“The Shack will change the way you think about God forever.”
– Kathie Lee Gifford
That is one of the most frightening endorsements that I have ever seen for a book. It’s the kind of statement that should only be made about a book like Romans or Deuteronomy or one of the Major Prophets, but certainly not a work of contemporary fiction! But what is it about The Shack that has the dubious quality of changing our conceptions about God?
The Shack seeks to alter the way we think about God in two main ways: by presenting a depiction of the Trinity that greatly differs from orthodox Christianity and by removing the unpopular concepts of wrath and condemnation (and therefore righteousness and holiness) from the character of God. To do this, it must completely ignore the clear biblical revelation of God’s nature. In fact, there is an utter disdain for the authority of the Scriptures throughout this book. What we are left with then, in the end, is a writer who has crafted a god in his own image – a god that thrills him with rainbow magic colors, hugs, and a laugh and a wink for every conceivable situation. This is one man’s record of what he wishes God were like, and therefore the Bible (our only authoritative source of information on what God is really like) must be completely set aside.
Nowhere is this departure from Scripture more clearly seen than in the depiction of the four persons of the Trinity (yes, there are four in The Shack). What ought to be immediately troubling is that two of the persons in the Godhead are visible at all. Jesus himself said very clearly that no one has seen the Father (John 6:46), and the Holy Spirit is never depicted in Scripture as anything other than a wind (John 3:8) or a dove (Mark 1:10). But in The Shack, these two are not only depicted as human beings, but are actually personified as women! Though Jesus retains his maleness (if not his masculinity), God the Father is ridiculously portrayed as an elderly, spunky black woman named ‘Papa’ or Elousia and the Holy Spirit is presented as a shimmery Asian woman named Sarayu. In addition, a fourth person is introduced as Sophia – supposedly the wisdom of God given personhood.
Can such a thing be done, however? Can we just simply imagine God to be whatever we wish Him to be? The answer to these questions must be a resounding ‘no’ for all biblically minded Christians. God has intentionally given us a revelation of his character and his nature and threatens great wrath upon all who would remake his image according to their tastes (Exodus 20:4-6). No member of the Trinity is ever referred to in Scripture by female pronouns, and yet here in The Shack femininity is the most prominent characteristic. This is a part of the great desire on the part of the author to emasculate God and make him/her more palatable to modern sensibilities, removing the sternness and high expectations that we see in the Bible and replacing them with a grandmotherly therapist.
Aside from the gender mismatching and renaming of God, though, there is also deeper damage done to the understanding of God’s nature. For one, early on, the main character, Mack, equates the Father of Jesus with the Great Spirit of Native American pagan religion – a serious heresy that is never corrected throughout the rest of the book (p. 33). In fact, later in the book, the Jesus character disapproves of the term ‘Christian’ and makes it clear that people from all faiths have a connection to him (p. 184).
A second destructive heresy in the book related to the Trinitarian nature of God comes when we see that the woman who is supposed to represent God the Father has crucifixion marks in her hands. She makes it clear that she suffered on the cross as well. She even goes so far as to say that “When we three spoke ourselves into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human.” This false teaching terribly mangles the theology of the cross wherein the Father was pleased to crush the Son in order to propitiate His wrath toward sinners (Isaiah 53:10). The Father and the Holy Spirit did not suffer the wrath of the Father against humanity. The Son, whose person was joined to the nature of humanity, alone suffered the wrath of His Father on behalf of sinful man, receiving that condemnation as a man. Young gets this whole picture wrong because he doesn’t believe that sin deserves condemnation (pp. 166, 225). In his view, the cross is really just a statement of love, not an atonement for sin (p. 194).
And why should there be an atonement for sin? The goddess of The Shack doesn’t really require one, because she doesn’t really think of anything as sinful. Even the serial killer who murdered the six-year-old daughter of the main character (among many others) is just a frightened little child of goddess who is acting out because of all of the pain he has been put through in his life (pp. 226-227). Everyone is a victim, their bad behaviors are just cute wrinkles in their child-like faces, and no one’s sins offend the character of the false god of this book, because – frankly – there isn’t much there to offend. This is not the holy God of the Bible, the merest sight of who causes all who see Him to fall on their faces in deep repentance (Isaiah 6:1-5). This is a goddess who swings her hips while she listens to funk music, who laughs like a clown at sin, and who can’t bring herself to punish any of her precious little ones. This false goddess is a joke – a joke that is pointed at my awesome and Almighty God.
If all of the previous isn’t enough to convince someone that biblical revelation is heavily downplayed in this book, the author wants to make it clear that he despises the Scriptural record. On page 95, ‘Papa’ declares that she is appearing as a woman to overcome Mack’s ‘religious conditioning’ from having read the Bible. On pages 124-125, the Jesus character shows utter contempt for the Law – a very different attitude than the biblical Jesus shows (Matthew 5:17-20). On page 136, Sarayu (the Holy Spirit character) tells Mack that it doesn’t really matter if people disbelieve the Bible’s truthfulness, and on page 199, the same character shows utter disdain for the will of God as laid down in the Scriptures.
It should seem obvious that we are not dealing with a ‘Christian’ book here. The Shack is an assault on the God of the Bible and a deliberate attempt to teach false doctrine. A quick look on the inside cover will show you many ‘Christian celebrities’ that endorse the book, however, and no doubt some of our friends have read and enjoyed the book. How did they get past all of this heretical theology? I, for one, cannot offer much help in answering that question. This book disgusted me to the very core. Someone asked me if I could say that there was anything beneficial about the book. My response is that if I had a friend that lost a child, I would not recommend to him a book about how the Baal of the Old Testament could make him feel better. It’s a false god! And it is no less false of a god than the chuckling quartet of Papa, Jesse, Sarayu, and Sophia.