There’s a Wolf in THE SHACK

 

The Heretical Theology of William P. Young in The Shack

Remember the folk tale of Little Red Riding Hood?  In most versions of the story, a young girl is walking to her sickly grandmother’s cottage with a basket of goodies.  Along the way, she meets a big, bad wolf who wants to eat her.  The wolf tricks her into telling where she is going.  The wolf gets to grandmother’s cottage first, and eats the grandmother.  He then puts on her clothing as a disguise and gets into her bed.  When Red Riding hood arrives, she is fooled by the wolf, and would have been eaten if she had not been rescued by a brave woodsman.

In the book The Shack by author William P. Young (and in the 2017 movie based on the book), the protagonist, Mackenzie Phillips, called “Mack,” meets God, who is portrayed as a grandmotherly woman called Papa living in a cottage.  And like Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, the grandmotherly woman in The Shack is a wolf in disguise.

William P. Young

The Bible often refers to false teachers as wolves.  For example, in Matthew 7:15, Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”  Ezekiel describes Israel’s false teachers by writing, “Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, to shed blood, to destroy people, and to get dishonest gain. Her prophets plastered them with untempered mortar, seeing false visions, and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord had not spoken” (Ezekiel 22:27-28).  And the Apostle Paul warned the church leaders at Ephesus, “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:29-31).

In my previous blog, I discussed the bad theology I believe ruined an otherwise wonderful movie about forgiveness.  After reading my review, one of my readers pointed me to a new 2017 book by William P. Young called Lies We Believe About God.  According to the book’s description on Amazon.com,

Wm. Paul Young has been called a heretic for the ways he vividly portrays God’s love through his novels. Here he shares twenty-eight commonly uttered and sometimes seemingly innocuous things we say about God. Paul exposes these as lies that keep us from having a full, loving relationship with our Creator.

Many of the beliefs Young calls “lies” are in fact lies, according to the Bible.  For example, Young includes chapters on “God blesses my politics,” “God is a magician,” “God is a divine Santa Claus,” and “God loves me for my potential.”  None of these ideas are biblical.  The problem is that other chapters deny essential truths of the Bible.  Three of the most egregious truths that Young calls lies are as follows/

“You need to get saved.”

Young believes the saying, “You need to get saved,” is a lie.  Young writes in Lies We Believe About God:

So what is the Good News? What is the Gospel?

The Good News is not that Jesus has opened up the possibility of salvation and you have been invited to receive Jesus into your life. The Gospel is that Jesus has already included you into His life, into His relationship with God the Father, and into His anointing in the Holy Spirit. The Good News is that Jesus did this without your vote, and whether you believe it or not won’t make it any less or more true.

He continues:

Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying!

Young uses several verses from the Bible to justify his assertion of universal salvation:

  • John 12:32 “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”
  • 1 Timothy 4:10 “For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”
  • John 1:3 “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”
  • 2 Timothy 1:9 “God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began…”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:19 “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”

The problem is that Young cherry-picks verses out of context to support his view, while completely ignoring others that contradict it.  Young is correct that God’s gift of salvation is offered universally to all people, but misses the fact that not all people will receive this precious gift.  Consider these verses:

  • John 1:10-13 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
  • Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
  • Revelation 21:27 (speaking of Heaven) “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”

Scripture is clear that not all people will receive God’s amazing gift of salvation.  Only those who repent and believe are saved.  “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).  “..if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” Romans 10:9-10).

“Sin separates us from God.”

Young believes that sin does NOT separate us from God.  He writes in Lies We Believe About God:

  • The irony is that the healing for their sadness is always within their reach, because their actions never had the power to separate them from God in the first place.
  • There is a truth about who you are: God’s proclamation about a “very good creation” is the truest about you. That very good creation is the form or origin of you, the truth of who you are in your being. Sin, then, is anything that negates or diminishes or misrepresents the truth of who you are, no matter how pretty or ugly that is.
  • If separation is a lie, does it mean that no one has ever been separated from God? That is exactly what it means. Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38–39). Jesus did not come to build a bridge back to God or to offer the possibility of getting unseparated.
  • Do we think we can be so wretched and sinful that we become abhorrent to God… No! There is no separation.

What does the Bible have to say about separation from God?

  • Isaiah 59:1-2 “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:9 “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”
  • John 3:3 “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’”

What about Romans 8:38–39?  “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  In context, Paul is talking about those who have been saved, not all of humanity. The context:

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit… But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His… For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Romans 8:1, 9, 13-14).

For those who have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior, nothing can separate us from the love of God.  However, for those who do not repent and trust in Jesus, they will forever be separated from God.  As it states in Revelation 20:12-15:

 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

“God is good. I am not.”

Young believes in the inherent goodness of humanity.  He writes:

The truth is that we have inherent value because we are made in the image of God. Our value and worth are not dependent on us. But those of us who are desperately broken and wounded may believe that if there is nothing good in us, there is no hope for real transformation.

Does anything that is “not good” originate in God? No! Are we still image bearers, made in the image of God? Yes, we are!

I am fundamentally good because I am created “in Christ” as an expression of God, an image bearer, imago dei (see Ephesians 2:10). This identity and goodness is truer about us than any of the damage that was done to us or by us.

Young’s argument is that because we are created in the image of God, we must be good, because God is good, and cannot create anything that is not good.  What Young fails to understand is that although humanity was created “very good,” our sin has marred the image of God in us.  Originally created “good,” we are now sinners.

  • Genesis 6:5 “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
  • Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”
  • Romans 3:10-12 “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.”
  • Romans 7:18 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

Young also fails to grasp that God loves us despite our depravity, not because of our goodness.  This is the very essence of the Gospel.  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  God saves us, not because we are inherently good, but because of His great mercy and grace.  Mercy can be defined as not getting what we deserve, while grace can be defined as getting what we don’t deserve.  They’re opposite sides of the same coin.  Because of sin, we all deserve Hell.  God, in His mercy, gives us the opportunity to avoid Hell by repenting of sin and making Jesus Christ our Lord.  Because of sin, we do not deserve a relationship with God.  God, in His grace, offers us a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.  God cannot offer mercy, grace, or forgiveness to “good” people, but only to those who don’t deserve it because of sin.  If we were “good,” we wouldn’t need mercy or grace.

Young does make an important point, however.  He states, “The truth is that we have inherent value because we are made in the image of God. Our value and worth are not dependent on us.”  This is absolutely true.  Young relates his personal story of growing up in an abusive home.  He writes:

“Growing up with my father was too often terrifying. Being around him was like walking through a minefield, with the explosive devices changing positions every night while I slept… He was the righteous man who was never wrong, and he was a strict disciplinarian.”

Many people view God as a hateful, vengeful disciplinarian who punishes us because we disappoint Him.  Many get this idea because they grew up with abusive fathers.  This is not the God of the Bible.  God loves and values us more than we can ever imagine.  God’s love is perfect, unlike human love.  The separation between humanity and God is not from God; it is because of our sin and our rejection of Him.  John 3:16-20 explains it like this:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

Conclusions

While Young makes several valid points in Lies We Believe About God, he promotes heresy and completely undermines the Gospel in other places.  Young grew up believing a mixed bag of truths and untruths.  In rejecting the untruths, he threw out the proverbial baby with the bath water.  Young correctly rejects the angry, vengeful god in favor of the God of love.  However, in the process, he also rejects the holiness, justice, and sovereignty of God.    He rejects one false gospel by adopting a different false gospel.  He preaches a form of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, not biblical Christianity.  The god of The Shack cannot save anyone.  Paul warned us in Colossians 1:6-9 about false teaching such as this:

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

The truth is that we are sinners who need to be saved by God’s mercy and grace.  The Good News is that God loves us despite our rebellion against Him, and offers each of us salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ, who died in our place, and rose again.  If we repent and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we can have an eternal love relationship with God.  The flip side is that if we do not receive Christ, we do indeed spend eternity separated from God in Hell.  This is not because God hates us, but because we reject God.

The god of The Shack is indeed a ravenous wolf disguised as a benevolent grandmother.  While the book and movie contain wonderful messages of forgiving those who hurt us, forgiving ourselves, and seeking forgiveness from others, it completely misses the truth of receiving forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ.  It offers a false hope in a false gospel, and anyone who embraces this falsehood is accursed to spending eternity without the true forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

Movie Review: The Shack (2017)

After being criticized on Facebook for disparaging the movie The Shack based on reviews without having seen it myself, I went and saw the movie this morning.  Most of my criticisms stand, although I did see a positive side as well.

The Positives

First, the positives.  The movie is definitely a “feel good” story.  It does a very good job of walking through the process of forgiveness.  The main character, Mack, learns to forgive the perpetrator of a horrific crime.  He learns to forgive himself for allowing the incident to happen.  And he learns to ask forgiveness from others.  The movie could be beneficial for a person who struggles with forgiveness of others, or with being forgiven by others.

For the most part, the movie portrayed Jesus Christ fairly well.  The Jesus character is portrayed as a middle-eastern man, which is much better than how Jesus is often portrayed in films as a blonde-haired, blue eyed Caucasian.  Jesus is shown as both fully human and as Creator of the Universe.  Jesus is also correctly portrayed as the Son of God, although this aspect is not well explained or emphasized.

The movie also does a good job of expressing the absolute love of God.  All three Persons of the Trinity are portrayed as omnibenevolent.   It shows how the love of God is unconditional and extended to everyone.  For a person who struggles with whether God truly loves them, this film might help them to begin to grasp God’s unfathomable love for each of us.

The Negatives

The positive aspects of the film are unfortunately greatly diminished by some extremely bad theology.

God the human woman

God the Father is portrayed as a black woman by the name of Papa, and the Holy Spirit is portrayed as a young Asian woman by the name of Sarayu.  Papa is the name Mack’s wife uses to refer to God.  The name Sarayu comes from the Sanskrit language, and means “air, wind, that which is streaming.”  In the Bible, neither God the Father nor the Holy Spirit take on human form; and neither are of them referred to a female.  Describing God as female is taken from any number of false religions, including the Canaanite goddess Asherah, the Roman Venus, the Greek Aphrodite, numerous Hindu goddesses, and modern Paganism.  Describing God as a human woman is to make Him into a false god, which is blasphemy.

God submits to human choices and wishes

Papa explains to Mack that the reason He appears to him as a woman is because Mack wasn’t ready for Him to appear as a man.  Later in the film, Papa changes to an older man, because Mack needed a father at this point in his journey.  The notion that God changes to meet our needs is unbiblical.  God is unchanging (Malachi 3:6).  The perfect, sovereign, holy God does not alter Himself to meet our needs.  He does not submit to us; rather, we are called to submit to Him.

God doesn’t judge sin

In The Shack, God never judges sin.  At one point, Papa tells Mack, “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 to cure it.”  This contradicts one of the central themes of the Bible.  God judged Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.  He judged Cain in Genesis 4, and the entire world in Genesis 7.  Throughout the history of Israel, God judged many individuals and many nations, including Israel.  In Revelation, God judges all who do not have their names written in the Book of Life, and casts them into Hell with Satan and the demons.  Most importantly, God judged sin and placed it on Jesus Christ.  It is through the blood of Jesus that we are forgiven for sin.  To claim that God never judges sin is to deny the very foundation of the Gospel.

Universalism

Another major problem with The Shack is universal salvation.  Everyone gets saved.  Papa states that all people are her children.  This is unbiblical.  John 1:12 states that people become the children of God when they receive Him; 1 John 3:10 calls some people “children of the devil;” and Romans 9:8 declares that not all are children of God.  Because Papa doesn’t judge, she also doesn’t require repentance.  The biblical God does require repentance (Ezekiel 14:6, Matthew 9:13, Luke 13:5, Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19).  In the world of The Shack, everyone goes to Heaven.  There is no Hell.  Again, this is unbiblical and undermines the Gospel.

Love vs. justice

The Shack portrays Jesus, Papa, and Sarayu as being completely loving and accepting, to the exclusion of other attributes such as being holy, sovereign, and just.   God is limited by His love, and therefore cannot administer justice.  This is a false dichotomy.  It’s not a matter of either God is loving, or He is just.  He is perfectly both.  The Bible describes God as being unlimited by His love (Psalm 103:11), and perfect in His justice (Deuteronomy 32:4).  God’s love does not limit His justice.

Good vs. evil

One of the major themes of the film is the question of why God allows evil, suffering, and death.  Despite the centrality of this theme, the question remains largely unanswered.  Papa skirts the issue by explaining that evil is the result of human free will.  What is missing is the biblical explanation, that sin, pain, suffering, and death can be traced back to Adam’s sin in the Garden.  God created a perfect world, but sin brought the curse of evil.  Also missing is the role of Satan and the demons.  Because The Shack rejects God judging sin, it also rejects the role of original sin as the cause of evil and death.  Romans 5:12 tells us that “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.”  This is completely missing in the film’s treatment of the issue of evil, leaving the question mostly unanswered.

 Other issues

  • In the movie, Papa has nail scars on her wrists, indicating that she was also crucified. This is not in the Bible.
  • Jesus tells Mack that he is “the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu.” In the Bible, Jesus is the ONLY way to God (John 14:6), not just the BEST way.
  • The film uses the image of a garden with a tree in the center – an obvious allusion to Eden. But, instead of being perfection, the garden is in seeming disarray, representing Mack’s life.  And the tree symbolizes redemption, not the Fall.
  • At one point, the biblical God is equated with the Native American Great Spirit. Biblically, these are two entirely different entities, with the Great Spirit being a false god.

 Conclusions

My reaction to the film is influenced by my own personal faith journey.  I grew up believing in a god very much like Papa in The Shack.  The god I followed was completely loving, to the exclusion of justice.  My god would never send anyone to Hell, because my god loved everyone, and made us the way we are.  I believed that while Jesus Christ was probably the best way to god, all religions pointed to god.

What I didn’t understand was that my god wasn’t real.  I had created god in my own image.  My god was mostly there to make me happy.

When I met Jesus Christ as a college freshman, my life changed eternally.  I began to understand that God’s love and God’s justice are simply two sides of the same coin – that God’s holiness, sovereignty, and perfect love demand God’s perfect justice.  God’s love and justice can be summed up in one verse:  “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  Both God’s perfect love and His perfect justice were satisfied on the cross at Calvary.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

While I thought The Shack taught good lessons on human forgiveness, because of the theological train wreck that permeates the film, I cannot recommend it.  It points to a false god as our hope for peace and forgiveness.  For someone who struggles with forgiveness and whether God truly loves them, the film might give them some insight, but with a dangerous risk.  Embracing the false god of The Shack is a false hope.  Only the true God can offer eternal life through the blood of Jesus Christ.  A god like Papa can make a person feel good about themselves and others, but cannot save us from our sins.   And that is damnable heresy.

 

 

What Is My Biggest Problem?

What is my biggest problem?

 

It’s not the government.

It’s not the economy.

It’s not other people.

It’s not a lack of opportunity.

It’s not my health.

It’s not my job.

 

My biggest problem is myself.

 

I am a sinner.

I’ve always been a sinner.

I will always be a sinner until the day I die.

I can’t change it by trying harder.

I can’t change it by being more religious.

I can’t change it by doing more good stuff.

There is nothing I can do to stop being a sinner.

It’s who I am.

 

Only Jesus can change me.

 

Only Jesus can fundamentally change who I am.

All I can do is trust Jesus.

All I can do is to quit trying to change myself,

And give my life to Jesus.

Give my sin to Jesus,

Give my will to Jesus,

Give my dreams and ambitions to Jesus,

Give everything to Jesus.

 

My biggest problem is myself.

And I cannot fix myself.

Only Jesus can fix me,

And all I can do is get out of the way

And trust and follow Jesus.

 

You are your own biggest problem.

And, only Jesus can fix you, too.

Life is Tough…God is Good

Life is Tough…God is Good

As I have scrolled through my Facebook news feed for the last 24 hours, I have been struck by how tough life is. A good friend of mine has been moved to hospice as a result of complications from a lifetime of smoking. Another friend from childhood is losing a battle with cancer. A young mother from my church is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. My country is being divided by hatred, racism, terrorism, politics, ideology, and greed. Many people struggle to keep a roof over their heads and adequate food on the table. Good jobs are hard to find, and people that have them are in fear of losing them. People struggle with depression, fear, sickness, anger, hopelessness, and death. Life is definitely tough.

Where is God in all of this? It seems most people have given up on God. They see God either as a fairy tale or as uncaring and distant. Even many born-again Christians struggle with the feeling that they cannot live up to God’s expectations and fear that He is unhappy with them and punishing them.

The bad news is that our world is slowly being destroyed by sin. It began in the Garden with Adam and Eve, but like a cancer, it has continued to spread ever since due to the sin of each of us. It’s not God’s fault the world is crumbling; we have brought it on ourselves by our constant rebellion against the God who created everything “very good.” Our collective sin is what has brought on death, disease, poverty, racism, and hatred. And, there is nothing we can do to stop it. We’ve tried legislating morality, but it doesn’t work. We’ve tried religion, irreligion, education, indoctrination, love, hate, freedom, and tyranny, and none of it has done anything to slow the tide of self-destruction that grips our world. We are under a curse (Genesis 3). We’re headed for self-annihilation, and we cannot stop it. Life is tough.

The good news is that God has a plan, and you and I can be part of His plan, if we choose.

LifeIsToughShirtGod is good. Rather than letting us annihilate ourselves, God’s goodness, mercy, and love demanded that He give His Son, Jesus Christ, to take the punishment for sin on Himself. As the apostle Paul explains in Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Sin is what has torn us away from our Creator, and sin is what tears us apart from each other. Sin is what has brought on disease, hatred, poverty, racism, and death. Paul again explains that, “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). He continues: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Here’s the goodness of God: Despite the fact that we are destroying His creation by our sin, God has already begun the process of restoration. The restoration began with the cross of Jesus Christ. Individually, it begins when we accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Paul explains in Romans 10:9-10, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” He develops this idea of personal restoration further in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

The goodness of God is not limited to individual restoration, however. The earth and humanity has been cursed because of our sin (Genesis 3). Paul writes, “the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:21-22). The apostle John explains that the curse will eventually be removed: “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1, 4). He continues, “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him” (Revelation 22:3).

Here’s the deal: For those who continue to reject Jesus Christ, there is no restoration, and no hope. Life stays tough, and eternity is a literal Hell. However, for those of us who turn to Jesus Christ, repent of sin, and make Jesus our Lord and Savior, the process of restoration begins immediately. The goodness of God begins to change us. The process begins immediately, but isn’t complete until we are with Jesus in eternity. God doesn’t want people to become religious or spiritual; He wants a restored relationship with us. God’s goodness has provided the means for restoration through Jesus Christ for all who are willing to receive it.

Life is tough, but God is good.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GcBBPbtfoI

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Soul SearchingWhile scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across this web comic by Adam4d.com. The term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” was new to me, so I did a bit of digging. What I found was that the concept describes very well what I believed before I came to know Christ.

What is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism?

The term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (or MTD) was coined by American sociologist Christian Smith in his 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. What Smith found was that many if not most self-identified Christian young people he surveyed did not hold to the traditional beliefs of any particular church or denomination, but their theology instead boiled down to a handful of beliefs he dubbed “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:”

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Smith concluded from his research that, when it came to the most fundamental questions of faith and beliefs, most adolescents reacted with, “Whatever.” Yet, they all seemed to have some vague, basic beliefs. Most believe in a moralistic god who wants people to be good; a therapeutic god who wants people to feel good about themselves; and a deistic god who is “out there somewhere” but not especially involved in people’s everyday lives.

Smith primarily identified MTD with youth in American churches, but, from my experience, it’s not just a youth thing. Many of the religious adults I know are Moralistic Therapeutic Deists. Most of so-called “liberal Christianity” is in reality a form of MTD.

Is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism the same as Christianity?

MTDgodMoralistic Therapeutic Deism is just a fancy name for religious humanism. It’s the theology of American liberalism, of Oprah and Joel Osteen. MTD denies fundamental Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, original sin, personal salvation, and Hell. To a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist, the Gospel is about how God loves everyone and wants us to be the good people he created us to be, rather than that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It teaches that good people who do good things go to Heaven, rather than that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

MTD is not Biblical Christianity. It cannot save a person from Hell. All it does is fools people into feeling good about themselves, without dealing with the reality that each of us is separated from God because of sin – a separation that can only be reconciled by the blood of Jesus Christ.

My personal conversion from Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

I grew up in a liberal denomination. A typical Sunday sermon was little more than a pep talk to go out and be a good person. I believed in God, but God was an impersonal spirit out there somewhere, who created everything good, and wanted everyone to love each other and get along. I cannot remember ever hearing in church that I am a sinner in need of salvation. Hell was a place reserved only for the truly evil people like Hitler if it existed at all. My religious purpose was to be a good person, to feel good about myself, and to help others be good and feel good. This, to me, was what Christianity was all about.

I remember during freshman orientation week in college taking a survey. The survey contained many questions about my political, religious, and social views. Two questions buried among the hundreds on the survey, I remember quite well: Do you consider yourself a Christian? Do you consider yourself a born-again Christian? I answered yes to the first, but no to the second. To me, being a Christian was about being moral, feeling good about myself and others, and belief in God. “Born again” Christians were legalistic nut cases.

In reality, my theology was extremely shallow. I gave very little thought to what I believed, and even less to why I believed it. “All you need is love” pretty much summed up my theology.

My theology (or lack thereof) was shattered by the simple question, “Who is Jesus?”

I realized that if Jesus was just a man, then the cross was nonsense. But, if Jesus is God in the flesh, then the cross was the most important event in history. If Jesus was just a man, then “all you need is love” is a nice sentiment, but nothing more. But, if Jesus is truly God, then “all you need is love” is just flat-out wrong.

I came to realize that my sin separated me from God and that only God in the flesh as Jesus Christ, dying on the cross, could pay the penalty for my sin. I placed my faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I came to realize that, while God does want people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, being good cannot get me into Heaven. My purpose in life isn’t to be happy and make others happy; it’s to know Jesus and point others to Him. God is only distant for people who don’t know Him. For those who are saved, the Holy Spirit lives in us and is intimately involved with every aspect of our lives.

I came to reject MTD and to embrace Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Why is any of this important?

“Why is all of this so tragic? Because MTD is not Christianity. It’s not even a version of Christianity.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a false religion created by and for members of the most rich, catered, defensive, politically-correct, over-protected, over-nurtured, over-fed society the world has ever known, and the fact that it uses the name Jesus and various select Christian buzzwords allows it to be passed off as Christianity.

It has nothing to do with biblical Christianity. It’s not in the Bible. Jesus didn’t teach it. Paul wouldn’t recognize it.

And yet it calls itself Christianity and it’s taught every Sunday by pastors in church buildings all over the place.” adam4d.com/mtd/

How many of us have loved ones who subscribe to MTD? How many of our friends think they’re Christians, but aren’t, and are on the path to Hell?

What about yourself? Do you subscribe to the feel-good, do good distant god? Or do you know the God who sent His only begotten Son to die for your sin? Do you believe you’re basically a good person, or a sinner who needs a Savior?

Make sure you know the Truth. There are eternal consequences if you don’t.

Pine Ridge Mission Trip 2015 – Day 2

Tuesday, August 4 was our second full day at Pine Ridge. My daughter Stacey and I, along with about 20 other people from Fairfield First Baptist Church, were at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to serve the community by building and repairing homes, building relationships, and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

NSM2015LOGOretinaWe worked through Next Step Ministries. We stayed at a Parks and Recreation facility north of the community of Wounded Knee, SD. Housing consisted of a couple large buildings with rooms holding about 8 guys or gals, sleeping on air mattresses or cots. At least we had heat and air conditioning, and the conditions were better than most of the homes on the Rez.

For breakfast, we had pancakes and sausages. As usual, we made sack lunches to take with us to our work sites. A couple of the students in my group made lunches to take to Tyson and Tyrell, the boys who live next to the home we were repairing. The morning was kind of chilly, and it sprinkled a little.

Me, holding a ladder

Me, holding a ladder

After coffee at Higher Ground, we headed to Candy’s house, and got to work. We put up more Hardie board, trimmed out windows and doorways, and caulked a lot of cracks. We found that one end of the trailer was going to be difficult to fix, because much of the framing was rotted out. Our Next Step leader, Rob, would need to do the work to replace the framing before we could begin work on the siding.

It was hot – in the low 90s – but a strong wind made the heat bearable. Rain threatened all day, but never came. While we worked, a few of us had a conversation about demonic activity on the Rez. Traditional Lakota religion is based around spirit worship. They believe in a Great Spirit or Creator, as well as other spirits. We discussed how, from a Biblical perspective, these spirits are demons. Followers of traditional Lakota religion use various rituals to keep the bad spirits away and placate the good spirits. The Sage plant is burned as incense to ward off evil spirits. Sage grows all over the place around Pine Ridge – we saw it at Candy’s house, John and Nadine’s house, and along the road between Pine Ridge and Wounded Knee. We talked about how Pine Ridge is a very spiritually dark place – many of the suicide notes mention a dark, shadowy figure who told the person to kill themselves. Candy, the owner of the home we were working on, is a Christian. She plays Christian music in her trailer 24/7, in the belief that it helps keep the evil spirits out.

A few minutes after this conversation, the wind blew down one of the ladders, barely missing one of the women from our group. This may be difficult for some people understand, but I’m convinced it wasn’t an accident. I personally had made sure the ladder was set correctly, and although the wind was blowing, it wasn’t gusting strong enough to blow down the ladder. I honestly believe the ladder was pushed by something demonic, in response to the conversation we had just finished. The Bible talks about spiritual warfare happening all around us, that we cannot see, and I felt something that kind of creeped me out just before the ladder fell – a sort of presence, like something was watching me. This is entirely consistent with numerous accounts from many other people about encountering evil spirits on the Rez. Coincidence? I suppose it’s possible, but I doubt it.

Putting up Hardie board

Putting up Hardie board

At lunch time, the teens in our group took the two lunches they had made for Tyson and Tyrell next door to give to them, but they weren’t home; the person who answered the door said they would give the lunches to them when they returned.

Later that afternoon, I went over and talked to Wilbert Jr. again. Wilbert was living in a tent in the front yard of his dad Wilbert Sr. while waiting for a teaching job on another reservation to begin later in the month. He had asked if Next Step could do anything to help repair his dad’s trailer before winter. I found out that Next Step has a 2-3 year waiting list for assistance, and that they weren’t even able to take applications at that time. So, Next Step wasn’t going to be able to do any work on the house. However, I told him that I would check to see whether we might be able to leave any left-over materials – Hardie board, nails, caulk, trim, etc. – at the end of the week, so he and his dad could make the repairs themselves.

That evening, we went to White Clay, Nebraska, for an evening at Lakota Hope. Lakota Hope is “a ministry serving the Lakota Nation – specifically the Risen Warriors (street people) of Whiteclay and Pine Ridge.” White Clay (population 14) is an unincorporated town two miles south of the center of Pine Ridge, just across the Nebraska/South Dakota border. The town consists of several liquor stores and a few homes. Until recently, the sale of alcohol on Pine Ridge Reservation was illegal, so the town of White Clay sprang up primarily to provide alcohol to the Lakota. The four liquor stores in White Clay, licensed by the State of Nebraska, sell the equivalent of 4.5 million 12-ounce cans of beer annually (12,500 cans per day), mostly to the Oglalas living on the Pine Ridge. Many of the Lakota who purchase alcohol in White Clay live in the streets, sitting or laying on the sidewalks or alleyways. It’s so common to see drunks on the side of the road, they actually show up in Google Maps Street View. Efforts have been made to shut down the alcohol sales, but the state of Nebraska and Sheridan County officials have taken little action.

Lakota Hope

Lakota Hope

The Lakota Hope Ministry was started and is run by Bruce and Marsha BonFleur, who came to White Clay in August of 1998. They had no formal training, little knowledge of Lakota history, complete ignorance of Lakota culture, and no idea why God had brought them there. They just had the desire to do what God called them to do – to “live among and serve God’s beloved Oglala Lakota Sioux people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.” Bruce and Marsha built the Lakota Hope Center in White Clay, and have developed relationships with the street people, leading many of them to personal relationships with Jesus Christ.

Kevin Poor Bear

Kevin Poor Bear

During the summer months, Lakota Hope hosts an event on the grounds where the locals can get a free meal and local artists can sell their work to people visiting the Rez. There is usually a Christian band or singer, a speaker, and a chance for visitors to get to know the street people. On the night we visited, there was a Messianic Jewish band playing a very Israeli style of music, and probably around 30 local artists selling various items. One of my favorite artists was a guy named Kevin Poor Bear. Kevin is a Lakota, double-amputee, former alcoholic Christian with an amazing artistic talent. After his daughter was killed by a drunk driver, Kevin turned his life over to Jesus Christ and gave up drinking, and now uses his talent to bring glory to his Savior.

Several from our group took food out to the streets of White Clay, and gave it to the people they met on the sidewalks. Most spent quite a bit of time talking to those they met, listening to their stories, and getting to know them. Most Lakota are difficult to share the Gospel with, until they get to know you. Historically, churches were used to deliberately destroy traditional Lakota culture. Children were taken and placed in church-run schools, where they were forced to cut their hair, wear White American clothing, and learn English and American religion, while being forbidden to speak Lakota or practice their traditional beliefs. Most of

People at Lakota Hope

People at Lakota Hope

these so-called “Christian” churches weren’t made up of actual born-again followers of Jesus Christ, but rather, cultural Christians – Christians in name only. So, there is a lot of well-justified suspicion and distrust of people calling themselves Christian by the Lakota. The best way to share the Gospel – not just with the Lakota, but with most people – is to start by developing a relationship with them first. Many of the street people of White Clay opened up and shared their entire life stories to those who brought food to them – they were just happy that someone cared enough to listen. And, many from our group had a chance to share the good news of Jesus Christ one-on-one with someone who needed to hear. I’m not aware of anyone getting saved that evening, but many seeds were planted, and many people prayed with that evening.

I heard accounts of dark, shadowy figures walking the streets of White Clay after dark. Again, I believe there is real demonic activity on and around the Pine Ridge Reservation, and I heard far too many people describing the same sort of dark, shadowy figure to dismiss it. Many of the street people fear this figure, and Bruce BonFleur says he’s seen it as well. As a follower of Christ, I don’t fear such things, because Christ has defeated the Devil and his minions. However, Christians need to be aware that demonic activity is real, and remain diligent to pray against evil and for those who are oppressed by demons.

I didn’t join the group that took food to the street people. Instead, I had a long talk with John Bissonette, who had come out to Lakota Hope that evening with Nadine and two of their grandkids. I really wanted to get to know John, who I had been praying for for months. We talked a lot about the needs of the people in Pine Ridge, and about his and Nadine’s desire to help the people on the Rez, especially battered women and children. I asked him what kinds of resources Fairfield First Baptist Church and I might be able to provide, once we got back to Ohio. At first, he was reluctant to ask for any assistance, but with a bit of prodding, he listed the following:

  • Bibles (especially NKJV)
  • Bible DVDs
  • Blankets
  • Clothing
  • Coats and jackets
  • Shoes
  • Tools to fix cars
  • A decent chainsaw to cut fire wood

I’m hoping and praying that we will be able to get some of these things sent out to John and Nadine over the next few months.

Later that evening, we stopped at Big Bat’s again for F’reals. Some from our group met a homeless girl named Aimee, who was living in her car with 3 small children. It turned out she was the sister of Cody White Pipe, who many from the group had met last year, and whose story I will tell on another day. There seemed to be a lot of “coincidences” that occurred on this trip; however, I don’t believe they were actually coincidences. God has a way of orchestrating things to bring people and circumstances together for a purpose. Some of the people from our group bought her some groceries and diapers, which were very appreciated. Aimee had recently bought a trailer and some land near Porcupine for $400, but the trailer had been a former meth lab, and was completely uninhabitable. A few of the men from the group agreed to go out the next day to have a look at it, to see if it might be salvageable.

Back at the compound, I showered, and went to bed, very tired, yet very optimistic about the rest of the week to come.

Is Christianity a Religion?

Several weeks ago, I asked the question, “Is Atheism a Religion?” My conclusion was that “Atheism is not a religion, per se, but almost all Atheists practice a non-theistic kind of religion. Atheist religion is generally not an institutionalized system or organization, but usually more of a personal set of non-theistic religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.”

Today I will tackle the question of whether Christianity is a religion. It is my contention that there are, in fact, two distinct forms of Christianity: one form that is a religion, not different from any other religion, and another that is much more than just a religion.

What is religion?

In order to answer the question, it is necessary to first define exactly what religion is.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, religion is:

1 a :  the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion>

b (1) :  the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) :  commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance

2 :  a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

3 archaic :  scrupulous conformity :  conscientiousness

4 :  a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

In my discussion of Atheism, I identified 8 common traits of religions:

  1. Religions have narratives or texts.
  2. Religions have doctrines.
  3. Religions have faith.
  4. Religion is a source of purpose and meaning.
  5. Religions have rituals.
  6. Religions use symbols.
  7. Religion provides social construct.
  8. Religions proselytize.

Religion is both a set of beliefs about God and a set of practices based on those beliefs. The more religious a person is, the more fervently the set of beliefs and practices is followed.

Two kinds of Christianity

Here we come to the crux of the question: Is Christianity a religion, or is it something more?

I contend that there are, in fact, two distinct kinds of Christianity. There is a form of Christianity that is clearly religion. Catholicism, Evangelicalism, Protestantism, and Fundamentalism are all religions. They are all sets of beliefs with accompanying behaviors and practices. Even Christians who are not a part of any organized church or denomination ultimately have a religion. They have a personal set of beliefs and practices.

There is another form of Christianity, however, that goes far beyond the definition of a religion. Consider this passage from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John:

22 Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. 23 And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. 24 Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30 I and My Father are one.”

Verse 27 emphasizes the relationship between Jesus and His followers:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”

This goes beyond simply knowing about Jesus; a true follower of Jesus Christ actually knows Him.

I know a lot about the President of the United States. I see him on television and in my Facebook newsfeed nearly every day. I know what he says, and who he is. However, I cannot say I know him. We’ve never even met in person, and even if we had, he wouldn’t remember me from any of the hundreds of thousands of other people he’s met. Compare that to the relationship I have with my wife and kids. I live with them, and I talk with them regularly. I actually know them quite well, and they know me quite well. We have individual, close connections .

So it is with those who truly follow Jesus. We don’t just know about Jesus, we know Him personally. He knows us personally. We don’t just follow a religion; we follow a person that we have actually met, with whom we have a personal relationship.

Consider also these verses from Matthew 7:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

Notice that it isn’t the religious people that enter heaven – it’s those who do the will of the Father and whom Jesus knows. What is the “will of the Father?” In the context of the passage, it’s certainly not being religious. Jesus repeatedly saves his harshest criticism for the most religious people in His culture. The will of God is that people would know Him.

How are the two kinds of Christianity different from each other?

Let me give my answer from personal experience. I grew up as a religious Christian. I was in a church service nearly every Sunday. My entire family was active in the church; my dad sang in the choir, and my mom was the Sunday KnowtheAuthorSchool Superintendent. I was active in the youth group – president, my senior year – and went to church camp every summer. I knew a lot about the Bible, God, and Jesus. I participated in fundraisers to help the poor, vacation Bible school, and Bible study classes. Although I knew I did some bad things, I believed my goodness outweighed the bad. I believed, God is love; he accepts us as we are, warts and all.

However, as a college freshman, I realized that this wasn’t enough. Although I knew a lot about Jesus, I didn’t know Jesus. And, though I was mostly a good person, I still sinned, and sin separates us from God – it prevents us from knowing Him. I discovered that God is not only a God of love, He is also the God of holiness, justice, and truth. It was then that I changed from the first kind of religious Christianity to the second kind – relationship Christianity. I repented of my sin, and from trying to earn my way to Heaven. I acknowledged that Jesus is God; that He died for my sin, and rose again. And I committed my life to follow Him. God then did an amazing thing. He forgave my sin, and He restored my relationship with Him. The Holy Spirit tool up residence in my heart (2 Corinthians 1:22). I now not only knew about Jesus – I actually came to know Him in a personal way.

This is the difference between the two kinds of Christianity: The first is a religion, no different from any other religion. It has a holy book, doctrine, faith, rituals, and symbols, like any other religion. Religious Christianity provides social construct and purpose and meaning, as do all religions. Faithful religious Christians proselytize, as do the faithful from all other religions. And, like all other religions, religious Christianity does nothing to restore the relationship with God that has been lost because of human sin. It acknowledges that Jesus paid the penalty for sin on the cross, but does nothing to activate that forgiveness in anyone’s life. It’s sort of like starving to death while looking at a table full of food. Food does no good, unless one actually ingests it. That’s what relationship Christianity is all about: ingesting and applying the forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ, and beginning a relationship with Him. Yes, those who have a relationship with Jesus also have the Bible, doctrine, and faith. Yes, our relationship with Jesus is the source of our social construct, purpose, and meaning. We proselytize, and although for many of us, rituals and symbols aren’t especially important, we still have them. The key difference is that these things aren’t the foundation – our relationship with Jesus is the foundation.

RelationshipnotreligionIs Christianity a religion? It depends on which kind of Christianity being discussed. It has been claimed that, “Christianity isn’t a religion – it’s a relationship.” I only partially agree with this. A better way of stating this would be, “True Christianity isn’t just a religion – it’s a relationship.” Much of what people know as Christianity is a religion, and is ultimately no different from any other religion. It makes people feel good, and act a certain way, but cannot restore a relationship with God. The other kind of Christianity is a relationship with God, through the blood of Jesus Christ. This second kind of Christianity still has most of the marks of religion, but is much, much more than just a religion. Religious Christianity is based on trying to make one’s self acceptable to God, which cannot be done, and ultimately leads to death and Hell. Relationship Christianity is based on what Jesus did, not what we do. We become acceptable before God because Jesus took our sin on Himself. Relationship Christianity restores our connection with our Creator, and leads to eternal life, not Hell.

Application

What difference does this make? It makes all the difference in the world! If you are a religious Christian – you have the doctrine, faith, rituals, and symbols, etc., but you don’t know Jesus personally – your sins are not forgiven, and you have not had your relationship with God restored. You are headed for Hell. You need to repent of your religiosity, acknowledge that you cannot make yourself acceptable to God, and receive forgiveness and restoration through Jesus Christ. Head knowledge is not the same as a relationship. Religion makes people feel good, but leads to Hell. Stop having faith in religion, and place your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. If you profess another religion, or no religion at all, you also need Jesus. You may have a wonderful life, but in the end, you will spend eternity separated from God in Hell, unless you turn to Jesus.

jesus_talkingIf you know Jesus already, you probably already understand this distinction. Make sure you keep your heart and mind focused on Jesus, not on all the religious stuff that accompanies faith in Jesus. Sure, the “religious” stuff, like reading your Bible, trying to do what is right, giving to the poor, and regularly attending corporate worship are important, they are no substitute for developing your relationship with Jesus. When you share your faith in Jesus with others, they will often think Christianity is no different from any other religion. In a sense, they are right – most of what they have seen is the religious Christianity, not relationship Christianity. Make the distinction between Christianity the religion and Christianity the relationship. Both exist, but only one leads to eternal life.

One final thought: the two kinds of Christianity are usually mixed together in any given church or denomination. That is, in most solid, Bible-believing churches, there are some that don’t actually know Jesus, along with those that do. There are also Christians who truly know Jesus in some very religious churches. Knowing Jesus isn’t a matter of whether one belongs to the right or wrong denomination or church.

If you want to know more about knowing Jesus, leave a comment, or send me a message. I’d love to tell you more.