Had a 'shack' of a day

Just the joy, not Mack's sorrow, though. I decided to read 'The Shack' today. I like to read books in one sitting if I can. It really captured my imagination, not so much empowering my faith, although it did at times, but challenging it in several ways.

I read for an hour in the car on the way to my parents'-in-law house. I reached the part in the book where Mack smells the delicious cooking of Papa inside the beautiful wooden house and meets the trinity in their glorious manifestations for the first time. We arrived. I put my book in my bag. I was greeted by my father-in-law, a gentle man with twinkly eyes, very few words (doesn't speak good English) and even though, of course, he's male, something about him reminded me of Papa and how Mack describes her. I have to add at this point my father-in-law, however much I love him, does not remind me of God. Papa and God are very separate beings for me.

Anyway, I digress...My mother-in-law seated us immediately at a table with a yellow and white cloth and brought in roast duck, amazing roast potatoes and sweet, sweet gravy. It all smelled beautiful and tasted delicious and I had only eaten a banana for breakfast and so my hunger heightened its flavours. I was taken to Papa's cooking in the novel and all the amasing things that Mack delights in tasting.

After lunch, we then sat in her small but beautiful garden, just bursting with colour and fragrance and basked in glorious hot sunshine as our two children rode their bikes up and down the pathway. We then went for a walk in the wild scrub-land, behind her house and there were these prickly plants, very sharp to touch but smelling amazingly of coconut, almost the smell of pina-colada and I had just been reading the part in the book where Sarayu takes Mack into the beautiful but seemingly chaotic garden and they pick together the most amazing and unearthly plants.

I guess this is all going to sound rather sickly sweet now but back at home, my mother-in-law played English and Polish hymns on her keyboard and then we all hoisted ourselves back into the car, with children falling quickly to sleep in the back for the journey home.

I read on the way home and because my day seemed to echo some of the events in the book, was quite glad to be back on my sofa at home before I read about Mack's car-crash ;). Of course I realise that the seeming echoes were the results of my lively imagination but somehow the book heightened my appreciation for my day and the people I shared it with, which has to be a good thing.

I have had a really beautiful day.

There were certain parts of this book which were meaningful for me. I thought it was quite well written because very sensuous and I enjoyed where it took my imagination. Some people will find it hard to read, I think because it calls upon the reader to suspend their cynicism and celebrate, rather than find embarrassing, the huge range of emotions that we feel as human-beings. Mack's tears drench the pages as you read and you have to accept his emotional displays.I thought it ended too suddenly with a wrapping up of the inevitable, which might have been better fleshed-out. I also felt there was an interesting blend of the illuminating with the very unorthodox but that it would be a good place to take non-Christians who feel that the Bible is intellectually beyond them because they come to the Bible with a great many incorrect preconceptions. If 'The Shack' leads people to the Bible then that is its real triumph.

Anyway, some of the things that I found helpful and not so helpful (there are plenty more but it would take for too long a post)

On page 121, "Papa" says,

...we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or 'great chain of being' as your ancestors termed it. What you're seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don't need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us. Actually, this is your problem, not ours.

I think this makes for a good response to theologians like Carson, Grudem and Ware who insist that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father, although of course you can never refute theologians with fiction, only with the Bible itself, so I am over-stating the case here. The word subordinate smacks of inferiority and no matter how much they speak of ontological equality, their descriptions of the relationship in the trinity just do not communicate that this is the case to me. Just in case, you think I don't think that the incarnate Christ was submissive, I do. Christ says that the Father has sent him; Jesus states that he does not know when the end will come, and that only the Father knows this. Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane for the Father to allow the cup to pass, but submits to his will and goes to the cross. However, this hierarchy only exists on earth and not in Heaven where we see in Revelation that the Son and the Father share the throne.

'We are indeed submitted to one another and have always been so and always will be. Papa is as much submitted to me as I to him, or Sarayu to me, or Papa to her. Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect.'

I like this for the way it captures the Bible's egalitarian teaching, for sorry, no matter how many Christians hold to Male headship, where Grudem insists that Head means authority, I disagree. Reading the scriptures with a hierarchy in the trinity which in itself entails a hierarchy amongst the genders is, I believe, a result of our fallen state! It is to Male headship, as Grudem describes it and Piper expounds it as a necessary reason for him to literally catalogue roles for men and women, that I fail to be convinced.

However, Young goes on to describe how the trinity submits to us, which I do not believe is orthodox.

These are some of the quotes which cause me theological discomfort:

"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 cure it".

I agree in part with this but I also hold to a more solid idea of God as judge.

On page 63, the author remarks,

In seminary [Mack is a seminary graduate] he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God's voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners' access to God was mediated and controlled by the intellengentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?

I have a much higher view of scripture than this and believe (I think) it is inerrant, although as yet 'inerrant' doesn't quite describe exactly for me what I think of the Bible. I think the word I want to use doesn't exist or I haven't found it yet.

The quote highlights the fact though that we do intellectualise something which God wanted to make abundantly clear to all his children and this saddens me, although I know I am guilty of it, because, as well as it feeding my soul, the Bible challenges and stimulates my intellect and curiousity and has me searching for ways to package and interpret it and turn it into doctrine - a shame in a way.

This quote also helps me to deal with a teaching I find very wounding and that is the teaching of cessationism. Where I have encountered this teaching, I have also encountered a near refusal to believe any of the testimonies which people share of their encounters with the Holy Spirit.

According to "Papa," Jesus did not even have power within himself to perform miracles (pp. 98-99). Papa says Jesus is simply the first to live fully out his relationship with Papa, something that we all have the ability to do, but choose not to do so.

This doesn't seem orthodox really.

Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptist or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don't vote or are not part of any Sunday morning religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.

I have an unshaleable belief in Jesus as the 'way, truth and life'. Although, as yet, I am not fully comfortable about what this means for Muslims and Buddhists etc but this is because I am also aware of God's love for Buddhists and Muslims and so I am a long way from reconciling my theology and feelings on this one.

Interestingly, there is something akin to Barth's universalism here:
I am now fully reconciled to the world." When Mack tries to clarify that Papa means those who will believe in God, Papa responds, "The whole world, Mack. All I am telling you is the reconciliation is a two way street, and I have done my part, totally, completely, finally."

And there is something akin to patripassianism in presenting God with holes in his wrists.

It also presents a somewhat skewed version of redemption going on which puts too much power into humanity's hands, as if we release something in God enabling him as a consequence to forgive:
Mack must forgive the man who murdered Missy. "Mack, for you to forgive this man is for you to release him to me and allow me to redeem him."

Just some of my thoughts on 'The Shack'. I like to think that if I was 'far off', it might have made me want to get to know God. I enjoyed the journey that it took me on but it also made me feel quite protective (ridiculously) of the beauty of God's word, almost as if I need to defend it against possible false teaching. I am aware of course that God is big enough not to need me to defend him.

I recommended this read to my book group (Christian? Not sure? Do not proclaim to be so), so I am wondering what their reactions will be to the book. I will find out next Friday when we discuss it.

Here's Driscoll on 'The Shack' much that I agree with, although hints here about his theology re the genders which I know he fleshes out elsewhere and I disagree with

Here's W P Young in response to some of the criticisms


Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks very much for your helpful review Rachel. It's a gift of grace, the way your real day reflected the action in the novel! I read it at one sitting last year, and reacted very similarly. If you make it through the cooking scene, you'll probably find the book really helpful, but to get there you have to suspend your sense of irony (cynicism?). I'm very struck by the way the Shack is now appearing in general bookshops, and am sure God is using it to help people overcome some of their emotional blockages about approaching Christianity... That doesn't make it perfect or complete as an account of the Christian vision of God, I realise. But I reckon that if people set out with a genuine heart towards God they are very much more likely to find him, or rather find that he has already found them.

David Ould said...

Hi Rachel.

Thanks for this. I want to, with your permission, push you a little with something you said about gender roles and the Trinity:

" for sorry, no matter how many Christians hold to Male headship, where Grudem insists that Head means authority, I disagree. Reading the scriptures with a hierarchy in the trinity which in itself entails a hierarchy amongst the genders is, I believe, a result of our fallen state! It is to Male headship, as Grudem describes it and Piper expounds it as a necessary reason for him to literally catalogue roles for men and women, that I fail to be convinced."

So I guess I want to ask 2 questions:
1. What do you think it means in 1Cor. 11 when Paul writes that 'the head of Christ is God'? This seems like a very generic statement, with no grounding particularly in the Incarnation to restrict the meaning.

2. Where in the Scriptures does the Father ever submit to the Son?

By asking these 2 questions I want to point out that:
1 there appears to be a regularly defined subordination of role but not nature in Scripture between Father and Son.

2 there is no similar "mutual submission" noted between Father and Son - to argue that there is has, istm, no Scriptural warrant. As you say, we want to argue our theology from Scripture, not fiction.

Rachel said...

Hi David

An explanation - I posted a comment to your blog recently under you Tom Wright resurrection post, implying we had been in touch in the past via blogs but actually had confused you because I follow the blogs of Peter Ould and David Rudel and had thus conjectured David Ould to be someone I'd been in touch with before but I was confusing you with David Rudel - so sorry about this - one of the many hazards I suppose of never meeting people face-to-face and blogging late into the night - call it a 'senior moment'.

But you know mistakes can sometimes lead to fruitful conversation. It is possibly a little ironic that I should confuse you thus because I see that you are affiliated with Stand Firm or is it Forward in Faith, I sometimes confuse the two so we might have some differing positions on things.

Re - male headship - these are my thoughts at this point in my journey:
I look at 1 Corinthians 11:2-12 and 14:34-38 together.

I don't believe that Paul presents a hierarchical sequence of relationships here because he doesn't arrange his sentences to denote this. Instead, God is the source of Christ, Christ the source of mankind and man the source of woman because she was made from his rib. Adam is unconscious at the moment of his wife's creation and unaware from whence she came, only struck by how perfectly she completes him: 'bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh' and Paul is capturing this idea with his 'the woman is the glory of man.' Even though Paul might be exhorting the Corinthian men and women to appear in ways that are appropriate culturally, they are nevertheless equal in the Lord as Paul explains in Galatians 3:28 and here with 'in the Lord, however...everything comes from God.' I admit that this remains a very ambiguous passage but that because our culture doesn't have us distinguish ourselves from each others in such a way, it doesn't hold the same hold today.

Bilezikian (someone I have read and trust) takes the analysis further. He is the proponent of an argument which explains away any ambiguities very simply. Paul is writing to this church because Judaizers are insisting incorrectly that women should be veiled and silenced. 'Paul cites in chapter 11:6-10 the Corinthian Judaizers' legalistic arguments...relative to veils, hair and angels' 1so that he might correct them. In the Greek there was no such punctuation mark as the quotation mark and this is the reason for the confusion over the passage. There does seem to be a natural change of tone at verse 11. Paul has repeated their Judaic thinking back to them and then gives his answer: that 'in the Lord', this is not to be the case. He exhorts the Corinthians to look to nature. God has seen to it that the women are covered, by their long hair (verse 15). There is no need for any mark of authority on a woman when she is equally able, like a man, to pray and prophesy in public meetings.

Similarly, in chapter 14, Paul is quoting a false practice so that he can rebuke the church. He quotes the Corinthians in verses 34 and 35 and then corrects their thinking. They considered it appropriate to silence the women to alleviate the disordered nature of their worship gatherings. This is not a suitable recourse and their appeal to the law does not fool Paul who knew his scriptures. There is nothing in Mosaic law requiring the silence of women. The correction begins at verse 36 and was originally introduced with an exclamation like 'What?!' but this has been lost in translation. The change in tone now signals the correction with Paul shocked that this church dares to think itself more spiritual than any other and create its own rules, when the guidance that he has for their church supersedes anything that they might glean from the law because it is 'of the Lord'. He warns them that if they fail to recognise this, they too will be unrecognised.

Too long and more than you asked for and no the father does not submit to the son but why for so many exponents of Male headship is God to man as Christ is to woman?

Interesting doing business with you ;)

David Ould said...

Hi Rachel.

Don't worry about the mixup with Peter, happens all the time! Yes, I blog for Stand Firm, which is not quite the same as Forward in Faith. FiF are a more Anglo-Catholic conservative organisation.

Let me just make some response to your detailed reply (for which I am grateful).

First, you're right to note that the sequence in 1Cor 11 is a little odd, but that doesn't prevent us understanding meaning from "kephale" - after all you have set out your own understanding ("source", rather than "head") and not felt limited by the order of the couplets.
There is no overarching hierarchy in the order of the couplets, rather simply inside the couplets themselves.

Now, you argue that "kephale" here means "source" but I would suggest that it will quickly lead you down the road of Arianism. Consider, if God is the "source" of Christ just as man is the "source" of woman and Christ the "source" of man (as you argue) then you are making the existence of Christ a chronological and subsequent dependent upon the existence of God (the Father, in the case). I don't think you would mean to do this deliberately but do you see the tension? As you rightly note, the Scripture describes the woman as created from the man and the man created by Christ. So what of the Christ and God the Father? For the couplets to work analogically (which surely they must, otherwise there is no point to them being there) then we end up arguing that the Christ is somehow created out of or by the Father. That's Arianism plain and simple (which is rather ironic, given that those that argue subordination are consistently accused of Arianism) ;-)

That's the first of my objections to what you've proposed here. I think that's a serious one.

next, a small correction. Adam may have been unconcious at the time of the woman's creation but he is very aware of where she comes from. Immediately after the wonderful words of "bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh" he says:
Gen 2:23 ...she shall be called "woman" for she was taken out of manAs for Paul's exhortation in 1Cor11, it is interesting that while the application is, quite possibly, cultural (ie hair length) the reasoning behind it is not - it is rooted in the nature of God Himself and, in particular created order and the order within the Godhead. Ditto, of course, the argument in 1Tim 2.

As for it having hold today, if I were called to preach this I think I would go along the lines of "god made us different and asks that we communicated that difference - here's what that means in today's culture..."

Bilezikian is interesting, but it's an argument from silence. Paul consistenly hit the judaisers full on, leaving us very clear on what the issues were. None of that is present in 1Cor 11. Rather, the great issue in 1Cor is the scandal of the Cross. Where does he get Judaisers from? It's an imposition on the text - classis eisegesis. That's not reading at all - that's importing an external idea unsupported in the text.

Again, your reading of 1Cor14 is rather bizarre - you end up having to make what look like clear commandments (and I'm not going to pretend that I don't have trouble with the strength of some of them) with "quotations", even though they are just regular imperatives.

As for v34-5, your position is rather stymied by Paul's "As in the all the congregations of the saints..." which precedes it. If he is quoting them here then that is an utterly contradictory thing to write immediately preceding it.

Finally you claim, with respect to 1cor 14 36, that there is a "what?" missing in our translations.
well, not quite. He asks two related questions, both marked by an opening "h", not so much a "what" but actually an "or". So the translation that we have in the NIV is almost there. More literally he's simply saying "or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you..."
Or course, the "or" is contrastative and stands in opposition to what is stated before. Namely, he has given them a command and then asks them if they have a reason to oppose it.
Had he been countering their own statement in v35 then there would be no need, gramatically, for the "or". On the contrary, it would actually be downright confusing.

Rachel, again I appreciate you taking the time but it seems that there's some heavy eisegesis going on and, if I may be so bold, some not quite accurate reading of the original texts.

I realise that these doctrines are really tough and, when not communicated properly, are also downright damaging. But the reality is we have a Lord that we follow that at all times is submissive to his Father and yet suffers no loss of dignity in doing so. So the same Lord Jesus Christ speaks time and time again in the gospel of John of his subordination to the Father and yet also states "I and the Father are one". We should not set these statements against each other but see how they work together. This was, after all, the great Trinitarian debate. Arius's great mistake was to claim that they were irreconcilable. The Nicene Fathers knew better, and insisted that we declare Jesus as one substance with the Father, yet begotten and subordinate.

As you said, interesting doing business ;-) Please don't read any animosity in this post at all, rather a desire that we all read, understand and submit to Scripture as much as possible. For me, I'm concentrating on loving my wife as Christ loved the Church and finding that injunction equally difficult.

Rachel said...

Thank you David, your response is gracious and no animosity is felt. There is a lot to look at and absorb so I will respond more fully when I have time.

I am hoping to come to a place where I can rid myself of some of the presuppositions I have developed about how Christians can sometimes respond practically to what they suppose are the Bible's everlasting mandates. It is right to make you aware that I have been in many discussions with Christians who argue from scripture that it is not right that I entertain the idea of ordained ministry because I am a woman and so I have spent the last few years understanding how some of the 'problem passages' can be interpreted. It could be that I have become too influenced by some of the counter-arguments. I will develop balance over the next few years I hope, but I have also had to come to a place of rest and acceptance - that I do not have all the answers and much of it is quite challenging for me to get my head around intellectually - I needed one of those posher educations - classics, philosophy, Latin and some Greek and Hebrew would help. I have also spent too long on these parts of the Bible to the detriment of other places so I have had to focus attention elsewhere - hence there are gaps in my understanding.

Arianism - this doesn't worry me - I have a firm grasp of the trinity. 'Source' not a problem for me and is quite a widely held translation of Kephale. Doesn't imply for me that God created Christ just to the same extent that I don't hold Adam to have been the creator of Eve. Eve was there with Adam from the very beginning but hidden - this doesn't imply Christ was hidden! In fact I think we are in tricky territory every time we compare God to man and Christ to woman and this is why a lot of the arguments about the way women and men should relate to each other - ie Grudem and Piper's advice for appropriate behaviour and roles for Christian women in light of the relationship between God and Christ just don't work for me. To use the American term which I have become aware of by blogging, although I might not be understanding it fully, I am very much an egalitarian and believe that mutual submission is something that the genders should live out, which I am sure you would agree with.

David Ould said...

hi Rachel,

Let me just add one thing, in response to one of your comments.

ISTM that those that tell you you shouldn't be ordained are vastly over-stating their case.

I was ordained here in Sydney in a group of 45, 8 of which were women. Ordination does not automatically imply congregational leadership.

As one female friend of mine put it, she understands that God does not intend her to teach or have authority over men but she also feels that a pool of 3 billion women to minister to is hardly restrictive!

Rachel said...

David - an interesting response, although perhaps in contrast to the woman you mention with her ministry to women, my ministry will also be to men.

However, I do not consider preaching from God's word to mean that I am usurping the authority of men - for me authority doesn't come into it - we all stand under the authority of scripture! ;)

Are you in the diocese under Jensen - my Aussie geography isn't much good or can women minister to mixed gender congregations?

Here, there are very few dioceses which would restrict my ministry to women only.

Interesting conversing with you - not sure but suspecting you might interpret 1 Tim 2 very differently to you.

Blessings brother in Christ (after all these are secondary issues)

David Ould said...

yes, I'm here in Sydney Diocese where Peter Jensen is the ArchBishop.

It's not so much a case here of women "not being allowed" as of most of them having firm convictions that God doesn't want them to.

As for 1Tim2, I'm afraid I'm not one for "interpretation" - i'd much rather encourage simple comprehension.
I don't think it's stating too much to claim that the conservative position on 1Tim2 (properly understood - ie still 3 billion people out there for women to teach and be in authority over) is the plain reading.

Other alternate "interpretations", much like your suggestion of a judaising theme in 1Cor11, end up adding issues to the text which the text itself simply fails to raise. I think I have confidence that God has put in His word what we need to hear, however uncomfortable it may first be, so much so that we don't need to speculate on "surrounding events" that the text itself simply doesn't support.

Sydney is a surprising place, confoundiong its critics. I would love to introduce you to copious numbers of highly intelligent, biblically-literate women who take the conservative position.

Rachel said...

Thank you David. I find arguments about a 'plain' reading of scripture awkward when theologians argue that their reading is the 'plain' reading and any alternative is the wrong reading. We all bring our own presuppositions to the text - something none of us can escape. We will know one day if God is angry at women for exploring his Word with both men and women. I have enough faith or courage, depending on which way you see it, to take the risk because I feel called by God to do so.

I will fail to have that calling recognised by certain churches but I live with it and try to recognise that the C of E accepts the two integrities of those who do not believe that women should preach the Bible to men and those who believe that they can. So I respect your position - it is not mine - whether it is God's - well, that continues to be debated. In Heaven, life will be less complicated I suspect, there will not be the same distinctions. There will not be any marriage. Issues which divided Christians will be wiped away and there will be reconciliation. I'm sure God must despair over how much the body of Christ wounds itself with its wranglings.

Similarly, of course, I could introduce you to many intelligent, Bible-literate women who take the egalitarian position. ;)
love Rachel

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rachel
Stick to your guns about the 'plain reading' of Scripture in respect of 1 Timothy 2:12-15. It's an awkward passage in which the meaning of 2:15 is far from plain. And the meaning of 2:12 is not plain when read alongside passages about Lydia, Nympha, Priscilla, Euodia and Syntyche, and Phoebe!

Sydney is a surprising place and David is right that there are copious numbers of highly intelligent, biblically-literate women who take the conservative position.

But there is that interesting story of Di Nicolios who headed up women's ministry in Sydney Diocese ... until she left to be ordained a priest and become rector of a parish in Melbourne (http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/05/27/1022243295744.html ).

David Ould said...

Now, now Peter. Some would suggest that was unnecessarily and mischievously re-opening a conversation that had run its course.

Still others might remind you that 1Tim 2:12 actually provides much clarity on the at times ambiguous reports about Lydia, Nympha, Priscilla, Euodia and Syntyche, and Phoebe ;-)


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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions