Some things need to be said in an extreme manner. Many Christians are having casual sex with God.
I got a late start on the reading of the Shack, really thought that it was an innocuous work of fiction. But since I have read it, reviewed it, and talked to people about it, more needs to be said. I also have been reading some articles on worship and worship music. Much of the criticism of both the book and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) is similar, and valid. There is a common element that needs pointing out.
In the Shack, the main character Mack is a seminary graduate and the author has him pondering the following after he finds a note left by God in his mailbox:
“Try as he might, Mack could not escape the desperate possibility that the note just might be from God after all, even if the thought of God passing notes did not fit well with his theological training. In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerner’s access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?” (end of chapter 4, pages 65-66 in the paperback version)
This statement seems to be a major theological point in the book (I think that although it is a work of fiction, there is some theological axe grinding going on). Apparently “Mack” didn’t pay attention in seminary. Even the most cessationist perspective would distinguish between ongoing revelation and God’s means of ongoing communication. Most evangelicals would tend towards a fully closed canon, and allow for some measure of ongoing interaction and contact with God that ventured beyond simply reading the Bible. The attack on formal training, sound exegesis as our foundation for truth (canon), and the necessity for gifted teachers and authorities in the body are slipped in here as an unassailable part of Mack’s experience, which is the new authority.
In the foreword the author in a not so oblique way, and with a oddly fundamentalist attitude, tells us all he is not interested in any sort of critique of his work, which I found oddly contradictory:
“A couple of final disclaimers: Mack would like you to know that if you happen upon this story and hate it, he says, `Sorry…but it wasn’t primarily written for you.’ Then again, maybe it was.”
Both of these statements reflect the new epistemology that has begun to make its way into the church: It is true if it makes me feel good. If it makes me feel better, then it is true. If the facts get in the way of my feeling better, there must be something wrong with the facts so let’s ignore them. This is different than a previous epistemological problem in the church that is similar but not the same, that is, the attitude that says I don’t care about the details just tell me what to do. At least in the latter attitude, there was an acknowledgment of truth content back there somewhere, I just don’t need to know the details, a kind of taking my car to the mechanic pragmatism.
The sentiment I get from people who like the Shack is reflected in this statement is that I really don’t want to be corrected or challenged about the statements in the Shack because I liked it, it made me feel good. And so with Christian music, it doesn’t really seem to matter what the content of the song is, it just needs to make me feel good. And so it comes full circle, these attitudes then attach themselves to what the people in the body take from the church: only that which makes them feel good. Everything else is indispensable or debatable, not on solid doctrinal or biblical grounds, rather on purely emotional and individual grounds.
Now I understand this need we have for a good feeling. I think peace is a good feeling, love has good feelings attached to it, security is a good feeling, harmony with my wife is a good feeling and feelings in general are important and not peripheral to life, nor to my relationship with God. Evangelicals have underemphasized and diminished the importance of feelings in many areas including worship. Sometimes I should feel the burden of my sin, the elation that comes with the joy of salvation, and everything in between when we encounter the Creator.
The problem with the Shack, and inane Christian songs like “Your Love is Extravagant” is that they aim for the feeling without regard to the truth content which necessarily distinguishes our books and songs as “Christian”. One of the criticisms of CCM is that it views Jesus as my boyfriend (there is even an acronym now “JIMBee” songs: Jesus is my Boyfriend).
Those of us who are critical of mindless material, material that ignores truth content as it strives to elicit a response, find ourselves having to defend our posture.What is disturbing to me as a pastor is that this sort of valid criticism is often ignored. We are told that we just need to relax, no one is getting hurt.
For me, it is like having casual sex with God. We woke up the next morning, rolled over and asked: By the way what is your name? It really doesn’t matter what his name is, I just like feeling good. My apologies for saying it in such a way that seems to be in the same tradition as the things I am criticizing, just being shocking is not a guarantee of accuracy either. Many seek to be heard by being provocative. I hope that I am not simply being provocative with this post (although I know that the title is provocative, and potentially offensive), but that it also is an accurate assessment and critique, spoken in a way that will be heard by people who so easily dismiss criticism of their “feelings”.
What is so disappointing is that truth content and sound doctrine are not contrary to the production of good feelings, or the accurate production of conviction, which would include emotions.
Our relationship with God is sometimes described in the Bible by using the sexual relationship as a model. The Church is the bride of Christ. If we understand the Song of Solomon as more than a marriage manual or love poem between two humans, then the metaphor of physical intimacy paints for us a parallel to the intimacy that we desire in our relationship with God. As such, “casual” would not be a term we desire to describe our relationship with God.
By definition, casual sex is sex that is not linked to the intimacy of relationship. In order for relationship to be truly intimate, it must be accompanied by knowledge. That knowledge must be personal and accurate. Foregoing the pursuit of knowledge reduces the level of intimacy and causes our relationship to move more toward the casual which ultimately is unsatisfying.