Updated: Oct 31, 2019
[I'm late to the party. I wrote this blog March 2017, but sat on it. I wasn't sure I wanted to post on this site about this book. Since many of you have read the book, The Shack, and gone to see the movie; I thought maybe you'd be interested.]
About a year and a half ago I went to see the movie The Shack with my girlfriends. Many of us had read the book a decade ago.
Click here to watch the Movie Trailer for the Shack.
The story is about a man, Mack, whose little girl is murdered. Of course his family can't handle such a horrific tragedy and they suffer greatly. Mack gets a mysterious letter from God to come back to the shack - the site of the murder. And there Mack encounters God. And by "God" (as usual) I mean the Trinity - the Father, Son, and Spirit.
The author of The Shack, William P. Young, wrote the book for his 6 children. Mr. Young printed off 15 copies. His children read it, their friends read it, and Mr. Young's close friends read it and everyone said he needed to publish it. After submitting the manuscript to 26 publishing companies and being rejected by all of them, Mr. Young and his friends self-published the book in 2007. They spent only about $150 US dollars to advertise the book. Word of mouth spread sales. In June 2008 The Shack was the #1 best-selling paperback fiction book on the New York Times list! Pretty remarkable.
When the book came out there was a big outrage over how Young portrayed the Trinity. Father, "Papa", is a black woman; Jesus is a Middle Eastern looking man (which would be accurate); and the Spirit is an Asian woman. What interesting artistic choices! But some people deemed it heresy. ("Heresy" is a belief contrary to orthodox Christian doctrine.)
The outrage came not only over portraying Father and Spirit as women, but also over a couple things they said, the way they interacted with Mack, and the part towards the end where they portray God (the Trinity) seeing people as "blobs of light."
The theology of the Trinity as God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit - all being God at the same time - three persons/ one God - is an essential Christian belief. It is quite difficult to grasp though and the concept of the Trinity is mysterious. We can't quite wrap our minds around it. God is simultaneously three persons, but one God. Think about how difficult it would be for an author to portray that.
Modalism came about in the third century. On one hand modalism recognized the unity of God and the divinity of Jesus, but modalism did not recognize the Father, Son and Spirit as three distinct persons simultaneously.
Let me try to explain. The example people often use to explain the Trinity is that of water being one substance, but can be in the forms of liquid, ice and steam. This is not really accurate to describe the Trinity because water cannot be liquid, ice and steam at the same time. The water example is modalism - one substance in different modes at different times. Modalism is considered by the orthodox church to be heresy. The orthodox belief of the Trinity is that God exists and acts simultaneously as Father, Son and Spirit.
So besides Mr. Young portraying two parts of the Trinity as women, he also had God the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit interacting with Mack in phases, modes if you will.
I believe no matter how Young would have portrayed the Trinity, he would have met with critics. I don't see it as sacrilegious, just as make believe.
Some of the other arguments against The Shack were:
It didn't talk about God judging evil and some people will go to hell. No it didn't. But it didn't say that God won't judge evil. It just didn't discuss that subject.
The movie portrays God as forgiving all humanity. Honestly, I did not see that in the book or the movie. The Bible tells us only those who repent of their sins and accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord will go to heaven. Not everyone will make it into heaven. But again, I didn't see in The Shack where it even implied that God would forgive everyone.
Another argument was in the book is said, "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." (page 145) This statement is problematic. The Bible makes it very clear we are to submit to God and act in obedience to His will. If you read this in the context of the preceding paragraphs where Young was having the characters talk about God giving humans free will and God does not force Himself on us; well, I sort of get where Young was going with his thought process. Still that statement above is not biblically sound. I don't think that statement was in the movie.
Pages 65 and 66 of the book talk about the Bible saying that God does not speak to us except through His Word. I personally don't agree with this. God speaks to us in other ways; but yes, the primary way He will speak to us is through the Bible. I don't like the way the book portrays the Bible. I believe the Bible is holy and is God's Word. Not much about the Bible was in the book and I didn't notice anything about it in the movie, but perhaps I missed it.
Another argument against The Shack was that God was portrayed only as loving and nothing indicated His holiness. The Bible tells us God is holy. Most would say His holiness is His defining attribute.
I'm just not on the side of the critics though.
The book and hence the movie are FICTION. The Shack uses allegory to portray core beliefs. What is an allegory? An allegory is "a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another." (Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory of the spiritual journey.) So what was Young trying to get across to us?
I think he was using allegory to address:
Where is God in the evil and intense pain which occurs in our lives?
God may not have caused it to happen, but He let it happen. Why?
Was He punishing us?
Does He care?
If He is loving and good, why would He let us suffer so?
We all wrestle with the concept of God's sovereignty versus the tragedies that occur to us. When my mother suddenly died of a heart attack when I was 20 years old it had me spiritually reeling for decades. I have since read the Bible and resolved it in my thinking and beliefs. I don't have the answers to the "why," but I know the character of God now. He is good and merciful. He is loving. I don't understand His ways or His thinking, but I trust Him with my being. I know He is there in my pain.
I have since come to experience His profound lovingkindness and guidance. I have an ongoing relationship with Him. I laugh with God. I cry with Him. I talk to Him. I worship Him. I have a healthy dose of fear of Him. And I feel His comfort.
And for me, The Shack portrayed this intimate relationship with God. Honestly, I think the critics need to lighten up. I don't think the bad theology will be the "take-aways" from The Shack. The "take-away," the thing they will remember, is how God is with them in their pain and their suffering. And He is.
I do want to acknowledge, however, that there is a trend of unbiblical theology popping up everywhere in our culture. Many are often unable to discern orthodox theology from popular thinking. I would not consider The Shack to be a Christian book although it does deal with Christian theme of suffering.
Our beliefs should come from reading the Bible, not a movie or a book. Read the Bible with a balanced view of God. He is holy and loving. The movie, The Shack, focuses on the 'God is loving part'; as does most of our society these days. While remembering His abundant lovingkindness for us, we should always keep in view God's holiness. We should have profound reverence for God. He is our LORD, our Savior, our Redeemer. We should never forget that or take Him lightly.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and the movie. Just take it for what it is, fiction.
Now that you know there are some doctrinal issues with The Shack, go ahead and enjoy the wonderful story of God bringing healing into our lives.