If God Can Use It, It Must Be OK … Right?

Before you dismiss this post as yet another negative review of The Shack, let me state up front that I’ve never even seen William Young’s book. What I want to look at is a common theme I’ve noticed in the ensuing discussion; that for every carefully crafted critique of the book, there are those who continue to defend the The Shack as “touching,” “moving,” “stirring” and “thought-provoking.”

What is particularly interesting, however, is how many justify the book’s theological failings with the phrase “God used it.” And if “God can use it,” the thinking goes — to reach a non-believer, or to encourage a wayward Christian in their faith — well, then it must be worthwhile. Right? After all, God can use anything He wants to, and who are we to criticize God? Thus with one simple turn of phrase, an attack on The Shack becomes an attack on God Himself.

This logical leap extends far beyond The Shack. It’s the same type of thinking many believers use when referencing the story of Balaam’s donkey. “If God can use a donkey,” they say, “then He can certainly use [insert just about anything here].”

Trouble is, we can see that God’s use of a donkey to influence Balaam didn’t happen by accident. It was obviously a deliberate act, one that is never replicated anywhere else in Scripture. He made the animal talk, for Pete’s sake! Yet some Christians use this passage to suggest that whenever someone changes their attitude or behavior for the better after reading an unbiblical book, watching an unbiblical movie or listening to an unbiblical song, then we better not criticize the media in question, because God obviously “used it.”

I’ve heard many times how God used classic rock songs like “Stairway to Heaven” or “Carry On Wayward Son,” or movies like “Star Wars” or “The Matrix” to accomplish some sort of higher purpose in an individual’s life. Forget the fact that the spirituality depicted in these songs and films is a veritable mishmash of various religious and mythological teachings; if God used it in their life, then it must OK. Based on that logic, why don’t churches distribute Led Zeppelin albums instead of Bibles, since listening to “Stairway to Heaven” is way cooler than reading about the Ten Commandments?

Of course I’m getting carried away now, but the gist of this thinking is that God is so desperate to reach people that He is willing to tolerate all manner of New Age ramblings if just one person can look past the heresy and somehow stumble onto the true nature of the Christian faith. Never mind that for every individual who is drawn closer to God through a book like Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays with Morrie,” there are countless others who come away thinking that the true meaning of life has more to do with the sentimental sayings of a dying old man and little or nothing to do with Jesus Christ.

But what about Paul’s proclamation that he became “all things to all men so that by all possible means” he might save some? Well, did Paul become a sorcerer so that he might save the sorcerers of his day? Did he become a Pharisee so that he might win over the Pharisaical community? No, Paul was actually explaining that he gave up his own rights and freedoms for the sake of those he was trying to save. He conformed to others’ laws and practices so that he might reach them with the Gospel.

Does that mean Christians shouldn’t use books, movies or music to help evangelize the lost? Not at all. The important distinction is to properly assess the value of these cultural tools. Paul’s letter to the Philippians gives us some pretty good guidelines: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable … think about such things.”

Fans of The Shack are surely right in one thing: God can use anything He wants to reach anyone He wants. (Tom Neven — not a fan of the book — acknowledged as much in an earlier post.) Indeed, in Luke 19, Jesus tells the Pharisees that if his disciples keep quiet, “the stones will cry out.” The implication here is that if Christ’s followers are silenced, then Creation itself will testify to His existence. But when was the last time you heard a stone cry out? For that matter, when was the last time you heard a talking animal? Sure, God “can use” whatever methods He pleases, but as long as His Word is readily available and His followers are willing and able to proclaim the Good News, then I’m confident He can do without Luke Skywalker’s help.

So, do you think I’m way off the mark here? Do you think God is willing to put up with misguided theology as long as something good sometimes results? Let the commenting begin.