"The Shack", a Review, part 1

Stephen J. Drain's picture

Brazen and insolent, they are not afraid to insult the glorious ones…” (2 Peter 2:10).[1]

“Mack turned and faced him, shaking his head. ‘Am I supposed to believe that God is a big black woman with a questionable sense of humor?’

Jesus laughed, ‘She’s a riot!’” – Excerpt from The Shack, by William Paul Young.[2]

The long awaited movie version of the novel The Shack, by William Paul Young, is finally released. According to the book’s front cover, The Shack has sold over 20 million copies worldwide. Wikipedia lists it as a “Christian novel”, and one that has made the New York Times best seller list. Well known people, including Christian recording artist Michael W. Smith have endorsed this book. Apparently Tim Tebow liked the movie.[3]

I find each of the above regrettable.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6, KJV).

In novel form, The Shack presents to us the “christian philosophy”[4] of its author, William Paul Young. It is his attempt to correct the record on what he sees as the many misconceptions within Christianity. In one interview he says, “I’m a missionary kid and a preacher’s kid — evangelical, fundamental Protestant.... that’s about as distance [sic] from relationship with God as you can get.”[5] Well that is certainly a loaded statement. He says he was raised in a performance based fundamentalism. “And evangelicals have like millions of rules.”[6] He says the God he grew up with “was fundamentally, and I use the word advisedly, fundamentally untrustworthy — schizophrenic, narcissistic, unreachable, unknowable, and my concept within which I grew up was that Jesus — He likes me — but He came to save me from God the Father — who was the one who was angry and distant, and unreachable, unknowable.” It appears he wrote this book to tear down that view of Christianity and the Christian God. The problem is, he conflates those perceptions he once had (this is important) about God and Christianity with the beliefs of orthodox evangelical Christianity. Here he is wrong. His former perceptions are more consistent with those of atheist Richard Dawkins than those of evangelicals. Perhaps it would have been better for Young to use his intellect to debate Dawkins rather than to challenge a straw man version of Christianity.

Certainly the book does make true observations about God. (“True” meaning the observations accurately reflect the God of the Bible and what He has revealed to us in it.) For instance, Young would like us not to forget that the incarnate Son of God, Jesus, was a Middle Eastern Jew and that people were not attracted to Him because of His good looks.[7] As Young delves deeper, he gets across that God is love, and would still be love even if humanity had never been created, since God is triune. (Though, as we will see, Young has some very unorthodox beliefs about the triune nature of God.) He is correct when he points out that we have neither right nor ability to sit in judgment of God; we have not the scope nor breadth of information, nor the wisdom to fully understand God’s plan.[8] Much of the novel is an attempt to try and prove that God is good and loving despite the fact that bad things happen in life. There is plenty about God’s love, talk of Jesus dying on the cross, and even one mention of the resurrection. Unfortunately, the book was so filled with unorthodox representations of God and His nature, bad theology about what was accomplished on the cross, and patently false teachings about God’s wrath, judgment, and the eternal destiny of unbelievers.

The Shack book, and therefore The Shack movie, should be avoided for anyone who loves God or has questions about God, life, tragedy, etc. False pictures of God and false teachings lead away from God, not toward Him.

Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it” (Matthew 7:14).

The central character of the story is Mackenzie. Mack is a smart guy; he went to seminary and he studied philosophy.[9] But what sets Mack apart is that he is an other-worldly sage of sorts and when he talks, people are blown away by the depth of his insight.[10] The fictional foreword of the book seems to tell us that it is because of Mack’s other-worldly wisdom that we should read this account to find out just how Mack became this way.[11] I believe the author sees himself as the main character. Of himself, William Paul Young has said, “I went to seminary, I went to bible school, and I've read voraciously. I love the deep philosophers and theologians and the people who people quote who they don't actually read, I actually read them. But I find that part of what I am to the community of faith as well as to the community of humanity is that I'm an interpreter. I grasp some of the big-picture stuff, and I find a way to say it in a way that my kids [and readers, perhaps] can understand it.”[12]

Other reasons to see the main character as being the author: Mack has experienced some pretty horrible things in his life, the first being his “vicious mean beat-your-wife-and-then-ask-God-for-forgiveness drunk”[13] father. During a particularly bad incident in Mack’s teenaged years, he was tied to a tree for two days and “beaten with a belt and Bible verses every time his dad woke from a stupor and put down the bottle.”[14] Needless to say this left Mack with some serious father-issues which then, of course, contributed to how he saw his Heavenly Father.[15] If all this were not enough, Mack’s youngest daughter was kidnapped and murdered by a serial killer. Parallel all this with what we read of the author’s upbringing: “The Shack draws deeply on Young’s religious experiences as the son of missionary parents. His childhood was full of confusion and pain, not the least of which was the death of his older brother in a motorcycle accident…. ‘My background is in a highly religious context, but there’s a lot of devastation in my history,’ Young says. ‘I had a very angry father and was disconnected from my family. Sexual abuse was a part of that as well.’”[16]

An attempt to reconcile a life filled with heart-break, pain, sin and evil with the idea of a good and loving God is called a “theodicy”. Young’s theodicy is The Shack. Initially it was the author’s wife who wanted him to write the book; she wanted him “to write down the lessons on spirituality and life he had come to believe in so strongly—lessons that were very different from the ones he had learned from his rigid missionary parents or while he was studying theology. She said, ‘Put in one place how you think, because you think outside the box and it's really wonderful.’”[17] (Interestingly enough, I do not recall any mention of Satan in his book… a very strange omission for a theodicy.) Still, some readers have formed “The Missy Project”, an effort to spread the message of this book all over the world because, “[This book] offers one of the most poignant views of God and how he relates to humanity that has been written in our time…”[18] It is not being presented as simply a novel, but as truth. In the novel, Mack speaks like no one else. To thousands of others, William Paul Young, through The Shack, has spoken like no one else. “There was life in what he was telling her” it is said of Mack in the book.[19] Of The Shack we are told, “[It is] a magnificent glimpse into the nature of God that is not often presented in our culture.”[20]

We are warned about such people in the Bible:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

Jumping into the story:

A mysterious note arrives in the mailbox which beckons Mack back to the shack where his kidnapped daughter was murdered. The note is signed “Papa”, which is the affectionate name his wife uses for God.[21] After much emotional turmoil and attempts to figure out the mystery of the note, Mack decides to head back to the shack. Is it a cruel prank? Will he find that he is losing his mind? Will he find the murderer has lured him into a trap? No, what he finds, according to this story, is God the Father who appears as “a large beaming African-American woman”[22] named “Elouisa”![23]

Any Christians reading this book, other than for some kind of refutation assignment, probably should have tossed it into the incinerator the moment they arrived at this blasphemy. How believers sit idly by and allow “our Father, who art in heaven” (Matthew 6:9), who has always revealed Himself as masculine and a Father in Scripture, be portrayed this way?[24] So Elouisa says, “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 woman, it’s because I love you.”[25] I know this is being sold as a novel, but it is also a dangerous lie placed in the mouth of God when we understand this book to be more than a novel. So let us respond to this systematically: First, God is spirit (John 4:24) and therefore neither male nor female. Yes, God created both male and female “in his image” (Genesis 1:27), both in His image, but it is still inescapable that even this very passage says “HIS image”. Every single appearance of God in the Old Testament (whether called “Theophany” or “Christophany”) was in the appearance of a man of some sort.[26] But the most important thing to note is that when God chose to become flesh (incarnate), and appear to us, because He loved us, it was in the form of a man, as Paul calls Him in 1 Timothy, “the man Christ Jesus” (2:5).

Yes, I know one of the titles for God is “El Shaddai”[27] which some think expresses some sense of femininity, but it is ambiguous at best.[28] (It is very unfortunate that William Paul Young carries this concept even further in his more recent novel in which we find God creating Adam as an infant and then breastfeeding him Himself!)[29] It is not wise and it is certainly not orthodox to use artistic license to portray God as a woman. The author seems to enjoy the controversy for the simple fact that he wants to break people out of “religious conditioning” or “religious stereotypes” as it says in the book.[30] Elsewhere the author says, “One of the things I would love to ask one of these [detractors][31] is ‘What exactly is it that you're afraid of?.... Are you afraid that we're going to start worshipping large black African-American women? Are you afraid people are going to stop reading Scripture or that they're going to mistake this book for Scripture? What part of “fiction” do you not understand?’ Overall, I think the controversy is a great thing. I get a couple of hundred emails a day, saying this book has been a way for people to move deeper or back into a relationship with God. I really believe that this is something God has stirred up.”[32] As I’ve already demonstrated, this isn’t being sold as solely fiction, but as “a magnificent glimpse into the nature of God that is not often presented in our culture.”[33]  But by his response we see he is a pragmatist: If it works, it must not be wrong.

What shall we say then? Are we to… sin so that grace may increase? Absolutely not!” (Romans 6:1-2).

The second blasphemy is the portrayal of the Holy Spirit (here we go again) as “a small, distinctively Asian woman”[34] named “Sarayu”.[35] And why not? “In for a penny, in for a pound.” Of course, there is only ever one time when the Bible speaks of the Spirit in any kind of physical form: “Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized. And while he was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:21-22). But, just as with the Father, all biblical pronouns used to describe the Holy Spirit are masculine.[36] From this point on in The Shack, we are assaulted with hundreds and hundreds of feminine pronouns used in reference to William Paul Young’s god-the-father and god-the-holy-spirit. (Please refer again to the verse which opened this column.)

So why does the author do this? Besides as a rebellion against his fundamentalist upbringing, I think he wants to be “cutting edge” and different. I also believe it is. In the novel God appears this way so as to better communicate with Mack, the guy with the father-figure issues.[37] But according to the Bible, if we want to see God correctly, we are to look at Jesus. Period. Hebrews tells us that “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (1:1-3); “in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form” Colossians 2:9 tells us). Apparently this is not good enough for Young who seems to believe that a cross-dressing god might be of more help. (Just what this generation needs.)

“I think it’d be easier to have this conversation if you weren’t wearing a dress…” says Mack at one point.[38]

“If it were easier, then I wouldn’t be…” says the god of The Shack.[39]

This stuff made my head want to explode.

What the author is basically doing is saying, “For those of you who may struggle with a father-figure God, I have a better presentation of God for you than even God himself has ever been able to present!”

“Danger Will Robinson!”

Well besides motherly wisdom, this African-American woman-god also loves to cook and bake and feed Mack and the other two members of the trinity. (Yes, the god-the-father and god-the-holy-spirit of The Shack do their fair share of eating along with Jesus.[40]) And god-the-holy-spirit of The Shack loves to work in the garden, though it appears the author means the garden to be the garden of our soul.[41]

Finally, Jesus appears as “Middle Eastern” and “dressed like a laborer, complete with tool belt and gloves.”[42] But, again, I see way too much lack of reverence as Young portrays Jesus. At one point Elouisa says, “Mack… the Truth shall set you free and the Truth has a name; he’s over in the woodshop right now covered in sawdust.”[43] Interestingly enough, the last time anyone in the Bible saw Jesus, after His resurrection and ascension, He looked nothing like a carpenter covered in sawdust:

His head and hair were as white as wool, even as white as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp double-edged sword extended out of his mouth. His face shone like the sun shining at full strength. When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead” (Revelation 1:14-17).

The above is how John, the beloved, one of Jesus’ “best friends” during His earthly ministry saw the resurrected and glorified Jesus. So, personally, I would not take the artistic license to portray Jesus as He is today.

But we have only begun to look at the heresies found in The Shack.

The problem with this book and movie is that William Paul Young, in order to correct his own previously held subjective misconceptions about God and Christianity, presents a brand new set of subjective misconceptions about God and Christianity. His previous views were off-base but now, in The Shack, his new views are off-base and lead people away from the truth. 

“[V]irtually every theological heresy begins with a misconception of the nature of God and The Shack is no exception. After chiding those he believes to have misconceptions about the Trinity, Young proceeds to compromise, confuse and outright contradict biblical orthodoxy,” writes Hank Hanegraaff. “The fact that The Shack is now being touted by those who take the sacred name of Jesus Christ upon their lips is, to me, a sad commentary on Christian discernment.”[44]

Children, it is the last hour, and just as you heard that the antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. We know from this that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us, because if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But they went out from us to demonstrate that all of them do not belong to us. Nevertheless you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I have not written to you that you do not know the truth, but that you do know it, and that no lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:18-21).

I cover more in my follow up column entitled “A False god to Bring You Comfort in ‘The Shack’

_______________________

Feel free to read my other Bible.org columns at http://blogs.bible.org/blog/26077




[1]
I admit that “glorious ones” in this verse is not talking about the Godhead, but if there is a severe warning for those who would slander heavenly beings, angels and such, how much more so those who would insult or slander God?

[2] “The Shack” by William P. Young, copyright 2007, published by Windblown Media, pages 88-89.

[4] Small “c” on “Christian” has been done purposely.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Of the Messiah, we are told: “he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention, no special appearance that we should want to follow him.” But people were attracted to Him because of His words, His life, and His miracles: “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46). “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). When Jesus performed miracles people said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel!” (Matthew 9:33).

[8] See Ecclesiastes 11:5, Micah 4:12, etc.

[9] “The Shack”, page 9.

[10] “The Shack”, pages 9-11.

[11] Note that a moment ago I was in agreement with Young that Jesus was not attractive to people because of His good looks. Of the Messiah, Isaiah 53:2 tells us, “he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention, no special appearance that we should want to follow him.” But people were attracted to Him because when He spoke people said, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46). He spoke “words of eternal life” (John 6:68). And when He performed miracles people said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel!” (Matthew 9:33). So consider now that the fictional appeal in the foreword to read the rest of the accountis that this guy Mack speaks and acts like no one else. And the appeal for the masses to read The Shack is that the author, William Paul Young, says many things and paints many pictures that no one else in Christendom has ever done. I believe this is a danger.

[13] “The Shack”, page 8.

[14] “The Shack”, page 8.

[15] “The Shack”, page 10.

[18] Found in the final pages of the book under “The Missy Project”.

[19] “The Shack”, page 243.

[20] Found in the final pages of the book under “The Missy Project”.

[21] Most likely a modern reference to Romans 8:15.

[22] “The Shack”, page 82.

[23] The book explains, “El is my name as Creator God, but ousia is ‘being’ or ‘that which is truly real’, so the name means the Creator God who is truly real and the ground of all being” (pages 110-111).

[24] Some call any pictorial or movie representations of God or Christ to be blasphemous, a violation of the Second Commandment. I agree 100% when it comes to the Father or the Spirit. They may also be correct about picturing Jesus Christ in movies. I confess that in my past, though I was uneasy with it, I overlooked such blasphemy in movies like “Bruce Almighty”. This was my compromise and my sin. The fact that I liked “The Passion of the Christ” does not mean that God might not call such a thing blasphemy as well.

[25] “The Shack”, page 93. the author also tells the reader, through Elouisa, that because of the Fall, “true fathering would be much more lacking than mothering” and for this reason there is “such an emphasis on [God] being a Father” (page 94).

[26] See Genesis 18, Genesis 32:22-32, Exodus 24:9-11, Number 12:5-9, Joshua 5:13-6:2, Judges 13, etc.

[27] El Shaddai is usually translated into English as “God Almighty.” El usually meaning “might, power omnipotence, transcendence, the name connected especially with Creation” and “translated ‘God’ over 200 times in the Bible” (Nathan J. Stone, Names of God, © 1944 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, page 32). But what of Shaddai or Almighty? “[T]here is some difference of opinion as to the root meaning of this word….[S]ome scholars believe it comes from a root meaning strong, powerful, or to do violence, especially in the sense of one who is so powerful as to be able to set aside or do violence to the laws of nature or the primary course of nature…. Thus one scholar writes that… ‘El Shaddai [is] the God who compels nature to do what is contrary to itself’’”, to do the miraculous. “It is quite likely that there is some connection between the name Shaddai and the root from which some modern scholars think it is derived, but in view of the circumstances under which it is so often used and in view of the translation of another word almost exactly like it, we believe it has another derivation and a more significant meaning than that of special power…. The other word so like it, and from which we believe it to be derived…is translated as ‘breast.’ As connected with the word breast, the title Shaddai signifies one who nourishes, supplies, satisfies” (Nathan J. Stone, Names of God, © 1944 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, pages 33-34).

[28] The NET notes tell us: “The traditional rendering of the title as “Almighty” is reflected in LXX and Jerome. But there is still little agreement on the etymology and exact meaning of אֵל־שַׁדַּי (’el-shadday). Suggestions have included the idea of “mountain God,” meaning the high God, as well as “the God with breasts.” But there is very little evidence supporting such conclusions and not much reason to question the ancient versions.

[29] http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2015/december/taking-creative-liberties-with-creation.html (Even this column shows how Christians are so wrapped up in, let us say “being stretched and challenged”, that they lose site of the danger of taking such liberties.)

[30] “The Shack”, page 93.

[31] That would be me for one.

[33] Found in the final pages of the book under “The Missy Project”.

[34] “The Shack”, page 84.

[35] The books tells us “That is a simple name from one of our human languages. It means ‘Wind’, a common wind actually” (page 110).

[36] See Matthew 11:27, John 14:23, John 15:26, John 16:13-14, Romans 8:26-27, 1 Corinthians 12:11, etc.

[37] “The Shack”, page 91.

[38] “The Shack”, page 93.

[39] Ibid.

[40] We know that Jesus, as the God-man did eat and we see that in the Bible. We see Him eat after His resurrection (Luke 24:36-43) and He told His disciples that He would one day drink again the fruit of the vine in eternity with them (Matthew 26:29). Of course the author makes sure we are told that they don’t have to eat; they just do it to fellowship with the main character (page 199).

[41] “The Shack”, page 138.

[42] “The Shack”, page 84.

[43] “The Shack”, page 95.

Comments

SonShine's picture

This a.m. I read another post from Al Mohler on this book. It is really a lack of biblical knowledge and discernment. Heb 5:14 reveals it is a lack of spiritual maturity. 

Thanks for this blog post. 

steve called and said there was problems posting comments..
so this is a test comment by a normal subscriber 
testda
really david austin

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