The Shack: A Pastoral Perspective by Joel Rainey

Next Friday, The Shack opens nationwide, prompting full theaters, plenty of box office profits, and apparently, a bunch of ticked off conservative pastors.

I get it.  I really do.

I read the book when it was first released back in 2007.  When I finished, I was simultaneously impressed and fearful.  I was impressed because it was truly a riveting novel that deals with real life issues of pain that too few churches are willing to honestly address.  I was fearful because the “god” portrayed within its pages isn’t the one true and living God who has revealed Himself to us in Scripture.

The “god” of the Shack is air.  It doesn’t exist.  It’s a worthless and damnable idol.

My reasons for making such a broad, sweeping claim are numerous, and too many to list here.  If you are interested in a detailed theological critique of the book, I really cannot improve upon that given by Tim Challies here.  Principally, the author’s view of God as presented in this story reflects an ancient heresy known as modalism–a doctrine that conflates the clear Biblical distinctions between the members of the Trinity and as such, compromises the role each plays in the process of redemption.

There are other major issues as well, but in the end, the biggest problem with the novel is that it presents–as an answer to our deepest pain–the theological equivalent of a flying spaghetti monster.  I find it ironic that the main protagonist is played by Sam Worthington of Avatar fame.  The Shack is about as accurate in its view of ultimate reality as Avatar.

As a theologian deeply concerned about accurately representing God as He has revealed Himself, these facts concern me.  But as a pastor whose responsibility it is to point people to the God of Scripture in the midst of their deepest pain, these facts scare me for the sake of their souls.

So what exactly should pastors do in response to what we all know will take place next Friday?

Last week, I sent an email to our staff reminding them that our church family will not be promoting this film in any way.  No one on our payroll is permitted to buy tickets, rent theaters, take groups to the movie, or anything else that would give the impression that Covenant Church approves of this film and its depiction of God.  Its one thing to take in a movie as an individual.  Its quite another to promote something that is likely to be contrary to Christian faith.

But as a Pastor, I must also recognize another reality.  People are going to see this movie!  I have told our staff that I will see it, mostly just to compare its contents with that of the book.  They too are encouraged to see it as individuals.  Why?  Because our people are going to be buying tickets.  Their non-churched and non-Christian friends will buy tickets too.  If when returning to church all they see in response from their leaders is protest, what will they have learned from us?

So, here are three reasons I think EVERY pastor should watch this film, and be ready to interact with its contents with your people.

1. From a cinematic and artistic standpoint, it will probably be an excellent movie.  How do I know this?  One name: Octavia Spencer!  It would appear that audiences can anticipate stellar acting from a phenomenal cast of talented people.

Though it remains to be seen, I suspect that for the sake of time and content, much of the doctrinal substance of the book may be absent from the film, leaving a number of “blanks” that are going to be filled in by someone.  Why shouldn’t that someone be a faithful pastor?

One of the biggest and most legitimate complaints about “Christian” movies is that they are, well, terrible!  For the most part, this is because the characters are “flat” and issues are all “black and white.”  There is very little tension to resolve–only an affirmation of what we already believe so that we can feel good about ourselves.  My friend Alvin Reid has observed that “our theology IS black and white, and it should be, but we live lives in color!”  He’s right, and I fully expect that this film will demonstrate well the “living color” of our lives–particularly the painful parts. It is possible to enjoy a good movie, or a good book, without blindly accepting everything you read or see.  Pastors, this is our opportunity to model for our people how to do just that.

2. The movie will prompt conversations and questions Pastors need to answer.  The pain depicted in the book and film is all too real for too many people in our churches and communities.  Many people are going to see this film because they think that in it they will find the path to healing.  If the “god” presented in the film is compatible at all with the “god” presented in the book, they won’t find it.  Or worse, they will think they have found it, and forever be inoculated to the real thing.

If Pastors and church leaders are faithful in responding with compassion to the issues that will certainly be raised as a result of this film, we can point our people and their friends to a God who can bring them genuine healing.  But if our disposition causes them to return from the theater, only to see in the pulpit those two old, grumpy guys from the muppets yelling “Boo!” then we miss out on the chance to find real answers.

3. This is an opportunity!  The most foundational question of faith is “Who is God?”  If you get that question wrong, it only goes downhill from there, and this is the fundamental danger of a book like The Shack.

But great opportunity lies here as well for pastors.  This film will prompt conversation about God, and who He really is!

Pastors who don’t willingly join that conversation are derelict in their duties both to Christ and His people.

People in our churches are going to see this film.  Their non-Christian friends will see it as well, and our people need to be equipped to have those conversations by pastors who model how to do it well.  So let’s not merely shrug our shoulders and allow our people to absorb idolatry unknowingly.  But conversely, let’s be more than the grumpy old guys who pour cold water over people’s warm experiences with no explanation why.

Let’s engage.  And in doing so, lets faithfully give people the real thing!

Editor’s Note: Dr. Joel Rainey is the Lead Pastor at Covenant Church, Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  This was originally published at Joel’s blog, themelios.

SBC PC: A Video Interview with Bart Barber

This year’s SBC Pastor’s Conference is June 11-12 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The conference will feature 12 preachers who all come from average-size SBC churches.  They will be preaching through the book of Philippians over the course of the two day conference.

As you know, the speakers for the conference recently met at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for a colloquium.  The speakers gathered to get to know one another and study Philippians with Dr. David Allen and other preaching faculty members from SWBTS and NOBTS.

I had the privilege of attending the colloquium, and one of the things I did while there was interview the speakers for the Pastor’s Conference.

Bart Barber is the Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Farmersville, TX.  FBC Farmersville is a vibrant, average-size congregation just northeast of Dallas.  Bart is an excellent preacher, and no stranger to SBC Voices.  We look forward to hearing from him in June.

Watch this video interview and pray for Bart as he prepares to proclaim God’s Word to us in June.


Bart Barber PC Interview from SBCPC on Vimeo.

Keep checking SBC Voices over the next several months as we will be posting more content related to the conference.

Pragmatism, Partnership, and Politics

It seems to me that a great many of our conflicts among Southern Baptists at this moment in time come at the juncture of pragmatism, partnership, and politics.

Sometimes we have spiritual convictions that lead us to adopt political goals. I have a spiritual conviction that I should not use coercive force to try to strong-arm anyone into false conversion by persecuting him for his aberrant faith. This spiritual conviction is soundly biblical. Holding that spiritual conviction leads me to adopt a political goal: maintaining First Amendment guarantees of universal religious liberty.

Pursuing political goals often drives us to practicing a little pragmatism. Pragmatism often leads us into strange partnerships. I know that there are enemies of religious liberty in our country. Preponderantly, they are people on the academic left who hold the views expressed by Chai Feldblum. There are enemies of religious liberty in our nation, and they are prepared to wage war against the First Amendment in the courts.

If I want to defend religious liberty against these foes (and I’m sort of assuming that when it comes to Chai Feldblum’s agenda, we’re all pretty much on the same page in this forum), it doesn’t make much sense to say, “If the battle happens on this battlefield over here, I’ll fight against the enemies of religious liberty, but if it happens on that other battlefield over there, I won’t.” No, if you want to defeat an enemy, you have to be ready to fight wherever they bring the war to you.

If Southern Baptists say that we will defend religious liberty in court cases so long as there isn’t a mosque involved, Chai Feldblum and her ilk will simply file all of their cases against mosques. Want everyone to open their ladies rooms to men? Don’t file that zoning case requiring open bathrooms against a Baptist church. No, if you do that, the Christians will fight you in the courts. File it against a mosque. Then the Christians will remain silent, and you’ll get the law changed with a minimum of effort. After you win in court, the law will apply to all of those Christians churches just as much as it applies to a mosque, and you’ll have won the war while the bulk of the forces arrayed to defend religious liberty sat in their tents at camp.

So, if defending religious liberty law means that I inadvertently benefit false religions, I’m prepared to do that. I don’t see that as a partnership with a mosque; I see that as a partnership with likeminded Christians who are trying to defend the law. But I understand that my work to help churches winds up helping mosques, too, and I can see how some people could view that as an unholy alliance.

Sometimes our pragmatic pursuit of political goals (even those rooted in spiritual convictions) can lead us to strange partnerships.

If you think of it, it’s a bit like deciding that you need to vote for a Mormon or a skirt-chasing, LGBT-affirming, New York non-Christian because you want better Supreme Court picks or hope to see some Executive Orders reversed. You have spiritual convictions about abortion or marriage or even religious liberty. These spiritual convictions lead you to adopt political goals. In pursuing those political goals, you find that you can only achieve them if you form some partnerships with people who are not a good match for you spiritually.

In the past two years we’ve had a lot of people on one side deriding the pragmatic choice of religious liberty advocates to defend religious liberty laws when they happen to become vulnerable in cases that happen to involve mosques. In the past two years we’ve had a lot of people on the other side deriding the pragmatic choice of other Christians to form partnerships with Donald Trump or Mitt Romney. In the one case, people have (falsely) alleged that the religious liberty advocates have endorsed Islam or otherwise gone soft on the exclusivity of Christ. In the other case, people have (falsely) alleged that the GOP advocates have endorsed sexual assault or have otherwise gone soft on the difference between Mormons or nominal Christians on the one hand and true Christians on the other hand. If one of these situations is an unequal yoking with unbelievers, the other is. If one of them is merely coincidental co-belligerance and therefore not a violation of 2 Corinthians 6:14, then there’s probably room to seek to understand the other in the same light.

These problems and these accusations are made worse by the fact that sometimes we struggle to think clearly and communicate well when we’re in the middle of verbal wars with one another.

Perhaps there’s a way forward for us along these lines.

Perhaps we could all engage in a little repentance for ways that we’ve refused to grant to others the grace that we’ve sought for ourselves. I’ve expected people to understand my pragmatic actions in defense of religious liberty against threats that I believe stand poised to make life very hard for believers in the United States. If I will have those expectations, I ought to be more understanding of other people’s pragmatic actions as they chose to vote for Donald Trump.

Perhaps we could all extend a little goodwill and benefit of the doubt toward people who actually share both our spiritual convictions and the preponderance of our political goals when they choose different pragmatic methodologies by which to achieve them. Honestly, if we can’t live at peace with people with whom we share so much in common, it speaks poorly of our relationships with Christ.

Perhaps we could try not to be offended personally (or to lob charges of heresy) when people advocate for pragmatic strategies that differ from our own. Why don’t we just make our case and try to let the strength of our positions persuade or fail to persuade? Why don’t we recognize that the brother who is trying to make us all succeed together by a different plan than my favorite plan can be differentiated from the enemy who wishes to conquer us all?

Perhaps we could dial back our tendencies to assign nefarious motives to people who think differently when we advocate for our own pragmatic strategies. After all, none of us like it when others do likewise to us.

Perhaps we could recognize a bit of wisdom, even when it comes from the bizarre source of a deceased former Soviet Premier: “We and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it.” Of course, Nikita Khrushchev, not President Kennedy, was the one who had tied the knot of war in the rope to begin with (this communique too place during the Cuban Missile Crisis), but his observation about what happens when we pull hard on the rope is nonetheless both picturesque and instructive.

The Southern Baptist cooperative relationship, like any relationship, only functions for as long as the people in the relationship say they’re sorry when they wrong, forgive when they are wronged, and labor to permit both freedom to advocate for our various views and determination to cooperate graciously both when our ideas win the day and when they do not, for so long as we share a common commitment to the biblical convictions that we have articulated in The Baptist Faith and Message and around which we pursue our common Great Commission work.

SBC PC: John Bailey Answers Some Questions About Spencer Plumlee

Editor’s Note: Each of the speakers for this year’s SBC Pastor’s Conference in Phoenix, AZ was nominated by someone.  I have asked each speaker’s nominator to answer a few questions about the person they nominated.  Spencer Plumlee of Riverview Baptist Church in Osage Beach, MO was nominated by John Bailey.  Below is John’s responses to the questions I sent him.

How do you know Spencer?

I can remember a couple of years ago driving through the tiny towns near the beautiful Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. My wife and I were looking for Riverview Baptist Church in Osage Beach. We were cautious but hopeful that this small church could be our new church home.

You see, we had just been called to a new ministry in the area. We left close friends and a sweet church family. Transitions are never easy. One of the biggest hurdles in moving to a new community is finding a church home. My usual prayer is this – please Lord help us find a church where I can be a friend to the Pastor. From the minute we heard Pastor Spencer I knew God had called us to this church. My wife and I have been members at Riverview for 2 years now.

Pastor Spencer and I share a lot in common. We both graduated from Southwestern Seminary and we both call Memphis, TN as our home town. I feel like I have known Pastor Spencer for my whole life.

Why did you nominate him?

I have been in SBC life for all of my ministry years. I had the opportunity to travel and hear communicators all over the country.  So I know good preaching when I hear it.

It is a huge challenge to stand every week and communicate God’s truth.  I never take it for granted. Some people think it is a simple thing to preach. Pastors have been doing it for centuries. From earliest civilizations people give speeches, the Greeks called it rhetoric. Their frame work was simple – know yourself, know your audience, know your content and use a breath mint. (Ethos, Pathos, Logos and Mentos) One of my first Pastors once told me, the preacher has four simple rules – stand up, speak up, shut up and sit down. Over the years I have come to a certain conviction about good preaching.

A gifted preacher must have two vital skills – the courage to share God’s truth boldly and the capacity to love God’s people authentically.

Pastor Spencer possess these skills in abundance. This is why I felt led to nominate him. Pastor Spencer preaches God’s truth and refuses to make accommodations to culture. God’s truth is his passion. Pastor Spencer takes the time to prepare and digest God’s word. When he preaches God’s word it comes from hard work and insightful observations from God. Not only does he bring God’s word boldly he also loves God’s people authentically. Our little church is blessed with multi generations and ethnicities. I can sense how much my Pastor loves his church.  He preaches with his heart. He engages people out of love. In the two years I have been at Riverview, I have not heard a bad sermon. Pastor Spencer is a treasure.

Why will he serve well in Phoenix?

The George Barna Group recently reported in a 2017 research project that only one in seven pastors leading congregations is below the age of 40. In recent years, one of our favorite past times is spent checking out preachers by counting the number of petals on the tulip they hold. I know many SBC pastors who express concern about what does the future hold for the SBC. Well I am excited to know that many of these faithful hard working SBC leaders will be encouraged. Pastor Spencer is under 40 and he loves the Southern Baptist Convention. Everyone who hears him preach in Phoenix will walk away saying, Dr. Plumblee knows how to handle God’s word. Our convention will be in good hands with young pastors like him.