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Saturday, 18 February 2017

Why I Won't Be Watching "The Shack"

Reviewing books on Goodreads, I find that many of my most popular reviews are actually those where I have given a one star rating. I have also observed that these tend to be the best-selling books especially in the Christian book market. (The Purpose Driven Life, The Shack, Heaven is for Real)

The popularity could be because more people are aware of the books hence more likely to read a review about them, consider reading them or have read them in the past. On the other hand, it could be that Christians are lacking discernment in the books that they buy, read and recommend. Therefore, these books end up clogging up the best-seller lists when they really shouldn’t be there in the first place. Tim Challies has written a good review series on Christian best sellers including The Shack.

I am sympathetic to those who act in ignorance or through naivety. I’m sure there have been books I have bought in the past that I wouldn’t want to read now and maybe books that I would read now that I will look back on with a different attitude. This is how the Christian life should be as we progress in holiness and sanctification. What I struggle with, however, is Christians who are aware of the error and decide to overlook it because they want to be entertained. 

The Shack is a book that I have warned a lot of people away from over the years. I was given it as a gift by a well-meaning friend and just read the first few chapters before throwing it away. I was annoyed by the profanity and don’t think it's ever okay for a Christian to swear or use blasphemy in their books whether fiction or non-fiction. My most popular blog post to date is interestingly on that topic.

Aside from the cursing, I couldn’t believe it when members of the Trinity began to appear to the main character as black women.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about race, it is about gender and the representation of God. 

Representing God the Father as any image or human is a serious error even in fiction. We are not to build an image in our minds of God--we cannot "reduce" Him to our level of comprehension as He is so far above us in all things. Jesus had to die a painful death to reconcile us as sinful humans to God the Father due to His holiness. Jesus is the bridge and mediator, we cannot approach God apart from Him, let alone misrepresent Him in this careless way.

Why represent God as a woman? The Bible makes it clear that the authority structure is for a man to be at the head. The Shack is more dangerous because it feeds society's attempts to undermine the biblical gender roles and provides direct support for the feminist agenda. Christians should be standing against cultural trends where they conflict with the Bible, not promoting and supporting them.

And now, there is a movie. Hooray!

In the same way that Christian authors have a responsibility to ensure they are not promoting and advancing erroneous theology, even in fiction. Christian readers must exercise discernment in their reading. It is not legalism it is necessary and biblical. Why should this be any different for a movie?

If enough Christians refuse to go and see this movie on the basis that the theology is erroneous, even dangerous, then it at least sends a message that the Bible cannot be undermined in this way. It also ensures that non-believers aren’t confused by the misrepresentation of the Christian message like some have been by the Da Vinci Code.
If you are not put off by the issues mentioned already, then an examination of the agenda of the author should be enough to make you think twice before reading the book or going to see the movie. This documentary from Paul Flynn is worth watching.

Sadly, I know that many Christians will still go to see this movie. They will go for the entertainment factor and some will say it is so they can critique it afterwards or start a Christian conversation with a non-believing friend. But, why start with something so confusing and potentially lead your friend down a blind alley from the outset, there are definitely easier ways to start an evangelistic conversation. Why not pray then try—would you like to come to church with me on Sunday? or, have you read this Christian book?—Ultimate Questions by John Blanchard is a good opener and the PDF is free here.

God didn't teach us to walk along danger lines or to study falsehood in order to learn error. We should instead study the truth (the Bible) so that we can recognise error. We are taught to resist evil and to flee from temptation. If we walk along danger lines instead of seeking to be more like Jesus by staying away from the lines, we will eventually veer across the line and fall into sin. It’s human nature and there is an active enemy seeking to devour us!

Christians who go to watch the movie are endorsing the errors in the teaching, undermining the Bible, funding this series and future projects and encouraging other authors and movie makers to write more of this type of thing.

We need to remember that it is the broad way that leads to destruction and the narrow way to life. In the latter times, people will gather teachers that say what their itching ears want to hear and we are warned that many will be deceived. The popular way is not God's way. Simply put in this modification of a quotation from G. K. Chesterton,

Wrong is wrong even if everyone else is doing it. Right is right even if no one else is doing it 

Christians, let’s boycott this movie!

Psalm 101 vs 3
I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.

Romans 16 vs 1
Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.

1 Timothy 4 vs 7
But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness;

Philippians 4 vs 8
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

2 Timothy 4 vs 3-4
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

Proverbs 4 vs 14-15
Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Top 10 Christian Books Read in 2016

I decided it was again time for a book related post mainly for the benefit of those who follow me on Goodreads. My Goodreads 2016 Challenge lists 164 books surpassing my goal of 150 (actually my original goal was 100 but I increased that when I realised it had become irrelevant…)

If you are interested, you can also read my previous posts about books--Reflections of an Amateur Christian Author and 10 Reasons for Writing Honest Book Reviews.

In compiling my list, I have tried to cover a wide range of genres and sub-genres which is quite tricky as I read a lot more biographies, (especially by or about missionaries,) than anything else. I prefer books with a clear Gospel message and Christian purpose in writing. The best books are those where the message does not feel “tagged on” but is a central focus of the book without it necessarily being immediately obvious to the reader—it doesn’t feel awkward but is woven into the narrative.

The majority of the books I recommend here are clean—no bad language or sexual content and limited graphic violence. Where there is slight deviation I have commented on this in my review so you should know what to expect. You can read my Goodreads reviews by clicking on the title link and purchase the books via the Amazon links. (I am not affiliated with Amazon or any of the authors so am not profiting from these recommendations in any way.) The books appear in the order I read them in 2016.

 1. Out of the Depths: An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage,and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis. I don’t read a lot of war stories but this looked unusual. The title summarises the book. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the book. I was inspired by the author’s reliance on and trust in God in terrible circumstances. There is some graphic violence which may upset some readers. (Amazon Kindle $5.91 Paperback $8.80)
2. The Hidden Altar. This gets my vote for best fiction by a self-published/indie author. The book actually tells two stories in alternating chapters. One story is set in the modern church and the other several centuries ago. They describe the persecution of Christians in different eras. There are some violence and torture scenes that may bother some readers. (Amazon Kindle $2.86)

3. Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World ofPoverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion,Persecution, Orphans and Pornography. Again the title gives the game away here. This book was my introduction to the author David Platt. I have since read his books Radical and Follow Me and can also recommend them. In my view Platt is a better author than speaker—I tried to listen to his sermons a few times but didn’t get on with the style. Although at times tending to extremes, Platt is a necessary voice in an age of apathy about serious biblical issues. (Amazon Kindle $8.88)

4. Girl in the Song. This is the only 4-star book on my list but it bravely tackles a controversial subject in a sensitive manner so I felt it should be included. This autobiographical account reveals the dangers of becoming unequally yoked (a believer becoming involved in a romantic relationship with a non-believer) and giving in to temptation. There are some minor theological issues hence the 4 star rating. (Amazon Kindle $8.88 Paperback $13.59)

5. Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story. This biography appealed to me due to my interest in criminal justice/police/prisons and the court system due to my former profession. In this case it was a miscarriage of justice. It is rare to find a book like this written by a Christian and the author has done a fantastic job in keeping the focus where it should be. (Amazon Kindle $2.46 Paperback $13.95)

6. Peace Child. Somehow, I had missed this missionary biography despite it being on all of the best seller lists in Christian circles--I only got around to reading it last year. Richardson has a gift for taking the reader with him, I’m sure he adds a certain amount of creative detail but it works albeit with some graphic violence. I also enjoyed Lords of the Earth but Peace Child was my favourite. (Amazon Kindle $5.91 Paperback $14.99)

7. Father of Faith Missions: The Life and Times of Anthony Norris Groves(1795-1853.) This lesser known missionary biography may turn out to be my all-time favourite. It could be listed in the history genre being jam-packed with stories from the field and lessons in life—well, at over 600 pages it would have to be! The author provides an interesting overview of early Brethren circles and the well-known Christian figures of the day. Indeed, on the front cover there is a tree showing how Groves is connected to all of these people in one way or another. (Amazon Paperback $19.99)

8. Worship: The Ultimate Priority. Those who follow my reviews won’t be surprised to see a John MacArthur book amongst my favourites for 2016. He provides an overview of biblical worship emphasising that it is a way of life for a Christian and not just about music. This book reminded me of the greatness and majesty of God. (Amazon Kindle $7.02 Paperback $9.74)

9. The Sparrow Found a House (Sparrow Stories #1.) Outside my usual reading genre but nevertheless enjoyable, the author has written a wholesome family series dealing with a lot of issues that Christian teens and young adults will face in this generation. I read this because a friend asked me for a recommendation for her teenagers—there is a gap in the market for this type of literature. (Amazon Kindle $2.48 Paperback $9.99)

 10. Chase Away Cancer. I read a fair number of Christian biographies last year. Some authors seem to tag God on to their stories and don’t seem to be trusting Him completely. Others take a single event and try to fill the pages of a book resulting in a monotonous reading experience. Still others have theological issues that trouble me or too much charismatic experience as the focus. This book avoids all of my pet peeves and tells the compelling story of a young boy suffering from cancer and his family’s attempts to help him whilst trusting God. (Amazon Kindle $13.15 Paperback $9.71)

I hope my list provides you with some new recommendations, feel free to comment on my selection or on my reviews. Let’s keep our reading choices focused on God—how we can be inspired, grow spiritually and benefit from the life lessons of others.