In this second installment of my review of The Shack I’ll address some key theological errors I believe the book presents. This isn’t an exhaustive list, just a selection of three things I found significant.
That The Shack is a work of fiction raises the question of whether a theological review is appropriate. Of course, ultimately believers must test everything by Scripture, but many have commented that it’s not fair to judge this book as though it were a theological treatise. I’m not sure that objection really works here. The Shack, as I pointed out in yesterday’s post, is a little different than most other fiction works within a Christian framework, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy or Lewis’ Narnia books. It’s different because it actually depicts the persons of the Trinity as characters, and puts words in their mouth that purport to present theological truth. Also, as I’ve pointed out before, the book is being marketed and reviewed as one that teaches things about God, so it’s certainly fair to evaluate it on those terms.
As I continue the review of The Shack, please remember what I said in Part 1:
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.
Specific theological issues
The book has an incorrect view of the Trinity. The scars on Papa’s wrists, showing that she suffered with Jesus on the cross, point to an early Trinitarian heresy called patripassianism-a view that misunderstands the distinction of roles among the persons of the Trinity. Far more problematic, though, is the firm assertion that there is no sense of submission of any kind among the persons of the Godhead-contrary to many statements of Jesus, including John 6:38: “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” The Bible presents the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as fully equal, and yet submitting in specific ways, the Son to the Father and the Spirit to the Father and the Son. The Shack sees any such submission or obedience as inherently bad.
What then, the reader may ask, of the relationship of men and women to God? Surely submission and obedience are necessary there? No, says Young:
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. (145, emphasis added)
The radical egalitarianism here extends to humans being made equal with God, joining him in the “circle of relationship.” This is a far cry from the God of the Bible: a God who does indeed enter into relationship with his people, but as a Creator free to give commands to his creation (for example, Gen 2:16-17, Ex 20:1-17, most of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, etc, etc).
The issue of universalism has been one of the more common critiques of The Shack. I’ll just simply point out that the book doesn’t subtly imply universalism, it matter-of-factly states it. Jesus is the “best way any human can relate” to God-a nice thing to say, unless he’s actually the only way, as Jesus says in John 14:6 and John reiterates in 1 John 2:23. God is now “fully reconciled to the world,” not merely those who believe in him (the distinction is made, 192). In Jesus, God has forgiven “all humans” for their sins (225). (Someone might object that Papa says “only some choose relationship”, but according to this very sentence, has not God also forgiven their failure to choose relationship?) This book does not treat sin the way the Bible does. It has no concept of sin as falling short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23), and certainly no sense of God’s wrath being poured out on sin (Rom 1:18, 1 Thess 1:10).