None of my thoughts are new, or at least I doubt they are, but since different people read my blog, I thought I’d give my two cents on “The Shack.”
One Big Caveat
This isn’t AT ALL to bash anyone who disagrees with me. I’m not going to judge you if you read the book or watch the movie AT ALL! If I’m your pastor, especially, don’t feel weird if you post something positive about “The Shack” and wonder if I’m going to see it. Part of the beauty of the Body of Christ is that we can disagree on things, even a lot of things! My goal with this post, again, is not to bash or judge or make anyone feel bad, but simply to help Christians see something they perhaps missed, or at a minimum start a helpful conversation. 🙂
My Thoughts: A Subtle Danger
I’ve consistently said before that I believe one of the biggest dangers facing Christianity today is the incredible lack of clarity on the truth of Scripture. The Gospel and the nature of God are consistently misrepresented or just not truly taught in many Christian churches, of all places. This lack of doctrinal and theological clarity, before we even realize it, can schew the heart of the Gospel. It’s worth noting that the enemy works in very subtle ways.
The reason I believe “The Shack” to be a subtle danger for Christians, especially, is for the very reason we know it’s popular: so many Christians are excited about it. Over and over I see excitement about the help it provides in understanding the Trinity, or just the beautiful way it presents our relationship to God.
The problem with this is that it beautifully presents a god that doesn’t exist. It “brings us closer” to a god other than the God of the Bible.
When I read the book, did I think it was creative? Yes. But did it represent the true God of the universe? No. Just a few ways:
BIG ways in which “The Shack” does not represent the God of the Bible:
- From Papa: “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.” There is no doubt that it brought God great joy to send Jesus to “cure” sin, but how, exactly did Jesus cure it? By taking God’s wrath upon himself. The God of the Bible is a righteous and good judge who “does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Ex. 34:6-7). If God was not a righteous judge, he never would have needed to send Jesus at all! His grace is specifically seen in that for those who turn from sin and believe in Jesus, they are saved because that Jesus bore the very wrath of God.
- Between Papa and Mack, there are really obvious talks of universalism, the belief that all people go to heaven. When Mack tries to clarity what Papa means by being reconciled to “the whole world,” Mack asks, “You mean those that believe in you, right?” And Papa responds, “The whole world, Mack.” Again, does this represent the God of the Bible? No.
- The nature of Jesus himself is schewed, bigtime: Speaking of Jesus, Papa says, “he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything.” What? Even worse, Papa says, “Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone.” Young constantly adds to the confusion about the nature of Jesus.
Yes, it’s a fictional work. But it was written to illustrate the character of God, and it’s being advocated primarily by Christians who feel that it helps them understand who God is. That’s why it’s a subtle danger. Christians already have a tendency to go to sources outside of Scripture for truth about who God is. A very well-made movie, might I say even a beautifully-made movie (at least it looks like that in the trailer), seems, again, to be a really easy way to be caught up into an understanding of God that is not real.
Thoughts I’ve seen FOR Christians supporting the book and movie, and my responses:
- “It will start conversations, and conversations are always good.” It has started many conversations, and I’m sure will start many more. But so do all other books and movies and even ministries, for that matter. Surely we don’t assume every book out there marked “Christian” should be vocally supported even if it’s profoundly unbiblical just because it will start conversations? Greg Boyd? Creflo Dollar? Joel Osteen? For that matter, Joseph Smith? As biblical Christians, especially realizing people don’t read too many books nowadays, we should point them to actually helpful and biblical books and resources– not to books that clearly misrepresent God and confuse on so many levels.
- “Ryan, it’s not an exact representation of the Trinity, but every other metaphor also eventually breaks down. Why hit this one so heard?” That’s true. No metaphor fully explains the Trinity. In fact, none of them get even close. But the problem with Young’s “metaphor” is that he doesn’t even seem to TRY to use it to represent the God of the Bible. So in that sense, it’s not really a metaphor or illustration at all…it’s created almost completely out of the mind of Young.
- “If it’s encouraging, how can it be bad?” Just because something is encouraging in an emotional or sentimental sense does not mean it is a good thing. It might be an “encouraging” thing to hear that God is only a God of love and not a God of “justice” or “wrath.” The problem? It’s just not true. Why not encourage people with real, eternal truth? In particular, the truth that we’ve rebelled against God, have earned for ourselves God’s wrath, and yet God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to die, taking that wrath upon Himself! God provided a substitute. That substitute took our sin upon himself, then defeated death altogether when he rose from the dead! THAT is encouraging, and even better, it’s TRUE! Again, I’m not saying every movie we see has to have this truth in it. I’m saying that any supposed “Christian” movie we support and advocate for others to see probably should, or at a very minimum, shouldn’t contradict this truth!
I’m not arguing for avoiding all books that are unbiblical, or never seeing movies except ones that are profoundly biblical (I love movies, including secular ones!). I’m arguing for something that seems to be very lacking nowadays: the need for discernment and critical thinking among Bible-believing Christians.
The problem is NOT that this isn’t a biblical book or movie, but that so many think of it as such, which just adds to the confusion about who God really is according to the Bible.
We live in an age with so much lack of clarity with what Christianity is truly about. Christ as our substitute taking God’s very wrath upon Himself for us (the “Good News!”) has been replaced with some really mixed form of Christian moralism, in which “Jesus Christ can help you be a better you (oh, and yeah, he died for you to show you some generic form of God’s love).” We need clarity more than ever. We need to actually open the Bible more than ever. And we need not confuse the god presented in a supposedly “Christian” book with the God of the Bible, who is good, righteous, just, loving, and, of course, real.