Refashioning God

By T.A. McMahon
From The Berean Call
Published in August 2009

Wherefore thou art great, O LORD God: for there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears. - 2 Samuel 7:22

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. - John 17:3

Every man, woman, and child has the opportunity to spend eternity with God. That's mind-boggling! There is nothing imaginable that could possibly be more exciting and wonderful. Moreover, that possibility isn't something that man has invented. From Genesis through the book of Revelation, the Scriptures declare and explain how that becomes a reality. It's what the Bible is all about.

In God's revelation of Himself through His Word, we learn of His attributes and personal qualities in the only way that mankind can know Him accurately. Without His revelation, we are left with finite man's speculations and guesses about an infinite God. Such guesswork is often the basis of all the religions of the world. Their deities and their beliefs are the product of the imagination of fallen humanity (with the help of fallen angels). Biblical Christianity is the only exception. God has declared Himself in very specific terms to mankind. Without an accurate source of information, which only God Himself could and did provide, mankind would be left with nothing more than mythology, and most of the world is mired in this.

Tragically, a similar condition is infecting those who profess to be biblical Christians; they are slipping into the same swamp of delusion. That's one of the reasons why so few Christians seem truly excited about eternity and spending it with the Lord. They can't relate to it--or to Him--with real confidence. Many are tossed to and fro by their thoughts about God drawn from extra-biblical sources, from the latest best-selling Christian books, to Christian television programming, to what Oprah and her guests have conjured up. What's being communicated about God is usually pleasing (albeit to the flesh) but is rarely true to His holy character. Even the most appealing ideas about God, when they don't ring true to the Scriptures, contribute to a misleading and superficial relationship with the One we are to love in truth and with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

John, the beloved Apostle, tells us in his epistle that believers love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). That love for Him began with a basic understanding of who He is and what He has done for us. When we finally understood and believed the simple gospel (that God so loved us that He became a Man in order to reconcile us to Himself through His life, death, and resurrection), Jesus saved us. He did what only God could do--provided salvation for all mankind by paying the infinite penalty for sin that God's perfect justice required.

At our new birth in Christ, which begins each believer's personal relationship with Him, He gives us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to live within us, to teach us His Word, and to help us to grow in the knowledge of God our Savior. That's the only way we can truly know, and mature in our relationship with, Jesus. Anything that deviates from God's way of knowing Him is a delusion that leads down a slippery slope to destruction. In this day of quick fixes, running after instant gratification, and experiential catharses, we need to heed Isaiah's counsel regarding spiritual maturity: "Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" (Isaiah 28:9-10). These precepts are God's instructions, His full counsel, which are completely sufficient for His children. As Peter declared, "According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue" (2 Peter 1:3). That's God's way of developing maturity and fruitfulness (not to mention confidence in and a greater love for Him!) among His saints: "For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:8).

There is nothing complicated about God's plan. So, what's the problem? Each one of us has to ask himself or herself that question, whether indeed, we have not taken to heart, or have willfully deviated from, God's instructions. As Isaiah pointed out, the learning/maturing process is quite simple ("precept upon precept"), but it does require learning what the precepts are and a willingness to do them. I'm speaking to my own heart as much as anyone else's when it comes to whether or not I fall short of what God desires in all of this.

For thirty years prior to accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior by faith alone, I had many beliefs about Him that were without support from the Scriptures--even contradictory. Some of the ideas came from the nuns and priests who, in many ways, were a wonderful part of my life growing up Catholic, whether in elementary school, private school, or high school. What they taught me was mostly unbiblical, including many things that were not even accepted as official Church dogma. The most notable example was the common belief that Jesus, for all practical and even eternal purposes, was subject to His mother, Mary. Her position as Mater Dei, the Mother of God (we were told), made her the most advantageous source of obtaining favors from Jesus. That certainly made sense to me and to the friends of my youth. After all, what good son would refuse his mom anything? Imagery of Christ as a small child with the Madonna was seemingly everywhere Catholic, from classic art and statuary to the many apparitions of Mary holding a baby--from the 1600s right up to the present, including Medugorje and Egypt. No one I knew who had collected holy cards (a popular practice of Catholics of my generation) of the Infant Jesus of Prague, or St. Anthony, or St. Joseph holding the infant Jesus, gave any thought to the biblical fact that Jesus was in His early thirties when He ascended into heaven. Such things created an impression about Jesus that was endearing yet deadly in its straying from the truth about our all-knowing and all-powerful sovereign God.

The erroneous Catholic ideas about Jesus (that a piece of bread is changed into the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist, that He did not pay the full penalty for our sins, etc.,) may not seem too surprising to evangelicals because, as most know, the Church of Rome doesn't strictly adhere to the Bible. To that she has added Sacred Tradition and the Sacred Magisterium, through which the bishops claim to infallibly interpret Tradition and the Bible. What is tragic is that evangelicals, who traditionally have regarded the Bible alone as their authority in all matters of faith and practice, are increasingly turning to extrabiblical sources for their instruction regarding spiritual matters. That's not exactly new; popular Christian books have displaced the books of the Bible in many so-called Bible studies throughout the land. Multitudes seem to prefer the insights of Beth Moore, John Eldredge, and Max Lucado over the Holy Spirit-inspired prophets of Scripture. Sadly, man's opinions and subtle and not-so-subtle psychobabble have become the oracles of wisdom for most of Christianity.

For decades, because of the influence of psychology on the church, professing Christians have integrated psychotherapeutic concepts into the way they view themselves, as opposed to what the Bible teaches about humanity. For example, many if not most Christians, believe the humanistic concepts of self-esteem and self-love to be consistent with Scripture, although they are absolutely contrary to the Word of God. Why, then, are those concepts accepted by evangelicals? Primarily because Dr. James Dobson and a host of other influential Christian psychologists promote them. Man's ideas and pseudo-scientific speculations have become the so-called guiding light of increasing numbers of Christian families. Yet there is something even more ominous than the leaven of man's ways mixed with God's way in the life of a Christian. It amounts to refashioning one's view of God from a human perspective.

All of us, from time to time, have had thoughts about God that did not square exactly with what He himself has declared in the Scriptures, but that generation of misinformation has reached appalling levels among evangelical Christians today. This development has been stimulated primarily by the Church Growth and Emerging Church movements in their approach to allegedly reaching our culture for Christ. Reinventing Christ and Christianity, in order to make them more acceptable to the unsaved masses, is both the method and the goal. It amounts to recreating God in the fallen image of man. As delusionary as that approach may seem in attempting to reach the lost, astonishingly, it has millions of professing Christians caught in its web of deception.

Though many examples could be cited, the most popular vehicle of this tactic is a fictional book that has been atop the New York Times best-seller list for about 60 weeks, is available in 35 languages, and has sold more than seven million copies. I'm referring to The Shack, by William Paul Young. Multitudes have claimed that the book has transformed their lives by giving them a "new and wonderful awareness about God that they never understood from the Bible." The story centers upon a man, Mack Philips, whose young daughter was abducted during a family vacation. Although her body hadn't been found, evidence pointing to her murder was discovered in an abandoned shack in the wilderness of Eastern Oregon; hence the title.

After several years, which have played emotional havoc with Mack and his family (he calls this time "The Great Sadness"), he receives a note in his mailbox inviting him back to the shack. The note is signed, "Papa," a very private and intimate name that Mack's wife affectionately uses for God. Mack apprehensively follows through with the invitation and encounters the godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in ways, means, and manifestations that are both unbiblical and bizarre. God the Father appears as a stereotyped, overweight black woman, who, nevertheless, is called Papa. She's a bit crude at times, likes to boogie to funk music, and some of her dialogue makes you wonder if she got past the third grade: "Well, Mackenzie, don't just stand there gawkin' with your mouth open like your pants are full"; "Take it easy on those greens, young man. Those things can give you the trots if you ain't careful." And when asked if there was anyone in the world of whom she was not especially fond, she replies, "Nope, I haven't been able to find any. Guess that's jes' the way I is."

The book may be fiction, but God is not. If God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit say and do things in this novel that are out of character with how they are revealed in Scripture, they are obviously false representations. Insights and explanations about God constitute doctrine. They are either true to God's Word, reflecting sound doctrine, or they are lies or fables that men concoct. Paul's prophetic words of warning in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 are evident in the popularity of The Shack: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables."

The Jesus character is a giggling "good ol' boy" who is enamored by His creation. A bit of a klutz, he drops a bowl of sauce that splatters all over Papa's skirt, giving the three persons of the "Trinity" a good laugh. When questioned by Mack about his less-than-good looks, Jesus blames it on his "big Jewish nose," which he says he got from Mary's side of the family, specifically his grandfather. We learn that Jesus likes to fish for trout by trying to chase them down as he runs on water. He has yet to be successful but thoroughly enjoys the sport. Referring to the female Papa's unexpected crudeness, he declares, "She's a riot." Throughout the story, Jesus can't seem to restrain his giggles and chuckles. He and the other persons of the Trinity are so like us that many readers claim they are now "more comfortable" with God. It's astonishing that what amounts to slandering the character of our holy God could make a professing Christian comfortable.

Nearly all of the literary devices in the book are either emotional or psychological hooks. The bait is "meeting felt needs." For example, Jesus the Carpenter constructs a coffin for the now-found body of Mack's daughter, although she makes her daddy feel better by communicating to him from heaven (necromancy?) that she's quite happy. As another example, the reason that God the Father appears as a woman to Mack is because he had a bad attitude toward his own dysfunctional father (who made it to heaven anyway, in keeping with the universalism [everyone is finally reconciled to God] implied in the novel). Heresies and distortions of biblical truth are found in page after page of The Shack (see Extra Page).

Thinking of Jesus' words in Matthew 24 that false Christs would arise and lead many astray, the Jesus of The Shack readily qualifies as a fulfillment of that prophecy. Again, more than seven million people have thus far been presented a bogus Jesus, and, for some, that may be their one and only introduction to him. That grieves me deeply. A false Jesus can save no one. Erroneous ideas about Jesus will destroy any hope of a truly fruitful relationship with Him. Jesus was, and is, certainly human. But He is also God, and His humanity was and is perfect in every aspect. In that light, all attempts to make Him seem more like us--sinful humanity--either in a book or in our minds, is an act of blasphemy. Blasphemy isn't just bad-mouthing God or Jesus; it's attributing characteristics to Him that are not true--any false characteristics. It is conjuring up "another Jesus," which Scripture condemns.

"This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Ephesians 4:17-18). The success of The Shack among those who profess to be evangelicals is as shameful as it is destructive, yet it also indicates that "vanity" of mind and "ignorance" are not the exclusive domain of unbelievers. Only a love for the truth and a willingness to do what the Word of God says will preserve us from the apostasy that Scripture tells us will overtake the world.

Lord, help us to remain steadfast in the faith, submitting to You in all things, and worshiping You in Spirit and in truth. Maranatha! TBC

The "Jesus" The World Loves, by T.A. McMahon

The Universal[ism] Drift, by T.A. McMahon

The New Age Movement

More Resources on The Shack

Personal Being or Silly Putty God? (One of my articles)