Monday, November 24, 2008

The Attack of The Shack

This book came as a complete shock and surprise. I had no idea what I was about to read. I have picked up on some of the buzz surrounding this book, but I was little prepared for what I was going to read. This is one of the most riveting and emotionally moving books I have ever read. William Paul Young has crafted a very unique and captivating story of a father who has lived through one of the most horrific events that any father could ever imagine - the abduction and murder of one of his own children. The events surrounding Mackenzie Philip's daughter cause him to sink into a deep depression referred to as "the great sadness". The first 80 pages go into this story which reads like one of the most gut wrenching things imaginable for any parent. Yet it is in the context of this darkness where light shows up in one of the most unlikely places. Mac comes face-to-face in a confrontation that he does not expect. God shows up to spend some time with him. Through their time together, God helps to unpack Mac's life and gets him to confront many of the issues that has left deep, deep scars within him.
I loved this book on several levels. First of all, I enjoyed this book because in many ways it reminded me of many of the philosophy and theology books that I have read that tried to rationally and logically tackle the age old questions of "Is there a God?" "Is God good?" If God is good, then why is there evil?" "If God is all-powerful, then why doesn't he get rid of evil?". The BIG difference with The Shack is many of these issues are dealt with in the context of a story that is very moving, and very easy to read and understand.

Secondly, I find it very interesting how Young portrays the Trinity in this story. Mac is confronted by an African woman who insists on being called papa. I know that there are going to be those in the theological ivory towers who will have issues with this portrayal of God. But a few things we must keep in mind! This is a work of fiction. I find it very interesting that as Mac's life begins to unfold you discover how his earthly father was a horrible father figure. And oftentimes people transpose their views of God based off of their experiences with their earthy father. So Mac would not be able to handle a heavenly father that personified himself in the image of his earthly father. And it wasn't until the point in which Mac was able to confront many of the issues related to his earthly father where you see "papa" take on a masculine form. The portrayals of Jesus and the Holy Spirit are also very captivating. Mac gets to spend time with each member of the Trinity and engage in important conversations that help him understand his life better and how God has been present throughout it all.

Thirdly, this is a story about redemption, forgiveness, and grace that deals with the most difficult issues of life. It does not try to sugar-coat the issues. God confronts all of the pain that is in Mac's life and helps to bring him to the point of healing, wholeness, restoration and redemption. God is portrayed as a loving AND just God. Mac not only has to confront the pain of the abduction of his child but he has to confront the dark corners of his own heart too.

And finally, I believe that this is one of those stories that help people process the God of the Bible in a story that they can understand and engage with emotionally as well as logically. I believe that this book will be put in the same category of "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "Pilgrim's Progress". I was amazed at the depth and insight developed within the context of a story that was captivating. I would highly recommend this book to anyone. This is a book that needs to be discussed and talked about for years.

Pick it up and tell me what you think! Once you start this book, you will not be able to put it down. There were many points within the story where I was moved to tears and a lot of introspection as it helped me confront issues in my own life. I hope you find this book to be a great addition to your spiritual journey.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Redefining Christians in Politics

Joel Hunter does a great job in "A New Kind of Conservative" in helping the conservative movement within the church to re-examine its agenda and begin to expand its focus on to other issues that are of vital importance biblically. He recognizes that there is a tremendous amount of focus in relation to the two hot-button issues of abortion and gay marriage. He even goes so far as to expose those within the conservative movement who intentionally use fear and anger to advance their agenda on those issues instead of compassion.

I personally have been a disgruntled conservative for quite a while. I have grown tired of the demonization of those who are seen as the enemy, the fear tactics that are used to scare up votes, and the way that power and control seem to trump true servant leadership within politics. I am one of those who wish that there was something different in our political system that offered more than two parties shouting down and demonizing each other.

Joel Hunter does a great job in exposing the pitfalls that the conservative movement has fallen into. But more than that, he also takes a careful look at how we as Christians need to be influenced and motivated by a much more holistic agenda that addresses many other issues that are just as important biblically as marriage and pro-life issues. He encourages his readers to be more centered rather than fully to the left or right. There are important issues that the Left seem to own and issues that the Right seem to own. As Christians we need to know which of those issues are in line with the heart of God and allow those issue to transcend partisan politics.

Joel puts into words many of the thoughts that I have been wrestling with over the past several years in looking at politics. He states that "We must focus on spiritual growth, rather than winning elections; the aim is not power, but service." (p. 94). We must grasp this truth and live into it. I honestly believe that if Christians were living out healthy marriages and investing in their own families and communities then that would have so much more impact within our culture than any political policy. We need to get back to the heart of service within our own family structure, and in our neighborhoods and communities.

Joel goes on to say that "Christians don't need to be taught what to think; Christians need to be taught how to think biblically." (p. 96). He goes on to show how Pilate and Jesus' interaction reveal many of the pitfalls to politics and what we can do as a Christian community to become more compassionate, and more involved within our political system.

Joel concludes by reminding us that "we need to know that individual maturity and God's sovereignty are, in the end unbeatable." (p. 160). We as Christians have the responsibility to approach politics with maturity instead of cynicism, apathy, or aggression. He also reminds us that God is sovereign in all of history. Knowing this helps us to trust that God is guiding and directing history towards his purposes. He is not in the business of making mistakes.

Overall, this was a great book that put many, many words to the thoughts that I have been thinking for a long while. I have been sitting on the edge of despair and looking into the valley of cynicism as I have gotten very disgusted with the party I have often voted for over the years. I am tired of feeling like I am being played by politicians who manipulate people to get votes and then do their own thing once they have power. Joel has helped to reframe a biblical view of politics that transcends partisanship and aims more at the heart of God.