Gavin Ortlund wrote an excellent piece over at The Gospel Coalition today on William Paul Young's new book, Lies We Believe About God. In the book, Young—author of the mega-popular novel, The Shack—nails his 28 theses to the door of Atria Books publishing house in the form of 28 "lies" we believe about God, along with his responses to those so-called "lies." I put "lies" in quotations deliberately, because Young's idea of a "lie" is something like, "God is in control," or my personal favorite, "You need to get saved."
My eye twitches a little when I read that last one.
Anyway, there you have it. I'll leave the heavy lifting to Dr. Ortlund, who did a thorough job refuting Young's most Gospel-repudiating heresies. What I want to address is the astounding failure of discernment evident in many Christians (and pastors!) in dealing with Young's work.
When the big screen adaption of The Shack recently debuted, I was not surprised—at all—to see lots of my fellow Christians flocking (pun intended) to it. No pastor is surprised when sheep do questionable things, because a large portion of his job consists of dealing with the consequences of those questionable things.
What genuinely surprised me was the number of pastors, both in my area and in a wider circle, who not only saw the movie but publicly endorsed such a decision. "It's just a story," they'd say, "not a theology textbook." Right, and Rob Bell never had any agenda behind his oh-so-edgy, pseudo-sophisticaté questions either. Gotcha.
Well, now the theology textbook is out by the same author, and the whispered heresy has been turned up to 11 and discounted on Kindle. Should we still encourage the sheep to shack up (see what I did there) with Young? There you go.
See, this is a big-E-on-the-eye-chart kind of thing for me. If I can't trust you to read that line, why on earth would I trust you to read the smaller letters on the lines below? If I can't trust you to discern the difference between a misguided sheep and a wolf holding up a sign that says "Baaaaa," why would I trust you to teach me, lead me, shepherd me—not to mention my family? If you flunk out of the first grade, in other words, I will not be calling on you to teach graduate level physics.
You don't shack up with wolves, nor do you tacitly endorse them with your movie ticket budget, soliloquize about the artistic merits of their work in Facebook posts, or wonder aloud if they might just be misunderstood—you whack them with a stick. Metaphorically, that is. You whack them and then you make it clear that they are not welcome near your sheep unless they repent. Plead with them, yes. Love them, yes. Exhort them, yes. But be a pastor with a chest. Don't sacrifice pluralistic platitudes on the altar of sugary niceness while wolves cast hungry eyes on the flock.
This is not theoretical for me. Less than a 6 weeks have passed since we (the elders of Refuge Church) had to remove a man from the congregation for just this sort of thing. It sucked. It always does. This isn't something that makes me chuckle. But it is something I'm called to do as a pastor.
God doesn't like it when his pastors eat popcorn while his people get devoured. Just ask Ezekiel.