How The Shack Distorts Our View Of God

Does the movie and the book, The Shack, give us a distorted view of God?

The Shack

The Shack, by William P. Young (2008) has been called heretical and unbiblical, as far as what God is like and the attributes of the Three Persons of the Trinity, even though the book is primarily about how to deal with suffering, however, those who defend the book say it’s not intended as a theological study of the triune nature of God, rather it’s a look at how we deal with suffering and process our thoughts about God. In the book, and now the movie, the main character, Mack, grieves over the loss of his daughter Missy during a mishap on a lake. Mack blames himself for the rape and murder of his youngest daughter due to his inattentiveness during the lake accident, so The Shack addresses specific issues over the grieving process that humans endure when they face tragedies like the loss of a loved one, and particularly when losing one’s own child. At first, Mack is angry that God has allowed this to happen and He wonders why God allows such suffering in the world, so the author is obviously trying to show how such a difficult loss of such magnitude is experienced. It is what Mack calls the “Great Sadness.” To lose perhaps his most prized earthly treasure, the youngest of his three children, was more than he could bear, and as a result, Mack becomes angry at God and has lost his sense of trust in Him.

Jesus-said-to-him-Have-I (3)

Review of the Book

In Roger E. Olson’s Finding God in the Shack (2009), he asks, are “we are supposed to believe that God really appeared to Mack as a Trinity of the Three distinct personages of God” (Olson, 12)? In the book, Mack begins to question God, and since God is sovereign and knows the future, was part of His plan the taking a young child’s life? In His sovereignty, does God help us endure such great loss and suffering? Part of what God is doing is “to change our image of God” (Olson, 34), but Mack seems to be saying that God is submitted to us and not that we must submit to Him and trust Him with our lives since He knows the end from the beginning (Olson, p 47), but it’s as if Mack is putting God on trial for crimes against humanity, but God points the finger right back at us because humans own responsibility for going their own way (Olson, 59). What is deeply troubling is Mack seems to indicate God has already forgiven Missy’s murderer, called Lady Killer, even if the murderer has not asked for forgiveness (Olson, 72), and then Mack “…implies that God doesn’t consign anyone to hell” (Olson, 77), instead, the author would have God still pursuing people in hell and hoping they’ll repent since God never abandons the sinner, even in hell (Olson, 78). To me, this is not only inaccurate, but it’s dangerous, but that’s why it’s fiction, and even since it’s fiction, when relating about the things of God, we can easily misconstrue it for biblical teaching, especially for newer believers. I do agree that “Sin is humanities declaration of independence from God” (Olson, 82), but Roger Olson still sees this book as “blatantly heretical” (Olson, 144), and even though it’s not designed to be systematic theology, it still sounds very much like theology (Olson, 147). In defense of the book, Young explains that he is only a Christian father trying to help his children understand his relationship with God.

Finding God in a Shack?

Can we really find God in a shack…or any place else?  No, it is God Who sought us rather than us seeking God, and by the way, God is not in a shack because the heavens themselves cannot contain Him (2nd Sam 7:5). The Apostle Paul makes it crystal clear that “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:12), so that narrows it down to zero the number of “good people” and “seekers” of God. Personally, I cannot recommend this book unless someone has a firm, theological understanding of biblical doctrine. I wished the book would have included a proper understanding of Who God is and His redemptive plan for mankind. I believe it’s a bad choice for new believers for the reason simple reason that the author’s portrayal of God is confusing at best, and untrue at worst, so having an engaging story is not enough, particularly when it’s about God. It should have at least some accuracy to it and not play loose and fast with the biblical facts. Mack’s first encounter with God was at the front door of the shack as he met “Papa,” which is his wife’s favorite name for God, and appears as a “large beaming African-American woman,” who is supposed to be the Father, and then meets a “small, distinctively Asian woman,” named Sarayu, and a Middle Eastern laborer, who is obviously Jesus (Young, 83). Mack’s conclusion is that “this was a Trinity sort of thing” (Young, 87), but was it? Is the Trinity like this? This is a human view of God that it is fraught with error because his view of Christ confuses the natures and undermines the uniqueness of the hypostatic union. In one conversation between Mack and Papa, Mack explains his belief that the miracles of Jesus are evidence of His deity. Papa corrects him by saying, “No, it proves that Jesus is truly human,” and continues, “Jesus is fully human and 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. He is just the first to do it to the uttermost—the first to absolutely trust my life within him, the first to believe in my love and my goodness without regard for appearance or consequence” (Young, 99 – 100), however if Christ gave up His deity when He became human, and if He did not retain full deity on earth, He is not fully divine! Also, God cannot learn anything at any time since He is omniscient, and since Jesus is God, He had no need to learn to “believe in my love and goodness.” He was the Word of God and the Word was with God before time existed (John 1:1-2), so to insinuate He learned anything is to bring Jesus down to our human level.

Conclusion

Even though The Shack is fiction, I believe it is dangerous, particularly for new Christians, because they don’t have enough knowledge of the Bible and of God, and so they might confuse these fictional characters with the way God really is. There is the risk they might begin to believe Young’s description of God and the Trinity. It appears that the author of The Shack is simply following the culture by creating their own image of God to match their own likenesses, and reshaping Him into their own image from their own imaginations, like the serpent said, “Did God really say?” (Gen 3:1). In the author’s fictional view, Jesus’ sacrifice allows Christians and non-Christians to spend eternity with God, in what is deemed, Universal Reconciliation. In other words, everybody goes to heaven, not just followers of Jesus, and some in this camp even include the devil and his demons. If you do choose to see The Shack, you might do well to examine your own beliefs from the Bible about repentance, sin, the Trinity, and communication with the dead (which is also troubling about this book and movie). I don’t need another fictional book to tell me what God is like. We have the best source on earth for that and its call the Bible. We don’t have to guess about the nature of God or His attributes, because we can know. Jesus says if you have seen Him, you have seen the Father (John 14:9), and by the way, the Father is not an African American woman and the Holy Spirit is not a mysterious Asian woman named Sarayu.

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.

Young, William P. The Shack. Copyright 2008. Windblown Media, Newbury Park, CA.

Olson, Roger E. Finding God In The Shack. Copyright, 2009. Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • pud

    The “Shack” is no more dangerous than your delusional made up nonsensical psychotic apocalyptic death cult.

    “I believe it is dangerous, particularly for new Christians, because they don’t have enough knowledge of the Bible and of God,”….What you mean is “new christians” who haven’t been fully brain washed and indoctrinated, purged of their critical thinking skills…fixed it for you.

    You have NO knowledge of anything that you spew. None. You repeat the mantras from the Bronze Age book, the stories of Iron Age barbarians, the few letters of a psychotic murderer Paul, and the impossible ridiculous fantastic notions of a tribe of ignorant superstitious goat herders. You care nothing for what is true, nothing of your cults origins, nothing of reality and nothing for critical thought.

    It is unfathomable to me that any adult in the 21st century would willingly build his entire life around nothing but fable, hearsay, invisible entities, talking snakes and abhorrent practices and delusional beliefs of ancient idiots who KNEW nothing of the universe they inhabited. You might as well believe in fairies, unicorns and pixies and peddle those ridiculous fables to the children you corrupt

  • Jairus

    I think I agree with your comment that Young leans towards Universal
    Reconciliation. People DO need to ask fot forgiveness for God to forgive them. However, I do struggle to take your blog seriously when you aren’t entirely consistent with your critique.
    At the beginning of your blog you state that the shack is aimed mostly at how a person can address suffering and is also Young’s description of his relationship with God to his children.

    And yet you still treat it like a theology book that should be used in a bible college!

    Let me ask you a question: Would you write a commentary on John in the same way that you would write a commentary on the Gospel of Luke? Of course not!!! Because you would know they have different genres!!! If you tried to force a systematic, factual genre like you did for Luke onto John and write a commentary on it, it would fail most if not ALL of the tests and make NO sense. And you would know the only way to write a commentary on a book would be set up the context by identifying the GENRE.

    Now is The Shack part of scripture? Of course not. But you get my meaning.

    Young decided to write a book for his FAMILY and some close friends about some discussions he had with God that explained his own testamony and the best way for him to do this was through a FICTIONAL STORY! And it was mainly a story that described to his family the journey he want with discovering how God deals and answers our questions of suffering ( which we have ALL had by the way!).

    So maybe, if you REALLY want to critique this book, set up the context first and critique it on the PURPOSE the author originally had for it.

    Which is why I find your comments that God is not found in a book and God the Father is not a black woman and the Holy Spirit is not Asian so silly.

    Going by that same logic we would actually think God is made of light and the Holy Spirit is a fire or wind. Made they’re just symbols to express something else!

    Maybe Young isn’t making any theological statement with those discriptions. Maybe he just decided to picture them that way for his STORY.

    So I find it weird how you state that you know the genre of this book, (fictional, stor, discriptions of suffering) yet you critique it for other reasons.

    What if, mayebe, JUST maybe, God has used this book yo help people answer their own questions of suffering and pain as well.

    Sure there are theology books and articles that deal with this. But what if God could also use a story. That probably makes sense. His Holy Scriptures are full of stories, Jesus told countless stories and they’ve been used perfectly well to reveal his glory up to now.

    • Jack Wellman

      I find it troubling for those who are not well versed in Scripture and may see God as, in the case of the murderer/rapist, forgiving the criminal before he even asks for it. If God uses this book for some to endure suffering is fine. We have a book that can do that already (Book of Job, etc.). Thank you for your comment.

      • pud

        I find it troubling that a grown man has built his entire life around an ancient book of mythology.

  • Matthew

    How are you any more knowledgeable than anyone else on God and how we understand him?
    Pride is the worst of the deadly sins sir.

    • Jack Wellman

      Where did I insinuate that I have more knowledge than others? Wow. I agree, pride is deadly but sexual immorality is more deadly as its sinning against one’s own body.

      • Matthew

        Are we comparing sins now and which one is more deadly? You very clearly insinuated you had more knowledge and by not even attempting to acknowledge and then deflecting with a comment about a sin that has nothing to do with anything being discussed. Pride very clearly showing through sir.

        • Jack Wellman

          No Matthew. I wasn’t trying to compare sins, only some are more grievous. Murder is worse than lying, don’t you think

        • Jack Wellman

          I have nothing that was not given to me (1 Cor 4:7) so I have no reason to boast, that’s for sure.

        • phishing4men

          If Jack Wellman has one prideful cell in his being I am the king of France.

    • That isn’t very Christian-like is it? Just sayin’ do you identify yourself as a Christian? Don’t answer that never mind.

  • pud

    Warning! Do not watch this either Jack! It is full of reason and rational thought!!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gpw-TSd36l8

  • ExtremePacifist

    I rebuke this movie and book called “The Shack”, as satanic, false doctrine.
    Anyone or anything that denies Jesus, or turns people away from Jesus, or misrepresents Jesus and His plan for salvation, is satanic.
    In the mighty name of our Lord God, King, and Saviour: Christ Jesus, I pray; Amen, Hallelujah, Peace, and Maranatha.

  • Jeff

    The Shack is fiction. A good read, but fiction. Let’s leave it at that.

    • Jack Wellman

      Yes, it is fiction, but so is the Da Vinci Code, which slanders Jesus name and brings Him down to a human or carnal nature, so just because its fiction doesn’t mean it can’t distort the truth about God (which it does).

      • So true in my mind NO story/movie should have anything but direct quotes from the Bible.

  • Hi Jack! Sis here. Excellent article! I would add no Christian no matter how well they know the Bible and their closeness with the Trinity should read The Shack nor go to the movie The Shack period. We do not want to financially support this kind of heresy.
    Love, Sis

  • Pud we are praying for you to see the light.
    It is entirely up to you how you chose your ultimate destination when you die.

  • Pud you are blocked.

  • HpO

    Here’s a challenging question for you, which this article’s begging for. Let me preface, though, by saying, I couldn’t agree with you more about that, Jack Wellman, what you pointed out about William Paul Young’s The Shack – how that “the author’s portrayal of God … confusing at best, and untrue at worst … should … not play loose and fast with the biblical facts … (thereby) reshaping Him into (Young’s) own image from (his) own imaginations”!

    My question is this:  But what made William Paul Jones do all those bad things in the first place, at the risk (and he knows this) of losing everything – salvation, blessing, the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God?  After all, he is as he says he is – or isn’t he? – “I’m a protestant evangelical fundamentalist.” (William Paul Young, interview, Eden, January 11th, 2013)

    I welcome your answer, most definitely, but for what it’s worth, here’s mine for now.  Strictly going by his own words, I put it to you, that he has decided to continue doing what he has already been doing because of:

    (1) SECULARISM – “contrary to the evangelical heritage I grew up with, which had a very low view of humanity, … I am constantly trying to find … huge amounts of resonance within secularism that religion has created inhibitions to address.” (William Paul Young, interview, Goodreads, September 2015)

    (2) SEXUAL ABUSE – “With the kind of history that I have, with growing up in a culture where sexual abuse was a part of my world before I was five years old, … it took me decades to work through the damage with any sense of coherency or integration (and to be) inside the conversation with regard to the healing of the human soul.” (William Paul Young, interview, Goodreads, September 2015)

    (3) PATRIARCHY – “A lot of my imaginations of God was a projection of my own damage because of my father (which) end up with a God who’s not even a very good father.” (William Paul Young, interview, New Statesman, 3 January 2013)

    (4) ADULTERY – “The Shack is a metaphor; it’s my soul … All I had left was the shame (from my adulterous infidelity to my wife) … and I had to make a decision to either kill myself or face Kim. So I chose Kim (and) her fury … that drove me to the edge to feel every single piece of garbage in my history.” (William Paul Young, interview, BookPage, December 2008)

    (5) PUSHBACKED IMAGERY – Because of the character “Papa … God the father … a large, black African-American woman … I have had this pushback about the imagery” (William Paul Young, interview, NPR, December 1, 2012)  “Imagery doesn’t define God, it helps us understand the character and nature of God.” (William Paul Young, interview, Eden, January 11th, 2013)

    (6) PARADIGM TAMPERING – “I wanted to play with the paradigms we have theologically. … Just because (imagery) tampers with people’s paradigms doesn’t mean that’s a bad thing. Because it pushes us to re-think how we view God, how we view our relationship with God.” (William Paul Young, interview, TitleTrakk, 2012)  The Shack … opposes my theological presuppositions.  (It) is going to tamper with some of your sensibilities just by virtue of what it is.” (William Paul Young, interview, Eden, January 11th, 2013)  “I wanted to challenge the existing narrative … part of what I am to the community of faith as well as to the community of humanity is that I’m an interpreter.” (William Paul Young, interview, Goodreads, September 2015)

  • Greg Zschomler

    Theologians are often so much like Pharisees in that they can’t see the people through the doctrinal forest. THEIR letter of the law becomes so important they can’t recognize what God is doing outside their own little boxes. The Shack doesn’t line up with my theology either, but it IS illuminating and thought-provoking. Most importantly it opens up the opportunity for dialogue with the “seeker” (and, yes, we DO seek God [Jer. 29:13], though, technically, that comes through Him drawing us). The Shack is no more dangerous than your average worship song. It is deeply thoughtful and well written fiction and fiction exists to explore the human condition. As a Christian fiction writer myself I often tinker with ideas that I am not fully understanding in order to dissect them and possibly get us all thinking. Wm. Paul Young is a loving and thoughtful man, which is more than I can say for many sterile seminarians.

    • Dean

      What’s funny is that a lot of Christians (Reformed folks in particular) are completely unable to see the heterodox views they hold themselves. The fact that the Shack has generated so much interest from Christians and non-Christians alike means that Young has succeeded as an artist. I read the book and honestly, it was interesting but not really my thing. The fact that he took some risks as a “Christian” writer, however, is what I really give him credit for. If people wonder why so called “Christian art”, whether it be film, music, or print, will never be as compelling as so called secular fiction, the fact that you have to call it “Christian” means you have already abdicated your bona fides as an artist. Art is supposed to challenge you, the lukewarm milk that you get from most conservative Christians who fear the heresy hunters really deserves to be spat out.

  • God’s truth is NOT distorted in this book in the least. Praise be to our Father God, this book and movie is available for those who want to begin a relationship with Him. It is certainly not for those who believe they have already arrived. Millions are finding a relationship with the true and living God by accepting His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Only God draws. the evil one cannot draw people to God, so be careful how you judge what you don’t understand. Why don’t you ask God what He thinks about the book and movie before you dismiss it and spread your views to others. Maybe it has something to do with the characters? Hmmmm. God searches the heart, not the head. And people question why the church in America is dying…

  • God’s truth is NOT distorted in this book in the least. Praise be to our Father God, this book and movie is available for those who want to begin a relationship with Him. It is certainly not for those who believe they have already arrived. Millions are finding a relationship with the true and living God by accepting His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Only God draws. the evil one cannot draw people to God, so be careful how you judge what you don’t understand. Why don’t you ask God what He thinks about the book and movie before you dismiss it and spread your views to others. Maybe it has something to do with the characters? Hmmmm. God searches the heart, not the head. And people question why the church in America is dying…