The Shack Revisited - Perichoresis, Inc. :: C. Baxter Kruger, PhD

The Shack Revisited
There Is More Going on Here than You Ever Dared to Dream
Participant’s Guide
©C. Baxter Kruger Ph.D. 2012
The Cadillac Stand
The Story Behind the Story
The Story Within the Story
The Phone Call
Part 1: Some First Thoughts on Papa
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
The Shocker
The Dancing God
Light From Lewis
What’s in a Name?
The Two Gods
Part 2: Jesus, His Father, and the Holy Spirit
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Summary of the Trinitarian Vision
Jesus and His Father
The Holy Spirit
The Oneness of the Spirit, Son, and Father
The Love of the Triune God
The Real Jesus
Part 3: Papa’s Dream
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
The Big Picture
The Womb of the Incarnation
Adam and Israel
The Rejection of the Anointed Son
The Wonderful Exchange
The Secret
Abide in Me
The Spirit of Adoption
Lord Jesus Christ, I don’t want to see
the way I see anymore. Give me your eyes.
Summary of the Trinitarian Vision
From all eternity, God is not alone and solitary, but lives as Father, Son,
and Spirit in a rich and glorious and abounding fellowship of utter oneness.
There is no emptiness in this circle, no depression or fear or insecurity. The
trinitarian life is a great dance of unchained communion and intimacy, fired by
passionate, self-giving, and other-centered love and mutual delight. This life is
good. It is right. It is unique, and full of music and joy, blessedness and peace.
Such love, giving rise to such togetherness and fellowship and oneness, is the
womb of the universe and of humanity within it.
The stunning truth is that this triune God, in amazing and lavish love,
determined to open the circle and share the trinitarian life with others. This is
the one, eternal, and abiding reason for the creation of the world and of human
life. There is no other God, no other will of God, no second plan, no hidden
agenda for human beings. Before the creation of the world, the Father, Son,
and Spirit set their love upon us and planned for us to share and know and
experience the trinitarian life itself. To this end the cosmos was called into
being, and the human race was fashioned, and Adam and Eve were given a
place in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son himself, in and through
whom the dream of our adoption would be accomplished.
Before creation, it was decided that the Son would cross every chasm
between the triune God and humanity and establish a real and abiding
relationship with us—union. Jesus was predestined to be the mediator, the one
in and through whom the very life of the triune God would enter human
existence, and human existence would be lifted up to share in the trinitarian life.
When Adam and Eve rebelled, ushering chaos and misery into God’s
creation, the Father, Son, and Spirit did not abandon their dream; instead, they
wonderfully incorporated darkness and sin into the tapestry of the coming
incarnation. As the Father’s Son became human, as he submitted himself to
bear our anger and bizarre blindness and suffer a murderous death at our hands,
he established a real and abiding relationship with fallen humanity at our very
worst—and he brought his Father and the Holy Spirit with him. It was in Jesus
himself, and in his death at our bitter hands, that the trinitarian life of God
pitched its tent in our hell on earth, uniting all that the Father, Son, and Spirit
share with all that we are in our brokenness, shame, and sin, and in so doing
including us in the trinitarian life—adoption.
In the life and death of Jesus, the Holy Spirit made his way into human
pain and blindness. Inside our broken inner worlds the Spirit works to reveal
Jesus in us so that we can meet Jesus himself in our own sin and shame, begin
to see what Jesus sees, and know his Father with him. The Holy Spirit takes of
Jesus and discloses it to us, so that we can know and experience Jesus’ own
relationship with his Father and be free to live with Jesus in the Father’s
embrace. As the Spirit works, we are summoned to take sides with Jesus against
our own darkness and prejudice, and take simple steps of trust and change. As
we do, Jesus’ own anointing with the Spirit—his own fellowship with his
Father, his own unearthly assurance, his own freedom and joy and power in the
Spirit—begin to form in us, all the while augmenting and freeing our own
uniqueness as persons. The Spirit’s passion is to bring his anointing of Jesus to
full and abiding personal expression in us as unique persons—and not only in
us ourselves, but in our relationship with the Father in Jesus, and in our
relationships with one another and with all creation, until the whole cosmos is a
living sacrament of the great dance of the triune God.
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen
with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the
Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear
witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and
was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you
also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship
is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. —1 John 1:1–3
The Cadillac Stand
I do believe; help my unbelief. —Mark 9:24
There, in heaven, this infinite fountain of love—this eternal Three in
One—is set open without any obstacle to hinder access to it, as it flows
forever. —Jonathan Edwards1
1. “The Shack is not about the disapproving god of our fallen imaginations;
it is about the shocking fondness of the Triune God for sinners. It is
about the freedom of the Father, Son, and Spirit to love and to embrace
us in our terrible brokenness.” (p. 2) Do you think that God could be
fond of sinners? What do you think about Baxter’s view that the Triune
God has embraced us at our worst?
2. “But which God? That’s the question...” (p. 2) Has your idea of God
changed over the years? What was the source of the change?
3. What do you think would have happened if Baxter had not decided to
believe Wendy’s heart and read The Shack?
4. Have you ever thought about needing to be delivered from yourself?
5. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? What
do you think the Holy Spirit would change?
6. Are you willing to see your own darkness? What does that involve?
7. What does it mean to say there is not a single leaf in our broken inner
world that Jesus left unturned?
8. If you could overhear the Father, Son, and Spirit talking about you, what
would you hear? What about you is a delight to our Father? What about
our Father makes you most proud?
Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted 1982),
p. 327.
Tom Waits, “Come On Up to the House,” on Mule Variations, Anti, 1999.
The Beatles, “Yesterday,” on The Beatles 1962–1966, EMI Records, 1993.
Jo Dee Messina, “I’m Alright,” on Greatest Hits, Curb, 2003.
Van Morrison, “Have I Told You Lately,” on Still on Top: The Greatest Hits,
Polydor, 2007.
“It is Well With My Soul,” Horatio G. Spafford
“When I Survey The Wondrous Cross,” Isaac Watts
The Story Behind the Story
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us... —John 1:14
When you’re so ashamed that you could die; God believes in you.
—Pierce Pettis2
1. What does Baxter mean by “the lethal roux” (p. 5)? Can you contrast
the lethal roux with Jesus’ “rivers of living water” (John 7:38)?
2. What is your chief “I am not...” (pp. 5–6)? Can you remember the
circumstances that led you to your conclusion?
3. What do you think of Baxter’s statement that “what we bury rules us”
(p. 6)?
4. What have you hoped would bring you life? Be honest with yourself.
5. Can you see how Paul’s childhood experience drove him to save
himself? In what ways did Paul try to deal with his pain? In what ways
have you tried to save yourself?
6. What is shame? What is the difference between shame and guilt?
7. Comment on Baxter’s statement, “For the truth behind the universe is
that God is Father, Son, and Spirit, and the one unflinching purpose of
the blessed Trinity is that we would come to taste and feel, to know and
experience, the very trinitarian life itself” (p. 9).
8. What does your spouse think of your theology?
9. Do you realize that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have taken up
residence inside your garbage can?
Pierce Pettis, “God Believes in You,” on Everything Matters, Compass Records, 1998.
The Beatles, “Help!” on The Beatles 1962–1966, EMI Records, 1993.
Elton John, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me,” on Elton John: The
Greatest Hits 1970–2002, Mercury Records, 2002.
Rascal Flatts, “My Wish For You,” on Rascal Flatts, Lyric Street, 2000.
“Amazing Grace,” John Newton
“I Will Sing the Wondrous Story,” Francis H. Rowley
The Story Within the Story
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor
principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor
height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us
from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:38–
We shall draw near to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings
inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him;
throwing away all defensive armour.” —C. S. Lewis3
1. Describe what you felt when Papa ran out the door and hugged
Mackenzie, shouting his name.
2. What do you think Baxter means by our inner worlds being “as gnarled
as a box of loose coat hangers” (p. 11)?
3. When you react to pain, how has your reaction affected your spouse,
children, and friends?
4. What is the answer to the problem of Missy?
5. In what ways has God failed or disappointed you?
6. Do you see yourself in Mackenzie? In what ways?
7. What is meant by a “magical other” (p. 8)?
8. “The Shack is the voice of the early Church calling us back from our
craziness to our true home in the Father, Son, and Spirit.” (p. 15) What
do you think of this comment?
9. What are “the watchful dragons” (p. 15) of the Western mind?
C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1960), p. 122.
10. What do you think George MacDonald is trying to say in the following
“Let us comfort ourselves in the thought of the Father and Son. So
long as there dwells harmony, so long as the Son loves the Father
with all the love the Father can welcome, all is well with the little
Jake Owen, “Alone with You,” on Barefoot Blue Jean Night, Sony,
Jerrod Niemann, “Lover, Lover,” on Judge Jerrod & The Hung Jury,
Sony, 2010.
The Eagles, “Busy Being Fabulous,” on Long Road Out of Eden, Eagles
Recording II, 2007.
Chicago, “Will You Still Love Me?” on The Very Best of Chicago—
Only the Beginning, Warner Strategic Marketing, 2004.
“Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling,” Will L. Thompson
“Breathe On Me Breath of God,” Edwin Hatch
George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, ed. by Rolland Hein (Vancouver: Regent
College Press, 1976), p. 22.
The Phone Call
[W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever
is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any
excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these
things. —Philippians 4:8
That came as a shock to Mack’s religious system. —The Shack
1. Have you ever been surprised by grace? What happened?
2. As you look back over your life, what phone calls have been significant
to you?
3. Why do you think so many people relate to Mackenzie?
4. Why does it bring us delight when we surprise someone we love with a
5. Do you have a Cadillac Stand?
6. What does freedom look like to you?
7. How do you think the wild popularity of The Shack has affected Paul’s
inner world?
Blake Shelton, “Austin,” on Austin, Warner Brothers Records, 2001.
Elton John, “Philadelphia Freedom,” on Elton John: The Greatest Hits
1970–2002, Mercury Records, 2002.
Dave Ligenfelter, “Free to Be Me,”
“Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” Thomas O. Chisholm
“O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go,” George Matheson
Part 1: Some First Thoughts on Papa
A Prayer
Father, in the freedom of your endless love and in the safety of your
embrace, I acknowledge to you that something happens to me and I get
lost in the darkness. Instead of living in your joy, I get crippled inside.
Instead of receiving your love, my soul is disturbed. I become needy. I
shut down and withdraw. I become self-centered, angry, and frustrated.
In my pain I hurt those I love. I waste time and life. I am embarrassed. I
am scared to look at myself. Forgive me for blaming others for my
problems. Speak to my soul, Father. Tell me again that there is more to
me than I know. Help me believe that my existence, my life, my future
is part of yours, that you have loved me from eternity and will never
think of changing. Help me see that facing my life and my hurt means
liberation and fullness, not death. I want to live in your embrace.
Chapter 1 — The Shocker
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for
they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they
are spiritually appraised. —1 Corinthians 2:14
God is no lonely monad or self-absorbed tyrant, but one whose
orientation to the other is intrinsic to his eternal being as God.
—Colin Gunton5
1. Could there be a difference between the God you imagine and the way
God actually is?
2. Do we have to drive into the center of our pain to meet God?
3. What is the “fallen imagination”? How does it conceive of God?
4. Have you ever screamed “I hate you!” to God? Why? Why not?
5. What does the shack represent?
6. Why is there laughter coming from inside the shack?
7. Can you imagine Jesus’ Father shouting to you, “Here you are, and so
grown up. I have really been looking forward to seeing you face to
face… My, my, my, how I do love you!”?
8. Driving through Rhode Island recently, I saw this billboard:
Colin E. Gunton, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (London: T. & T. Clark, 2003), p. 86.
What is your first thought when you read these words?
9. Why would the god of Mackenzie’s imagination be a “no show” at the
10. “What if we wake up on the other side hearing Papa shout our name,
surrounded by Sarayu collecting our tears, and Jesus, covered in
sawdust from the coffin for our great sadness?” (p. 26) What difference
would it make to you if Baxter’s comment is true?
11. What, if anything, does the fact that Papa wore Mack’s mother’s
perfume say to us about God?
12. Baxter’s Professor of Theology, James B. Torrance, used to say,
“Forgiveness is logically prior to repentance.” What do you think about
this statement? As you reflect, consider this comment from John Calvin:
“A man cannot apply himself seriously to repentance without knowing
himself to belong to God. But no one is truly persuaded that he belongs
to God unless he has first recognized God’s grace” (Institutes, III.3.2).
Note also the story in John 8:2–11.
13. What does Baxter mean when he says that we have “wrong eyes”
(p. 26)?
Tim McGraw, “Live Like You Are Dying,” on Tim McGraw, Curb
Records, 2004.
The Eagles, “Desperado,” on The Very Best of Eagles (Remastered),
Elektra/Asylum Records, 2003.
Celine Dion & Andrea Bocelli, “The Prayer,” on The Collector’s Series,
Celine Dion, Vol. 1, Sony Music, 2000.
“I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” Horatius Bonar
“The God of Abraham Praise,” Daniel ben Judah, revised by Thomas
Chapter 2 — The Dancing God
Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for today I must stay at your house.
—Luke 19:5
Man’s sin is unbelief in the God who was “in Christ reconciling the
world to himself,” who in Him elected and loved man from all eternity,
who in Him created him, whose word to man from and to all eternity was
and will be Jesus Christ. —Karl Barth6
1. Read Luke 15. What do verses 1–3 tell us about why Jesus told these
three parables?
2. “The beauty of the fellowship generated by her presence was what many
of us have sought for a lifetime and so rarely experienced.” (p. 27) Why
have so many Christians “rarely experienced” such fellowship with
Jesus’ Father?
3. Why did Jesus declare such open solidarity with a man so hated as
4. What do you think “the robed religious elite” said in their “whispering
(p. 29)?
5. Why do you think Jesus added “search carefully” to his description of
the woman who lost her coin in Luke 15:8?
6. Henri Nouwen once said that at different stages in his life he played the
role of each of the three players in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In
your view, which character are you in Jesus’ parable—the prodigal, the
older son, the father? Why?
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 4/1, p. 415.
7. What do you think the servants in the parable talked about as they
gathered around the fire later in the evening?
8. What does it mean for us to “put the ledger down” and learn from Jesus
about God?
Collin Raye, “In This Life,” on In this Life, Sony BMG Music, 1992.
Lee Ann Womack, “I Hope You Dance,” on I Hope You Dance, MCA,
Abba, “Dancing Queen,” on Mama Mia!, Little Star Services, 2006.
“When All Thy Mercies, O My God,” Joseph Addison
“Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” Henry van Dyke
Chapter 3 — Light From Lewis
For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When
Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him
in glory. —Colossians 3:3–4
You must give up your right to decide what is good and evil on your own
terms. That is a hard pill to swallow; choosing to only live in me. To do that
you must know me enough to trust me and learn to rest in my inherent
goodness. —Sarayu, The Shack
1. Can you put words to the longing of your heart?
2. What were the factors that led to your compromising with your heart?
3. “There is no pain more bitter than the death of a deep dream, and no
dread as terrible as its awakening without hope.” (p. 38) Do you have a
dream that died, and whose “awakening without hope” fills you with
4. Why would Lewis call joy a “stab”? Could joy hurt?
5. What are Lewis’ three insights into our inconsolable longing? Is there
more to be said about our heart’s deepest desires?
6. What is “the original dance” (p. 42)?
7. What does Lewis mean when he says, “The whole dance, or drama, or
pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of
us…” (p. 43)?
8. Can you identify something that you have labeled “too risky” and buried
in your heart?
9. Read the following statement from Lewis several times, and then
summarize it in your own words:
We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that
is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put
into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to
receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is
why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and
goddesses and nymphs and elves—that, though we cannot, these
projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty, grace, and power
of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such
lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep
into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that “beauty born of
murmuring sound” will pass into a human face; but it won’t. (p. 39)
10. My friend Ken Blue often asks, “What would you do if you were
brave?” What is your answer?
11. One day I was discussing Ken’s question with some friends when one
laughed and asked, “What would you try if you knew you couldn’t
fail?” Then another asked, “What would you do if you knew you could
get away with it and never have to answer before God or any person?”
12. George MacDonald writes, “What father is not pleased with the first
tottering attempt of his little one to walk? What father would be
satisfied with anything but the manly step of the full-grown son?”7 What
does MacDonald’s comment say about the character of God?
Eva Cassidy, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” on Songbird, Blix Street Records,
Trisha Yearwood, “The Song Remembers When,” on The Song Remembers
When, MCA Nashville Records, 1993.
Paul Brandt, “Risk,” on Risk, Brand-T Records, 2011.
“Abide With Me,” Henry F. Lyte
“Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley
George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, p. 113.
Chapter 4 — What’s in a Name?
[T]hat at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in
heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. —Philippians 2:10
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. —Matthew 6:9
1. Could we be lost if we don’t belong? Why or why not?
2. What are things that you want to be true of God, but are afraid to
3. What would change in your thinking it if turned out that God is not
4. Read Revelation 2:17. Do you think that the Father, Son, and Spirit have
a special name for you, known only to them? What do you think it is?
5. Why would someone describe the blessed Trinity as a “redeeming
6. Do you think that God causes events in our lives like getting lost? Or is
the Lord more about redeeming us and these events?
7. In what way are we on the trolley car named “Scared to Death” (p. 47)?
8. What is “parrhesia” (p. 48)? See Acts 4:13, 29, 31; Acts 28:31;
Ephesians 3:12; Philippians 1:20; 1Timothy 3:13.
9. How are we “wired” to live in the baptism of unearthly assurance?
10. What is the relationship between zoe, heaven, and Papa’s embrace?
11. What keeps us from hearing Papa shout our names?
12. Did you stand in front of the mirror, as Baxter suggested (p. 49), and say
three times “I am good”? How did you feel the first time you said it?
13. In what way do we bring “a load of rubbish” (p. 50) to the kitchen
conversation with Papa?
The Beatles, “The Long and Winding Road,” on Let It Be, Capitol/EMI
Records, 1987.
Neil Diamond, “I Am...I Said,” on His 12 Greatest Hits, MCA Records,
Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue,” on At San Quentin, Sony Music,
David Allan Coe, “You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” on The
Essential David Allan Coe, Epic/Legacy, 2004.
“Blessed Be the Name,” W. H. Clark
“Take the Name of Jesus with You,” Lydia Baxter
Chapter 5 — The Two Gods
[Y]et for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things,
and we exist for him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all
things, and we exist through him. However, not all men have this
knowledge... —1 Corinthians 8:6–7
There is an unbroken relation of Being and Action between the Son and
the Father, and in Jesus Christ that relation has been embodied in our
human existence once for all. There is thus no God behind the back of
Jesus Christ, but only this God whose face we see in the face of the Lord
Jesus. There is no deus absconditus, no dark inscrutable God, no arbitrary
Deity of whom we can know nothing but before whom we can only tremble
as our guilty conscience paints harsh streaks upon his face. No, there are
no dark spots in God of which we need to be afraid... There is only the one
God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ in such a way that there is
perfect consistency and fidelity between what he reveals of the Father and
what the Father is in his unchangeable reality. —Thomas F. Torrance8
1. “Good souls many will one day be horrified at the things they now
believe of God.”9 If George MacDonald is correct, what do you believe
about God now that you suspect will one day horrify you?
2. Suppose you are sitting on a park bench having a coffee when a bum
walks up to you and asks, “What is the gospel?” What would you say?
3. Do you think that Jonathan Edwards is right about God and his arrows?
4. How do you think that Edwards holds together his following two
The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on
the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains
Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1996),
p. 243.
George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, p. 292.
the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and
that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all,
that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with
your blood. (p. 53)
The apostle tells us that “God is love”; and therefore, seeing he
is an infinite being, it follows that he is an infinite fountain of
love. Seeing he is an all-sufficient being, it follows that he is a
full and overflowing, and inexhaustible fountain of love. And
in that he is an unchangeable and eternal being, he is an
unchangeable and eternal fountain of love. (p. 121)
5. Compare and contrast Edwards’ two statements with the following from
George MacDonald:
If then any child of the Father finds that he is afraid before
Him, that the thought of God is a discomfort to him, or even a
terror, let him make haste—let him not linger to put on any
garment, but rush at once in his nakedness, a true child, for
shelter from his own evil and God’s terror, into the salvation of
the Father’s arms, the home whence he was sent that he might
learn that it was home.10
6. Do you want to go to heaven if Edwards’ God is there?
7. “Most of us, like Mackenzie, while wanting to believe, have too many
shadows and a thousand questions.” (p. 54) What are your shadows and
8. Reflect on the following statement from theologian Thomas F.
The everlasting self-consistency, the unswerving constancy,
the uninterruptible invariance of God’s purpose of love,
manifest in his covenant relation built into the very foundation
of the creation, and renewed and sealed in the covenant of
grace embodied in space and time in Jesus Christ, speak to us
of the permanent faithfulness of God.11
George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, p. 87.
Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God, p. 243.
9. “[T]he God of all is good and supremely noble by nature. Therefore he
is the lover of humanity.” Why does Athanasius draw this conclusion,
and not qualify it with the word “sometimes”?
10. Read Genesis 3. How would you describe the Lord’s response to
Adam’s “Fall”?
11. Is there anything in your idea of God that could be a projection of your
own inner life?
12. If God is not who we think he is, how do we find the truth? Do the
passages in Matthew 11:27–28, and 7:7–11, and John 14:9 help answer
this question?
13. Would Jesus lead us astray about his Father?
Eric Clapton, “My Father’s Eyes,” on Clapton Chronicles, Reprise
Records, 1999.
Boston, “More Than A Feeling,” on Boston, Epic, 1976.
Bruce Springsteen, “Born To Run,” on The Essential Bruce Springsteen,
Sony Music, 1973.
Mindy Smith, “Come To Jesus,” on One Moment More, Vanguard
Records, 2004.
“Great is Thy Faithfulness,” Thomas O. Chisholm
“How Gentle God’s Commands,” Phillip Dodridge
Part 2: Jesus, His Father, and the Holy Spirit
A Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, beloved, eternal, and faithful incarnate Son of the
Father, thank you for your gentle mercy on me in my darkness. Grant to
me that which I do not have in myself—faith, hope, and love. Bind all
forms of darkness and evil that influence me. Continue to share with me
your own knowledge of the Father’s heart, that I may know your
confidence, your passion, your joy and peace. Continue to share the Holy
Spirit with me that I may be of service to you in your liberation of the
human race.
Chapter 6 — Summary of the Trinitarian Vision
[W]ho has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to
our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was granted
us in Christ Jesus from all eternity. —2 Timothy 1:9
In Jesus Christ God has demonstrated, He has made it visible and
audible and perceptible, that He loved the world, that He did not will to be
God without it, without all men, without each individual man in particular.
And in the same Jesus Christ He has demonstrated, He has made it visible
and audible and perceptible, that the world and all men and each
individual man in particular cannot be without Him. —Karl Barth12
O Hear the Word Declared to You
©1992 Dr. C. Baxter Kruger
(to the tune Ellacombe)
O hear the Word declared to you as He became a man!
The Father’s passion ceases not for His eternal plan.
Wake up and see the time is full, the great exchange has come:
the Son of God stands in our place, the Father’s will is done.
O look and see: the ancient Son, though rich, became so poor!
With our own poverty He fought, and blow by blow endured.
Wake up and see His painful wealth, for this He came to be
the treasure of the Triune Life in our humanity.
O see our awful flesh embraced by Him who dwells on high!
He plunged into our darkness to bring the light of life.
Wake up and see amazing grace, in flesh the Father known,
to share with us, within our reach, the Life that is His own.
O Spirit, grant with unveiled face that we this Man would see,
and know His heart and soul and mind and share His victory!
Inspire our empty hearts to run to this great vicarious One,
and give us fellowship with Him, the Father’s one true Son.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/1, pp. 102–103.
1. What is your favorite part of Baxter’s summary of the trinitarian vision?
2. Is there anything in Baxter’s summary that struck you as odd?
3. Read Ephesians 1:3–5. Do you think Baxter is playing fast and loose
with the biblical vision?
4. Were the Father, Son, and Spirit surprised by Adam’s “Fall”?
5. “When Adam and Eve rebelled, ushering chaos and misery into God’s
creation, the Father, Son, and Spirit did not abandon their dream, but
wonderfully incorporated darkness and sin into the tapestry of the
coming incarnation.” (p. 63) What do you think of this statement?
6. What is “the twist in the tale” (p. 67) of the biblical story?
7. What would you think if the Hebrew word for “God” in Genesis 1:1 is
plural? (It is.)
8. What differences do you see between Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1? What
point is John trying to make?
9. What is John trying to tell us when he says that Jesus is “in the bosom
of the Father” (John 1:18)?
10. Is the Holy Spirit a spectator watching us from a distance?
Vanessa Kersting, “O Hear the Word,” on Secure.
The Beatles, “Let It Be,” on Let It Be, EMI Records Ltd., 1970.
“Angels, From the Realm of Glory,” James Montgomery
“Ancient of Days,” William C. Doane
Chapter 7 — Jesus and His Father
The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hands.
—John 3:35
The heart of the New Testament is the relationship between the Father
and Son in the Spirit. —James B. Torrance
1. Why does Jesus speak so much about “your heavenly Father” in the
Sermon on the Mount, which is the first of his sermons that we read in
the New Testament?
2. Do you think that Jesus knew something about God that we don’t? What
was it?
3. What is the significance of the fact that there are only 15 references to
God as Father in the Old Testament, and over 170 in the four gospels?
4. How would you describe Jesus’ self-image?
5. What does the word “Father” mean to you? Was Jesus ever afraid of his
6. Is there a relationship between our “I am not...” statements and the way
we think of God?
7. Do you think that Jesus was arrogant when he put himself and his words
on the same level, and even above, the words of the Old Testament
8. Read John 5:19–20. Is Jesus saying something significant here or is this
merely another verse in the gospel story?
9. How important was the Father to Jesus?
10. Why would Jesus call God “Papa” or “Abba” when he never read this
address in the Hebrew Scriptures, and never heard anyone on earth
speak to God in this way?
11. What do you think Jesus felt when he heard the Father say, “Thou art
My beloved Son in whom My soul is well pleased” (Matthew 3:17,
17:5; Mark 1:11, 9:7; Luke 3:22, 20:13)? Do you think Jesus’ Father
will ever say this to you?
12. How would you have responded to Jesus if you were a Pharisee in
Jerusalem in Jesus’ day?
13. How deep is Jesus’ relationship with his Father?
14. Have you ever noticed that Jesus’ command, “Come unto me” in
Matthew 11:28 follows the statement where he claims that he and his
Father have an exclusive relationship? What is the significance of this?
15. How can eternal life be related to “knowing the Father”, as Jesus
teaches in John 17:3?
16. Consider the following: “What one encounters in revelation is not
simply facts about God, or even accurate information, but God in
person. Revelation involves an encounter with the person beyond the
words, and gives rise to communion” (p. 79). What is revelation?
17. What does Jesus mean when he says in John 10:30, “I and the Father are
18. My friend Julian says, “Jesus was crucified because of his relationship
with our heavenly Father.” What do you think of Julian’s statement?
Read John 10:30–33 and 8:52–59.
Amy Grant, “Like I Love You,” on Behind the Eyes, A & M Records, 1997.
Elton John, “Can You Feel the Love,” on Love Songs, MCA Records, 1996.
Pachelbel, “Canon In D,” on Pachelbel’s Greatest Hit, BMG Music, 1991.
“Holy, Holy, Holy,” Reginald Heber
“How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds,” John Newton
Chapter 8 — The Holy Spirit
But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the
Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just
as from the Lord, the Spirit. —2 Corinthians 3:17–18
There in the space between the lines,
I’ll meet you in the now and then
And when you’ve got the time,
Here while the blossom is still upon the vine,
I’ll make you know for certain...that you’re a friend of mine.
—Danny Ellis13
1. What are your main ideas about the Holy Spirit?
2. What does the word “holy” mean?
3. In 2 Corinthians 13:14 Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you
all.” Why does Paul link grace with Jesus, love with the Father, and
fellowship with the Holy Spirit? Are these attributes interchangeable?
4. Does it surprise you that throughout the Hebrew Bible the word ruach
(“spirit”) is feminine, including in Genesis 1:2? What difference does
that make to you?
5. How can the heart have its “reasons, which reason does not know” (p.
6. In 1 Corinthians 2:1–5 Paul contrasts “superiority of speech” with
“demonstration of the Spirit and of power”. What is the difference?
7. Read John 5:39–47 and Revelation 19:10. In what way is Jesus himself
the meaning of the words of Scripture?
Danny Ellis, “Space Between the Lines,” on Space Between the Lines, CD Baby, 2011.
8. What is the difference between resisting (Acts 7:51), grieving
(Ephesians 4:30), insulting (Hebrews 10:29), quenching (1
Thessalonians 5:19), and blaspheming (Matthew 12:31–32) the Holy
9. “She is good, and she won’t let you go until you find your real life in
Jesus—and that means until you come to know that Jesus’ Father loves
you forever, no matter what. That is what Adam lost; that is what
Jesus—in the Spirit—knows; and that is what Jesus—through the
Spirit—is now teaching the human race.” (p. 88) Do you think that this
is a good statement about the Holy Spirit? Why or why not?
10. Could anything less than a divine person dwell in the midst of the
relationship between the Father and Son, such as an angel, or a force of
some kind?
11. What relationship, if any, do you see between the Holy Spirit hovering
over creation, the Holy Spirit coming as a dove between the Father and
Son at his baptism, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of
12. Read Romans 14:17. Why is the kingdom of God about righteousness,
peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit?
13. If you had one word to describe the Holy Spirit, what would it be?
14. What did you find helpful about Baxter’s treatment of the Holy Spirit?
15. What is valuable to the Holy Spirit?
16. What is the Holy Spirit’s central passion?
17. What does it mean to say with the Nicene Creed that the Holy Spirit is
the “Lord and giver of life”?
18. How does the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts relate to our
knowing Jesus’ Father and to eternal life?
19. What is the relationship between Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes
away the sin of the world” and Jesus as “the one who baptizes in the
Holy Spirit”? See John 1:29–34.
20. How do you understand the Holy Spirit as “the bond of love” between
the Father and the Son?
21. Why is the Holy Spirit called “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; 15:26;
16:13; 1 John 4:6), “the Spirit of adoption” (Romans 8:15), and “the
Spirit of life in Christ” (Romans 8:2)? What is the relationship between
these three dimensions of the Spirit’s work?
22. In the early Church the Holy Spirit was often thought of as “the modesty
of God”. What do you think was meant by that description? Is the Holy
Spirit humble in a way that the Father and Son are not?
23. Why does the Holy Spirit appear so infrequently in the Old Testament,
and yet in the New Testament the Holy Spirit seems to be everywhere?
24. What is the Holy Spirit’s world?
Barry Manilow, “I Write The Songs,” on Ultimate Manilow, Artists
Records, 2002.
Creed, “My Sacrifice,” on Weathered, Wind-up Entertainment, 2001.
Daniel Bedingfield, “If You’re Not the One,” on Gotta Get Thru This,
Polydor Records, 2002.
Thompson Square, “We Are Glass,” on Thompson Square, Stoney Creek
Records, 2011.
“Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” Adelaide A. Pollard
“Breathe On Me, Breath of God,” Edwin Hatch
Chapter 9 — The Oneness of the Spirit, Son, and Father
Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!
—Deuteronomy 6:4
The doctrine of the Trinity enjoys no special significance in the history
of Western theology. —Jurgen Moltmann14
1. “Does your heart not cry out for oneness rather than singularity or
isolation? No one wants to be alone. And why not?” (p. 112 ) Why do
we long to be one with another rather than delight in being alone?
2. Why do our greatest joys and pains come in relationships?
3. “Was Jesus Christ simply a man who knew God to a much greater
degree than the rest of the human race?” (p. 107) How would you
answer that question?
4. Do you think that Jesus’ relationship with his Father in the Holy Spirit is
simply a way that the single-personed God expressed himself at a given
time, or is it a revelation to us of the way God is, always has been, and
will be forever?
5. What are the practical implications of Arius’ denial of the deity of
6. “How can three be one and one be three?” (pp. 111ff) What is Baxter’s
answer to this question?
7. Why does the Nicene Creed place “Maker of heaven and earth” after
“God the Father Almighty”?
8. What does the word “perichoresis” mean (pp. 112ff)? Why is
perichoresis important?
Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1974), p. 236.
9. “The sharing between the Father and Son in the Spirit is so deep and
genuine, the intimacy so real and personal, that our minds are forced to
move even beyond the rich notion of face-to-face fellowship into the
world of mutual indwelling and union.” (p. 112) Why does authentic
fellowship force our imaginations to move beyond togetherness into
mutual indwelling and union?
10. “When one weeps, the other tastes salt, yet they never get so entangled
or enmeshed that they lose themselves and become one another.” (p.
112) What does it mean to be enmeshed with another person?
11. What do you think of the following comment from Karl Rahner? “We
must be willing to admit that, should the doctrine of the Trinity have to
be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well
remain virtually unchanged.”15
12. If God is a single, solitary person, what is God’s deepest characteristic?
Steve Winwood, “Higher Love,” on Back in the High Life, Island Records,
Vangelis, “Chariots of Fire,” on Chariots of Fire Soundtrack,
Spheric/Warner Brothers, 1981.
3 Doors Down, “Away From The Sun,” on Away From The Sun,
Universal Records, 2005.
• “Praise Ye the Triune God!” source unknown
• “Doxology,” Thomas Ken
Karl Rahner, The Trinity, trans. by J. Doncell (New York: Herder, 1970), p. 10.
Chapter 10 — The Love of the Triune God
And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has
for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God
abides in him. —1 John 4:16
Is that who your God is, Mackenzie? It is no wonder you are drowning
in your sorrow. —Sophia, The Shack
1. Consider the following question and answer (#7) from the Westminster
Larger Catechism:
Q. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory,
blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal,
unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present,
almighty; knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most
just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and
abundant in goodness and truth.16
Why would the authors of the catechism ask “What is God” and not
“Who”? What is strangely absent from this definition of God?
2. What do you believe is the deepest truth of the divine being?
3. Why did the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit create the world and humanity
within it?
4. “For Young’s Papa, if God was alone and solitary from eternity, then
being other-centered is out of the question, for there is no other to be
centered upon. Relationship itself and fellowship, even being open,
personal, and approachable, would be quite foreign to the very nature of
such a solitary God.” (p. 117) Do you agree with this comment? Why or
why not?
“The Larger Catechism” in The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Part
1: The Book of Confessions (Louisville: The Office of the General Assembly, 1991), 7.117.
5. Did you have an emotional reaction to the “religious glad-hander” (p.
119)? What was your reaction?
6. “The Father, Son, and Spirit love us for our benefit, not for increasing
their membership rolls, or for making themselves look good, or for
anything they can get from us.” (p. 120) Do you agree or disagree with
this statement? Why?
7. “Jesus’ Father is not holding his breath to see if we will jump through
the right hoops before he decides our fate.” (p. 121) Do you think
Baxter is correct here?
8. Is it fair to say that most of the time we think of the love, mercy, and
grace of God as somehow in competition with the holiness, justice, and
wrath of God? What is God’s wrath?
9. “Is there a god behind the back of the blessed Trinity, a divine Ogre in
the back room, a cosmic Eeyore perhaps, or a Legalist who at any
minute might appear and shame the goodness and love of the Father,
Son, and Spirit?” (p. 123) What do you think of Baxter’s question?
10. “Do you believe that you can change the blessed Trinity?” (p. 123)
11. “‘So,’ I asked, ‘what is God’s relationship to people before they believe
in Jesus?’” (p. 123) How would you answer Baxter’s question?
12. In your thinking, how does the Father heart of God square with divine
13. Do the Father, Son, and Spirit love us out of the way they love one
another, or is there another “cause” for their love for us?
14. “But unless the Holy Spirit morphs into a narcissist, and the Father
rejects his Son, and Jesus decides he would rather have a divorce, we
will never be abandoned or forsaken.” (p. 126) What do you think
Baxter is saying here?
15. When you read in The Shack about the nail scars on Papa’s wrists, what
was your reaction? Why does Baxter (p. 130) agree with Young’s point
16. Do you think the blessed Trinity loves Missy’s murderer? How will
Jesus bring Missy’s murderer into fellowship with his Father?
17. Do you think the way the biblical story is “framed” is important? What
are the leading ideas that have shaped how you “frame” the story?
18. Read 1 Corinthians 13:4–8. Is this a description of the character and
nature of God?
George Strait, “A Love Without End, Amen,” on Livin’ It Up: Universal
Special Products, 1990.
Celine Dion & Il Divo, “I Believe in You,” on Il Divo-Ancora, Simco
Ltd., 2004.
Roy Orbison, “Love Hurts,” on The Very Best of Roy Orbison, Sony
Music, 2006.
Rascal Flatts, “My Wish,” on Me & My Gang, Lyric Street, 2006.
“Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” Henry van Dyke
“The Love of God,” Frederick M. Lehman
Chapter 11 — The Real Jesus
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the
Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into
being by him; and apart from him nothing came into being that has come
into being. —John 1:1–4
[T]he secret of every man, whether he believes or not, is bound up with
Jesus, for it is in him that human contingent existence has been grounded
and secured. — Thomas F. Torrance17
1. Read John 1:3; Colossians 1:16–17, and Hebrews 1:1–3. Have you ever
heard a sermon on Jesus as the Creator and Sustainer of all things?
2. Why did the Father’s eternal Son become a human being?
3. Is the ascension of Jesus important? Why?
4. Was the Incarnation a “temporary episode” (p. 133) in the life of God?
5. Define the Incarnation. Why does Baxter think of the Incarnation as
“taking time” and involving “a process”? (See pp. 135ff)
6. Did the Father’s Son have a relationship with all creation, including
every person, before he became human?
7. The apostle Paul says of Jesus that “all things have been created by him
and for him” (Colossians 1:16). Why do you think Paul says “for him”?
8. How does the blessed Trinity deal with that which is abhorrent to the
Trinity? Does the Incarnation speak to this question?
9. Have you ever laughed at a joke when you didn’t get the punch line?
Could it be possible that there is more to Jesus than you have
understood? Is it possible to overestimate Jesus and his place in the
Thomas F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, p. 183.
whole scheme of things? Read Revelation 1:12–17; 2:1–8, 12, 18; 3:1,
7, 14.
10. What is the difference between obedience to external divine instruction
and obedience to Jesus within us seeking to share his life with us?
11. “Wonder of wonders, God is on earth and man is in heaven.” What do
you think of this statement attributed to John Chrysostom?
12. Since Jesus—and all that he is and experiences with his Father and the
Holy Spirit—is within us, will our souls ever be consoled until we share
the other-centered, self-giving, mutual knowing life of the Father, Son
and Spirit with others? Athanasius speaks of the “divine dilemma”; in
what sense is this our human dilemma?
13. What relationship do you see between the groaning of the cosmos
(Romans 8: 19ff) and the removal of everything in us that is alien to the
trinitarian life? In what way can we say that the cosmos will meet in us
the friendship of Jesus himself?
14. What do you think of Baxter’s thesis statement below?
To speak the name of Jesus Christ, biblically and in the
tradition of the early Church, is to say “Father’s eternal Son,”
and it is to say, “Holy Spirit anointed,” and it is to say,
“Creator and Sustainer of all things,” and thus the very name
of Jesus says, “The triune God, the human race, and all
creation are not separated but together in relationship.” Jesus is
the relationship. In his own being, the Father, the Holy Spirit,
and all creation are together. (p. 141)
What questions come to your mind when you read this statement?
15. Read Ephesians 2:1–6. According to Paul, when were we raised up in
Christ and seated with him at the Father’s right hand?
16. “The gospel is not the news that we can receive Jesus into our lives. The
gospel is the news that Jesus has received us into his.” (p. 142) What is
your immediate reaction to this statement? Did you notice a difference
between your heart’s response and your head’s?
17. What do you think of the following statement? “Insofar as we believe
that Jesus knows life we will throw ourselves at his feet and follow him
wherever he leads, even into pain.”
18. What is the difference between the fellowship of the broken, who hope
in Jesus, and the “fellowship” of the self-righteous, who have never
really faced their brokenness?
19. What is the basis for the apostle Paul’s argument, “One died for all,
therefore all died” in 2 Corinthians 5:14?
20. How did the story of the little boy in the airport make you feel?
21. Do you think Baxter’s vision of Jesus is too big?
Vanessa Kersting, “Centre of it All,” on Secure.
Sam Cooke, “A Change is Gonna Come,” on Ain’t That Good News,
ABKO Records, 2003.
Martina McBride, “From the Ashes,” on Emotion, BMG Music, 1999.
C. Herbert Wilson, “Jesus Loves The Little Children.”
“O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” Charles Wesley
“All Hail the Power,” Edward Perronet
Part 3: Papa’s Dream
A Prayer
Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of life, Lover of our souls, Wonder of the
cosmos, thank you. Thank you for nurturing me in my hurt, for caring for
rather than condemning me, for your unsearchable patience. Pray for me, as I
do not know what to ask and have no courage to ask it. Thank you for your
redeeming genius, which transforms my mistakes into sacraments of the
Father’s love and icons of Jesus’ grace. I will have more, please! Thank you
for your humility, and for the journey you made with Jesus into our great
darkness. Thank you for the way you “work the room” of the cosmos to bless
every person in Jesus’ world. I am scared to give you full permission to do
with me what you wish in order to lead me into life, but I want to.
Chapter 12 — The Big Picture
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may
know what is the hope of his calling, what are the riches of the glory of his
inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power
toward us who believe. —Ephesians 1:18
He, the Son of the Father (in the unity of the Holy Spirit), is the face of
God, the name of God, the form of God, outside which God is not god. He
is the beginning and end of all the ways of God... —Karl Barth18
1. Read Acts 8:1–19. Do you think Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the
Damascus road shaped Paul’s core vision? In what ways?
2. “The doctrine of the Trinity enjoys no special significance in the history
of Western theology?”19 What do you think of this statement?
3. The apostle Paul declares, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the
heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Why do you think Paul uses
the past tense?
4. In Ephesians 1:3–5, what are the various ways that Paul talks about the
blessing of our Father given to us in Jesus?
5. Describe what the phrase “before him” means in Ephesians 1:4 (p. 153).
6. Read Ephesians 1:5 in five different translations. What differences do
you see?
7. Read Romans 8:15–17. What do you think it means to be “heirs of God”
and “fellow-heirs with Christ”?
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/1, p. 363.
Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, p. 236.
8. In what way is it correct to say that our adoption happened over 2000
years ago in Jesus?
9. What do you think of Ken Blue’s comment, “Predestination means that
we were eternally found in Jesus before we were ever lost in Adam” (p.
156 )?
10. Was the coming of Jesus “Plan B”, a half-time adjustment, or a long
footnote to Adam’s Fall?
11. Does it make a difference in your thinking if Jesus was predestined to
become human and work out our adoption before Adam fell?
12. What does “adoption” mean to the Father, Son, and Spirit?
13. People ask Baxter, “Are you saying that everyone has a ticket to
heaven?” He answers, “Of course they do, but that is not the question.
The question is, ‘Do people want to use it? And what does Jesus do with
people who want to avoid hell and go to heaven, yet don’t want to be
with his Father, or live in the Holy Spirit?’ That is the question.” What
do you think?
14. Is our pain necessary?
15. “Religion instructs us to work at being like Jesus. The Holy Spirit is
telling our ‘old man’ to give up and die. The process of becoming the
real you—the you in Jesus—is not a process of doing; it is a process of
letting go.” Summarize this comment by John Eden in your own words.
16. Do think the Father, Son, and Spirit ever do anything that is not
17. My friend Julian says, “We are predestined to the perfection of the
blessed Trinity.” Does this statement give you hope? What is “the
perfection of the blessed Trinity”?
Linda Eder, “The Impossible Dream,” on Broadway My Way, Atlantic
Recording Corporation, 2003.
Neil Diamond, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” on The Neil
Diamond Collection, Geffen Records, 1999.
Supertramp, “The Logical Song,” on The Very Best of Supertramp,
A & M Records, 1990.
“I Belong to the King,” Ida L. Reed
“The Solid Rock,” Edward Mote
Chapter 13 — The Womb of the Incarnation
Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are
you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was
afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” —Genesis 3:9–10
The whole character of the creation was determined by the fact that
God was to become man and dwell in the midst of his own creation. —
Thomas Merton20
1. What is “the womb of the Incarnation”?
2. Read John 8:12. Jesus promises his followers that they will have “the
light of life”. What is the basis of Jesus’ promise?
3. If Jesus is not “the center of all things”, what is?
4. What does Baxter mean when he speaks of creation as “a cosmic
sacrament, a vast, burning bush baptized with the glory of the blessed
Trinity” (p. 160)?
5. Read John 6:12. Is there any fragment of your soul that Jesus has not
gathered to himself?
6. Read the following two comments from Papa to Mack in The Shack:
“Honey, there’s no easy answer that will take your pain away.
Believe me, if I had one, I’d use it now. I have no magic wand
to wave over you and make it all better. Life takes a bit of time
and a lot of relationship.” (p. 92)
Thomas Merton, The New Man, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1961), p. 137.
“[T]he Truth shall set you free, and the Truth has a name, he’s
over in the woodshop right now covered in sawdust.
Everything is about him. And freedom is a process that
happens inside a relationship with him. Then all that stuff you
feel churnin’ around inside will start to work its way out.” (p.
What is the main point that Paul is making? Why won’t the Lord wave a
magic wand and heal us?
7. Describe the place of Adam and Eve in Jesus’ world.
8. Thomas Merton says, “The whole character of the creation was
determined by the fact that God was to become man and dwell in the
midst of his own creation.” What do you think of Merton’s comment?
9. What is meant by “unearthly assurance” (p. 162)?
10. Describe in your own words how Adam and Eve’s doubt became a
lethal roux poisoning the whole dish of their existence and that of
11. How does evil “highjack” or “misuse” the trinitarian life shared with
Adam and Eve, and with us (p. 163)?
12. What does “self-referential” mean (p. 164)?
13. “He tarred the Father’s face with the brush of his own angst.” (p. 165)
What do you think of this comment?
14. Denial and projection are two common ways that we try to cope with
our pain. What is denial? What is projection? Can you see how these
were at work in Israel? Are you willing to ask the Holy Spirit to show
you how these might be affecting you?
15. Why are the notions of “abandonment” and “the abyss of non-being” so
terrifying to us (p. 166)?
16. How would you respond to the following criticism of Baxter’s thought?
“Baxter thinks that everyone is included, they just don’t know it.” See 1
Corinthians 8:6–7.
17. What is sin?
18. From the divine perspective, what is the problem of Adam’s Fall?
Jackson Browne, “Doctor My Eyes,” on The Next Voice You Hear: The
Best Of Jackson Browne, Elektra Entertainment Group, 1999.
Simon and Garfunkel, “I Am a Rock,” on The Best of Simon and
Garfunkel, Sony Music, 1972.
Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler,” on The Best of Kenny Rogers, Cema
Special Markets, 1992.
“The King of Love My Shepherd Is,” Henry W. Baker
“Blessed Assurance,” Fanny J. Crosby
Chapter 14 — Grace
Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount
up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk
and not become weary. —Isaiah 40:31
The goal of creation, and at the same time the beginning of all that
follows, is the event of God’s Sabbath freedom, Sabbath rest and Sabbath
joy, in which man, too, has been summoned to participate. —Karl Barth21
1. Read Genesis 3. How would you describe the Lord’s response to
Adam’s Fall? What does Baxter think?
2. Why do you think the Lord clothed Adam and Eve?
3. What is “the exceeding gravity of sin” according to Anselm and Baxter
(pp. 169–171)?
4. What surprised you about Baxter’s treatment of the Fall?
5. What would be the difference between a legal and a relational
understanding of the Fall?
6. Does Matthew 11:27 say anything to us about the nature of the Fall of
7. Read John 12:46. In what way does believing in Jesus deliver us from
our present darkness?
8. “We cannot push the weeds of our fallen minds to the side and know the
Father’s heart.” (p. 171) What do you think Baxter is saying here?
9. In what way do you impose your ideas upon the biblical story?
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, III/1, p. 98.
10. Is the biblical story about appeasing or changing God, or do you think
that Baxter is more on the right track when he says, “The story is about
how the love of the Father, Son, and Spirit finds a way to do the
impossible—reach us in our fallen minds” (p. 172)?
11. “How do you get inside blindness?” (p. 172)
12. Do you think that the Father, Son, and Spirit have taken complete
responsibility for you, your life, and your sin?
Bob Dylan, “Everything is Broken,” on Oh Mercy, Columbia Records,
Bon Jovi, “It’s My Life,” Crush, Island Records, 2000.
Sugarland, “Incredible Machine,” on The Incredible Machine, Mercury
Records, 2010.
Martina McBride, “I Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” on Emotion, BMG Music,
“All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” Fanny J. Crosby
“A Child of the King,” Harriet A. Buell
Chapter 15 — Adam and Israel
Yet the number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea,
which cannot be measured or numbered; and it will come about that, in the
day where it is said to them, “You are not my people,” it will be said to
them, “You are the sons of the living God.” —Hosea 1:10
Instead of scrapping the whole Creation we rolled up our sleeves and
entered into the middle of the mess. —Papa, The Shack
1. Read Luke 5:1–11. Why do you think Peter wanted Jesus to depart from
2. How does the Lord put the white paper against the walls of our souls?
3. What is the source of Israel’s conflict with the Lord?
4. Can you relate to Israel’s love/hate relationship with the Lord?
5. In what ways are Mackenzie and Israel alike?
6. Comment on the following statement from theologian Thomas F.
So long as the cords of the covenant were not drawn tight, and
God remained, so to speak, at a distance, the conflict was not
very sharp, but the closer God drew the more the human selfwill of Israel asserted itself in resistance to its divine vocation.
Thus the more fully God gave himself to this people, the more
he forced it to be what it actually was, what we all are, in the
self-willed isolation of fallen humanity from God. Thus the
movement of God’s reconciling love toward Israel not only
revealed Israel’s sin but intensified it.22
Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), p. 38.
7. What is “the essential furniture of our knowledge of God” (p. 177)?
How was this hammered out in Israel’s relationship with the Lord?
8. In what way have we twisted the Lord’s Word “into religions customdesigned by our fallen minds to keep the Lord at a distance” (p. 178)?
9. Do you think the Lord was naive and failed to anticipate Israel’s
response to his presence?
Pierce Pettis, “Miriam,” on Making Light of It, Compass, 1996.
Phil Driscoll, “Christ Remains,” on A Different Man, Word, 1996.
The Righteous Brothers, “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling,” on
Unchained Melody: The Very Best of the Righteous Brothers, Verve
Music Group, 1990.
U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” on The Joshua
Tree, Island Records, 1987.
“Rescue the Perishing,” Fannie J. Crosby
“Awake, Awake To Love and Work,” G. A. Studdert-Hennedy
Chapter 16 — The Rejection of the Anointed Son
Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be
scattered, each to his own home, and to leave me alone; and yet I am not
alone, because the Father is with me. —John 16:32
“Man of Sorrows”, what a name for the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim! Hallelujah, what a savior!
—Philip P. Bliss
1. Would “God in the Hands of Angry Sinners” be a good title for this
2. In what way did Jesus’ life expose the bankruptcy of religion?
3. “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15) Why would the Jewish
leaders say such a thing?
4. Do you think that the Western Church is inherently legalistic?
5. What would be the benefit of our legal acquittal if we were left trapped
“in the darkened cosmos of the fallen mind and its appalling pain” (p.
6. What do you think Gregory of Nazianzen meant by his famous remark,
“For that which he has not assumed he has not healed”?
7. Why was Jesus deeply grieved in Gethsemane? See Matthew 26:38;
Mark 14:33; Luke 22:44.
8. “Here is amazing grace. In breathtaking love, the Lord’s way of
relationship involves the shocking acceptance of our cruelty. The
Incarnation involves the inconceivable submission of the Trinity to our
bizarre darkness and its bitter judgment.” (p. 186) Why would the Lord
of all creation submit himself to our darkness and judgment?
9. Read the following statement by Baxter:
The wrath poured out on Calvary’s hill did not originate in the
Father’s heart, but in ours. The humiliation that Jesus bore, the
torment that he suffered, was not divine but human. We
mocked him; we detested him; we judged him. We ridiculed
him, tortured him, and turned our face from him. It was not the
Father or the Holy Spirit who abandoned Jesus and banished
him to the abyss of shame; it was the human race. We cursed
him. (p. 185)
Who do you think cursed Jesus? See Matthew 20:18–19; 16:21; 26:45;
Mark 10:33–34; Luke 24:7; Hebrews 12:3; and Isaiah 53:3ff.
10. Read Deuteronomy 21:23 and Galatians 3:13. Do you notice any
differences between these statements? What does Paul omit? Note also
Romans 3:14.
11. Read Matthew 27:46. How do you understand Jesus’ cry from the
12. Read carefully the following comment by George MacDonald about
Jesus’ suffering on the cross:
It was a cry in desolation, but it came out of Faith. It was the
last voice of Truth, speaking when it can but cry. The divine
horror of that moment is unfathomable by human soul. It was
blackness of darkness. And yet he would believe. Yet he
would hold fast. God was his God yet. My God—and in the cry
came forth the Victory, and all was over soon. Of the peace
that followed that cry, the peace of a perfect soul, large as the
universe, pure as light, ardent as life, victorious for God and
his brethren, he himself alone can ever know the breadth and
length, and depth and height.
Without this last trial of all, the temptations of our Master
had not been so full as the human cup could hold; there would
have been one region through which we had to pass wherein
we might call aloud upon our Captain-Brother, and there
would be no voice or hearing; he had avoided the fatal spot!23
George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, Series 1-3 in One Volume (Whitethorn,
California: Johannesen, second printing, 1999), p. 112.
According to MacDonald, why did Jesus die? What is happening in his
death? What is Jesus’ victory?
13. How did Jesus embrace “our hell as the womb of his incarnation” (p.
14. Why do you think Jesus was crucified?
15. What is “the Trinitarian mystery of self-surrender at the heart of divine
reality” (p. 188)?
16. When you read the story of Baxter’s friend out West, what was your
reaction? Do you think this man’s story is relevant to your own? In what
17. Do you see any similarities between the temptation of Adam and Eve in
Eden and the experience of Jesus in Gethsemane and on the cross?
18. How did Jesus penetrate our fallen world and meet us at our very worst?
19. In what way was Jesus’ death an act whereby he was including us in his
world and life with his Father and the Holy Spirit?
Pierce Pettis, “I Will be Here,” on Chase the Buffalo, Highstreet, 1993.
Don Henley, “The Heart of the Matter,” on Actual Miles: Henley’s
Greatest Hits, UMG Recordings Inc., 1995.
Buddy Greene, “Mary Did You Know,” on Christmas: Not Just Any
Night, Fortress, 1998.
Bette Midler, “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” on Experience the
Divine: Greatest Hits, Atlantic Recording, 2005.
“Hallelujah! What a Saviour,” Philip P. Bliss
“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” ascribed to Bernard of Clairvaux
Chapter 17 — The Wonderful Exchange
I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the
goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. —Psalm 27:13
Remember when the days were long, and rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn’t have a care in the world, with Mommy and Daddy standing by.
—Don Henley24
1. If you were writing a statement about why Jesus became human, would
your answer sound like Irenaeus’ answer (p. 196)? What would be
2. In your own words describe “the wonderful exchange”.
3. What strikes you as the main point of convergence when you read the
statements from Irenaeus, Calvin, and Torrance (pp. 196–197)? Have
you ever heard this emphasis in a series of sermons? Why not?
4. What are the dimensions of “the wonderful exchange” (pp. 199ff)?
5. What is the basis of Jesus’ wonderful exchange with us?
6. Read John 5:22. How serious do you think Jesus is when he says that his
Father judges no one?
7. Read John 14:27, 15:11, 17:26, and Ephesians 4:13. What do these
verses have in common?
8. In what way has Jesus “endured such hostility by sinners against
himself” (Hebrews 12:3)?
9. What was our contribution to our adoption in Jesus?
Don Henley, “Remember When the Days Were Long,” on The End of Innocence, Geffen Records,
10. How did the blessed Trinity accept and use our hypocrisy and
11. Can you think of ways that the Lord has used you in your failure?
12. How did our rejection of Jesus become the way of our adoption?
13. Read Romans 8:38–39. What can separate us from the love of God in
Christ Jesus? Can you think of something you secretly believe about
yourself that trumps Paul’s declaration? Be honest.
14. In what way was Jesus rich before he became poor? See 2 Corinthians
Martina McBride, “Love Is the Only House,” on Emotion, BMG Music,
Glen Soderholm, “High Priest,” on By Faint Degrees, White Water
Productions, 2001.
The Beach Boys, “I Can Hear Music, on Sounds of Summer, Capitol
Records, 2003.
“Open My Eyes That I May See,” Clara H. Scott
“I Will Not Be Afraid,” Ellis Govan
Chapter 18 — The Secret
[T]o whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of
this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
—Colossians 1:27
May I touch your eyes and heal them, just for tonight? ...I would love you
to see a bit of what we see. —Sarayu, The Shack
1. Do you think that John 14:20 applies to everyone, or only to the disciples
of Christ? Does this verse apply to you? Why?
2. Read John 8:31–32. What does it mean to abide in Jesus’ word? What is
the truth, and how does the truth set us free? What does it mean to “know”
the truth?
3. In John 8:43 Jesus makes a distinction between what he is “saying” and
his “word”. What is the difference?
4. Is there anything in our human life that is truly secular and not sacred?
5. What do you think of the story of Baxter’s son and his buddy in the den
(p. 207)?
6. What do you think of the following statement by Karl Barth?
Jesus Christ is God’s mighty command to open our eyes and to
realise that this place is all around us, that we are already in
this kingdom, that we have no alternative but to adjust
ourselves to it, that we have our being and continuance here
and nowhere else. In Him we are already there, we already
belong to it. To enter at His command is to realise that in Him
we are already inside.25
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4/1 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1981), pp. 99–100.
7. What is the difference between “religion” and “life in Christ”?
8. Why is the confession of our sin important?
9. What does it mean to say that Jesus is in us?
10. Why did Jesus involve the servants in the story of his transforming the
water into wine?
11. When Karl Barth says that the Lord “does not will to be God without us”
(p. 209), what do you think he means?
12. “You don’t have a theology that allows you to see what your prayer
already knows.” (p. 211) What do you think of Baxter’s comment made to
the young student?
13. If we are all included in Jesus’ life, why are our lives such a mess?
14. Do you treat people like they are included in the life of the blessed
15. Is there anything in this chapter that helps us in being parents?
16. Is there an ordinary human love that originates in our humanity, outside of
the love of the Father, Son, and Spirit?
17. Read Colossians 1:23. What is “the hope of the gospel”? How was it
“proclaimed in all creation under heaven”?
18. “If you don’t see it, the newsletters will kill you with shame, opportunities
will become exhausting burdens, life will become a long frustration, and
you will not know the joy of who you are.” (p. 214) Can you think of
examples from your own life that illustrate what Baxter is saying here?
19. What is odd about an invocation at the beginning of a church service?
20. Did you learn anything about yourself in this chapter?
21. What part or dimension of our humanity is not included in Jesus’
relationship with his Father?
22. Can you imagine what would happen to the botanist Baxter met if he
decided to join a local church?
23. Why do we pray as if we are trying to get our Father interested in
something that we assume he is not?
24. Think of your enduring burdens. What do they say to you about our
25. List five non-church ways that you see yourself as participating in the life
of the Trinity.
Louis Armstrong, “A Wonderful Life,” on Very Best Of, Universal, 2002.
Elton John, “Circle of Life,” on Love Songs, MCA Records, 1996.
“This is my Father’s World,” Maltbie D. Babcock
“God’s World Today,” Ed Seabough
Chapter 19 — Abide in Me
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things
shall be added to you. —Matthew 6:33
“Oh Child,” spoke Papa tenderly. “Don’t ever discount the wonder of
your tears. They can be healing waters and a stream of joy. Sometimes
they are the best words the heart can speak.” —The Shack
1. In what way are the kingdom, the new covenant, and eternal life related?
2. What is eternal life? How do we experience this life? See John 17:3 and
1 John 1:2.
3. List several implications of Jesus’ identity for race relations, social
issues, and the environment.
4. In Colossians 2:8 Paul exhorts us not to be taken captive by philosophy
rather than Christ. In 2:9–11 he tells us why. What does Paul say about
Jesus in these verses? What does he say about us? Why does he use the
past tense?
5. Describe the differences between pantheism, deism, and the trinitarian
vision (pp. 220ff).
6. Read Colossians 3:1–5. What is the difference between our identity and
our experience? What accounts for the difference? What do you think
Paul means when he says, “For you have died and your life is hidden
with Christ in God”?
7. Read carefully the following statement on union with Christ:
To understand the nature of this union, one should first
know that God sustains every soul and dwells in it
substantially, even though it may be that of the greatest
sinner in the world. This union between God and creatures
always exists. By it he conserves their being so that if the
union should end they would immediately be annihilated
and cease to exist. Consequently, in discussing union with
God we are not discussing the substantial union that
always exists, but the soul’s union with and transformation
in God that does not always exist, except when there is
likeness of Love. We will call it the union of likeness; and
the former, the essential or substantial union. The union of
likeness is supernatural; the other natural. The supernatural
union exists when God’s will and the soul’s are in
conformity, so that nothing in the one is repugnant to the
other. When the soul rids itself completely of what is
repugnant and unconformed to the divine will, it rests
transformed in God through love.26
What are the main distinctions made in this comment? What do you find
helpful here? What do you think of the phrase “When the soul rids itself
completely”? What is the role of the Holy Spirit in this perspective?
8. What is the difference between “the truth of being” and “the way of
being” (p. 221)? Do you find this distinction helpful?
9. Could our chief sin be our belief that we are separated from the Father,
Son, and Spirit?
10. To “abide in Jesus” means first that we have to stop abiding in
ourselves. What does that mean?
11. We will not grow until we realize that we could be dead wrong about
the way we see things. Until then we are not really listening or relating,
and we are not really crying out to Jesus for his eyes. Can you illustrate
this truth from your own life?
12. What keeps you from abiding in Jesus and letting his Father love you?
13. To abide in Jesus means to take sides with Jesus against your own way
of thinking and seeing until you see with his eyes and love with his
heart. What do you think about this comment?
Alex Kurian, Ascent to Nothingness: The Ascent to God according to John of the Cross
(St. Pauls Alba House, 2001), p. 211. Many thanks to Dr. John Eden for this reference.
14. Read John 16:8–11. Define sin, righteousness, and judgment. How does
your answer compare to Jesus’ understanding (vv. 9-11)? How has the
Holy Spirit changed your view of sin, righteousness, and judgment?
15. “Sin is insisting that Jesus Christ repent and believe in us.” (p. 224)
What do you think of this comment?
16. What happens to us if we do not submit our hearts and wills to the love
and life of the Father, Son, and Spirit?
17. What is it about the Father, Son, and Spirit that keeps us from trusting
them and making ourselves at home in their love?
18. What is your greatest fear?
19. In what way could faith be a form of magic (p. 223)? Can you give
20. What is the secret of Jesus’ abiding in his Father’s love?
21. “And I have made your name known to them, and will make it known;
that the love wherewith you love me may be in them, and I in them.”
(John 17:26) What is Jesus asking of his Father? Do you think the
Father is answering Jesus’ prayer with respect to you? Can you see
Jesus in you?
Ronnie Dunn, “Bleed Red,” on Ronnie Dunn, Sony Music, 2011.
Big & Rich, “That’s Why I Pray,” on Hillbilly Jedi, Warner Brothers,
Glen Soderholm, “Not to Us,” on Rest, Moveable Feast, 2003.
“Grace Greater Than Our Sins,” Julia H. Johnston
“Jesus I Come,” William T. Sleeper
Chapter 20 — The Spirit of Adoption
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires
all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
—1 Timothy 2:3–4
If you are not willing that God should have His way with you, then, in
the name of God, be miserable—till your misery drive you to the arms of
the Father. —George MacDonald27
1. Do you think the Father, Son, and Spirit have a sense of humor?
2. If we understand the cross as the moment when the Father turned his
back upon his own Son in rejection, what was the Holy Spirit doing in
that moment?
3. “Adoption means that in and with and through Jesus and the hostility he
endured at the hands of sinners, the Holy Spirit has descended into the
inner catacombs of our hell, never to leave until those catacombs
become to us the bosom of Jesus’ Father.” (p. 227) What do you think
of this statement?
4. In what way can we speak of Creation, the Incarnation, and Pentecost as
being new to the Father, Son, and Spirit?
5. Why is outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh the “inevitable fruit
of Jesus’ ascension, and of ours in him” (p. 230)?
6. What do you think of the fact that, in The Shack, the Holy Spirit is
inside the mess of Mack’s broken soul, and Papa walks down the path
smiling with a sack lunch (p. 231)?
7. “Seeing through the eyes of others is the hallmark of intimacy and real
relationship.” (p. 238) What do you think of this comment?
George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, p. 267.
8. Summarize the five points that Baxter makes about the Holy Spirit’s
work in our lives.
9. How does the Holy Spirit make “the wonderful exchange” real to us in
our darkness?
10. Describe the “most bizarre and alien way of thinking and seeing” that
we bring into Jesus’ relationship with us (p. 233).
11. What is the “herculean job” (p. 233) the Holy Spirit faces?
12. What is the Holy Spirit’s chief concern about you? Could it be different
from what you think?
13. What are “the two knowings” (p. 235) at work within us?
14. “Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and
certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the
truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds
and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”28 What are the
main points of this definition of faith from John Calvin? What does he
mean by “the truth of the freely given promise in Christ”?
15. What do you think Baxter means when he says that we “try to be
sorcerers and wizards” (p. 238)?
16. In The Shack Papa says to Mackenzie, “So when you don’t hear me the
first time, I’m not frustrated or disappointed, I’m thrilled. Only forty-six
more times to go. And that first time will be a building block to
construct a bridge of healing that one day—that today—you will walk
across.” (The Shack, p. 189). What do you think of this comment?
17. Can you think of examples from your own life when the Holy Spirit
turned your personal failures into sacraments of the Father’s love?
18. What is “the judgment of the love of the blessed Trinity” (p. 247)?
19. “‘Abba! Father!’ is a cry full of hope for us, the new life already alive
within us yearning and pressing for expression, and at the same time it
is inevitably the white paper against the walls of our twisted inner
John Calvin, Institutes, III.2.7.
worlds, exposing our darkness as darkness.” (p. 243) Do you relate to
what Baxter says here?
20. “That which burns in the soul is not of the soul, yea, is at utter variance
with it; yet so close to the soul is the foul fungus growth sprung from
and subsisting upon it, that the burning of it is felt through every
spiritual nerve.”29 Summarize in your own words what MacDonald is
saying here.
21. In what way are God’s grace, mercy and judgment the same thing?
22. Is there comfort in knowing that the Father, Son, and Spirit are
determined that we be completely right for the trinitarian life?
23. Are you comfortable with the idea of being judged by the Father, Son,
and Spirit? Is there any way to avoid divine judgment?
24. Can you relate to Baxter’s words below?
Here, inside our own souls and our great darkness—inside our
garbage cans, where we have hidden our heartache, our gutwrenching wounds, our guilt and shame, where the whisper of
evil has enslaved us and the lie “I am not” was born, at the
fountainhead of our fear of abandonment and our terrifying
insecurity—we encounter the real Jesus. (pp. 245–246)
25. Do you believe that Jesus has found his way inside your deepest sorrow
and brought his Father and the Holy Spirit with him?
26. What is the emphasis in Pope Benedict’s statement below?
If Jesus is risen, then—and only then—has something truly
new happened, something that changes the state of humanity
and the world. Then he, Jesus, is someone in whom we can put
absolute trust; we can put our trust not only in his message but
in Jesus himself, for the Risen One does not belong to the past,
but is present today, alive.30
George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, p. 86.
Pope Benedict, Easter Message, 2012,
This comment from the Pope suggests that the Resurrection of Jesus
changed the state of humanity and the world. What do you think of that
27. Read carefully the following words from The Shack Revisited:
As with Mackenzie in the cave with Sophia, so it is with us:
before Jesus there is nowhere to hide. He sees right through us.
He is not moved by the lip-quiver, dazzled by marketing hype,
or confused by religious dress or political rhetoric. In his
presence there are no calls to make, no strings to pull, no deals
to cut. “Before his gaze all falsehood melts away.” We know
that he knows that we know that he knows. We are naked. And
such judgment is inescapable grace—the exposing, discerning,
enlightening, withering, healing, and liberating love of the
blessed Trinity. (p. 245)
What do you think of Baxter’s comments?
28. Do you think that the Christian life comes down to “accepting our
acceptance” (p. 247)? Why is that so difficult?
29. Is it fair to say that repentance is about taking sides with Jesus against
our own way of seeing?
30. In what ways do you try to hide from the Holy Spirit?
31. In the New Testament there are several Greek words translated by
“judgment” in our English Bibles. One of these Greek words is krisis,
from which we derive our English word “crisis”. What difference would
it make in your thinking if you discovered that where the New
Testament speaks of “the day of judgment” (including Hebrews 9:27)
the word for “judgment” is krisis?
32. Here are two definitions of Universalism: (1) “The theological doctrine
that all souls will eventually find salvation in the grace of God.”31 (2)
“The doctrine...that hell is in essence purgative and therefore temporary
and that all intelligent beings will therefore in the end be saved.”32 Now
read carefully the following statement by Baxter.
That Jesus Christ loves us all and has included us every one in
his life with his Father and the Holy Spirit, I consider to be an
absolute, eternal fact. That every human being will come to
experience this life fully, I consider to be a hope, but not a
fact. It is a hope grounded in the astounding love of the
blessed Trinity—in the endless fidelity of the Father, the
complete and finished work of Jesus, and the redeeming
genius of the Holy Spirit. I think we have every reason to
hope for everyone to come to know the truth so as to
experience salvation. But to make such a hope an absolute
fact, or a conclusion, or a doctrine is, to me, a mistake. That
would be to deny, theologically speaking, the authenticity of
our personhood and our real freedom to participate. We are
real to the Father, Son, and Spirit, distinct persons within the
life of God, with our own minds, hearts, and wills, which will
never be violated by the blessed Trinity. So there remains the
possibility that in our distinctness, we will choose to live
against our own beings. Such a violation of reality is as
absurd as it is painful, but possible. It is not possible,
however, for the Father, Son, and Spirit to morph into another
God, with another dream for humanity. In this universe, and
in all universes to come, the Father, Son, and Spirit will
never, ever give up their dream that we would all come to
experience fully the trinitarian life together.
What do you think of Baxter’s statement here? Do you think he has
found a way to be faithful to the New Testament’s universal and
inclusive vision of Jesus Christ without falling into universalism (p.
Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, edited by David B.
Guralnik (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1980).
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1989).
33. What is your favorite line in the book? Baxter’s is, “More like a
seasoned nurse in a mental ward than an old maid disgusted with our
brokenness, the Holy Spirit has seen it all in Jesus” (p. 231).
34. If you had one question for Baxter, what would it be? Note: On his
website ( there are several podcasts where FAQs are
discussed with people from around the world.
35. Go back to Baxter’s summary of the trinitarian vision (pp. 61-62). What
do you see now that you did not see when you read it first? In your own
words describe the dream of the blessed Trinity.
Steve Bell, “Burning Ember,” on Burning Ember, Signposts, 1994.
Garth Brooks, “To Make You Feel My Love,” on A Tribute to Garth
Brooks, Big Eye Music, 2001.
Shania Twain, “You’re Still the One, on Come On Over, Mercury
Records, 1997.
Kansas, “Carry on My Wayward Son,” on The Best of Kansas, Sony
Music, 1999.
Lou Rawls, “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” on The Very
Best of Lou Rawls, Capitol Records, 2006.
Bette Midler, “The Rose,” on Experience the Divine: Greatest Hits,
Atlantic Recording, 2005.
“God Will Take Care of You,” Civilla D. Martin
“How Firm a Foundation,” attributed to “K” in Rippon’s Selection of
The idea of a Participant’s Guide to The Shack Revisited struck me as
about as much fun as changing cat litter, and probably as motivating.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was an
opportunity for real growth. I wanted to help hungry people experience
the truth, understand Jesus, reflect more deeply on their lives, even open
some of their wounds to the Holy Spirit. I was not prepared for the way
this guide developed a mind of its own and a peculiar way of stirring up,
prodding, poking, even stinging. As one writer put it, “There is more
going on here than we ever dared to dream.” The questions—sometimes
psychological, sometimes theological, sometimes biblical, sometimes
simply real—come from people who have refused to settle for religion,
and who struggle to know Jesus in the middle of this mess we call life.
I am grateful to Dr. John Eden, John Baker, and Ron Miller of
Australia for their suggestions and ideas. My Tuesday morning group,
Ken Courtney, Julian Fagan, and John Novick read and reread every
question, added a few zingers of their own, and always turned the
questions into more waves of light. Special thanks to Julian and to my
wife, Beth, for suggestions for songs and hymns, to Paul Julian of New
Zealand for use of his startling picture, and to my wonderful editor,
Debbie Sawczak. Above all, George MacDonald is to be thanked; his
Unspoken Sermons is the best book I have ever read.
I genuinely hope this guide serves the heart.