Mainline, Western Christianity has long had a problematic understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. This has played out in various ways, whether it is through the various cults like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, or simply due to biblical illiteracy and a painful lack of historical teaching on this doctrine. However, it must be stated: this is certainly not due to a lack of proper teaching on the matter, even when books/movies like The Shack are available. We live in an age where there is not only an abundance of material available from the early church for free (or pennies on the dollar), but there are some wonderful, modern resources on the Trinity as well. I’ll link to some at the end of this piece for those who would like a more robust understanding of the historical, orthodox understanding of the Trinity.
But back to The Shack.
William P. Young’s The Shack brings out a wonderful summary of the many issues the Western church faces today, all of which can arguably be said to stem from a lack of clear understanding (or a willful rejection of) orthodox teaching on the nature of the Triune God. The Shack, though a fictional book, still presents theological and doctrinal positions on the nature of God – and to put it modestly, they are alarming. Likening the members of the Trinity to three distinct forms is but one of the glaring issues that gets introduced quite quickly (that’s Modalism, Patrick).
There is also the neglect of properly understanding the nature of Christ in being fully God and fully man (and actually engendered as a man during His earthly ministry), the teaching present that the Godhead submits to mankind, that the main character needs to forgive God, and more, among the spotty dialogue offered that is regularly contrary to scripture. To put it quite simply, these are heretical and blasphemous teachings on the nature of God – yet many donning the name of Christian will eat it up.
How does a small book and now a feature title brought to the box office accomplish such a feat? The Shack panders to the sensationalism brought on by emotional appeal and subjective relativism. How so? Essentially, Western Christianity has bought wholesale into the notion that unless you are feeling the presence of God, you aren’t doing Christianity right. It has become ensnared with the experiential, warm, fuzzy, good-vibes positivism that characterizes so much of what we choose to do. This is clearly evidenced in how The Shack portrays man hearing from God, essentially boiling it down to internal promptings and experiencing Him in various mediums other than scripture.
This is the same ideology that Eastern Mysticism holds – and it is diametrically opposed to Christianity. Unfortunately, much of this is missed due to mystic roots being prevalent in the Western church long before The Shack was published. If you want to hear from God, open up the scriptures and read. Drink deeply of a brook that never runs dry; fill yourself with waters free from the bitter gall of heretical teaching.
From the earliest roots of this historic faith, revelation has been part and parcel to understanding the nature of God. Most who claim Christian faith would agree with this sentiment, yet what seems to be missed is a greater understanding of how that development took place. More clearly, it stems from not knowing how revelation progressed from the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation – and it seems to lack a clear understanding of the trajectory of that revelation. Instead of one looking to the scriptures to see how God has revealed Himself to mankind, many simply see the scriptures as their story.
Secondly, the historical nature of this historic faith is neglected. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Christians aren’t reinventing the wheel. One ought to run in the opposite direction when they arrive at conclusions that the scriptures don’t. One ought to understand the various heresies condemned long ago – and compare them to the teachings of what they read. All that is, is the biblical practice of discernment; it is the practice of being conformed to the renewing of your mind so that you may prove the will of God – what is pleasing, acceptable, and perfect.
Doctrine matters greatly because it is how we understand God. If our concept of God is false, then our worship is false. If our worship is false, our faith is misplaced and may prove disingenuous. Rightly understanding who God is, is of incredible importance because it can have eternal consequences. This cannot be done without the scriptures. This cannot be done by being led by experientialism. This also can’t be done without allowing historically orthodox teachers speak into your life.
I have the audacity to suggest there is one, specific way to understand all of the scriptures and that sound teachers are a gift from God for the purpose of guarding the sheep in sound doctrine. Due to the teaching in The Shack, I cannot even remotely come close to suggesting it reflects a pure and true understanding of God. At best The Shack serves up some things which may be positive that can be found elsewhere without the additional, heretical teaching it contains.
On the Trinity by Augustine
Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves
The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship by Robert Letham
The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox by B.A. Bosserman
Monergism.com also has a wealth of good resources, though I can’t personally vouch for them all. It would also be recommended to read the ecumenical councils from the early church, which can all be found online for free with a simple search.
Featured Image used under the doctrine of Fair Use