The Shack has bifurcated the Christian community. From the majority of people who have read or even heard about this latest Christian fiction phenom, there is no middle-of-the-road response. The most famous acclaim it has received is from Eugene Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology at Regent College, who says it “has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress did for his.” However, Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says, “This book includes undiluted heresy.”
While I can appreciate the genre of Christian fiction, let me elaborate on why I have entitled this blog, My Shack Attack. While it’s beginnings were unassuming, the author had intended it to be a simple story given to his children for Christmas in 2005 – even copied and bound at Kinkos, it’s impact is a swelling tide pulling away from the veracity of the Word of God. William Young’s desire to narratively deal with the age-old question about God’s presence in the midst of personal pain, evil and suffering, ironically has the proclivity to distort the Biblical view of God more than deciphering it.
The Shack Recap: It is a hypothetical tale that centers around Mack Phillips who is experiencing undescribable pain due to the abduction, and eventual murder of his little girl, Missy, by a notorious serial killer. Acting on a written invitation from God, Mack heads to the abandoned shack where his daughter’s body had been found, ironically, to meet God, who is known as Papa – a large, matronly African-American woman who later morphs into a pony-tailed, grey-haired man. During this weekend with Papa, Mack receives visits from each member of the Trinity in bodily form. The rest of the book largely takes place in the shack as a dialogue with Mack and each person of the Trinity. Following intense conversations from redemption to revenge, from free will to forgiveness, from the Godhead to good and evil. Ultimately, his personal relationship with God is thoroughly shaken to its core only to be congealed back more holistic than ever before. This changed man leaves the shack with a sense of inner peace; however, the reader in a confused quandary.
Why Is Theology Important? Concerning the open acceptance or absolute avoidance of its theological misgivings, it reminds me of the malaise of this year’s Presidential election where people are more swooned by looks than logic or impressions more than ideologies. In fact, Lynn Garrett, Senior Editor of the Publishers Weekly, says, “People are not necessarily concerned with how orthodox theology is. People are into the story and how the book strikes them emotionally.”
While The Shack is fiction, it certainly does share theological tenants. Therefore if it impacts one’s view of God, then it is not just a story it is a theology. Theology means “the study of God.” One’s theology, whether formally studied or informally inherited, impacts his or her actions. One’s theology determines behavior. If I think God is a military tyrant, then I live in fear and skepticism, and certainly not desire a personal relationship with Him. If I think of God as a metrosexual softy, then I’d live as free from penalty of discipline as I please. Our view of God must come from God: His incarnation through Christ, His communication through His Word, and even His creation. Correct theology then must come from God Himself. To know God, we must know His Word, and any source, spoken or written, that we use to compliment His Word must align with His Word or be examined by His Word (1 John 4:1). Tim Challies, author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, has well-stated that “Some people believe the revelation given to us in the Bible needs to be supplemented or superseded by fresh revelation. This is especially a temptation in an age like ours where we tend to value what is new more than what is ancient.” The question he poses is: “Does The Shack point Christians to the unfailing standard of Scripture or does it point them to new and fresh revelation?”
A common sore point with me is Young’s trivialization of Scripture at the expense of one’s personal experience. Most of Mack’s statements about Scripture or his study of Scripture are cynical and most references to Scripture are negative. For example: “God’s voice had been reduced to paper and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects…Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was the guilt edges?” (p.66).
In addition, if you downplay Scripture, you can reduce God to smiles and frowns. Papa says, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it” (p.120).
Regarding the exclusivity of the cross, Mack asks, “Is Jesus the only way to be reconciled to God?” Jesus, who is a young to middle-aged man of Middle-Eastern descent, says to Mack, “I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu.” Don’t even get me started on Young’s description of the Holy Spirit as Sarayu, a small, fragile, eccentric woman of Asian descent.
In addition to my problem with Young’s downplay of Scripture, my real problem with The Shack is its disturbing inaccuracies of the doctrines of Divine Revelation, Salvation, the Cross, God’s Holiness, and certainly not least, the Trinity, or should I say “Quad-God” since he also includes a personification of God’s wisdom from Proverbs named Sophia.
Finally, I can’t wait to see God with my own two eyes, but from every instance in Scripture, when any creature of God beheld God Himself, the person was overwhelmed, had exuberant joy, and even physical blindness accompanied such visits. But in The Shack, Mack often stands before God the Father (Papa) using flippant words – even cursing language, at one point making God cry, p.92 (ie. Pages 96, 140, 224). The God of Creation and Scripture is a Holy God to be feared and respected. The God of The Shack is a terribly distorted reduction with only little reflections of the God in the Bible.
In conclusion, there are many embracers of The Shack who say, “Well, it’s just fiction” or “It’s SO good despite it’s inaccuracies” or ”that’s not what the author intended.” Well, Young’s own admission in the “After Words” he states, “I wish all of it to be true. Perhaps if some of it is not actually true in one sense, it is still true nonetheless—if you know what I mean. I guess you and Sarayu will have to figure that one out.” (p. 247).
Why did I read The Shack? Because I promised several people I would and then I’d share my thoughts. Thus this resulting blog. When I begin reading a book with this much error, I usually stop reading it. For that matter, I usually don’t waste my time finishing books that are just mediocre. Distortions like this will only increase (The Secret, The DaVinci Code, etc…) as the day of the Lord approaches. As a guardian of the Gospel, I certainly do not plan on repeating this exercise of futility much more often or as each similar source emerges; consequently, I plan on reading great books, but none more frequently than the greatest Book!
Why I don’t believe anyone should read this book? Simply stated, here are 3 perspectives for this.
For the spiritual seeker, it is a deceiver to faith in Christ.
For the immature Christian, it is damaging to their faith.
For the mature follower of Christ, it is a distraction.