Ten years ago the widely popular novel, The Shack, was published. In this story, author William Young addresses some of the most pressing and difficult questions of life. How can God be good in the face of human suffering? Does God care about injustice? The novel provided insights that were compelling to many, selling over twenty million copies (1).
Unsurprisingly, this famous story has been made into a movie by the same title, being released on March 3. While the book offers a powerful testimony of God’s love, it does so at a high cost regarding biblical faithfulness. The late, Chuck Colson, briefly summarizes the story and warns his readers:
The story is about a man named Mack, who is struggling in the aftermath of the brutal murder of his young daughter. One day he finds a note in his mailbox-apparently from God. God wants Mack to meet Him at “the shack,” the place where his daughter was killed.
When he arrives, the shack and the winter scene around it transform, Narnia-like, into a mystical mountain paradise, perhaps meant to be heaven itself. Now dwelling in the shack are three mysterious figures-the African-American woman, a Middle Eastern workman, and an Asian girl-who reveal themselves as God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The rest of the book is basically a discussion between Mack and the three persons of the Trinity. While the discussion is mostly on the deep topics of creation, the fall, freedom, and forgiveness, too often the author slips in silly lines that, frankly, seem ridiculous in the mouth of the Godhead. Jesus, looking at Papa, says, “Isn’t she great?” At one point, Papa warns Mack that eating too many of the greens in front of him will “give him the trots.” And when Jesus spills batter on the floor and on Papa, Jesus then washes Her-or is it His?-feet. Papa coos, “Oh, that feels sooooo good.” Ugh.
Okay, it is only an allegory. But like Pilgrim’s Progress, allegories contain deep truths. That is my problem. It is the author’s low view of Scripture. For example, Mack is tied to a tree by his drunken, abusive father, who “beats Mack with a belt and Bible verses.” The author reflects derisively in another spot that “nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that ‘guilt’ edges.”
The Bible, it seems, is just one among many equally valid ways in which God reveals Himself. And, we are told, the Bible is not about rules and principles; it is about relationship. Sadly, the author fails to show that the relationship with God must be built on the truth of who He really is, not on our reaction to a sunset or a painting (2).
Powerful and compelling stories often have deep impact on our lives and our thinking. For this reason, we are careful that our beliefs about who God is and what is right and good are shaped by the regular study of the Word of God. Further, we are mindful of the danger of being molded by media consumption. In the case of The Shack, we must be especially vigilant as truth is mixed so beautifully with deception.
In Ephesians 4:14-15, Paul urges believers to mature in the faith “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
Here are links to more thorough critiques and reflections:
- Tim Challies’ Extended Review (Challies’ views on forgiveness are debatable)
- Glenn Kreider’s Brief Review
- Albert Mohler’s Reflections on the Popularity of The Shack
(1) About, The Shack Facebook page, accessed 2017.02.27, https://www.facebook.com/pg/
(2) Chuck Colson, “Stay out of The Shack,” Christian Headlines.com, May 8, 2008, http://www.christianheadlines.com/columnists/breakpoint/stay-out-of-the-shack-11575218.html, accessed 2017/02/27.