“It’s Only Fiction”

An Open Letter to my Christian friends who respond to the theological criticisms of The Shack  with the reply, “It’s only FICTION!”
 
It’s true.  It is a fictional story, and obviously a story that resonated with millions of people. I read the whole book in one sitting shortly after it was published. Like many, I found the story both compelling and moving in many places.  However, the fictional story is set upon a theological backdrop that is severely flawed.  I won’t take time to describe all the theological errors – those have been well documented herehere, and here. That’s not the intent of this blog. 
 
What I would like to consider is the erroneous argument I’ve heard many times in defense of The Shack: “It’s only fiction.”  Consider for a moment if we were evaluating a work of historical fiction. Would the same defense of “It’s only fiction” hold water if the historical backdrop the fictional story was placed upon was flawed?  I don’t think it would.
 
For example, consider the masterful film Saving Private Ryan – a film that could accurately be described as historical fiction. The story of Private Ryan, and his brothers, is loosely based (like The Shack) on actual people. But the sequence of events that led to the rescue of Private Ryan is complete fiction, including the emotional conclusion of an elderly Private Ryan at the Normandy Memorial, weeping at the grave marker of the very one who died to save him.
 
I would contend that what largely made the movie so powerful and the fictional story so compelling is the fact that filmmaker Steven Spielberg went through great pains to keep the historical backdrop of WWII as precise as possible. Consider just a few of the details:
  • Every uniform was custom made to match both US and German uniforms.
  • The cast actually went through a rigorous boot camp to prepare for the film and make their characters more believable.
  • Spielberg modeled the filming of the movie off of authentic newsreel film in order to match the look and feel of that era.
  • The Normandy Invasion itself cost $12 million dollars to produce because of the precision used to recreate that devastating day.
The film was so precise that many D-Day veterans could not watch it because of the stark reality of the re-creation. That painstaking attention to detail resulted in the film being nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and in 2014 it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress because of it being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
 
Now imagine if the fictional story of Private Ryan was presented, but the historical backdrop it was set upon was not so intentionally well-preserved.  In fact, how would the story have been received if the historical backdrop contained serious flaws? What if the Nazis were presented as the protagonists in the film? What if instead of storming the beaches with machine guns, they came on with swords and shields; bows and arrows? What if the exact same story was told, but at the end of the war the Allies were defeated and the global war was lost to the Axis Powers?  Would the cry of “It’s only fiction” be a valid response to criticisms of that kind of film? No, of course not. The film would be highly criticized and universally rejected –  and rightly so.
 
The same is true with The Shack. Though it is a fictional story, there can be no denying that the author is setting the story against a theological backdrop.  That theological framework is seriously flawed and does not present a Biblical portrayal of the nature of God, the Triune relationship of the Godhead, the importance of the local church, the authority of the Bible, or of the nature of salvation itself – just to name a few. Therefore, regardless of how compelling the story is and how much it resonates with human pain, suffering, and loss, it should be wholly rejected because of the serious theological flaws the story is set upon – even though, “it’s only fiction.”
 
Troy Walliser


Setting Up Memorial Stones

For generations the descendants of Abraham were waiting for the fulfillment of the promises God made to him to come to pass – namely, that they would possess a land which the Lord God would give them.  Moses was God’s deliverer from Egyptian slavery, but after 40 years of wilderness wandering it was Joshua who was God’s appointed leader to take the children of Israel into the Promised Land.

 Upon crossing the Jordan River in miraculous fashion, God instructed Joshua to do a curious thing: “Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.” Joshua 4:3

 Why did God have them do this?  He wanted them to remember His faithfulness and power. There were some specific lessons that He wanted them to learn from this event.  When God does significant things in our life, we need to mark the event; we need to memorialize the occasion.  We need to set up some stones in our lives so we will remember it.  Do you know why? Because like the children of Israel, we all have the tendency to forget. 

 Sometimes I will say to myself, “I will never forget this miracle!  I will never forget the faithfulness of God right here!” Then a few years (or days!) go by and I have completely forgotten. We all have a tendency to forget God’s faithfulness. We all suffer from various levels of spiritual amnesia. Again, we all have the tendency to forget. That’s why we have calendars, handheld organizers, or tie strings around our fingers.  In the same way, God instructs Joshua to set up these memorial stones.

 In my office I have several shelves filled with “memorial stones.” They sit just beyond the gaze of my computer screen. These “stones” are trinkets from mission trips, photographs, coffee mugs from retreats, plaques and other items. Each of them represents something significant in my walk with Christ. As I peak around the screen and look at each one, the memories begin to flood in and gratefulness to God ensues.

 Consider some of the things God has done in your life:

  • Has God ever healed your body? BUILD A MEMORIAL!
  • Has God ever delivered you from an addiction? BUILD A MEMORIAL!
  • Has God ever met a financial need? BUILD A MEMORIAL!
  • Has God ever used you in someone else’s life? BUILD A MEMORIAL!

 God has done great things in your life.  Building a memorial reminds us of his faithfulness.  Looking back on those events through the lens of those memorial stones allows the perspective of time to bring clarity to God’s purposes. Now I understand why I went through some of the things I went through; now I understand why the Lord didn’t heal me right away; now I understand why God let me go hungry sometimes – in order that myself and others will know the faithfulness and power of our God!

 

 Remembering,
Pastor Troy


Building Bridges To Our Community

After the remnants of the nation of Israel were exiled into Babylon, Jeremiah delivered a word from the LORD to them from Jerusalem by means of a letter. The letter was encouraging on multiple levels, but we find this interesting instruction contained within it: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7) In other words, as the city goes so will you go. 

This principle is true for us today as well.  We should seek the welfare of the city – and more specifically the community – where we reside. We should have a vested interest in the welfare and prosperity of our town. For this reason Lookout Valley Baptist Church has a long history of building bridges to our community. As I thought about this, I considered some of the ways we’ve done this just since I’ve been here:

  • Open our facilities up to Lookout Valley Elementary, Lookout Valley Middle/High, Chattanooga Christian School and homeschool groups for various functions and activities. This has included PTA programs, class fellowships, regular gym usage for basketball practice, and for the past four years a homeschool fencing group.
  • Provide transportation and drivers in our vehicles for trips and events for each of the above schools.
  • Provide volunteers at local school sporting events like running the concession stand, manning the sideline chains at football games, and feeding the football team.
  • Purchasing advertising in school programs and yearbooks.
  • Allow the usage of church owned equipment like tables, chairs, popcorn machine and more for school events.

As you can see, much of the “bridge building” has been done through the local schools.   Education is a great opportunity to connect with many families in order to create relationships for gospel influence.  

Back in January we were approached by another group that shows great promise for bridge building to our community.  The group is known as “Classical Conversations” (CC). CC is a nationwide homeschool network with several “communities” in the greater Chattanooga area.  As they looked at their roster of families they discovered they currently have 33 families involved in their program from the 37419 (Lookout Valley) zip code! The Chattanooga area coordinator met with our elders in March and asked that we host a local CC community one day/week from August to May.  They provide their own liability insurance and each student pays a usage fee to cover any increased utilities.

 

After much discussion and prayer we have determined this is another great opportunity for connecting with new families and building bridges to our community!  Additionally, it is good stewardship of the buildings God has blessed us with, buildings that currently sit empty and unused for 166/168 hours each week.

Expectant!
Pastor Troy


The Bubble Never Bursts

Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 1 Peter 1:18-19

When our family first moved to Lookout Valley in 2007, we sold our home in East Brainerd and bought our new home. This was at the height of the real estate bubble.  Then, as we all know, the bubble burst! Home values across the country (including ours) fell dramatically and left millions of homeowners “upside-down” on their mortgages. Foreclosures became commonplace as many chose to walk away from their homes rather than continue to pay for a home worth less than the amount they owed. 

I’m somewhat familiar with real estate values and assessments.  Before God called me into vocational ministry I spent a few years trying my hand as a realtor. When I took the pre-licensing course, the instructor gave this “bottom-line” rule on how to determine the value of a piece of property: “It’s worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it.”  It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Have you ever thought about your worth? I’m not talking financially (though it’s been calculated that the physical elements that make up your body are worth around $160!). How much is your life worth?  Sometimes we try to prove our worth by our possessions; by purchasing things that enhance our status. This is what I call the constant strain to attain! Solomon, who was both wealthy and wise, said “This too is futility, and striving after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 6:9

What my real estate instructor told our class regarding property value also applies to life value.  Your life is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it.  The Bible says that you and I were purchased with a tremendous price. (1 Corinthians 6:20) The purchase price was not paid with the precious commodities of this world: gold and silver. Rather, it was the blood of Jesus, the Son of God, who gave His life freely for you and for me. If you open your heart and your mind to this truth, if you live your life with this present awareness that you are His beloved – you were purchased with a price of immeasurable value – it will change everything about your life.

I challenge you to give up the scramble for value. Open your heart and mind to your true worth. You were bought with a price. There is no bubble in God’s economy. Your value is secure. Now, respond to Jesus’ costly price paid for you by living a generous life for Him. This is how God wants His investment in you to grow!

 Grateful,
Pastor Troy


Death Is Not The End

In 1974 Ernest Becker – a Jewish cultural anthropologist – won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, The Denial of Death.  He articulates the thesis of the book as follows: “The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else: it is a mainspring of human activity—activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man.” From 50 years of observing and studying human behavior, Becker determined that what motivates and propels people to do what they do is the fear of death – it is as he said, “a mainspring of human activity.”

That is a powerful observation by a non-Christian thinker.  Consider the implications in the lives of those around you.  How much do people do to avoid death, to avoid thinking about death or to deny the absolute eventuality of it in their future?  Yet Hebrews 9:27 is clear: “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”  And the world responds, “I can’t think about that right now, if I do I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about it tomorrow.” (Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind).  So, we fill our world with distractions.  We are an entertainment-saturated culture.  We fill every waking moment with games, TV shows, music, movies, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pandora and the like. We fill our lives with noise so there are never moments of silence in which the weightier matters of life must be faced and contemplated – matters like death, dying and judgment.

But God provides moments and opportunities for us to turn off the noise and consider these truths.  For the Christian, these moments are not only necessary but nourishing to our souls.  When we consider our own mortality, we can find ultimate hope in the truth that Jesus, the immortal Son of God, died but then defeated death to provide us hope! Earlier in Hebrews we find this nugget of truth: “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:9)  Because Jesus tasted death for everyone we can KNOW that death is not the end!

For those who know Jesus, this is a glorious truth.  For those who don’t know Jesus, this is a terrifying truth that “haunts the human animal like nothing else.” But God uses the terrifying reality of death to awaken cold, lost, dead hearts to life in Christ. 

 This Easter we will plunge headlong into the truth that “Death Is Not The End.” Easter is a great opportunity when friends, family members, coworkers and acquaintances are most likely to respond positively to an invitation to come to church.  I can assure you of this – those you invite to our Easter service will be faced with their own mortality and the eventuality of their death. But they will also hear the life-transforming truth of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus which provides life eternal and hope everlasting. 

Pray – Invite – Expect,
Pastor Troy


First Things First

 As we conclude our Global Impact Celebration, no doubt our thoughts are turned to our service to the Lord and our work for Him.  But before we embark on grand plans to serve Jesus, we must first consider how Jesus has served us.  He described his service toward us in this way: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)  Jesus served us by giving his life as a ransom – the price paid to provide our deliverance and freedom.

 Keeping “first things first” means doing the “work” of believing in Jesus before launching into other areas of Christian work.  Paul described it this way: And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. (Romans 4:5)  We must remind ourselves again and again that only through faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross are we found acceptable to God.  No amount of giving to missions, praying for missions or going on mission will make us acceptable – only Jesus’ ransom-paying service. 

 Jesus also described belief in him as the primary “work” we do: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  (John 6:29)  It is absolutely vital that all true Christian service begins with the possession of eternal life.  Our first great duty and all important work is to believe in Jesus – to rest sweetly in Him and in what he has done for us on the cross. This “work” of believing in Jesus is not just a one-time event at the moment of our conversion. Rather, it is a daily attitude of trust and a consistent resting in Him. 

 Why is it imperative that we begin by receiving Christ’s service to us before attempting to serve him?  There are many reasons I can think of, but one that is particularly applicable to me is this: Jesus does not need my help, but I desperately need His help.  If I consider my service to Jesus as something He needs then I begin to see myself as Jesus’ benefactor and He is the recipient of my assistance and aid.  Just the opposite is true: I need his aid, assistance, help and service. “Nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” Acts 17:25

 All true Christian service must begin here.  It’s at this point we realize we are serving Him not because he needs us, but because we so desperately need Him!