Friday March 6, 2009
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12.
Our daughter in New Zealand asked us our opinion of The Shack, a bestselling and widely accepted novel recounting one man’s spiritual journey following the violent death of his child. But the Christian response has been mixed. Many Christians who have read it enjoyed it, but some “authorities” on the Christian faith continue to condemn it. Its besetting sin appears to be the symbolic nature of the novel. For instance: God the Father is portrayed as a big African Mama. Not particularly theological, but exhibits part of the nature of God that the author experienced.
The allegorical approach to Christianity has a long and honoured history. Tolkien’s Rings novels and the Narnia series by C. S. Lewis, are generally accepted as symbolic representations of the Christian message, although greatly extended through imagination. However, Christian response has not been consistent. Dan Brown has been roundly castigated for imaginatively falsifying Christian Scripture and history in his Da Vinci Code novel. However, there has been no whisper of complaint against the Left Behind series of books by Tim La Haye that uses generous speculation on biblical prophecies for his novels.
Both can be classed in the same genre as The Shack; each novel expresses one man’s opinion either for or against the faith, but each carries the same danger of mixing biblical fact and speculative fantasy which the average person cannot separate. Either allegorical writing carries sufficient imagination that it cannot be theologically sound and must be burned, or should be recognized as symbolizing in imaginative and readable ways parts or all of the faith Christians believe. For example, the creatures in Tolkiens’ novels clearly reflect the subject of today’s text!
But the dispute over these writings misses the bigger picture. The truth is guarded by freedom of expression, not repression of it. The truth by its very nature must ultimately prevail. Attempts to preserve it by censorship reflect unease about the truth we believe. It may even eventually harbour error that cannot be sustained. The Shack and other examples of the genre are ways in which readers may engage with the faith to explore it further or not as their inclination may be. But without them the work of the Holy Spirit could be limited and entry into spiritual things would be impoverished.