In 2013 the South African Theological Seminary (SATS) did a survey on biblical literacy in South Africa. The study found that, while most self-professed Christians read the Bible daily, many held views that disagreed with the Scriptures. This is troubling, because it indicates that Christians who read the Bible often don’t understand it, nor do they apply it to their lives.
Christians should not only be busy with the Word, but should be transformed by it. We should not be like the women described in 2 Tim. 3:7: “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth”. This void leaves people open to deception (just look at verse 6) and opens the door for movements like Hebrew Roots. One area in which the Hebrew Roots Movement exploits people’s ignorance of basic Christian truths, is their attack on the doctrine of the Trinity.
The rejection of the Trinity
We’ve already mentioned that many within the Hebrew Roots Movement reject the doctrine of the Trinity. While not all adherents do, it is telling that a significant number of the movement’s most vocal proponents do. Writers and teachers like Ken Garrison, Randy Folliarde, AB Traina, as well as organizations like Yahweh Restoration Ministries, Hebraic Christian College, and Beit Yeshua Torah Assembly explicitly reject the doctrine of the Trinity. Some embrace the Arian heresy and teach that if “the Son was the first begotten of creation, there was a point in time He did not exist.”
Hebrew Roots teachers often point to the Nicene Creed (325AD) as the moment the Christian church embraced a pagan idea about the nature of God. This is simply not true. The creed summarized biblical teaching on the nature of the Godhead. This process did not start with the Nicene council. The Scriptures gave birth to the doctrine of the Trinity, and that doctrine was summarized, not by philosophers (as Hebrew Roots proponents assume), but pastors who sought to be faithful to the witness of Scripture. What was generally assumed and agreed upon within the wider Christian church, had to be defended because of heresies that threatened biblical truth. Arius from Alexandria (318) taught that only the Father was truly God and that Jesus, his Son, was not eternal and did not possess by nature any of the divine perfections.
A defense of the doctrine of the Trinity falls beyond the scope of this article, but it should be noted that the council assembled to defend biblical teaching, not to redefine it. The Trinitarian formulae of passages like Matthew 28:19-20 and 2 Cor. 13:14 present the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as equally God, while not confusing their Persons. It is tragic that ancient heresies, which the church has confronted and refuted countless times throughout church history, is making a comeback. The Hebrew Roots Movement threatens this fundamental Christian doctrine, even if there are proponents who do not reject it entirely.
The Hebrew Roots hermeneutic
Hermeneutics is a big word for the rules of interpretation. If we compare studying the gospel to a sport, hermeneutics would be the rules of the game. The Hebrew Roots movement subtly changes the rules of interpretation, thereby changing the way we read the Bible. For example, the Christian maxim has always been that that “the new is in the old concealed, the old is in the new revealed.” This phrase, first found in the writings of Augustine of Hippo (fourth century AD), is taken from Ephesians 3:5. There Paul explains that the gospel and the subsequent inclusion of the Gentiles “was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”
The Hebrew Roots Movement turns this on its head by insisting that we cannot understand the Old Testament in light of the New, but should instead interpret the New Testament in light of the Old. There is no denying that we cannot make sense of the New Testament without the Old. It would be a fatal mistake for believers to ignore or set the Old Testament aside. However, the New Testament illuminates the Old, while the Old is the foundation for the new. As John 1:17 says: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
This is not the only hermeneutical error that the Hebrew Roots movement makes. In private correspondence with Hebrew Roots proponents, I’ve had to correct errors such as:
These are, admittedly, varied examples. Not all proponents of the Hebrew Roots movement make these same mistakes or make them in the same way. There have also been non-Hebrew Roots teachers who have made these mistakes. The point, however, is that much of what the Hebrew Roots movement teaches rely of exegetical fallacies and hermeneutical gymnastics. It is not light, but darkness.
The Hebrew Roots Movement is not a return to biblical Judaism, but to Talmudic Judaism at best and “pop-Judaism” at worst. It ignores the clear teaching of passages like Acts 15, which addresses the relationship of Gentile believers to Judaism. There we are told: “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.” Hebrew Roots proponents believe that the council just corrected what was missing in the Gentiles’ obedience, but the letter that the council wrote destroys that notion. Look at verse 24: “Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions”. What were these false teachers preaching? That they had to keep the law and be circumcised. Later, the letter adds: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements” (v. 28). They clearly did not expect these Gentiles to keep the whole Mosaic Law.
It is telling that the majority of Jews who come to faith do not join Messianic Synagogues, because of the unbiblical impositions placed on those who convert to Christianity. Most of these Synagogues are filled with Gentiles trying to be Jews. Fisher warns: “This imposition of Jewish practice on non-Jewish believers really does constitute a serious issue that promotes elitism, unnecessary division, wide confusion, and unbiblical practices. We can almost understand Jews who convert to Christ who still try to keep some of the cultural aspects and celebrations of their familial heritage. If their intentions and motives are not legalistic, and if these things are not done for salvation or out of religious elitism, there may be some minor benefit. Yet to impose them on Gentiles (as is the case, more often than not) is a direct violation of Paul’s words to the Colossians: “So let no one judge you in food or drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (2:16-17).”
Finally, the Hebrew Roots Movement cannot agree on which version of Judaism it should follow. There were different streams of Judaism in the first century. Should we emulate the religious Pharisees? And, if so, should we follow the school of Shammai or Hillel? What about the Sadducees, the Zealots, or the Herodians? Did John the Baptist capture the true essence of Judaism? There were purist movements, like the Essenes, who withdrew from society for fear that their faith would be corrupted. Should we follow their interpretation? We cannot return to the Judaism of the first-century: there is no temple, no priesthood, and no animal sacrifices.
Some in the Hebrew Roots Movement seem to be enamoured with modern Orthodox Jews. This doesn’t solve the problem either, because we would have to decide between the Ger Hassidic Dynasty, the Belz Hassidic Dynasty, and many others. It just causes more confusion.
You cannot belong to the Hebrew Roots Movement without making the most crucial mistake of all: believing that Jesus is not enough. Therefore, beware of the Hebrew Roots Movement and those who hold to it. It is a very real danger to your soul, your family, your church, and the glory of Christ.
Because of Christ,
Rico Cortes was raised in a Christian community in Puerto Rico, but in the 1990s he began researching his family history. He found that he was a descendant of medieval Spanish Jews. After devoting himself to the study of Scripture, he came to a surprising conclusion: “When I kept reading the Bible, [Jesus] kept Shabbat, he ate kosher, he kept the faith.” He decided that the best way to understand and follow Jesus was to live the way Jesus had lived, which meant he too would observe the Torah. Is that what it means to follow in Jesus’ footsteps?
Of course, true Christians should want to be more like Jesus. After all, we are called to look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He is our ultimate example. He “suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21). Every true believer strives for Christlikeness. But what does “being like Jesus” mean?
Jesus was a Jew, obviously. He was born a Jew and perfectly obeyed all the requirements of the Law. He fulfilled the demands of the Law for us (Rom. 8:1-4). Should those who follow Jesus become observant Jews like Jesus was? Should Gentile believers try to be Messianic Jews? In the words of Richard Fisher: “Should they don a yarmulke, worship in a synagogue, blow a shofar, wear a prayer shawl, call Jesus Yeshua or Yeshu, keep the Old Testament feasts and dietary laws, and give their pastors the title of Rabbi, even though Matthew:23:8 says otherwise? Are Jewish ceremonies and practices efficacious? … Is Jewishness next to godliness?”
The Hebrew Roots Movement seems to think so. Here is our first summary the Hebrew Roots Movement’s erroneous teachings. In this article we will focus on the Torah, dress code, and their view of Israel.
The Hebrew Roots Movement teaches that believers should live a Torah-observant life. This means that the ordinances of the Mosaic Covenant must kept and should be a major focus for believers today. Keeping the Torah includes keeping the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week (Saturday), celebrating the Jewish feasts and festivals (refer Leviticus 23), keeping the dietary laws, avoiding the "paganism" of Christianity (Christmas, Easter, etc.), and learning to understand the Scriptures from a Hebrew mindset.
The Hebrew Roots Movement teaches that those who belong to Christ will keep the law, not out of legalistic bondage, but because of their love for Christ. The reality, however, is very different. They teach that to please God, a Torah-observant walk must be part of a Christian’s life. If we do not observe the Torah, at least not in the way that they believe most agrees with ancient practice, we cannot please God and therefore cannot be his children.
What many in the Hebrew RM don’t seem to realize, is that it would be impossible to return to the practices of the early church. Dr. Stephen Katz of Jews for Jesus helpfully points out that much of what the Hebrew Roots Movement espouses today is based on later Jewish and rabbinic tradition. They are actually following the Jewish Talmud, which was completed some 500 years after Christ. Few within the movement even know that there are two Talmuds, a Babylonian and Palestinian Talmud, with some serious differences between them.
Men in the Hebrew Roots Movement cover themselves with the Yarmulke (in Yiddish) or Kippa (in Hebrew). They also use the Tallit (Prayer Shall) to cover their heads. Most wear tassels, called tzitzit, though they aren’t always visible. These, again, are worn in obedience to the Torah, specifically Numbers 15:38-40. The context makes it clear that these tassels were supposed to be a reminder to Israel to obey the law. The Pharisees were known for their adherence to these external requirements, but the tassels themselves did nothing for their hearts. Hebrews 8 makes it clear that such a reminder is no longer necessary, since the law resides in the heart of the believer through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The Hebrew Roots Movement is understandably obsessed with Israel. In extreme cases they claim to be descendent of the 10 Northern Tribes and claim land rights in Israel. Some claim the right to make "Aliyah" (Law of return to Israel by Jews). They even consider themselves to be as much Israelites as Israel of this age.
Israel, then, becomes the lens through which God looks to us. It also becomes the lens through which Hebrew Roots proponents look at others. Your support for and identification with Israel will determine whether you are acceptable or not. This is clearly false. Even more concerning, is the teaching of some HR proponents that Israel will be saved even apart from Christ.
The New Testament teaches that the Father looks upon his children through Jesus Christ, his beloved Son, “whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). Gentile believers are grafted into the people of God (Rom 11:16-24). What the Hebrew Roots Movement fails to realise, is that the root of the cultivated olive is not the law, but the faith of Abraham. Israel itself is not.
Listen to what Paul writes in Galatians 3:7-11: “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith."”
Not all Israel (ethnically) are truly Israel (spiritually), and the distinction is not law, but grace (Rom. 9:6-16).
In our next article we will focus on the names of God and the Hebrew Bible.
1. O’Neil, Lorena. 2014. Hebrew Roots rising: not quite Christians, not quite Jews. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/13/ozy-hebrew-roots-movement/6373671/ Accessed: 5 February 2015.
2. Fisher, G. Richard. 2014. Bewitching believers through the Hebrew Roots movement. https://www.thebereancall.org/content/january-2014-bewitching-believers-hebrew-roots Accessed: 25 June 2023
Tangled in Roots
In the 1970s the ‘messianic movement’ sought to reach ethnic Jews with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The hope was to show them that Jesus truly is the Messiah prophesied in the Scriptures and that by believing in Him they can receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. Practically speaking, it meant sharing the gospel with ethnic Jews.
Turn the clock ahead 30 odd years and the landscape has changed considerably. Jews who believe in Jesus are not the only ones claiming to be ‘messianic’. One movement which has laid claim to the title is the so-called Hebrew Roots movement.
What is the Hebrew Roots movement?
It is a difficult movement to pin down, as Menachem Kaiser explains: “It’s a loose identity. There isn’t a church, there isn’t a leader. It gets very fragmented.” Kaiser wrote an in-depth article on the Hebrew Roots movement for Tablet magazine. In it Kaiser describes what seems to be the common denominator in the various branches of the movement: “The movement’s central belief is that the Torah is still binding—that God, or Yahweh, or Hashem, did not intend for Yeshua’s appearance to render irrelevant the lessons of the Old Testament, whose rules and instructions remain valid. The Brit Chadasha, or New Testament, which most Christians believe superseded the Torah, is understood as a sort of extension of the Torah.” Stephen Katz, North American Director of Jews for Jesus, gives this succinct definition: “The Hebraic Roots or Jewish Roots movement refers to various organizations with a common emphasis on recovering the original Jewishness of Christianity.”
Most of those who associate with the movement are not ethnic Jews. They are Gentiles who have no intention of converting to Judaism yet follow Jewish laws, customs, and practices. This has caused no small amount of confusion and trouble for those ethnic Jews who do believe in Jesus. Rich Robinson, who serves as Senior Researcher at the Jews for Jesus headquarters in San Francisco, wrote a series of articles on the challenges that the Jewish messianic movement faces. He writes: “Some ministries and groups exhort all followers of Y'shua—Jewish or not—to observe Jewish holidays. Many teach the importance of recovering the first-century faith of believers in Jesus and rejecting the pagan notions they feel have corrupted faith in the Messiah.” Exactly what pagan notions they reject is not always clear; it ranges from the rejection of worship on Sunday to the rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity. However, the movement is united in its rejection of modern Christianity as a perversion of the pure, first century version of their religion.
The history of the Hebrew Roots movement is as opaque as its teachings. Because it has no structure and should be considered a “grass-roots” movement, determining its origin is very difficult. Earlier movements, like the Sacred Name Movement and the World Wide Church of God from the 1930’s have definitely influenced the perspectives of the Hebrew Roots Movements. For example, Herbert Armstrong – leader of the World Wide Church of God – taught that Christians had to observe parts of the Jewish law, including keeping the Sabbath, adhering to Jewish food laws, and celebrating the Jewish festivals. He also believed in British Israelism, which teaches that British, American, and many European peoples were descended from the so-called Ten Lost Tribes of the Northen Kingdom of Israel. Most alarming, however, is Armstrong’s rejection of the Trinity, which many proponents of Hebrew Roots also do.
Even though Hebrew Roots takes many of its cues from Armstrong, the movement really took off after his death in 1986. In the mid-90s Dean Cozzens of Open Church Ministries published a supposed prophecy titled “The Hebrew Movement”. In it he claimed that God had foreordained four movements in the 20th century. Pentecostalism would be the first, then faith healing, leading to the Charismatic movement and finally, the Hebrew roots movement. Others joined the movement and in 1998 Dean and Susan Wheelock began publishing Hebrew Roots Magazine. They also started a website, Hebrewroots.net, which still operates today. With the help of the internet the movement started to grow and spread.
Not all Hebrew Roots proponents will agree with this characterization of their origins. Richard Fisher explains that the movement has many other influences and has branched into numerous streams. He writes: “It’s hard to define the HRM because it is so diverse and made up of so many disparate groups and individuals. It’s a moving target. It’s a vast smorgasbord of everything from scholarship, as in the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, to so-called Third Questers, to individuals practicing subjective pop (make-it-up-as-you-go) Judaism. It can even include the medieval mystical Kabbalah, with its esoteric numerology. More often than not there are no distinctions made between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant or between the Bible and the Talmud. This movement can impose legalism with a vengeance or in some instances may simply suggest Jewish practices that they say will give us deeper insight and understanding as well as make us more “authentic” believers.”
Even though the movement is varied, there are common traits that has the potential to do great harm to the church and its witness to the lost.
1. Quoted by O’Neil, Lorena. 2014. Hebrew Roots rising: not quite Christians, not quite Jews. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/13/ozy-hebrew-roots-movement/6373671/ Accessed: 5 February 2015
2. Kaiser, Menachem. 2014. For some believers trying to connect with Jesus, the answer is to live like a Jew. http://tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/161086/observing-torah-like-jesus?all=1 Accessed: 5 February 2015
3. Katz, Stephen. 2001. The Jewish Roots movement: flowers and thorns. Havurah 4(1).
4. Robinson, Rich. 2003. The challenge to our Messianic movement, Part One. Havurah 6(2): 2-3.
5. Fisher, G. Richard. 2014. Bewitching believers through the Hebrew Roots movement. https://www.thebereancall.org/content/january-2014-bewitching-believers-hebrew-roots Accessed: 25 June 2023
A Reliable Portrayal of God?
'The Shack' (2007) remains a popular read among many Christians despite serious theological problems. Below is a review by Paul Hartwig.'
William P. Young (the writer) has presented his view of God in the form of a story. His theology is worked out in the midst of traumatic circumstances, tough questions and raw emotion. The ‘Missy’ story provides the perfect setting for the question: “Where is God when bad things happen… why doesn't He intervene?” We feel the need for this answer in the face of serious illness, accidents and broken relationships but the urgency and raw pain of the question reaches new heights when an innocent child is abducted and murdered. The author has thus chosen an engaging story-frame for setting forth his own journey toward explanation.
Mackenzie (Mack) Allen Phillips’ youngest daughter, Missy, is abducted during a family camping trip. The subsequent evidence supports a verdict of murder by a serial murderer whose victims’ bodies are never found. He identifies himself by leaving a Ladybug pin at the scene of the abduction. Four years later Missy’s family remain in a state of brokenness. Kate the older daughter is emotionless and withdrawn as she believes it’s all her fault. Mackenzie wears his sadness like a heavy coat that dulls his eyes and stoops his shoulders. Due to his own painful childhood experiences he has never enjoyed a close relationship to God... definitely not anything like his wife’s spiritual intimacy which has her calling God “Papa”. Mack cannot relate the love and trust inherent in this name to the God he thinks he knows. Then on a snowy afternoon when the postman didn't come (due to weather) Mackenzie finds a note in the post-box inviting him back to the Shack for a weekend… the note is signed “Papa”. Against his better judgement Mack arrives at the Shack on a wintry afternoon and relives his worst nightmare… This is where Missy’s red dress that she was wearing on the day of her abduction was found. The telling blood stain is still visible on the floor.
Back in the Shack, Mack shouts out his grief, anger and frustration to a seemingly absent God… In Mack’s estimation, God isn't any more present now than he was on the day of the Great Sadness. Emotionally drained Mack rises from the floor of the Shack to slowly walk back to his vehicle. The cold of the day is numbing when suddenly a warm wind blows from behind. Mack turns to find the world of the Shack transformed into a pristine scene of spring glory! The Shack is now a beautiful log cabin with smoke lazily twisting out of the chimney. Appetizing aromas waft from the kitchen. This marks the beginning of Mack’s encounter with a God, presented to him in the form of a fat, motherly, Afro-American lady, a 30-ish Middle Eastern man, and a mystical Asian woman (Papa, Jesus and Sarayu) – the author’s humanized representation of the holy Trinity. Mack ultimately receives answered questions, emotional healing and a restored God-ward relationship.
William P. Young presents his theology through the medium of Mack’s personal encounter with God. The author’s presentation of God certainly breaks through our religiosity and unconscious stereotypes but we have to ask the question: is his portrayal God-honouring and true to God’s self-revelation in Scripture?
The book effectively shows that we all try to make sense of the world and our experiences from within a very narrow and personalized perspective. Our definition of good and evil is often very subjective and ignores the fact that God has a different, broader picture. The book challenges our ability to accurately interpret our circumstances and judge the reality of God’s love and trustworthiness. The book emphasizes the importance of seeing God as good and loving if we are to really trust him.
The book also highlights the truth that God’s unconditional love is not performance based – it cannot be earned.
Mack’s dialogue with Papa (God the Father), Jesus and Sarayu (the Holy Spirit – Hindi for wind) brings out our tendency to live either regretting the past or worrying about the future. Our attention and energy is seldom fully employed in the NOW. We were made for the present and yet too often miss it in the midst of our preoccupations.
Mack meets a fully humanized trinity. God is clothed in the human flesh of an African American woman who epitomizes motherly warmth, nurture and love and goes by the name Papa. Jesus is a man of obvious Middle-Eastern decent with a distinctly Jewish nose, and the Holy Spirit takes the form of an Asian woman is the only person to retain the divine aspect being more than human. This presentation of God in the form of a woman (rather than a man) is explained as God adapting himself to Mack’s inability to relate to a father figure - his earthly father having been a violent drunkard. This suggests that psychology is the main hindrance in our relationship with God – not sin. This leads to a distortion of the biblical diagnosis of our human problem.
The god of the Shack rejects Mack’s belief that god would express wrath or anger toward sin. god would never send anyone to hell. god declares “I do not need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you inside. Its not my purpose to punish. Its my joy to cure it.” (p120)
The general message is that everyone has emotional and circumstantial trauma influencing their evil deeds and bad choices... god wants to heal these hindrances and restore relationship and wholeness. So the Papa figure in the story provides us with a haven of homely comfort as she nurses our hurt and pain. On the contrary, the Bible tells us God is angry with sin; that His wrath is righteous; that there is punishment apart from sin’s natural consequences; that the way to restored relationship is by repentance and faith in Jesus’ death on the cross; and that Jesus bore our sins on the cross so that forgiveness does not compromise God’s holiness. This full Gospel message is sadly missing in the Shack dialogue. The only mention of the cross in the book refers to Jesus cry of abandonment: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me”. This cry is explained as merely a sense of abandonment, that also identifies with our sense of God’s absence in the midst of difficult circumstances. This reduces the Cross to subjective feelings rather than upholding the truth that Jesus bore our sins and took the punishment that brought us peace with God. (Isaiah 53:5)
Why does God call Himself Father?
The Biblical revelation portrays God as Father not as a gender distinction but to represent His authority - a concept the author very definitely rejects. The god of the shack has no desire to be authoritative, which he sees as completely incompatible with true relationship. Authority is depicted as a system imposed and propagated by the Fall. The godhead of the Shack dismisses the idea of any inter-trinity authority, amidst giggles of disbelief. The author’s idea that true relationship does not exist where one party has authority over the other is simply not Biblical. His idea that relationship is circular and never vertical is not true in terms of the Godhead, God and man relations, and man/woman relationships. Scripture continually supports an internal authority in the Godhead and appropriate God-ordained authority and submission in human relationships too. (1 Cor 11:3 “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband and the head of Christ is God.) Here the authors ideas may be culturally palatable, yet the Biblical pattern is clearly otherwise and remains offensive.
During dialogue with Mack the god of the Shack states “I am not a selfish little deity seeking my own glory.” However the God of Biblical revelation declares “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, …. My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:11). This Old Testament reference is carried forward in the various New Testament doxologies and particularly in Ephesians where we are told that Christ’s sacrificial death effected our forgiveness from sin and was done for the display of God’s glory. (Eph 1 & 2) This truth is not strange to those who have a deep confidence that God’s glory is our path to true joy and meaning. The author prefers the idea that we are the pinnacle of God’s purposes - he can only believe in God’s goodness and love if God’s reason for being is us. Getting ones mind and heart around the fact that God’s passion for His glory (i.e. holiness, justice, righteousness….) is essential to our security and happiness is almost impossible in our self-absorbed culture. The Shack presents a culturally compatible god, a Papa in the kitchen rather than a holy God seated on a throne in heaven. The book shows a serious loss of the concept of Majesty.
Along with this lamentable absence of majesty, God’s sovereignty is also downplayed in an attempt to uphold authentic human freedom. The god of the Shack says, “We respect your choices and work within your systems.” He does not hold ultimate control and lacks power and initiative as he honours our choices while somehow working them into his purposes. The Bible presents God as the all-powerful initiator and executor, declaring “I am God and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish my good pleasure’.” (Isaiah 46: 9-10) Mack’s god presents an impoverished view that does not hold true to Biblical revelation which contains the tension between God’s sovereign power and human freedom. Denying God’s control may seek to vindicate his non-intervention in horrific circumstances but this neglects the writers good point that our perspective and solutions regarding evil are insufficient. The Cross is the only solution that confronts man’s sin, deals with it justly and grants forgiveness where there is repentance.
What God says about sin in the Bible does not fit the authors picture of a god who has nothing to say about moral accountability. Nowhere in this theological dialogue is Mack asked to repent and ask Papa for forgiveness for sin (remembering that Mack murdered his father). The main purpose of the book’s incredible dialogue with god is the uncovering of Mack’s lack of trust in god’s goodness. Mack’s extraordinary experience ultimately changes his views about god and helps him learn to live loved. This is a gospel of emotional healing where we find a heavenly mom who can offer no more than a withered and dry bosom.
The author downplays the role of the church and he dismisses any seminary training; Mack went to Bible College but learnt nothing about God. In the seminaries they may not put God in a box but they do keep Him in the book. I would agree that knowing God is not confined to facts contained in a book, for God is real and active. However, I fear the author dismisses God’s self-revelation contained in the Bible as he contradicts or ignores what God has said about Himself in this book. If reading books and studying about God is ineffective, why does the author himself write a book about God?
Finally, the author has Jesus saying that he will travel any path (religious, political, ethnic etc) to find God’s children and that it is not his purpose to make people ‘Christians’ but to join them in their transformation into children of Papa. It is hard to decided whether this is actually a form of religious pluralism (‘many roads lead to god’) or a form of universalism (‘all will be saved in the end’)? The authors studied ambiguity allows much to be desired and imagined.
The use of ‘Papa’ in addressing God is also highly questionable, if not disrespectful of our Majestic God. Although it has been popular to say that ‘Abba’ is an Aramaic word similar to our ‘Daddy’, the language of Jesus’ day was more respectful than familiar. ‘Dear Father’ a better modern equivalent than the sentimental ‘daddy’.
The Shack is typical of our casual culture. God is no longer found in the Church or prayer room but in the kitchen and out hiking; not worshiped with reverence and awe as transcendent. Instead, we ‘hang out’ together enjoying coffee and cookies, whilst god listens to mp3 music that is definitely not ‘Christian music’. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not the all-too humanised ‘papa’ of William Young.
First, what is the prosperity theology/gospel? It is teaching given by many pastors, authors and many TV preachers who use the Scriptures to state that God's wants each of His children to experience physical health and financial wealth. The corollary of this is that if His children are not experiencing this, there is a problem in their relationship with the Lord. The word 'gospel' is used since 'gospel' in the Greek means 'good news'. Christianity thus becomes the 'good news' of God's promise of your spiritual, physical and financial well being.
Secondly, we need to be aware that this is another 'cultural moment' we are experiencing in the history of Christianity, and is strikingly different to what has been preached over the centuries in the church. Today our religious expectations have piggy backed the gains of the world (which offers health and wealth to us all), and even if we do not hold to the prosperity teaching, at bottom most of us assume that if God had His way with us He would heal our bodies and fill our wallets. Are not most of our testimonies of God's work in our lives about how we have been provided for in these realms? His faithfulness or goodness commonly translate to mean health and wealth. This is also the reason why many people serve God and believe in Him: to be spared physical and financial suffering.
What Al Mohler was wanting to point out was that if we believe that our health and wealth are the main concerns of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have an impoverished perspective of His work and are missing the heart of what is on His agenda for our lives.
Traditionally (and correctly) God's main intent for us now in this life is not our health or wealth but our holiness, i.e., to be like Him. The greatest gift and the most urgent work of God is simply not physical blessing; This is clear to all in their most sane moments when they ponder what their greatest needs are. What is the greatest thing that a Christian would want for her children? Is it not to know Christ, and for them to reflect His character,and to live a life pleasing to God Almighty? Because of the fleeting and temporal nature of our present bodily experience, it is not ultimately their best life now that we want for those we love but their best life in eternity that we want for them! Does not the entire New Testament warn us that if we aim at beautify bodies and bounteous bank balances, we will move away the Gospel and not closer to it? Consider the words of Jesus in Mark 4:18-19 and also those of His apostle in 1 John 2:15-17:
Still others are like the seeds sown among the thorn bushes. These are the people who hear the word, but the worries of life, the deceitful pleasures of wealth, and the desires for other things come in and choke the word so that it can't produce a crop.
Stop loving the world and the things that are in the world. If anyone persists in loving the world, the Father's love is not in him. For everything that is in the world—the desire for fleshly gratification, the desire for possessions, and worldly arrogance—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world and its desires are fading away, but the person who does God's will remains forever.
Of course we trust God for our provision in every area of our lives, and we ought to testify to His faithfulness in caring for us in the material areas of our lives. BUT, we must know that there is a higher purpose that He has with us in this life. He wants us to 'share His holiness' (Hebrews 12:10). His purpose is for us to be like Jesus (Romans 8:29). He want us to not settle for temporary things but rather be willing to 'accept joyfully the plundering of our property, since you know that you yourselves have a better possession and an abiding one" (Hebrews 10:34).
When we consider 'the prosperity gospel' in the light of the New Testament, it is revealed as a devilish and deceitful distraction to the people of God.
For Christians passing through Vanity Fair on his way to Celestial City, they are always tempted to stay and enjoy all the blessings of the world. Some have mistakenly thought that this was God's voice that beckoned to them, but it is not. Rather, may we, like John Bunyan's Christian, also 'set our eyes on the things that cannot be seen' (2 Cor 4:18) and aim at the 'pleasures which are in His right hand' (Psalm 16:11).
In His priceless Name,