The Shack: Rules of Cultural Engagement
The most asked question of the week? To go to the show or not to go to the show! The show in question is The Shack, of course.
We’ve heard lots of opinions – and with it lots of passion and angst. In light of the many opportunities we have to dissolve into divisive discussions, we may need to stop and think through how we make decisions about cultural engagement – and how we act toward those who may decide differently than we do.
#1 – Pause the Condemnation
Some of us will not want to see the film any more than we wanted to read the book. There are those of us who will basically say, “It’s not straight up Biblically accurate so I’m not going to pollute my mind and waste my time. I don’t want to enable error by participating in any way.”
And if we find peace before God in that position, then that is what we should do. I’m hoping that we will not lose that peace of heart when we watch other believers make a different decision. And I’m hoping that we will lay down judgmental attitudes and condemning verbiage before we engage in conversations with those who do not wear the name “Christian.” Otherwise we may do more damage and misrepresent our God more than the film we are opposing.
Seriously, none of us want to hear, “You are an idiot for thinking that way! Why in the world would you ever be so obviously deficient in your reasoning?!? You know you deserve judgment for believing that, right?” So, it’s probably not going to be well received when we give that to someone else.
[Probably some of you are aggravated at me already and are ready to press DELETE on this post but, I’m hoping that you will keep reading at least ’til we get to the part about an actual conversation with the author.]
Since, as far as I know, nobody has ever been condemned into Heaven, we do well to settle into cultural conversations with words and attitudes which clearly echo the holy mercy and righteous kindness we ourselves have enjoyed from God. We’ll do better to play our role as His ambassadors rather than the role of judge of the universe.
#2 – Peruse your Foundation
At the same time, we must never, ever base what we believe about God (i.e. our theology) on anything other than what He has revealed about Himself in the Bible. Scripture is our only truly reliable source of information about our God. Any other book, fiction or non-fiction, can inform our theology only as much as it repeats what we find in the Word.
It’s pretty much a given then that no movie should become the basis of our view of God either. That would give us a pretty unreliable foundation for an eternally important issue.
The story of The Shack is fiction. More specifically, it is an allegory. And every allegory, every illustration, every symbol breaks down at some point. None of them are a perfect representation of the truth they are intending to explain. The questions we have to ask: Is the intended message truthful? How effective is this story in conveying the intended message? At what point does the representation fall apart?
Books and films and music and paintings can enhance or express our communion with our God, but they are inadequate and unreliable as sources for our theology.
#3 – Prepare for Conversation
The only way we can know when the picture, the allegory, etc. becomes unreliable is to have intimate knowledge of the real deal. The only way we will know when the theology of a story becomes tainted is by being expertly aware of good theology. We have to be so familiar with what God says about Himself that we will instantly know when someone misrepresents Him, subtly or overtly.
We need to have a firm grasp on the absolutes of our faith and belief system, the nonnegotiables. Our minds need to be so saturated with His Word that our instincts, our reactions, our gut responses know immediately what is incompatible with the truth of our God found in the Bible. Do we know Scripture well enough to detect when words attributed to God, or Jesus, or the Spirit are inconsistent with what the Godhead says in the Bible?
We need to know ahead of time that no book or script will give a complete representation of every facet of God’s character, because every human author writes with some kind of bias and intends to accomplish a purpose. That’s asking too much of human writers. After all the Bible is a meta-narrative of 66 books written over a period of roughly 2,000 years by 40 different authors from three continents, who wrote in three different languages – and it is “God breathed.” (II Timothy 3:16) Only the Bible displays God well.
With that in mind, it’s pretty hypocritical of us to pass judgement on those who attempt to convey their love for God and offer hope to others until we get serious about addressing our own Biblical illiteracy. (And truly we are not generally in good shape. Just try to list the 10 commandments or quote the Beatitudes or name the books of Prophecy, let alone differentiate between an apostle and an epistle.)
So, as we approach conversations about books or movies, we should have realistic expectations about human efforts and also give active respect and effort regarding knowing the Word for ourselves. Before we criticize – and before we accept – we need to prepare by actually reading and studying the Word we claim as our most sacred book.
Always be prepared to give an answer …
#4 – Provoke the Question
If we are to be ready to answer questions then that presupposes that something provokes the questions so that they will be asked.
If our minds are saturated with truly knowing Him, then the essence of who we are will be transformed by that supernatural companionship so much that our living provokes questions. Everything we say and do communicates our theology; sometimes that is good and sometimes not.
If we, by our faith life, are identified as Christ followers, then we will be consulted on matters of faith, on issues of eternity, on decisions of soul care. Rather than merely imposing our opinions, we will be invited into Spirit orchestrated interactions. We will be recruited to join conversations where the Spirit of God has already prepared hearts to receive Biblical perspectives.
#5 – Pray for Discernment
We dare not approach these conversations in our own strength and wisdom. We need the ministry of the Holy Spirit to give us understanding so that we both listen and answer wisely. We need to ask the Spirit to give us discerning ears and discerning mouths so that we hear the questions adequately and then answer accurately. Our God delights in equipping His people, in providing for His children. We need only to ask.
We don’t have to agree with something 100% to be able to use it for intentional conversations. We DO probably need to be aware and informed about cultural influences. And we DO need to be prayerfully ready to bear witness as to the source of our hope – and our fearlessness and our joy – in the face of those influences.
Every Christian engages with the culture. Sometimes we are effective change agents and sometimes we are not. To be effective we need to give thought to our interactions and responses to movies, books, entertainment options, world tragedies, political events, scientific discoveries, technological advances …. I’m hoping that these 5 rules of engagement can help us across the spectrum of cultural questions.
If we are intentional about our rules of engagement, our voice in the conversation will be more winsome – and we might actually be heard.
A summary note: This short video with Todd Wagner gives a non-abrasive and thought provoking summary of the “to go or not to go” question of the week.
From the author: Randy Alcorn, author, spent many hours talking with the Paul Young, author of the Shack, about his intentions and his theology. It might be helpful to read his insights. They are longer than the video but very readable and very thorough. AND he is gracious in his truth telling.