Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

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St. Lucia & Hanukkah

On December 13th, the Church remembers St. Lucia, a virgin Christian martyr who was killed under the persecution of Roman Emperor Diocletian. She devoted her life to the faith, even though it meant that the pagan man who wished to marry her had her killed in anger and in shame. Like the blood of the other martyrs, St. Lucia provides an example of faith in the face of persecution.

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. In fact, that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matthew 5:11-12 (EHV)

At sundown on December 12th, the Jewish festival of Hanukkah began. Over the next 8 days, the festival will be commemorated by food, family, games, and the lighting of the menorah (candelabra) or hanukkiah. This practice has its origin in the account of the Maccabees (from the apocryphal books of 1 & 2 Maccabees) who won a victory over their Greek oppressors and took back the temple, rededicating it for sacred use. According to this account, there was a miracle that first Hanukkah: the wicks of the temple’s menorah burned for eight straight days, despite there only being enough oil for one day. This was taken as a symbol of God’s great providence for his people even in the face of oppression.

What an intriguing occasion this year, that Hanukkah coincides with the Festival of St. Lucia – the Jewish festival of lights coincides with the day of the Christian saint whose name means “light.”

According to legend, St. Lucia had her eyes gouged out before her martyrdom. This imposed blindness was supposed to be a message to Christians, that they shouldn’t think about “seeing” or “knowing” anything negative about the Empire. St. Lucia, of course, like other Christian martyrs, chose to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29, EHV). Christians throughout the centuries have commemorated this specific martyr by lighting lights in honor of her name, and in confession of the truth of God that surpasses the darkness of this world: Jesus is the light who “is shining in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5, EHV). The Word of God testifies to him, that Word which is “a lamp for my feet and a light for my path” (Ps. 119:105, EHV), because Jesus is himself “the Way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6, EHV).

This Hanukkah and Advent season, remember the light which has indeed won the victory against the oppressive darkness. This is God’s light and God’s victory against sin, death, and the devil, and so, “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor. 15:57, EHV).

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, Evangelical Heritage Version® (EHV®) ©2017 Wartburg Project, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Heresies in The Shack, Part 5 – Conclusion

The Shack proclaims a particularly insidious form of false doctrine, because in many respects it comes so near to true doctrine.  But the Devil can also quote Scripture (cf. Matt. 4:1-11).  The values of love and forgiveness among neighbors are worthy, but when this is put into the mouth of God, it must be either Scripturally sound or rejected.  “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:9).  I will not presume to judge the faith of the moviemakers or of William P. Young (who claims to be a Christian), but I will judge what they preach.  It is a gospel contrary to the one we have received.  It does not preach a Jesus who died to take our sins upon himself.  It does not preach that Jesus is the only way to life (John 14:6).  It gives strength to man himself to produce the faith that saves, to do the works of kindness and forgiveness.  The Shack is about our feelings, not about God.

That defense was given of the movie: “It’s only dangerous if you don’t know the Bible, because then you’ll think it’s real.”  If you know the Bible, however, you ought to know all those warnings given by Jesus, Peter, and Paul, such as: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Rom. 16:17).  While for some this movie may be feel-good, beware, for that is exactly what it seeks to do: by making you feel good, it preaches a doctrine of a God who wants only to make you feel good.  This movie is best avoided, as Paul said; and as Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15).  Don’t be deceived by the fuzzy sheep’s wool that covers this film.  It is a wolf: “be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Pet. 5:8-9).

Do not welcome this film into your life, into your home, into your heart.  That is all reserved by God for the truth.  He proclaims forgiveness, life, and salvation on account of Christ Jesus who took our place under his wrath, because God is both just (he must punish evil) and merciful (he is rich in steadfast love, forgiving us in Jesus’ name).  The God of The Shack is a sham, an idol, and a wimp.  The God of Scripture is almighty and merciful, who promises, “Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).  Believe in Jesus, as he is revealed in God’s true Word, not in this heretical trap.

Heresies in The Shack, Part 3 – Justification, Forgiveness (and Jesus)

Jesus is a character in the movie, depicted as one member of the Trinity whom Mack meets at the titular shack.  Through their conversation he evasively explains that he is indeed human and also God, perpetuating the theme of God’s unknowableness.  He is presented as the one who created the stars, the face of God’s revelation, and the focus of man’s faith.  There is even reference to his death on the cross.  But the question that every moviegoer should ask is, “Why did Jesus die?”  Our Lutheran Confessions pronounce the Scriptural doctrine of justification in these terms:

The first and chief article is this, that Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, ‘was put to death for our trespasses and raised again for our justification’ (Rom. 4:25).  He alone is ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). ‘God has laid upon him the iniquities of us all’ (Isa. 53:6). Moreover, ‘all have sinned,’ and ‘they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, by his blood’ (Rom. 3:23-25).[i]

As opposed to this, The Shack never gives a direct answer to the question.  Whereas Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus’ death was vicarious (in our place), meaning that he took on himself the wrath that God, in his justice, must exact against sin—“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by [Jesus’] blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:9-10); “Christ Jesus…gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 4:5-6)—Papa of The Shack responds to Mack’s mention of God’s wrath by saying, “You lost me there.”  The God of this film has no wrath over sin, but instead preaches, “Sin is its own punishment.”  This is demonstrated, too, in the way Papa brushes off Mack’s offense against the Second Commandment (when he proclaims “Oh, my God!” at the delicious food, then promptly apologizes).  Papa does not offer forgiveness, but instead implies that the outburst wasn’t a sin anyway.

Ultimately, according to the theology of The Shack, Jesus’ death is meaningless.  Whereas Scripture teaches that God took our “record of debt” and “set [it] aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:14), Papa of The Shack seems helpless to do anything about sin, refuses to be a just God (which means that he would punish sin), and instead propounds the “I love you anyway” theology of Gospel Reductionism.

Papa states clearly that he is pained by the sin and evil in the world, but implies that it is not because it goes contrary to his will or goodness.  Instead the pain Papa feels over sin is at seeing his creation suffer.  The prophet Nahum proclaimed: “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.  The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty” (Nah. 1:2-3).  Scripture is full of statements of God’s wrath against sin.  But here the God of The Shack is directly contradictory to the God of Scripture.

And if God’s wrath against sin is belittled, then the salvation Christ brought is also belittled.  Recall that occasion when Papa told Mack that he was suffering with Jesus on the cross, presenting scars on the Father that matched the scars on the Son.  Besides the heresy of Patripassianism, which teaches that the Father suffered and died as well as the Son (a heresy which has been condemned in the church since it arose in the 2nd century), this brief picture denies the Scriptural doctrine that God punished sin in Christ: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Gal. 3:13).

This, in turn, belittles forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a major theme in the movie, as through Mack’s journey he learns to forgive his daughter’s murderer, his abusive and drunkard father, and himself.  But forgiveness from what?  Papa makes the statement that, when kind deeds are done, “the universe changes for the better.”  The narrator, Mack’s friend and neighbor, states near the end of the film, “The great sadness is gone.”  Likewise, when Papa hears a confession of Mack’s sin, her response is, “It’s okay.  It’s in the past.”  Mack echoes this sentiment to his guilt-stricken daughter later on, telling her that they shouldn’t think about the past anymore.  Forgiveness is always spoken in terms of overlooking sin, or forgetting sin.  Sin and guilt eat away at the protagonist and his family, and forgiveness, ultimately, is an emotional release.  Forgiveness is not a removal of our guilt and sin “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12), but a removal of our bad feelings about sin.  Redemption, justification, and forgiveness in The Shack is all to do with this world and with our “Subjective Feelings.”

Take, for example, Jesus’ discussion in which he rejects “religion,” stating, “I don’t want slaves, but friends”: “I don’t care what you call them [my followers].  I just want to see people changed by knowing Papa, to know what it’s like to feel truly loved.”  The Jesus of The Shack doesn’t want to save people from sin, death, and hell.  He wants to save them from bad feelings.

[i] SA I.1-3, The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 292.

Heresies in The Shack, Part 2 – The Source of Religious Knowledge (and the Nature of God)

A great deal of the movie’s themes are wrapped up in the idea that man cannot know the mind of God.  This is truly Scriptural, as St. Paul writes, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11).  So in the film, Papa (the nickname for God) declares, “You have no idea how much I’m doing right now,” while appearing to the main character, Mack, to be sunbathing.  Likewise, the personification of Wisdom convinces Mack of this moral: God’s job is very, very difficult, so don’t act like you can do what he does.

In the midst of all this unknowability of God’s mind and thoughts, Papa directs Mack (and the audience) to a faith-understanding, or trust, based on feelings.  When Mack asks questions, frequently he is directed to look inside himself and investigate how he feels about it.  Never is Mack directed to the Word of God to understand God’s will.  Instead, the Word is often dismissed and belittled.  For example, when Papa appears to Mack as a large, comforting woman, he asks her name.  Her response is, “I am known by many names.  One of my favorites is Elousia.”  Then, when “I AM” is brought up, Papa jokingly says, “I AM that I AM,” dismissing the Scripturally revealed name of God. The name God reveals of himself in Scripture is therefore dismissed in favor of a man-made name that Papa presumably cherishes because one of his children invented it for him (depicting God as a glorified loving parent who frames up the terrible mac-and-cheese art made by his children, not because it’s good, but because he loves them).

On another occasion, Mack interrogates Papa on why he abandoned his Son Jesus on the cross.  Mack even quotes Jesus’ words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).  Papa brushes this quotation off and says, “You don’t understand the mystery.”  She then shows Mack the nail scars that she has on her hands, seeking to prove that she (God the Father) was with Jesus in his death. (More on this specific event later.)

If this isn’t enough evidence to demonstrate that The Shack directs the audience away from Scripture for God’s revelation, Mack receives his communication from God via an unmarked envelope in his mailbox, not from God’s Word.  St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy: “[C]ontinue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:14-17).  The Shack at least implies that something else is needed to supplement Scripture – and if you’d like to put a name to what that other thing is, it’s “Subjective Feelings.”

Heresies in The Shack, Part 1

Already there has been a great deal of discussion over the recently released film The Shack (and much of it is a renewal of the discussion begun a decade ago when the novel was published). Many Christians are excited for the movie, and I understand why: we notice how infrequently we perceive our worldview in the media, so that any time our virtues seem to be presented in a positive light – as when a character says unironically: “Have you prayed about it?” or tells a friend to listen to God – we’ll show up in droves. However, it is precisely because it happens so infrequently that our discernment is skewed, we are ready to accept any movie that presents God in a positive light, with the result that well-meaning Christians are driven unknowingly to take refuge in a movie like The Shack: misleading at best, but in fact no better than outright heresy. 

Copyright theshack.movie

I’ve heard the defense given: “It’s only dangerous if you don’t know the Bible, because then you’ll think it’s real.” However, the movie presents its message as real. The Shack presents itself as preaching literal truth, if for no other reason than simply the fact that it includes God as a character, and puts words into God’s mouth. It demands therefore to be analyzed as one would analyze a sermon, not any mere work of entertainment.

St. Paul tells us, “Do not despise prophecies” (1 Thess. 5:20), meaning that if someone speaks the truth of God, then it should be accepted as such.  However, that sentence continues: “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.  Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:20-22). Therefore, since this movie presumes to speak the words of God, we are commanded by Scripture to test its teachings, to hold fast to it if it is good, and to avoid it if it is evil.  There are many doctrines covered in the theology of The Shack. It’s easy for the Christian to think that, while one or two things might not be spot on, the majority is good. This is the danger of “a little leaven [which] leavens the whole lump” (Gal. 5:9). Besides this fact, a close examination reveals that the majority of what the movie teaches is actually on the side of false doctrine, with very little room for the revealed truth of God’s Word.