Back in 2009 when I was doing the interview circuit for my book Finding God in the Shack (a theological exploration of the themes in Paul Young’s best selling novel The Shack) I had an interesting exchange with radio host Bob Dutko. Dutko was not a fan of The Shack and viewed it as including serious theological error. And so he pitched a question to me which went like this (paraphrase):
“Now Doctor, imagine I baked a cake and mixed a little bit of poop into the batter. You wouldn’t eat that cake, would you?”
The message was clear. A little bit of error “mixed” into a book is like a little bit of poop mixed into cake batter. If you wouldn’t eat the latter, neither should you read the former.
This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this analogy. In the past I had frequently heard Christians invoke the same illustration to warn against the consumption of all media with any content that might be deemed morally or theologically objectionable.
As popular as the poop-in-cake metaphor is with some Christians (not to mention fans of The Help!), alas it is deeply flawed. Eating a cake is not analogous to reading a book. Rather, it is analogous to assimilating the claims of a book. But here’s the problem: while one can’t eat a bite of cake without consuming all the ingredients of the batter, one can read a book without assimilating all its claims.
A few weeks after the Dutko interview I was doing another radio interview with Dr. Alvin Jones. It didn’t take long to discover that Dr. Jones was far more positive toward The Shack than Bob Dutko. So I shared Mr. Dutko’s metaphor and invited Dr. Jones to share his response.
On his website Dr. Jones promotes himself as “The Most Trusted Name in Wisdom,” and if that is a lofty promise, in this case at least he proved his wisdom. Without missing a beat, he replied (once again this is my paraphrase):
“I don’t think it’s like cake. I think it’s like fried chicken. With a piece of chicken, you eat the meat and you leave the bone!”
Exactly! Just as you don’t need to eat the entire piece of chicken on your plate, so you don’t need to agree with every aspect of a book. When you eat the chicken, you keep your eyes (and teeth) out for bones and you leave those behind. And when you’re reading a book, the discriminating reader will likewise keep his or her eyes out for the “literary bones”, and leave those behind as well.