Tag Archives: the shack

Christian Unity and Uniformity of Beliefs

You know trouble is on the horizon, when someone says, the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it without truly thinking things through. The Bible says a ton of stuff for sure… alas man’s leaning towards self-deception, man’s inability to see things clearly, and our old Adam zest for power muddies the water a great deal when it comes to how we interpret what the Bible says. 33,000 is a figure often quoted as to the number of distinct Christian belief systems… and yet within those belief structures, when you start asking questions at the pew level, you will often find even greater diversity.

Did God intend for potentially millions of different interpretations of the scriptures?

Genesis 11 suggests God has issues with too much like minded thinking. Ie, God’s confusion of languages and scattering of peoples with respect to the construction of the tower of Babel.

And yet, we have Jesus prayer for unity in John 17…

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one,Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

So what gives with this… is God changing his tune, or do we have something hosed up in how we are reading this?

I think the answer in part is the trinity.

One issue in The Shack film, is the bit where in papa had the marks of the cross. For theological nerds, this heresy known as patripassionism is problematic as it makes the Son and The Father one, rather than 2 distinct persons. Ie, within the teachings of the trinity, Jesus is God, the Father is God, but Jesus is not the Father, nor is the Father, Jesus. For many folks though, this distinction is probably glossed over… on the surface it seems we theological nerd types may as well be arguing over how many angels will fit on the tip of a pin.

But this is key… the Father and Jesus are distinct persons. Consider John 17:22-23 taken to an extreme, is Jesus suggesting that we are to be God in the above text too?

And while I don’t necessarily think God’s plan was to have millions of interpretations of the scriptures, I think its also pretty clear his thoughts on being one do not equate to 100% uniformity in beliefs either. Consider the later part of Galatians 3 where Paul talks about oneness in Christ, there is no Jew nor Greek…. and yet Romans 11 is pretty clear that he didn’t throw the old covenant away with the bathwater either.

Its also helpful to ponder 1 Cor 13, where it talks about us seeing dimly, and the passing of gifts, ages, and time as well as growth in Christ.

And yet, people can have a intense need for certainty. Struggles with the mysteries of faith can become really hard at times…  The whole bit about working out your salvation with fear and trembling is not really applicable to the dude the Samaritan found alongside the road, the pilot who came within seconds of death, or the husband whose wife just died in his arms. In those times, Jesus is reaching out, just as he did for Peter, but it may not feel like such…

And while we do have certainty in the resurrection… the error is one where in we take said certainty from beyond the scriptures into our personal and/or tribal interpretations of said scriptures. Consider what could happen if one built their faith on rapture theology, and then learned about Darby later in life where in things start to unravel. And while basing ones relationship on the rapture is an extreme… building God into an exclusive box of ones own making generally doesn’t work out too well.

And for the box rattling that The Shack film brings about I am grateful.

Ponderings on “The Shack” Film

So I watched The Shack last night… what a fascinating film. Unlike a lot of films which go off into lala land theologically or others in trying not to offend go Christian cliche crazy, The Shack dived in with gusto. Granted, as an act of fiction, there was a fair bit of creative license, but in general, I found nothing worth getting bent out of shape over. Alas, I can understand that others may well have a bird, as films generally do drive public theology… and if that happens, significant challenges to some belief structures may come about, and most certainly questions, perhaps uncomfortable ones will be raised.

One of the biggest issues and an overwhelming theme presented in the film is theodicy, (the problem of evil). In a nutshell, if God is all good, and God is all powerful, then why does evil exist? This is an uncomfortable question… the scriptures are really dim, so glossed over responses like Genesis 50:20 which really don’t address it at large are pretty typical. Such works in Sunday school… being most youngsters aren’t going to get hit with a need for that question straight on, and even if they do, the glossed over stuff is likely enough for them to get by. The challenge is that outside of Sunday school, and more typically later in life… that question can become very real, with the most common results being to reject God’s goodness, His all powerful nature, or even His existence.

It is a tough question… theologians have been pounding on it for centuries and a number of theories are possible, most with a heavy dose of philosophy, most remaining within the bounds of the scriptures, and only a few going off into theological lala land. Craig Smith presents a list of common theories, as well as where he felt “The Shack” aligned.  I agree with his conclusion that “The Shack’s” means of addressing the problem of evil seems to fall within the confines of scripture.

One of the most visible controversies is how the trinity is portrayed. While I agree with the objections as concerned trinitarian heresies… I’ll counter this with the fact that its really really easy to slip into such when trying to explain it, even more so when you step away from the creeds of the early church. I remember a buddy doing a survey of US evangelicals years ago… 70% proudly proclaimed they were trinitarian and in the next question denied Mary as the Mother of God. Now, some might argue this is being too picky… but then again, Nestorianism was named for this heresy. Thus, when The Shack steps into Patripassionism (that the Father died on the cross) and a form of modalism (when the Father changes persons)… is it really that huge a deal for a fiction film?

the trinity
The Trinity in a graphical representation

Granted the trinity is important, and that deviations from such have historically proved problematic. Ie the early church dudes mostly wanted to keep folks on the right path as illuminated by the scriptures when they identified these heresies. And yet, theology should be accessible, but egads, we’ve got a kazillian latin word combos and names to identify said heresies. Add in that today’s average Christian’s doesn’t even participate in Bible studies, I don’t know what the answer is… but I do know its pretty easy to end up with a lot of glazed eyeballs if discussions get too deep in this.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1617 - 1682<br /> The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities ('The Pedroso Murillo')<br /> about 1675-82<br /> Oil on canvas, 293 x 207 cm<br /> Bought, 1837<br /> NG13<br /> http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG13
The Pedroso Murillo

Another controversy was the use of an African American Woman, A Jewish Carpenter, and an Asian woman to represent God and a bit later a Native American. Since we are created in the image of God, trinitarian issues aside, I see nothing wrong with this representation. God is not male nor female and exhibits both gender attributes. Casting an old white European dude as God and a European Jesus and leaving the Holy Spirit as a dove while perhaps traditional in some sense, would not have really aligned with the scriptures or history. I think character representation was a great call. I also think it really cool that Sarayu, a Hindu name which means flow / wind was also brilliantly chosen to say nothing of the fact that the Holy Spirit is of the female gender from a linguistic pov.


An interesting thing to ponder with the film is the almost exclusive  focus on God’s love leaving His wrath and justice aside. Consider the following bits:

  • We were never put on this earth to judge. We were put on this earth to love and find joy. Evil wins when we judge.
  • “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.”

Such has echoes of the Christus Victor or even Eastern atonement theories… and while scripture supports many atonement theories, some in the US often only ascribe to one, namely PSA (Penal Substitutionay Atonement). Ie, Christ’s bearing of man’s sins takes the punishment for them and sets the believer free from the penal demands of the law: The righteousness of the law and the holiness of God are satisfied by this substitution.

This will cause conflict, as some in the exclusive PSA camp integrate it with the Gospel itself, completely ignoring the other major theories of atonement. In such a worldview, “The Shack” would be presenting a totally different Gospel. So yes, some heartburn over this within the exclusive PSA camp is going to happen…

The thing is, atonement theories are a complex and somewhat tricky thing to get ones head around. In isolation, its easy for a single theory to put God in a box by selectively downplaying parts of scripture counter to its focus. Such happens whether its Ransom, Satisfaction, Christus Victor, PSA, Moral Influence , Recapulation, Scapegoat, Government, Eastern, or any of a multitude of minor theories. Folks digging into this may well find its a fruitful experience as their worldview will expand, but its likely to be uncomfortable for some.

Theology aside, the Gospel in and of itself is pretty simple and readily accessible to all. Paul hits on this pretty explicitly in 1 Col :15-23

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[g] your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.


Contextualizing Biblical truths through stories and even film to make them accessible to the masses is a very good thing as it can bring new people into the fold, it can encourage those already in the fold, and it can even bring about greater depth through the discussions that result. Its a film which is well worth seeing.