“The Shack” and What It Says about Evangelicalism

“The Shack” and What It Says about Evangelicalism

In 2008, William Paul Young wrote a book titled The Shack that was instantly a best-seller.  It ascended to the top of the best-selling lists (including the New York Times and Amazon), and like many successful books often do, it has now morphed into a movie.  The book originally written as a Christmas gift for a family has sold over 20-million copies and become one of the top 70 books in the history of printed books.

Recently the trailer for the movie based on Young’s book was released.  The movie itself is set to be released in 2017, but the hype and anticipation has already started to build.  That’s to be expected when you have people like Eugene Peterson making statements such as, “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” did for his. It’s that good!” [1]  To be honest, the trailer for the movie was greatly appealing and demonstrated a high quality that will likely be very successful.  Why should Christians be concerned?  What lessons can be learned from the success of The Shack that might help us all moving forward?

A Word About the Book—The Shack

The book itself demonstrates the fact that William Young is a good writer.  Through the use of written language, Young captivates the reader with masterful descriptions of mysterious theological subjects and doctrines.  This is always a wonderful way to teach the Bible and has long been employed by men like John Bunyan and C. S. Lewis, but in the case of The Shack, the teaching is sub-par, or to use the language of Albert Mohler in his review of the book back in 2010—”sub-biblical.” [2]

The book is based on the story of a man named Mackenzie (goes by Mack) and his encounter with the godhead following a horrible tragedy where his daughter (Missy) was brutally murdered in an old shack after being abducted during a family vacation.  Although Young tackles some very difficult subjects related to human tragedy, in his attempt to point people to God, he instead points people to an African-American woman named Papa (who transformed at one point into a gray-haired man), a middle-aged man named Jesus who was of a Middle-Eastern descent, and a small woman of Asian descent named Sarayu.  This is where things derail from the biblical theology tracks in an epic train wreck.

Like many books that become popular in evangelicalism (such as Heaven is for Real), when people are captivated by the emotion of hardship or tragedy, they’re often willing to accept the false teaching that walks through the open gates of their heart like a Trojan horse.  Although William Young is a gifted communicator, what he communicates about God in his book The Shack is simply not true and it’s heresy.  Therefore, no matter how his skill is with the English language and his ability to captivate his audience, if what he speaks isn’t true and if it violates the God of holy Scripture, we must avoid it.  Although the movie can’t be reviewed, what can be accurately predicted is that no matter how well the acting and production of the movie is—the stench of heresy is already detectable from a distance.

A Call for Christian Discernment

Heavenly tourism books have become widely popular within the evangelical community in recent years.  It seems that if one wants to be successful in the area of fiction and non-fiction, if a story can be captured about a person’s trip to heaven (or in this case – to a shack) where he or she interacts with God and returns to tell the vivid story with eye-popping details, it’s a sure recipe for success.  This is a lamentable fact, and one that the evangelical church must come face-to-face with (Prov. 15:21).

As the psalmist declared in Psalm 119:66, we as God’s children should long for clear, controlled, and robust discernment.  Since the Scriptures are God’s Word and the church is “a pillar and buttress of truth,” we must be able to “guard the good deposit” that has been entrusted to us (1 Tim 3:15; 2 Tim. 1:14).  Therefore, laziness when it comes to biblical truth has no place in the church of Jesus Christ.  There’s no reason a book like The Shack should find its way to the top of best-selling lists by the help of the Christian community.

Lessons to be Learned

Early in 2016 I was preaching in a conference held on the campus of a large Southern Baptist Church.  Between sessions, I was given access to their library and coffee shop area where I could read and pray.  As I browsed around the bookshelves, the paradox of evangelicalism was apparent on the shelves of this church’s library.  On the same shelf separated by just a few books were two very different books by two very different authors—Sara Young’s Jesus Calling and Paul Washer’s The Gospel’s Power and Message.  This is where we are as evangelicals, so long as Jesus’ names is used or the title contains Christian vocabulary, it’s readily received and granted access to the local church’s library.

Lessons to be learned from The Shack and other heavenly tourism books that fall into this same category are numerous.  There are far too many lessons to learn than I have time and space to mention, but one noteworthy lesson is—doctrine matters.  If we attempt to teach the Bible with stories, illustrations, anthropomorphism, and humor, that’s wonderful, but those stories, illustrations, anthropomorphisms, and humor must be communicated with theological precision.  We don’t want a surgeon operating on us who has been guilty of medical malpractice, and that same principle is true when it comes to those who teach us the Bible.

This successful book that boasts of Christian theology presents an inaccurate view of the Trinity, reverses the masculinity of God into a feminine goddess, denies Jesus of His sovereignty as a member of the godhead, and maligns the proper understanding of the Holy Spirit.  One of the core errors of the book is the improper understanding of submission and a rejection of Trinitarian hierarchy.  It seems that there is a constant imbalance and misunderstanding of the roles and relationships between the members of the Trinity throughout the book and certainly will be played out in the movie.  Tim Challies concludes in his thorough review of The Shack back in 2008, “Overall, I had to conclude that Young has an inadequate and often-unbiblical understanding of the Trinity.” [3]

In one scene, Jesus poked his head into the dining area to inform Papa that he had put the tools they would need just outside the door.  Papa thanked Jesus, who kissed him on the lips and left out the back door.  Where do we ever see Jesus informing the Father of anything in the Bible?  In another scene, Jesus communicates the following to Mack:

Papa is as much submitted to me as I am to him, or Sarayu to me, or Papa to her. Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.

If that’s not bad enough, Jesus goes on to communicate another ancient heresy to Mack by saying, “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions.” Jesus continues by saying, “I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, my Beloved.”

Mack responds to Jesus, “Do all roads lead to Christ?” Jesus then provides an answer that points to universalism—“Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.”  The answer to Mack’s question is an obvious rejection of verses such as John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 that teach the absolute exclusivity of Christ.  Jesus doesn’t travel down the road of Mormonism to find people.  Sure, Jesus can find lost sinners anywhere, but to suggest that “those who love” Jesus come from every system that exists is a tragic error. To communicate that Jesus doesn’t want to make anyone a Christian is a tragic mistake, and to teach people that Jesus wants to “join us” in our transformation into sons of Papa is a reversal of roles.  Jesus is sovereign and we respond to Him.  We love because He first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19).  This book, although celebrated by many Christians is an anti-Christian book and will subsequently become an anti-Christian movie.

One final take-away that we must learn from such books and movies is that God has one primary method of delivering His revelation to us and it’s through holy Scripture.  To bypass the Bible and learn about the Trinity through The Shack is to do yourself a great injustice and the results will be catastrophic.  God has a proper and fitting revelation of Himself, and He has unveiled that glorious revelation in the pages of sacred Scripture—not The Shack or any other book like it.  Ancient mysticism has crept back into the church in our day, and unfortunately it’s widely popular.  Why not just come to know God, true Christian theology, and a proper response to the deepest human suffering by reading God’s book—the Bible?

Indictments to be Received

The success of The Shack is a true indictment on the shallowness of mainstream evangelicalism.  The church is not only called to evangelize the world with the gospel, she is also called to have biblical discernment.  That lack of concern when it comes to understanding the Bible and the core essential teachings of Scripture among many evangelical Christians should bring about great concern.  When bookstores, even Christian bookstores, are willing to peddle books like The Shack and other sub-Christian titles, we should be greatly concerned. Albert Mohler writes:

The Shack is a wake-up call for evangelical Christianity…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. [4]

A further indictment must be centered on the pulpit in the evangelical church today.  Christians, if taught properly each Lord’s Day from the pulpit, would detest such books as The Shack.  If robust teaching was the common diet, books like The Shack would be so unsuccessful that a movie producer wouldn’t give it a second thought—because in his mind he needs the evangelical church to buy tickets to watch it.  Therefore, when the pulpit is shallow, dysfunctional, and sub-Christian—you can expect the people to crave that same type of entertainment.

Pastors guard your people by telling them the truth.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, please make the movie version of this heretical book far less successful by staying home.

  1. Statement by Eugene Peterson can be found as a glaring endorsement written on the front bottom of the paperback version in most cases.
  2. Albert Mohler, “The Shack — The Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment” [accessed 12-4-16]
  3. Tim Challies, “The Shack” by William P. Young [accessed 12-5-16]
  4. Mohler, “The Shack — The Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment” [accessed 12-4-16]
Newton on the Christian Life

Newton on the Christian Life

Newton-Reinke-BookI was given this book as a gift earlier this year by Tony Reinke titled, Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ.  It’s one of the books in a series on the Christian life published by Crossway.  Other titles feature men such as Bonhoeffer, Calvin, Edwards, Luther, Packer, Schaffer, Warfield, and Wesley.  As you can imagine, the entire series is worthy of your time.

From the beginning, I expected the book to be organized more as a biography, but as Reinke makes clear from the start, this isn’t a biography about Newton.  While certain elements and events of Newton’s life are used in the writing of the book, it’s purpose is to see the Christian life through the lens of John Newton.  As the subtitle makes clear, his lens was from the perspective of “To Live Is Christ.”

The book starts with a breathtaking review of a stormy night on the sea on March 21st, 1748 that literally shook Newton to his core.  Fittingly so, this book begins with that event, and just as God often does, He uses storms and natural laws to awaken people to His sovereignty.  Newton, the author of the most famous Christian hymn in English history, was a man who came to embrace a robust view of God’s sovereignty.  As Reinke makes clear, “Grace is a battering ram.  Grace is forced entry” (40).  And that’s exactly how it entered Newton’s life as a twenty two year old depraved sailor.

Reinke, in a much needed statement of clarity, writes, “The Christian life is not comfortable.  God makes us no promises to remove difficult circumstances, or alleviate our pains, or protect us from suffering, but he does promise sufficient grace for all our wants and needs” (43). We live in a world that looks to God as a “genie in a bottle” or a fairy of blessings rather than the God who sustains us even in the midst of the storms of life.  In fact, as Newton came to understand, there is always a purpose in the storms of life.

In chapter three, Reinke does an excellent job of allowing us to see the world through Newton’s eyes.  He explains that Newton believed that every human is hardwired to thirst for abiding joy that can only be satisfied in God (67).  At this juncture, he cites Newton extensively and the footnotes are worthy of attention.

From every aspect of the book, Reinke strikes a good balance between the life of Newton and the Christian life that is common to all believers.  From personal hardships to pursuits of joy in God, the book does an excellent job of visiting the 18th century experiences of John Newton while bridging the gap to our modern culture.

Reinke likewise does a good job of putting on display the language of Newton too.  His use of metaphor was not only good for his poetry and hymn writing, but his preaching too.  He was not a boring or stale preacher because he tapped into the soul with lucid language and like a “master craftsman” he connected well with his audience (41).

One of the truths that Reinke brought to the surface from the early pages and continued to demonstrate throughout the book is Newton’s love for God’s sovereignty.  He quotes Newton as saying, “I am an avowed Calvinist” (26).  He goes on to quote Newton as saying, “He loves us because he loves us…He loves us because of who he is, not because of what we are” (261).  This may come as a surprise to the many Arminian congregations who use his famous song each week in their weekly worship services, but John Newton was not ashamed of his theological convictions.  Reinke explains:

Once asked if he was a Calvinist, Newton plunked a lump of sugar into his tea, stirred the hot liquid, and said, “I am more of a Calvinist than anything else; but I use my Calvinism in my writing and preaching as I use this sugar.  I do not give it alone, and whole; but mixed, and diluted” (26).

One of the things I appreciated about this book was Reinke’s engaging style of writing and his ability to weave Newton and our modern Christian life into one story.  In other words, Newton was his starting place but through his application the truths came home clearly.  He used Scripture to drive the point home and bridge the gap successfully.

One of the weaknesses was the lack of structure in Newton’s life story.  Although Reinke makes it clear from the beginning that his desire is not to provide a biography of Newton, it would have been nice to have some structure especially to the end.  I was left wanting more of the end of Newton’s life.  Reinke did bring us back to the reality of Newton’s idea (as he shared it with Calvin) that “all the world’s a stage, all the creation’s a theater, and all the Christina’s life is a dress rehearsal for glory” (267).  He likewise reminded us of the theme or motto of Newton’s life “None but Christ” (266).

I recommend this book to you.  It’s not an academic book written for the theology classroom or for the pastor-theologian.  It’s a well written book that would be good for your entire family.

Where to buy this book:




Servanthood as Worship

Servanthood as Worship

SERVANTHOODI recently picked up a book by Nate Palmer titled, Servanthood as Worship – The Privilege of Life in a Local Church at a conference I attended.  I had not read anything by Nate Palmer before this book, but quickly I was sucked into the main premise of the book and before long, I had finished the first half without hardly blinking an eye.

The need for humility and servanthood in the church today abounds.  We Americans live and die by the sword of pride.  We often become so self consumed that we fail to look at the needs of others around us.  This cripples the church and suffocates genuine humble minded service.

I particularly enjoyed Palmer’s focus on the motivation behind our service.  Are we serving to be seen by others?  Are we serving to climb the ladder of positions within the church?  Are we serving to impress God?  These are all heart related factors that must be considered when it comes to our service within the local church.

As you will notice, Palmer pulls from baseball and other areas of life as a means of illustrating his point regarding service.  At one point, he talks about Brooks Robinson and how he played the game of baseball.  He points out that although he was a gifted athlete with exceptional skills, he would not have been capable of playing the game and throwing out baserunners if there was not a team surrounding him on the field.  All players need the context of a field and other players if they are to play the game.  In the case of the church, everyone matters.  All parts of the church context have their own level of importance and without the different parts being in place and functioning, the church would fall apart.

Although we all serve God from the particular giftedness that He has granted to us, we must always be reminded that our service is not intended to satisfy God’s holy justice.  Palmer writes, “We do not serve for salvation, but from salvation.  Serving is intended to magnify the gospel, not replace it.”

If we are all honest, we need this healthy reminder that Palmer provides for us in this short, yet impactful book.  We need to remember that serving God is not for the ultra spiritual in the church or for the professional ministers alone.  We are all gifted by God and the church functions to accomplish its mission through humble servants who long for God to gain much glory.  It would do us all well to pause our busy routines and look around us to see if we can serve someone else other than ourself and our own family for a change.  In so doing, we are not merely serving them, but serving God.

Nate Palmer and his wife, Steph, have three young kids and serve at GraceChurch Frisco in Dallas.  Nate has been a management consultant and now works for the software firm, SAP.  He holds an M.A .from Reformed Theological Seminary and his articles have appeared in Modern Reformation and Reformed Perspectives Magazine.

You can buy Servanthood as Worship – The Privileges of Life in a Local Church from: Cruciform Press

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

Last June, I was placed on a list to receive the prepublication copy of Don Whitney’s second edition to his excellent book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.  Few books exist that transcend time so well as this book, yet Whitney still found a way to add excellent content and updates to his classic.  Only now have I finally found time to write a review of his book, and with great delight I hope to encourage you to purchase this book, read it, make notes, and revisit the pages of this book over the course of your spiritual life.

As a marathon runner, I recall my early days of pounding out the long runs in preparation for my first marathon.  I can still remember the lack of preparation that led to the pain of blisters, muscle fatigue, and mental challenges that accompany the marathon.  As I look back, I can see how some simple early adjustments related to my choice of shoes, socks, and my overall running plan could have prevented much frustration.  Don Whitney’s book is a great resource for your journey in the Christian life.  All new Christians should have it, and the aged Christian should revisit it often.

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Whitney’s book is thirteen chapters in length and covers ten spiritual disciplines:

  1. Bible Intake (2 chapters)
  2. Prayer
  3. Worship
  4. Evangelism
  5. Serving
  6. Stewardship
  7. Fasting
  8. Silence and Solitude
  9. Journaling

In the early pages of his book, Whitney writes:

The word rendered “discipline” in the New American Standard translation is the Greek word gumnasia from which our English words gymnasium and gymnastics derive.  This word means “to exercise or discipline,” which is why the King James Version renders 1 Timothy 4:7 as “exercise thyself rather unto godliness,” the English Standard Version as “train yourself for godliness,” and the New International Version as “train yourself to be godly.”  It’s a sweaty word with the smell of the gym to it.

Like marathon running, we all find excuses.  Most people I know hate to run and often tell me that they can’t run.  They tell me of their knee pain or their surgery that prevents them from running long distances.  While I understand what they are telling me to be true, I also know that the reason they choose not to run is likely based on their distaste for the discipline of running as opposed to the perpetual knee pain.

I know a man who after suffering a catastrophic injury in a factory had to have surgery to repair his leg by the insertion of a rod.  His doctor told him that he would never run again.  He went on to run in the Trans-American Footrace (running across the entire United States of America from coast to coast).  He set the record for the fastest time to cover the entire Appalachian Trail (approximately 2,200 miles).  He likewise went on to set the record for the fastest time on the Pacific Crest Trail from southern California at Mexico’s border to Canada (2,663 miles).  We can always do more than we think if we dedicate ourselves to the task.

Don Whitney covers important spiritual disciplines and provides a biblical foundation, historical examples from men such as the Puritans, and deals with the popular excuses that often fuel a lack of discipline among Christians.  For instance, when discussing Bible memorization, he writes, “Most people think they have a bad memory, but it’s not true.”  He goes on to say, “most of the time memorizing is mainly a problem of motivation.”

In fact, that type of language is all throughout Whitney’s excellent book.  He continuously insists on having a plan and organizing your effort to remain spiritually disciplined.  From prayer to journaling, every aspect of the Christian life requires a plan of action.  The people who refuse to have a plan typically burnout quickly in their Bible reading, prayer, and other important spiritual disciplines.

It’s not about reading the Bible in 365 days.  That may not be possible for your reading speed and time.  Nevertheless, you should chart your progress and have a plan to read through the Bible over time (many Bible reading plans exist online and are easy to use).  Just like running a marathon requires discipline, so does the Christian life.  Each individual discipline requires a plan and commitment to persevere in the faith.

As you set goals, establish plans, and chart your progress on the way to the Celestial City, I urge you to get a copy of Don Whitney’s book to aid you in this process.  As much information as he provides, it’s laced full of wisdom and encouragement.  A few claps and cheers on the side of the road will help you persevere toward the finish line in the marathon.  Like a helpful aid station in a marathon, Don Whitney’s book serves as a major source of encouragement in the Christian life.  I think you will agree!

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Dr. Don Whitney serves as professor of biblical spirituality (2005); associate dean of the school of theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Dr. Whitney came to Southern from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he was Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation for ten years. He has authored six books, includingSpiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, and is a popular conference speaker, especially on personal and congregational spirituality. He served in pastoral ministry for twenty-four years.

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life – Amazon

Tim Challies – The Next Story – Book Review (Part 2)

Tim Challies – The Next Story – Book Review (Part 2)

Last week, I published a review of Tim Challies’ new book, The Next Story. Today, I would like to provide the second part of that review which covers the second half of his book. As I begin, I would like to encourage you to read the book for the following reasons:  (1) The book is well researched and provides great stats regarding the information explosion.  (2)  The book looks at technology from a redemptive standpoint.  (3)  The book causes you to examine your own use of technology in our tech savvy age!

Today, we will look at Part 2 of Tim’s book which includes:

  • Speaking, Truthing, Loving, Living (Communication)
  • Life in the Real World (Mediation / Identity)
  • Turn Off and Tune In (Distraction)
  • Aside:  Your Family and Media
  • More is Better (Information)
  • Here Comes Everybody (Truth / Authority)
  • Seeing and Being Seen (Visibility and Privacy)

To begin, I would like to make a general review regarding the book and the subject matter that Tim tackles.  In order to prevent this post from being too long and not well read, I will not break down each chapter with a full summary.  However, I will include a chapter by chapter notable quote section following my review summary.

Speaking, Truthing, Loving, Living (Communication)

This chapter begins with a great illustration about John Newton and the slave trade.  Tim compares the freedom and captivity of sin on the high seas to the lack of accountability and visibility of internet travel.  He moves on to discuss the constant change of communication.  Tim rightly points out that our communication has drifted from the face to face to the screen of computers and phones.

Notable quotes from chapter 4:

Today, in our digital world, we spend much of our lives beyond Gibraltar, beyond accountability through visibility, able to say and do and look at and enjoy whatever our hearts desire.  yet, for all the freedom it brings us, it can also bring us captivity” (82).

New Calvinism is a reaction to the church growth movement that became popular late in the twentieth century and is marked by increased emphasis on expositional preaching, biblical faithfulness, and Calvinistic theology” (85).

Today many of us update our Facebook status and Twitter streams with near-religious fervor, almost as if we have not actually experienced anything until we’ve told others about it” (86).

Life in the Real World (Mediation / Identity)

This chapter begins with a question.  Tim asks us to remember where we were and who we were with when we heard that America was under attack on September 11th 2001.  He points out that in a powerful sense, as we watched the horrific events unfold, we actually experienced the attacks in a real sense by our participation through the television or internet.  The point that Tim makes in this chapter is that our lives are experienced through media after the digital explosion and technological advancement.

Notable quotes from chapter 5:

Our lives have become saturated with sounds and images flashing in front of our eyes, blaring into our ears” (111).

Never before in human history have people lived their lives so thoroughly and consistently mediated as we do today” (114).

The best relationships we can have are not those that rely on mediation, but rather the ones that allow for unmediated contact and communication” (115).

Turn Off and Tune In (Distraction)

Tim begins this chapter with an interesting overview of the “Beeeeep.”  He uses this one word to springboard into the subject of distraction.  Often our technology is unprofitable and rather distracting to our progress and communication abilities.  Digital living, as Tim calls it, is a much faster life.  We must be careful to evaluate our lives and make sure we are in control of our technology.

Notable quotes from chapter 6:

While staying at the cabin in the woods of Virginia, I was able to clearly see the level of distraction in my life, the distraction of digital living” (149).

Eventually the problem of distraction becomes more than something that just happens to us; it defines our identity.  We become distracted people” (149).

Not surprisingly, the digital explosion has radically altered our sense of time and space, changing and shaping us along the way” (155).

Aside:  Your Family and Media

The Aside begins with Tim pointing out that parents don’t put their child in the driver’s seat without first showing him how to drive and evaluating his abilities first.  He points out that if we intend to teach our children how to use technology well, we must do the same thing!  He points out seven steps to consider when it comes to introducing new media or technology to your family.

  1. Educate
  2. Fence
  3. Mentor
  4. Supervise
  5. Review
  6. Trust
  7. Model

More is Better (Information)

The chapter begins with the discovery of a psychiatrist and long time member at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Edward Hallowell.  According to Tim, Hallowell is a world renowned doctor who specializes in ADHD study and treatment.  It was Hallowell who discovered another disorder that he termed, ADT.  ADT is attention deficit trait. This is a result of our obsession with information and a desire to surround ourselves with more information.  Through this chapter, Tim evaluates the need for information and how “more” information can actually be harmful.

Notable quotes from chapter 7:

“In an entire lifetime, they (the people of biblical times) would encounter less information than you or I can store in our mobile phones” (185).

We know why cell phone usage leads to a higher incidence of traffic accidents-we simply cannot deal adequately with all of the information at once” (189).

Information is at our fingertips all the time.  We access it habitually, constantly” (192).

We are increasingly moving knowledge to the ‘cloud’ and relying on knowledge that exists in the ‘cloud.’  The cloud, of course, is that sum of data and information that exists ‘out there.’  When you need to know what is in that bottle of pills you left in the closet and type its name into Google, you are accessing the cloud….It trains us in the skill of accessing information instead of teaching us what is really valuable to know and understand” (194).

Here Comes Everybody (Truth / Authority)

In this chapter, the subject of truth and authority are the centerpiece.  Tim begins with a story about how he really wanted a complete set of the Britannica encyclopedias as a child.  He recalls that each year a salesman would knock on the door and give his sales pitch about how it was the best and most comprehensive trustworthy encyclopedia source on the market.  Tim uses that story to show how far we have come in such a short period of time.  In 2001, Wikipedia was introduced by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger.  Unlike traditional encyclopedias that employ trusted editors and professionals, this online encyclopedia is an open public source that is written and edited by the general public.  The point is clearly made by Tim, how do we know it something is truth and how can we find authority in that type of open source of digital information?

Notable quotes from chapter 8:

Of course, an encyclopedia is only as good as the accuracy of the information it contains, and there have been many debates about the accuracy of the traditional model verses the wiki model” (209).

Our understandings of truth and authority are changing in this digital world.  And as we will see, Wikipedia serves as a microcosm of that kind of change” (210).

Speaking of the Wiki model of encyclopedia – “It ignores human nature.  The wiki model inherently assumes that humans are generally good and that they will work together to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number.  This ignores what the Bible tells us, that as sinful humans we are predominately selfish, looking out for our own good ahead of the good of others” (217).

Seeing and Being Seen (Visibility and Privacy)

Tim begins this final chapter by comparing the contrails (the trails left behind the jet planes in the sky) to the trails that we leave behind us on the internet.  The final chapter of Tim’s book is a much needed reality check.  When we consider the amount of pictures and personal data that we have floating around on the internet – especially through Facebook and other social media sites – we should be extremely careful of abuse that could come through predators.

Notable quotes from chapter 9:

Gone are the days when our photographs were found in albums on the coffee table, when our thoughts were recorded in diaries stashed in a bedside table” (238).

Time may well show that one of the digital worlds greatest effects on human beings has been to depersonalize us, to tear away our humanity in a favor of 1’s and 0’s-to make us little more than their data” (242).

Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition is just one of many shows that exploit people for the purpose of our entertainment, just one part of a wider phenomenon in our culture” (251).

Concluding Thoughts:
Tim’s book addresses technology from a biblical theology.  Therefore, within the pages of his book, you will find great information on technology and the digital explosion, but you will also find a warning to guard true communication from the dehumanization effect of our digital revolution.  I highly recommend this book to both church leaders and laypeople.  This is a great resource for every library!  Tim hit a home run with this book – it has caused me to examine my use of technology in my own personal life.  A much needed examination indeed.

Pastor Josh Buice

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Where to buy The Next Story:AmazonLigonier

*It’s also available in your e-reader format for Kindle, iPad etc…

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Tim’s talks about his book – The Next Story

The Next Story – Book Review

The Next Story – Book Review

Tim Challies‘ new book, The Next Story was released publicly this week. Tim is no longer just a web designer in a small office in Canada.  He is a relevant young Christian leader who is impacting thousands of people with technology and theology through the web and printed page.  His new book is not only relevant but necessary as we consider the impact of technology on our home, our faith family, and our work environment.  Tim looks at the historical impact of technology from the perspective of a Christian who has serious questions that must be answered about technology.  I highly recommend the book!

I downloaded it through iBooks, and as expected, it has proven to be a great read.  Tim mixes great illustrations in a smooth story telling format that delivers his point with clarity and power.  I found myself sitting in Starbucks reading his book on my iPad 2 while having my favorite coffee last night, and I came under conviction about the way I use technology.  My wife and I often joke about my love affair with gadgets.  I own an iPhone 4, and purposefully exercised restraint when the iPad was released in order to get it when the second generation came out (and I did).  I love technology and the advancement of gadgets.  I naturally connect with Tim, because we have similar backgrounds.  Prior to my calling to ministry, I was a web developer.  I became a Christian while listening to a sermon on the Internet behind my desk at work in Atlanta.  After leaving my job for Seminary, I founded a business building websites in order to feed my family.  Needless to say, I love technology.  However, as you will see in Tim’s book, he loves technology too, but forces the question – do you own your technology or does your technology own you?

Today, we will look at Part 1 of Tim’s book and Wednesday Part 2 will be posted here on the blog.  Part 1 includes the following:

  • Chapter 1 – Discerning Technology
  • Chapter 2 – Understanding Technology
  • Chapter 3 – Digital History
  • Aside – Talk to Your Tech

Chapter 1 – Discerning Technology

In the first chapter, Tim discusses the need to be have a discerning eye upon technology.  In order to make his point crystal clear, he goes back to the creation and points out how man is different than spiders and birds who act strictly by instinct.  Humans have been given an ability to create – which is part of the Imago Dei “image of God” that we bear in us as His divine work of creation.  Tim points out that like all other inventions of man, technology is a good thing, but it must remain under our dominion.In order to make his point about the discernment that is needed in the area of technology, Tim points out that technology like anything else in this world has a tendency to do the very thing it was intended to prevent – waste your time.  In fact, he points out that technology can actually pull you away from your family – and most importantly – away from God.  Tim quotes John Calvin who once said, “The human heart is an idol factory” (29).

Notable quotes from Chapter 1:

We must also understand that technology is like everything else in this sinful world: it is subject to the curse.  The things we create can-and-will-try to become idols in our hearts” (23).

Our idols like to hide from us, staying at a place in our hearts where we barley notice their existence” (28).

We become tools of our tools; rather than owning our gadgets we become owned by them” (30).

Idols hide from us to avoid direct confrontation.  And one of the ways they hide is by convincing us that they are actually good things in our lives” (30).

Yes, technology can be an idol in our hearts, one of the ways we replace God.  But far more commonly, digital technology is a means to further the power of other idols” (34).

Chapter 2 – Understanding Technology

Chapter 2 begins with the reality that technology is interwoven into our lives.  Tim points out that “unless you are planning on running away to a deserted island to live as a hermit, you will likely spend a good portion of your life int he presence of digital devices” (36).  In order to help us understand the development of technology, Tim does a great job of looking back at the historical advancements of technology that brought both good and bad with it.  For instance, he points back to how machines eventually replaced men in the mills – causing them to lose jobs.  While production may have increased, real people lost jobs.  Therefore, technology has always been viewed from both the good and bad that it brings upon advancement.

Tim does a great job of pointing out the need to understand technology’s message.  In other words, he makes a great point that many overlook – especially in the church.  Technology itself carries a type of message.  When we consider the use of technology in the church, this is a big deal.  We must be extremely careful to avoid any skewing of the message that we are trying to communicate – especially the very Word of God.  So, as Tim develops this thought, he makes you throw a caution flag to an overuse (or abuse) of technology in the church – especially without harnessing it for redemptive purposes. In a day where projectors and large screens are common in the church building and many pastors are using movie clips in their sermons while preaching, this word of caution is much needed.  As we read these words, we must understand that Tim is an experienced professional in the technology industry.  He isn’t writing from a secluded  Amish farm with an anti-technology mindset.  This truth makes his cautionary words more serious!

Notable quotes from chapter 2:

Today, Luddite is a disparaging term used to refer to a person who is opposed to or cautiously critical of technology.  But it’s important to remember that the original Luddites were not, in fact, opposed to technology per se.  It was not the machines themselves that the Luddites feared and reacted against.  Rather, they understood that technology is meant to serve humans, not the other way around” (37-38).

You may remember the anticipation and excitement surrounding the introduction of the Segway personal transporter vehicle.  It was hailed as a device from the future, a vehicle that would change the world…The device was evolutionary rather than revolutionary and, to this point in time, almost entirely inconsequential (unless you happen to be a mall cop)” (39).

The forces of nuclear fission can power our homes through nuclear power plants; yet they threaten to destroy our homes through nuclear bombs.  In other instances, the same use of a given technology carries with it both risk and opportunity” (39).

The Internet promised families access to a world of knowledge and unparalleled communication opportunities, but this same technology has led to new forms of addiction, the exponential growth of available pornography, and a new form of violence known as cyberbullying. The risks were far more difficult to see” (41).

Pornography was once a secret vice but has now become a public passion and is nearly omnipresent on the Internet” (52).

Chapter 3 – Digital History

Tim provides a history of the digital revolution and advancement of technology.  In order to do so, he begins with the story of one of America’s best-loved daughters, Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Tim points out that Laura died at ninety, in 1957.  He writes, “Laura the pioneer girl died at the age of ninety in 1957, the same year that Russia launched a satellite (and a dog) into space.  She died only four years before humans orbited the moon and only twelve years before Neil Armstrong set foot on it” (55).

As I read this chapter, I chuckled because my wife and I have opposing views of technology.  I have a love for it and think the more the merrier, but my wife would be content living back in the cabin with Laura (although I have tried to convince her otherwise).Tim points out that Laura’s life spanned from the horse and carriage to the space age of rockets and moon exploration.  However, he then goes on to make a stunning point!  Tim claims that those born the year that Laura died (1957) and live the same length of years (90) will see far more advancement than Laura witnessed in her life.

Notable quotes from chapter 3:

In his account of the Lewis and Clark expedition, historian Stephen Ambrose notes, “A critical fact in the world of 1801 was that nothing moved faster than the speed of a horse” (56).

In January 1815, during the last battle of the War of 1812, hundreds of men were killed and over two thousand wounded or taken prisoner, even though the war had officially ended almost two weeks prior.  It would take until February for news to reach the troops that a treaty had been signed on December 24.  All those lives had been lost in van, fighting a war that had ceased” (57).

In 1946, only 1/2 of 1 percent of American households had even a single screen in their home.  But by 1999, a mere fifty-three years later, a prominent researcher was able to declare that ‘watching TV is the dominant leisure activity of Americans, consuming 40 percent of the person’s free time as a primary activity” (62).

Images communicate in a way that is very different than words.  The initial impact of an image is not so much a thought as it is a feeling” (63).

Older generations are now digital immigrants, having been forced to transition from the old world into the new” (66).

The Internet dwarfs even the printing press in its impact on human culture, in its rate of adoption, in its immediate impact” (73).

Aside – Talk to Your Tech

Tim completes Part 1 of his book with some great concluding remarks about technology.  In just a short and brief manner, he concludes with four solid questions to ask your new gadget before bringing it into your life:

  1. Why Were You Created?
  2. What Is the Problem Which You Are the Solution, and Whose Problem Is It?
  3. What New Problems Will You Bring?
  4. What Are You Doing to My Heart?

As Tim looks at these four questions briefly, he provides balance and clarity.  Rather than rallying the troops against technology, he is quick to point out the benefits of advancement.  However, he also provides great words of caution that are provoked by solid questions when considering a new device / gadget / or gizmo.In a a much needed way, Tim concludes with his final question that is centered on the heart.  He turns back to the issue of idolatry and encourages us to ask this question when considering a new device, “Am I running out to by a device so I can be the first one in my office, school, or church to own the device” (78)?

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This concludes the first part of the review of The Next Story by Tim Challies.  Check back on Wednesday April 13th for the second part of the review and my concluding remarks about the book.

Pastor Josh Buice

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Where to buy The Next Story:



*It’s also available in your e-reader format for Kindle, iPad etc…