Friday, September 04, 2009
Wrestling Match - Mark Driscoll vs. The Shack
Few figures in American Christianity have managed to draw as much controversy in the last couple of years as Mark Driscoll, Senior Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and William Young, author of The Shack. So when I recently came across a video clip of Driscoll talking about The Shack I couldn’t resist giving it a watch.
As a matter of disclosure I have read both The Shack and some of Driscoll’s writings as well and I am currently reading one of Driscoll’s recent releases - Vintage Church. As one who is in the process of planting a church right now I can say that few books have stirred the fire for church planting the way that Driscoll’s “Confessions of a Reformission Rev.” have. As for The Shack, I read that book about a year ago and found it a refreshing and insightful read that dealt with difficult questions concerning suffering and even the doctrine of the Trinity among other topics. As with other authors such as C. S. Lewis, Gene Edwards, Hanah Hernard (Hinds Feet on High Places), and even John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress) the method of using fictional literature as a means of getting to the heart of theology seemed to me to work quite well.
Spoiler alert: If you have not read The Shack this next section of the blog will not make as much sense, so I would recommend reading it before continuing this blog so you have a bit more context.
In this Corner Mark Driscoll...
I wasn’t surprised to see that Driscoll was an outspoken critic of The Shack being that he is consistently a pretty outspoken critic on many issues. While I certainly don’t agree with many of Driscoll’s points of contention with The Shack I think the very nature of the critique raises questions about the relationship between theology and art and is thus important for consideration for artists and theologians. I will sum up the points of the argument and then give my own commentary and then propose a way forward for those of us who are creative people of faith. Here are the main points of Driscoll’s argument:
1. The whole purpose of The Shack is the Trinity.
I would disagree with Mark Driscoll on this because while the Trinity is central to this book, some of the main points have to do with wrestling through bad things happening to the innocent and finding God in the midst of tragedy.
2. The Shack makes a graven image of God by representing God the Father as a Black woman named Papa.
This seems to me to be the weakest of Driscoll’s arguments against The Shack for many reasons. First the very scriptures often refer to God in ways that compare him to attributes in creation:
Psalm 17:8 says, “Hide me under the shadow of your wing”. It is mother chickens that will hide her chicks under her wings. So is the Psalmist saying that God is a mother chicken? No. The psalmist is using an analogy to illustrate our relationship with God.
How about Psalm 23? “The Lord is my shepherd…” Is the Psalmist actually saying that God is a literal shepherd? No. He is getting at a relationship.
Finally Jesus was known to refer to the Father as vinedresser or farmer (John 15). Was Jesus creating a graven image by referring to God as a farmer? Not in the least. In reality he was helping folks understand their connection to God in a deeper and richer way.
It makes me wonder if Mark Driscoll even read The Shack because it is obvious that Papa (God the Father in The Shack) had a purpose in revealing himself as a black woman in the first part of the book and then as a middle-aged white guy with a pony-tail towards the end of the book. While this is certainly a fictional account it is not inconsistent with what we encounter in the Bible. God reveals himself to Israel sometimes as a husband, sometimes as a judge and sometimes as a warrior and yet sometimes as a more nurturing figure. The key in all of this is that it is God revealing himself to people for His purposes. It is very clear to me that this is what was going on in The Shack. God had a purpose in revealing himself to Mack the way that he did at different times and the purpose is made clear.
I think that making the point that William Young is leading people into idolatry with The Shack is quite a stretch.
3. The book encourages goddess worship since it represents God the Father as a woman.
This again ties back into my previous argument so I won’t continue it here but I don not think this book promotes goddess worship at all in any way. To make such statements misses the point and the very arguments set out plainly in the book.
4. Mark Driscoll goes on to accuse William Young of pushing the heretical teaching of Modalism that stands in opposition to Trinitarianism because it doesn’t respect the three-ness of God but instead blurs the lines. He cites the line in The Shack where God the Father states, “I am truly human in Jesus.” Driscoll makes the point that God the Father was never human only Jesus.
Again, I think that Mark Driscoll was missing the forest for the trees. Modalism was never a remote possibility to me when I read this book. Even the line that he was referring to was more about what Jesus referred to as “I am in the Father and He is in Me” than of blurring the lines of their distinctness in the Trinity, that though the three persons of the Trinity are completely distinct they are intimately connected in ways of understanding which we cannot even comprehend.
5. The last point that Mark Driscoll makes is that the book shows a version of the Trinity with no sense of hierarchy that it just gives a picture of a never-ending circle of love. He cites the passage from The Shack in which God tells Mack that hierarchy “only makes sense where there is sin”. He sees this as a big problem because Jesus obviously showed deference to the Father in his earthly ministry and that the New Testament seems to point very clearly to the idea that the Spirit points to Jesus, Jesus points to the Father.
Of all of Driscoll’s arguments this is the one that is the strongest in my opinion. I think that we Americans naturally tend to be much more egalitarian than most cultures and think of equality as one of the highest virtues there is. So this view of God as having no sense of hierarchy is appealing to some of our highest ideals in this culture. That said, it may be a stretch to put this ideal on God and thus on anything else in our world that exhibits hierarchical leadership.
If the Trinity is hierarchical it is not in a sense of power-over but in mutual love. So rather than throw hierarchy out altogether I would say that in the Trinity we see hierarchy apart from corruption—authority in love.
Closing Thoughts / A Way Forward
In the end I think The Shack has helped so many people begin to grapple with theology because it does so by way of art, speaking the language of the heart. Just as Jesus bypassed technical, theological language and arguments of the Pharisees with simple illustrations from nature and the culture, William Young has helped people into a deeper conversation about suffering, God, and the Trinity by speaking with language and pictures that connect with people in some of their biggest questions about faith and suffering and relationship with God.
This very discussion brings up how important theology is, particularly for those of us who create art whether music, writing, or painting. We must continually wrestle with theology in community and create art from that place. Our world desperately needs theologically sound artists who can communicate in the language of the heart so that folks who would never pick up a Bible commentary or theological text might begin to grapple with some of these larger issues themselves. I am grateful to William Young for writing The Shack and communicating in such language for the very reason that he is getting the conversation going in places where it has been stuck for a long time. Here’s to wrestling!