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Big Truths for Young Hearts: Systematic Theology for Little Ones, Part I

April 24, 2009

Mary Kassian is a member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.  Mary is also the founder of Girls Gone Wise, an award winning author, internationally renowned speaker, and distinguished professor of Women's Studies at Southern Baptist Seminary.

The book "The Shack" has had a significant impact on the culture and the church. This good cautionary post originally appeared on Mary's website April 6th, 2009. We reproduce it here with permission and gratitude.

If you would like to read other careful reviews of "The Shack" consider those by Dr. R. Albert Mohler and by Tim Challies.

This week, Christians around the world will commemorate Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It was at a Maundy Thursday service at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, in 1984, that a four-foot bronze statue of Jesus on the cross was unveiled. But to the shock of the congregation, the image of Christ on the cross was, in fact, an image of Christa. It portrayed Christ as a woman, complete with undraped breasts and rounded hips.

Betty Friedan, the main force behind modern day feminism, predicted that the question of the eighties would be: "Is God HE?" The Christa sculpture was the liberal church's response to the question. And although Evangelical Christians have been much slower to consider female gendered God imagery, the recent phenomenon of the multi-million best-seller, "The Shack," indicates that Evangelicals, too, are succumbing to the feminist pressure to image God in feminine ways. It's a scenario that I predicted almost 25 years ago.

If you haven't read it yet, and are amongst the un-Shacked evangelical minority, here's the story in a nutshell.  Mack's  youngest daughter Missy is kidnapped and murdered in a remote mountain shack by a serial slime, called the Ladybug Killer.  Mack goes through a denial-grief-anger-bitterness cycle until he receives a letter in his mailbox from God who tells him to go back to the shack to confront his point of pain and suffering.  When Mack gets to the shack he blacks out and awakens to find himself in a cabin complete with a manifestation of the Godhead.  But this is no ordinary Godhead.

God the Father, called "Papa," is a She.  An Aunt Jemima pancake cooking Mother. Think Whoopee Goldberg in an apron. And Sarayu, the Holy Spirit with an Assyrian name, is a wispy, ethereal female. Think life-sized Tinkerbell emitting rainbows and sparkles.  Jesus is a human "male" – the one the three members of the Godhead collaboratively spoke into existence as the Son of God (umm…  go figure).  Then, in a bizarre twist that defies the orthodox image of the pre-incarnate Christ, another woman, "Sophia" appears as the divine personification of God's wisdom.  And in the end, Papa contributes to the gender-bent confusing mess by setting aside his/her female cross dressing persona for a slightly more familiar masculine one- a grey haired man with a hip ponytail.

Forgiveness and healing from pain is a valid biblical motif – one to which I am profoundly committed.  But the way we heal is by running toward the God of the Bible, not by killing off or altering the parts of his character that we find politically incorrect. Not by coming up with an image of a God that is more palatable to our modern-day sensibilities. Not by altering God-revealed truth about the Trinity. Not by thinking we need to "help" God with his image. Over the years, I've witnessed thousands of women come to a place of healing and wholeness through the redeeming power of the unvarnished foolishness of the gospel.

The Shack contains terribly wrong concepts about God. Plain and simple. If you think it doesn't, then you're well on your way to accepting the image of the Christa on the cross.  In a few years, you'll be hanging her up in your church. I don't think I'm overstating the case. In my book I've carefully documented the way it happened in mainline churches. The arguments used to justify their feminist Christa are the same ones the Shack uses to justify its feminized version of God. In essence, there's no difference between the artistic image of a feminized Jesus (a.k.a. "Sophia") hanging on a cross and the artistic image of a feminized Aunt Jemima Papa god in a book.  If the latter doesn't offend you, then the former really shouldn't.

I've had good friends tell me that I'm missing the point of the Shack. Maybe I am. But maybe, just maybe, they are. Maybe they are getting caught up in the emotion of a heart-wrenching story and are failing to notice the horrendous theology that under girds it.  The authors claim that "at its core the book is one long Bible Study." This isn't an ordinary story book. It's a book that seeks to transform people's ideas about God. The fiction is merely a vehicle for the theology.

How we image God matters. So the image of God the book presents matters. It matters a great deal.  I seem to recall that God wasn't terribly amused when his people imaged him in the wrong way, as a golden calf. If you're not convinced that we should refrain from imaging God as female, and are interested in understanding more about the feminist theology rampant in the Shack, check into my book, The Feminist Mistake. If you take the time to understand the impact that feminism has had on society and church, then maybe you'll understand my distaste for the Shack's feminine god rendition.

When it comes down to it, my primary interest is not to engage in a debate about the merits of the Shack. It's OK if you liked the book. There are some good messages in it, and parts that I liked very much.  And it's apparently helped people in some significant ways. So that's the good part. But I do want you to think about the false gender-blended image of God this book insidiously presents. And I do want you to base your thinking about God and masculinity and femininity on Scripture, and not on the spirit of this age. The thing that bothers me the most about the Shack is that it wraps destructive ideas up in an appealing package and feeds it to people who have neither the discernment nor the desire to carefully separate truth from error. Most Shackites don't have a clue about the magnitude of the implications of messing with Trinitarian imagery.

Here's the thing.  In the Old Testament, God instructed his people to reject female goddess images and images of God as a bi-sexual or a dual-sexual Baal/Ashtoreth-type collaboration. God hated this imagery so much that he had his people destroy it and all those who promoted it. The New Testament Church also fought hard against teachings that sought to incorporate female images of God alongside the male images – the Gnostic heresy, in particular. And now, it seems that the same ideas are knocking once again…. and many are throwing the Church doors wide open and welcoming them in.

What's the big deal? Why can't we image God as female? The main reason is that God defines who God is and how we are to image him and relate to him. God has chosen to reveal himself with male imagery.  Father is HE. Son is HE. Holy Spirit is HE. That's not to say that God is male.  He encompasses everything that is good about masculinity and femininity. But that doesn't mean that we have the liberty to think or refer to him as female. That's crossing a line we have no right to cross.

The gender imagery that God has given us is highly important. It reflects critical truths about the nature of the Trinity. Calling him "she" violates his character and important imagery about the nature of our relationship to him. As C.S. Lewis observes,

Common sense, disregarding the discomfort, or even the horror, which the idea of turning all our theological language into the feminine gender arouses in most Christians, will ask "Why not? Since God is in fact not a biological being and has no sex, what can it matter whether we say He or She, Father or Mother, Son or Daughter?"

But Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument …  against Christianity. It is also surely based on a shallow view of imagery. Without drawing upon religion, we know from our poetical experience that image and apprehension cleave closer together than common sense is here prepared to admit; that a child who has been taught to pray to a Mother in Heaven would have a religious life radically different from that of a Christian child. And as image and apprehension are in an organic unity, so, for a Christian, are human body and human soul.

The innovators are really implying that sex is something superficial, irrelevant to the spiritual life… [But] one of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize to us the hidden things of God. One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no authority to take the living and semitive figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures… [God images himself as masculine because]…we are all, corporately and individually, feminine to Him.

…The male you could have escaped, for it exists only on the biological level. But the masculine none of us can escape. What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it.

(Quotes from C.S. Lewis Essays Notes on the Way and That Hideous Strength.)

There's a whole lot more to be said about the importance of accurate gender imagery and the importance of honoring and preserving masculine imagery for God. But I'll leave it at that for now. Hopefully this post has alerted you to some popular false ways of thinking that are both insidious and dangerous.  The nearly universal frothing of the Christian community over the Shack shows me how very much the philosophy of feminism has influenced even the Evangelical church.

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