Friday, May 01, 2009

The Outhouse: Reflections on The Shack, Part Five: Final Thoughts

[The Shack by William Young is a major bestseller and worthy of comment. This is the fifth of five quick looks at The Shack from my perspective.]

The Shack is written for Protestant Christians, but not all Protestant Christians. One of the most controversial aspects of The Shack is its theology of universal salvation, and idea that is anathema to those who believe Heaven is a restricted club.

According to The Shack, Jesus is not a Christian, nor does he want others to become Christians: “I’m not a Christian… Who said anything about being a Christian?” (page 182). Whatyoutalkinaboutwillis? Jesus doesn’t want us to become Christians?

“Those who love me,” Jesus says, “come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats and Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, American and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.” (page 182).

Don’t be misled by the use of “were.” Jesus isn’t saying that his followers used to be Buddhists and Mormons but now they are Christians. If that is what he means, it makes no sense to say they were Democrats and Republicans, or bankers and bookies. But neither is he saying that Mormonism and making book leads to Jesus.

Jesus isn’t saying that all roads lead to Papa. In fact, he makes it clear that most roads are dead ends. What Jesus is saying is that he will take any road to meet us and call us to transformation. (page 182) So Jesus is sticking to “I am the way, the truth, and the light,” but disavowing any notion that Christianity has a clue as to what this means. In fact, when Mack asks Jesus about religious institutions Jesus says, “I don’t create institutions—never have, never will” (page 172). And just to make sure we get the point Jesus adds, “I’m not too big on religion” (page 172).

Way to go, Jesus! This is wild stuff. Rather than find the one true path to Jesus, Jesus says he will meet you on whatever path you find yourself. The question this raises is this: Will the Jesus I meet on the Hindu path (for example) look like the Jesus others meet on the Christian path, or will he appear to me in Hindu form, say, Krishna? Or is Jesus the Buddha? Is Jesus Allah? I don’t think The Shack is clear on this point, but it raises the issue that if Jesus isn’t Christian does he have anything to do with the Christ Christians imagine him to be?

According to The Shack anyone can follow Jesus and being a Christian has nothing to do with it. This isn’t the first time Jesus says something like this, listen to Jesus in John 10:16, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.” Christians who imagine that only Christians are of the fold of Jesus don’t know Shack.

This isn’t relativism—all religions lead to God; this is universalism— God transcends all religions and works directly with individuals regardless of and irrespective of religion. Wow! And this is a best selling Christian novel?

It is, but I suspect it is because most Christians read it the same way they read their Bible—they just notice the passages that they agree with and pretend the rest just isn’t there.

So in the end should you read The Shack or not? Sure, if nothing else it will give you something to talk about with your friends (or soon to be ex-friends if you bring up this blog). And it might give you a new way to look at Black and Asian women. But is The Shack true? Only Papa knows.

1 comment:

dtedac said...

Rabbi Rami,
I think it's a gusty move to introduce universalism in this way. I agree that God finds us wherever we are, but this is definitely edgy for Christians of any denomination.

I also think you're right about the fact that many readers may miss this point altogether. They will more likely interpret the passage about Jesus not starting any movement as an indictment of the traditional Christian denominations rather than a call beyond organizational structures. Whether it's a denomination, inter-denomination, non-denomination or megachurch, structures do have great pull for believers.

Shabat shalom,