Problems with The Shack, Part 2: Theological Errors

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).

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Comments

  1. One thing that I have noticed is that instead of using the word “sin” Young uses a term like “independence”. I must wonder why he abandons sin.

  2. Jake – I am working my way through this book right now and had the exact same thoughts when I came across the comments about Papa bearing scars on his wrists. Thanks for this review…it’s real good.

  3. Jayne Webb says:

    Jake, I understand the errors you point out but I think that the church has been misrepresenting God for centuries. From a feminist perspective alone he is presented as someone whom either requires submission of women to him as the virgin Mary submits and so we see women as pure – alternatively we see women as being required to submit to husbands and so subjected to all kinds of abuse.

    It is not enough to say that the husband should love the wife as Christ loves tehe church because husbands are not Christ and thus fallen and do not love as Christ loves. This leaves us with a society that requires women to be chaste or women to be to submissive to fallen love. No other choices

    The Shack offers women a different and more empowering vision of God. It doesn’t matter that it does not correctly define God. As soon as God is defined in words he is not, by definition, correctly defined (unless of course you have a very limited view of God). Or to put it another way – the map is not the territory – the shack offers us a map of God, as do more traditional definitions such as the creeds – but in the end these maps will never the territory.

    Blessings, Jayne

  4. Beau Brown says:

    I found it very disturbing how they never mention Satan. Nor do they acknowledge how God has outright struck down and killed people for their disobedience. This is a dangerous book.

  5. Can you tell me for sure that the nail holes in jesus’ wrists are not on the fathers wrists. Of course you can’t..you do not even know if god the Father has wrists, that is if he wants to…We know he os a flaming and consuming fire, but if he wanted to appear in human form do you think that would be difficult for him? No one feels the pain of a child like a parent. I would in a manner of speaking bare the wounds in my wrists of a child of mine so wounded. Perhaps not visibly as described for the reader in this case.

    Couple things Submission is not about authority..or more aptly said the Law or the structure of the Law or the right of a Sovereign to rule by Law. It is about relationship. Being rightly related to God through Jesus Christ. We all know Jesus came to set us free from the law which had us earning our salvaion by either trying to obey the Law (10 Commandments) or through good works. God doea not want that, he wants obedience that is the result of faith working through Love gal.5:6..
    Submission is not about obedience because Jesus said if you love me you will obey me! In other words if you have true relationship with me you will obey me and if you do not obey me, it is because you do not have relationship with. More appropriately said, those whose hearts desire to obey Jesus in all areas and grieve when they fail.

    You say…..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. 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)

    It is unity with God, not equality. You will have to show me where he said we are equal with God. I did not see it.

    you say…Far more problematic, though, is the firm assertion that there is no sense of submission of any kind among the persons of the Godhead….I say Sure there is… but you have to understand that Unity or Oneness within the 3 persons in the Godhead makes the word submission or any kind of authority structure irrelevant. Each person knows his place, each person is equally God, each person knows the other persons position or talents as it were and is submitted out of a loving relationship to those attribute within the other in a way far beyond what we can comprehend.

    Bottom line…you did not provide what the writer said in detail to support you position…

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