Marc Driscoll vs. The Shack

Today is Pentecost, so I’m not doing a lot of homework today.  I don’t want to stress out over getting everything done before 7:00, which is when the LOST fesitivities begin.  And it’s such a nice day.  It’s beautiful outside, and it’s nice and cool in my apartment.  I don’t feel like stressing out right now.  And so, since Pentecost only comes once a year, I might as well enjoy it!

I’m continuing to read through William P. Young’s The Shack.  Last night, a friend of mine posted a critique of the book by Marc Driscoll, the pastor of Mars Hill Church.  Driscoll argued that the book violates the commandment against graven images, since it portrays God the Father as an African-American woman.  For Driscoll, this portrayal asserts that God has a physical body and is a goddess, both of which are contrary to Scripture, since God is a spirit and is called “Father”.  (Driscoll doesn’t believe that God is a man, but rather that Scripture calls God “Father” for a reason.  Actually, The Shack agrees that God calls himself a father for a reason!)  Driscoll also accuses The Shack of modalism because God the Father in the book says that he was human through Jesus, when, according to Scripture, God the Word was human, not God the Father.  And, while The Shack denies the existence of a hierarchy within the Godhead and presents hierarchy as a product of the Fall, passages in Scripture affirm that Jesus is subordinate to the Father (see I Corinthians 11:3), in a state of humble obedience.

I defended The Shack yesterday.  I cited page 101, in which Papa (God the Father) says, “We are not three gods, and we are not talking about one god with three attitudes, like a man who is a husband, father, and worker”.   This is an emphatic denial of modalism, the view that there is one God-person, who performs three roles.  I offered the possibility that The Shack is saying that God the Father experienced Jesus’ humanity with him, since what affects one member of the Godhead affects the others.  When Jesus suffered on the cross, so did God the Father, which is why The Shack depicts the Father with wounds in his hands.  This is not saying that God the Father and Jesus are the same person (which is modalism), but rather that God the Father empathized with Jesus and, in some sense, shared Jesus’ experiences.  

I said that Papa in the book is not an African-American woman, but merely takes that form to shatter Mack’s stereotypes about God.  Of course the book holds that God is not a woman—God’s much more than that!  But God assumes that form in the story.

Is that biblical?  I mean, the idea that God can appear in a form.  To be honest, I’m not sure.  I can see both sides.  In Deuteronomy 4:12, 15-18, God emphasizes that Israel saw no form of God when God spoke to her from the fire.  God appears to be adverse to the idea of appearing in a form, since that could encourage Israel to make a graven image of God in that form, as they focus on the image rather than the invisible God and his words.  But God arguably does appear as a form at times.  There are incidents in Scripture in which a biblical character encounters a man (or so it seems!) and exclaims, “I have seen God and lived” (Genesis 32:30; Judges 13:22).  Many Christians believe that those were appearances of God the Word, who later became Jesus Christ.  And, speaking of which, there’s an incarnation, in which God became a man.

But Driscoll acknowledged the incarnation, and that the Holy Spirit appeared as a dove at Jesus’ baptism.  So Driscoll said that the second commandment prohibits one from making an image of God the Father, since the Son and the Holy Spirit appeared in forms, or (in Jesus’ case) became embodied.  But would Driscoll say that the Trinity appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18?  If so, was one of those men God the Father?  And here’s another question: Was God the Father the one who revealed himself in the events described in Deuteronomy 4—the one who refused to show Israel his form out of a fear that they might become idolaters?  Jesus in John 5:37 says that “You have never heard [God’s] voice or seen him form” (NRSV).  But didn’t Israel hear God’s voice in Deuteronomy 4?  That’s why some have contended that the one who spoke to Israel from Sinai was God the Word, who became Jesus Christ.  So how can Marc Driscoll apply the second commandment to God the Father, and not Jesus Christ, if God the Word is the one who applies the second commandment to himself in Deuteronomy 4? 

Is The Shack breaking the commandment against graven images?   Well, nothing’s graven here, but you get the idea: the command against representing God with a particular form.  Again, I’m not sure.  I think that one reason behind the second commandment was to keep Israel from limiting God to an image, since God is so much more.  But The Shack is pretty clear that God is so much more than an African-American woman, or even a man, if that’s the form he were to choose; rather, God’s taking that form to teach Mack a lesson.  And yet, did the ancients believe that a statue of a bull was the sum-total of who God was?  Or did they merely think that the bull communicated certain attributes of God, such as strength?  

I acknowledged yesterday that Driscoll had a point about hierarchy within the Godhead.  At the time, I hadn’t yet gotten to the part of the book in which the three members of the Godhead argue against hierarchy.  This morning, in my insomnia, I read that part.  The members of the Godhead say that their relationship is one of working together rather than one person being in charge, and they treat the feeling that someone needs to be in charge as a carnal trait, not something that is characteristic of divinity.  Yet, in the book, Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) holds that Jesus became a servant who was dependent on his Father (page 137).  Is the book arguing against Jesus’ subordination to the Father, or merely against an authoritarian view of hierarchy? 

I had a slightly difficult time debating some of the arguments against The Shack, for I’ve not read the entire book.  One claim was that The Shack denies that God punishes people in wrath.  At the time, I hadn’t yet encountered such a passage in the book, but I did this morning.  On page 120, Papa says: “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.”

I think it’s a little of both.  Sin itself can create negative effects, but there are also times in Scripture when God brings punishment on sinners from outside of themselves, to uphold his moral order.  Maybe that’s part of how God tries to cure it, in certain cases.  But here’s a question: Is Young being un-orthodox when he says that sin is its own punishment?  Didn’t C.S. Lewis make the same point when he affirmed that the door of hell is locked from the inside—that sinners will be in their own hell of sin, for all eternity?  I remember Tim Keller appealing to Romans 1 to argue that hell is God letting sinners do what they want, with all of the consequences to that.  Is Young saying something heretical or new?

So far, my impression is that The Shack recycles the usual Christian pat answers for evil (i.e., free-will, the Fall), while trying to make them look deep.  But I don’t want to be dismissive of it, for maybe it is deep.  I can only read so much of it in one sitting!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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