In recent days, a video has been circulating throughout social media by a pastor named Dana Coverstone. In his 16-minute video that has now been viewed more than 1.2 million times, he claims to have had several prophetic and revelatory dreams that point to major world events—some of which have been fulfilled and others that are set to occur in the next several months.
In the video, he claims to have heard directly from God. As you can imagine, this has caught the attention of many people. However, in our day where the “God told me” language has become so normative (especially within evangelical circles) it’s the striking claims of massive turmoil and cataclysmic disaster that has intensified Coverstone’s message and caused it to be widely circulated.
After receiving several messages about this pandemic prophet, I feel that it’s necessary to explain why he and his message must not be taken seriously.
His Message Assaults the Sufficiency of Scripture
Dana Coverstone is not the first person to claim God spoke to him and he will not be the last. Moses claimed God spoke to him from a burning bush (Ex. 3:4-6). Samuel claimed to hear the voice of God in the dark of night (1 Sam. 3:1-9). Elijah claimed to hear the voice of God in a cave (1 Kings 19:9). John the Baptist and others are said to have heard the voice of God at Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:9-11). Saul (subsequently Paul) and his traveling companions claimed to hear God speak while traveling on the road leading to Damascus (Acts 9:4-7). What makes Coverstone different than one of the prophets or apostles?
The timing of Coverstone’s message is key. I’m not referring to our present pandemic or the upcoming presidential election just a few months from now. I’m referring to the fact that we have a closed canon. Since the end of the first century when the apostles were fading off into the sunset at the completion of the New Testament—there has been no need for a fresh revelation from God. To be clear, we already have one.
Anytime we have someone claiming to hear messages directly from God, it should cause us to be very skeptical. Consider the words of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. In chapter 1 and paragraph 6 we find these words:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.
Although we have a sufficient guide to life and worship in the pages of Scripture, it’s a common thing to hear people claiming to talk with God on their back porch or to have revelatory and prophetic dreams where God audibly talks directly with them. In fact, sadly is the case that evangelicals have birthed a new genre of literature in recent years known as “Heavenly Tourism” whereby people claim to have traveled to heaven for a brief encounter only to return after a near death experience to write down their story in a book. These books sell like hotcakes and eventually become movies. The success of these heavenly tourism books points to a deeper issue within evangelicalism. It reveals a lack of confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture. Is God’s Word not enough for us?
The message of Dana Coverstone might be attractive to a culture that openly rejects the Bible and is consumed with a love for mysticism fueled by postmodernism, but it’s an assault upon the sufficiency of God’s Word.
John MacArthur writes:
Preoccupied with mystical encounters and emotional ecstasies, [many] seek ongoing revelation from heaven – meaning that, for them, the Bible alone is simply not enough. [With them], biblical revelation must be supplemented with personal “words from God,” supposed impressions from the Holy Spirit, and other subjective religious experiences. That kind of thinking is an outright rejection of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16–17). It is a recipe for far-reaching theological disaster. 
His Message Lacks the Authority of a Prophet
Dana Coverstone’s message lacks the conviction of a true prophet of God. In fact, he is self-contradictory at times throughout this video that is said to contain earth shaking revelations.
For instance, at the very beginning of the video, he makes the bold claim that he believes these dreams are prophetic (0:31). Within ten seconds, he makes the following statement, “I do not claim to be a prophet by any means” (0:41). Later in the video after revealing all of his dreams spanning a period of seven months, he says, “Once again, I am not claiming to be a prophet…let’s see what happens through November and see if I’m right about this” (8:34). He goes on again near the end of the video and makes the claim that his dreams are trustworthy, not because he’s a prophet, but because dreams have a prophetic edge (12:34).
When God calls a prophet to go and stand before the people and make an announcement or deliver a revelatory message, it might be that the prophet struggles with his own ability to speak or other personal issues, but eventually he goes and does precisely what God commanded him to do—with authority. We see this with Moses as he stood before Pharaoh and when Jonah stood before Nineveh. Neither of these men announced an important message from God and then claimed to not be a prophet. That was never the pattern of the true prophets of God. Consider the scene with Jonah:
Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them (Jonah 4:4-5).
Notice that Jonah made a proclamation regarding his prophecy, and the people believed God. Jonah spoke with the authority of God as he was sent by God. This is the method and intent of a prophet sent from God.
In the New Testament, we find God speaking to the apostles and providing revelatory information at times (Acts 10:13-15; Acts 18:9-10)—but the overwhelming purpose of God’s direct revelation to his apostles was centered on the completion of the New Testament and subsequently the finalization of the biblical canon (both the OT and NT). In 2 Peter 1:21 we find these words, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” When such prophets spoke, they accented their message with “Thus says the LORD God.” Dana Coverstone claims near the end of his prophetic video that you can interpret his dreams however you want (14:00) which is never the way a true prophet addressed people on behalf of God.
Paul drives home the purpose of Scripture and drills down on the source and sufficiency of Scripture in his final letter to Timothy prior to his martyrdom.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 3:16-4:5).
Notice that even in his final letter to Timothy, he warns that people would not endure sound teaching, but they would leave and pursue teachers who would tell them what they wanted to hear (having itching ears). Such pursuits would lead people to wander off from the truth and give themselves over to myths. Certainly we can see that today people are attracted to mystical myths, intriguing prophecies, and stories of heavenly tourism while their Bibles collect dust.
Why Should We Reject Dana Coverstone’s Message?
In Jude 3, we find a clear exhortation to “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.” We have been warned that false teachers would seek to lead people astray (2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1; Matthew 7:15). His message should be rejected on the basis that he assaults the sufficiency of Scripture and on the basis that he lacks the conviction of a prophet sent by God. Furthermore, there’s another reason to reject Coverstone’s message—one that we must take seriously.
In his video, Dana Coverstone provides vivid tales of catastrophic disaster that will come upon our nation (and subsequently the entire world) by November of this year. Once again, this is one reason why this video has gained such great popularity as it continues to circulate through social media. He uses the upcoming presidential election, the pandemic, and the great uncertainty of our nation to posture his prophecy with the force of an apocalyptic event on the eschatological timeline of Jesus’ return.
Coverstone never stated explicitly that his dreams were the revelation of events that predate the return of Jesus, but he mentions the Antichrist two different times along with a clear reference to the coming of an “olive press moment” for Christians. Such a statement points to the doctrine of end times (eschatology). He likewise stated that he believes the Antichrist (which is different than the lowercase “a” antichrists that we hear about in 1 John) is alive on planet earth at this moment. Such a statement seems to indicate that Coverstone is warning about the end of time.
If this is indeed true, he aligns himself with the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and men like Harold Camping by naming a date regarding Jesus’ return. While he doesn’t give a specific date, he does put emphasis upon November of 2020. Like all of the heretical groups and false teachers who litter the history of humanity—it seems that Dana Coverstone is aligning himself with heretics rather than biblical prophets. It must be stated that according to Matthew 24:36, no one knows the day or hour of Jesus’ return.
In the 1200s, Pope Innocent III predicted that the world would come to an abrupt end 666 years after the rise of Islam. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion made several different false prophecies. He claimed Jesus would return before 1891 and he likewise predicted that all nations would be involved in an American Civil War. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) made predictions of Jesus’ return that proved to be false (1914, 1915, 1925, 1935, 1951, 1975, 1986, and 2000). Harold Camping caused hysteria with his many claims that Jesus would return.
September 6 1994 – failed prediction
September 29 1994 – failed prediction
October 2 1994 – failed prediction
March 31 1995 – failed prediction
Harold Camping led one final campaign with bold predictions that the world would come to an end on May 21st 2011. I recall seeing large billboards indicating that the world would end on that particular day. In April of 2011, I was traveling with a group of people from our church on our way home from a church planting trip to Ecuador when we came across a group of Camping followers in the Miami airport. They were dressed in bright colored shirts claiming the end of the world was near. As we all know, the end of the world didn’t happen on May 21st 2011.
The gift of the Apostle to the local church ceased upon the death of the last of the Apostles. Along with the Apostolic office, the miraculous gifts (which were inextricably connected to the Apostles) have likewise ceased. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t continue to speak to his people, because he speaks authoritatively through his sufficient Word. Nor does this mean that God has ceased to perform miracles, because God continues to heal the sick and perform other miracles in accordance with his divine authority. The fact is, the miraculous gifts are no longer given to individuals as a means of validating the gospel ministry, proving the deity of Jesus, and finalizing the biblical canon. According to B.B. Warfield, the age of the miraculous gifts has passed. He writes:
The theologians of the post-Reformation era, a very clear-headed body of men, taught with great distinctness that the charismata ceased with the Apostolic age. 
Dana Coverstone’s message is inconsistent with the teaching of the Reformers, the post-Reformation era of biblical theologians, and most importantly—the office of the biblical prophet. We are given Scriptural warnings that prepare us for Jesus’ return and strengthen God’s people for trials and tribulation. Why would we need a modern dream from a pastor in Kentucky if we have the 66 books of the biblical canon? B.B. Warfield likewise states the following:
[Miraculous gifts] were not for the possession of the primitive Christian as such; nor for that matter of the Apostolic Church or the Apostolic age for themselves; they were distinctively the authentication of the Apostles. They were part of the credentials of the apostles as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confirmed them to distinctively the Apostolic Church, and they necessarily passed away with it. 
I conclude with the words of John MacArthur from his book Strange Fire:
Dry wells, fruitless trees, raging waves, wandering stars, brute beasts, hideous stains, vomit-eating dogs, mud-loving pigs, and ravenous wolves—that is how the Bible describes false prophets (cf. 2 Peter 2; Jude). The New Testament reserves its harshest words of condemnation for those who would falsely claim to speak revelation from God. And what the Bible condemns, we must also condemn—doing so with equal vigor and force. 
John MacArthur, Strange Fire, (Nashville, Nelson Books, 2013), 218.
A true heretic is a dangerous person—one of the most deadly is the type who is opposed to the gospel of Jesus and passionately seeks to persuade others to embrace a false gospel. Do you know a heretic? How should you show genuine love to that person without endangering yourself and your family? The Bible speaks to such situations, and we would be wise to follow the biblical pattern of love.
Stop Affirming and Start Evangelizing
According to the world, the politically correct method of showing love is to be affirming to all people no matter what they say or do—it’s their life and their choices and we should love them anyway. Friendship evangelism never works. If you think that being a friend to a heretic will lead that person to Christ—you will never see results. The heretic is often pleased with remaining friends in hopes that he or she could chip away at the foundation of your faith. It’s time to stop affirming them in their beliefs and start evangelizing them with the gospel.
To share the gospel involves confronting people with error. According to the world, this is judgmental and that’s precisely why so many people hate Jesus. Christ didn’t come to make everyone happy, happy, happy. According to Jesus, he came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), but in doing so, he brings division to friendships and families (see Luke 12:49-53). Hanging out with the heretics will never change their hearts. The Bible says, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). In other words, if you continue in a close intimate friendship without evangelizing the unbeliever with the gospel and confronting them with their error—you’re not showing true love to your friend. True love will lead someone away from an eternity that’s under the blazing wrath of our sovereign God. Do you really love your friend if you refuse to confront them and to point them to Jesus?
Stop the Intimate Friendship
For the sake of your soul, you need to bring an end to the friendship between you and your heretic friend. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, and taught the church to keep their distance from those who claimed the name of Jesus but denied him in their manner of living (1 Cor. 5:11). You can do this in several ways, but perhaps the best way to do it is to be honest. You can sit down across the table from your friend and explain how their heresy has divided your friendship and that you will no longer be able to remain close friends. Doctrine matters and false doctrine divides. In this meeting, you can take time to share the true gospel and plead with your friend to embrace Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins. However, the breaking of the relationship is necessary for the sake of your spiritual wellbeing. Don’t have an elevated opinion of yourself—yes you can be fooled too. Remember, Paul scolded the church at Galatia for being fooled by the heretics. Robert Thomas, former professor at The Master’s Seminary once wrote the following:
People don’t often go heretical all at once. It is gradual. And they do not do so intentionally most of the time. They slip into it through shoddiness and laziness in handling the word of truth… All it takes to start the road to heresy is a craving for something new and different, a flashy new idea, along with a little laziness or carelessness or lack of precision in handling the truth of God. All around us today are startling reminders of doctrinal slippage and outright failure. In case after case someone who should have known the truth of God better failed in upholding that truth. 
In Matthew 24:24, we find these words, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, eventheelect.” If Satan desires to lead astray—even God’s elect (which is not possible), that goes to show you how persuasive he will be in all of his attacks on the gospel of Jesus. Beware of this as Satan and the demonic spirits labor to oppose the gospel of Jesus and his Church.
The intimate friendship should come to an end, not just for the sake of your soul, but for the sake of their soul. The heretic needs to know that heresy divides friends and that the relationship will never be as close as it once was because of the false gospel. We are created with a desire for intimacy and close friendships. Christians find this fulfillment in the church, but unbelievers find it (on a much lower level) in the world. One of the elements of church discipline is to put a division between the members and the offending member who is being excommunicated in such a way that the person can feel the distance between himself and the church of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 5:5). This is God’s plan for church discipline, and the individual should know they have been turned over to Satan.
The world has one way to show love, but it’s not real love at all. True love will point people to Jesus and then continue to remain close and intimate friends with others within the body of Christ. Pray for the soul of your friend who refuses to bow to Jesus. Pray for God to open this person’s eyes to the truth.
Dr. Robert Thomas, “Precision as God’s Will for My Life,” (pamphlet, The Master’s Seminary, 1989).
Life often takes sudden turns and unexpected twists along the journey. One of the harsh relities of this fallen world is that best friends are not always best friends for life. It may never happen in your lifetime, but in the event that you find yourself in that unfortunate position—how will your friendship change when your friend embraces a heresy? Heresy changes everything—not just your Facebook relationship.
Is Your Friend a True Heretic?
In our day where the term heresy is used with such casual attitudes and people such as Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, and John Calvin are all classified as heretics, it would be wise to investigate whether or not your friend is a true heretic. A heretic is someone who teaches a false gospel. This person may never have been a professing Christian and simply engages people with a false gospel in order to do violence against God’s church. On another note, a heretic could be a former professing Christian who apostatized from the faith and is now teaching, preaching, or proselytizing for an unorthodox religion.
In short, don’t call someone a heretic unless that person is a genuine heretic—to the letter of the definition. Words matter and so does the character and reputation of a person under the theological microscope. It’s amazing how a few words of classification can leave lasting damage on the reputation of an individual, so approach such conversations with care.
Heresy Divides and So Does Jesus
If your friend is a true heretic, it’s essential to remember that your friend is the one who embraced a false gospel—not you. Therefore, the actions by your friend will definitely have an impact on your friendship. The nature of your friendship will be forever changed. The intimacy of your friendship will be severed. This is a necessary division that is inevitably caused by the heretical position of your friend, and it may be up to you to pull back and sever the longtime intimacy that you both enjoyed in the past.
Secondly, Jesus said that he came to divide (see Luke 12:49-53). Although Jesus is the Prince of peace (Is. 9:6; John 14:27; Phil. 4:7), and his ministry is that of making propitiation and peace between God and sinners (1 John 2:1-2), he also has a ministry of division. Through Jesus, light is separated from darkness. Believers are called out of darkness into the marvelous light of Christ (1 Pet. 2:9). Therefore, Jesus divides even the closest of relationships including parents and children, and so you can expect that friend will be divided from friend as a result of Jesus Christ.
What Does the Bible Say?
Paul makes it abundantly clear that heretics are to be treated differently than intimate friends. To the church at Rome, Paul writes, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive” (Rom. 16:17-18). In simple terms, the point of division is the true gospel of Christ and Christians are to avoid heretics who spend their time confusing people with their false gospel. This means your heretical friend should not enjoy the same place at your supper table as was the common pattern in the past. You and your family must be guarded from the deceitful schemes of heresy.
To the church at Corinth, the man who was having sexual relations with his step-mother was to be put out of the church and turned over to Satan. Furthermore, Paul instructs the church to not associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolator, reviler, drunkard, or swindler. Paul goes on to instruct the church saying, “not even to eat with such a one” (1 Cor. 5:11). The point is clear, it is necessary at times to end friendships with people who are guilty of vile sin and who have swerved from the faith.
Why is this division necessary? Consider the following reasons:
To divide over the gospel is to make a statement about the necessity of the true gospel.
To divide over the gospel is to make it clear who’s in and who’s out.
To divide over the gospel is necessary to protect the hearts and minds of children and others who may be weak in the faith—or as Paul puts it—naive.
To divide over the gospel is a form of defending the faith once delivered to the saints.
Friendship with a heretic in hopes of winning that person to the truth is a dangerous game—one we’re not given the freedom of playing.
Division is always condemned in the church until it’s in relation to false teachers and heretics. God demands that we divide ourselves from those who contradict the true gospel.
Consider the danger of heretics and their lying tongues that often speak just enough truth to entice the hearts and minds of those who simply lack the maturity necessary to detecti the trap. Be cautious and guard yourself from following them off the cliff of heresy into the eternal wrath of God. William Gurnall once penned the following sobering warning, “None sink so far into hell as those that come nearest heaven, because they fall from the greatest height.” 
William Gurnall, A Puritan Golden Treasury, compiled by I.D.E. Thomas, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2000), 20.
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!”  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.” 
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.” 
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. 
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.
Statement by Eugene Peterson can be found as a glaring endorsement written on the front bottom of the paperback version in most cases.
Today we continue a three-part series (posted each Tuesday) that will focus on the positive side of being negative. Today’s subject is centered on the need to be negative in the work of apologetics. Last week the focus was evangelism and next week will be focused on the work of pastoral ministry. We’ve all heard the line, “Don’t be negative, you will push people away.” Is that true or is that merely the tagline of an ultra tolerant inclusive culture that demands positivity and tolerance at any cost?
We live in a culture that paints an improper picture of Jesus as the “nice guy” on the right side of the Bible rather than the wrathful God on the left side. Perhaps people should read all of the right side of the Bible – especially the first four books of the New Testament along with the last book of the New Testament as a fitting assessment of the true Jesus. Jesus was often straightforward and He placed a great deal of emphasis upon defending the truth of God and the sacred Scriptures.
Apologetics is not the practice of giving an apology. It’s the act of defending the faith. Cornelius Van Til once defined apologetics as “the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life.”  One of the key words in his definition is the word, “against” which points to the negative focus that must be included in the work of apologetics. Perhaps the key verse in the New Testament regarding apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15, which says, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
The Greek term translated, “to make a defense” is ἀπολογία – from where we derive the word – apologetics. The fact that we must defend the faith once delivered to the saints is clearly laid out in the Scriptures, and it’s clearly practiced by the early church. The New Testament is filled with apostolic examples of apologetics from Peter’s sermon at Pentecost to Paul giving a defense of the faith before Agrippa. Likewise, we see the early pastors being mandated to practice the work of apologetics in their pastoral ministry (Titus 1:9). In short, all Christians are apologists at some level. In the home as Christian parents, at your place of employment, or on social media. You don’t have to be called to full-time vocational ministry before you engage in apologetics.
Practicing Apologetics and Being Negative
False teaching often lurks in the realm of evangelical circles. It’s one thing to refute the false teaching of Joel Osteen, but what about the individual who has crept into the church of Jesus Christ and is leading people astray? A.W. Pink once said:
False prophets are to be found in the circles of the most orthodox, and they pretend to have a fervent love for souls, yet they fatally delude multitudes concerning the way of salvation. The pulpit, platform, and pamphlet hucksters have wantonly lowered the standard of divine holiness and so adulterated the Gospel in order to make it palatable to the carnal mind. 
According to Jude 3-4:
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Notice two specific statements in these verses. First notice that Jude says, “contend for the faith.” The word contend is translated from the Greek term ἐπαγωνίζομαι meaning “to extert intense effort on behalf of something, contend.” The command to contend for the faith with intensity does not always mean with a positive tone nor does it demand tolerance. The idea that Christians are to tolerate false teachers and false teaching within the church is on the same level as a momma bear tolerating wolves entering her den where her babies are sleeping.
Secondly, notice that Jude says such false teachers had crept inside unnoticed. Jude then argues that such false teachers should be noticed and the work of making people aware of such individuals is part of the work of apologetics. Anytime light shines in darkness, it reveals error. The best teacher in the New Testament who consistently revealed error is Jesus. In His earthly ministry, Jesus consistently put false teachers on notice and it wasn’t always positive.
One such example is found in Mark 12:18-27. In this text, the Sadducees approached Jesus with a theological question. They wanted to know Jesus’ position on the marriage law mentioned in Deuteronomy 25:5-6 – or did they? Actually they were setting a trap for Jesus regarding His position on the resurrection of the dead. That was their real issue. Their question wasn’t exactly sincere, it was more of a theological trap.
Jesus fielded their question and then point by point exposed their false religiosity. Jesus wasn’t about to allow these false teachers off the hook. Why didn’t Jesus just remain positive in hopes of gaining new followers from the community? Why didn’t Jesus merely tolerate their different interpretations on the Scriptures? Jesus responded with a catastrophic bomb, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mark 12:24)? The reason Jesus exposed them was because of their danger to God’s people. Notice, Jesus exposed their ignorance of the Scriptures.
Negative is not Automatically Nasty
To be clear, as I stated in the first article on evangelism, I’m in no way insinuating that Christians should go around being rude, hateful, and harsh with everyone they come in contact with. All Christians are commanded to love sinners and treat people with respect – even people we disagree with. However, Christians are not to be spineless pushovers who allow anyone to say anything they want – especially as it pertains to the gospel.
The Christian community is often quick to press fellow Christians on the idea that we need to follow Jesus’ example of love, but what about His apologetic? Are we to employ the WWJD principle in the area of love only, or should we actually defend the gospel too? According to 1 Peter 3:15, we are to defend the faith “with gentleness and respect.” I can recall times when I wasn’t as gentle as I should have been in my attempt to defend the faith. There is a difference between gentleness and negligence. Exposing error necessitates negative facts, but it always has a positive goal rooted and grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The very moment we claim that pluralism is wrong, we aren’t doing so with the goal of being negative. We speak with the goal of pointing people to the exclusivity of Christ. When we call out the errors of LGBT inclusivism, we aren’t doing so with the goal of being a hater of LGBT people. To the contrary, we do so with the goal of pointing people to faith in Jesus Christ and protecting the church from such false teachers who would press the church into an inclusivist position. Apologetics involves exposing negative error with the positive goal of pointing people to Christ and guarding the gospel from perversion. Vance Havner once said, “The early Christians condemned false doctrine in a way that sounds almost unchristian today.”
Next week, we will look at the need to be negative in the work of pastoral ministry.
Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976), 1.
A.W. Pink, Sermon on the Mount (Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2008), 344.
As you know by now, Pope Francis has visited the United States within the past week, and prior to his visit, the most recent papal visit came back in 2008. In a lengthy and politically charged visit by Pope Francis, we have all had news streams filled with images of the Pope being adored by people as they gathered in large crowds to get a glimpse of him. As he paraded along in his “Pope Mobile” he offered blessings in the sign of the cross to crowds. You can get a glimpse from one person’s video they took on Fifth Avenue in New York as they captured footage of the Pope riding through the city.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article asking the question, “Are Roman Catholics Christians?” Today, I want to focus upon the doctrine of salvation taught by the Roman Catholic Church. With approximately 69 million Roman Catholics in the United States, this is an extremely important subject to consider. Suppose a person asked, “Pope Francis, what must I do to be saved?” How would he respond?
The False Salvation of the Roman Catholic Church
According to official Catholic doctrine, in order for a person to be saved, it’s quite a tedious task. It involves steps such as actual grace, faith, good works, baptism, participation in the sacraments, penance, indulgences, and keeping the commandments. In short, the doctrine of soteriology taught by the Roman Catholic Church is a works based system where a person must work their way to God. Below you will see some citations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The Necessity of Faith (not alone)
Faith is central to Christian theology, but according to the Roman Catholic Church, it’s merely one aspect of the system of salvation. According to their Catechism, they write:
“Faith is necessary for salvation. The Lord himself affirms: ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned,’ (Mk 16:16)” (CCC 183).
According to the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, faith is necessary for salvation. That’s good, but they don’t stop there. Faith, in Catholic theology, is merely the starting point. They build from there adding to faith other works of man – including involvement in “the Church” and tradition.
“Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation,” (CCC 846).
The Necessity of Baptism
“Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us. It has for its goal the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. It is the most excellent work of God’s mercy” (CCC 2020).
“Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude…” (CCC 1257).
As you can see, according to the Roman Catholic Church, baptism is necessary for salvation. In a blasphemous way, they claim, “The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude.” Their reference to “The Church” is a reference to the Roman Catholic Church. They don’t recognize any other church as legitimate. The basis of their claim is centered on their belief that “baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin” (CCC 405).
The Necessity of Good Works and Power of the Human Will
“If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).
Notice how they place “faith alone” in the direct cross hairs of their teachings. They vehemently oppose the teachings of Scripture that salvation comes by faith alone in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, they likewise teach that human will prepares us and cooperates with God in order to bring about justification. This stands in contradiction to the teachings of Scripture.
True Salvation in Jesus Christ
The Scriptures are clear regarding the doctrine of salvation. In fact, that was the central issue of the Reformation – salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the remission of sins. Nearly 500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the castle door in Wittenberg. Luther said, “If any man ascribes anything of salvation, even the very least thing, to the free will of man, he know nothing of grace, and he has not learned Jesus Christ rightly.” The 5 Solas of the Reformation were based on this clear teaching – salvation is a gift of God.
Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
Sola Fide” (Faith Alone)
Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)
Right from the beginning, the Reformers stood upon the sole authority of the Bible as opposed to the traditions and teachings of the Catholic Church. The Bible is God’s Word and we must stand upon it alone as our authority.
The Necessity of Faith Alone in Christ Alone
Was it our works or the work of Christ that satisfied God? According to passages like Isaiah 53 and 1 John 2:1-2, it was the work of Christ. Paul makes it abundantly clear that our salvation is a gift of God and not of works as he writes to the church at Ephesus:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
John Calvin comments:
This passage affords an easy refutation of the idle cavil by which Papists attempt to evade the argument, that we are justified without works. Paul, they tell us, is speaking about ceremonies. But the present question is not confined to one class of works. Nothing can be more clear than this. The whole righteousness of man, which consists in works, — nay, the whole man, and everything that he can call his own, is set aside. We must attend to the contrast between God and man, — between grace and works. Why should God be contrasted with man, if the controversy related to nothing more than ceremonies?
There will be no boasting before the Lord of our works. The work of attending and joining a church is insufficient. The work of the “sacraments” is insufficient. The cooperation of the human will is insufficient. All of these acts and deeds are nothing more than frail attempts to please God. We can’t please God in our flesh. We have nothing to offer Him that would impress Him or satisfy His holy justice. That’s why Paul makes the clear point – “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:9).
The Frailty of the Human Will
The Bible teaches that before salvation, our human will is dead (Eph. 2:1). According to John 1:13, we are not born again by our human will. If the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9), how does the Roman Catholic Church teach that we must cooperate with God in order to receive justification? Commenting on Ephesians 2:10, John Calvin writes:
What remains now for free-will, if all the good works which proceed from us are acknowledged to have been the gifts of the Spirit of God? Let godly readers weigh carefully the apostle’s words. He does not say that we are assisted by God. He does not say that the will is prepared, and is then left to run by its own strength. He does not say that the power of choosing aright is bestowed upon us, and that we are afterwards left to make our own choice. Such is the idle talk in which those persons who do their utmost to undervalue the grace of God are accustomed to indulge. But the apostle affirms that we are God’s work, and that everything good in us is his creation; by which he means that the whole man is formed by his hand to be good.
Therefore, we must conclude that salvation is a gift of God and is bestowed upon guilty sinners out of sheer mercy and love – not based on any performance or work that we offer up to God. Everything we do in our worship and service to God is by means of a changed heart that God wrought in us and willed to do before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-7).
I’ve had Roman Catholics claim that they don’t actually believe in a works based salvation and that they cling to Christ alone. My question to that individual is very simple – why do you remain committed to a church that teaches a doctrine of salvation that is blasphemous to God, robs Him of His glory, and devalues the work of Christ on our behalf? Why not break from Rome? Unless you’re committed to their “true Church” theology, you should break from Rome immediately once you come to see the false salvation of the Roman Catholic Church. Charles Spurgeon, the well known English Baptist preacher, once said:
It is the bounden duty of every Christian to pray against Anti-Christ, and as to what Anti-Christ is no sane man ought to raise a question. If it be not Popery in the Church of Rome there is nothing in the world that can be called by that name…because it wounds Christ, because it robs Christ of His Glory, because it puts sacramental efficacy in the place of His atonement, and lifts a piece of bread in the place of the Saviour, and a few drops of water in place of the Holy Ghost, and puts a fallible man like ourselves up as the Vicar of Christ on earth; if we pray against it, because it is against Him, we shall love the persons though we hate their errors; we shall love their souls though we loath and detest their dogmas, and so the breath of our prayers will be sweetened, because we turn our faces towards Christ when we pray.