Taking “The Shack” Out to the Shack

Before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom, I solemnly charge you: proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.  For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will accumulate teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new.  They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.
— 2 Tim 4:1-4

The Shack has arrived on movie screens across the country and if the sales of the book are any indication of the movie's success then this will probably become a top grossing movie.  It's been 10 years since the best selling book was written and it has sold over 22 million copies.  On the front cover of the book, Eugene Peterson, author of The Message and Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver says, "This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress did for his.  It's that good!"  On the back cover Michael W. Smith said, "The Shack will leave you craving for the presence of God."  I would suggest actually reading Pilgrim's Progress and record all the Scriptures that are presented within Bunyan's book.  There is absolutely no comparison that can truly be made to Pilgrim's Progress.   On the other side of the isle Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says, "This book includes undiluted heresy."  I wholeheartedly agree.

Please allow me to tell you why you should not see this movie or read the book.  I was urged to read the book and could not believe my eyes.  So many things that are contrary to the Scriptures just jumped off the page.  At the time what really had me dumbfounded was that so many professing Christians sang the praises of something that so clearly presented a false version of the Almighty God of the Bible.  Early on in my reading of the novel I had a visceral reaction to the words on the page.  I truly wanted to throw the book through the window but I was on an airplane at the time and thought that would not prove to be wise or safe for others.  Many endorsed the book believing that they now understood the Trinity so much more.  No you don't.  You will not understand God more because of this book.  I believe the popularity of the book shows how far we have fallen in the American church.  Our lack of discernment has been growing and growing year after year.  We show that we do not really believe the God of the Bible but a god of our own imagination.

About eight years ago I felt it was necessary to deliver a sermon explaining many of the reasons why the book is contrary to biblical orthodoxy and why it will lead your understanding of God away from the true God of the Bible.  I feel the need to share this once again.  I pray that if you have enjoyed this book that you will take the time to examine the truths of Scripture and compare that to what is found in the book.  I pray that you will find the God of the Bible more mesmerizing than the one found in the book and movie.

If this were just a book I picked up that had only false theology I would just shrug it off as another book written by some crackpot who hasn’t read his bible, but this time is different because of the widespread reaction to the book.  This book is worse than blatant falsehood because it has truth mixed with error and some of it is actual heresy.  Heresy is a serious charge.  It concerns issues in church doctrine that will affect your salvation and knowledge of the gospel.  Basically it concerns any unbiblical view of major doctrine within orthodox Christianity.   This is basic doctrine that is held across denominational lines and should be a concern for Baptists, Methodists, Assembly of God, Presbyterians, Lutherans, the Christian Church, Evangelical Free, etc.  Anything that denies original sin, denies the deity of Christ, says that Christ is not the only way of salvation, denies the Trinity as revealed in Scripture, etc. is espousing a heretical doctrine.  I am grieved that the Christian community has responded so overwhelmingly positive for a book that has a theology that is contradictory to the Bible.

Secondly, I am concerned for the unbeliever that has heard an endorsement from a Christian touting this as the best thing since sliced bread. Granted this is a fiction book but it’s very premise puts forward a theology created by William P. Young. There are many blogs out there with people claiming “This book has changed my understanding of God” or “I finally understand the Trinity” or “I feel so much closer to God.” No you don’t. This book will not help you understand the Trinity. This book helps you depart from Scripture.

When reading the blogs concerning the book there is not much middle ground: you either love or hate it. Those that try to point out the fallacies within this book are regarded as “narrow minded” or “you missed the point of the story” or “this is not a book about theology” or “It’s just fiction.” First of all, Scripture is our standard of authority. Without it or without following it we fall into the trap of making it up as we go along. Second, while it is a fiction book, Young has the characters for the Trinity interact with the character Mack to tell him what they are like. The author is stating, “This is what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are like.” That is the point and therefore he is setting up his own theology. He is stating what he thinks God is like in a story form. As to the reaction that it is just fiction, according to the blogs, these are the very people that have said that the book drew them closer to God. Well, let’s see, if it’s just fiction then it hasn’t drawn you to the real God of the Bible, has it?

Here are the problems I found with the theology of The Shack.  Trust me, there are many more than I've laid out here.

Scripture warns us to not make any type of idols.

In the book, God the Father is a large African-American woman named Papa, Jesus is a man of middle-eastern descent with a large nose, and the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman.  What does the book say?

Mackenzie, I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature.  If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you.  For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning.
— page 93

When the first person of the Trinity is referred to in human terms He is always referred to as Father.  This is not "religious conditioning."  This is being faithful to biblical revelation.

Our Father in heaven.
— Matt. 6:9
Is not He your father, who created you, who made you and established you?
— Deut. 32:6
For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.
— Isaiah 63:16
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’
— Romans 8:15

From the storyline we learn that the character Mack had an abusive father.  The idea is that it was better for God the Father to approach Mack as a woman because he would be much more approachable.  Eventually Papa becomes a grey-haired, pony-tailed man.  I wonder if they got Sam Elliot to play that part in the movie?

When the first person of the Trinity is referred to in the Bible He is always referred to as Father.  While He is referred to as Father the Scriptures tell us that He is spirit.  John 4:24 - God is sprit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.  In addition, we are forbidden from making a graven image of God.  Exodus 20:4 - You shall not make for ourself 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.  This is a clear violation of God's commands.  Young's portrayal of the Father and the Holy Spirit in human form is sinful.

God the Father is not pantheistic.

The book says...

God, who is the ground of all being, dwells in, around, and through all things—ultimately emerging as the real—and any appearances that mask that reality will fall away.

The Bible tells us that God created all things but He does not dwell within the things He made.  This novel is giving a pantheistic worldview and that is inconsistent with a biblical worldview.  The Egyptians were pantheistic and that is the reason for the plagues.  The one true God was attacking the false gods that the Egyptians worshiped.  God does not indwell a blade of grass nor does he indwell an animal.  He created them and rules over them.

God is not one of our peers and is not to be spoken to in a disrespectful way.

In the book Mack casually curses in front of God and later snaps at God.  In the Bible we never see anyone remain standing when they have an encounter with God.  Thy are all confronted with His holiness.

And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
— Exodus 3:6
‘But,’ He said, ‘You cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.’
— Exodus 33:20
And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’
— Isaiah 6:5
But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.
— Isaiah 66:2

If you meet God face to face you will not curse in front of Him.  You will be struck by His utter holiness and perfection.  You will be confronted with your sinfulness just as Isaiah.  This book has an underlying subversive tone toward God's holy word and even the Trinity does not take the Scriptures seriously.

God the Father was not crucified with His Son.

What the book says...

Papa didn’t answer, only looked down at their hands.  His gaze followed hers and for the first time Mack noticed the scars in 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.
— page 95
“We were there together.”  Mack was surprised.  ”At the cross?  Now wait, I thought you left him—you know—‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’”  ”You misunderstand the mystery there.  Regardless of what he felt at the moment, I never left him.
— page 96

Here, Young is promoting a heresy from the mid 3rd century called "patripassionism."  This is the idea that the Father became incarnate, was born, suffered, and died on the cross.  Scripture does not affirm this at all.

There is authority within the Trinity and in the world God created.

The book says...

Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity.  We are in a circle of relationships not a chain of command or ‘great chain of being’ as your ancestors termed it.  What you’re seeing here is relationship without any over lay 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.
— page 122
“And now,” Sarayu [the Holy Spirit] interjected, “we have come full circle, back to one of my initial statements: You humans are so lost and damaged that to you it is almost incomprehensible that relationship could exist apart from hierarchy.  So you think that God must relate inside a hierarchy like you do.  But we do not.
— page 124

This is just more unbiblical silliness.  While all he members of the Trinity are equal there is deference within the Godhead.  The author is really advocating that authority makes sense only because of sin but there is no sin within the Trinity.

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
— 1 Cor. 11:3
And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me.
— John 5:37
But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.
— John 15:26

Christ declares His authority in Matthew 28:18 - All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  If Young is correct, that there is no authority, then when we seek to fulfill the Great Commission, we will not have any authority to take the gospel to the world.  So whose authority do we go out with?  Can we ever be assured that anyone will ever be converted?

Also, Christ is the authority over the church as expressed in Colossians 1:18 - He is the head of the body, the church.  Is the idea of authority really sinful as the author says?  Is the authority at parents have over their children really because we are lost and damaged?  According to Scripture children are supposed to honor their father and mother.  Also, Romans 13 instructs us to honor the authority of the government.  God has created hierarchy.

Only Jesus, the Son of God, walked on this earth fully man and fully God.

The book says...

‘When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the son of God, we became fully human.’

’Although by nature he is fully God, Jesus is fully human and lives as such.  While never losing the innate ability to fly, he chooses moment-by moment to remain grounded.  That is why his name is Emmanuel, God with us, or God with you, to be more precise.’

’But what about all the miracles?’

’No, it proves that Jesus is truly human.’


’Mackenzie, I can fly, but humans can’t.  Jesus is fully human.  Although he is also fully God, he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything.  He has only lived out of his relationship with me, living in the very same manner that I desire to be in relationship with every human being.’
— pages 99-100

First, the idea that all three persons of the Trinity spoke themselves into existence as Jesus is preposterous.  God has always existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God the Father and God the Holy Spirit did not become human; only the Son took on flesh.

Second, if Jesus has never drawn upon his nature as God, then all four gospels are wrong!  Did Jesus never feed 5,000 people with a few fish and some loaves of bread?  Did Jesus never walk on water?  Did Jesus never raise Lazarus from the dead?

Christ calls people to be his followers otherwise known as Christians.

The book says...

Who said anything about being a Christian?  I’m not a Christian.

Again Jesus stopped. "Those who love me come from every system that exists.  They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptist or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don't vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions.  I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous.  Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians.  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, into my Beloved."

Yes, God is going to save people and have disciples from all walks of life and all manner of sinful backgrounds.  Jesus has come to seek and save the lost from all sorts of ethnicities but to think that he has no desire to make them Christians is absurd.  The word Christian first occurs in Acts 11:26 - And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.  Those who are disciples of Christ are followers of Christ desiring to be more and more Christlike in their lives therefore they are Christians.  Acts 26:28 - And Agrippa said to Paul, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?"  Even a pagan king knew that those who follow Christ are Christians.

There are so many other problems with the book that there is not time to present them all.  If the movie follows the book closely then it will be filled with many heresies and falsehoods.  Do not waste your time and money with this movie and please do not encourage unbelievers to see it.  It will not present the one true and living God as the Bible does.  I believe this quote from A. W. Tozer sums up the problem we have in the American church today.

"Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true."

Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards decline along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.

Before the Church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, ‘What is God like?’ and goes on from there. Though she may continue to cling to a sound nominal creed, her practical working creed has become false. The masses of her adherents come to believe that God is different from what He actually is, and that is heresy of the most insidious and deadly kind."

One final note, aside from the book and movie, is that William Young does not believe in the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ.  This is the understanding that Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners.  An mp3 is available to listen to on David Westerfield's blog.  Listen to the interview and note his departure from sound theology.

Originally published on March 4, 2017 on the Sufficient for Life blog.