Johnny Cash wrote a novel on the life of Paul. Yes, THAT Johnny Cash, known as the Man in Black. (1932-2003).
It shouldn’t really be a surprise, because although Cash was known for his singing, he was also a songwriter. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977. He wrote over a hundred songs. He was also an actor, appearing in television shows and movies, more of them than you think. He was creative.
Cash also is famously known for his struggles, his Christianity, and his marriage, usually all tied up on one knot.
He began drinking and using drugs in the late 1950s when his career took off and he needed to stay awake on the punishing long tours. He drank. He became drug addicted. He smuggled drugs, caused a terrible forest wildfire that nearly killed him, was arrested several times, divorced his first wife, and spun out. He sobered up stayed in control for some years in the 1970s, and got addicted again winding up in the Betty Ford clinic for drug rehabilitation in the 1980s. His final rehabilitation was in 1992.
Cash was raised by Southern Baptists. He claimed to be a Christian throughout his life. With wife June, Johnny completed a two-year course of study in the Bible through Christian International Bible College, receiving a theology degree. He and June made a pilgrimage to Israel in November 1978. He was also ordained as a minister around that time.
Johnny Cash was a creative Christian man interested in the things of Christ, so it’s no wonder he wrote a novel about the Life of Paul. It’s called “Man in White.” I looked at the question of “Is novelizing a book of the Bible or a Bible character’s life adding to scripture?” here. Some believe yes others, no.
I appreciated Cash’s preface to the book. In it, Cash described his research process, his interviews with Jewish rabbis and biblical scholars, and his trip to Israel. He described his thoughts about why he wrote the book. He explained it humbly, too, another thing I liked about the introduction. His explanations satisfied any lasting qualms I had about a novelization of a Bible character’s life.
In reading Man in White, it seemed to me that Cash took what was known about Paul, the culture of the day, the temple, the Pharisees etc, and depicted it accurately. We know of Paul’s zeal for Christ as one of Paul’s endearing and awe-inspiring character traits. We also know that Paul prior to conversion was zealous for the Temple and that he was fervent in killing Christians. Cash took that personality trait of Paul’s – his unswerving religious zeal and his staunch commitment to God – and aptly showed how the Lord turned murderous zeal into a Gospel fervor for Jesus.
For example, we know Saul had a letter from the High Priest allowing Saul to kill Christians. Cash did a good job of showing Saul’s irritation at Christians over time turned into an almost unmanageable zeal and how it seemed to be unbalancing him. Saul ignored warnings from friends and the High Priest alike. Cash used the Bible’s letter scene by showing Saul committing to a 7-day fast in preparation for putting into action his commitment to wipe out Christians everywhere he found them. Yet also sensitively showed Saul’s niggling doubts, and how he suppressed the truth in unrighteousness every time his conscience reared up.
We know that Paul had a father who was a Pharisee. (Acts 23:6). We know he had a sister and a nephew, mentioned in Acts 23:16. We also know that Jesus said he would cause division in families. (Luke 12:49-56). So Cash took that concept and made an issue with Saul’s conversion from zealous Pharisee to fervent Christian and depicted a split in the family between his sister and her husband. Cash created a fictional but plausible scenario where after Paul’s sister might have converted, and her husband then sought a bill of divorcement and also split from Paul. The sister’s resulting struggles as a hunted single Christian woman were similar to struggles we know Christian characters had with converting during that time of persecution.
I also thought Cash’s depiction of the three days of blindness Saul/Paul had after encountering Jesus on the Road to Damascus was plausible. He wrote what Paul must have been thinking, of the fears of Christians to have Paul in their midst, and so on.
Where it depicts biblical events, it’s accurate. Where it shifts into novelization, it’s plausible, staying true to the concepts of the time. All in all, my opinion is that “Man in White” is a worthwhile book.
I’m often asked to review or share my thoughts on a Christian Bible study, a new book, or other material. As someone with the spiritual gift of discernment I am happy to do this for women since the gifts were distributed for the edification of the church; local first, then global. Recently I was asked about a popular book by Emily Lex. The book is called-
Freely and Lightly: God’s Gracious Invitation to a Life of Quiet Confidence
During this short school break I managed to finish my book and watch a couple of movies. Here are some short reviews of them. In my opinion they are clean and good material, safe for Christians. Some of the diseases the explorers in the Amazon had were described – ahem – realistically…and in the three movies I do not remember any language and certainly no sexual situations. In The Booksellers one seller specializes in fringe books and a cover of a salacious book was briefly shown.
Book: The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, By David Grann
“In 1925, the legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett ventured into the Amazon jungle, in search of a fabled civilization. He never returned. Over the years countless perished trying to find evidence of his party and the place he called “The Lost City of Z.” In this masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, journalist David Grann interweaves the spellbinding stories of Fawcett’s quest for “Z” and his own journey into the deadly jungle, as he unravels the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century.” Amazon synopsis
Grann is a superlative writer, and a fantastic researcher. HOW he got access to as many of the hidden, lost, and protected primary materials, I’ll never know. Some non-fiction writers don’t want to let go of all the research they did and cram it in, bogging down the story (as happened with my book on Jesse James). Others leave out too much of the research and the reader deals with gaps of information or lack of context. It’s a delicate balance. Grann nailed it. His engaging style and the wealth of information wrapped in great storytelling made for a rollicking book. I was fascinated from start to the fantastic ending.
He seamlessly switched between Fawcett’s expeditions of the past, and his own research expedition. I was fascinated with Fawcett’s life as well as Grann’s own increasing curiosity about what happened to Fawcett. All the while gaining insight into the beginnings of the Royal Geographic Society and the early expeditions by these brave and sometimes foolhardy men. A good old fashioned story, just the way you like it. Recommended.
Of similar interest: these incidents in the Amazon were mentioned in Grann’s book, Movies Fitzcarraldo, Burden of Dreams (even better than Fitzcarraldo), and Aguirre Wrath of God. Similar adventure books are Out in the Cold: Travels North, by Bill Murray; and book The Lure of the Labrador Wild, by Dillon Wallace.
Documentary: The Booksellers. A behind-the-scenes look at the rare book world. I enjoyed this documentary so much. The rare book sellers are smart people, they use articulate words to fervently describe their passion, in bookish way, that is. The peek at selling books, fads in book collecting, the passion behind these important social artifacts, the history of book selling…was all touched on but in a personal way, through the eyes of people new to the profession all the way to third generation sellers. Stay on past the end credits, where Fran Liebowitz’s apparent dispassion for books is unwittingly revealed to be just as a heated passion for her books as everyone else’s, lol. Here is a review of the documentary from Variety. On Amazon Prime.
For more on the subject- Bibliostyle: How We Live at Home with Books. (Book) Midnight In Paris, Movie (must watch).
Movie: Ride Like a Girl. Based on the true story of Michelle Payne, first woman to win the Melbourne Cup. Beautiful scenery, a good story, Sam Neill as the father was terrific. Michelle’s younger brother Stevie, with whom she is very close, is a Down’s Syndrome child, and he appeared as himself in the film. I think he stole the show. A clean, good, normal movie, made all the better because it is a true story. I hadn’t realized the emotional build-up until the end when the catharsis left me in tears. On Netflix. Hollywood reporter review.
Of similar interest: Walk Ride Rodeo, another film based on true events, and the series Free Rein, all also on Netflix.
Movie: Enola Holmes. Adding to the ever-present canon and satisfying an apparent audience clamor for more Sherlock Holmes stuff, comes this Netflix original. Adding a younger sister to the known family of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, the plucky gal has been raised by her eccentric mother (Helena Bonham Carter) who nurtured Enola’s brilliant brain as well as training her physically for challenges of a life of independence. Which is just as well, because when the mother goes missing, Enola sets off to find her. She outsmarts even her brilliantly deductive brother Sherlock, and saves a Viscount in the process. Aside from the usual feminism (women can do anything a man can do…we can change the world…yadda yadda…) the movie was attractive, interesting, rollicking, and felt Disneyesque (in Disney’s earlier more innocent days). Enola’s rated PG 13 for some mild violence (a man tries to drown Enola, she’s stabbed but survives due to the whalebone corset, etc). There is no language I remember and nothing sexual at all. I enjoyed Enola breaking the 4th wall, and loved all the interstitial slides of Victorian ephemera. It is a visually sumptuous movie. I liked it, and I went into it expecting not to like it. 🙂
Of similar interest: movie The Journey of Natty Gann, series Anne of Green Gables.
I like working in an elementary school mainly because I love kids, but also because these short breaks come up every so often. I’m looking forward to the week off at Thanksgiving. I hope to put it to good use both with applying myself to spiritual things- I want to finish Saints and Sectaries (About Puritan Anne Hutchinson) and begin a book Blood Work by Anthony J. Carter, about the blood of Christ. And make progress in my The Masters Seminary course The Doctrine of Salvation with Mike Riccardi teaching.
But I also want to read and enjoy good movies and documentaries. My next book will be Out in the Cold, the travel adventure by Bill Murray I mentioned above. I plan to watch My Octopus Teacher soon or during the next school break, as well as The Social Dilemma (if I dare). I’m also interested in Joan Froggatt in Dark Angel, a story of the infamous Victorian poisoner Mary Ann Cotton.
I hope the above suits your entertainment needs and you enjoy!
It’s January, a time of year I’d not enjoyed in the past, when I was living in Maine. It’s cold, frigid, dangerously cold, and snowy. And icy. And cold. Did I say cold? Here in Georgia a cold day is temps in the upper 40s and that only lasts a few days. Then it’s warm again.
Hello and welcome to another edition of Prata Potpourri. I’ve found some interesting links and tossed them into the mix for your consideration. The week ended on a good note for me. To be honest it started on a good note, so all in all it was a good week! I hope it was for you as well. The rapture didn’t happen this week but since it’s always imminent, it could happen next week. What a blessing it will be to be in glory, seeing Jesus’ face, and rendering the perfect service and worship He deserves.
Meanwhile the dawn hasn’t broken and I’m sipping coffee in the quiet, with the vigorous rooster next door announcing the imminent arrival of Aurora. Later I will have to attend to some adulting by paying bills and choosing health care since Open Enrollment is ongoing. Maybe clean the apartment. But the precious moments between waking and arising, and heaving ho to the tasks ahead is the sweet spot of Saturday morning. I hope you enjoy a few of these during your down time, whenever you can find some.
Samuel D. James’s review of the book The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure and how it’s really about parenting. Man, this guy can write.
Hannah Anderson’s new book All That’s Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernmentis reviewed by the ladies at Out of the Ordinary. I haven’t read the book and I’m not that familiar with Anderson. But I’m always looking for a good book on discernment. Let me know if you read it and like it.
Do you stint the Lord with the excuse that you must prioritize family? Meager with time or money or service for the Lord? Michael Coughlin had me at Spurgeon…and the Spirit had me at stint.
This Britain’s Got Talent clip of the singers performing the classic song White Cliffs of Dover, a WWII song. The surprise at the end, had me in tears. It got me thinking about true bravery and sacrifice, and the endless wars our globe has endured and will endure, as we are promised (Matthew 24:6. Wars have scarred generations of humans from the beginning and has corrupted even the ground with blood, hate, and bones. But then I got to thinking about the end of war, and I began to long even more for Jesus’s great appearing.
Whoever the BBC Good Food photographers are, they kill me with their luscious pictures of food, expertly photographed. So mouth watering. Stills can get boring but these guys are endlessly creative. Follow them on Twitter, you won’t regret it. @BBcGoodFood
Now they add to my pain with this photo of weekend getaways for foodies. Look at this pub! Just look at it!
Winston Tseng’s parody trash posters have Christians and conservatives up in arms. I say, relax and chill, people. He is an equal opportunity parodist, taking on the NYC MTA, Christians, Trump, and the Red Sox. I’m not a fan of the sentiment but I’m not going to spend social media time or spiritual energy decrying that an unsaved person hurt my feelings with a poster.
This European City map will serve you well in any city in which you travel. It’s highly accurate, from my own experience, lol.
For moms. I opened with parenting and I close with mommying. Mattea Goff’s comic explaining to her husband why she is so tired in the morning has gone viral.
Speak to doctrinal or biblical living expectations, and the hits are low. Speak against a hugely popular “Christian celebrity” and the hits are high. But that is OK, because if any woman learns something that crosses the line for her, biblically, and avoids yet another Christian-ish celebrity author, than I’m happy. Essay views for the day before and after I’d reviewed Girl, Wash Your Face:
Rachel Hollis’s writing is great and her stories are affecting, but that’s often the issue. Engaging and skillful writers who connect with an audience over a slim veneer of Christianity are rife these days, to the detriment of women who need and want depth of scripture for life’s issues.
Sadly, many of Hollis’s ideas are not based on a strong Christian foundation. Thus, her book and its advice fails to rely on the atoning work of Jesus on the cross for our sins, and instead promotes a secular worldview of self-sufficiency. It’s about raising our self-esteem, which I am good and plenty sick of reading about from supposed Christian authors. The book is mainly grrrrrl power self-bootstraps advice, so I gave the book a thumbs-down.
Hollis’s theology should give you all you need to know about whether to take her advice in Girl:
Tim Challies reviewed the book, saying it is not only not good, but is antithetical to the Bible. Read more here.
Sheologians writer Summer White Jaeger published a review of the book. One thing I like to do when I write, or speak, or come to believe something based on my faith is to check it against the word, of course. But I also like to check against what other Christians are saying. I don’t exist in a vacuum, and I always need to ensure that my narrow center line of life & doctrine is still on the center line, not varying to the left or right.
I was pleased to see that Jaeger’s concerns in part 1 of the review were similar to mine. She noted that Hollis is giving out life advice to the general Christian female world from her vantage point of all of 35 years old. She noticed Hollis doesn’t mention much about sin. And so on. Read part 1 here and Jaeger’s part 2 is here. Final thoughts here.
Also: Katie at Uncomfortable Grace (on Facebook) wrote a short review, also, here
Jesus never called us to chase after power, money, and fame (and He actually had quite a bit to say about those things). He called us to lay our pursuit of all that stuff down and follow Him. He said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
The Theology Gals reviewed Girl, Wash Your Face and spoke of Hollis’s faith in general from a discernment aspect, here.
Michelle Lesley reviewed it here in a larger essay that recommends or doesn’t recommend various teachers.
Rebekah Womble at Wise in His Eyesreviewed Hollis’s book. She held it to the light of scripture and found it lacking, as did the other reviewers. I love how the different women raise different issues, though, but all of them compared the book to scripture and find it fails the test. I liked Womble’s review quite a bit.Womble wrote:
I want to start by acknowledging that Rachel does have some good things to say in the book. In particular, she shares poignant episodes from her life that brought me to empathize with the trials she has endured, and I could appreciate her speaking out of her own personal experiences.
But unfortunately, much of Girl, Wash Your Face is fraught with contradictory statements. Since most of what Rachel writes are her own ideas and opinions—not originating in the Bible as the objective standard of truth—this is to be expected. As fallen human beings, each one of us is prone to accept as true only what we want to believe.
Here are some examples of the book’s antithetical creeds:
I wrote 2 companion pieces to my book review of Girl, Wash Your Face, about the problem of and solution to Christian Celebrity Moms like Hollis, here-
Above: The copy I am reviewing has a cover as in the upper left. The one I read as a teen is upper right. The lower left is the Kindle edition cover using a photo of the real Christy, (Leonora Whitaker), and lower right is another version of many covers that have been published in the last 50 years. Christy is still going strong.
Christy (1967) is a historical fiction Christian novel by American author Catherine Marshall, set in the fictional Appalachian village of Cutter Gap, Tennessee, in 1912. The novel was inspired by the work of Marshall’s mother, Leonora Whitaker, who taught impoverished children in the Appalachian region when she was a young, single woman. The novel explores faith, and mountain traditions such as moonshining, folk beliefs, and folk medicine. Christianity Today ranked Christy as 27th on a list of the 50 books (post-World War II) that had most shaped evangelicals’ minds, after surveying “dozens of evangelical leaders” for their nominations.
The book is listed as historical fiction, but the author Catherine Marshall said she drew heavily on her mother’s life for the actual events recorded in the book. For the events that did not occur in Mrs Whitaker’s life AKA Christy, such as the typhoid epidemic, the author researched diligently to present a historically accurate event that was true to the times and the place.
I love a teacher story so even though the book deals with many theological themes, I read it as an unsaved teenager for the teaching part, and enjoyed it fabulously. I got a notion a few years ago to revisit the book now that I am saved, in order to enjoy the theological parts as well. When I came across it at a Library Book Sale, I delightedly bought it.
On GoodReads, Christy has an average rating of 4.21 collected from 43,635 Ratings. There are 1,494 Reviews. Most of the reviews are 4 or 5 star. Wow.
On Amazon there are 76 ratings & reviews, and all of them are 5 or 4-star except for two ratings that reported a Kindle glitch.
I was hopeful.
I should know better.
Though thousands of people have given the book highest ratings, I must sadly depart from the crowd. I have three minds about the book Christy.
The Good, the Bad, the Upshot
1. As a secular story, it is an extremely well-written, absorbing (500-page) book that would capture any reader for the vivid descriptions of the majestic mountain locations and the well-drawn characters. The history alone and deep knowledge of lives lived in a long-ago time is enough to recommend the book. It definitely makes an impression from the first page.
2. As a faith story aimed at many Christian women, it stands alone in stark contrast to many books of its genre published today, in a good way. Modern faith stories have trivialized today’s woman in her struggles with a chosen career, uncertainty of effectiveness in missionary work, her doubts about what she believes, romance, mentoring, friendships, and more. Today’s faith stories usually include the silly main character (usually an antiques dealer or a florist) encountering a short-lived, superficial bump in the road made out to be a monumental struggle, a passing glance at some trite beliefs, and finishing with a direct whisper from God telling the girl to go marry Joe, and they lived happily ever after. Christy, on the other hand, delves into strong rapids swirling with rejection, fear, uncertainty, God’s plan, romance, death, marriage, and love for neighbor under adverse circumstances. It has guts. It has grit. To that end, it’s a true mission story.
3. As a faith story, it is a theological train wreck. I can’t recommend it at all based on the number of false theologies it introduces. There’s mysticism, Quakerism, direct revelation, biblical errancy, social justice, moralism, and more. Though there is mention of Jesus, more often the author chooses to use a generic name such as the “Authority”, or simply “Someone.” Someone? I was reminded of the verse in Acts 17:23, the monument “To An Unknown God”. Though the characters wrestle with evil, a lot, sin is never ever discussed. The main character is shocked by the level of superstition and darkness in the people to whom she is ministering, but the solution of the Gospel is never raised. They just try harder to get the people to be moral and to love well. God’s sovereignty is not presented, but man’s free will is.
The short version is that the book Christy: Heavy Social Justice + A Good Dose of Mysticism + A Dash of Moralism = A book the world loves
The long version is that the book is not “just fiction.” The novel presents itself as a theological faith story, and as such, it’s incumbent on us to review that faith and compare to the Bible. Here are the nuts and bolts.
The copy from which I’m quoting is Mass Market Paperback from Publisher Avon, published June 2006. On page 103, Christy seeks advice from her mentor, a Quaker woman named Alice. Now, please understand, that Quakerism, or as it used to be known, quietism, “does not reflect a biblical approach to spiritual life,” as John MacArthur is quoted. Much is made of Alice’s quiet spirit, her centered approach, her great still pools of eyes that looked piercingly at you and spoke of the ‘inner Light”.
Matt Slick writes of the Quaker beliefs and practices, that they believe in general (though there are many different manifestations of people populating the Friends’ Society) that the Bible is a guide but subordinate to direct revelation, they do not practice communion nor baptism, women can and are leaders and elders, (on Page 332 the pastor in the book deferred to Alice the Quaker to preach a funeral to the gathered community), salvation can be lost, and there is no such thing as total depravity. Never mind the complicated justification explanations. There is not talk of repentance since sin is downplayed. As a matter of fact, they believe sinless perfection can be achieved in the flesh. Many of these threads are overtly or subtly brought out in Christy.
In the book, on page 308, Alice teaches Christy that not only spiritual blessings but material blessings can be gained if we just “claim them.”
God has all kinds of riches for us. Not just spiritual riches either. His promises in the Bible are His way of telling us what’s available. But this plenty doesn’t become ours until we drive our stake on that particular promise and thus indicate that we accept that gift. That, Christy, is ‘claiming.’
This is a strange conversation to be having when the poverty around them was so dire that the unsanitary and impoverished conditions of a cabin she was visiting and its inhabitants made Christy vomit. Just ‘claim riches’? For shame, Miss Alice.
A few sentences later, Alice explains the problem is evil exists and not to compromise with it. She said we must fight it. How? “Listen for His orders on strategy against evil…” She did not instruct Christy to seek that advice from His word.
Subtly, the Quaker character steers Christy away from specifics of the Bible, mentioning the Bible a lot but not consulting it as the Word of God filled with Holy Spirit life and solutions to today’s issues. Given today’s young women who already have a tendency to listen for direct whispers and heavenly advice, the subtle dismissal of God’s word as authoritative and final is troubling and I would not put this book in front of young women for that reason alone.
Love is the key for Quaker Alice, and for the book’s characters in general. Not repentance. Yes, love is important. However the character teaches that we can have Jesus’ friendship “only if we are willing to let go our resentments and our hating and our feuding and our our name-calling and our shooting and love one another.” [emphasis theirs]. In essence, our works (loving well) brings Jesus to us, which is consistent with Quaker theology. The closest the character got to the Gospel in her sermon was to say to “trust our Friend, and He will root out bitterness and replace it with love.” We need more than trust, but to repent and believe. (Mark 1:15).
These theologies were evident in the book, spoken through this main character Miss Alice. This is what “Alice” was teaching “Christy” and thus, the reader.
The pastor in the story was a man who was not settled in his beliefs. He didn’t seem to be saved at all, as a matter of fact. In the end he seemed to give up the pastorate completely. He wrestled with many theological problems, and not the hard ones, either. He did not believe in biblical inerrancy, taught that the soul goes to sleep after death, wasn’t sure about our resurrection after death, (but humans are probably immortal because the flowers come back every spring, don’t they?) didn’t believe in Jesus’ miracles because they very likely have a natural explanation, and how one lives is more important than what one believes. “Dogma isn’t important. It’s the results in the community that count. As for the Bible, it’s an amazing book, the best book of wisdom that we have.” Pragmatism at its best.
These theologies were evident in the book, spoken through this main character. This is what “David” was teaching “Christy” and thus, the reader.
The missionaries wrestle with the problems of poverty and illiteracy and seek to solve them in human terms and works. On page 405, Christy is ruminating on the ideal (religion) versus the practical (everyday needs). She never sees the connection between the so-called “dogma” and the real life issues the people to whom they minister face. In their view, the people’s physical needs always outweigh their Gospel need, and they always will, because none of the three characters see man’s depravity as the root issue. Yet in fact, it’s the opposite: man’s spiritual need is much greater than poverty, illness, or illiteracy, as dire as they may be. Here on page 405 Christy finds the solution, which is no solution.
How would believing in the love of God solve problems like illiteracy of poverty for the highlanders? Now I saw the connection between Miss Alice’s certainty about the inner guiding Light and Grundtvig’s ideas. God did have a master plan for the Cove, and Grundtvig was saying that we could find that plan by looking deep into the human spirit.
Therein lies the rub. First, the characters try to solve the issues of the day by looking everywhere except the Bible. Second, did Christy come to the mountains to solve social ills, or to save souls? The social justice theology so prevalent at the turn of the last century was evident in the book, spoken through this main character. I’ll address social justice in a separate blog essay this week. Third, do we solve societal ills by ‘looking deep into our own spirit’? Or do we turn to THE Spirit and fall to our knees and ask Him to enter us as the seal of the guarantee, after repenting of our sins? We know the answer. Any place we look at in history where the Gospel took root, schools, orphanages, and hospitals sprung up, where prior to the Gospel, charity was little known.
The book ended with a trip to heaven, seeing people who had passed on, and reveling in the “Light” -but no Jesus was evident. Sigh. I’ll address heavenly trips in a separate blog essay this week.
If it is fictional theology, then it is theology that has no biblical basis. That would make it heresy by definition. So, one can’t claim that it is fictional theology and still defend it as a basis for personal spiritual growth, comfort and encouragement.
But what about theological fiction?
If it is theological fiction, then wouldn’t it have something of a parallel in the genre of historical fiction? How does historical fiction work? In general, it uses (and must use) true historical events as a framework for the book. For example, no historical novel could ever put the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1950. If it did, then such a book would be relegated to “fictional history” – and no one would take it seriously from an historical perspective.
However, many people do take The Shack very seriously. And those who do take it seriously now view God differently than they did before. In other words, their theology has changed. But their new theology is not found in the Bible. And not only is this new theology not biblical, it actually contradicts the theology of the Bible. Therefore, any emotional or spiritual impact that The Shack might have is based on something other than the truth – which in other words, is a lie. Quite obviously, believers cannot base their spiritual growth on a lie. If they try to do so, something might happen, but it can’t be called “spiritual growth.”
I cannot overlook the absence of the Gospel in Christy, the lack of focus on sin, the silence of the need for repentance, the constant mystical direct revelation, the emphasis on inner truth derived from voices and whispers and not the Bible, and the exalting of a Quaker as the steadiest, most mature religious person in the book.
1. Just social service work – bettering the material situation – does not change people. It takes, in addition, the love of God,
2. God does not love just the ‘good people’, He loves all of us,
3. Let us be proud of our mountain folk and their great heritage.
The Shack has already come and gone. Christy, fifty years later, has staying power. It’s spawned spin off book sequels, two television series, and a TV-movie. It’s still in print. In the Morgan Gap (the actual Cutter Gap) an annual ChristyFest is held. Not recommended. Leave Christy in her mountains, and seek better, more theologically sound women to spend time with, be taught by, and to be inspired by.
I’d much rather read and re-read Gladys Aylward’s book The Little Woman, about her years in inland China as a missionary.
Elisabeth Elliot’s travails in Ecuador.
Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place.
Amy Carmichael- A Chance To Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot. Give Me This Mountain by Helen Roseveare. My Heart In His Hands: Ann Judson of Burma by Sharon James. Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield. A Reformation Life: Katharina von Bora by Rudolf Markwald.
If you like inspiring teacher movies and books, try these
Music of the Heart, movie with Meryl Streep
Mr Holland’s Opus with Richard Dreyfus
Dead Poet’s Society with Robin Williams
Stand and Deliver with Edward James Olmos
To Sir, With Love with Sidney Poitier, book by by E. R. Braithwaite
Goodbye, Mr Chips, with Robert Donat; book by James Hilton
The Water is Wide with Jeff Hephner (2006) AKA Conrack (1974 with Jon Voight), book by Pat Conroy
Akeelah and the Bee with Laurence Fishburne,book by James W. Ellison
Ted Dekker is a Christian novelist who writes Christian thrillers. He has also written several book series of historical nature, several fantasy books, and Christian fiction. Dekker’s interests and range are diverse. He has won the Christy Award for best fiction book, ECPA Gold Medallion Award, INSPY Award, among other awards and recognition.
This month, Dekker has published a book which diverges from his usual genre of fiction. His new book is a study/devotional. It’s called The Forgotten Way of Yeshua for Power and Peace in This Life. I’ve been asked to look into the book and give an opinion as to its doctrinal solidity.
This article will serve a two-fold purpose. The first part will be to explain and teach how I approach the decision-making process on whether to read a Christian book or engage in a published study. Time is short in our lives and we do not have it to waste on absorbing poor or unhelpful material. Secondly and more importantly, the name of Jesus is tantamount. The material must reflect Him, His word, and His precepts correctly so His name is glorified. Thirdly, as women, we are more prone to error and tend to be unduly influenced by unbiblical things so we must be sure that what we take into our brain doesn’t pollute our brain. (1 Timothy 2:14, 2 Timothy 3:6). Be discerning, wise, and careful.
The second part of this article, as you scroll further down, will be a book review by a man who is familiar with Dekker’s works and who has read The Forgotten Way. So, a lesson, and a review.
How to Approach Whether to Read a Book or Study
I looked at Dekker’s website, and I read the sample lessons in his study and I downloaded the free sample devotionals. I read 30 pages of the devotional.
1. What I do first is, I look for contemporary buzzwords that indicate where a person’s heart or mind lay. If they use standard, biblical words to describe the standard biblical concepts such as justification, sin, repentance, etc, then all well and good. The first red flag I noticed is calling Jesus “Yeshua”. I’ve observed that many mystics seem to think this gives them more piety when they use the Hebrew name. Also people in the Hebrew roots movement call Jesus ‘Yeshua’. It’s an affectation. More buzzwords below.
2. The second big red flag is any leader who says he has discovered a new way, or a forgotten method, or an overlooked verse, or claims new meaning, it’s a problem. The point of Christianity is its unchanging nature because it’s founded on God and He does not change. It also indicates a mountainous pride. “Everyone else has forgotten this, no one else has noticed this, but I am here to rectify that.” Dekker’s promotional material is rife with promises that this ‘new way’ will revolutionize your faith, which leads to the third red flag-
3. Any promotional material that says it will change your life is of concern. The Holy Spirit changes your life, not a method. The point is to get to know Jesus better, not to change our temporal lives. Any time we are with Him in the word or worship or hymns or prayers, we become transformed and our transformation through ongoing sanctification changes our life. But short cuts like a 21 day devotional with a newly rediscovered method such as Dekker’s? I’m always suspicious of claims that promise an immediate jump in sanctification.
4. Fourth, notice if the author uses trendy buzzwords or buzzwords that are from another religion. In Dekker’s case, the promo material as well as the actual study contain many terms associated with New Age. Words such as “alignment, resonating, tuning fork, vibrate, same frequency” abound. These are not biblical words. There are biblical words that describe the concepts Dekker is attempting to get across. Other words that he uses have no biblical grounding. Either way, use the biblical word and not the words that are widely associated with a different religion. Never mind the obvious, that with the Holy Spirit IN us, we are already ‘aligned’ with Him and always on His ‘frequency.’
In considering whether to take up a study or read a Christian book, I ask myself if the writer seems to have a grounded, balanced view of Jesus. It seems that in this new study, Dekker’s entire emphasis is solely on the love of Jesus and not His wrath, justice, holiness etc. In fact, it seems he focuses on what WE can get out of Jesus rather than focusing on His attributes for His own glory’s sake. The constant references to “who we are” and being “able to love ourselves”(I got those from his promo video) are concerning.
There are sweeping claims in the promo material and in the part of the study I’d read. I read such outlandish things as “The whole world longs for the Way of Yeshua” and “An awakening is sweeping the world.” I do not like it when authors make sweeping statements about God as if they know things. Dekker does not know that all 8 billion people of the world long for the way of Yeshua. As a matter or fact, the world rejected and still rejects Jesus and He said they always will. (John 15:18). No one seeks after God. They all go their own way, (Isaiah 53:6), which is not the way of “Yeshua”. So Dekker’s sweeping statements are a problem.
Last, I look at who has supported the book or Bible study, or who promotes it. Dekker has blurb support and recommendations from Elevation Church, which is bad. Other readers liken Dekker’s book to Henri Nouwen, who in fact is a Catholic mystic.
From these flags, I’d say that the book seems to be a misstep for Dekker. It’s sad, because in his video he said he’d been working on it for years. As a woman, I would choose not to read the book/take the study because these red flags are enough to show me there are problems. I don’t want to use the bulk of my brain power while in a study busily warding off potential doctrinal issues. I want to be able to fairly safely engage in the study so as to learn from it and enjoy biblical truths. With so many better studies out there, I’d say give this one a pass.
The Book Review
Here is a review from a friend, Bryn Jones, who has read Ted Dekker’s The Forgotten Way.
I did read his e-book Waking Up, which is essentially a promo for the 21 Day “cleanse,” as he puts it. I wrote a review (2 stars). He gets a couple things very right. For instance, he stresses that we need to find our identity in Christ, not in our own efforts to measure up or prove ourselves. But there’s some wrong in there, too. Like you pointed out, he loves the “love” of God, and he comments on the omnipotence of God, but then fails when defining love. To him, love means never being offended and just showing kindness to everyone, never pointing out wrong, just accepting… etc.
Oddly, John defines love as obedience to Christ (1 John 5:3). Also, if we’re never to correct anyone, or never to be offended, then there would be no content to the epistles (which were often corrective) and there’d be no reason for Jesus to outline how we are to address issues where a brother sins against us. What I heard is “planks of offense” in Dekker’s promo, which is a phrase I’ve heard from a charismatic friend who regularly quotes from the Word-Faith movement. In that version, they change Jesus’ teaching to say people have “planks of offense” in their eye, rather than the meaning of being guilty of the same issue they intend to correct in other people. I imagine the subtle change is so that these domineering pastors can chastise anyone who tries to correct them by claiming they have “planks of offense.”
So, Dekker has some good in regard to the identification with Christ, that our position is secured and not in need of our efforts … but then he ignores the actual “elephant in the room” that many who “got saved” but are living lives that are so sinful they’ve “forgotten who they are” might actually not be saved. So, his advice that they need to just “awaken” to the “reality” of their position in Christ sounds rather … universalist.
The other thing that got me about the book was how the author claimed that the Ted Dekker he sees in the mirror, the novelist, is not the real person. It’s like a role he’d play on TV … it’s passing away … the true Ted is this spiritual one in Christ. He assures the readers that he’s not a Gnostic, but it sure sounds like it. I don’t think the “putting off of the flesh” meant that our personalities and occupations and interests are all worldly. God made us who we are and we will be perfected. Maybe I’m being picky. But it sure read very mystic/gnostic to me.
I hope this helps. As always, search out these things for yourself, and remember that prayer is the best vanguard. Pray to the Holy Spirit to give wisdom and discernment. (James 1:5). Read your Bible to grow, and be careful of what you choose to study, even from formerly solid teachers.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
My summer at home is halfway through. School ends in late May and we teacher’s aides have June and July off. School begins again August 1 for us and August 5 for the kids. It’s been great to be at home, with long stretches of time to myself. I enjoy reading, studying the Bible, crafts, web surfing, learning something new (this summer, bone china history & collectibles), and watching movies. How about you? What are your favorite things to do in the summer?