Lifeway VS the SBC: Lifeway’s Fight to Promote The Shack

The Shack has been widely repudiated as heretical by a whole host of evangelical scholarship. Many if not most serious minded church leaders have marked the book as sub-Christian, from Albert Mohler (link) to Tim Challies (link). From providing gratuitous violations of the 2nd Commandment to promoting the heresy of Modalism to the heresy of Theopassianism, it was abundantly clear – and clear early on – that the book should not be recommended to Christians concerned with Biblical fidelity. And while most sound theologians wince at the book, if not strongly refute it, those endorsing it – including Glenn Beck (here) – speak just as strongly for why The Shack should be avoided.

The Baptist Press reported just hours ago that the book has been controversial, and reported the warnings from Southern Baptist leaders…

“We need to be clear. This depiction of God, of Christ, of the Holy Spirit, of the Gospel is profoundly unbiblical,” Mohler told Baptist Press. “The Bible warns against any false depiction of God and calls it idolatry. Making that into a compelling story just compounds the theological danger, and when all of this is added to the creative storytelling power of Hollywood, it also becomes very seductive.”

James B. De Young, a Western Seminary professor who countered the book with his own 2010 book “Burning Down ‘The Shack’: How the Christian Bestseller is Deceiving Millions” has likewise criticized the film.

“If the film is a faithful portrayal of the events and the theology of the book,” DeYoung has told Christian News Network, “then every Christian should be gravely alarmed at the further advance of beliefs that smear the evangelical understanding of the truth of the Bible.”

According to Lifeway spokesman, Carol Pipes, Lifeway no longer carries the book because they made a virtuous decision that The Shack did not accurately reflect the Bible…

“We stopped carrying ‘The Shack’ a few years ago,” LifeWay Director of Communications Carol Pipes emailed BP, “because although it is a work of fiction, the theology presented as integral to the story clearly conflicts with the Bible on many issues, especially in regards to the character and nature of The Trinity.”

The story told by The Shack promoters, however, tell an altogether different story. The story they tell is that Lifeway was fighting Southern Baptist leaders behind the scenes in order to do everything possible to make the heretical book profitable for the retailer.

According to The Shack’s promotional website, Lifeway was willing to put his job on the line in order to make money off the book. Lifeway executives, as the story is told by The Shack website, were profit-thirsty, calculated businessman who could care less about doctrine, and came off annoyed by Southern Baptist seminary presidents who wanted what was best for the soul of Southern Baptists.

Brad Cummings, producer, publisher and co-author of The Shack begins to tell the story about the inward fighting between a money-hungry Lifeway by the following story:

“Before you are tempted to burn us at the stake, will you at least do me the favor of allowing me to stand in front of the firing squad and answer any questions that they might have.”  That’s what I said to the president of the Lifeway Christian Bookstores when he called to say that “he” might be in need of a job.

Lifeway executives, you see, had approached Cummings months earlier to ask if The Shack could be Lifeway’s book of the month. This isn’t so much an honor, Cummings explains, as a sales pitch. To be placed as Lifeway’s book of the month would typically cost the publisher many thousands of dollars. After pressing heavily on The Shack publisher, who wasn’t biting on the deal, Rainer eventually folded and wanted to promote The Shack so heavily he agreed to proceed without a front-end payment.

Cummings writes…

After a couple more calls, and I wouldn’t budge—I guess they liked the book enough on its own, to go through with their desire.  They made The Shack their celebrated “Lifeway Presents ‘Book of the Month’.”  How cool is that!  It was UNTIL…

Lifeway proudly championed The Shack throughout their bookstore chain.  Sales continued to soar, but as with all things that garner a measure of success, it soon attracts its own set of detractors as well.  Little did we suspect that we would become the center of a raging controversy taken before the Southern Baptist National Convention.

Apparently, Rainer was in hot water for promoting the book, which he knew was a possibility to begin with. Again, Cummings writes…

It didn’t take long for the rumor mill to kick into full gear, and my phone lit up.  At first, I couldn’t believe any of it could possibly be true.  But, when I got a call from the president of Lifeway himself*—sure enough, it was for real!   It came as a total shock to him as well, along with the very unsettling realization that he could well be out of a job.  Afterall, this was all his idea—to put such contraband on full display at the front of the store, nationwide!   I thought he was kidding—he wasn’t.

The inner-wrangling between the heresy-peddling giant, Lifeway, and doctrinally concerned seminary leaders in the SBC eventually led to Lifeway coming out on top. Again, Cummings writes…

So what was the outcome of those two weeks of discussion and theological debate at the Southern Baptist National Convention?

Happily I can report that their conclusion was:  ‘There is nothing within the pages of The Shack that is inconsistent or in violation of orthodox, Biblical Christianity.  It is provocative and challenging—but perhaps it is exactly what we as Southern Baptists need to wrestle with.”   And they ordered The Shack back on the shelves, allowing the promotional campaign to be resumed.  (How cool is that!)

And now, thanks to Lifeway’s profit-driven discernment-dive, The Shack website is touting the SBC’s “clean bill of health” for their heretical book.

What I found so wonderfully hilarious in all this is now if you want to draw up charges of heresy against The Shack, we can refer you to the esteemed theological panel of the Southern Baptist National Convention and invite you to take up your argument with them.   They gave us a clean bill of health, consistent with orthodox Biblical Christianity.    (Others still think we are a bunch of hindu, New age worshippers peddling a feminist religion of universalism – who knew?  ☺ )

One thing is for sure. It will be safer for a crack dealer on the corner, on that great day of judgment, than Lifeway executives. The crack dealer sells what kills the body; Lifeway sells what kills the soul. I suspect the first money-changing table Jesus may turn over at his Glorious Appearing will be at Lifeway Christian Resources.

 

 

You can read the article discussed here.

For our review on The Shack, click here.

[Editor’s Note: In the pursuit of accuracy, we contacted Mr. Cummings upon hearing that Rainer denies having spoken with Cummings. Cummings acknowledges to us that he did not speak with Rainer, and when he says “President of Lifeway Christian Stores,” he was mistaken and spoke instead to Lifeway’s chief purchasing agent who negotiates such deals on behalf of Rainer. Regardless, Cummings reaffirms that Lifeway had asked to promote it, pulled it momentarily because of pressure from the SBC doctrinal heads, then won out in negotiations to promote and sell it again, before again reversing course. This back-and-forth, according to Cummings, is entirely due to the profit motivation of Lifeway Christian Resources, locked in a struggle with SBC leaders not wanting them to sell The Shack. Where necessary, “Thom Rainer” has been changed to “Lifeway” or “Lifeway Executives”]

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