The Shack

William Young’s novel “The Shack” was a recent bestseller in the “Christian” Fiction community. The odd and usually disfigured presentation of trinitarian theology in that book was truly strange, and in no way wonderful. That, however, is not the subject of this post. The subject of this post is the theology that underlies our apologetic methodology, and what should flow out of that theology. Our Theology Proper and Anthropology should be complementary and cohesive with one another – with the proper priority given to the former, to inform the latter. What you believe about God should determine what you believe about His creation in His image. From there, what you believe about both subjects should, obviously, inform one’s doctrine of sin, salvation, and a host of other topics. It should, however, to focus on the central topic I want to home in on, also inform your view of what the apologetic task consists of. Due to the pervading and lingering influences of Romanist-flavored Aristotelianism received from Aquinas, there persists a stubborn notion of “prevenient grace” – something explicitly elucidated in the Council of Trent, in the 6th session on Justification, the central issue of the Reformation. In fact, it is this very issue, in a sense, that Luther himself identifies as the “hinge” on which it all turned. You see, the notion of “prevenient grace” is advanced to preserve the notion of a libertarian free choice. As the Council states, “…in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace.” Yet, what do we see constantly thrown at us from putative “Protestants”? This same concept, resurrected within the philosophical Thomism so common in Arminian circles, and to the classical or evidential apologetic methods associated with the synergistic “systems”, if you can call them that. Luther’s response to Erasmus complimented him for seeing the central issue of the Reformation – whether man was in fact a slave to sin, and therefore in possession of a will enslaved to sin – or whether there was this supposed prevenient grace, or in the donum superadditum of Romanism. We’ve all heard it advanced before – by more Arminians than we can count – and some Romanists, too. However, nowhere can they demonstrate where Scripture teaches this “peanut butter grace”, as some have called it. The Romanist and the Arminian differ here only slightly, but appreciably. The Romanist, following Aquinas’ imported Aristotelian “scale of being,” says that man was not essentially perfect, as created, but required the “additional gift” of grace to infuse him with righteousness. To them, the new covenant is a restoration of that infusion. The Arminian, however, does not hold to this view, but says, typically, that prevenient grace is extended after the Fall for all humanity, and in essence, brings men back to a state of ability to cooperate with God’s saving, or justifying grace. As such, both systems are synergistic systems. Pelagius, for example, was a monergist – but an anthropological monergist. Man, to Pelagius, could and must save himself. The Protestant Reformation, obviously, was not about Pelagius’ view – but about something else – synergism, or cooperation between Man and God in salvation. Protestants, on the other hand, say that the question is not about the necessity of grace – but the sufficiency of grace. That the grace of God is indeed necessary, but it alone suffices to bring about the salvation of sinners, of itself; and in fact change their hearts from stone to flesh.

That overview being given, how does this show up in our apologetic? Well, let’s take the example of a rickety clapboard shack. Perhaps a dockside shack, built on the beach nearby. The Classicalist or Evidentialist, by their respective means, seek to argue from natural theology, or general revelation, in order to have a “basis” for special revelation, which is explicated later. Often, this approach is called “incrementalism.” What these methods propose to do is assume the shack’s basic soundness, then proceed to remodel the shack. What is not often discussed, however, is that the goal of the remodeling is to remodel the shack from the shingles down. Instead of a rightful insistence that the unbeliever needs a new house, and needs to demolish the old shack because of the basic unsoundness of construction, the unstable foundation, as well as the substandard building materials, it is advanced with the impression that all the unbeliever needs is to have some minor remodeling done. To begin with, we might start with some superficial ideas that are in need of revision. This might be likened to shingle replacement – after all, we don’t want leaks inside! Unfortunately, what is not said is that all of the joists need replacing – and that’s the next project. So, while the incrementalist might succeed in replacing the slapdash, crooked wooden shingles with nice, watertight shingles – it is very likely that nothing was said – at this time – about the necessity for new paneling under those shingles, or replacement joists. Sure, you can replace the interior paneling, or drywall – fix a leaky faucet or two in the meantime – but eventually, you’re going to have to get around to explaining that this house needs major repairs – so major that if we were honest, we’d admit that it was really a bulldozer we needed to begin with. If you replace the shingles without replacing the wood you attach the shingles to, the shingles won’t last any longer than the old ones did, despite their superficial superiority. If you then replace the joists – what do you do with those shingles? If you pull up shingles, as anyone with construction experience knows, you typically ruin them. They are made to adhere to one another, and seal. It can be done – but doing that for an entire roof’s worth is not only time-consuming, but most definitely counter-productive. Let’s ignore that for a moment, however. Shall we replace the joists? It has to be done, you know. Let us proceed! Again, however, something is not being said. What bears the load of the joists? The walls of the structure. Are they sound? Most definitely not. However, we can’t be worried about that right now. We can’t expect them to give up their house, can we? So, once again, we do some remodeling. There has been some superficial repair done on the interior, and it now has a completely brand new roof! Before too long, however, we know that the roof will sag, and the walls will begin to buckle. These walls were built to hold up a rickety roof, not a well-fashioned one. So, we have more a sense of urgency now. They have to be convinced – or the entire roof will come down on their heads – a much heavier, much more sturdy roof. So, ignoring that the our homeowner is by this point more than a little skeptical about the business practice of this particular contractor, the renovation on the interior walls begins! After, of course, all the shingles are once again removed, the joists taken out, and all of the cosmetic interior improvements torn away. So, the walls go up, the joists are secured back in place, paneling installed on top and bottom, and the shingles reattached. Here comes the hard part, however. The foundation was never meant to support such a structure. One good rain, or some abnormal wave action, and the foundation will crumble! So, with a sense of urgency perhaps even greater than before, our contractor exhorts his amazingly docile employer to allow him to build an entirely new foundation – or better yet, to move his residence to the granite footings of a nearby hill, with elevation and firm bedrock beneath. The whole house is once again disassembled, and moved to the hilltop.

The Reformed apologist, on the other hand, points out the obvious straight away. We know this is your home, we sympathize, but it simply is not suitable for human habitation. It is built on sand, rather than stone; out of substandard material, it is subject to drafts and is by no means weatherproof! I’m sure that it has sentimental value, but it is simply not suitable to live in! Instead, we exhort, this shack needs to be razed to the ground. Up there, on that hill, is the sort of place you need to build a house – and not just any sort of house. Someplace with firm footings, and solid construction. Additionally, this new house will be built out of materials suitable to such construction, and in accordance with the master plan of our architect. These are our references, you can visit any of these addresses to see a house precisely like the one you should be living in, instead of this ramshackle, dangerous construction. No, sir, this house is not basically sound. It is rotten, through and through, and built on shifting sands to boot! No sir, I can’t recommend remodeling. Anything we do superficially will only prolong the inevitable. No, we can’t simply build a new house here. A house needs to be secured to bedrock when subject to weather such as you are here, not merely given the illusion of security – and sir, I won’t lie to you, it does come at a price. It’s not a question of expense, although I do admit that your personal cost will be high – it’s a question of the job being done properly, and your own safety. Such things cost what they cost, and if such a thing is to be done, I must insist on the quote I gave you. Yes, in the short run, it could be done at a lesser cost by stages – but in the long run, it would cost you far more to do so – and any contractor who did such a thing would be brought up on charges should it be discovered. Yes, I thank you for your time. Please don’t hesitate to contact me. I cannot emphasize enough that this structure is unsafe. Goodbye.

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