A Moldy Kitchen Sponge Is Not A Grapefruit

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….


6 Responses to A Moldy Kitchen Sponge Is Not A Grapefruit

  1. Yeah, Tim, The Shack is “the gift that keeps on giving”—we’ve also had some black eyes and other casualties on my Free Grace FB site since the movie came out.

    And yes on the theology of discernment—it’s sort of the boots-on-the-ground interface between biblical anthropology and pneumatology and oh so timely for further theological development in the Free Grace movement.

  2. Tim Nichols says:

    Wow. I bet you have. William Young and Dallas Willard have done more for the cause of free grace than the entire membership of GES put together. It’s the kind of thing that might inspire mimetic envy, and — right on cue — there it is. Any stick good enough to beat ’em with, right conclusions for the wrong reasons, all that jazz.

    Makes me tired just thinking about it. I’m glad you’re the ringmaster — partly because I trust you with the job, and partly because I just don’t want it myself. 😉

    Re. Further development of the FG movement’s theology — what are the frontiers, as you see it? If you could outline a program of research/inquiry/writing for the next five years, what would you want people to focus on?

  3. * Biblical anthropology, focused on the contextual development of human conscience and how it responds to both “law” and “spirit,” and thus how we grow in maturity by progressively wise discernment between choices rooted in flesh (Adam) and those rooted in Spirit (Christ), as well as how the seared conscience resists that inborn component of image-bearing.

    * Frontiers in pneumatology as it relates to the above, how the Spirit as a “real” person “really” communicates through conscience in real time in the process of “walking in the light.” As well as how this would challenge the traditional dispensational underpinnings of traditional FG vantages and change how we teach spiritual maturity and the nature of the Trinity (shades of *The Shack*).

    * Frontiers in the theology of evangelism—how traditional views of COSF all but completely miss the organic “light to the gentiles” that was always the intended commission for the people of God: to “bear His name” in righteous and just behavior, more than in content *about* Christ. To wit: “ambassadors of reconciliation” is a better way to think about evangelism, given that image-bearers are meant to BECOME the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:11-21) as a testimony to His name (2 Cor 6-7).

    * Frontiers in “unity of the Body”—related to the above, we really don’t know how to “dwell together in unity” so as to grow into the best “ambassadors of reconciliation”; how can we “graduate” from prescriptive NT approaches to Body life to see how it is more an issue of *how we participate* in what God is up to in our corporate local “footprint” than the subtle western evangelical versions of kingdom-building.

  4. So many good points made. GOD as “GOOD” Father is a difficult concept among the “abused women” crowd, and The Shack was very healing for many of my women in that circle, opened the door for more conversations…..

    I have read the book so many times and Sarayu tending the wild, chaotic, mess of a garden that was Mack’s inner spiritual life always resonated with me. I LOVE that visual image of the Holy Spirit……tending our gardens…..and picturing the dance of the Trinity played out with Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu (I have not seen the movie YET), and how we are included in that circle of LOVE.

  5. Tim Nichols says:

    I very much want to have a long conversation with you about this. I think our interests intersect at a number of points, and might be able to help each other.
    Also, remind me how to find your FG Facebook site?

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