So The Shack recently became a movie, and came back onto my radar. Back in the day, Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a critique of the book that recently made the rounds again in response to the movie, and which you can read here. I might have passed over all this, but he subtitled his review “The Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment.” I’ve been working on a theology of discernment, and this is a good chance to discuss it a little.
I’m going to be kind of rough on Mohler, so lest I fall into the trap of just criticizing things other people write, I’d like to ante up a review of The Shack that I largely agree with. I think you’ll find it worthwhile. Now as to Mohler….
Mohler’s crankiness is why evangelicals can’t have nice things. We wonder why we can’t get another C. S. Lewis? This is why. Anybody as smart as another Lewis can see the Mohler Treatment coming, and is steering well clear of us.
As Mohler said, The Shack is not only a novel, it’s a sustained theological argument. Insofar as it is teaching doctrine — and it certainly is — “It’s fiction!” doesn’t magically render it immune to critique. Young’s doctrine could stand a good, stiff critique, and it’s a shame Mohler fails to deliver. On one hand, he picks at fictional devices in a way that would damn the parables of Jesus Himself. (A friend pointed out to me that the parable of the prodigal son features a permissive, non-judgmental father who — horrors! — represents God, and a lascivious wrench of a son who achieves reconciliation with the father without recourse to Jesus.) On the other hand, Mohler is flat wrong when it comes to, say, the reconciliation of creation to God. Mohler points an accusing finger at The Shack, and all I can think is, “But the Bible actually *says* that.” (Col. 1:20 comes to mind.)
Then there’s the matter of that subtitle. Here’s the problem: Mohler’s “discernment” isn’t. Mohler’s article is not discernment the way a moldy kitchen sponge is not a grapefruit. It’s not that he’s discerning poorly; he has not yet begun the actual task of discernment. He is criticizing, certainly, but that’s not the same thing.
Biblical discernment, the way Jesus actually said to do it, evaluates the fruit. Good fruit, good tree. Bad fruit, bad tree. But Mohler isn’t looking for fruit; he’s testing for doctrinal “purity” from the heights of his ivory armchair. Mohler cites not one person who actually came away from The Shack with a warped view of God. Not one counseling session where he’s had to clean up The Shack‘s mess. Not one actual, real-world, bad result. He’s like a restaurant critic who reads the chef’s recipes and then writes the reviews without ever tasting the food. Might be good, might be bad — but would you take his word for it?
Meanwhile, down here in the trenches, I know actual, real people whose view of God was dramatically reformed by reading The Shack. People who had seen God as a scowling meanie eager to punish, or an impersonal force, came to know God as a Person — Three, actually — who really loves them. Faced with this reality that God actually accomplished in the real world — am I emphasizing my point enough here? — I can either be cranky because I think Young should have done better, or I can give thanks. I choose to give thanks. It’s good fruit.
Perfect fruit? Of course not. But good nonetheless.
Not good enough to suit you? Write something better. But don’t let Mohler read it….