The Shack, at this writing, is the top-selling trade paperback in the nation according to the NY Times Bestseller List. It carries endorsements from Eugene Peterson, Michael W. Smith, and Wynonna Judd, and copies are being passed around like candy in Christian circles. Readers say it has changed the way they think about God-indeed, changed their life entirely.
And yet, here I am writing a series of posts about what I believe are serious problems in the book. I’m aware that this might make me look like the stereotypical Reformed guy who can find a heresy under ever bush. All I can do is say, with a clear conscience, that I’m going to these lengths because I love God, and I believe this book misrepresents him. I love God’s church, and I believe many of the ideas in this book are dangerous to it.
So here goes. I’ve divided my comments into three four sections, which I’ll post separately. Today we’ll consider some overarching themes of the book.
General tenor of the book
The overall air of the book was frustrating to me. The Shack is anti-theological– overall I got the impression that the word theological was being used as a synonym for bad, lifeless, or untrue. The main character’s seminary education has given him all sorts of false ideas about God, and he constantly offers incorrect views that the persons of the Trinity mock and correct. Ironically, at the same time God is constantly stating facts about himself-facts that are, by definition, theological. This is the tired false distinction of doctrine vs. relationship-as if you can be in a relationship with someone and not know any facts about them!
I also found The Shack to be anti-Bible-the Bible is never mentioned as a way to know God, and Mack denigrates his previous understanding of Scripture. It is anti-church- the visible church is, after all, an institution, and God says “I don’t create institutions-never have, never will” (179). Mack’s religious background, like his theological education, is always referred to negatively (including his family devotions as a child, 107). It is anti-Christians-although God says he is “especially fond” of individuals and of the whole world, believers as a group are never mentioned positively. Christians, in The Shack, are people who don’t understand God, who use religion to manipulate others-the term itself is even denigrated (182).
The book’s portrayal of God, I believe, borders on the idolatrous. It is one thing to have a story with a lion who serves as a Christ figure; it is quite another to put words into the mouths of the persons of the Trinity. When you’re having God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit say things that originate in your own imagination, the line between fiction and theology has gotten blurry, and it calls for some careful stepping that Young does not deliver. The most obvious example of this is the use of women to depict God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, but I was more troubled by some specifics. For instance, God the Father is a black woman named Papa, and her dialogue in places sounds like a character from Gone with the Wind: “Guess that’s jes’ the way I is… Sho ‘nuff!” (119). Papa engages in bathroom humor (88, 121), and there’s a scene where she and Jesus bump into each other in the kitchen, spill a bowl of sauce, and go through a slapstick routine while cleaning it up (104-05). I’m just stodgy enough to think this is not an appropriate portrayal of the God before whom the angels in heaven hide their face (Isaiah 6:1-3).