When there is enough buzz about a popular book impacting Christians, I try to read it to get a gist of it so I can comment knowledgably about it. The Shack is the newest thing down the pipe. At first, I resisted buying the book and spending the time it would take to read it. I heard a couple of guys I respect (Albert Mohler and Mark Driscoll) talk about all the theological problems with the book, and that was enough for me (see also Michael Youssef's condemnation). But as more and more buzz grew about the book, I realized I should read it myself. I just finished it Tuesday.
I once heard it said that poison is most dangerous when it looks like something edible, such as candy. When poison sits in an ominous bottle with a skull and crossbones on the label, few are tempted to drink it. However, if poison were sitting in a candy bowl on the coffee table and looked like M & Ms it is much more dangerous. The Shack, I think, has enough poison in it to kill but comes packaged like candy coated chocolate.
Here is what I mean. There is much ‘good’ to say about the book. This is the candy coating of the book. First, it is an engaging story. I have to say I found myself almost in tears a number of times while reading the book. The main character Mack, loses his daughter to a serial killer. Just thinking about losing a daughter is deeply hurtful to me. The writer, Mr. Young is a decent writer and the book is very readable. Also the book deals with some of the hardest questions in life about God. For example: The Trinity, The Problem of Suffering and Free Will vs. Determinism, to name a few! Sadly, I think the Bible disagrees with Mr. Young on all three of these issues (and a host of others). Another candy coating is the book is very accessible. People are reading it, you can buy it at any Borders, Barnes & Noble, or book shop. It is wildly popular. That is the outer candy shell, but where is the poison? Where do I start.
Let me say I do not know Mr. Young personally, and my comments are not about him, but about the book. For all I know he may be a genuine Christian who let his imagination get away from him! Instead of making this a ‘me versus the author’ discussion, which would basically be useless, let me compare some of the direct quotes from the Shack with the Bible, and add just minimal explanation. In the end, what I think you will find, or at least what I found, was the god of the Shack was not the God of the Bible and not the God I love and worship. I know that is strong, but meditate on these differences:
In the Shack, God the Father is represented primarily by a ‘big black woman’. In Scripture God must not, indeed cannot be represented by any image human or otherwise.
The Bible: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Ex 20:4) “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Tim 1:17)
The Shack: “Am I going crazy? Am I supposed to believe that God is a big black woman with a questionable sense of humor?’ Jesus laughed. ‘She’s a riot! You can always count on her to throw you a curve or two. She loves surprises, and even though you might not think it, her timing is always perfect.” (90-91)
In the Shack the Father suffered the cross along with the Son. This has been labeled Patripassianism (a form of Modalism) in church history and condemned as a heresy. Scripture clearly denies this, as only the Son was born, died on the cross, and rose from the dead:
The Bible: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1) “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Ro 8:31) “In a loud voice they sang: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev 5:12)
The Shack: “Papa [God the Father] didn’t answer, only looked down at their hands. His gaze followed hers and for the first time Mack noticed the scars on her wrists, like those he now assumed Jesus also had on his. She allowed him to tenderly touch the scars, outlines of a deep piercing, and he finally looked up again into her eyes.” (97) “When we three [the Trinity] spoke ourselves into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations this entailed. Even though we have always been present in this created universe, we now became flesh and blood.” (101)
In the Shack, there is no authority in the Trinity. The book is adamant about this, as if all members of the Trinity spurn all forms of authority. According to the Scriptures, although there is equality in the Trinity, there is also authority.
The Bible: Jesus says, “You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (Jn 14:28) “For [God the Father] ‘has put everything under his feet.’ Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Cor 15:27-28)
The Shack: MacKenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship without any overlay of power. We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us. Actually, this is your problem, not ours.” (124)
In the Shack, you do not have to be a ‘Christian’ to be a child of God, and Christ uses many roads to find you. In the Bible there is no other way to become a child of God but through the faith in the gospel of Christ as one becomes a Christian.
The Bible: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn 1:12) “I am the way and the truth and the life and no man comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6) “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26) “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Ro 3:26-27)
The Shack: “Those who love me have come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims;…I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, in my Beloved.” “Does that mean,” said Mack, “that all roads will lead to you?” “Not at all.” Jesus smiled as he reached for the door handle to the shop. “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.” (184)
Similarly the Shack teaches that God has forgiven everyone’s sins (not just those who believe). According to the Bible, the only way to be forgiven is through faith in Christ.
The Bible: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:38) “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:17-18)
The Shack: In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship. (227)
In the Shack, God submits to us (yes you read that right) so as not to impose on our free will. You almost have to ask the question of the book “Who is god to whom?” In the Bible, we submit to God and God never submits to us.
The Bible: “submit to the LORD” (2 Chr 30:8) “But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me.” (Ps 81:11) “Now as the church submits to Christ....” (Eph 5:24)“Submit yourselves, then, to God.” (James 4:7) As far as God submitting to our free will, this is simply wrong: “One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will? “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' ‘Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (Ro 9:19-21)
The Shack: “Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we [The Trinity] are submitted to you in the same way.’ Mack was surprised. “How can that be? Why would the God of the universe want to be submitted to me?’ Because we want you to join us in our circle of relationship. I don’t want slaves to my will; I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me.” (147-148)
This anti-authority mentality extends not only to man, but to all institutions in the Shack, such as politics, economics, and marriage. The Bible has a very different view.
The Bible: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves….This is why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.” (Ro 13:1-7). Jesus tells Pontius Pilate, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” (Jn 19:11). “I urge, then, first of all, that request, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:1-4)
The Shack: “Like I said, I don’t create institutions; that’s an occupation for those who want to play God. So no, I’m not too big on religion, and not very fond of politics or economics either.’ Jesus’ visage darkened noticeably. ‘And why should I be? They are the man-created trinity of terrors that ravages the earth and receives those I care about. What mental turmoil and anxiety does any human face that is not related to one of those three?’” (181)
In the Shack, suffering is not from God and not part of God’s plan. According the Scripture, God is sovereign over all things. Again, what Mr. Young is saying is partially true. It is the part that is wrong that is so dangerous. But first the Bible:
The Bible: “’Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:10) There are numerous places where God brings judgment on someone, take for example Uzzah who touched the ark “The LORD's anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.” (2 Sam 2:7). As for Christians and our suffering, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.” (He 12:7-8)
The Shack: “But I still don’t understand why Missy had to die.” “She didn’t have to, Mackenzie. This was no plan of Papa’s. Papa has never needed evil to accomplish her good purposes. It is you humans who have embraced evil, and Papa has responded with goodness. What happened to Missy was the work of evil, and no one in your world is immune from it.” (167)
I could go on and on, and as it is, I have failed to mention serious issues with regard to God’s holiness, the gender issue with God, the doctrine of sin, the doctrine of the atonement, the teaching about Scripture, etc. that are misconstrued and disfigured in this book. If you haven’t read it, my suggestion is, don’t, simply because it is unhelpful and will be over and done with in a year or two. If you have read it, I would encourage you to ask the question “Does this match up with Scripture?” Where is The Shack getting its view of God? If not from Scripture, then where?
In the foreword to the book we read the line, “Mack would like you to know that if you happen upon this story and hate it, he says, ‘Sorry…but it wasn’t primarily written for you.’” With this I would have to agree. This book was not written for me. I have grown to love the The Unseen Father in Heaven, and Christ Jesus his Son who alone died in my place, and the Spirit of Truth who gave us the Word of God in the Bible, far too much to really enjoy a book such as the Shack.