In 2007 a novel called “The Shack” by William P. Young was published. It is a novel about a father experiencing grief over the kidnap and murder of his 7-year-old daughter. He receives a personal invitation from “God” to meet at the very place where his daughter was killed, a shack in the nearby woods.
The book swept Christianity, with near unanimous affirmation that this was a sensitive and heart-shaking book that revealed Christ as a loving Father. “It changed lives” we heard over and over. But that was wrong, it didn’t change lives. What The Shack did was change our theology.
Is this old news? Perhaps, but I find it helpful to go back sometimes and review the situation. Satan is subtle and he works incrementally. He chips a flake off the wall here and scoops a teaspoon of sand under the wall there and moves the theological touchdown line a foot and then another foot. If he can’t move it a foot satan will move it an inch. He is patient and invested for the long term.
Such incremental declines are initially hard to spot, which is why the Lord gave the Church believers with discernment. We can spot those inches and teaspoons. Therefore it is helpful to go back to already-identified discernment markers and stand on them and look ahead to where we are now and the decline becomes more obvious to those who are new in the faith or who do not possess as much discernment.
The 1963 movie The Great Escape is a good metaphor to use as an illustration of satan’s incremental work. The setting was a Luftwaffe-run prisoner-of-war camp during World War II housing imprisoned US and UK airmen. The POW camp was famous for two escapes. The prisoners dug tunnels inch by inch and subtly scattered the sand from their trouser pockets as they casually walked around the compound topside. It took a while, digging quietly, undermining the camp’s holding power, secretly scattering the sand sometimes a few teaspoons at a time. Over time though, the tunnels were built and the wall was breached. FMI here is a synopsis of the incident.
In 2009, Dr Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an essay responding directly to The Shack’s onslaught, titled, The Shack- The Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment. He first put to bed the claim of Shack-supporters that “its just a novel” and doesn’t have anything real to do with Christian theology. Of course the book does. Mohler wrote,
In evaluating the book, it must be kept in mind that The Shack is a work of fiction. But it is also a sustained theological argument, and this simply cannot be denied. Any number of notable novels and works of literature have contained aberrant theology, and even heresy. The crucial question is whether the aberrant doctrines are features of the story or the message of the work. When it comes to The Shack, the really troubling fact is that so many readers are drawn to the theological message of the book, and fail to see how it conflicts with the Bible at so many crucial points.
Dear Sisters, many novels containing a heavy theological message are merely a disguise for the author’s agenda. In author Young’s case, it was his universalism. Just because a book is a novel doesn’t necessarily mean it is theologically neutral, or even safe. Be wary.
Dr Mohler concluded his 2010 article with this devastating prediction,
The Shack is a wake-up call for evangelical Christianity. An assessment like that offered by Timothy Beal is telling. The popularity of this book among evangelicals can only be explained by a lack of basic theological knowledge among us — a failure even to understand the Gospel of Christ. The tragedy that evangelicals have lost the art of biblical discernment must be traced to a disastrous loss of biblical knowledge. Discernment cannot survive without doctrine.
He turned out to be correct. Discernment as a regular practice among Christians seems to be at an all-time low, that is, until tomorrow, when it will be lower still. The onslaught didn’t begin nor did it end with The Shack, but only continued briskly apace. Discernment is not just for those having been given the Gift of Discernment, but should be practiced and sought by every Christian. It’s actually a command! (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
A diamond may look to have no flaws at first glance, but if we were to bring it to a jeweler, an appraiser someone who is trained to inspect it. He then takes out his magnifying glass to see how it was cut and find the flaws and imperfections. They have been trained to recognize what is not right. Thus a full examination is the safest course for a believer. Only those who are not teaching or practicing Christianity will object to being tested by the word. Darkness will always run from the light, never light from darkness. Source: (Let Us Reason)
Though the general situation today among the visible church seems bleak, in this sermon Pastor Don Green of Truth Community Church outlines how to develop Biblical Discernment. In this sermon, Green was preaching on the text from 1 John 4:1–6,
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Here in this recent essay Pastor Green gives us the Tests for Discernment, stating that the Bible gives us several tests for discerning true and false teachers. As for the sermon above, I took notes. Here are my notes from Pastor Green’s sermon:
There are four basic premises to understand before we begin,
1. Discernment is a command. (Romans 12:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, 1 Corinthians 14:29, 1 John 4:1).
2. God has given us the means to discern. The Holy Spirit helps us, (2 Timothy 3:16–17; Ephesians 6:10–19), and we exercise our discernment muscles. (Heb 5:13-14).
3. Understand that not everyone who claims to speak for God, does.
4. The false teachers do not “mean well”. They are trying to deceive you! (1 John 2:26)
There are three discernment tests the 1 John 4 text outlines. The tests are easily understood, being on the surface of scripture, but the challenge is not so much understanding them, but applying them. The absolute key to discernment is to overcome your natural human impulse to make excuses for them and to say “No! I’m called to test the spirits and this teacher doesn’t pass the test and their teaching isn’t from God.” Any Bible teacher should welcome scrutiny in life and in their doctrine. A teacher who says touch not God’s anointed is a person attempting to escape scrutiny. If they say “Touch not God’s anointed!” then run.
So, how can one tell the true from the false? How does the Bible advise how to examine a teacher?
1. Examine their manner of life. Do they live an ungodly lifestyle, or have an unloving disposition?
2. Examine their view of Christ. Because their teaching about Christ is an acid test of whether they speak for God or not. (1 John 4:2-3).
3. Examine their view of scripture and look at their submission to apostolic teaching, and not just lip service affirmation.
False teachers are not innocent teachers who are mistaken. False teachers give voice to demonic teaching. They are a mouthpiece for satan. This is not to be underestimated. It is the spirit of antichrist, and is full opposition to Christ and His kingdom.
Of course I recommend the entire sermon.
Discernment is critical for every Christian to practice. Yes the Gift of Discernment is given to some (1 Corinthians 12:10) but those who are mature and have long practiced discernment find they wield the sword of truth pretty well, too. (Hebrews 5:14).
Our Lord Jesus Christ is worth the practice. He is unique, glorious, and His doctrines are worth protecting. You can do your part by praying for wisdom, reading the Word diligently, and worshiping under a solid pastor. We do this until Jesus comes again.
Al Mohler updated his older article on biblical illiteracy, a few weeks ago.
Challies: The Discipline of Biblical Discernment