Alleine by one who knew him intimately, that “he was infinitely and insatiably greedy of the conversion of souls.” When he might have had a fellowship at his university, he preferred a chaplaincy, because he was “inspired with an impatience to be occupied in direct ministerial work.”  Do not enter the ministry if you can help it,” was the deeply sage advice of a divine to one who sought his judgment. If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor, or a grocer, or a farmer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a senator, or a king, in the name of heaven and earth let him go his way; he is not the man in whom dwells the Spirit of God in its fulness, for a man so filled with God would utterly weary of any pursuit by that for which his inmost soul pants.  If on the other hand, you can say that for all the wealth of both the Indies you could not and dare not espouse any other calling so as to be put aside from preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, then, depend upon it, if other things be equally satisfactory, you have the signs of this apostleship. We must feel that woe is unto us if we preach not the gospel; the word of God must be unto us as fire in our bones, otherwise, if we undertake the ministry, we shall be unhappy in it, shall be unable to bear the self-denials incident to it, and shall be of little service to those among whom we minister. I speak of self-denials, and well I may; for the true pastor’s work is full of them, and without a love to his calling he will soon succumb, and either leave the drudgery, or move on in discontent, burdened with a monotony as tiresome as that of a blind horse in a mill."
The first thing that Spurgeon says here, helps clarify the quote.  He asks: Do you have, an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work?  Do you have that insatiable greed for the conversion of souls?  Do you identify with the preference of a chaplaincy over being an academic?  And do you have an inspirational impatience to be in direct ministerial work?

Would you be discontent in any occupation other than minister?  I think he might be saying something like, "do not go into the ministry, if you are drawn to something else, and there is nothing wrong with that".  His bottom line is that you should not be in the ministry (talking vocational, occupation) if you are not called; and people who are called have the passion for it, that he describes.

[And getting a check, wage, salary or income from 'doing' ministry is not at all what this discussion is about, so don't get confused there, and your examples are Jesus and Paul.  Jesus did not receive a salary and Paul was bi-vocational.  And both of them did not start their public ministries until mid or later life.]

Some notes about Spurgeon's life: When Spurgeon was 10 years old, he received a prophetic word from a missionary, named Richard Knill; that he would preach to thousands and would preach at the largest Dissenting church in London.  And through a goof up, Spurgeon missed being admitted to college and when he prepared to re-apply, he believed he heard God speak to him not to go.

By the time Spurgeon turned 20, he had already preached 600 times.  He also was a voracious reader, averaging 6 books a week, and he read The Pilgrim's Progress, when he was six and then read it 99 more times.  Hold that thought, for later when we read discussions on The Shack.

A couple other interesting notes are that he amassed a 12,000 volume library and he had two (twin) sons: one became a preacher who succeeded him at their church and the other took on the leadership of their orphanage.

These 'fun facts' are from, "32 Things You Might Not Know About Charles Spurgeon", on a Patheos blog called Born To Reform.

Interaction with Spurgeon's words about entering ministry:

Mike Ross, responds to Spurgeon's words, agreeing, but adding:
But the advice rings hollow if the man considering a call to the ministry has never tried anything else! I am a firm believer that a man should not begin seminary until three things have transpired:
1. He has seasoned enough in both years of life and experience (a combination of both) so that he meets the requirements of First Timothy 3: "not a new convert . . . let these also first be tested . . ." (3:6,10). How can a man "have a good reputation with those outside the church" (3:7) if he has never worked "outside the church"? Work experience and growth in grace, coupled with common-sense experience prepare a man for ministry. But they also let him try other careers and thus enable him to make an informed decision about his calling.

2. He has tested his gifts sufficiently enough that others in his church can affirm his calling to ministry. Too many young men show up to the first day of seminary classes "called to the ministry" without pastoral counsel, elder approval, ministry experience or testing by fire. Our seminaries are full of uncalled, ungifted men. Vocations must be examined by others over time. Paul warns against this mistake of "quick calls": "Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thus share the sins of others . . ." (1 Tim. 5:22).
3. He has learned what the person in the pew encounters day in and day out and has gained a sympathy for those whose walk in Christ is much more openly assaulted daily by the world than that of a pastor.
I find it convincingly apparent that Jesus Christ worked in a trade for years and did not enter the ministry until He was "about thirty years of age" (Luke 3:23). Perhaps there is something to the Old Testament requirement that a Levite be thirty years old before He began priestly service (Numbers 4). It is difficult for a man to truly know if he could do anything other than the pastorate if he has never had opportunity to do so!
If you can do anything other than pastor, should you?, By Mike Ross

Kevin DeYoung wrote a post about the Spurgeon quote about going into the ministry, called, A Quibble With Spurgeon.  It is notable that DeYoung seems to have gone straight into the ministry as a young man and began writing books, before the age of 30; the first of which was his book on the role of women in the church.  Kevin wrestles with the Spurgeon quote, and then says something, that I have actually heard myself:
...the Spurgeon quotation sometimes morphs into the strange notion that pastors go into the ministry because they aren’t good at anything else. On more than one occasion I’ve heard pastors say, mostly tongue in cheek I imagine, that the only reason they keep doing what they do is because they couldn’t get another job. This is decidedly not what Spurgeon had in mind. Toward the end of the same lecture he says, “A man who succeeds as a preacher would probably do right well either as a grocer, or a lawyer, or anything else. A really valuable ministry would have excelled at anything”
I am going to share the last two comments to Kevin's post:
(Geoff) I think that church leaders, as per Paul’s example (1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1, and 1 Thessalonians 1:4-2:12), should be able to work any job thankfully and to God’s glory.
It would be very difficult to teach men and women how to obey Jesus in the workplace if we’d never been there. Also, the fact is that many (as has been mentioned) have to lead churches and work one or two jobs.
The idea of training for something else is in no way a sign that somebody is not called, it’s a sign of a willingness to give the gospel free of charge. 1 Thessalonians 5:12 is clear that people who work to support the church financially are to be recognized, and they are the same people who teach the church. So, it seems to me that working is actually very helpful to being a pastor.
Though it would be like God to call somebody to be a leader in his church who has no special skills in any field, it would make sense for Christian leaders to have an array of skills to help any in need to set a good example. For instance, Richard Baxter and George Herbert learned to be both doctors and lawyers in their spare time.
(Ron) I Pastor a Church and work another job too. But I don’t believe God will allow me to leave the Pastorate.Paul says, Php 4:11 for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Paul was also a tent maker. Further, Scripture says … Ec 9:10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. The True Believer will be content and serving God, whatever he or she is doing and doing it with all their might and to God’s glory.
I think Spurgeon’s point has been missed. If God calls a man to Preach, God won’t allow that man to ‘not preach’. Therefore, if God allows you to go do something else, go do it. God did not call you to preach. Case in point, Jonah. God didn’t allow him to do anything else. The point not being the ‘other things’ but that the preaching must be done!
This is not making any statement about the work of the Holy Spirit in preaching only or whether a preacher is capable of doing anything else or not. The Only point is, If God is truly calling you to preach, He won’t let you go. If God won’t let you walk away from preaching, then you know it is a call to preach. (note also God’s call to Moses)
Kevin DeYoung: A Quibble With Spurgeon 

Joe McKeever shared his perspective, on this same issue, in a post called, You Know You're Called to This Work When...
My pastor friend was about to conduct the most difficult funeral of his nearly-20 year ministry. He and I had discussed it and I had prayed for him. His heart was breaking for the young family that was laying to rest two close loved ones.
In a private moment, I said to him, “Pastor to pastor, I want to ask you something. Even though this is tearing your heart out, do you find yourself thinking, ‘I’d rather be here doing this than anywhere else in the world’?”
He said, “I do! I really do.”
I said, “That’s how you know you are really called to this work.”
Later in his post, Joe gives two lists, illustrating "You now you are not called when...", and, "You know you are called when..."
First: You know you are not called into the pastoral ministry when….
1) … you cannot take the criticism, the antagonism, the animosity of the very people you came to minister to.
 2) …the church votes to fire you and you get angry and leave in a huff, and quit preaching.
 3)…the lay leadership wants to add another Sunday morning service and a Christmas Eve service, and you rebel because it adds to your work load.
4)…you do not love the people you’re ministering to.

Second: You know God called you into this ministry when….
1)…the work is hard, the rewards are few, the complaining is multiplying, and you are more fulfilled than in anything you’ve ever done in your life.
2)…you preached your heart out, you know beyond a doubt that the hand of God was on you, but the only response from the congregation was griping that you went overtime. And you are still happy to be serving those people in that pastorate.
3)…the deacons are discussing your ministry (pro and con; you do have your supporters) while you sit there in silence, and you find the peace of Christ settling upon you. You sense within yourself a strong love for your critics.

4)…you can’t do anything else.

5)…you take a well-needed vacation and when it’s over, you can’t wait to get back.

6)…you sincerely love the people you are ministering to. They’re sinful and can be difficult and the work is emotionally and spiritually draining. But you love them in a way that feels that it must be how the Lord loves them.
7)…you are truly burdened for the spiritual well-being of your people.
You Know You're Called to This Work When..., by Joe McKeever

What would happen if we gave every preacher the freedom to be real?

Since I was a kid, I have wondered about, "preacher personalities".  This is from a short piece by Emily Wierenga, titled Take the pastor off the pedestal: What would happen if we gave every preacher the freedom to be real?

I still remember the day when I sat in that pew and listened to my pastor tell us he’d been a single dad for years before going into seminary. How he’d made some choices he wasn’t proud of but how God had caught hold of him.
 And every Sunday I listen to him pray before he preaches, asking God in front of the whole congregation to not let him stand in the way of the word God wants to speak. To be a vessel for truth and to forgive any sin which stands in the way of him being this vessel.
 What would happen if we gave every preacher the freedom to be real?

Posts on The Shack

Curious About The Shack Movie?  Here are a few more articles, I liked.

From Ashley Linne's review:

  • As with any artwork, I approached the film with curiosity as to how God might speak to me through it. I was surprised that this film contained many fantastic and impactful visual metaphors. In my opinion, the film is worth viewing for that reason alone—for the artistic representations of abstract concepts that can be difficult to convey with words.
  • What stood out to me about the presentation of the Triune God is that He was happy. Joyful. Laughing. Dancing.
  • He was also always in a state of open invitation—inviting questions, inviting Mack to follow, inviting him into the mess and the pain and the mystery. 
  • I wonder how many times He has tried to get my attention and I have missed it. I wonder how often I have been preoccupied with dissecting the innumerable aspects of God’s character and forgotten that ultimately, they all rest within Love.  
  • Many Christian adults perhaps have not had the opportunity to learn or hone the skills needed to approach a film like The Shack with open minds and hearts, and this could contribute to a culture of fear, ridicule, and avoidance. It is of utmost importance to be firm in our convictions and for us to be rooted in Scripture. But that grounded, sure footing should allow us to travel into unfamiliar places and to return with tales of the voyage. Have we inadvertently taught people to avoid the mess—the art—of the journey and instead skip too soon to the healing? The problem with that is, as we see in this film, healing cannot be attained except through the valley of darkness and the passage of time.

 The Shack, movie review, by Ashley Linne

Sometimes, the comments threads, from a post are very rich.  Here are a few of Roger Olson's replies to comments on his positive review on The Shack movie:

  • (Question) So, how does this movie present the "Gospel"?  (RO Answer) Underlying "the gospel" as you express it is a deeper truth--that God is love. That is the main point of the book and the movie. Many people say it, but many don't understand it (especially those under the influence of Calvinism). The "gospel" is not really good news if it's just for God's own glorification and not an expression of God's compassionate love for all people.
  • (Comment/Question) William Paul Young claims his book is more than a novel and claims to have had real conversations with God that he includes in the book and I'm guessing the movie included some of those conversations.  Do you believe he had these conversations with God?  It may not be a systematic theology book but it is theology wrapped in a story and some people are using it that way.  (RO Answer) For the most part it is good theology wrapped in a story. People should focus on the theology, not the imagery. Unfortunately, in my opinion, many critics (some of who refuse to even see the movie!) focus on the imagery--which is clearly not to be taken literally--rather than on the theology. I suspect many of them (mostly Reformed/Calvinist critics) think the imagery is the "soft underbelly" of the book and the movie and they use it to persuade their followers not even to see the movie. I would prefer it if they would stop that (because I think they're smarter than that) and focus on the theology. I have no problem with someone claiming to have had a conversation with God. Why would God not converse with us? I just don't believe anything God is believed to have said in such a conversation is authoritative for all believers. When I read or hear it I test it by what Scripture says and especially the person of Jesus Christ.
  • (Reply) I'm not Reformed/Calvinist (in fact I'm very critical of Covenant Theology, TULIP and Amillennialism) and the critics Iv'e read are not either except for Tim Challies. I think there is a problem with people claiming to have conversations with God, I'm not saying being prompted to do something or reminded of scripture by the Holy Spirit but believe God converses to us through scripture. I agree everything should be tested by scripture. Seems most who claim conversations with God are off in their theology...  (RO Response) It's a distant God you believe in. The God I believe in did not stop speaking when Scripture was completed. I have myself had conversations with God. Not that I tell everyone about them, but they have profoundly influenced my awareness that God is alive and wants communion with his people.
  • (Reply) That is a snap judgement. The God of the bible came and dwelt in me may years ago, that's why he came, not to come and go, but to dwell in us. The primary way to know him is to read the scriptures and yield to them by faith. I think you are believing in extra biblical teaching that leads one away from God not closer.  (RO Response) Well, you have no idea. You are just guessing. I, too, believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, dwells in every true Christian. But I don't believe God the Holy Spirit speaks to us only through the Bible. The Bible is the norm for testing all messages from God. You should read Wayne Grudem's book on prophecy. He has impeccable evangelical theological credentials, but he wrote a whole book on God's contemporary speaking to God's people. Go read it.

  • (Comment) Dr. Olson,

    I guess I'm not too surprised at the criticism The Shack has received by the "Christian community". I would say I was a little shocked at the idea it is the worst deception in the last 200 years of Christianity or the possibility that the author is the anti-christ.

    It seems many people criticize the book for what it is not (a college text book on systematic theology).  (RO Reply) I have two reactions to the criticisms: 1) Most of it is from Calvinists and I expect that (the book and movie are clearly more Arminian), and 2) Many of the critics are simply taking the imagery too literally and expecting the story to encompass a systematic theology. I offered some criticisms of the book in my book Finding God in The Shack, but I acknowledged that the book is not meant to teach everything or even be an orthodox system of theology. I take it that the author wants us to think about it, not swallow every word (as if he were a fundamentalist "Bible teacher").

  • (Comment/Question from RP) ...So my question is this, are you OK with supporting a book that came from that author, that paints a picture of God that is entirely untrue, and comes from a source that very happily admits to believing heresy?  (RO Reply) So it would be wrong for me to recommend as a very good book one written by Martin Luther because later he wrote extremely anti-Semitic literature? C'mon. I was reviewing only one book and one movie based on it--not everything else by the same author. I haven't read anything else by him and it doesn't matter to whether The Shack itself is good or not good. Stick to the subject.

  • (Comment/Question from M) Don't know why God was played by a woman and later by a Native American. Am I nit picking or is there a theme of co redemptrix?  (RO Reply) Yes, you are nit-picking. "Papa" explains to make--both in the book and the movie--why he is appearing to him in those ways and that those appearances are not to be taken literally.

  • (Comment by MK) .....WOW.......just.....WOW!!! This movie hit me on so many levels.....I was completed consumed by the emotions and the inspiration of it. I never in a million years think I was going to be hit so hard by a movie. It was just......WOW. Touching and raw on so many levels......a fantasic movie.....just WOW............
These were comments from the post, Finding God in "The Shack", by Roger Olson

Scot McKnight re-posted Allan Bevere's post, in a post called, Baffled By Criticisms of The Shack?  Allan's post is based on the book.  Here are some great points that Allan made:
  • I love theology and I love the necessary precision of theological language. But I also love the imaginative narrative that displays theology in ways that speak to the head and to the heart, which is why I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Shack several years ago and found myself rather baffled then, and somewhat mystified now with the advent of the movie, at so many of the very negative appraisals of the book (and now the movie) on theological grounds from other Christians.
  • I heard Paul Young speak several years ago. If you ever get an opportunity to hear him you must make the effort. As I listened to Paul, I remember becoming rather angry at the charge of heresy that had been leveled against him by those, who may know their theology, but know little about the nature of true heresy, as well as having no idea how to express theological truth in a way that makes a difference in people’s lives.
  • C.S. Lewis often complained that the biggest problem with theologians was that they lacked imagination in their theological explications. If Lewis were still alive he would know that little has changed.  
  • I am an unapologetic Nicene-Chalcedonian trinitarian theologian; and I applaud Paul Young for his portrayal of the Trinity and his narrative display of some of our most significant beliefs and convictions in The Shack.
Comments from others:
  • (JF) ...While the theologians quibble over Young's theology (with some degree of justification), I got caught up in the story presented both in the book and in the movie.
  • (F)  wonder what the critics of 'The Shack' have to say about 'Left Behind'?
  • (ES) ...I too thought of Jesus' many parables and stories where he does not fully portray God. The Prodigal Son is a prime example. Story has a very different role in telling the truth about God and life. To evaluate a novel or movie as if they are thinly veiled propositional truths is to miss the point. In the Incarnation, Jesus came and lived the story of God before us. It was the most full portrayal possible. But even the Word in flesh left plenty of mystery and aspects of God un-portrayed.
The original post from the author, Allan Brevere, The Shack: Theological Precision and Narrative Imagination

Scott McKnight hosted another review by a friend of his, John Frye (JF in the comment above).  Here are some great things John wrote:
  • First, the movie is an art form. Say it out loud, “Art form.” Neither the book nor the film is a theology textbook about God and the Trinity. I liked the scene of the Father, Son, and Spirit sitting at the meal table.
  • Second, I did not pick up in the movie a clear sense of universalism (which is thrown about by the “burn it down” crowd). There was no “all religions lead to God” teaching though it is not unknown that Young himself tips in the universalism direction. I did not see sin and evil taken lightly with no judgment to fear.
  • Third, I did not see nor hear the Bible being belittled or set aside. Though there is a little poke at those who think the living God is trapped within the pages of a Book.
  • Fourth, I was impressed by the depiction of devastating human pain and the Jesus’ command to love and, yes, forgive. How can a good, loving God plan or allow evil? That question is raised and dealt with satisfactorily (yet, perhaps, not to the satisfaction of all). 
  • People who have a hard time with The Shack probably have a hard time with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, too. But I could be wrong. (emphasis in the original post)

At Internet Monk, Chaplain Mike brough back a couple of posts that the late Michael Spencer wrote, when the controversy was bubbling over the original book.  In his introduction, Mike wrote these words that encapsulate something profound:
This is about the place — I would say the essential place — of imagination and art in Christian expression.
Some great points that Michael Spencer made (about the book):

  • ...this is not a systematic theology, and that those looking for errors could easily find them. But it’s important to remember that Young was writing a theological parable of sorts, for his children, not for a seminary faculty.
  • He’s not trying to start anything or rescue evangelicalism. He’s reporting on the God he’s come to know and love. Like most people who dream of writing a novel, it’s full of his own journey to understand life’s most important realities. In his case, that takes us back to the shack for a journey of forgiveness and rediscovering God.
  • When critics say that the book promotes worshiping God as a woman, they’ve completely missed the point. They might be a tad overenthusiastic. Young’s choice of imagery isn’t teaching theology or inviting worship. It’s trying to prod us, even shock us a bit, out of thinking of God as a set of handouts and into seeing God in surprisingly personal terms. Young isn’t trying to start a church. He’s wanting you to rediscover the God who loves you. He HAS left out some of the points and subpoints of systematic theology. Tweak your setting accordingly.
  • Young is a writer of fiction; a story-teller. The prodigal’s father, the unjust judge, the owner of the vineyard, the mother hen, the Rock, the lamb……all of these are literary explorations of God in the context of story, not pure theology. None of them can be taken beyond the boundaries of legitimate literary use. Pressed too far, they become– hang on — heretical. And they are all in scripture.
  • You may find Young’s theology of the resolution of good and evil to be unconvincing. That’s fair, but it’s also fair that Young gets to play the game we’re all playing on that issue. It’s not like there’s a simple answer and no one is still trying to articulate something that speaks to us where we are.
  • The Shack is a pilgrimage. It’s an allegorical account of one person’s history with God; a history deeply affected by the theme of “The Great Sadness.” It’s a journey, and overlooking what’s going on in Mack’s journey is a certain prescription of seeing The Shack as a failed critique of Knowing God.
  • I’ve come to believe that the most significant reason for The Shack’s early success- certainly the reason I picked it up- is the endorsement from Eugene Peterson on the cover, an endorsement where Peterson refers to Young’s book as another “Pilgrim’s Progress.” That’s not a random compliment.
  • The Knights of Reformed Orthodoxy like to talk about Pilgrim’s Progress as if it is Calvin’s Institutes made into a movie. In reality, Bunyan’s Book is a personal pilgrimage, one that illustrated his version of Christian experience and retold his own experiences.
  • Even Spurgeon realized that Bunyan’s theology wasn’t completely dependable. The loss of the “burden” comes after a long search for relief, a storyline that reflected Bunyan’s own struggles with assurance and obsessive subjectivity. Few pastors today would endorse a version of the Gospel that left people wandering in advanced states of conviction, unable to find any way to receive forgiveness. Bunyan’s particular personality has too much influence on his presentation of belief and assurance.
  • But what Bunyan does illustrate is valuable in a manner much different than a theological outline. He tells the story of a journey from guilt to forgiveness, the confrontation with worldly powers, spiritual conflict, imperfect fellow believers and the inertia and resistance within ourselves. We can measure Bunyan’s book by measurements of correct theology, but I believe most of us know that this isn’t the proper measurement for Pilgrim’s Progress. We should measure it as a presentation of one Christian’s life.
  • It’ a story of a journey.
  • The same could be said of many other books. Take C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. It’s the journey of grieving the death of a spouse. Along the way, God’s appearances are all over the map because the “pilgrim” is moving in his journey through “the Great Sadness.”

Internet Monk, Fridays with Michael Spencer: March 10, 2017 — On “The Shack”

Randy Alcorn:
In theology there is a paradoxical mix of God’s attributes. There is God’s transcendence and His immanence, His Holy Otherness and His intimate Familiarity. God’s attributes are sometimes described as being of two kinds, hard and soft. Hard ones are holiness, justice, and wrath. Soft ones are grace, mercy, and love. Whether or not you like the terminology, you get the point. A full and accurate picture of God requires both be included.

The Shack is sometimes strong on the soft attributes of God. It is virtually silent on the hard attributes of God. So if you come to the book well-schooled in God’s holiness, justice, and wrath, you will benefit from the exposure to His grace, mercy and love. But if you come without a knowledge of and an appreciation for His “hard” attributes, you will end up seeing half of God, not the whole of God.

Is a half picture of the true God a false picture of God? If that’s all you have, I’d say yes. I don’t mean it’s fair to expect one book to be fifty/fifty on the hard and soft attributes of God. If I were reading a book on the holiness and justice of God and someone said “there’s not much here on His grace,” I’d say, “Of course not, it’s a book on holiness.” However, if there was virtually no mention of grace and mercy that would be problematic. Similarly, the fact that there is virtually no mention of God’s holiness, justice, and wrath in The Shack is problematic to me.

I’m not expecting complete balance. But I do think it’s fair to expect some clear affirmation of the transcendence of God. If the book is about His immanence, I can understand why 90% of it is on that. But if 10% affirmed His transcendence, it would make for a far more biblically accurate picture of God. 

I asked Paul if he believes in God’s holiness and our need to fear Him? “Absolutely.” But it wasn’t the theme of this book. I told him I understood—yet took some issue with it—since people used to have a concept of God’s holiness that many of his readers will not have. Holiness and fearing God warrant at least a few sentences.

When Mack says something like “I thought you would have more wrath,” what an opportunity to briefly but clearly affirm God's holiness and wrath. Papa could say, “Mack, I am holy beyond your comprehension, and wrathful against sin to the degree that I will separate all sin from myself for eternity; that is hell.” That's just one sentence. Then he could say, “But you've heard only about my holiness and wrath, and you need to see a different side of me.” Then, great, he can go on for page after page and chapter after chapter about grace and forgiveness and acceptance, which is beautiful and right on.

Pastors who are obeying Scripture by teaching true doctrine and correcting false doctrine could then say, “The author affirms God's holiness and wrath, so I can trust that he’s not distorting or rejecting Scripture, and resorting to a New Age feel-good redefine-God-however-I-want approach.”

Often I attached what I would consider the plain or normal meanings of words Paul wrote in The Shack. But when I asked him for clarification, I discovered that he actually meant something quite different.  However, in my opinion, responsibility falls on the writer to help his readers understand what he means through the words he uses. Paul originally wrote the book for his children, and perhaps they understand what he means, since they grew up in his home. But millions of readers haven’t, and many of them will believe that the words used in the book really mean what they appear to.

True, some will misunderstand no matter what. But a lot of people would be greatly helped by more careful word usage, and not be put off by or sucked into biblically incorrect thinking. Paul believes God definitely has standards and will hold us accountable if we don’t live up to them.

Wade Burleson:
Paul Young told me he is a “hopeful universalist.” He believes that our loving God sent His Son to die for every single sinner without exception. One day God will effectually reconcile every sinner to Himself. Paul uses the term “hopeful” universalism because he understands that the Scriptures speak of judgment, but Paul is “hopeful” that even in judgment, the love of God will eventually bring the sinner being judged to love for Jesus Christ. Paul Young is “hopeful” that the fire of God’s love will eventually and effectually persuade every sinner of God’s love in Christ. 

 The Shack and Universal Reconciliation. Wade Burleson

Here's a good word: 
In the Essentials, Unity. In Non-Essentials, Liberty. And in All Things, Charity.
The original source is Peter Meiderlin, who also was known as, Rupertus Meldenius:
“In a word, were we to observe unity in essentials, liberty in incidentals, and in all things charity, our affairs would be certainly in a most happy situation.”