Get your theology from the Bible and enjoy ‘The Shack’ – Movie Review

Get your theology from the Bible and enjoy ‘The Shack’ – Movie Review

This article was originally published by the ASSIST News Service and is re-posted with their permission.

By Jonathan Wiggins, Special to ASSIST News Service

MackandPapa ANSsizeLOVELAND, CO (ANS – March 7, 2017) — My wife Amy and I haven’t had a proper date night for a little too long. So when she asked me to take her to watch The Shack – adapted for the big screen from William P. Young’s 2007 fiction book – I jumped at the chance. I am not usually interested in that particular genre of cinema (I think books are a better way to experience most stories. Still, Amy wanted to see it and I am totally interested in her).

I walked into the theater having read the book itself, as well as the reviews both for and against the movie. I had read criticisms of the author’s portrayal of the Trinity, the gender of Papa (God) being that of a woman, and the near Universalist theology to which the book alludes. I also read reviews that celebrated the arc of the story of God’s kind invitation to Mack, his redemption and the deliberative journey he experienced through the process of forgiveness and healing in the face of gut-wrenching circumstances.

I walked into the theater understanding the purpose of this book and the resulting movie was never intended to be a theological treatise any more than other fictional work that alludes to certain aspects of the Christian faith. I walked in thinking The Shack fits in a mostly-non-theological-but-faith-friendly category with other important literary works like The Lord of the Rings, or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

This is to say The Shack in many respects represents something that is not particularly heretical when compared to countless other Christian-friendly, fictional works. I have seen this kind of thing before. Therefore, I don’t fear the premise of the story. I don’t depend on them either. Instead, I allow myself to profoundly enjoy and appreciate them while looking exclusively to the Bible for the foundations of my theology and faith.

It had been a while since I read the book so the narrative of the movie was almost like new to me. Certain moments in the movie triggered my memory of when I read the book years ago. Those cinematic moments were colored by that memory. Most were not.

Mackandfamily ANSsizeThe movie was well-produced, well-written and powerfully portrayed in ways many faith-friendly films fall short. I appreciate excellence.

What is more worthy of note perhaps is that the premise of the story, theologically imperfect as it may be, reinforces and parallels my own journey of healing, forgiveness and “severe” mercy. The movie almost forces the viewer (at least this viewer) to dig deep into one’s own story to unearth and attempt to resolve the seemingly impossible questions many of us have about God, pain and forgiveness.

How can a good God allow terrible evil? Is God always good? Why do I need God to be the Judge rather than myself? How can I forgive the “unforgivable?” Can we really know good from bad without God’s help? These are just a few of the questions The Shack tackles in profound and richly meaningful ways. These themes, to my mind, represent some of the truly useful philosophical themes – ones that perhaps still fall short of sound theology per se.

About 90 minutes into the film I looked around the theater to find at least half of the viewers sniffling, sobbing or crying to some varying degree of intensity. I got the distinct feeling that some in the theater weren’t crying so much for Mack as much as they were allowing their own painful questions to surface. It felt to me as if some were trying to emotionally open up to the idea of a God that could actually heal them. It was a profound moment for me to observe as it seemed to be similar for many others in the theater.

As Christians, we must hold to biblical tenants of theology in our lives. No exceptions. I believe we can faithfully do so while appreciating one author’s good-faith attempt at answering some of the most basic questions that effectively keep some unbelievers from accepting the fact that God is always good. After all, it is God’s goodness that calls many people to turn to Him.

MackandTrinity ANSsizeWe can be faithful to God’s truth while celebrating The Shack as a literary and cinematic device that deals with deep issues (such as forgiveness, mercy, humility and the kindness of a God) that hold too many Christians back from experiencing God’s best for them.

In short, The Shack is a theologically imperfect and extremely disarming invitation for millions of readers/viewers to reconsider God’s goodness as well as our own complete inadequacy without Him.

As a Christian pastor, I want to recommend this movie to everyone.

Get your theology from the Bible and enjoy The Shack!

Photo captions: 1) Mack (Sam Worthington) and “Papa” (Octavia Spencer). 2) Mack and his family. 3) Jesus, Mack, Papa, Sarayu. 4) Amy and Jonathan Wiggins.

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Amy and Jonathan WigginsAbout the writer:

Pastor Jonathan and Amy Wiggins have served as the senior pastors of Rez.Church — — in Loveland, Colorado, since June, 2010. Both natives of Louisiana, Pastor Jonathan and Miss Amy grew up as “PK’s” or “Pastors’ Kids.” Jonathan started full-time ministry at the age of 16 when he began leading worship in a small church in Lake Providence, Louisiana. His worship leading ministry included churches, camps, prison ministry outreaches, and recording a CD project of his original songs. Pastor Jonathan joined the Rez staff as the Worship Arts pastor in 2008.

He can be contacted at:

‘As It Is’ – book review

‘As It Is’ – book review

‘AS IT IS – My time in Parliament and Thoughts for our Future’

Drawing on his life experience and time as an MP Gordon Copeland, sets out a passionate vision for New Zealand’s future. In doing so he addresses a wide range of issues from fundamental social reform, the road to economic success for all rather than the few, a pathway to happiness in family life and even international affairs. All of these issues are dealt with in detail underpinned by the values of justice, peace, compassion and inclusiveness for all. This book is anything but “politics as usual”!

A review by former Cardinal Tom Williams can be found at the bottom of this post.

About the author

gordon-copelandGordon Copeland was a Member of Parliament for two terms between 2002 and 2008 and has maintained an active interest in politics for much of his life, an interest which has continued beyond his time in Parliament.

With qualifications in accounting and economics Gordon has had a varied career including senior executive positions in the NZ and International Oil Industry, Business Consultancy for Corporate and Government clients, financial administration for the Archdiocese of Wellington and, following his time in Parliament, Investment Management.

He has been married to Anne for more than 50 years, has five children, ten grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

He lives in Miramar, Wellington and his interests include church, sport – especially rugby – gardening and politics.

You can order the book through any bookstore by quoting the ISBN number, 0473334089, RRP $35.

However, the author is kindly offering NZCN readers special price of $28 per copy (including postage and handling in NZ only). Simply email with your delivery address and he will send you a copy along with your invoice.

Chapter Headings

  1. GC_cover facebook compliantHow it all began
  2. The Election Campaign 2002
  3. Early days in Parliament
  4. The Prostitution Reform Bill
  5. The Euthanasia Bill
  6. Working with Michael Cullen 2002-2005
  7. Other Tax Matters
  8. The Foreshore and Seabed
  9. My Member’s Bills
  10. Relationships and Civil Unions
  11. Abortion and Related issues
  12. The 2005 Elections and its Aftermath
  13. Marriage (Gender Clarification) Amendment Bill and Same-sex Marriage
  14. Easter Sunday Trading
  15. The Parliamentary Prayer
  16. The Partial Sale of State Owned Enterprises
  17. I resign from United Future
  18. Judeo-Christian Values
  19. The Rise and Fall of the Kiwi Party
  20. The Anti-Smacking Bill and Referendum
  21. Housing Affordability
  22. The Working Women’s Charter
  23. Family Matters
  24. Foreign Affairs and Trade
  25. In all things Unity; the Maori Question.
  26. Does Labour have a Future?
  27. Epilogue

Review by Cardinal Thomas S. Williams ONZ

With Gordon Copeland’s withdrawal in 2007 the United Future Party lost a capable and creative MP. Gordon knew his resignation would likely bring his political career to an end since his chances of being elected for a third term in a new party were slight. But conscience dictated that he sacrifice a calling which he enjoyed and for which his more than six years in the House proved him well qualified.

Conscience is hardly prominent in most books by ex-parliamentarians. Their contents deal more with political strategies justified by their appeal to the voter. Moral issues are generally passed over, and conscience is rarely invoked. “As It Is” is markedly different. For Copeland conscience is paramount. The validity of arguments for or against any Bill he tested, not against the likelihood of gaining or losing electoral votes, but in the light of the common good of the nation and its people as determined by adherence to enduring principles and moral standards.

“As It Is” sets out with admirable clarity the legislative changes enacted during the 2002-2008 period. It treats such matters as taxation, the sale of State-owned enterprises, and the Foreshore and Seabed Bill. Given Copeland’s expertise in the areas of finance and commerce, his interventions in Select Committee hearings and debates in the House were cogent and compelling, even if disregarded for party political reasons.

That his stands and those of his fellow United Future MPs on social issues were not popular with some are not surprising, since traditional beliefs and values have been systematically subverted by the derision and hostility towards the whole Judeo-Christian ethic upon which civilisation has been based for the pass two Millennia. Relativism and permissiveness have been deliberately prompted, and morality reduced to purely subjective preference.

Copeland’s account of the passing of the Prostitution Reform Bill show how meaningless “conscience votes” have become in Parliament. Enough MPs ceded conscience to party pressure to ensure that in New Zealand street-walking is now as respectable as shop-walking. So, too, the definition of marriage has been widened to include all manner of relationships that are anything but marital. For most political parties, crucial issues such as aborting the unborn and physician assisted suicide, speciously termed “the woman’s right to choose” and “death with dignity”, are determined by public polling.

The sad story of the near demise of the United Future Party is revealed in one chapter. It was born in 2002 of a merger between the United Party with Peter Dunne as its sole MP and Future New Zealand, at that time without an MP. The merged Party contested the 2002 Elections and gained eight seats. Dunne who held the only electorate seat, unilaterally changed the Party’s stances after the 2005 Election, and so eventually silenced what had been well-argued opposition to over-liberal social legislation.

Equally enlightening is the chapter devoted to the Kiwi Party and the machinations of Brian Tamaki of Destiny Church which put paid to the Party’s potential.

Much else of value can be learned from Gordon Copeland’s 164-page book, not only from the pages devoted to his six years in Parliament, but also from his reflections in the concluding chapters on housing, family, foreign affairs trade and other controvertible topics.

Although but two terms as an MP, the lessons Copeland learned and shares in “As It Is” are well worth heeding by all interested in parliamentary processes and party positions.

‘Rubble to Resurrection’ – book review

‘Rubble to Resurrection’ – book review


Between September 2010 and December 2011, three major quakes and hundreds of aftershocks struck the greater Christchurch area: one of the largest natural disasters in New Zealand history.

Rubble to Resurrection brings together many previously untold stories of how the region’s churches fared, and how the ordinary folk in the pews were able to reach out to their suffering neighbours. The book also asks what can be learned from this experience and used to benefit others in future.

So many times in the wake of suffering, the Christian Church – the body of Christ – faithfully responds with comfort and practical help. I saw that in person in Christchurch the year after the quake, and thank Melissa Parsons for honouring those who responded in the footsteps of the One for whom the city was named.
Philip Yancey, award-winning US Christian author
You can order the book through any bookstore by quoting the ISBN number, 978-0-9922552-9-9, or by heading to the website (248 pages RRP, $28.99 + $5 P&P). The book’s own webpage carries reviews, photos and sample extracts

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Request a copy for your local public library

Most public libraries are eager to promote NZ authors and require the following information:

  • Title – Rubble to Resurrection: Churches Respond in the Canterbury Quakes
  • Author – Melissa Parsons
  • Publisher – Daystar Books
  • Publication Date – 2014
  • ISBN – 978-0-9922552-9-9

Published Reviews

The evocative title speaks of hope. Melissa Parsons’ aim is to tell the stories of how people in Canterbury churches experienced the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.The book is based on interviews with 56 people from 95 churches. The stories recognise that the earthquakes were devastating in their effects but there is no hint of preoccupation with trouble or self-pity.Melissa gathers the stories under three headings: The Church Responds; The Church Grieves; The Church Rebuilds.

Whether referring to the initial earthquake of 4 September 2010 or the more damaging earthquake of 22 February 2011, those involved felt a sense of helplessness in being caught up in events over which they had no control. New Zealand is officially well-prepared for civil emergency, but in a massive natural disaster official emergency services cannot cope without spontaneous and freely-offered help from other individuals and organisations.In this situation the churches were among those stepping in to help. Boundaries between church and state became of secondary importance in a huge cooperative venture.

The immediate response by churches included distributing essential supplies such as food and water. This was generally well organised and not limited to helping only church members.The churches were well-equipped to provide pastoral care for people bereaved and stressed by the loss of homes and neighbourhoods. This included care for people from the international community many of whom were students in Christchurch.Drop-in centres and a “ministry of coffee” filled an important role. Pastoral care was also offered to tow truck drivers and contractors demolishing buildings who were under considerable stress.

Churches were grieving because of the loss of much-loved members and the loss of buildings that were either damaged beyond repair or rendered immediately unusable. The churches of Canterbury have all determined that their identity would not be undermined by the loss of their worship spaces and undamaged churches have extended hospitality to community groups that lost their usual venues.

For some, earthquakes raise questions about God’s nature. Melissa mentions a range of theological perspectives including that, in the midst of disaster, God is present in people who love and care.

The churches have contributed in various ways to rebuilding the spirit of the people of Canterbury. The book ends with a summary of some of the things churches believe that have learned through responding to earthquake, Ten Top Tips for Disaster Preparedness and Disaster Response and a call to prayer for those involved in rebuilding.

This book is undoubtedly worth reading. It tells an encouraging story and Melissa is to be commended for telling the stories and capturing historical detail that might otherwise never be recorded. Appendices include a list of the 185 people killed, out-of-town churches that helped through prayer and practical support and community agencies that helped often beyond what could be expressed.

The text is also available as an e-book.

John Meredith, Touchstone, the NZ Methodist magazine
(Review first appeared on page 15 of the February edition)

Christchurch teacher Melissa Parsons has done New Zealanders a huge service by writing a book outlining the often overlooked part played by churches in the aftermath of the Canterbury earthquakes. This is a superb book that leaves no stone unturned (if you’ll pardon the cliché and the pun) when it comes to telling the story of churches, and church people, from all denominations as they grappled with the immediate aftermath, the recovery and the rebuild.

And, yes, Baptists feature prominently in the book. The programmes, initiatives and community service of many of Christchurch’s Baptist churches are outlined in some detail, as well as the outstanding contribution by individual Baptists such as then police chaplain Jim Patrick, for example. Baptist churches from elsewhere in the country who partnered with those in Christchurch are also mentioned. In fact, says the author, Bapists were one of the most prominent denominations when it came to church partnerships.

As well as giving us the broad sweep of how churches, and denominations, responded, the book is particularly successful when it comes to telling the stories of ordinary church people who stepped up to help their fellow Cantabrians in times of crisis. By weaving the various threads together, Melissa Parsons tells a story about the importance of churches in times of crisis – a fact the media, in particular, would prefer to overlook. She shows us how churches managed to balance the response to urgent physical need, with the need to also address spiritual and emotional brokenness. And she tells the part churches have to play in the long term recovery.

The book gives us an extraordinary picture of the Church (with a big ‘C’) in action, of how denominations worked together to show how the Love of Jesus Christ is not just found inside church buildings, but out in the streets of a broken city.

Duncan Pardon , Co-editor, New Zealand Baptist
(Review first published in Vol 130, No.6, July 2014, p19)

Rubble to Resurrection is an excellent over-view of how churches throughout greater Christchurch pitched in to help with the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and the aftershocks that followed. Of particular note is the excellent research that has gone into compiling the stories told in each chapter. This involved personally interviewing 56 priests, ministers, pastors, secretaries and administrators representing over 95 churches of various denominations, demographics and ethnicities. Also noteworthy is Melissa’s attention to detail in acknowledging her sources of information in footnotes and appendices. She has also provided additional information at the end of several chapters.

While Melissa does not claim to have provided an exhaustive summary of every-thing each church did, she has achieved her primary goal which is to ‘tell our stories to each other…’ As many of the churches responded in similar ways or worked together to meet the needs of people, she has focused on a theme in each chapter, rather than on individual denominations. Some of the themes include: Responding to the Emergency; Walking with the Wounded; Caring for the Kids; Supporting the Seniors; Encouraging the Weary; Restoring the Soul.

Well written and interesting, Rubble to Resurrection is a highly commendable book every New Zealander should read.

Debbie McDermott, Editor for New Zealand Christian Writers

Christopher Moore’s August 2014 round-up of NZ Non-Fiction featured 5 books, including Rubble to Resurrection. The review read:

In Rubble to Resurrection: Churches Respond in the Canterbury Quakes (Daystar $28.99) the perfectly named Melissa Parsons provides a long overdue account of the contribution made by Canterbury’s churches and congregations after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. In terms of bricks and mortar, every denomination suffered grievously. But their collective reaction to the unfolding humanitarian issues, as Parsons shows, was immediate, practical and alert. Denominational differences and different creeds were set aside and replaced by an overwhelming compassion and energy. This was muscular Christianity with its shirtsleeves rolled up to help a community in need.

Christopher Moore, NZ Listener
(p38, ‘The good, the bad and the ugly’,  Issue 3878)

Interview with Melissa Parsons on Canterbury Live