Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Shack, "Dude Jesus" and Other Signs of the End

I stumbled upon a review of The Shack and thought these words were most important:

But more alarmingly, the Trinity as pictured in The Shack is utterly devoid of any awe-inspiring numinus Moses may have been full of fear and trembling at the manifestation of the God of Sinai (Heb. 12:21), Isaiah may have declared himself undone at the sight of the Lord of Hosts in the Temple (Is. 6:5), Ezekiel may have fallen on the face before the Lord at the River Chebar (Ezek. 1:28) and even St. John fell at the feet of the glorified Christ as if he were dead (Rev. 1:17). But the sight of the Trinity in this volume excites no such reaction at all. All is warm and casual, comforting and cozy—a God who giggles, and calls you ‘honey’, a God who drops and breaks crockery, a God who never condemns or is disappointed in any of us. In short, the God who is your buddy, so characteristic of modern Evangelicalism and celebrated in their feel-good choruses. It is not the God invoked in our baptismal service, “whose glance dries up the deep, whose interdict makes the mountains melt away”, the God who “touches the mountains and they smoke, who clothes Himself with light as with a garment”. All of the other errors and mis-steps of the volume pale in comparison with this basic mis-presentation of the divine. The awesome God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has become the comfortable demi-god of the emergent church. The face of the King has been distorted to resemble the face of a fox.
In a sermon recently I wrote that "Christians seem to have gone from wanting to be Christ-like to wanting Christ to be us-like." I remember when O God!, the George Burns movie, was controversial in the casual way God was depicted. Christians thought it was scandalous...and somewhat amusing, but many never said that out loud.

One of the favorite movies at my house is Evan Almighty. The kids think Steve Carell is hilarious. I think he's this generation's Peter Sellers. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Evan is finally telling his wife about why he's building an ark. She thinks he's gone crazy and all he can do is agree...but affirm that what he is doing is from God. It's pretty powerful, really.

But when this movie was released, and Bruce Almighty before it, despite a very racist, quiet murmur that "God is a black man!" there was no real controversy in the bigger picture, that God was present like us--us-like, only pretty suave, in an E-Z Reader kind of way.

And this, I believe, is a larger problem than the bad theology that is present in Evan, Bruce, and The Shack. This is simply not the way God is. It is the very opposite of the way God is.

If you have no numinous God, no holy God, then the Incarnation is essentially meaningless. If there is no holy God, then our sinfulness is reduced to buffoonery, and there is no need of forgiveness. If one can look at God and not die, then death is....meaningless? I don't even know.

A popular response could be that in Christ God has become like us, that He is now approachable, and should be. Perhaps. But that assumes were are talking about the Son of God in His incarnation. It also forgets that He is still the Eternal and Almighty One. It's really a bit of Nestorianism again, separating the Son from the "dude Jesus." It's "The Buddy Christ" of Kevin Smith's Dogma.

Christ like-us makes US the gods that He must conform to. And put like that we see the Father of Lies' fingerprints all over it.


  1. Dixie said...

    Isn't it amazing how crazy things get when we lose sight of such foundational dogma as the Incarnation! A lot of criticism these days is offered against the influence of contemporary culture on Christianity from a curmudgeonly conservative right point of view and I think those to the left of this view aren’t interested in the rants. BUT…with this kind of insight, what the holiness of God means to the Incarnation, I think inroads can be made. Now this is ponder worthy stuff. Such an excellent post. Thanks for it.

  2. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    I think part of this is we don't pay attention to the Old Testament enough. Yes, God comes to us in a way we can tolerate through Christ Jesus -- but we forget that is a wild and wondrous thing. The Old Testament is full of people who if they get a glimpse of God think they are going to die.

    We sing the Sanctus before communion. When Isaiah heard those words, he was sure that he was a dead man. We sing those words as we prepare to have the very Body of Christ placed upon our tongues -- and we shrug nonchalantly. If Isaiah was a man of unclean lips who dwelt amongst a people of unclean lips, then what in the world are we? Lord have mercy!

    P.S. I got my dad a "Buddy Christ" as his 10th Ordination-Anniversary gift. Remember, Jesus didn't come to give us the willies, he came to help us out.

  3. Anastasia Theodoridis said...

    If God is not holy, then there is no way He can ever make us holy. We are stuck in our sins. Permanently.

  4. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    (Sarcasm mode on) But Anastasia, there you go talking about sin again. Who wants to talk about that - that's just such a downer. I mean, we're all pretty good people, we just have a few problems in life, and if Jesus could just give us a pat on the back then we'd all be so much better. (Sarcasm mode off)

    I don't think most people even want to be holy.