Recently I discovered a new pariah in the Evangelical world. His name is William Young and he authored the recent book called “The Shack”. After reading or in my case listening to the audio version of the book it is pretty clear that the problem with Young is found in things he has said elsewhere and those are seen as implied in the things read in the book. But I will get more into that in the second part of this review.
The book takes the form of a story of someone who suffered a tragedy and who then receives an invitation by God to meet at the shack. I won’t tell you the tragedy as to protect some of the literary integrity of the book but you will find it relayed in some of the reviews that I link to below. The Shack is used as the symbol for the life changing tragedy. Thus the book is a novel; a work of fiction which he hopes will reveal truth. Something that no doubt most novelists want from their books, though this book is certainly more overt in the process and as a story teller much less proficient. In some ways the book has a lot in common with the Celestine Prophecy, not so much as a New Age religious tome as Redfield’s book, but as something which so often presents an other worldly view in which light and color play as major emphasis and clarity is often unworldly brilliant. That of course is only a small part of the book but I wanted to point out that while the Celestine Prophecy is basically a primer on New Age thought it is written in a very engaging style which carries on through the book.
The Shack begins by telling of the main character “Mack” setting up his life and his relationship with his abusive and religious father and Mack’s experience which leads to the life changing tragedy which makes him question his religion. This only takes a couple of chapters and then the book turns into something of a conversation with God. A conversation with God is always a difficult task as each person who believes in God is likely going to have a different perspective on what God is like. To counter this problem the author mixes up the ways that God appears in the conversation. God appears as an older Black lady who enjoys cooking and who is referred to as Papa which is Mack’s wife’s term for God. Jesus appears pretty much as simply a Middle Eastern carpenter in contemporary clothes and the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman (Sarayu) who is not quite in focus, or constantly in motion. Over all it works pretty well imparting to God both male and female cultural characteristics and demonstrating as well as can be expected the standard Trinitarian concept of God (that is 3 distinct persons). These three deeply loving each other and all three are in a deep relationship. The author’s technique does incorporate the idea of Jesus as a son in more then just the physical incarnation concept however. But the book does not go into that part with the conversations: staying mainly within the framework of unity of all three. That unity being based upon a loving relationship.
The real meat of the book is found in the conversations which are the main focus of the book; the story is about getting to the conversation, between a hurting man and a loving God. How to make the man see things the way God see’s things. As a novel the book is not written very engagingly in other words it is not a story you read to take you into the life of a character and explore his or her feeling and adventures. The story is the preface to the conversation where the author can reveal his ideas about God. That is the reason to read this book. In fact I think the book would be useful in church small discussion groups. The conversations are packed with a lot of ideas. Some showing some real thought and provoking thought in people who might not otherwise think about these things. Others ideas which should be viewed as questionable of traditional Christianities views of God and the authors own questionable views about God.
From my perspective the theology is not quite right and still has some major flaws but it is much better than the theology we find in most Christian authors. It is not the giant leap but a first small step. That small step is focusing upon relationships. The relationship between God and man which spurs better relationships between humans. The author’s views would fit well within most Evangelicals views of God. Most people reading the book would likely not see many problems at all with his theology. Which is why several Christian watchdog types have attempted to discredit William Young, perhaps even making the book more interesting in the process. Their two chosen avenues are that Young does not accept the Penal/Substitutionary Atonement and that he believes in universal reconciliation (salvation). But these are not really concepts that can be found in the book. They may be mildly hinted at but if the reader did not know otherwise they would likely not notice them. In some ways it is an interesting phenomenon that these Evangelical watchdogs get so upset over such things even though they are not found in the book. It is not like most anyone agrees with Martin Luther or John Calvin or Charles Spurgeon on every theological idea. But that should not relegate their books to the trash heap of Evangelicalism.
As I move into part two about other reviews of the book it seems only fair that I lay out my pet criticism of the book. One of the annoying errors in the book is speaking of Jesus God says :
“Jesus is fully human although he is fully God he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything he has only lived out of his relationship with me. Living in the very same manner that I desire to be in relationship with every human being. He is just the first to do it to the uttermost the first to absolutely trust my life within him, the first to believe in my love and my goodness without regard for appearance or consequence. “So when he healed the blind” he did so as a dependent limited human being trusting in my life and power to be at work within him and through him. Jesus as a human being had no power within himself to heal anyone.”
A little later this view of Jesus is countered when God says: I am one God and I am three persons and each of the three is fully and entirely one. Obviously the author has some internal confusion about God. However this idea that Jesus relied on God as an external force is all too prevalent in Christianity and especially in Adventism. As if God acting as God is somehow different if it is God acting as a human depending on God. This kind of ideas does nothing but make Christians and their God look silly. I touched upon this topic in my previous article. I don’t understand how the concept of God with us (Immanuel) is so easily discounted by some Christians. So Jesus depending on God for power is somehow different than God depending on God for His Power. If there is only One God than there is no need to keep separating God from God. It seems those who do this want to subordinate their members of the One God into different orders of God. In fact many Trinitarians are more tri-theists then Trinitarians and many Trinitarians are very much believers in Subordinationism.
This section is mainly dealing with the criticisms of the book because they really seem to reflect a difference between Emergent Christianity and Traditional Christianity. By way of reading the reviews you see which style of Christianity people feel is most appropriate. Some of the statements made by these so called discernment ministries are outright lies. But I won’t deal with some of the worst to save time. Anyone who actually reads the book will be able to see. (actually I lost the quote I typed in that showed how much one reviewer lied and I am not about to go and find the spot again and type it in.)
Update 4/25/09: It bothered me so much to see this particular falsehood in a review that I took the time to transcribe it from the audio. It is from a book review done by David Dunlap
The third Person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit, is depicted as “...a small, distinctively Asian woman ’...I am Sarayu...keeper of the gardens among other things...’ ” (pp. 82-87). Young teaches that the Holy Spirit was a created being. Mack says, “Sarayu, I know your are the Creator...” Sarayu replies, ”A created being can only take what already exists and from it fashion something different” (p. 131). Evangelical theologians have always insisted that the Holy Spirit as a Person of the Godhead was not a created being. (Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that the Holy Spirit was a created being.) At another point in Young’s book, Mack queries, “Speaking of Sarayu, is she the Holy Spirit?” “Yes.” Replies Jesus, “She is Creativity; she is Action; she is the Breathing of Life; she is much more. She is my Spirit.” (p. 110).
In fact Young in no way teaches that the Holy Spirit was a created being and it is pretty near impossible to derive that from the book quote in context. When you have people like this lying for the sake of their gospel it is a pretty sure sign their gospel is corrupt. Here is the quote from the book:
Mack says, “Sarayu, I know your are the Creator but did you make the poisonous plants, stinging nettles and mosquitoes too? Sarayu seem to move in tandem with the breezes. Mackenzie, a created being can only take what already exists and from it fashion something different. So are you saying that you ”created everything that actually exists including what you consider the bad stuff. But when I created it, it was only good. Because that is just the way I am"…
One of the big problems some feel with the book is as the character who portrays God says: “mixed metaphors to help you from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning…reinforcing religious stereotypes.” In other words don’t question your traditions. As one review says:
The Shack contains subtle and not so subtle heresies. The Shack also contains what many Bible scholars would call “aberrant” teaching. Former Professor of Theology at Denver Seminary Dr. Gordon Lewis wrote me in a private e-mail that “heresy is a conscious and deliberate rejection of orthodox teaching and the acceptance of contradictory views on the biblically revealed essentials of the Christian faith” (Lewis). In the category of aberration, Dr. Lewis writes, “unorthodox doctrine leads to aberrant behavior that wanders from the path of right action (ortho-practice) on biblically revealed moral and spiritual essentials of Christian living. Beliefs have consequence” (Lewis).
What is kind of funny about the above statement is that that is the method of argument the Roman Catholic Church used against Protestantism. Orthodoxy has never really been about what is right as about who has the power to say that they are right. Dr. Lewis is correct that beliefs have consequences but that in the case of this book is generally only acknowledged as beliefs that are different from traditional beliefs have the consequence of exposing traditional beliefs as inadequate, not dealing at all with the quality of the life as a consequence of the different beliefs.
Christian, what about this assertion by the Jesus of The Shack? “I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu.” (This is a false Jesus. The Jesus Christ of the Bible does not say that He is the best way, He says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” John 14:6. He is not the best way – He is the only way.)
The shack quote actually continues:
“I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu.” to see me is to see them. The love you sense from me is no different from how they love you.
This is all in response to Mack saying that he can relate to Jesus more easily then to the other two. The Shack Attack article however displays the proof text illogical techniques that I found in many of the reviews. If these people would only stop to think they have the whole Old Testament with not a mention of Jesus does that mean that they had no way to God? What these people act like is that if they can insert a Bible verse some place they have answered the question or solved the problem. That however is not true and is pretty clearly not the method the writers of the Bible wanted to convey. In context the statement in no way makes the Jesus referred to in the Shack as a false Jesus.
From Shack Attack:
Jesus: “God, who is the ground of all being, dwells in, around, and through all things . . .”
(Isn’t this Pantheism – God in all things?)
The quote from the book continues:
“Ultimately emerging as the real and any appearances that mask that reality will fall away.”
This is in the context of Jesus explaining that when Mack knows Jesus better appearance will not be as important. Clearly the review does not even know what Pantheism actually is but you see the pattern of taking a snippet out of context and inserting something that would sound horrible to most Christians. Another quick example is:
Papa to Mack: “We [the Trinity] have limited ourselves out of respect for you.” (Isn’t this Open Theism – God choosing to limit Himself?)
Again that review does not know what Open Theism is or the concept of literary license or the simple Biblical examples of God revealing Himself as an angel or a burning bush or as Moses saw when he requested to see God the back of God so that Moses would not die. And of course the ultimate example of Jesus Christ the incarnation of God in form of a man a little lower than the angels. That these people think they are discerning is truly amazing to me. I will only deal with one more example from the Shack Attack review because it is very representative of many traditionalists views.
Papa: “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It is not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.” (Certainly there are consequences of our sin which we realize in this life and which impact other people. And certainly God has provided the cure for sin. That “cure” is the penal
substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross. Most certainly there is punishment for sin. Christ suffered the punishment for us. However, the implication of Papa’s statement is that the only punishment for sin is sin’s own punishment in a person’s life. The Bible is clear that punishment for the unredeemed, those who refuse Christ’s atonement, is the sting of spiritual death and eternal separation from God. The Shack makes light work of
The quote from the Shack:
“But if you are God aren’t you the one spilling out great bowls of wrath and throwing people into a burning lake of fire. Mack could feel his deep anger emerging again. Pushing out the questions in front a little chagrined at his own lack of self control, but he asked anyway. Honestly don’t you enjoy punishing those who disappoint you. At that Papa stopped her preparations and turned toward Mack he could see a deep sadness in her eyes. I am not who you think I am Mackenzie I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It is not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it…”
This is what I think is the heart of the traditionalists dislike for the book. God is not the kind of person most Christians think He is. To them God must punish someone in order to forgive. In fact they have a perverted view of the atonement and to question their atonement theory is nearly the greatest crime a Christian can commit.
The Shack offers only hints as to the importance of the cross and to its function within the faith. “Honey,” says Papa, “you asked me what Jesus accomplished on the cross; so now listen to me carefully: through his death and resurrection, I am now fully reconciled to the world.” “The whole world? You mean those who believe in you, right?” “The whole world, Mack. All I am telling you is that reconciliation is a two way street, and I have done my part, totally, completely, finally. It is not the nature of love to force a relationship but it is the nature of love to open the way.” What then is the nature of this reconciliation? Young never tells us in any clear way. What is clear, though, is that the God of The Shack is not a God who could have punished His Son for the sins of others. After all, Papa says, “Regardless of what he felt at that moment, I never left him” (96). He is not a a [sic] relationship with God? “Those who love me come from every stream that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don't vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions” (182). Mack asks for clarification. “Does that mean...that all roads will lead to you?” “'Not at all,' smiled Jesus...'Most roads don't lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you'” (182). While these words cannot rightly be said to actually teach universalism, the view that all men will go to heaven, neither do they clearly deny it. Is Jesus the only way to be reconciled to God? The book is less than clear on this point. Jesus says to Mack, “I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu.” Jesus does not say, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” as he does in John 14:6, but merely states that He is the best way.
What is interesting is that the review does not even realize that love is the means to reconciliation. Because to the traditionalist God is loving in that He sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sin…because God had to punish someone. Young on the other hand see love as making the first move…God toward man offering man salvation. Healing as opposed to punishment. Reconciliation to the traditionalist is only based upon a legal fiction where the innocent pays the penalty demanded of the guilty. But how can it be demanded of the guilty if it can be substituted with the penalty paid by the innocent? What it comes down to is that the Penal/Substitutionary theory of the atonement has so colored modern Christians that the majority can’t see anything past it. It is historically not the main atonement theory and was a later development that seems to have been set in stone by the Reformation. Emergent Christianity is chipping away at that time encrusted idea and traditionalists are extremely unhappy about that. And that makes the Shack a very interesting book.
For more on the idea of Universal Reconciliation found in the book see The Shack A Friendly Critique
The argument for Substitutionary atonement is rarely ever made; it is generally assumed and has been since the Reformation. So it is instructive to actually see it written out in a simple way. That is what recently happened in the Adventist review. Norman R. Gulley from Southern Adventist University wrote the Cry of Anguish Why did Jesus Suffer? And what is it to you?
I will quote some paragraphs and respond because there are a lot of assumptions made in the article, common Christian assumptions which are not terribly logical and as such they don’t work that well when people actually critically think about the subject. In this case the cry of anguish is a reference to Christ’s cry on the cross, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me”. The first thing I noticed when reading the article is that the most obvious explanation for the cry is not addressed. That is the article makes no reference at all to Psalm 22 which begins with those very words. For more on that topic read my article Psalm on the Cross.
The article begins with the agony of Christ in
Some from His own nation had given Christ over to the Romans. Judas betrayed Him. Peter denied Him. His disciples all forsook Him when He needed them most. All of that He could take. But when God also seemed to abandon Him, His heart broke. Jesus cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
It was an anguished cry, wrung from quivering lips and a breaking heart, as He hung on the cross. This was the terrible price for our redemption, a cost we could never pay and will never fathom, even throughout eternity.
This hints at the common idea that Jesus died of a broken heart. In fact Ellen White who the author references later in the article actually says that Jesus died of a broken heart. As if the customary death caused by crucifixion was not able to kill Jesus. But the Bible says nothing of Jesus dying of a broken heart, what would that even mean? No doubt the rejection was painful but did that kill him or was that just an added agony to the physical torture of the beating and the cross? There is really little doubt that the act of crucifixion was the cause of Jesus death. The wonder is that he allowed people to murder him not that crucifixion resulted in death. As Peter in his sermon in Acts says:
(Acts NIV) You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.
The article states:
The word “cried” (Greek: anaboao) is used only here in the New Testament. It’s a strong verb and indicates a powerful emotion or appeal to God. It suggests a cry of agony out of a deep sense of alienation as Jesus suffered as a “ransom” for humanity (see Matt. ). In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) this is the only time Jesus addresses God without calling him “Father.”3
This little tidbit of information makes the My God, My God statement appear to be used as a quote of Psalm 22 then to address that Jesus is thinking He was abandoned. But as I said Psalm 22 is not mentioned because it does not fit with the Substitutionary dogma of the Adventist church. I was an adult who first heard the idea from Dr. Walter Martin, yet I grew up in the Adventist church.
The article continues:
Nothing can separate a person from God (Rom. -39), except sin (Isa. 59:2); which means that Christ felt a separation to the depths of His soul as He bore “the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2b). “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6b). As an eternal member of the Trinity, Christ had always been enfolded by the wondrous love of the Father and the Spirit. How awful His separation from them now! His loneliness was intense. From the heights of eternal love He had plunged into abandonment to save humanity, whatever the price to Himself, knowing most would reject Him. There’s no greater love than this!
Notice the above logical fallacy. He quotes nothing can separate a person from God and follows that by giving something that separates from God. But that was not what Romans said. It did not include an exception.
(Rom 8:38-9 NIV) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Isa 59:1-2 NIV) Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
We can tell by the context of Isaiah that the author has improperly used that text also. If it were true that our iniquities have separated you from God then we would be in a hopeless condition. But that is not the way Isaiah uses it. This is a type of proof texting which does not stand up to scrutiny. Clearly we have numerous Old Testament stories where sinners pleaded with God and God intervened for them.
The main text that Substitutionary proponents use is also found in Isaiah:
(Isa 53:5 -7 NIV) But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
I quoted the surrounding verses so we can see that while Isaiah says the iniquity of us all was placed on him Peter quotes this section of Isaiah but not with the idea that sins were transferred to Christ. Rather that Christ suffered our sins by the things we as humans did to Him.
(1 Pet 2:22-25 NIV) "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth."
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
He bore our sins by suffering at the hands of sinners, it is the undeniable consequence of sin, we hurt people, how can we not be moved to understand the terrible consequences of sin when we take and kill an innocent man, a man who committed no sin, a man who as Peter says in Acts is the author of life. Peter even explains how we are healed, because we return to the shepherd of our souls. This is the new life the end of the old man who lives to sin and the second birth, the birth from above.
Was Jesus who is one with the Father, who is God, separated from God as the article suggests? God abandoned God, yet He is God, it makes no sense. What would it prove if God abandoned God? That God is confused perhaps but not much else and how does one arrive at such a conclusion from the simple quotation of a few words; “My God, My God why have you forsaken me”. Apparently for Christ even if there was a feeling of being forsaken it did not last long as Christ concluded by commending His spirit to God. No the words do not show God abandoning Christ but rather the tragedy to triumph that is revealed in Psalm 22. Even if one does not buy the idea that Christ is referring those listening to Psalm 22 is it reasonable to assume from those few words which are more of a question than a statement of fact that God separated from God. That Jesus Christ ceased being God?
The article states:
Christ “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter ). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’” (Gal. ). Christ felt abandoned, wrenched from the Father, as if no longer the Son of God. The terrible load of sin so abhorrent to the Father and the Spirit, and so horrendous to Christ, cursed Him, crushing out His life. Sin-bearing separated Jesus from the fellowship He longed to have and desperately needed with the Father and the Spirit.
Again the author takes some verses which don’t say that Christ was abandoned , wrenched from the Father or no longer the Son of God. In fact how can anyone even suggest such a thing when Jesus Christ on the cross promised one of the thieves that he would be with Christ in paradise? (Luke NIV) Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." That whole paragraph is based upon the faulty assumption that God crushed out the life of Christ by abandonment of God from God. When you look at what these people say you really see how poorly thought out their reasoning is.
Again the article states:
Again the article plays lose with the verses:
(Heb 2:14-15 NIV) Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil-- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Jesus had actually much earlier condemned Satan and judged him as a liar and a murder from the beginning actually speaking specifically of the judgment:
(John NIV) and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
What about as a substitute? The author uses the concluding paradoxical statement of the chapter which really does not equal Substitutionary atonement.
(2 Cor NIV) God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The method is to separate the verse from the context. We can sum up the context however simply a little earlier in the chapter:
(2 Cor -17 NIV) For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
Christ died and His love compels us to accept the gift of God in being a new creation. The old therefore dies because the new has come. Therefore all who accept the new therefore die to the old. But when people disregard the context they make a pretext whereby God appears to punish the innocent so that He can forgive the guilty. Of course there is no reason for God to punish in order to forgive. That makes no sense to the meaning of forgiveness. The righteousness of God is that He does forgive that he restores and reconciles. We see this demonstration in the way human being chose to treat Christ, God in human flesh as if He were just some sinner because in our blindness because of sin we could not see God when He lived among us. It is the demonstration of that love that compels us to be reconciled with God. That He would come down to live in our sinful world and accept the consequences of sin upon his very body, to be tortured and killed by the very ones He created and offers them a chance to live just as He ever lives and demonstrated again by His resurrection, that even death is not an obstacle to God. That is what 2 Corinthians 5 is about, the article continues:
All through His life on earth Christ had clung to God alone, a power outside of Himself. He depended solely on God (Father and Spirit) in a union that knew no separation, and sometimes required whole nights in prayer (Luke ). Fellowship with God was heaven to Him in a world so unlike His first home. Christ found escape from the depravity all around Him by communing with God. He sensed the Father so close that He could say: “The Father is in me, and I in the Father” (John 10:38b).
Where is the logic there? Christ clung to God a power outside of Himself, yet He said I and the Father are one, If you have seen me you have seen the Father, before Abraham was I AM. There is no verse that tells us Jesus in the incarnation depended upon God as an outside force. Why would that matter? Whether Jesus lived as a man and God or as a man depending on God? You can see how it matters. One sees Jesus as God and man the other as a man. Jesus’ statements make little sense as a man dependent upon an outside force. It tears the heart out of the meaning of incarnation. What we do see is the unity of God, Jesus does nothing on His own, His actions are one and the same as that of God.
Here is the section taken from Ellen White without a shred of Biblical support:
…during those awful hours on the cross He could not see through the darkness to the resurrection and the Second Advent. He felt that the “separation [from God and the Spirit] was to be eternal.”4 Christ was willing to perish in order to save humanity.
I have already pointed out that Christ conversation with the thief on the other cross shows that Christ did see past His death not to mention the numerous references such as where speaking of His body, He said destroy this temple and in three days I will build it again, or saying that He was going to lay down His life and pick it up again. Gulley is a professor in systematic Theology, but he would be hard pressed to back up his statement above from the Bible, it frankly is contradicted by the Bible. As you can tell he does not even try, not even with a verse taken out of context which we have seen is a technique he uses quite often.
Nearing the end of the article it says:
Each member of the Trinity suffered at the cross. And it wrenched the heart of Deity to hear the Man of sorrows cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark ). The “payment” for human guilt meant that Christ bore the punishment for all sin. He experienced what would have been our total abandonment by God. There was no other way.
The Bible is pretty clear saying that men killed Christ 5 times in the New Testament never once saying that His death was the punishment He paid for our sins. Never saying that the wrath of God was poured out on Christ. These are common Christian statements, but they have no New Testament support. Neither does the Bible say that Christ suffered the abandonment of God or that Christ suffered the payment for human guilt. To say that something that the Bible does not even say…that there is no other way is simply false. But it is the common practice for many Christians, mainly evangelical and fundamentalist Christians who think that no other possible atonement theory is acceptable, only substitutionary theory is acceptable. It is a plea to tradition which has far too many problems to be accepted today.
Which I why I can’t accept their tradition of Penal/Substitutionary theory.
An article in the Adventist Review on Mike Jones ministry to former Adventists contains the following excerpts:
As much as Mike Jones enjoys a solitary Sabbath afternoon hike in the mountains surrounding his Portland, Oregon home, he'll be the first to tell you a life without relationships is pointless, a series of meaningless motions.
The same goes for church attendance. If Seventh-day Adventists don't maintain solid, nurturing friendships with fellow members, Jones knows firsthand that leaving the church is far easier.
A 2006 study by the
He thinks his job is far from over, estimating at least 1 million former Adventists live in
Look at that last paragraph…they are estimating at least 1 million former Adventists in
Mike Jones undoubtedly has pinpointed the problem as relationship and friends. Because there is certainly an atmosphere in the local church that points people toward the door. The Adventist church likes to say that the people who leave aren’t leaving because of doctrines but it is likely in fact the root cause. Here is a recent quote from the Spectrum blog posted by Clifford Goldstein an author, Sabbath School Quarterly editor and apologist for Adventism. He writes:
Hanson's comment about Daniel being a "historical novel" is typically indicative of just how out of touch most of the folks here are with the vast, vast bulk of the SDA church. (Daniel . . . a "historical novel"? And I suppose Hansen actually views himself as an SDA? Amazing!)
I had no idea what was going on here when I first started reading the blog, but it's painfuly obvious to me, and others whom I have talked to, that the Spectrum blog represents an irrelevant and extreme fringe with minimal influence in the denomination (no matter how much they delude themselves into thinking otherwise). I am, though, glad it's here, because now everyone can see just how totally out of touch with our mission, our message, our purpose it really is.
I could actually cite several other examples from Clifford Goldstein since he has been more vocal then most Adventist leaders on discussion boards and blogs. Now for illustration purposes take those comments and put them into a local church setting. What will they do to the relationships in the church? Traditional Adventists like Cliff have a very black and white world view. If one doesn’t agree with their way of looking at doctrines than that person is not really Adventist. How would someone who was subjected to such insinuations feel functioning in the local church? Will the Traditional Adventist reach out to that person to be their friend? Will that person be included in activities in the church? Probably not, for example in my experience since I stated I did not hold Ellen White to be a prophet in the Old Testament mode of thought current in most Christianity I was asked not to help lead out in my daughters Early teen class.
Who knows what other rumors spread about someone who questions certain doctrines or who does not meet the standards of the Traditional Adventist leadership of the local church. My daughter does not feel comfortable in the Early Teen Class and I am pretty much ignored by those who were involved with me in the short time I was helping out the class. Relationships strained for no other reason then doctrines.
There is a large element of former Adventists who seek to minister to Adventists leaving Adventism. You can ask them or read their material and you can clearly see that they stress doctrinal issues as the reason they left the Adventist church.
Glen Davidson in the same blog mentioned above states the case well saying:
I believe that exchanges such as we've seen on this thread ought to bring into question the idea that people leave the church (most, if not all, churches) for social reasons, and not for doctrinal reasons. Not that it isn't true at all, but the fact is that those whose minds are closed on doctrine also tend to make the social situation within the church problematic.
IOW, the people who are hostile to new or different ideas are typically hostile to the people who might not be quite as hidebound. I mean, how does the SDA church prevent "heretical" ideas from being considered and discussed? Not by meeting the intellectual challenge, rather by denying the right of any member, or ex-member, to bring up what is outside of the "mainstream" of SDA belief. You've noticed the broad spectrum of discussion in the quarterlies, have you not?
The idea that someone as hostile to different ideas as Goldstein or Diehl is could be warm and welcoming to anyone who does not quickly agree with them within their holy citadels is absurd. So while I don't doubt that it is more the social aspects that directly cause people to leave a church, I hardly think that the social environment is not deeply affected by the all-too-frequent sense in SDAism that discussion of many ideas is not to be tolerated.
So we should be clear that those transitioning out of Adventism are doing so because of the climate in the local church. Hopefully there are several Adventist churches in an area so that if one church becomes intolerant and hence damages the personal relationships there could be another local church which does not have the same problems. Usually this is only a delaying tactic in transitioning out of Adventism. As the structure of local churches tends to place in leadership Traditional Adventists, there were after all some major purges in the early 1980’s after Desmond Ford’s Glacier View Conference. When tradition wins over logic and facts as happened there it puts tradition in the forefront and those traditionalists gained ascendancy.
True now the median age of Adventist’s in North America is 58 so in another generation the church may start to look a lot different as traditionalist die off. But few folks in the transitioning out process are looking ahead 20 years or so. Who can blame them, church is meant to be a social organization who wants to be a social pariah for the next 20 years in hopes that a new generation will change the church.
It seems to me that Adventists are actively driving Adventists out of their churches. The numbers certainly suggest this is true. Adventists are not just driving out Adventists adults who may questions certain doctrines but we are driving out our young people, the ones we need to continue the church as our old people, who make up the majority of the North American church retire or expire. To the Traditionalist Adventist maybe this is all the supposed shaking of the Adventist church. No doubt they will still keep a few young people convinced of their traditions so that as the church shrinks to nearly nothing it won’t quite disappear. Maybe even make it down to that magic number, 144,000 North American Adventists. Will the hope for the church growth be the uneducated third world? But what if they become educated will they follow the same pattern of questioning and social rejection as occurs today in
Before I end this part let me just say a little about statistics. Here is a quote from the final draft of the article Conserving Membership Gains - an Appeal
Seventh-day Adventists around the world rejoice in the rapid membership growth of recent years. The Church views this as evidence of Holy Spirit-led movements and a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. (Matthew 24:14, Revelation 14:6, 7) Although the Seventh-day Adventist Church baptized over 5 million people from 2000 - 2005, membership losses during that time equaled nearly 1.4 million. Current indications are that annual membership losses, for reasons other than death, equal approximately 28% of membership accessions. Some membership loss occurs among recent converts, however, this tragic outcome is not limited to new members.
Did you ever wonder why they just don’t say how many people leave the Adventist church per year, maybe by area? Rather they skew the numbers. 5 million baptized and we lose 1.4 million. We know very well that 5 million were not from
In 2005, the
SDA minister Vance Ferrell describes the problem in his newsletter:
"That is a very high loss. According to the official report, 'for every 100 accessions, more than 35 others decided to leave.' This was a significant increase over the 24 per 100 which left in the preceding five year period (1995-1999). The drop rate has increased by almost one-half.
"A sheet distributed at one of the booths said that '70 percent of young people in developing nations drop out of the church.'
"One missionary declared that, in his field, 'a third are dropped from the membership rolls; another third are on the rolls but no longer attend; and only a third are active members.' That one-third which remains on the rolls but no longer attends is significant. It is clear that membership totals are not a true indicator of the actual number of members in the world church.
"The statistical report, presented at the Session, lists the Southern-Asia Pacific Division (SSD) as having the highest drop rate in the world. It is 104.75%. This means that 104.75% of the number of membership increase in the SSD between spring 2000 and spring 2004 have left the church. That is more than 100%! ... In that time period, the SSD lost more members than it brought into the church."2 …
1. Vance Ferrell, More WAYMARKS - from PILGRIMS REST, "The
This all leads me to ask a few questions, I will try to circulate these to the local pastors here but it would be interesting for others to ask their pastors to answer these questions in an email form and we could post the answers in a later article or simply submit them as comments here and I can put them in an article.
1. Which is most important doctrines or relationships?
2. Is it possible to accept people in your church who disagree with some of your doctrines?
3. Can a person hold a leadership position (other than an adult Sabbath School Teacher) if they do not accept all traditional Adventist doctrines (such as the 28 fundamental beliefs)
4. Do you feel your church does well in establishing relationships?
5. What do you do to try and facilitate relationships between people attending your church?
6. When did you last give a sermon on creating friends either with people inside or outside the church?
7. Many SDA churches have a stand and greet other people before the service, have you ever had a meaningful conversation during this time period (not counting someone asking for a prayer request)?
8. Aside from music how are young people encouraged to participate in your church?
9. Does your church offer an accepting environment should a young person bring in a non-Adventist or non-Christian friend? How comfortable do you think they would feel?
10. Are you afraid of pluralism or encouraged by it as a way to build relationships and encourage thinking?