Why You Shouldn’t See The Shack – but Why so Many Will

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.

 

Recommended Resources:

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

The Quest for the Trinity: The Doctrine of God in Scripture, History, and Modernity by Stephen Holmes

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.

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  • So we shouldn’t see a movie just because it’s heretical? That seems silly.

    Plus, I’m not convinced that The Shack is quite as heretical as is often viewed. Some of the more apparently sketchy stuff doesn’t have to be heretical if we apply rules #3 and #8.

    • Gilsongraybert

      I’m not suggesting that people stop seeing movies altogether (because let’s face it, most have some form or another of heretical teaching). I’m specifically saying we ought not support works under the guise of Christianity, which are not demonstrating faithfulness to the text and historic orthodoxy.

      Secondly, given your handle, I’m assuming you would be able to see the differences in the Nicene Creed (and basically the first six major creeds) which would put much in this book at odds with historically orthodox teaching, correct? I know we don’t like to use the “H” word this day, but the nature of the Godhead is no small thing to play with.

      • This is may be considered off-topic; however, I find the descriptive “orthodox” unclear because when most of the church turned away from Paul (2 Tim. 1:15) and followed the Judaizers [and others I assume] they left the Word of Truth, and therefore left orthodox gospel belief. That’s not an opinion, that’s what the Word says.

    • Since I am not completing my read for the reason in my other post, I won’t see the movie. I believe the movie version would have more power to “indoctrinate” than the book.

  • WoundedEgo

    I know where to find detailed instructions on hair length for women in the scriptures; why can’t I find a description of “The Trinity”? Because it is a post-scriptural dogma.

    1Co 8:5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
    1Co 8:6 But **to us there is but one God, [and that is] the Father**, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord [and that is] Jesus Christ, by [through] whom are all things [from God], and we [approach God] by him.

    Jude 1:4 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, **and denying the only Lord God**, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Joh 17:3 And this is life eternal, that they might know **thee the only true God**, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

    Act_2:36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that **God hath made** that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

    I don’t think the Trinity dogma can last much longer in an information, or at least it should not be able to.

    • Gilsongraybert

      Feel free to pick up some of the resources I mentioned above. They go to great lengths to demonstrate, from scripture, the teaching of the Trinity.

      • WoundedEgo

        “great lengths” are required!

        • Gilsongraybert

          I’m sure they are in your opinion. I am merely advocating they are careful scholars who have given a far greater treatise on the issue than I can and will in the comments section on a blog post. If you won’t bother with them, you’ll certainly not bother reconsidering your views with me. Take care.

          • WoundedEgo

            I’ve spent a great deal of time and effort examining the evidence and made my conclusion. I only ask that you not be frightened by creedal threats of not being able to “be saved” and ponder the scriptures themselves. Ask the Jews!

        • Paul gives us the doctrine of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each being God. It’s throughout his epistles.

          • WoundedEgo

            “Some assembly required”…

  • peterhamm

    The story is a fable. By this argument, we should probably stop reading Jesus’ parables, since there wasn’t LITERALLY a poor man named Lazarus, making those stories bald-faced lies.

    • Gilsongraybert

      Well, considering Christ’s parables were inspired, I sense there might be no issue with false teaching.

    • Where do you find support in scripture for the charge Lazarus was a “lie?” The illustration is an important application we have to understand the God’s plans and ways.

  • Wow! Heresy! It seems to me that the story presents the 3 PERSONS of the trinity in interesting ways. We have Scripture to show that Jesus functioned in some ways separate from the Father, so it doesn’t seem heretical there. As I read this piece it seems to me it is more expressing envy at the success of the work over against the works of the church fathers. Are they inspired?

    • Gilsongraybert

      Thomas, I am not envious in the least of a work that propagates teaching contrary to scripture. I’m not envious of orthodox writers having great success – I wish them all the more so that the gospel and pure doctrine may be furthered unto the ends of the earth.

      • Seems to me there is a confusion between the weight of a teaching of Scripture and the weight of subsequent interpretation by church fathers. Admittedly ‘orthodox’ came to be defined several hundred years after Christ, but it is interesting to explore which beliefs one holds are in line with the weight of Scripture and which hang on the thin foundation of the interpretation of a verse or two combined with a set of presuppositions (not putting the trinity in that category). No matter how doctrinally precise one is, it is good to define which beliefs constitute the essentials, without which that person cannot be considered a Christian in the narrow sense of the word.

        • Gilsongraybert

          In your opinion, would you feel that the doctrine of the Trinity is a non-essential doctrine?

          • While I hold with the doctrine, I would have to say that only the resurrection and the diety of Jesus Christ are beliefs that are the watershed. Without those I would have to consider a person ‘not a Christian’ in the sense I use the word. Interestingly enough, there are many in ‘mainline’ denominations that fit that ‘not a Christian’ definition! As far as the Trinity, I know many folks who have never given it a thought. My own feeling is that, as soon as you can explain it, you have gotten it wrong and fallen into one ditch or another.

          • Gilsongraybert

            While I agree that there is difficulty in navigating the orthodox waters, so to speak, I disagree that it is not vital to one’s faith (yet would also insert that this is particularly why the church has been given the gift of teachers – so that they can have a right understanding of the Lord). I don’t think someone needs to have a full understanding of the Trinity in order to come to salvation – nor that they can’t embrace some form of heresy and yet come to a fuller understanding of it and still be in the faith. The point I am seeking to make is in a rejection of that orthodox teaching. I earnestly believe it is important because it speaks to what we believe about God – and if we have concocted a false version of God, that is an incredibly dangerous place to remain, especially willfully, as our worship is misplaced. To knowingly embrace heresy and reject correction on this teaching is the issue, as it places one in the sphere of willfully worshiping a false God. To put it in a more extreme example – if I say that God is a ham sandwich in His nature, I would hope we both agree that I’m worshiping a false God and would not be saved. That is, at least, what Romans 1 teaches (among many other passages).

          • It has been quite some time since I read The Shack, so perhaps you could spell out in short sentences what exactly is ‘heresy’ and what is the heretical part. Is it that the three persons are separate and have different characteristics? I just thought it was interesting to have personalities applied to challenge my (unstated) thinking about the Father and the Holy Spirit. I remember an early sunday school class where the teacher tried to get across the idea that the Holy Spirit is a PERSON like Jesus and the Father. I couldn’t see what was the big deal back then (some 60 years ago), but I hold on to that idea.

  • Robin Warchol

    I think you need to look at your own Calvinist camp that turns the trinity into an ESS relationship in order to support your complimentarian ideas. It’s also curious how a Calvinist all of the sudden wants to use the Nicene Creed and reach back into Church history in order go against things the book and movie “The Shack”. You have enough problems in your own group that need attention. Turning the trinity into a dominance/submission relationship is just as heretical as the modalism of the Shack.

    • Gilsongraybert

      Plenty of Calvinists have long held to the Nicene Creed (and wrote against ESS). Plenty of Calvinists do not even remotely use ESS as a springboard for complementarianism (you don’t need to in the least). If your assessment were wholly true, nonetheless, critique of the Shack would be warranted – and you ought to rejoice in someone affirming the Nicene Creed (even if they came to read and assent to it yesterday).

      • Robin Warchol

        thank-you for your reply. You are correct, The Shack teaches modalism and it ought to be avoided by all Christians. Yes there is a very poor lack of understanding of the Trinity and the importance of the Nicene Creed and how that proper understanding of the Nicene Creed is protection against such things. Scott Hahn just recently wrote a book about the Nicene Creed and it’s importance and protection through the ages.

        • Gilsongraybert

          I’ll have to check out Hahn’s book – thank you for letting me know about it!

      • David Zuniga

        Assent, not ‘ascent’.

        • Gilsongraybert

          Yup, typing from an iPhone and lack of thinking will do that lol. Thank you, edited.

  • momzilla76

    “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.”
    This is where you lost me. Apparently the Holy Spirit only speaks through the textbook for you then? So once the bible was finished being penned God ceased every other form of interaction with His people. So if I wish to interact with God the only way I can receive anything from Him is from the scriptures? Not even those scriptures support that idea. Odd there is quite a bit of Christian history that has God communicating with His people other than through the ink and paper bible.
    I think the bible is great by the way but it is not our sole medium of hearing from God. Apparently you think the indwelling Holy Spirit remains mute until He can point out the correct bible verse for His message to us.
    Sadly for some of us the brook of scripture repeatedly runs dry. If it was not for God using other means of communicating I wouldn’t be here defending Him and non bible communication from Him. I would be out there as a practicing Buddhist.
    Good luck convincing folks to steer clear of the Shack if that is your main selling point. 🙁

    • Gilsongraybert

      I think you may misunderstand what I am speaking towards here – God has revealed Himself specifically through the scriptures and any other means He has revealed Himself in (which is all of creation) is subordinate to the scriptures. The mysticism I am speaking to is of the kind that subjects one’s own ideas and thoughts in place of truth. More clearly, it is the claim that what one thinks is directly from God when it is directly contradictory to the revelation given in the scriptures.

      • Why do you think God has revealed himself specifically through scripture. The bible doesn’t even state this. Jesus said the comforter would teach us all things. Its fairly obvious to me that the bible even though it is written by men and full of errors, has become the fourth part of God to you. You don’t seem to believe in a trinity you believe in a quadidity. Either Jesus told the truth or he didn’t. It takes faith and surrender to be led by the spirit, whereas it only takes intellect to follow a book. If the bible was suppose to be authoritative don’t you think Jesus would have included scribes to record his words rather than rely on men who could not even agree with each other?

      • momzilla76

        Contrary to certain ideas the bible is not the fourth person of the trinity.
        Yes the bible is important, from God and God’s words but God leads and teaches His people without them at times too. Believers in closed countries may have parts of scriptures if they can sneak them in or even none at all, God still moves and teaches them. Even the early church only had the old testament as the new testament cannon was not finally decided until some 300-400 years after Christ.
        The bible is not God any more than loves letters from your spouse are your spouse. Vital information yes but not the end all and be all of hearing from or communicating with God.
        Will the Holy Spirit even contradict the written words? No but that does not lock Him into only communicating, leading and teaching from them alone either. Do not fear the Spirit just because certain groups run too far with their ideas about Him. Without Him and His leading/teaching there would be no written words to be discussing.

        • Gilsongraybert

          No one is claiming that the scriptures are the fourth person of the Trinity. I have literally never met a single person who has ever claimed that, online or in person. No one also diminishes the work of the Spirit in saying that He cannot or will not teach people – the point is that there is an objective means by which we have to practice discernment: the scriptures. It is the only thing in this life you can objectively point to and truly say, “Thus says the Lord.” That is all this means here, see my more recent post on this idea: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/chorusinthechaos/high-regard-scripture-not-bibliolatry

  • SDG

    Show your work. Specific quotations and argumentation, please.

  • Alan Drake

    As someone brought up as Southern Baptist, and rejecting them. Rejecting solo scriptura as false was a major step.

    A majority of Christians reject the relatively recent (last quarter of the Life of the Church) doctrine of solo scriptura. So either the Church was mis-lead for 3/4 of it’s life & a majority are mislead today – or solo scriptura is false doctrine.

    As a recently convinced (we are not converted) Quaker, we are simply not concerned about the nature of God. Instead we seek His Will via the Light of God (which I interpret to be the Holy Spirit).

    Over the last three and a half centuries, Quakers have had several Moral Truths revealed first through us. After a time, these Moral Truths have become almost universally recognized. A real example of continuing revelation !

    • Good day Allan Drake . For your benefit, your post deserves attention:

      “As someone brought up as Southern Baptist, and rejecting them. Rejecting solo scriptura as false was a major step.”

      The fact the canon was closed [II Tim.] proves SS. The scriptures teach SS in that what is taught must be compared with the scripture [Acts 17:11.]

      “A majority of Christians reject the relatively recent (last quarter of the Life of the Church) doctrine of solo scriptura. So either the Church was mis-lead for 3/4 of it’s life & a majority are mislead today – or solo scriptura is false doctrine.”

      Much of the church is in fact misled since turning away from Paul [II Tim. 1:15]

      “As a recently convinced (we are not converted) Quaker, we are simply not concerned about the nature of God. Instead we seek His Will via the Light of God (which I interpret to be the Holy Spirit”

      Prophets/apostles don’t exist today otherwise why is the canon closed?
      “Over the last three and a half centuries, Quakers have had several Moral Truths revealed first through us. After a time, these Moral Truths have become almost universally recognized. A real example of continuing revelation !”

      God’s has exalted His Word even above His name [psalms]

  • Jerome Van Kuiken

    Thanks for your thoughts on The Shack, Grayson. Just to clarify, The Shack’s presentation of the Trinity is closer to tritheism than modalism. Modalism is the heresy that God is 1 Person who appears in history in 3 different temporary modes/forms (like a Triple Changer Transformer toy). The Shack doesn’t do that. It takes seriously the fact that God is 3 Persons, not just 1 Person in 3 disguises. The risk in The Shack’s presentation of the Trinity is that the unity of the 3 Persons is portrayed simply as the fellowship between them, which could make it seem as if they’re a pagan- or Mormon-style committee of Gods rather than 1 God. It’s a risk that previous Christian authors have taken, though: John Bunyan does something similar in The Holy War and the Bible does it every time it distinguishes the Father from the Son and has them talk to each other. The Shack certainly has theological problems but modalism (properly understood) isn’t one of them.

    • Gilsongraybert

      I was thinking more so of a reference within the book that the Father claims to be human in the person of Jesus (Young writing about “Papa” revealing the scares on her hands is probably the best example I can think of in the book) – but you are certainly correct about tritheism being present also. Thanks for taking the time to comment and read!

  • tfoxsail

    Geez…I saw the word ‘heresy” here and thought I was headed into a discussion about the Salem witch trials!

    With that being said, I fail to understand what the big deal is about why one shouldn’t (or should) see The Shack. I read the book and I intend to see the movie. heretical or not. And, I hope it knocks my heretical socks off!

    The book, as I understand, was initially written for the author’s own personal use, based on his own experiences with dark areas of his life. I highly doubt he intended it to become doctrine. In fact, after reading it through, my belief in the Trinity did not change, nor did it erase any of the teachings I have encountered in the past concerning such.

    I can see myself in front of St. Pete now:

    St. Pete: “Sorry…can’t let you in. You managed to mess up the whole Trinity thing when you saw the movie The Shack, and thought that it would be ‘cool’ – as you kids say these days – if the Trinity could be as represented.”

    Me: “Really? I thought the book was great! Really opened my eyes to the love that our Father has for us!”

    St. Pete: “Yes. Wish I could help but I am under strict orders from The Big Guy that anyone who doesn’t get the Trinity doesn’t get in.”

    Hogwash.

    On a side note – and it may be heresy for me to suggest this: How do we know that The Shack didn’t come from the direct inspiration of God, and is in and of itself not a new “communication” from Him to His people? After all, it seems to me that throughout history He relishes communication via the writings of men…

    : )

    • Just curious. Were you serious about “St. Peter allowing/disallowing into Heaven?”

      • tfoxsail

        No sir…I was not. Tongue in cheek. Thus is the problem with type-written statements…you can’t see the expressions on the author’s face 🙂

        • Very good! That’s a relief 8). The “St. Peter story” is nothing but Christian Fiction. 😉

  • pud

    ” I cannot even remotely come close to suggesting it reflects a pure and true understanding of God. ”

    You can’t even rationally demonstrate the existence of any “god” let alone your made up one and all the absurd claims of your particular cult…you are no expert at anything

  • disqus_pjFQc7myhp

    I read “the Shack” many years ago, although I have not seen the movie. It was a fairly good look at the psychological effects of grief. And yes, it did have some questionable theology, in terms of its characterization of the Trinity.

    I would like to suggest that an attempt to “protect the sheep” by attempting to inform their viewing, reading, and interpretation habits in accordance with specific theological aims is actually more harmful than viewing this movie would be. This undermines the opportunity of Christians to exercise critical thinking skills, and place them at greater risk of following a heretical teaching that some trusted teacher may espouse. Given a good background in the Bible and church history, and the tools to evaluate information and ideas critically, they are better served by being allowed to evaluate the movie on their own. Lack of critical thinking is largely what has allowed some Christians to fall into harmful thinking. As for me, I was protected from heretical thinking to within an inch of my spiritual life, so that when I was faced with faulty teaching I was unable to recognize it . This led to me making some questionable decisions, caused a massive crisis and led to my near exit from the church.

    Regarding the need to “forgive God”, I believe this spoke more to the protagonist’s own need. Obviously God does not need forgiveness. However, we do become angry with God at times. Jeremiah, Job, Habakkuk and about half the psalms deal with this. One may need to “forgive God” to be able to move to a point in which one can accept God’s teachings.

    Thank you for providing a platform for me to speak.

    • I can’t believe your post is serious! How can “the sheep” [as you put it] discern the Truth when most today are abysmally ignorant of the scriptures?
      [Maybe I should have substituted “deplorably” for “abysmally.”] 😉

  • A relative offered me a copy of “The Shack” which she had begun to read and had an extra copy. It turned out that we each stopped reading and threw away our copies at about 1/3 of the way through. Since my relative follows a different theology than I, I guess we stopped for different reasons. I stopped because I began to suspect that the image of the Trinity I had from my bible studying would be transformed somewhat by the image presented in “The Shack.” Also, I experienced [no pun intended] emotion when I read the part where he goes to his mailbox and reads the note from “papa.”
    The “goosebumps” I felt reminded me of how easy I could be misled by such transient
    “feelings.” I am of the sort that can hear a sound of violins and get carried away with emotion without knowing why the music is being played. I will stick with the bible for my spiritual reading.