This article has been taken from ReachOut Trust, the website ministry founded by the late Doug Harris, of Revelation TV. To see this and other articles, please click on Reachout Trust.
(For another review of The Shack, please also go to Got Questions.)
Review of the Shack, an article by John Taylor.
‘The Shack’ is a fictional novel which attempts to provide a response to the problem of suffering and evil in a world created and cared for by God. Authored by Wm Paul Young, it was originally written for his six children and initially only a few copies were printed. However The Shack was published in 2007 and it accelerated dramatically in its popularity, hence it quickly became the New York Times Best Seller. Over five and a half million copies are now in print.
William Paul Young presents many of his painful experiences in allegory. Mackenzie Allen Phillips is the lead character who, following a difficult and dysfunctional relationship with his father, tries to make amends with his own family. Whilst on a camping trip, his youngest daughter ‘Missy’ is kidnapped whilst Mackenzie’s attention is momentarily averted as he heroically saves the life of his son ‘Josh’ in a canoeing accident.
Following the tragic disappearance of Missy, Mack receives an unusual type written message from ‘Papa’ inviting him to meet at the Shack, peculiarly the same location where Missy’s bloodstained clothes had been discovered. Mackenzie feels confused and nauseous since‘Papa’ was the family term of endearment for God. Therefore, desperate and at his wits end, Mackenzie summons his courage and resolve to enter the Shack as he believes it may answer many of his agonizing questions and heartaches. The Shack takes centre stage throughout the narrative where Mackenzie has numerous conversations and experiences with a somewhat confusing, post modern and ambivalent personification of the Trinity.
The author himself was the son of Missionary parents. He was born in Canada though resided in Netherlands New Guinea among the Dani tribal people from an early age. Young was sexually abused by the tribesmen and then shortly afterwards he was molested again whilst at boarding school. He refers to those times as ‘the Great Sadness.’ Later Young went to seminary to prepare for the ministry though he arrived at the conclusion that the institutionalised church was causing great harm so he subsequently left.
1.2 What others are saying about The Shack
Undoubtedly The Shack is both renowned and controversial. Some pastors and churches are giving away copies and highly recommending its use to Christians and non-Christians alike. Other believers are issuing bold warnings, branding the content as heretical and to be steered clear from.
In the opening pages Eugene Peterson, who authored ‘The Message’, highly endorses Young’s work:
‘This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!’
The above claim will be examined in the concluding section, though James Ryle who wrote ‘Hippo in the Garden’ thinks that The Shack answers the age old question of:
‘If God is all powerful and full of love, why doesn’t he do something about the pain and evil in our world?’
Ironically, again, in the opening pages, Greg Albrecht, editor of Plain Truth Magazine, formerly the Worldwide Church of God states:
‘William Young’s insights are not just captivating, they are biblically faithful and true.’
On the other hand, Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle argues that The Shack is heretical since the Father is Spirit and portraying Him as an African- American woman, or any manifestation for that matter, is wrong as God is Spirit. Furthermore Driscoll is certain that Young is espousing modalism since in Young’s account the three members of the Trinity became fully human. (p99 The Shack)
Charles Colson is sending out a clear message to stay away from The Shack as it is not based on biblical principles. Let Us Reason Ministries have also produced a detailed article where they deduce and rightly explain that The Shack is in error.
Whilst researching the content of this book a number of concerns quickly arose. Firstly, a misleading analogy between the pure and innocent daughter of a chief and the gospel was given. Secondly, the biblical description of the Father, Son and Spirit was altered in confusing and unhelpful metaphors relating to names, appearances, characters and attributes. Thirdly, a whole variety of unscriptural concepts were subtly interjected into the plot that was more akin to New Age ideas than biblical truth.
Fourthly, there was a consistent irreverence, disrespect and over familiarity between Mackenzie and the Godhead throughout. Fifthly, terms such as ‘The Great Sadness’ and ‘the dance of being, were thrown in which would clearly not be of benefit but would cause only greater confusion for readers with pagan tendencies. Finally, each chapter was preceded with a quote. Whilst some of the quotes were from faithful and well established individuals such as C.S. Lewis of A.W. Tozer, others were included who held Universalist or unorthodox Christian worldviews namely Paul Tournier, Fyodor Dovoevsky and Jacques Ellul.
2. The Great Spirit is not the Holy Spirit
Prior to the canoeing incident with Josh and the disappearance of Missy, Mackenzie stops at Multnomah Falls and recollects to Missy the legend of the beautiful Indian maid who saved the people from their terrible sickness.
The princess was the only child left to the aging chief. Before her wedding feast a great sickness had taken the lives of many men from both tribes. While the elders and chiefs met to find a remedy, the oldest medicine man mentioned that his father had prophesied of a terrible sickness.
‘an illness that could only be stopped if a pure and innocent daughter of a chief would willingly give up her life for her people. In order to fulfil the prophecy, she must voluntarily climb to a cliff above the Big River and from there jump to her death onto the rocks below.’ (p28 The Shack)
The disease spread and even the husband to be of the Indian maid succumbed to the sickness and so she did what had to be done.
‘After praying and giving herself to the Great Spirit, she fulfilled the prophecy by jumping without hesitation to her death on the rocks below…As they silently gathered around her broken body at the base of the cliff, her grief stricken father cried out to the Great Spirit, asking that her sacrifice would always be remembered. At that moment, water began to fall from the place where she had jumped, turning into a fine mist that fell at their feet, slowly forming a beautiful pool.’ (p28 The Shack)
Admittedly that story was used as an illustration, though Young writes:
‘It had all the elements of a true redemption story, not unlike the story of Jesus that she knew so well.’ (p29 The Shack)
The problem with the story is the unhelpful interpretation given alongside it, in addition to its weakness as a gospel illustration. Sin is substituted with sickness. As the sick were healed they were grateful for the sacrifice, but the reason why a sacrifice is really needed is not mentioned.
Furthermore, when Missy asks whether the story is true, Mack responds:
“It might have sweetie. Sometimes legends are built from real stories, things that really happen.” (p31 The Shack)
Then confusingly, when Missy enquires whether Jesus dying was a legend, Mack gives a seemingly affirmative, though somewhat ambivalent, response which clouds the issue instead of separating truth from fable.
“No honey, that’s a true story; and do you know what? I think the Indian princess story is probably true too.” (p31 The Shack)
On the outset this appears to be a harmless children’s story used to explain the gospel in another way. However, Mackenzie’s opinion changes, almost in the blink of an eye, from thinking the legend might have happened, to stating it probably is true. In the same conversation the gospel story is confirmed to be true, though as well as incorrectly substituting sin for sickness, truth is being presented here on a scale of relativism not absolute as the boundaries between truth and legend are blurred.
More worryingly though, Missy asks Mack:
“Is the Great Spirit another name for God-you know, Jesus’ papa?” (p31 The Shack)
‘I would suppose so. It’s a good name for God because he is a Spirit and he is Great.” (p31 The Shack)
The Great Spirit is not a good name for God and here’s why. Not only is there never any mention of the Great Spirit in the Bible, but the Great Spirit is a Red Indian concept of a universal god-spiritx being. The Great Spirit is arguably more akin to Brahmin than Yahweh. The concept alluded to here is that religions are different in their cast of characters though essentially are proclaiming the same ideas.
3. Mack Encounters The Shack Trinity
Elousia is the first member of the ungodly trinity that Mack meets. Elousia is a large, beaming African-American woman who introduces herself to Mack as God the Father. The problem is though ‘No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.’ (John 1:18)
Obviously God created male and female in the image of God, and fair enough Mack had difficulty relating to his father. Though portraying the father as Elousia, or even human form for that matter, is completely alien to the biblical description of the Father.
Elousia’s description of her/his appearance is equally disturbing as is the explanation provided:
“Mackenzie, I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning.” (p93 The Shack)
Nonetheless pale skinned, blond haired, blue eyed depictions of Jesus are not terribly accurate either. However, if anyone were to see the Father, they would die! (Ex33:20) It is not only metaphors that are being mixed here but fact and fiction.
The bottom line though is that the Biblical description of the Father and the one presented in The Shack are poles apart, not only in perceived appearance, but in character.
This ‘Papa’ who is an African-American woman also likes listening to funk, whilst cooking while the Holy Spirit collects tears as a hobby! (p90, 84) What is being offered here is post modern, God is what you want to imagine him/ her to be like, and when you think you understand him/ her, you don’t really, because that’s all part of the mystery!
While the former could be described as either silly or sacrilegious, Mack undergoes some more cunningly devised mystical experiences. Mack also meets an Asian woman who later explains that she is the Holy Spirit.
‘But strangely, he still had a difficult time focussing on her; she seemed almost to shimmer in the light and her hair blew in all directions even though there was hardly a breeze. It was almost easier to see her out of the corner of his eye than it was to look at her directly.’ (p84 The Shack)
‘Mack suddenly felt lighter than air, almost as if he were no longer touching the ground. She was hugging without hugging him, or really without even touching him.’ (p85 The Shack)
One must ask whether this is a constructive way of explaining the nature of the Trinity or how God relates and reveals Himself to men and women. If someone were to read the above excerpts without knowing who wrote it, would it be a stretch of the imagination to assume that it was written by a New Ager or someone with a fascination of the occult?
Following that, Young inserts the doctrine of Patripassianism, whereby the Father suffers in a manner similar to how the Son actually did suffer, bearing the marks of the crucifixion. For the benefit of the reader, bear in mind that with reference to the next two quotes, ‘Papa’ is an African-American woman depicted as God the Father in Young’s novel.
‘Mack noticed the scars in her wrists, like those he now assumed Jesus also had on his. She allowed him to tenderly touch the scars, outlines of a deep piercing, and he finally looked up again into her eyes. Tears were slowly making their way down to her face, little pathways through the flour that dusted her cheeks.’ (p95-96 The Shack)
Mack then questions Papa as to why she abandoned Jesus as he thought that Jesus had abandoned him, to which she responds:
“Mackenzie, I never left him, and I have never left you.” (p96 The Shack)
What is the reader inclined to determine here? Should we believe the Bible or Paul Young’s latest revelation? Is Psalm 22:1 supposed to be true but not factual? Or was Jesus speaking in confusing riddles when He spoke those same words while He was suffering on the cross?
The straw that breaks the camel’s back is when Papa explains to Mackenzie that the Father, Son and Spirit all became fully human. If up until this point you are still undecided as to whether The Shack is Biblical, consider how the following quote would receive an outcry if it were read alongside the Athanasian creed or a statement of faith. More importantly it’s just nowhere to be found in the Bible and it doesn’t even hint at the idea presented below here either:
“When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed. Even though we have always been present in this created universe, we now became flesh and blood.” (p99 The Shack)<
3.2 Mack meets Jesus
Young portrays Jesus as a Hebrew man in his thirties, from the house of Judah who seems to like cooking and gardening as much as Papa (Father) and Sarayu (The Holy Spirit).
But the description of how Jesus relates to His Father in the Bible is nothing like how Jesus and Papa converse here. Mackenzie asks Jesus:
“Am I supposed to believe that God is a big black woman with a questionable sense of humour?”
Jesus laughed. “She’s a riot! You can always count on her to throw you a curve or two. She loves surprises, and even though you might not think it, her timing is always perfect.” (p88-89 The Shack)
If that presents Jesus as over familiar or fails to honour Him, Chapter 7 is not helpful, particularly for someone who has never read the Bible. Suppose they were handed this book and read the following excerpt. Would the following convict them of sin and consider them to take God seriously?
‘Mack was shocked at the scene in front of him. It appeared that Jesus had dropped a large bowl of some sort of batter or sauce on the floor, and it was everywhere. It must have landed close to Papa because the lower portion of her skirt and bare feet were covered in the gooey mess’…He worked down to her feet and gently lifted one foot at a time, which he directed into the basin where he cleaned and massaged it.
“Ooooh, that feels soooo good!” exclaimed Papa, as she continued her tasks at the counter.’ (p104, 105 The Shack)
3.3 Mack and the Holy Spirit
In The Shack, Sarayu is a personification of the Holy Spirit, depicted as an Asian woman:
“Speaking of Sarayu, is she the Holy Spirit?”
“Yes. She is Creativity; she is Action; She is the Breathing of Life; she is much more. She is my Spirit.” ?”
“And her name, Sarayu?”
“That is a simple name from one of our human languages. It means ‘Wind’, a common wind actually. She loves that name.” (p110 The Shack)
Fair enough, Sarayu does mean ‘wind’ or ‘air’ and so do the Hebrew and Greek terms ‘ruach’ and ‘pneuma’ that we are probably more familiar with. The problem is that Sarayu is derived from the masculine derivative of the Sanskrit root and is referred to in Hindu texts such as the epic of Ramayana. As a means of explaining what the Holy Spirit is like this is just not helpful! The Holy Spirit is never given the title ‘Action’ or ‘Creativity’, and creativity is not the same as ‘Creator’ either. I maybe creative though I am certainly not the Creator!
Young’s description of Sarayu is more like a spirit guide than the Holy Spirit:
‘Light seemed to radiate through her and then reflect her presence in multiple places at once. Her nature was rather ethereal, full of dynamic shades and hues of colour and motion. “No wonder so many people are a little unnerved at relating to her.” Mack thought.’ (p128 The Shack)
Sarayu offers some original insight into the fall. Rebellion against God by eating the fruit from the tree is altered to taking the ‘ravaged path of independence’. In other words contravening God’s commandments should be avoided not because He is a holy God and must be glorified but because if we choose to ignore Him life will be more difficult for ourselves and others. Whilst the latter point is noteworthy it is not the underlying issue.
“You humans, so little in your own eyes. You are truly blind to your own place in the Creation. Having chosen the ravaged path of independence, you don’t even comprehend that you are dragging the entire Creation along with you.” (p132 The Shack)
Sin doesn’t get a mention here. Instead, people make mistakes which cause themselves and others hurt and pain.
3.4 Mack and Sophia
Enter Sophia, Young’s personification of wisdom referred to in Proverbs Chapter 8, is portrayed as a beautiful, olive skinned Hispanic woman. Sophia drops by to answer Mackenzie’s questions about God’s justice and also takes him to see Missy who is playing with his other children despite the fact that in the narrative Missy had passed away earlier.
Wisdom is not a person in Proverbs Chapter 8, though in The Shack wisdom takes on the form of a person. Jehovah’s Witness teach that Jesus is wisdom, though in this account wisdom makes an appearance as a fourth character. If wisdom was a person in reality this would cause a serious theological problem as Proverbs Chapter 8:23 states ‘I have been established from everlasting, from the beginning, before there was ever an earth.’ Thus if wisdom were a person they would have to be God because wisdom was established from everlasting. Notwithstanding, as wisdom is spoken off in the feminine, an extra member of the Godhead would have to be added, and none of the above ideas are consistent with the rest of the Bible either.
Wisdom though, in this sense, is simply the application of knowledge that God possesses. Although God’s wisdom is limitless, it is not a supernatural force and it is not to be worshipped. Basically, followers of the Lord Jesus Christ desire Godly wisdom so that they can serve and please Him in their everyday lives.
Sophia leads Mackenzie to a waterfall where he can see his deceased young daughter Missy:
“Oh my God! Missy!” he yelled and tried to move forward, through the veil that held them separate. To his consternation, he ran into a power that would not allow him to get closer, as if some magnetic force increased in direct opposition to his effort, deflecting him back into the room.’ (p166 The Shack)
Whilst it is understood that The Shack is a novel, not a textbook on Systematic Theology, Deuteronomy 18:11 expressly warns against those ‘who conjure spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.’
Sophia then explains to Mackenzie what is happening and what he is seeing:
‘She knows that you are here, but she cannot see you. From her side, she is looking at the beautiful waterfall and nothing more. But she knows you are behind it.’ (p167 The Shack)
To complicate things further Sophia explains to Mack that his other children are experiencing a dream, though Missy is the only one actually there:
“They are here, but they aren’t. Only Missy is truly here.’ (p168 The Shack)
4 Other concerns about The Shack
4.1 The Shack presents a low view of Scripture.
‘In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects.’… (p65-66) ‘Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book.’ (p66 The Shack)
If we compare those quotes with what 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 1 Peter 1:21 say about the application of God’s word, then the above statement is rendered nonsensical.
‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’(2 Timothy 3:16-17)
‘for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.’(2 Peter 1:21)
4.2 The Shack offers a confusing explanation of what faith is compared to what the Bible teaches
‘Perhaps there is suprarationality: reason beyond the normal definitions of fact or data-based logic; something that only makes sense if you can see a bigger picture of reality. Maybe that is where faith fits in.’ (p67 The Shack)
It has been demonstrated that Young’s definition of reality relating to the Godhead is erroneous. While this statement may contain elements of truth in it, the view presented is broad allowing scope for a variety of possible interpretations. How the meaning of faith should be understood is certainly not clear here. On the contrary the Bible is explicitly clear.
‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ (Hebrews 11:1)
4.3 The Shack introduces ideas for which there is no biblical support
Concerning the Fatherhood of God, Mack wants to know why Papa showed up as an African-American woman and why the Bible consistently mentions the Fathering not the Mothering of god.
“Let me say for now that we knew once the Creation was broken, true fathering would be much more lacking than mothering. Don’t misunderstand me, both are needed- but an emphasis on fathering is necessary because of the enormity of its absence.” (p94 The Shack)
If that statement were true then should we pray to our Father or Mother in heaven? After all, Jeremiah didn’t mince his words with those making offerings to the so called queen in heaven. (Jeremiah 44:16-26)
4.4 The Shack endorses flying dream lessons that resemble levitation
‘As odd as it sounds, Mack had learned inside his dreams to fly like this; to lift off the ground supported by nothing- no wings, no aircraft of any sort, just himself. Beginning flights were usually limited to a few inches, due mostly to fear or, more accurately, a dread of falling… In time, he learned to ascend into the clouds, cover vast distances, and land gently.’ (p116 The Shack)
It is true that Elijah, Ezekiel and Philip were transported by the Holy Spirit but they weren’t the pilots, hence they didn’t need flying hours to overcome their fears! Young’s flying lessons are just like R. Kelly’s ‘I believe I can fly’. Remember the lines, ‘If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it’. The emphasis here is in self belief and choosing your own adventure rather than obedience to God. If flying dreams are okay then why not have a go at levitation?
4.5 The Shack presents the sinner as a victim
Quite simply, The Shack is soft on sin. Papa explained to Mack:
“I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.” (p120 The Shack)
Obviously Jesus died for our sins and the Father loves the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son for us to die in our place. But a just God cannot allow sin to go unpunished! What about those who choose to repent of their sins and believe in Him and deliberately choose not to obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? Habakkuk 1:13 says ‘you are of purer eyes than to behold evil.’ And 2 Thessalonians 1:9 ‘These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.’ If God didn’t need to punish sin then no one would have to be concerned with their salvation!
4.6 The Shack promotes the theory that God submits Himself to us as we submit to Him<
After learning to walk on water Jesus explains to Mack how submission works in practice.
“Papa is as much submitted to me as I to him, or Sarayu to me, or Papa to her. Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.” (p145 The Shack)
God does not need to submit to His creation. On the contrary, His followers need to submit to Him for their own protection at the very least. James 4:7 says ‘Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.’
4.7 The Shack encourages Universalism
When Mack asks Jesus what it means to be a Christian, the response is,
“Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian”. (p182 The Shack)
Yes, Jesus was a Jew, though also the Messiah, and considering that Christian means ‘Christ like’ it wouldn’t make any sense for Him to say that He is like Himself! However Scripture emphatically encourages us to imitate Christ, to have an attitude like Christ, to follow Christ and to make disciples of Him (1 Cor 11:1; Phil 2:5; Luke 5:27; Matt 28:19) Therefore Jesus does want us to be Christ like or Christian in everything!
‘Again Jesus stopped “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any religious institutions… I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.” (p182 The Shack)
This statement sounds like all roads lead to Rome, so to confirm whether that is the case, Mack poses the same question to Jesus. Though the response may appear to be reassuring, in reality it is a loose, indefinite, guarded reply.
“Not at all,” smiled Jesus as he reached for the door handle to the shop. “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.” He paused. “Mack, I’ve got some things to finish up in the shop, so I’ll catch up with you later.” (p182 The Shack)
In Chapter 2 in the opening line, Young quotes Paul Tournier who is a Universalist. If Young were not one himself, then why would he quote another, especially when the book makes reference to that issue?
4.8 The Shack Quotes Individuals with Unorthodox Beliefs
Each Chapter of The Shack is preceded with a quote.
To name just three of those in question, in Chapter 2, Paul Tournier the Swiss Mathematician and Author was actively involved in ecumenism and the World Council of Churches, hence his Universalist ideology.
In Chapter 6 Young quotes Jacques Ellul who was a Law professor, theologian, Christian anarchist and self proclaimed Universalist.
In Chapter 13 Young quotes Jean Jacques Rousseau who was a philosopher and composer of the eighteen century. He was highly controversial in his time since he repudiated the doctrine of original sin.
5 Reaching out
5.1 Discussing The Shack with non-Christians
Many Christians with well meaning intentions are giving out copies of The Shack for their non-Christian friends to read. Because of the way that The Shack is written, in a confusing, open ended manner it can easily appear to be saying something other than what the underlying agenda is actually suggesting. Here then are some helpful ways of discussing The Shack with non- believers.
The Shack is one person’s subjective interpretation about how Wm Paul Young thinks the Godhead interacts, and it is an attempt to provide comfort to those seeking an answer to their suffering. Whilst there is no doubt it is very sad that Young has suffered terrible, unimaginable abuse, and I have no doubt that his book is meant to alleviate suffering and encourage people to follow Jesus, The Shack is certainly not biblically sound. In contrast, the bible has stood the test of time. Reading through Psalms and Job would be of far more benefit than The Shack. Compare the description of God with regard to his holiness, nature and attributes and that of The Shack. Two very different accounts are provided.
There are numerous Christian biographies both old and contemporary. Many have suffered terribly and patiently endured including Hudson Taylor, Corrie Ten Boom, Jim Elliot, Joni Erickson and Brother Yun. These are true, gripping, no nonsense literal accounts and are far more faithful to the true gospel.
5.2 Discussing The Shack with other Christians
The idea here is not to win arguments or cause unnecessary ones. Here though are some solid, sobering questions to respectfully ask to fellow believers and that also demand a verdict.
1)Does The Shack convict people of their sin and cause them to repent?
2)Does The Shack present a holy, jealous God who is to be feared or a cavalier, God is my buddy, humanistic?
3)Does The Shack faithfully proclaim the gospel message?
4)In view of the numerous false religions and false trinities in those faiths, is it helpful to portray the Father as an African-American Woman, the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman and personify wisdom?
5)How would a New Ager, Universalist or post modern seeker interpret jargon such as ‘The Great Sadness’ or ‘kiss me wind’ or ‘dance of being’? If Jesus travels any road to find them (p182), do they need to look for Him?
6)For the sake of argument, if Paul Young isn’t a Universalist then what message does quoting universalists in the book endorse?
The Shack is completely at odds with earlier Christian fiction such as Pilgrim’s Progress or the Narnia Chronicles. In response to Eugene Peterson’s assertion, John Bunyan’s classic was rooted in scriptural principles and taught a clear and simple message with clarity. The Shack is crammed with ambivalent metaphors and jargon, often open to a number of interpretations. Pilgrim’s progress elevates God, whilst The Shack elevates humanity.
Because of its obscure style of writing and answering questions it has created controversy, and, not surprisingly, many respected Theologians and Pastors have issued a clear warning to avoid it. The bottom line is that in view of the unmistakeable heretical views presented, in particular with respect of the trinity, it would be wise to stay away from The Shack.
Danmisicktheology.com/Paul_Tournier/ Paul Tournier Universalism Masters Thesis Abstract
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Ellul Jacques Ellul
http://www.breakpoint.org/listingarticle.asp?ID=7830 Breakpoint Commentaries Charles Colson Diminishing Glory Stay out of the Shack
http://www.oldandsold.com/articles26/indian-mythology-4.shtml Indian Mythology The Great Spirit
http://www.windrumors.com/bio/ Paul Young’s Short BIO
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pk65jfny70Y Mark Driscoll The Shack Week 1 Doctrine
Young, WM P. The Shack Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity Hodder & Stoughton 2007 London
To see this and other articles, please click on Reachout Trust.
(For another review of The Shack, please see below article from Got Questions.)
Question: “What is GotQuestions.org’s review of The Shack by William P. Young?”
As with any book, if you read The Shack, compare what it teaches with Scripture, and reject anything that does not agree with God’s Word.
Answer: The Shack has become a publishing phenomenon, a bestseller by a first-time author that has rocketed up the sales charts with rumors of an impending movie—not bad for a book that was self-published by the author, William P. Young, and started out being sold out of a garage.
The glowing reviews for The Shack hail it as everything from the new Pilgrim’s Progress (theologian Eugene Peterson, translator of the Bible paraphrase The Message) to “the best novel of 2007” and “one of the rare fiction books that could change your life” (various Amazon.com five-star reviewers). According to the book jacket, Young was raised by missionary parents living among a Stone Age tribe in New Guinea. He wrote the novel for his six children to explain his own journey through pain and misery to “light, love and transformation,” according to a profile in USA Today. The “shack” of the story was the ugly place inside him where everything awful was hidden away, a result of his history as a victim of sexual abuse, his own adultery and the ensuing shame and pain, all stuffed deep in his psyche, as Young explained.
This background is important because Young’s past appears to greatly color his view of both God and Christianity, resulting in a severely flawed view of both. The story begins with Mackenzie “Mack” Phillips, a father suffering great pain—a “Great Sadness,” according to the story—because of the death of his young daughter at the hands of a serial killer. Mack receives a note from “Papa” to meet him at the rundown shack in the woods where police had found evidence of his daughter’s murder six years earlier. Mack, who was raised by a hypocritical, vicious and abusive father who was also a pastor, already understands from previous experience that “Papa” is God. Mack approaches The Shack with rising anger, wanting to lash out at God for allowing his young girl to be killed. Instead of the old man with a long white beard, as Mack expects, he’s suddenly embraced by “a large beaming African-American woman” who introduces herself as Papa.
Mack is then introduced to the rest of the Trinity: Jesus, a Middle Eastern man dressed as a laborer, and the Holy Spirit, a woman of “maybe northern Chinese or Nepalese or even Mongolian ethnicity” named Sarayu. The rest of the story is a conversation among the three members of the Trinity and Mack as they work through issues of creation, fall and redemption.
Subtle and not-so-subtle heresies.
Young’s intentions are good. He wants to introduce readers to a loving God who was willing to sacrifice his own Son to save us from our sins. But all heresies begin with misconstruing the nature of God. From Jehovah’s Witnesses to Mormonism to even Islam, they all get it wrong when it comes to understanding the God of Scripture. Young joins their company. Part of the problem arises because his story is confused and inconsistent. He doesn’t set out to mislead, but he himself is misled, either by himself or others.
He wants desperately to show us the God of love as found in Scripture (1 John 4:8), but he ignores the other side, the God of utter holiness (Isaiah 6:1-5) and, ultimately, the final Judge (Revelation 20:11-15). Any presentation of God that shows only one side of His nature is wrong. In an effort to counter a false view of God as only the judging avenger of wrath, we must not go the opposite direction and present Him only as a loving, indulgent parent who never judges sin. Both extremes are false in that they present an incomplete picture of God as He shows Himself to us in Scripture.
By emphasizing only one part of God’s nature, The Shack actually leads readers astray with regard to God’s attitude towards sin. Papa tells Mack, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.”
To be sure, sin often carries within itself its own punishment (Romans 1:27). But sometimes the wicked prosper in this life (Jeremiah 12:1). More importantly, Scripture is full of references to God’s impending wrath against sin and unbelief (John 3:36, Romans 1:18, Romans 2:5-8, Colossians 3:6, and many others.) For The Shack to give the impression that it is not God’s purpose to punish sin is the height of bad theology and irresponsibility.
We anthropomorphize (attribute human qualities to) God the Father at our peril. He is spirit (John 4:24), and when He refers to Himself in anthropomorphic terms, it is always as a father. This is important because any attempt to make God a female inevitably leads to goddess religion and God’s becoming some sort of fertility figure, a worship of the creation instead of the Creator (Romans 1:25).
And for some reason Papa changes form later in the book to become a gray-haired, pony-tailed male. No, God does not change Himself to accommodate our flawed understanding of Him. He changes us so we can see Him as He truly is (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Papa acknowledges that Jesus is both fully human and fully God, but she adds,
[H]e has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything. 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 to do it to the uttermost—the first to absolutely trust my life within him, the first to believe in my love and my appearance without regard for appearance or consequence.
But that’s not what Scripture says. Jesus in fact was before all things and through Him all things were created and hold together (Colossians 1:16-17). The words Papa speaks are a form of the ancient heresy of subordinationism, which puts Jesus in a lower rank within the Trinity. Scripture teaches that all three persons of the Trinity are equal in essence.
Scripture also teaches that there is a hierarchy of authority and submission within the Trinity. Papa tells Mack that authority and submission are a result of sin, and the Trinity is a perfect circle of communion.
Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or “great chain of being” as your ancestors termed it. What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us.
But Scripture teaches that authority and submission are inherent to the Godhead and have existed from the beginning. Jesus was sent by the Father (John 6:57), and Jesus says it is his intention to obey the Father’s will (Luke 22:42). The Holy Spirit obeys both the Father and the Son (John 14:26, John 15:26). These are not the result of sin; they are the very nature of the Godhead in which all three persons are equal in essence but exist within a hierarchy of authority and submission.
The Shack also teaches a form of patripassionism, another ancient heresy that teaches that God the Father suffered on the cross. At one point, Mack notices “scars in [Papa’s] wrists, like those he now assumed Jesus also had on his,” and later Papa says, “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed. Even though we have always been present in this created universe, we now became flesh and blood.”
God the Father and God the Holy Spirit did not speak themselves into human existence; only the Son became human (John 1:14).
A low view of Scripture.
The Shack wants to make God accessible to a hurting world, but its author also has a very low view of Scripture; in fact, he mocks anyone who holds that there is such a thing as correct doctrine.
In seminary [Mack] had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. 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.
If one is to teach error, it is important to do away with Scripture, either by adding to it (Mormonism), mistranslating it (Jehovah’s Witnesses) or simply mocking it (The Shack and some others in the ”emergent church”). But if you are going to claim to teach about God, you must stick to what He has declared to be His revelation about Himself and His will to us. In other words, correct doctrine, a point stressed numerous times in Scripture (1 Timothy 4:16, 2 Timothy 4:3, Titus 1:9, Titus 2:1). Yes, we are not just to be hearers (and readers) of the Word; we are to live it. But we can’t live it unless we know it, believe it, and trust it. Otherwise, the God you present is merely a creation of your own imagination and not the God that everyone must stand before on that final day, either as friend or condemned sinner.
But it’s only fiction.
Some defend The Shack by saying it’s only a work of fiction. But if you’re going to have God as a character in your fiction, then you must deal with God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. By using the Trinity as characters, The Shack is clearly indicating that it’s talking about the God of Christianity. But God has said certain things about Himself in Scripture, and much of what’s in this novel contradicts that.
More importantly, why does the author feel the need to change the character of God in this story? In a way, he’s saying that the God who reveals Himself to us in the Bible is insufficient. The author needs to “improve” the image to make it more palatable. But God never changes Himself so that we can understand Him better. He changes us so that we can see Him as he truly is. If God changed His nature, He would cease to be God.
If a friend had a cold, abusive father, don’t make the God of your story into a warm, loving female to compensate. Show your friend what a true father is like, using the example from Scripture. If your friend is hurting, don’t comfort him with soothing lies, such as The Shack’s assertion that God does not judge sin. Show him the God of all comfort found in Scripture, the God who was willing to save him from that judgment by sending his Son.
Recommended Resources: Review of The Shack from Challies.com and Logos Bible Software.
While he is not the author of every article on GotQuestions.org, for citation purposes, you may reference their CEO, S. Michael Houdmann.