Friday, January 22, 2010

Two Gods

Since Christmas I have been working around the clock on a book on The Shack. For the next stretch I will be posting some of the material I am working on. By now, The Shack has probably become the best selling book in history, apart from the Bible, or at least it is close to it. Well over 11 million copies have been sold in about 30 languages. At least ten more translations are in the works. The wild, global popularity of The Shack in itself tells me that there is serious spiritual hunger in people’s hearts. I hope and pray it is a sign of the passing of the Augustinian captivity of the Church. Perhaps I am too critical of Augustine, but he is the Father of Western Christianity, and that version has handed down the deadly quagmire of deism, legalism and rationalism—the unholy trinity of the Latin West.

A quick search of the internet reveals that The Shack has liberated untold numbers of people, and, not surprisingly, stirred up the proverbial hornet’s nest. Some folks are not pleased at all, slinging the ‘h’ word around like they are the appointed guardians of orthodoxy. Whatever people are trying to say is wrong with the book when they call it heretical, I think Athanasius would be quite pleased with The Shack, not to mention the Father, Son and Spirit. I would go the other way and say that insofar as one thinks the theology of The Shack is heretical, that is the distance they themselves have fallen from the early Church’s vision. If the doctrine of God set forward in The Shack appears problematic, then have a read of Athanasius’ On the Incarnation of the Word of God. The faulty assumption in much of the criticism of The Shack is that ‘modern’ evangelicalism is indeed the definition of orthodox Christianity. That is a dangerous assumption.

The issue is the goodness of God. Apparently some folks don’t think that Jesus’ Father is in fact as good as the ‘Papa’ of The Shack. Are we really worried that someone might get into heaven who is not supposed to be there? Are we actually concerned that a broken man or woman or child might illegitimately believe in the sheer goodness of God and find healing and hope, only to be bitterly disappointed when they finally meet Jesus’ Father?

Perhaps behind the criticisms of The Shack is the sting of another question that is way more personal, and scary, and in some ways more profound. It is simple and straightforward. ‘Could I be this wrong?’ ‘Could we be this wrong? Paul Young is the apostle of the broken heart, holding out to hurting people a vision of the Triune God that actually brings healing to the soul, but as such he is also necessarily the apostle of Western crisis. Somewhere inside, I suspect, we all know that he is right, that Jesus’ Father is this good, that we are this loved and accepted, that the Holy Spirit in person has embraced us all in Jesus, but my, my does this ever fly in the face of many of our cherished notions.

The mythology of the fallen mind found its most sublime expression in Greek philosophy, which through Augustine and others then warped Western theology at large. That is not to say, of course, that all is wrong, for the Holy Spirit is blessedly at work in us all. There have been many protest, and many breakthroughs, not least in the great Reformation, and in the work of Karl Barth and others, but the god of the philosophers still reigns in the West. And that is the problem. The Western mind is riddled with two entirely different gods. The one being the Father, Son and Spirit, and the other what the Greeks called the ‘Unmade’ or ‘Unoriginate,’ whose ambiguous nature has steadily been filled with legalistic indifference, distance and sterility. Such a god leaves humanity hesitant, fearful, insecure. The Shack brings the problem to the surface. The love, indeed the tenderness, the sheer approachability and humanity of the Triune God portrayed in The Shack touches the raw nerves of our despairing hearts, and it does so with unimaginable hope. If God is like Papa, Jesus and Sarayu, then my life can be different. I can live loved in peace and hope. But how can this hope become real to us, truly liberating and healing, when the god of the philosophers fills our heads? We are torn between the news of being loved, cared for and accepted, which is given to us in the witness of the Holy Spirit, and the alien concepts that rule our minds from Greece, which tell us that God is not so kind and cannot be trusted. The god of the philosophers with all its theological tentacles must be slain. But that is scary business. For some of those tentacles might be favored notions upon which careers and indeed entire denominations have been built. So, while The Shack is a great story of one man’s healing, it is also a prophetic Word crashing the lifeless party of Western deism, legalism and rationalism. Thank you, Holy Spirit, we will have more please. Kill the beast.

A final word from Athanasius. “The pagans, who are altogether strangers to the Son, were the authors of the word, ‘unmade;’ whereas our Lord Himself commonly spoke of God as His Father, and has taught us in like manner to use and apply the same…. Nowhere in Holy Scripture does the Son call the Father the ‘unmade.’ And when he teaches us to pray, He does not say, ‘When you pray, say, O God unmade,’ but rather, ‘When you pray, say, Our Father, which are in heaven.” (Against the Arians, I.34)

26 comments:

climbingyak said...

Thank you Baxter! It's been a year since we met in Thailand and my life has not been the same. It is so nice to see the world as Christ at the center all in all holding it together in the midst of this beautiful mess:)

Andrew Robinson said...

I often wonder how much our view of God is not formed by theology we learn at church but our experience in life. I know personally my own view of myself as a youth influenced my view of Jesus. It was when I watched the Visual Bible that it confronted my view of a melancholy Jesus - as he smiled so much.

I feel fortunate also that I have a good relationship with my Father - as I've seen too many people who struggle with relating to God the father because of their poisoned relationship with their earthly father.

The Visual Bible affected me so much I created a small group study based on it. I've been re-doing the study chapter by chapter at http://www.anlenterprises.com/matthew-visual-bible-study.

bill winn said...

Would that the entire Western Church could read and "get" this. Oh well we wait anxiously to read the finished work in it's entirety. Any news on the novel you are working on?

Raleigh said...

Why do we have such a difficult time believing Jesus' own words when He tell us that "If you've seen me you've seen the Father" and "The Father loves you himself?" I'm so grateful that the scales of paganism and fear are dropping from my eyes at last and I pray that more and more we will come to know that God is really love!

Ed said...

There are still enough scarred people raised as boomer Catholics to know firsthand the crimes of faith-theft and Augustine's role in it. Oh, my yes, the RCC calls him a "father of the 'Church'"..., and the outcome of Augustine's preeminence in Catholicism is a distant God to be greatly feared. But, guess what, the RCC has the means of grace whereby one can approach God through the "Church." How convenient. May all the anathemas of the Council of Trent pronounced upon non-Catholics be returned to Rome one hundred fold. And in one simple book like the Shack God can perform the miracle of renewed hope!

Pastor Paul said...

Baxter, this is a GREAT post. Two Gods. One LOVE. One anything but.
You inspired me to write on my blog some the the major differences in Augustine's God and the true God of the Bible. Please allow me to invite your readers to see my latest blog at
www.pastorpaulsinteractiveblog.blogspot.com

Keep up the good work and exposing false Christianity for what it is.

Paul Kurts
www.newlifewcg.org
Madison, AL

Richard said...

Hi Baxter!

Thank you for this post. It addresses the challenge of the modern faith. And I notice that you mention legalism as part of the quagmire that is out there.

My walk through this life has shown me that legalism is quite embedded in our thinking to the point that it is an essential part of the faith in most people's minds.

However, it, especially when combined with deism and rationalism, just blinds us so that we cannot see God as He really is to us. This blinding by legalism is the subject of Paul's words of 2 Corinthians 3, in my opinion.

Anyway, may God give us the mind to understand Him as He really is to us.

All the best!

J. Richard Parker

AK said...

BAXTER, Mate!

you encouraged as you were to go away and read widely and deeply, pointing us in the direction of Young, Athanasius, Lewis and so forth. Today, I wish to extend my great gratitude for introducing me to Erskine and the Unconditional Freeness of the Gospel! For a lawyer, this guy isn't bad! ;)

Useless Trivia tip of the Week: Grape juice needs to be fundamentally recreated though fermentation into wine not just so that it wont spoil, but so that it will release it's flavour, aromatics and textures so as to be delighted in.

ak

C. Baxter Kruger, Ph.D. said...

Ak, I am counting down the days for your great Aussie red to become mature.

timothya3 said...

Excuse me if I have a "complex" and don't easily join the party, but my question is have we not made this love of God just a bit facile or slick or 'catch-all? I am thinking of God's Passion in his ways of love and the discordancy Christ had to go through. Would we not do better to qualify this love to emphasise the cost of it (the endurance of it and adventure of it), the specificity of this love and conceptual difficulties for us? Otherwise we might assume our lives are like the living of the film of 'the book'! Never mind rationalism, what about romanticism and narcissism!

Pastor Paul said...

I love big words. And when we don't know one we always can snow others with made up ones. Real words can convey real things or nothing at all. The Gospel is simple. Not wordy. Not erudite. Not hard to understand.

Simply stated, God love all of His creation before He even created it. In Jesus Christ God's plan was fulfilled and completed for everyone. Now , If one wishes to experience life with God one simply is allowed to accept it and believe it. Then live forever in this pure relationship with the Triune God. This is NOT Rocket Science.

Our fallen and darkened minds from Adam's fall and sin forever mitigate against WHO we are in Jesus Christ by HIS doing.

Jesus is the light of the whole world. Jn. 8:12. The light illuminates in degrees for most of us.

God bless all,

Paul Kurts
www.newlifewcg.org
www.pastorpaulsinteractiveblog.blogspot.com

Madison, AL

timothya3 said...

When I think of big words , I think of expiation , propiation and redemption. These words I do not find easy to understand, yet all this is to do with Jesus. Why or why the anti-intellectualism on this blog? (Everyone can find their own level of understanding with the Gospel, surely?) I cannot for the life of me understand the sychophancy going on here. I think you are discrediting the very Gospel you purport to promote, Paul.

Florian & Clare Berndt said...

Thank you for sharing this! I agree with every word you have written. 'The Shack' has just been translated into my first language (german) and has already started to impact people with the Real Gospel. Since I read the book about a year ago it has continued to impact me as well in deeper levels that I could have ever imagined. Mostly because so much of what the book describes - in story as well as in theology - are the same things I've experienced and learned about Papa, Jesus, and the Spirit during the last few years. That's why I always thought that 'The Shack' is truly a prophetic word to this generation and I will pass this article on to those folks I know are in the process of rethinking their faith because of that book - as well as those who look at the Gospel for the first time. Keep up the good work - my family and I love your books!

Florian Berndt
Germany

Anonymous said...

The truth of this is beautiful. But it is too much to take in. When we don't know love, and don't we live in a dark world, how then do we accept love. We have love in our societies and lives, yes, but just glimpses. Right? How can we be loved the way this truth says we can? All we can do, me too, is talk about Jesus' suffering as Tim suggests. Or talk about the simplicity of it as Pastor Paul says. I don't know anything else to do but talk about it but how do we take it in. How do we let Jesus and the Holy Spirit love us as they do? Ron

Thomas said...

Well, I for one will be glad to get rid of the prologue to John, and a good bit of St. Paul as well!

Richard said...

Modern Christianity is quite lost.

One of the key reasons is because there is little understanding as to where the Old Testament and the Synoptic Gospels fit in relation to what John and Paul wrote.

They do fit together nicely, but not in the sense of contradiction ("Forgive or God won't forgive you." as opposed to, "Forgive because God has forgiven you.")

They fit as a part of the grand story of God's dealing with us humans.

All the best!

J. Richard Parker

Michelle said...

yes yes, fantastic post. I didn't know there was controversy with this book until after I'd read it - It took me a while to work out what the problem was. :)

Mike said...

Thank you, Baxter. What a great posting!. I grew up in a little country Baptist church in Choctaw County MS. In retrospect, it seems that they delighted more in consigning people (Methodists, Catholics, Pentecostals)) to hell than is seeing people come to know God. It has only been in the last 5 years or so that my own world has been radically changed through your books and the writings of Paul Young, Greg Boyd, Beth Barone and a few others. Finally, at 50+ years of age, I finally met the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that I long suspected must really exist, but I rarely heard about them in the church. Thank you for a new paradigm.

Robin said...

I'm curious to read more of your thoughts on it. Someone asked me about it before and I responded here: http://www.timordei.org/archives/the-shack
(I'd like your thoughts if you get a moment)
Anyway, always good stuff on your site, thank you for taking so much time in explaining everything you post.

Michael said...

I must be confused? How can we understand Young's concept of the Trinity if not through scripture? Is your case for the Shack going to actually be a biblical case for this conception? If I am not mistaken you claim to value the Athanasius view of the Trinity yet espouse a modalistic one as seen in the Shack? Will this be clarified? Athanasius made it clear there is not three Sons... yet considering Christ is the only that has come in the flesh, neither God nor the Holy Spirit were ever shown as possessing flesh in Scripture how can Young's depiction not be of concern? I know many people that have enjoyed the book, while I have been taken aback. How does Scripture answer your case?

Thomas said...

I'm completely mystified as to how St. Athanasius is supposed to fit in here as well, especially given his view on the nature of the Incarnation's relation to the Son.

Greg said...

"The mythology of the fallen mind"...

I wonder how close to "the myth of the fallen mind" this takes us?

gina said...

4

gina said...

Hi Baxter. I have been reading your stuff for a few months now. I went to the theology behind the shack conference and I've listened a lot to malcolm smith. My husband's taking his bible modules. My way of understanding the gospel has really changed over the past couple of years. Lately I have been thinking Jesus didn't die because God needed a payment for sin. Jesus died because we need a payment for sin.
All my life I have wanted to forgive my cousin who sexually abused me as a child. I felt it was the right thing to do, but in my heart I just couldn't do it. I could pretend I forgave him, but in my heart I didn't have reconciliation. There was no real peace when I thought of him...only anxiety and fear.
When I read something you had written I began to explore the possibility in my mind that Jesus took the debt my cousin owed me. My cousin can not pay back what he took, but thinking of Jesus letting me beat and punish him in my cousin's place has given me the grace to truly let my cousin off the hook. I NEEDED a payment. If what you say about the trinity is true why would God NEED anything.
I guess my question is, Am I biblical in my thinking?
If so, how do the sacrifices in the OT relate to what I am saying?

Anonymous said...

the shack is not even close to the best selling book in history after the Bible. Just saying. Here's one source of the 21-best selling books of all time:

http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/arts/literature/21-best-selling-books-of-all-time.htm

Robert said...

Hi,

My name is Rev Robert Wright, Editor for Christian.com, a social network made specifically for Christians, by Christians. We embarked on this endeavor to offer the entire Christian community an outlet to join together and better spread the good word of Christianity. Christian.com has many great features like Christian TV, prayer requests, finding a church, receiving church updates and advice. We have emailed you to collaborate with you and your blog to help spread the good word of Christianity. I look forward to your response regarding this matter. Thanks!


Rev. Robert Wright
rev.robertwright@gmail.com
www.christian.com