Blasphemous. Dangerous. Heresy. Unbiblical. These are the words religious purists use to describe the book The Shack and the recently released movie by the same name. Despite seeing a few good things in it, they are overwhelmingly critical.
But what horrors are in it that could possibly merit these warnings? Is it a bit too hokey? (It is. In his vision, the protagonist has meals and conversations with the holy Trinity and walks on water with Jesus). But no, nothing like that according to these hair-splitting legalists. To them, the big sins of The Shack, are that it makes God out to be too loving, overly forgiving, remarkably understanding, naively inclusive, irresponsibly lax on biblical/church authority, and nowhere near sectarian, religious, angry, and punishing enough to reflect the God of the Bible!
“If the God found in The Shack is the one people choose to follow, I fear they face grave eternal danger,” states evangelical critic Roger Patterson. “In the film, Papa [God] expresses only love and has no room for wrath, justice, or holiness… The God of The Shack is not interested in justice in an ultimate sense,” he adds in Staying Outside The Shack. Randy Alcorn also voiced concerns about the scriptural basis of The Shack in his similar review, Reflections on The Shack. Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll used to warn his congregation not to read it. Albert Mohler thinks the book’s popularity is due to a lack of “evangelical discernment.”
Hmm… let’s deconstruct this.
The President of the United States recently declared that the mainstream media—NY Times, NBC, CBS, ABC, and CNN—are enemies of the American people. He routinely calls them “fake news.” Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President, introduced the concept of “alternative facts.” Stephen Miller, Trump’s 31-year-old senior adviser, insisted on national television that “this issue is widely known by anyone who has worked in New Hampshire politics,” speaking of the claim that thousands of people were bused from Massachusetts to NH to vote against Trump, which explains why Trump lost that state.
The reason why these kinds of dialogues are in our national discourse is because many of us have abandoned a reasonable approach to determine whether something is true or not. People have bought into certain ideological frames so that news from a particular “liberal” source, like the N.Y. Times, or news from a particular “conservative” source, like Fox News, are automatically deemed false. Suddenly, every news outlet is on par with a supermarket tabloid, like the National Enquirer, that routinely prints baseless stories.
In the day of supposed fake news, how can we know something is true?
When someone studies the history of Christianity from its inception and really tries to be objective about it, he or she will inevitably discover how screwed up and tainted the Jesus Story has become over the centuries.
One way is how his teachings have been misconstrued as a formula for salvation. In the grocery store recently, a little girl, whose parents were standing close by, handed me a small card and said, “Would you like a Gospel tract?” I obliged and read it over. On it was a very brief explanation (with “proof” text Bible verses) of the major problem in life and its solution: Life is short, death and judgment is sure, sin is the cause, and Christ is the cure. The call to action was to pray a 17-word prayer to receive Jesus as one’s personal Savior. The Jesus epic had been boiled down to a “Get out of hell free” card in the game of life.
The source of this type of mentality cannot be traced to one fundamentalist church but rather to a long line of historical events that caused Jesus’ original message to evolve into our modern Western view of Christianity.
When we hold a worldview that people are inherently bad and need law and order to suppress that badness, we will tend to react to hostility with either judgmental retaliation or defense. But if we believe people are not inherently bad; that they are only lost when they go down an evil path, our reaction to hostility might be dramatically different.
When Christ calls humanity to “love your enemies,” it is not merely a command to do the right thing but a strategy to diffuse evil and transform “bad” people into good–in other words a method to help them find their way home and back to their true self.
This NPR story demonstrates the power of love (what a psychologist would call non-complementary behavior) over hostility, when a woman offers a glass of wine to a man threatening murder and mayhem. Moreover, it is an example of the new spirituality we need in a world full of theologies of depravity and threats of terrorism. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Recently, I was interviewed by Ron Way, a long-time talk show host, author, architect, corporate CEO, and amateur biblical scholar. It was arranged through my publisher Wipf & Stock for the AuthorTalk website. You can also listen to it here:
I was pleasantly surprised that Ron has interviewed people like Bart Ehrman, N.T. Wright, and Diana Butler Bass, and my interview displays on the same page as these incredible authors. As his website states, “Over the years, Ron Way has interviewed hundreds of religious leaders. These interviews are fascinating and informative. They delve into the ancient world of Jesus, Paul, Buddha, the Tao, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Islam, and more.”
Listen to my interview to learn about the connection between craft beer and an historically-grounded Jesus, thoughts on why first-century women followers of Christ were misrepresented in the Bible, why the New Testament needs to be read with knowledge of how it was compiled, mine and Ron’s ideas about the Jesus Seminar, and much more.
But don’t stop there. Ron has a whole slew of interviews that will perk your interest and bring you enlightenment, including conversations with the names listed above. Enjoy!
The Ark Encounter project, a replica of Noah’s Ark built by “young earth” Creationist Ken Ham with the exact specifications from the Bible, opened yesterday in Kentucky with no shame about its evangelistic goals.
A producer for New York Public Radio called me up to ask my interest in commenting on it. She had found my book, Craft Brewed Jesus, on an internet search, and thought my opinion was a good fit. In the end I got quoted on their web page (see The Takeaway Show, Life-Size Noah’s Ark Opens to the Public), but here is what I had prepared to say if interviewed on air:
First, this is definitely a fascinating idea, to replicate Noah’s ark with the very dimensions spelled out in the book of Genesis. It has a lot of historical and educational potential. There’s an enormous appeal to see this thing up close and explore its implications just out of curiosity.
The trouble is, the Ark Encounter project does not have a pure historical and educational agenda.
First, two caveats. One, evangelicals are not a monolithic block. It’s possible (but rare) that some will want you to know some of these things. Second, most devoted evangelicals and their leaders sincerely believe that the historical, biblical, and linguistic facts listed below are… well, false. Not “truth.” Not “biblical.” False teaching.
I know. When I was an evangelical, I felt the same way. The few that I did believe or suspect might be true (or conversely, those traditional evangelical views I thought might be false), I kept secret, for fear of being “unevangelical.” But the truth is, aside from a few shady types who know them to be true but want to hide them from their flock, most people are clueless at best, and sadly, brainwashed at worst about these facts.
A fair, objective examination of the Greek of the New Testament and the history of Christianity, especially the first few decades and centuries of the faith, reveal these historical facts:
New book taps the answer:
What if the modern American church has its Christian history wrong? According to ex-evangelical Michael Camp, most American believers fail Christian History 101. Drawing on his own historical research and missionary experience, he discovers most popular Christian views of the Bible, church, sin, salvation, judgment, the kingdom of God, the “end times,” and the afterlife—pretty much all religious sacred cows—don’t align with the beliefs of the original Jesus Movement. Some of them not even close.
Camp’s Craft Brewed Jesus paves a fascinating journey of a group of disillusioned evangelicals and Catholics. When they decide to meet regularly over craft beers to study the historic foundations of their faith, their findings both rock their world and resolve ancient mysteries.
Despite some conservative Christian leaders pleading with fellow evangelicals to reject him at the polls, Donald Trump still won a plurality of born-again Christian votes on Super Tuesday—in Alabama, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia and weeks earlier in South Carolina and Nevada. At Regent University, Pat Robertson welcomed him to a campaign visit by saying, “You inspire us all” (3:02 in video). In January, Jerry Falwell, Jr. endorsed him.
Thrice married Donald Trump is the most arrogant candidate with the rottenest fruit of the spirit. He endorses torture, wants to bomb the sh*t out of ISIS, says he’ll block all Muslims from entering the country, shuns refugees, is known for racist, sexist, and bigoted remarks, admits he’s dedicated his life to the pursuit of wealth, and once confessed he has never asked God for forgiveness. So how is it he’s largely winning the evangelical vote!?
DOWNLOAD AN EXCERPT OF “CRAFT BREWED JESUS”
Will you stay the course or take a new road? Will you finally address those pesky questions you have for which you’ve only gotten pat answers? Is this the year to research those unexamined doctrines and doubts? If you have been skeptical about any of the following, the forthcoming book “Craft Brewed Jesus” (Spring 2016) may help:
How History We Never Knew Taps a Spirituality We Really Need
My next book is in the hands of the publisher! Wipf and Stock Publishing in Eugene, Oregon is publishing it in April or May 2016. Besides the craft beer theme (just as small, independent craft breweries using historical recipes have rethought corporate-brewed beer, pub or cafe theologians outside the church are rethinking “corporate” religion), here are the book’s three big ideas:
1) The Modern American Church Has Failed Christian History 101 – With some notable exceptions, American Christianity does not understand the rich, fascinating, and complex-but-illuminating history of the early Jesus saga and how it later morphed into a warped man-made religion.
Regrettably, in the aftermath of ISIS’s inexcusable attacks on innocent people in Paris, amidst admirable calls for support and assistance for victims and their families and the people of France, conservative policymakers are also calling for a response that plays right into the hands of radical Jihadists. Twenty-six U.S. governors don’t want Syrian refugees in their states for fear of terrorist attacks. Much of the rhetoric on the Right further polarizes the West and Muslims. Most policymakers are only concentrating on a military solution to the problem and are ignoring the ideological war that needs to be won.
Here are three peaceful ways the West can fight ISIS on the more important Ideological Front:
We learned this week that while in the U.S. the Pope had a secret meeting with Kentucky clerk Kim Davis. Apparently, he offered her support for standing up for what she believed. (Later reports say it was not a private meeting and the Pope does not back her position). But we also know this Pope has reached out to gays and lesbians more than any other pope. When asked once about a gay person’s condition, he responded, “If he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
So, why are evangelicals so quick to judge gays and lesbians? We get the answer in the recent ABC interview of Kim Davis.
I often talk about the dangers of black-and-white thinking I encountered in my evangelical past. American conservative religion puts things in nice, neat boxes, with defined boundaries. The Bible is inerrant, they claim. If it wasn’t, it couldn’t be trusted at all (a strange concept considering no one claims that about any historical document). People are “sinners” steeped in original sin and totally depraved unless they are regenerated by conversion to Christ. One is either saved or under God’s wrath; on the way to heaven or destined for hell. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee thinks the case of county clerk Kim Davis (refusing to give out marriage licenses to gay couples in Kentucky) is proof that there’s a movement toward the criminalization of Christianity, based on the belief that anyone who allows or tolerates gay marriage just can’t be Christian. There’s a line drawn in the sand and heaven forbid if you cross it and try to create a gray area, between these stark spiritual “realities.”
That’s why I was surprised to hear Seth Andrews (The Thinking Atheist)
Yes, there are pressing problems in the world this very day: A refugee crisis in Europe, a war-torn Syria, and grinding global poverty, to name a few. But according to Global Health expert and statistician, Hans Rosling, focusing on all the bad news in the media masks the real gains our world has achieved. I’m an advocate for taking every world problem we have seriously and focusing on finding real solutions. But let’s do so from a worldview with hope for the future and not one of gloom and doom. Here are 5 facts that many people don’t know:
Michael Hardin is brilliant in taking us back to the Jewish historical and cultural way of thinking at the time of Christ to correct the traditional Evangelical way of reading the Bible, as if everything is equally authoritative and true, what he calls a flat reading of the Bible. Open your eyes and heart to a new way of finding the fingerprints of God through the lens of Jesus, not by swallowing everything you read hook, line, and sinker, but by viewing the sacred texts in their historical/cultural context with Jesus as the window. A refreshing perspective! Thoughts? (23:14)
There are many secrets in American Christianity. Unfortunately, a chunk of them are dirty little secrets that fester for years before eventually breaking open in popular media. The sexual confessions of Josh Duggar from the reality TV show “19 Kids and Counting” is the latest of these. Last year it was the scandal involving church leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) and their alleged cover up of child sexual abuse. In years past, it was Ted Haggard’s confession of drug use and involvement with a male prostitute. And, of course, there is the well-known documented pedophilia of Catholic priests. All these now-exposed scandals and many more examples suggest the best kept secret might have something to do with a link between fundamentalist teaching on sexuality and predatory behavior. As reasonable as I think that notion is, it’s not the secret I am referring to.
When people of faith, particularly the Christian faith, don’t get the historical facts right, they can come up with some wild and wacky theologies, e.g. church authority and hierarchy, the Rapture, the imminent Return of Christ in our lifetime, etc. As imprecise as history is, it does follow a scientific method. Check out what our study group learned about why history matters >