New Lies

“It’s just fiction,” they said.

“It was never intended to be a theology textbook,” they said.

“It will show people that God is love,” they said.

New LiesIn the seven years I’ve been blogging, I’ve never written a rebuttal post. I write what I believe I’ve been called to write and then move on to another topic.

Until today.

Last week, I wrote a blog post expressing concerns about the unbiblical theology undergirding The Shack. I noted that both fiction and non-fiction can influence us toward a biblical view of God or away from it.

Of course, fiction can espouse any theology the author wants. Or no theology at all. However, fiction marketed as Christian has an obligation to uphold a biblical worldview. If not, please don’t call it Christian.

Some readers felt that I (and others who raised concerns) overreacted. And that my response demonstrated a lack of love. Surely such a story was a blessing as it addressed the pain of suffering and drew people to a loving God. A few theological discrepancies weren’t that much of a problem, were they? Besides, the movie didn’t include some of the unbiblical statements found in the book, so that makes it okay, right?

The problem is that The Shack did not draw people to a loving God. It draws people to a loving god. And no, the small letter “g” is not a typo.

New Lies

For those who believe accurate theology in fiction is not important, here’s a newsflash. This week, the author of The Shack released a non-fiction book titled Lies We Believe About God. Yes. Non-fiction. In this book, which is already a bestseller in its first days of release, William Paul Young explains his theology—the same theology that framed his novel.

What are these “lies”? He lists twenty-eight. They include:

  • God is in control.
  • Hell is separation from God.
  • Sin separates us from God.

Yes, he identifies these statements as lies. Yet here are just a few of many Bible verses that refute these supposed lies:

  • “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?” (Lamentations 3:37 ESV).
  • “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (II Thessalonians 1:9 ESV).
  • “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:15 ESV).

To be fair, just as truth was mixed with error in The Shack, so is truth mixed with error in Lies We Believe About God. Some of the lies in this new book are, indeed, lies that should be exposed, such as the lie that “Death is more powerful than God.” But will readers be familiar enough with Scripture to separate fact from fiction in this non-fiction book that is supposedly Christian?

As someone once said, the easiest lie to believe is one mixed with a grain of truth.

Would you Eat This?

I’m reminded of the following story.

Two teens asked their father if they could go see a movie all their friends had seen. He read the reviews and denied their request.

“Why not?” they protested. “It’s rated PG-13—we’re both older than thirteen!”

Dad replied, “Because it portrays immorality, something God hates, as being normal and acceptable behavior.”

“But our friends told us those scenes are just a few minutes of the total film. It’s based on a true story and good triumphs over evil.”

“My answer is no, and that’s final.”

The boys sulked on the couch. But then they heard sounds of their father in the kitchen and recognized the aroma of brownies baking. Soon their father appeared with a plate of warm brownies.

“Before you eat, I want to tell you I love you very much. That’s why I made these brownies from scratch with the best ingredients, like organic flour and free-range eggs.”

The brownies looked mouth-watering.

“But I must be honest with you. I added one ingredient that’s not usually found in brownies. The ingredient came from our own back yard. But don’t worry, because it’s organic. The amount is practically insignificant. Take a bite and let me know what you think.”

“Dad, what’s the mystery ingredient?”

“The secret ingredient is organic…dog poop.”

“Dad! We can’t eat these!”

“Why not? The amount of dog poop is very small compared to the rest of the ingredients. It won’t hurt you. You won’t even taste it. Go ahead and eat!”

“Never!”

“That’s the same reason I won’t allow you to watch that movie. You won’t tolerate a little dog poop in your brownies, so why should you tolerate a little immorality in your movies? We pray God will not lead us into temptation, so how can we in good conscience entertain ourselves with something that will imprint a sinful image in our minds and will lead us into temptation long after we see it?”

The theology of supposedly Christian books such as The Shack and Lies We Believe About God may not be immoral in the sense of the above story. But these books are as bad or worse. They mix truth with error as they mishandle the very nature of God under the guise of being Christian.

In the name of tolerance, are warnings such as this unloving? Legalistic? On the contrary. The most loving thing we can do is alert people to the danger of demeaning the nature of our holy, transcendent – and yes, loving – God.


The Shack: Fiction Embraced as Fact?

The ShackAs if there isn’t enough to argue about these days, along comes a movie such as The Shack, releasing tomorrow. With Christian supporters and detractors who are equally determined and vocal, what’s the big deal? It’s just a book/movie, right?

Fans of The Shack are quick to praise its depth of emotion, communication of redemption, and willingness to tackle a subject many Christians wrestle with: why does a loving God allow suffering? Many strong Christians have joined Christian celebrities in testifying to the immensely positive impact the story has had on their walk with Christ.

Critics denounce The Shack’s theological edginess, biblical infidelity, and theme of implied universalism. Theologians such as Albert Mohler and Tim Keller do a much better job of explaining the biblical objections to The Shack than I ever could. Still, I wonder why the greater Christian community does not sound the alarm over a premise that asserts a lack of future judgment in the name of love. I’m confused by those who claim to believe the Bible, yet are eager to overlook the affirmation that there are many ways to God which don’t necessarily include belief in Christ.

Even greater than the impact of this single story is the danger it heralds. The boundaries between fact and fiction are disappearing with increasing rapidity. And the results are more significant than we might initially realize.

In recent years, our culture has magnified the power of story. Storytelling has evolved far beyond the confines of tales spun with the words, “Once upon a time….”

For much of literary history, the differences between fact and fiction were generally clear. Allegories such as Pilgrim’s Progress (John Bunyan) and fantasies such as the Chronicles of Narnia (C. S. Lewis) communicated truth without confusing fact and fiction. More importantly, the authors took great pains to ensure the biblical fidelity of what they wrote.

The author of The Shack used his novel to offer Christianity as he hopes it is, rather than what the Bible says it is. That’s his prerogative. In fact, that’s every novelist’s prerogative. The very definition of fiction is that it is not true. Novelists have the ability to create worlds as they wish them to be.

But difficulties ensue when huge numbers of Christians espouse an author’s personal preferences as inviolate truth without applying a biblical standard. Two-thousand years ago, the Bereans were held up as a role model for all Christians (Acts 17:11). Today those same Bereans would be dismissed as legalistic. We’ve come a long way…in the wrong direction.

When readers cannot or will not differentiate between fact and fiction, we have a problem.

When Christians join unbelievers in embracing a story that depicts God stripped of holiness and transcendence, we have a crisis.

And when Christians choose to elevate the foundational principles of a novel to the level of biblical authority, we have a disaster.

The Bible tells us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). The Shack sacrifices truth on the altar of love and compromises real love in the absence of truth. It may be a riveting work of fiction, but my heart aches at the destructive spiritual consequences that are all too real.