Legalism or Progressivism: Which is Deadlier to Faith?

Since 2002, I’ve been advocating for religion-free Christianity, as well as warning of the dangers of allowing legalism to invade our faith-walk. Over the years, I’ve been accused by fundamentalists of being “soft on sin,” preaching “greasy grace,” and failing to understand the importance of the Law.

I’ve been physically assaulted on two separate occasions, I’ve been labeled a “radical” and a “heretic,” placed on false teacher websites and have been blacklisted from several churches due to my views on sovereignty, the believer’s authority, and faith-righteousness.  Through all of that, I’ve stood strong for the message of the New Covenant, the finished work of the cross, and the righteousness of the believer through faith.

Recently though, I’ve received a new form of opposition. Despite my very public (and considered in some circles to be “radical”) stance on grace, I’ve now been accused of being a legalist. How did this happen you may wonder?  Let me explain.

For the last several years, I’ve been addressing a theological phenomenon known by some as spiritual extrapolation.  Spiritual extrapolation is the process by which one attempts to discover a deeper revelation of the Word by starting with a biblical truth, but over time extrapolating the revelation of that truth, until the end doctrine has progressed beyond what is found in Scripture, and the individual ends up in error.

The main concern of spiritual extrapolation is not simply that one now holds to the error, but that he has let go of the value and importance of the Word in establishing a right belief about God.  This form of extrapolation, rooted in Gnostic thinking, gives preference to reason and logic over biblical inerrancy.  Thoughts such as, “If God is really good, then there would be no hell,” sound good on paper, but they violate foundational truths of the Bible, such as freewill, personal responsibility, and the empowerment of the believer. Don’t be fooled, a God that gives no choice, cannot be truly good.

I understand the attraction to this line of thinking, especially by my grace brothers and sisters, many of whom have been deeply wounded by denominational thinking and Pharisaical Christianity. Like many in the grace community, I too, have experienced firsthand the negative effects of legalism, adherence to tradition, and the damage that a faulty view of God can cause to one’s emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.

It makes sense to me that those of us who have been wounded by religion would have the tendency to set sail for greener and freer theological pastures.  And in many cases, this has proven to give birth to wonderful theological renewal.  New insights into the meaning of the cross, a greater understanding of the purpose of the Mosaic Law, and powerful personal revelations of the unbreakable and everlasting covenant with our God through Christ abound. But not all “so called” revelations are good, as is the case with progressive thinking that inevitably leads to extra-biblical extrapolation.

Think of doctrine like a buoy floating in the ocean. Fixed to the bottom of the ocean floor by a strong cable, the buoy is free to float along the surface of the water. It can float a little to the left or a little to the right, but ultimately, it remains safely anchored to the seabed.

In the case of doctrine, our opinions regarding specific scriptures may float, if you will, between various individual interpretations and theological variations, but assuming we are still connected to the Bible and the Lordship of Jesus, we can remain fixed within the broader bounds of orthodoxy, free from the devastating effects of heresy.

However, if our belief and connection to the infallibility of the Word of God is somehow lost, like a buoy ripped from its foundation, we, too run the risk of floating out into the life-threatening waters of false doctrine. This is exactly what happens in the case of spiritual extrapolation and it is the trademark of progressivism.  (For more on spiritual extrapolation, click HERE.)

Verses that used to serve as the final authority on a given topic, are now treated with contempt – marginalized, criticized, or suggested to be inapplicable to a New Covenant believer in the modern era.  All this is just a vain attempt to justify holding onto false doctrines and man-made opinions over the Word of God.

Furthermore, since our new doctrines inevitably violate the Word of God, our belief system creates a tension in our heart.  The need to resolve this tension only further propels us into distancing ourselves from the Bible.  If we begin to hold to a particular belief and wrongly elevate it over the truth of the scriptures, eventually, something has to give.  Unfortunately, our pride usually prevents that from being our own belief system, so by default, our dependence on the scriptures is often the first to detach.

“But isn’t progressivism better than legalism?” I was asked recently. To be completely honest, I had to think about that question for a minute, until I eventually found myself answering it with a resounding, “No!” Here’s why.

In Romans 3:19, Paul writes, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.”

Additionally, Paul adds in Galatians 3:23-24,

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.”

According to Paul, the purpose of the Law was to silence man before God and to reveal his need for a savior.  In fact, any real effort at attempting to fulfill the Law, should eventually lead a person to a deep surrender to the lordship of Jesus.

If man were truly to attempt to fulfill the whole law, he would quickly realize that he could not, and therefore, would call out to God for help.  In reality, mixture is infinitely more dangerous than adherence to the Law, because the worshipper falsely believes that with just a little bit of law and a little bit of God’s grace, he could accomplish righteousness on his own.

But in the case of progressivism, the worshipper must reject allegiance to the written Word of God, which is supposed to confirm and validate the person of Christ and the truth of God. Through humanistic thinking, a progressivist simply follows his own vain imaginations and theological ponderings.  Floating detached from truth, he begins interpreting Scripture with what feels like divine inspiration, yet with each new wave of “revelation,” he floats closer to the shores of agnostic skepticism, before eventually running aground on the rocks of atheism.

These theological drifters have exchanged the Holy Spirit’s prompting for the comfort of their own wit, and by doing so, have lost the opportunity to be reined in by spiritual conviction and God’s rebuke.  Though once enlightened, the tether that was at one time attached to their source of truth has been severed – cut by their own egos.  As a result, progressivists exist in an extra-biblical world, outside of the covenants and separated from the Word of God.

For example, some progressivists suggest that the apostle Paul had only a partial revelation of grace, thus, “his words can’t be fully trusted.”  Anyone who adheres to this thinking is like one who makes the “doctrine of the month” his new authority. His own lack of confidence in the word testifies against him.

Contrast this with the legalist, who, even though he preaches a “ministry of death,” remains loyal to the very law that was intended to lead a man to Christ.  Ironically, through this strict adherence to the Law, there’s actually an opportunity for faith to lead such a person to the hope found in the Gospel.

Does this mean that we should stop speaking out about the hazards of legalistic thinking, because it’s not as dangerous as progressivism?  Personally, I’m not even sure that this is the right question.

Whenever legalistic thinking and/or progressive thought present themselves as an affront to the message of the cross, we do speak – but not with humanistic partiality.  As New Covenant believers, our purpose should not be defined in what we are against, but rather in what we are for – and that is the reconciliation of the world to God.  As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

The frequency with which grace-oriented believers are turning a blind-eye to the grievous errors of Universalism, yet vehemently splitting hairs over minor doctrines such as the tithe is appalling.  It is like jumping over a canyon in order to condemn a crevice.

Some might falsely think that I’m proposing that it’s never right to challenge tradition or to distance ourselves from so-called orthodoxy, but anyone who has read any of my past works knows that I often challenge traditional commentaries on various passages and present “new” meanings to verses. True orthodoxy, however, should never be mistaken for deceptive interpretations or a misrepresentation of God’s intentions.

So how can we as believers protect ourselves from the blind oppression of legalism or the subtle deception of progressivism?

Here are a few questions to consider when approaching doctrinal differences, both old and new.

  • Is my understanding of this belief based upon the sum of God’s Word?
  • In order to believe some new idea, am I forced to ignore certain scriptures or invalidate entire books of the Bible?
  • Is my belief based upon scriptural context or shaped by my pre-formed assumptions?
  • Does my embrace of Jesus as the Word of God force me to distance myself from the Bible as the Word of God?
  • Does my view of God’s goodness rob man of his own right to choose?

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Philemon 6: Harmonizing Two Opposing Viewpoints

One of my favorite verses has always been Philemon 6, which reads in the NIV, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” Essentially, Paul is explaining that the more we share our faith, the more understanding we gain into our unique position in Christ.  I take this to mean that evangelism, doesn’t just strengthen the new convert, but also the one sharing their faith.

As powerful as this is, the KJV translation presents a different and somewhat opposing reading of the very same verse.  It states, That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.” The KJV reverses the order and describes a different process at work; that as we acknowledge the realities of the finished work in our life, the more effective our faith will be.  For the believer, this directs our focus to the confession of who we are in Christ as a tool in seeing our faith manifest into the physical dimension.

So which is it? Do we share our faith in order to learn more about who we are in Christ?  Or do we speak the truth about who we are in him, in order to see our faith shine?  I say, “BOTH!”  Certainly, the more we share our faith, the more we will grow and learn.  And the more we confess the realities of the new covenant over our lives, the more we will begin to see those realities made manifest.  Instead of battling over which is true – do both and you’ll be blessed either way!

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Biblical Interpretation: 5 Things To Consider When Studying God’s Word

Everyone would like to think that their understanding of the Bible is accurate, but with so many different denominations and doctrinal positions, we can’t all be right. So how can we ensure that our theological conclusions are inline with the heart of God and the truth of the Word? Here are a few tips to help keep you on the right path and prevent you from ending up in a theological ditch.

1.) Study Multiple Translations – Although the original text is infallible that doesn’t mean that the English translations always are. If you don’t speak the original languages of Greek and Hebrew, then I suggest studying the Bible in multiple English translations in order to gain a fuller understanding.  By using multiple translations, you can cross-reference these readings with one another in order to validate your conclusions and to temper your findings.  This prevents extrapolating some misguided truth from one translation that is clearly not intended in the original language nor found in other translations.  Some of my personal favorites to use are: NASB, KJV, AMP, MSG, and the HCSB.

2.) Validated by History – Although Church history certainly has its fair share of abuses and skeletons in its closest, this doesn’t mean that history doesn’t have anything to offer.  After 2000 years of Biblical study, I get a little concerned if I’m the only person to come to a specific conclusion.  Have I challenged the status quo of religion before? Certainly! But it’s important to never do this lightly. When writing my book Good God, I challenged the traditional understanding on the book of Job, James 1, and several other passages, but I wasn’t alone in my findings.  Additionally, I took over a decade before I released my findings publicly to ensure that I had uncovered every theological stone possible.  But don’t fool yourself; we all want to think that we’re right. Recently, I’ve witnessed a tendency by those holding to Christian Inclusionism and Universalism to find support for their faulty theological preferences among obscure Eastern Church Fathers, most of whom were considered heretics by their own peers while they were still alive due to their associations with Gnostic thought and other false teachings. If you search far enough into history, you’re certain to find someone who agrees with you, but this doesn’t mean that you’re right.  History alone should never be the only determination, right or wrong.  Remember, instructing people about the heart of God is a beautiful thing, but its also an awesome responsibility.  Recklessness from the pulpit by sharing poorly constructed doctrines and rushed theological conclusions is irresponsible pastoring and should be avoided whenever possible.

3.) In Accordance with the Person of Jesus– The book of Hebrews calls Jesus the “exact representation of God’s being”. This means, if you want to know what God is like, just look at Jesus. As we study the Word, this is an important understanding. If our conclusions about God, derived from the Word, don’t line up with the person of Jesus, then its time to reexamine our interpretation of the scriptures. Did Jesus ever make someone sick?  Give someone cancer? Steal someone’s child? Then neither does God. So when Bible teachers tell you that God will give us trials in order to teach us something, it’s time to find new teachers.  A true interpretation of scripture will never violate the real character of God.

4.) Listen to the Holy Spirit – Although the most subjective, confirmation from the Holy Spirit is easily the most important aspect of gaining revelation from the Bible. Often in my studies, God will first show me something in the Spirit, which will lead me to begin searching out a particular topic or verse. Proverbs 25:2 offers this, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” Does this mean that what you hear is always right? No, but it offers at least a starting point. Sure there are some who have fallen into religious arrogance and rush to claim “God told me” to justify their slanted opinions, but this shouldn’t stop us from seeking the Holy Spirit.  On the contrary, no amount of scholarly study can ever adequately portray and understand the heart of God and the message of the Gospel without a revelation from the Holy Spirit.

5.) Check Your Motive – Perhaps one of the most important considerations in studying the Bible is our own personal motives. Are you studying a particular topic simply to justify your own desires? Does your ego “need” to find something “new” in the Word in order to feel smart? Or are you studying the Word in order to know God and to make him known, regardless of what you discover about him?

What other tips do you have to help ensure that your study of scripture stays on track?

Enjoy what you’re reading?

Make sure and pick up a copy of Lucas’ new book, Good God: The One We Want To Believe In But Are Afraid To Embrace, and don’t forget to download the free missing chapter from the book at www.lucasmiles.org/missingchapter

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Making Sense of Psalm 119:71

In my pursuit to reveal God’s goodness and true character to the world, I often spend more time studying passages of scripture that seem to contradict his goodness, than those that validate it.  To put it another way – I focus on studying what I call the “problem passages”, so that I can understand them in context and help people see that God is in fact, better than we think he is.

In my recent book, Good God, I dealt with literally dozens of these problem passages, such as: the book of Job (yes, that’s right, the whole book), James 1, Hebrews 12, John 9, Romans 9, and so many more.  Although I tried to make Good God as exhaustive as possible in dealing with the questions that people might have about God, every now and then, I come across an additional verse that didn’t make the cut.  Perhaps I’ll release an updated version down the road that might include some of these, but in the meantime, that’s what my blog is for.

One such verse is Psalm 119:71.  It states,  “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.”

Out of context and by itself, it’s easy to spot the apparent contradiction to the character of God that I present in Good God.  It appears that the writer is thanking God for afflicting him, so that he could learn his ways.  If you’re a student of the message of grace, or if you’ve read my book, then you know that this can’t be the true intention of the writer.  So what’s going on here?  What does the passage really mean?

As usual, context is king.

Let’s take a look at the full passage from a different translation.

Before I had trouble, I strayed from the true path, the path of righteousness, but now I live according to Your word. You are truly good, and Your acts are too; teach me what You require. The proud smear me with their lies; I will keep Your instructions wholeheartedly. Their hearts are dull and callous; I am delighted to study Your teaching. It is a good thing that I was humbled because it helped me learn Your limits.
-Psalm 119:67-71 VOICE

In context, the writer clearly states that his pain was as a result of his own choice to stray from God’s path.  Never is he accusing God of doing anything to him, but rather he is simply acknowledging that he was thankful that he experienced humility during his rebellion, otherwise he wouldn’t have turned back to God.  God didn’t bring him through bad things to humble him, but because he went through bad things and humbled himself – he was thankful.

Just another perfect example why context is so important in reading scripture.  Remember, when you come across a verse or a passage that seems to contradict what you know about God; take the time to study it out and see what it really says.

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Lent: What it really says about our understanding of the Cross.

Outside of the Vatican or maybe Boston, you’d be hard pressed to find a city with stronger Catholic roots than my hometown of South Bend, Indiana.  As such, about this time every year, I usually receive a lot of questions about the observance of Lent and whether believers should participate in the practice.

Before I share my thoughts on the subject, for those who didn’t grow up in a tradition that celebrated Lent, allow me to first present an explanation of the observance.  Wikipedia states the following about the season:

Lent is a solemn religious observance in the Christian liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later, before Easter Sunday. The purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, doing penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial. This event is observed in the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic Churches. Some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season.

In Lent, many Christians commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penance. Many Christians also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional or praying through a Lenten calendar, to draw themselves near to God.

Simply put, Lent is a yearly time of self-denial and penance in honor of the suffering of Christ.

In more extreme cultures observations of Lent take on more dangerous forms, such as self-mutilation, self-crucifixion, and other radical methods of religious self-denial and penance.  In fact, in the Philippines, despite strong warnings against such practices by the Catholic Church, flagellants put on a religious performance – a real-life passion play – complete with costumes, microphones, and an actual crucifixion! Since crucifixion offers a slow and agonizing death, the majority of time the actors have time to be taken down and treated by medical professionals at the end of the performance before it’s too late; though there have been some who weren’t so lucky.

Hopefully we can all agree that such extreme acts are unnecessary, unbiblical, and ludicrous, but what about the typical and lesser forms of penance or self-denial observed throughout the Lenten season?  Are these practices still necessary or appropriate for the believer?

To address this fully, we must first seek to understand what was really accomplished at the cross of Christ.  Isaiah 53:4-6 tells us:

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah reveals that Christ was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.  This means that through his death, he paid the price for our sin – once and for all time!  So the question remains, if my sin was placed on Jesus, then what sin is left in me to atone for?  In fact, Hebrews 10:2 challenges our understanding of penance even further by asking, “For if it were otherwise, would not these sacrifices have stopped being offered?  For the worshippers, having once [for all time] been cleansed, would no longer have a consciousness of sin.”  The writer proposes that if Jesus accomplished what he set out to do on the cross, then no other sacrifice or offering would be required in order to cleanse the worshipper and remove even the consciousness of sin in the heart of the believer.

Of course, that’s the point – through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. he accomplished exactly what he set out to do, which was to remove sin and make righteous all who put faith in him!  As such, true repentance is not found in abstaining from pleasures or denying oneself, rather true repentance is about recognizing who we are in Christ and celebrating the liberation that the cross provides!

Paul challenged the church in Galatia for their failure to hold true to this simple Gospel message:

“But now that you know God – or rather are known by God – how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?  Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?  You are observing specials days and months and seasons and years!” (Galatians 4:9-10)

Despite the Galatian church having initially received the grace of God, Paul was apparently afraid that they were falling back into legalism – attempting to earn God’s love through their religious piety, instead of relying on God’s grace.  Though some simply see Lent as an opportunity to practice spiritual discipline, many continue to treat it as a means of earning God’s love and atoning for their sins.

Are the issues with Lent isolated to the Catholic Church?

Though Lent is more commonly thought of as a Catholic practice, dozens of evangelical denominations practice it as well.  For me, I personally grew up as an evangelical, yet I used to fast one day a week, not just during Lent, but throughout the entire year.  Back then my weekly abstinence from food was unfortunately misguided, as I hoped that by fasting I would appease God’s anger toward my continued failure or obtain a standard of holiness I felt was expected of me.  What I came to later realize, well-intentioned though my efforts were, I was really trying to rely on my own form of righteous to attain God’s standard of holiness, instead of relying on Christ for my righteousness.

Does this mean that Lent is bad?

Of course Lent isn’t bad, but I do think that man’s attachment to the practice shows how little we understand what happened at the cross.  The overwhelming teaching of the New Testament is that through faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, man is made righteous, free from sin, and united with the Father.  The focus of Lent, as described above however, is to offer penance for one’s sins and to make atonement through self-denial.  Yet, the gospel reveals that no amount of penance can ever come close to making up for one’s sin.

With this in mind, elevating Jesus through our lives, not self-denial, is the greatest ‘thank you’ that we can offer God for all that he has done in our lives.  Although fasting and self-denial may have their place in the life of the believer, they are never to be used as a means of earning God’s love, making up for past wrongs, or atoning for one’s sin.  To attempt to do so, is simply an insult to the Cross.

So this Lenten season, go ahead, set aside time to pray, read the Bible, or even fast.  Just don’t think that by denying yourself you are adding something to the cross in order to atone for your sins.  The beauty of the gospel is that Jesus suffered for our sins, so that we don’t have to.  I call this the Great Exchange – his righteousness for my sin, and my sin for his righteousness.  This is the message of Easter and it deserves to be remember, not just for forty days, but for all eternity!

Did you enjoy what you read?  If so, make sure and order a copy of Lucas’ new book, Good God: The One We Want To Believe In But Are Afraid To Embrace.  Additionally, Lucas is giving away a free missing chapter of his book, available at Chapter X: The Story of Authority. 

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March 20, 2017 · 9:33 pm

The Shack Revisited

Since the release of my article, The Shack:  A Story of Freedom or Force?, I’ve received an almost constant stream of hate mail regarding the concerns that I expressed, not about the film itself nor even the book, but rather the beliefs of the author, which he himself expressed clearly in his new theologically driven book, Lies We Believe About God.  In this Young states, among other things, “Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying!”

My article in response to such bold and blatant theological error, which has received significant traffic and support over the past few days, was criticized as being unfair to Mr. Young, judgmental, and offering unsubstantiated accusations.  Because I am simply unable to respond to each individual diatribe that I have received over the past few days, I felt it best to assemble my response and to clarify my position, in a single follow up post – which I felt is only appropriate to call, The Shack Revisited.

To begin with, let it be known that I have never met Mr. Young, though I am certain that we have nothing short of a long-list of mutual friends and acquaintances, including pastors, journalists, filmmakers, etc.  From all of these mutual relationships combined, not once have I ever heard anything but wonderful things about Young’s disposition, character, and personal integrity.  As a fellow author and filmmaker, I also have the utmost respect for his creativity and talent, which are beyond evident in The Shack.  In fact, I have nothing against the man. I simply don’t agree with his theology, especially that which is expressed in his new book.

Contrary to this generation’s thin-skinned opinion, disagreement doesn’t equal insult.  I’m absolutely certain that Mr. Young and I agree about many things regarding the nature of God and the gospel of grace, but I would ask, “Are a few commonalities reason enough to ignore the false doctrines that he also holds, such as Inclusionism and Christian Universalism?”  The Apostle Paul didn’t think so.  He and Peter had much in common, but this didn’t stop him in Galatians 2:11 from calling Peter out for his doctrinal drift and theological error.  In doing so, I’m not questioning Mr. Young’s salvation, nor the beauty of his book, rather his love affair with progressivist theology, which is as equally harmful, if not more so, than Peter’s unwillingness to let go of his legalistic tendencies and constant people pleasing.

I’ve been amazed this past week at countless Christians who have been presented with excerpt after excerpt of Mr. Young’s own words describing his adherence to spurious doctrines such as Inclusionism, “Open Hell” (if he believes Hell exists at all), and Universalism, only to look the other way or justify his beliefs as being taken out of context.  Ironically, these same individuals, I have found, are among the first in line to call out legalistic tendencies in mainstream authors as an aspersion against the gospel itself.  Yet, when the pendulum swings the other direction, into liberalism, progressivism, and at times, antinomianism, all remain silent.  The consensus seems to be that there is no evidence for Mr. Young’s doctrinal drift and that The Shack is only a work of fiction, but this just isn’t the case.

In fact, Mr. Young’s own co-writer of the Shack, Wayne Jacobsen, said in an article he penned himself for Lifestream.org that when he first received the manuscript from Mr. Young that “universalism was a significant component in the resolution of that story.”  Mr. Jacobsen, in reference to his objection to Mr. Young’s position on Universalism, states, “Paul hoped to convince me I was wrong and sent me his paper on universalism.  We spent some time discussing it, but in the end I felt it took too much linguistic gymnastics to bend Scripture to that conclusion.”  As the article continues, Mr. Jacobsen explains that Mr. Young agreed to allow him to remove the theme of Universalism from the Shack in order to make the story more palpable to the audience that needed it the most.  Although Mr. Jacobsen was successful in removing the overarching concept of Universalism from the story-line, he says nothing of removing this line of thinking from his co-author, Mr. Young.  In fact, if anything, Jacobsen only further reinforces my concerns, that Young is not simply an Inclusionist, but a Universalist as well.

With that being said, I don’t believe the issue for the church is as much Mr. Young’s personal theology, as it is the obvious idolization of a fictional story by believers.  Hearing people speak about The Shack, one would think that Mr. Young has presented a clearer gospel than Jesus himself.  This is problematic for multiple reasons, but most importantly, it demonstrates the love lost in the heart of the church toward Christ and his word.  Like a desperate housewife bored with her first love, the church has revealed that it is on the prowl for a new gospel that is more exciting than the first.  This I intend to address further next week in a new post entitled, “Legalism or Progressivism:  Which is More Deadly to Faith?”

Until then, those who know me, should recognize that if the issues I’m describing where merely related to a movie, I would never take the time to present such a case, but in no way is this about a single author or a current film, but an evolving distrust for the church, the Bible, and ultimately for God.

“Who is wise?  He will realize these things.  Who is discerning?  He will understand them.  The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.”

– Hosea 14:9

 

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The Shack: A Story of Freedom or Force?

 

As a Christian it may be less controversial at the moment to offer an opinion about current politics, than it is to express one’s thoughts of the film, The Shack, based upon WM. Paul Young’s book of the same title.  Honestly, I, myself, have tried very hard to avoid sharing my two cents about the book or film, but after reviewing the author’s newest book, Lies We Believe About God, I figured it was time I added my voice to the theological stratosphere.

But before I do, allow me to add a few disclaimers.

I think that it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that believers often behave like the disciples in Mark 9:38. You remember the story. It’s where John informs Jesus that they saw someone else “driving out demons in your name” so they told him to stop.  Jesus rebukes them and uses the moment to reveal that the kingdom is bigger than their egos.  I think this is a lesson that the church needs to collectively relearn today.  It’s no secret that as believers, we have a tendency to shoot our own.  Every theological difference it seems provides opportunity for tearing one another down or spiritually posturing ourselves in hopes that all will see that we are really God’s favorite.

I should perhaps also mention that I know that millions of people have been impacted by The Shack, whether through the book or box office, and in sharing my perspective about the message of the film, I’m in no way desiring to negate the experience they’ve had.  I believe God speaks through a plethora of mediums, film included, and I’ve been a champion for finding God in some of the most unique places.  (I still hold that Avatar transformed how I think about eternity, and I’m also of the viewpoint that AMC’s post-apocalyptic sensation, The Walking Dead, has better theology about God than most Christian churches.)  I point these examples out to express that I’m not a religious prude and that God is able to give revelation even beyond that which may be intended by the writer or director – and The Shack is no different.

But although inspiration can be found in the most unique places, we should still remember that inspiration doesn’t always equal truth.  As Christians, all revelation must always pass through the lens of scripture to ensure that we don’t drift into theological half-truths that can damage our faith.  Film, books, and television can inspire, but only the Bible can offer doctrine.

With the renewed interest in the book, my concern is not that people will ascertain their beliefs about God from the film, but rather that the film will introduce people to additional teachings and materials from the writer.

The challenge for me in Young’s writings, as both a storyteller and theologian, is that they only partially uphold Biblical ideas about God’s nature, such as his goodness, grace, and mercy.  For this reason, it’s easy for the new believer to miss the subtleties of Young’s extra-biblical message, and, perhaps even for the more veteran believer, to mistakenly label Young as a modern Christian reformist who is merely kicking over sacred cows of Christian tradition.

But true reformation is always rooted in absolute truth – specifically that of scripture.  Young’s deconstructionist tendencies, mostly absent of scriptural support, prove that his intention is not only to kick over sacred cows, but also to vacate the farm all together.

Although it’s been speculated in the past that Young held to a form of Christian universalist theology (that all are saved or will be saved apart from faith), Young seems to have clarified his stance in his new book, Lies We Believe About God, which also contains a foreword from known universalist Baxter Kruger.  In the book, Young states, “Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying!”  As you can see, Young leaves little question as to where he stands on the topic of universal salvation and even goes on to describe Hell by saying, “I propose the possibility that hell is not separation from Jesus but that it is the pain of resisting our salvation in Jesus while not being able to escape Him who is True Love.”

The Shack’s blurred gospel message, along with his association with Kruger, are perhaps enough to theologically villainize Young, but this isn’t the point – nor should it be.  Despite his post-Christian leanings, Young isn’t the villain.  The bigger issue is that Young’s stance reveals and represents the binary choice that religion all-too-often presents to its adherents – either God is angry and fault-finding or he’s all-inclusive and universally accepting. The first option is easy to debunk as it is rooted in judgment and legalism, but the second choice, universalism, is challenging to refute without one sounding unloving in doing so.

As I’ve pointed out before, although the universalist ideology appears to offer a loving solution to legalistic Christianity, in reality, its message is one of force.  Much like Rob Bell’s distorted gospel message in Love Wins, Young’s God rejects the biblical concept of freewill and “loves” you so much he’ll force you into the kingdom.  Personally, I believe God is better than this.

This in no way means that one cannot enjoy The Shack as a film, but it should not be used to shape our understanding of God any more than Dante’s Inferno should shape our view of Hell.  With that being said, I do agree with Young that the common religious understanding of God is quite flawed, but instead of departing from the truth of the Word and the foundations of Christian faith, as I believe he does at least in part, I have proposed a reformation of thinking that is based upon scripture and a renewed understanding of God shaped by gazing into the person of Christ.

It is for exactly this reason I wrote the book, Good God:  The One We Want To Believe In But Are Afraid To Embrace.  Upon releasing Good God, there were those who in fact immediately labeled me a heretic, but the difference between my stance and that of Young’s, is that my presentation of God was not just based upon whimsical thinking or fantasy, rather on specific verses of scripture and teachings of Jesus.  While Good God indeed kicked over many sacred cows of traditional theology, it remained loyal to the inerrancy of the Word, the love of the Church, and Jesus’ teaching on the final judgement.

Although I hope Young recognizes how far he’s slid in his post-Christian thinking, I’m more concerned now with the masses who have been influenced (or will be) by his teaching and universalist agenda.  My hope is that people recognize that viewing the Father from each of these extreme spectrums has the tendency to expose one to error.  The only way one can truly construct a proper theology of heaven, hell, love, and judgment is by beginning with the solid and trustworthy revelation of Jesus Christ.

For those looking for an alternative to the narrowed-minded view of God offered by legalism and tradition, but who still value the foundation of scripture, the message of Christ, and the truth of the gospel, I would invite you to consider the almost too-good-to-be-true God that I present in my book, Good God.

 

 

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The Power of Humility


Years ago a friend of mine was struggling in his restaurant business due to some poor decisions that he had made.  Upon asking for my advice, God revealed to me in a vision one day exactly what my friend needed to do in order to reverse the situation and save his company.  Unfortunately, the first step required operating in a great deal of humility toward his family in order to carry out (no pun intended), but the man was sadly unwilling to comply and in time ended up losing his store and ruined his relationship with his family.  I truly believe if he had responded differently, much of this could have been avoided.

The Bible tells the story of another man who was in danger of losing, not just his business, but his entire kingdom due to a lapse of judgment.  This man’s name was David.

After conducting a secret affair with a married woman, David tried to cover up his initial moral lapse in judgment by having her husband killed on the battlefield.  With each poor choice, David’s sin became compounded; lust, sexual sin, murder, and now deception.  God then revealed his sin to the prophet Nathan and as a result the prophet warned David of God’s judgment and anger against him.  But David’s response was anything but ordinary.

With a seemingly contrite and repentant heart, David confesses, “I have sinned against the Lord.”  It was a simple sentence, but it demonstrated his heart for God.  As such, God spared David’s life and restored his place on the throne of Israel and Judah.  His deliverance was rooted in humility.

Thankfully today, as New Covenant believers, we possess an even greater covenant than David did.  Through the Cross, Christ bore in his body the penalty for sin, and we are now (as believers) no longer in danger of God’s judgment, but this doesn’t excuse the need for humility, nor strip it of its power.  In fact, humility is just as powerful today as it was for David.  Like my friend above, humility can make the difference between experiencing God’s deliverance or falling back into the fruit of our own efforts and works.

Humility offers a simple path to embracing God’s attitude and opinions, and acknowledging that as people, we don’t have it all together.  In the end, it’s one of the most empowering tools that we possess in the kingdom.  In fact, humility is the key to our salvation.  Although salvation is offered to us, by grace through faith, it takes humility to receive it in the first place. Only when our heart is humble can we acknowledge our need for a Savior.

Is God speaking to you today?  Is your heart soft enough to listen and humbly obey?

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Proclaim 2017

This week I had the pleasure of attending the National Religious Broadcasters Convention – Proclaim 2017.  While there I spent the majority of my time in the press room recording interviews for my upcoming podcast, The Lucas Miles, as well as appearing on various Christian and conservative talk shows, like Tbe Church Boys, The Hugh Hewitt Show, Paul Ladd, and more!  Here are a few snapshots from throughout the week:

 

 

Author & researcher, George Barna & Lucas Miles

Lucas Miles and journalist Billy Hallowell

 

 

 

Lucas and DeVon Franklin

The Benham Twins and Lucas

Andrew Farley and Lucas Miles

Lucas and Moriah Peters

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Lucas Miles Reports Live from the National Religious Broadcasters 2017 Convention!

This week thousands of Christian industry leaders flocked to Orlando, FL for the annual National Religious Broadcasters Convention.  I had the opportunity to report all of the happenings live on The Harvest Show.  Here is my segment from today’s show:

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