By Colleen Tinker
Last week I was reading an online forum in which former Adventists were discussing the movie The Shack. One person who had been given the book confessed he hadn’t opened it yet and then asked, “Maybe I should? I’m interested in everyone’s opinion on the book/movie.”
It was a great discussion starter. Since I know the person who asked the question to be someone who is committed to God’s word and to helping Adventists discover the true gospel, I felt safe to add a comment to the conversation.
The responses were wide-ranging, from “It is heretical and profoundly anti-trinitarian” to “Jesus dared to reveal Himself and His Father ‘outside the box’—and was regarded as a heretic for it, too.” Some even defended author Paul Young by saying he did not originally intend for the book to be published; rather, he had written a story for his family for Christmas.
Finally I weighed in with my comment:
“I read The Shack. It is gripping. It also teaches forgiveness in a more therapeutic model than a biblical one. The main character was never led to repentance; he could just believe that God loves him. It teaches a universalist world view. It represents a tritheistic god more similar to the one we had in Adventism than the triune God of Scripture. I admit I have little patience with the disclaimer that Young never intended it to be a published book but that he wrote it as a Christmas gift for family. That is the same excuse Jack Blanco uses for The Clear Word. He wrote it for a devotional guide for his grandchildren. False teaching almost never presents itself blatantly. It is subtle, weaving itself into many good ideas but powerfully changing the shape of one’s worldview. I feel real grief over those of us who are former Adventists who recognize the false teaching of Adventism but who fail to recognize the subtle false teachings that grab us when vulnerable. Scripture really does have the truth, and the truth is healing, comforting, and powerful. I’m personally convicted that I have to evaluate everything I read and hear with Scripture, and that evaluation requires that I keep learning Scripture. I pray daily that God will both expose and break the spirit of Adventism, and that He will not simply release Adventists from the cult but that He will plant them deeply in His word.”
Since beginning to minister to former Adventists in 1999, my husband Richard and I have watched countless people eagerly grab onto the grace of God expressed through the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Many have figuratively sold everything to purchase that “pearl of great price”, often suffering loss of friends, community, and family members. Over time, however, we have watched with growing dismay and grief as many of those people failed to put down roots in the rich soil of God’s word.
Some fail to come to terms with their losses and never realize the richness of God’s promise that He gives us 100 times what we lose for His name’s sake (Mt. 19:29). Others become overwhelmed with the reality of their trauma and pain which they suffered from very real and sometimes horrific abuse within Adventism. These people often turn to subjective experiences and manifestations hoping for healing that short-circuits the long work of facing reality and submitting both their pain and their tormenters to their Father.
Still others become rigid, anchoring themselves to the brittle constructs of new formulas: hyper-Calvinism, Arminianism, or Word of Faith mantras. Some people even slide right by Christianity and collapse into an amorphous fog of modern paganism in which Christian words and ideas are morphed with pagan traditions such as pantheism, panentheism, and eastern meditation.
Our Father, however, knew every deception and every trial we would experience as we would leave our pasts behind and commit to growing in Him. His word affirms our losses and assures us that He will comfort us and provide all we need in Him. His promises cannot fail, but we cannot know or understand how to submit ourselves to His gracious provision unless we read His promises in context and trust that He will never trick us.
Books and movies such as The Shack appeal to those of us who suffer from the transgressions done to us; they promise healing and forgiveness from a loving God—but they fail to confront us with our own need to repent. They soothe without addressing the underlying reality: we all live in sinful flesh (Romans 7). Even as believers we must repent when the Lord reveals our own sins to us. The wonderful thing, however, is that when we are born again and sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, we finally have the ability to submit our sin and temptation to Him. We can finally admit we are tempted to self-protect or get even, and we can submit our impulses to Him BEFORE we act. This submission is not possible for the unbeliever.
It is this submission, this admission of guilt and weakness and the need to repent of it that books such as The Shack do not teach.
In short, I have devised a personal rule of thumb in evaluating books that claim to administer God’s comfort and instruction to me: if they put words into God’s mouth that He has not said in the Bible, I must doubt them. If a book has the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit addressing me (or a character in the book) in the first person, I must know that the writer has assumed the role of God’s messenger. Such a person cannot have my trust. Even if the words put into God’s mouth sound like Scriptural ideas, we dare not represent our triune God as saying words He has not said.
We, as former Adventists, have left behind a false prophet who claimed to speak for God. Ellen White told us how to understand the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and she put words into the mouths of the Father and the Son. It has taken each of us years of study and evaluation to realize that what God has said opposed the instruction of the prophetess.
Our Father has clearly assured us:
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all thing, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:1-3a).
God has spoken to us in His Son, and His Son has affirmed the Scriptures as the very words of God. This absolute truth is the foundation of all truth and reality. No writer, no prophet, no preacher or teacher or counselor can give me greater insight or reality than can the almighty Father who sent His Son “to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:18).
Because God has demonstrated His grace to me in Jesus, because His Spirit indwells me and opens Scripture to me, I can know that any book which puts words in God’s mouth cannot bind my conscience nor give me wisdom for living. Like Peter, when Jesus asked the disciples, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” I can say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:67-68).