In Part One of this series, after some introductory remarks about the purpose of this series, I shared concerns and reviews of three books:
#1 – Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
#2 – The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson
#3 – Jesus Calling by Sarah Young
This week we take a look at three more books which have been popular in Christian circles in recent years. Unfortunately some of the books being discussed here I’m afraid have done more harm than good for the cause of Christ and His church. As before, for each book I provide links to complete reviews found on other sites, as well as a few alternative reading suggestions.
In this supposed allegory, a man named Mack is summoned to an isolated shack after experiencing a family tragedy. There he meets three individuals: a large African-American woman who calls herself Papa, a bearded Middle Eastern carpenter, and a small Asian woman. (I think you can figure out who these three individuals are supposed to represent.) After the initial tragic event occurs at the beginning of the story and Mack arrives at the shack, there is very little action, as the bulk of the book is made up of conversations between Mack and the shack’s residents. Together these three try to help Mack deal with his grief and his doubts about God’s purpose and love. In Papa’s attempts to comfort Mack she says to him,
Honey, there’s no easy answer that will take your pain away. Believe me, if I had one, I’d use it now. I have no magic wand to wave over you and make it all better. Life takes a bit of time and a lot of relationship.
So apparently Young’s god is unable to comfort those who are grieving; only time and relationship can accomplish that. The three characters miserably fail to depict a faithful and accurate picture of God, and the things they say are full of doctrinal error and just pure heresy. For example, consider the following dialogue between Mack and the Jesus character:
But you came in the form of a man. Doesn’t that say something?” “Yes, but not what many have assumed. I came as a man to complete a wonderful picture in how we made you. From the first day we hid the woman within the man, so that at the right time we could remove her from within him. We didn’t create man to live alone; she was purposed from the beginning. By taking her out of him, he birthed her in a sense. We created a circle of relationship, like our own, but for humans. She, out of him, and now all the males, including me, birthed through her; and all originating, or birthed, from God.
What is this nonsense talking about? There’s so much wrong here: Eve didn’t exist within Adam. We are not all “birthed” from God. And most importantly, the reason Jesus took on the form of man was NOT to show us a picture of how man was made. It was so He could take the place of sinners on the cross and pay for their sin in order to redeem them.
Papa explains to Mack, “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human.” Excuse me, only the Son took on the human form, not all the persons of the Trinity.”
And here’s another statement made by 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.” Wrong – a Holy God must judge sin and will punish every sinner whose sin has not been punished and paid for by Christ.
I’m tired of people defending this book because it’s “just fiction.” Good fiction should still present truth, even if the story’s events did not actually take place. Many people who read The Shack say it impacted them and caused them to rethink their ideas about God and His dealings with man, which is concerning because many of the concepts about God, sin, and the Scriptures presented in the book are unbiblical. One person remarked, “I find myself so much more capable of seeking God because of how Young portrayed the Trinity in this book.” But he was never able to seek or understand God from His Word? Another said, “I’ve gone to church week by week for all the 19 years I am alive – but…I did not ever feel that near [to] God as I did after reading this book.” So don’t tell me,”Lighten up, you’re taking it too seriously; it’s only fiction.” Because people are not reading it that way. It’s been used for Bible studies and Sunday School classes, for crying out loud.
Albert Mohler commented to the Christian Post that the popularity of The Shack among evangelicals “can only be explained by a lack of basic theological knowledge among us – a failure even to understand the Gospel of Christ. The tragedy that evangelicals have lost the art of biblical discernment must be traced to a disastrous loss of biblical knowledge. Discernment cannot survive without doctrine.”
And now (March 2017) a film has come out, starring Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, and Tim McGraw. Ugh. I’m afraid it will draw many to the theaters and give many unbelievers a false picture of our thrice-holy God. Rather than giving more examples here, I refer you to the following articles which provide excellent and thorough critiques of The Shack.
More full reviews of this book:
- What does The Shack Really Teach? (www.challies.com)
- The Beauty and Wondrous Deception of The Shack (reformednazarene.wordpress.com)
- Thirteen Heresies in The Shack (reformednazarene.wordpress.com)
- The truth about The Shack (www.rapidnet.com)
What to read instead:
- Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
- The Holy War by John Bunyan
- Edge of Eternity by Randy Alcorn
- Archibald Zwick and the Eight Towers by Robert Leslie Palmer
#5 – The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for? by Rick Warren (2007)
In his invitation to the reader to join him in his “40 days of purpose,” Rick Warren states, “By the end of the journey you will know God’s purpose for your life and will understand the big picture – how all the pieces of your life fit together. Having this perspective will reduce your stress, simplify your decisions, increase your satisfaction, and, most important, prepare you for eternity.”
The trouble is, it’s rather ambiguous who Warren is addressing – believers or unbelievers, or both? It appears that he often presents promises of God to the reader that are really only applicable to His children. For example, he says,
“Living the rest of your life for the glory of God will require a change in your priorities, your schedule, your relationships, and everything else. It will sometimes mean choosing a difficult path instead of an easy one” (p. 57).
This is certainly true, assuming a person has already come to faith in Christ and repented of his sin. Without this, Warren’s message is nothing more than a call to moralism. While on the surface, Warren claims that life is not all about you, parts of the book read like a self-help book and have a distinctly humanistic tone to it. Consider this passage for instance:
You were planned for God’s pleasure. The moment you were born into the world God was there as an unseen witness, smiling at your birth. He wanted you alive, and your arrival gave him great pleasure. God did not need to create you, but he chose to create you for his own enjoyment. . . Bringing enjoyment to God, living for his pleasure, is the first purpose of your life. When you fully understand this truth, you will never again have a problem with feeling insignificant. It proves your worth. If you are that important to God, and he considers you valuable enough to keep with him for eternity, what greater significance could you have? (p. 63, emphasis added)
Where is Christ in all of this? I think of John the Baptist’s comment, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Quite a contrast with the above language, is it not?
One disturbing statement Warren makes is, “The last thing many believers need today is to go to another Bible study. They already know far more than they are putting into practice” (p. 231). Apparently he has something better in mind, for later he writes, “I strongly urge you to gather a small group of friends and form a Purpose-Driven Life Reading Group to review these chapters on a weekly basis” (p. 307). I guess we don’t need the Word of God now that we have the Word of Warren available to us.
In an effort to be modern and relevant, Warren’s use of careless hermeneutics and contextualization from a wide variety of translations (particularly The Message, a very flawed “translation”) to promote his teachings is also problematic. Some of the following reviews address this issue, along with other concerns regarding PDL.
More full reviews of this book:
- The Bestsellers: The Purpose Driven Life (www.challies.com)
- Purpose Driven Life book review (www.letusreason.org)
- Another review of The Purpose Driven Life (www.9marks.org)
- The Gospel: A Method or a Message? (cicministry.org)
- Warren: Scripture twisting, eisegesis and allegorization (and other articles related to Warren) (steakandabible.com)
What to read instead:
- The Pursuit of Holiness and The Practice of Godliness by Jerry Bridges
- The Gospel-Driven Life by Michael Horton
- In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life by Sinclair Ferguson
- Redefining Christianity: Understanding the Purpose Driven Life Movement by Bob DeWaay
The full title of this book is Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential. Here are Osteen’s words of welcome to those who come to his church:
At Lakewood Church, we believe in new beginnings. Lakewood is a place of unlimited possibilities where your need is our greatest concern. Your life is full of potential. And this moment can determine your destiny. Join us this Sunday. At Lakewood Church, we’re here for you! We believe in new beginnings! We believe in you!
Joel Osteen is one of many of the Word of Faith (aka “Name it, Claim it”) movement associated with a prosperity gospel. According to Osteen, every day,
you should declare good things. Just look in the mirror and say ‘I am strong, I am healthy, I’m rising to new levels, I’m excited about my future.’ When you say that, it may not be true. You may not be very healthy today, or maybe you don’t have a lot of things to look forward to, but the Scripture tells us in Romans we have to call the things that are not as if they already were…
As long as you can’t imagine it, as long as you can’t see it, then it is not going to happen for you. The man correctly realized that his own thoughts and attitudes were condemning him to mediocrity. He determined then and there to start believing better of himself, and believing better of God.
It’s the same way with us. We have to conceive it on the inside before we’re ever going to receive it on the outside. If you don’t think you can have something good, then you never will. The barrier is in your mind. It’s not God’s lack of resources or your lack of talent that prevents you from prospering. Your own wrong thinking can keep you from God’s best.
When it comes right down to it, Osteen’s teachings are all about what we can get out of God and how we can make ourselves happy. And his wife Victoria helps him promote this idea, as seen in this brief video clip in which she encourages the audience to “do good for your own self.” Although she later back-pedaled, claiming she didn’t mean it to sound the way it did but that her audience understood what she meant, I think she said exactly what she believes.
More full reviews of this book:
- Preaching a False-Positive, with a Smile (www.letusreason.org)
- The Bestsellers: Your Best Life Now (www.challies.com)
- Book review: Your Best Life Now (www.9marks.org)
- The Dangerous Duty of Delight: Daring to Make God Your Greatest Desire by John Piper
- The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs
Next time we will look at two more books which I believe Christians are better off skipping.
- The Shack author rejects substitutionary atonement (www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com)
- The Shack is only fiction (carm.org)
- Prosperity Preaching: Deceitful and Deadly (www.desiringgod.org)
- Osteenification and what it portends (www.patheos.com)
- Warren and Osteen join hands with Oprah (www.solasisters.com)