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Letters to the Editor (The Shack, Christian Coloring Books)

Letters to the Editor

Not surprisingly, I suppose, my comments on The Shack led to an outpouring of letters—literally hundreds of them. I will share a selection from readers who agreed and who disagreed with my position. The most common question I received is “What about Narnia?” and I hope to address that next week. Also, my comments that “It’s wrong to portray Father and Spirit as human beings” were interpreted by some to say, “It’s fine to portray Father and Spirit as a white man but not a black woman.” Hence, I received a whole stack of accusations of sexism and racism. I’ve chosen not to share those letters.

Letters on Why I Won’t Be Seeing or Reviewing The Shack Movie

The Shack is likely going to be a stupid movie. I won’t see it either because I have far more productive things to do with my time. Nevertheless, using the second commandment as your reason for not seeing it seems to me to be an unnecessary reach of the commandment. To your credit, you acknowledge that the commandment stands against worship of graven images, and you give Jesus a partial pass (since he actually became flesh), but you draw a hard line in the sand at physical representations of the Father or the Holy Spirit. But what about the dove that is used (and has been frequently used for over a thousand years) to depict the Holy Spirit? You could argue that this representation is biblical, I suppose, but Luke says the Holy Spirit descended “in bodily form, like a dove,” not that the Holy Spirit descended “in the form of a dove.” What about a beam of light coming down through the clouds to establish God’s favor upon something?

It seems like we use all sorts of physical things and stories and words to represent the divine, because we don’t understand the divine. We are physical beings first and foremost and we struggle universally to grasp at the spiritual world, only brushing against it occasionally. Making something tangible can help us understand what is by and large beyond our comprehension. Certainly we ought to acknowledge that representations of the divine aren’t actually God, but isn’t that ultimately what the second commandment warns against? You can argue that we are incapable of making such a distinction, but I must admit that I have never worshiped the beam of light or the dove in the representations of Jesus’ baptism. Other forms of idolatry have plagued me, but never that one.

Of course, none of this makes the movie any better and it doesn’t mean any of us should see it, but rather than insisting that any physical representation of God is blasphemous because it fails to encapsulate his glory, just renounce it as crap and heretical crap. The Shack isn’t at fault because it is comparative, but rather because it is a bad comparison. Condemn for the latter.

—Chris G

Tim, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for upholding the 2nd Commandment in your article about The Shack. Of all the false doctrine in this movie, the clear violation of the 2nd Commandment ought to be the clearest reason for Christians to steer clear of this movie, but I know that simply upholding the Commandment will bring lots of flack. There is no theological truth that can best be communicated by breaking any of the 10 Commandments. And while that should be Christianity 101, most Christians in the West won’t see it that way. Jesus said, “if you love me you will keep my commandments,” so thank you for upholding the Commandment.

—James P

By your interpretation of the Second Commandment you never attend another manger scene or Easter pageant. The Shack is a great book. I had a few problems with it, but overall it was full of interesting views and insights. As a friend of mine told me when discussing the devotional book Jesus Calling, “Get off your legalistic view and enjoy the book.” Do the same, my friend.

—Kelly L

Thank you for taking the time to write your blog about the upcoming film, The Shack. I read it and found your writing incredibly frustrating. I’ve been a Christian for over 13 years and what I’ve seen consistently over these years is people’s opinions on what is theological is the only way to believe. What I love about The Shack is its ability to draw the reader into a sense of God. As I’m sure you have no recollection of what God actually looks like, to tell people that reading a book and watching the movie is blasphemy is rubbish. The only reason God is portrayed as a woman is for readers to gain a visual representation. The very fact you are offended and believe it diminishes the true identity of God is pitiful. If you were honest, do you think God would care who portrayed him? The very fact that you cannot even answer that tells me one thing—it’s your personal belief not really one built on theology, relationship or empathy. I’m tired of reading people’s so called theological beliefs as both scripturally sound and without fault. It’s ok to have an opinion and its yours to own, not to impose on others to embrace, believe, and practice. There’s far more pressing matters in this world, like loving each other, maybe your next post could look more about love, empathy and understanding than simply injecting a very narrow and one minded view.

—Kieran B

As you note the 2nd Commandment is clearly concerned with the worship of false gods. Saying “it’s covered,” you broaden the scope of the the 2nd Commandment beyond it’s intended meaning. That is precisely what the Elders and later the Pharisees did. The Elders set up traditions based on the Law and meant to reinforce the Law. But to them Jesus said, “Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” (Mark 7:13) Further, you sidestep the issue of portraying the second member of the Trinity as if that question isn’t central to your argument. Are we to assume you would not review a film in which the God in flesh, Jesus, is portrayed by an actor? Of course you’re free to review or not review as you wish. However, you should not kid yourself into thinking your resistance to the book and film is biblically based. Your expressed view is very religious, but not very spiritual…or biblical.

—Lee C

Thank you for sharing exactly why you will not review this movie. While I had no intention of seeing it for my own reasons, I think your article will help believers with honest open hearts make a wise decision. I am very careful now with what I allow before my eyes or into my mind only because the Spirit has put a huge caution in my own spirit to honor my sensitivity….it was His work in me, not just a decision on my part. I’ve come to see that, as with food, we become what we consume. For those that have ears to hear, your article will help them avoid what could be poisonous fruit to them. Blessings.
—Carol M

Regarding your refusal to watch “The Shack” because of its visual representation of God, I once went through the phase you are going through. It is a “Jewish” or “Islamist” phase in the sense of how you interpret the 2nd commandment. It is not Christian. Every father on earth is daily a representation of God the Father (either in a positive or negative sense). Every wind that blows is a representation of the Spirit, every act of human creativity. You already discussed God the Son correctly in your article. Now I will agree with you that you may choose not to see the movie because it may be a stumbling block for you, and combining visual representations with bad theology may be too much. I understand that. But now you are accusing me of sin if I go see it. I think not.

—Steve K

Usually I agree with you, however I feel you are dead wrong on this one. I do agree with some of your views, but we as Christians need to understand that the humans acting are just acting. This is the same in the Passion Plays seen at Easter when a voice speaks out, “This is my Son.” We know it is not God speaking, but an actor. It is not the real Jesus we see dying on the cross, but an actor. Seeing the movie, as I did read the book, will only instill the truths of God and man relationship should be that of where we can easily speak with Him at anytime or place. The compassion He has for us is real and the concept is portrayed in this book and I hope it will come across in the movie. You and other Christians who make these comments are hindering Christians and non-Christians to see that God is real, not man, but someone who loves us enough to come to us with openness and compassion. I view your comments as a closed minded Christian and one that cannot enjoy the difference in a movie that will inspire others to walk closer to God.

—Ginger S

Get over yourself! If seekers wish to know The True Story, show them the book of John. The Shack is science fiction. I have read the book 3 times (one with a Bible study group!) and, at first, was totally blown away when a black woman opened the door to the shack. But if these depictions help to put a human “face” on the divinity so non-believers can be drawn to learn more about The True Story, then that is more effective than some silver-tongued evangelist on TV or the street corner. I have always grappled with how God could love an evil person, but I was enlightened by The Shack. We are ALL God’s children, created in His image, and He loves us all despite our grievous sins. Mack’s “encounter” with the Trinity (it may have been all a dream/hallucination) brought him back to his faith. Isn’t that what we want for everyone?!


I must admit I was surprised by your article. It seems to me to be such a misreading of the commandments you mention that I had to reread the article a couple of times. In Genesis, we read that God makes humans as his ‘image and likeness’, a unique phrase which we know from other contemporary languages to be a word combination used only to describe idols. So, one of the reasons that God forbids idols is because he has created humans to be his ‘idols’ on earth, to physically represent the nature of God to creation. So when you imply that the nature of God is impossible to express in human form, you not only undermine the incarnation, but you undermine God’s purpose in creation. The movie may indeed have many, many flaws, but to deny humans the gift and responsibility of imaging God is surely a heresy.

—Simon H

For about 6 months now I have been dreading the inevitable onslaught of puffed up religious folks thinking much too highly of themselves and pining to make their greatness shine to the world offering up their “expert reasoning to avoid the shack”. This may not be you, but yours was the lucky first release of the countless we are about to see. I doubt I will respond to any more in the future. So, you won at least my interaction! That’s good right?

I too am a follower of Jesus and normally I don’t get involved in these sort of responses to what you choose to do based on your faith. However, I get very tired of seeing other Christians make the rest of us seem like a batch of scared little sheep who can’t distinguish between reality and books, movies, etc. Do you really think that God is going to condemn all who have read this book and watch the movie because he will consider it an act of worship of a false god or idol? Really? If you really believe that stop reading now. There’s nothing else we can talk about. We serve different Gods and think they are the same. Please, give people some credit for at least being somewhat intelligent. Why to Christians treat other Christians as though they lack the mental capacity to discern things or take symbolism for what it is?

—John G

You cant really use the graven image excuse. Human beings are not objects hand-crafted by other humans for the purpose of worship. Human beings were created by God in His own image. Short of God Himself you won’t find a better substitute to play God than a human being. Seriously? This is your reason for not watching the Shack? It precludes you from watching any movie depicting Christ or any Biblical account. It is so obvious you have God in such a tiny little box. The whole purpose of the book/movie is to destroy those little boxes that we put Him in. You are a modern day Pharisee.

—Donna F

Letters on Christian Coloring Books

I also wrote about Christian coloring books, and thought you might be interested in a couple of the responses.

I appreciate your article on Christian colouring books, but I think you need to go rather further, and join some more dots. You say, “It is a constant human temptation to “baptize” the things of earth, to elevate them by assigning an artificial spiritual significance”. This is well and good, but I think there’s something an elephant in the room, if that’s all that is said.

There is also a recurring human sin of turning holy things into an opportunity to earn some cash; to “peddle the word of God”. The problem you talk about in the article is not really, at heart, a problem of well-meaning Christians over-spiritualising. It is a problem of a) One set of people being greedy (spreading untruths for their own worldly gain) and b) Christians being gullible (being willing to listen to these untruths, and not being sufficiently willing to think about where they are coming from, and what they say about the current state of our evangelical culture).

Our evangelical publishing industry has substantial corruption and rot in it. You don’t need any inside knowledge to say this. You can just look at what is being sold, and know that worldly ambition and greed is a huge driving force in it. There’s a much deeper problem that a little over-spiritualisation of colouring books.

—David A

I got turned off the adult coloring books trend, and was dismayed to see it enter Christian practice, when I was first introduced to it two years ago at a Christian woman’s group that had an exercise in coloring mandalas. I looked up the word and wanted nothing more to do with it. A mandala is a Hindu/Buddhist symbol and the first adult books for coloring were all books of mandalas. It quickly branched off from there to the plethora of coloring books we have now. I think it’s a distraction. Aren’t we supposed to be caring for the imprisoned and the poor instead of soothing ourselves? Read up on mandalas and decide for yourself. Unlike the eastern religions, our Scriptures exhort us to be alert, mentally engaged and aware. We can soothe ourselves in traditional prayer, Scripture meditation, and bearing one another’s burdens. As for the kid stuff, we’ve been told to put aside childish things.

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