Un-SHACK-led / A Review of: THE SHACK


A Review of the popular new book

The Shack


William P. Young

My first temptation in reflecting upon my reading of The Shack is just to trash it. It wouldn’t be hard to do. Un-biblical notions abound in it. Indeed anti-biblical notions ooze from nearly every page. And, casting stones is a relatively low-skill-set activity. Its easy. Pick’em up and throw. Doesn’t make much thought or depth of analysis.

But I don’t want to do that.

I don’t want to just indulge in literary vivisection because the very presence of the book and its theme are still important. And because as you read it, the auto-biographical nature of it screams to be addressed. All three of these account (I believe) for the book’s overwhelming popularity among Christians. All that being said – “Theological fiction” – as The Shack’s genre is called, is tricky business. Tricky and dangerous. How dangerous, we’ll unpack below.

The Shack’s author, William P. Young “was born a Canadian and raised among a stone-age tribe by his missionary parents in the highlands of what was New Guinea. He suffered great loss as a child and young adult, and now enjoys the ‘wastefulness of grace’ with his family in the Pacific Northwest.”[1]

I quote the info blurb because it is central to why the book was written. What becomes apparent is that Willie (what The Shack’s website calls Young, and coincidentally the name of the book’s narrator) has suffered greatly. Precisely how, we never learn. Through his alter ego and The Shack’s protagonist – Mackenzie (Mack) Phillips – we learn that to Willie the depth of his suffering is couched in the metaphor of a Christian family man having his six-year old daughter abducted and murdered by a serial killer, while the Phillips are on vacation. For most of us, painful beyond imagining. It is this metaphor which leads to Mack/Willie’s “Great Sadness.” That haunting, abiding shadow, filled with darkness, doubt, unanswered questions, rage, and grief. Packed into the 4 year span of this book in Mack/Willie’s journey to resolve the Great Sadness with God – is the much longer real life journey of William/Willie.

Such pain is real. Many of us experience it in one way or another, and in differing degrees. Few will ever be touched directly by the kind of tragedy depicted here. But no one is a total stranger to pain. Or the unanswered questions that make it reside perpetually and untouchably in our bones.

It is within this context William Young writes. Out of the genuineness of his pain. And, I believe, out of a deep and genuine desire to vindicate God in the process. That is after all what this book represents – it is an apologetic for God. An attempt to free God from the accusations we heap on Him by virtue of the suspicions that have inhabited our collective souls since we first believed the lie in the Garden.

In our pain we can make God the cosmic whipping boy. He is God after all. He is “supposed” to love us. And if He is really all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present AND loving, how do we rationally explain and deal with things like ethnic-cleansing genocide, female circumcision, serial killers, brutal rapes – tales like the recently exposed Josef Fritzl monstrosity in Austria. Fritzl you will recall, imprisoned his own daughter in a windowless basement for nearly 24 years, repeatedly raping and fathering 7 children by her. The children also kept locked up in that same basement.

Where is God in all of this? This is the question The Shack is attempting to address. With it, if I perceive him rightly, he is also trying to dispel some of the religious notions of others who fail to meet the need. Those who in fact add to our distress by their pat and/or distorted answers and portraits of God.

Sound theology, Biblical theology can really do that. I think Young would agree. However, Young’s approach is to radically redefine God Himself, reject a healthy portion orthodox doctrine and then to promulgate his own theological framework. Make no mistake, this is not mere fiction. Fiction is only Young’s instrument of communication, like Camus’ short stories. The Shack is Young’s offering up of his systematic theology of relationship. It is effective.

It is at this point that I bring up the difficulty with Theological fiction as a genre. When the theological assumptions which underlie the story are un-biblical the resulting story – however engaging – teaches an un-biblical theology. A theology which makes its way into the fabric of Christianity even though it is not – in the classical sense – actually preached or “taught.” One thinks of Frank Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” and “Piercing the Darkness.” As a pastor, I never fail to be amazed at how many people have co-opted their views of angels more from these works of fiction, than from the Bible itself.

Writers of Christian fiction need to be aware that because the book itself is fiction, does not give them license to play fast and loose with the truth. You only need to compare these kinds of works with something like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress or The Holy War to see the difference. The latter two are rich with analogy, imagery AND the expression of sound Biblical theology. It can be done. It wasn’t in The Shack. Biblical truth was sacrificed for sake of the form.

In addition, the genre can provide the convenient escape hatch of appealing to its being “just” fiction when it is challenged as bad theology. Defenders can say “its not meant to be a theology, it is just a ‘story’.” The Shack’s “Who Shot J. R.?” ending notwithstanding (was it all a coma induced dream?), a careful and deliberate view of God very different than the God of the Bible is put forward. Underlying it, is the assertion that God’s revelations of Himself thus far are just not capable of meeting us in our need. We get to experience Him the way we’re most comfortable with, not how He has chosen to do it. Not with confronting Him as He is.

Let me give you the prevailing thematic example of what I’m driving at. If William P. Young were to step into a pulpit, and boldly preach that God has failed to reveal Himself sufficiently in creation, the Word, and ultimately in the person of Jesus Christ to meet our needs – and thus needs to take on the appearance of a “big black woman with a questionable sense of humor” named “Papa”[2],[3], people would recoil in a second! Rightly so.

As a result of this manifestation of Himself, throughout the vast bulk of the book God the Father, is repeatedly referred to as “she.” She, that is, until in chapter 16, God the Father takes on the form of a “dignified, older, and wiry and taller than Mack” man with “silver-white hair pulled back into a ponytail, matched by a gray-splashed mustache and goatee.”[4] But when this kind of blasphemous imagery is proposed to us in a “story”, people seem more than ready to join the enterprise of re-creating God in the image of our personal comfortability. Can you spell – idolatry?

In answer to Mack’s query over why Papa was now a man, Papa responds: “This morning you’re going to need a father.”[5] The message is not so subtle. Whatever you need, that’s what, or who God is. He has no identity of His own – as revealed in the Scripture. You do not need to be brought past the darkness and the speculation of your fallen soul. God will conform to you.

You can see how contrary this is to Biblical revelations of God as in the burning bush at Sinai or later with Israel’s encounter with God on Sinai after the Exodus. Who can possibly relate to a burning bush? Or consider Deuteronomy 4:12-19 (ESV)

12 Then the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. 13 And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone. 14 And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess.

15 Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. 19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.

God’s being relational is not the driving concept in these accounts – His revelation is. That we might know God as He is. That we might live in the truth.

The Shack’s story line is simple, and engaging. And in its telling, false doctrine abounds.

Four years after the disappearance of his daughter Missy at the hands of a suspected serial murderer, Mack receives a note:

“Mackenzie, It’s been a while. I’ve missed you. I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. – Papa.”[6]

The Shack, is just that, an old abandoned shack. It is the very place where they found Missy’s blood soaked dress after the frantic search for her. It was in the mountains, about 3 hours or so from where she had disappeared from Wallowa Lake State Park in Oregon. This is where God wants Mack to come back to for the meeting.

Mack’s wife and other children away, he has driven back up there alone. He is armed with a gun. Not knowing what to expect. Was this really God? Was this the killer torturing him in some perverse scheme? Was it just a cruel joke? No, God is summoning Mack to the shack. Its time to end The Great Sadness.

Arriving at the shack early Friday afternoon, Mack will spend the weekend. With Mack’s conflicting emotions and piercing soul-pains artfully recounted for us, he enters the ramshackle structure.

Collapsing near the still visible bloodstain of his daughter, Mack endures the paroxysms of grief as keenly and violently as one would imagine. Briefly contemplating suicide, he finally drifts off into an emotionally spent sleep.

Awaking, Mack rises to leave. As he heads back to his Jeep, suddenly everything changes. The landscape is transformed into its lush peak, and the Shack, is now “a sturdy and beautifully constructed log cabin.”[7]

Re-entering the Shack, Mack will first encounter a “large beaming African-American woman”[8]. This, is Papa. She, is God the Father.

It hurts just to read those words doesn’t it? It should.

In fact, dipping into the pool of the ancient heresy of Patripassionism (a Latin term meaning “the Father suffers” – a form of modalism) Papa has nail scars on “her” wrists too. And if that weren’t enough, “she” has a new revealed name: “Elousia”[9]. I AM THAT I AM will no longer do. God gets a make-over.

Papa is soon joined by “a small, distinctively Asian woman” named “Sarayu” – the Holy Spirit. Then – you guessed it, someone who “appeared Middle Eastern and was dressed like a laborer, complete with tool belt and gloves…wearing jeans covered in wood and dust”[10] – Jesus.

The rest of the weekend is spent in various conversations and experiences between Mack and these three personages.

The attack on the mystery of the Trinity doesn’t end there. Never mind the fact that the Father and the Spirit are never corporeal in Scripture, a fourth personage – also female will be introduced down the road. She is “tall, beautiful, olive-skinned woman with chiseled Hispanic features.”[11] Her name is “Sophia”. Interestingly, it is after Mack’s encounter with Sophia that The Great Sadness lifts[12], not as a direct result of his interaction with God proper. Rather, it is through a vision of Missy happy and playing Heaven. Then again, we are never quite sure how this 4th personage fits into the entire scheme. What we do know however, is God is not enough. Trusting Him – which is an oft repeated concept – is not really trusting Him, as much as it is Mack’s new notions of God and His visioned sense of Missy’s state.

The weekend done, Mack returns to share his new found understanding of God and the universe to others in relationship.

Later, Mack wakes up in the hospital. He’s been in an auto accident. The narrator says that “I am sure there will be some who wonder whether everything really happened as Mack recalls it, or if the accident and the morphine made him just a little bit loopy.” Mack swears it all did. But in the final analysis, it really doesn’t matter. “All the changes in his life, he tells me, are enough evidence for him. The Great Sadness is gone and he experiences most days with a profound sense of joy.”[13]

Lets’ reconnoiter what we’ve seen in this brief overview. In the main we’ve learned that we can imagine God any way we wish; that the revelation of God in the masculine (whatever that may entirely imply Biblically) can be safely shifted by us as female too – its OK to think of God the Father “she”; both God the Father and the Holy Spirit can be thought of in terms of corporeal existence; and that when it is all said and done, as long as we have a profound sense of joy most days, and The Great Sadness is gone – it doesn’t matter whether or not we’ve arrived there by means of the truth, and God’s actual working or not. It worked for us – that settles it.

Now if these alone were set before us, it would be reason enough not only not to recommend this book, but to actively discourage others from reading it. Ultimately, it teaches a distinct theological perspective that seriously obscures the Biblical revelation of God to us. It gives us quite a different God. A false god.

But the errors in this book, serious enough to be considered heresy or blasphemous (and I do not use those words either lightly or as unnecessarily incendiary – merely as descriptive) just continue page after page.

From here, mostly for the sake of brevity, I am going to depart from the more typical structure of a review, and switch to simply citing selections which are particularly problematic. In those sections, I will also point the reader to how these ideas are in direct conflict with Biblical truth.

All said, this book will not lead others to Christ. In particles, I will admit it could help in gaining certain useful concepts of God. But if imbibed as the general truth about God and salvation, it will lead them to Hell. In no uncertain terms, it will completely destroy the need for the cross of Christ. Watch.

1 – Papa: “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. Its not my purpose to punish it; it is my joy to cure it.”[14]

In two sentences, the penal substitutionary death of Christ at Calvary is wiped out. If it is not that: 4 Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his stripes we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—every one—to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6 ESV) then we have no Gospel to preach.

If sin is not a punishable thing, rooted in rebellion against God, then Jesus died for nothing. If God does not need to punish sin, then God is not righteous. If sin only needs to be cured, and not forgiven, and we not justified, the entire Bible is to be thrown out. A medical and therapeutic model of salvation is substituted for the Biblical one of the need for justification and cleansing from our sins.

2 – Sarayu: “Authority, as you usually think of it, is merely the excuse the strong use to make others conform to what they want.”

Mack: “Isn’t it helpful in keeping people from fighting endlessly or getting hurt?”

Sarayu: “Sometimes. But in a selfish world it is also used to inflict great harm.”

Mack: “But don’t you use it to restrain evil?”

Sarayu: “We carefully respect your choices, so we work within your systems even while we seek to free you from them.”[15]

In this amazing exchange, the entire concept of the rebellion of man in the Fall is deftly swept aside. Starting in the Garden, Young has sought to re-write the whole scheme of the Scriptures. This form of reasoning makes the word “disobedience” to have no meaning whatsoever. And this is not a human “system” – this was God’s system from the beginning. Christians are those who are “slaves” to Christ. Love-slaves to be certain, but directly under His authority beyond all question. Young’s paradigm has no room for the language of passages like the following:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36 ESV)

Luke 6:46-49 (ESV) 46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? 47 Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

Matthew 28:18 (ESV) 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Mark 1:27 (ESV) 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

Sin is defined as “lawlessness” in 1 John 34:4 – the defiance of God’s authority. Try disciplining your own children without authority. The notion is not only ridiculous, it is dangerous and un-biblical. The very authority of God claims for Himself is utterly undermined in these pages by Young.

3 – Mack: “So was there really an actual garden? I mean, Eden and all that?

Sarayu: “Of course, I told you I have a thing for gardens.”

Mack: “That’s going to bother some people. There are lots of people who think it was only a myth.”

Sarayu: “Well, their mistake isn’t fatal. Rumors of glory are often hidden inside of what many consider myths and tales.”[16]

There is a vast difference between flashes of truth in myths, and rejecting God’s Word. May one be uncertain about some truths in Scripture? Undoubtedly. But what happens in this conversation is that the issue of the authority and veracity of the Word of God, and man’s obligation to believe it is summarily dismissed. Doubt is left unchallenged. The Eden account is left open to question as to whether or not it is true. Beloved, if it is not, then the entire rest of the Bible, laboring under the assumptions of its truth is all called into question. If there is no sin in the Garden for man to be saved from out of, the entire Gospel is nonsense. Young does not seem either to realize or care that the Fall is rooted in whether or not “has God said”. Such mistakes, like not believing God – cannot be brushed aside lightly. Some mistakes are indeed fatal. Some eternally.

4 – Sarayu: “Evil is a word we use to describe the absence of Good, just as we use the word darkness to describe the absence of light or death to describe the absence of Life.”[17]

Sin as mere negation is an age old error. Again, 1 John 3:4 defines sin as “lawlessness.” In the Garden of Eden, it was not the absence of good that was central to man’s fall, it was Adam’s positive rejection of God’s command, and deliberate disobedience. Young’s attempt to rid sin of its moral dimension and including genuine guilt for rebellion will be re-visited again.

5 – Jesus: “To force my will on you”, Jesus replied, “is exactly what love does not do. Genuine relationships are marked by submission even when your choices are not helpful or healthy…Papa is as submitted to me as I to Him. In fact we are submitted to you in the same way.”[18]

This is so wrong in so many categories that it is difficult to know where to start. That there is a divine order in the Godhead is absolutely established in a number of Biblical passages. In fact, order in the home is specifically taught as an extension of such order in the Godhead. Nowhere in any Scripture is God the Father described as “submitted” to the Son. It is expressly taught that the opposite is true. You see lack of submission to God IS the carnal or fleshly mindset:

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Romans 8:7 (ESV)

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7 (ESV)

For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Ephesians 5:23-24 (ESV)

And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:36 (ESV)

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 (ESV)

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Hebrews 5:7 (ESV)

Think about this for just a moment. Any parent who would not restrain their child from ingesting poison for fear of not being submitted to their children or forcing their will upon them – is not fit to be a parent. Young does not describe love, he creates a mythological arrangement were man still gets to be on the same level as God. My heart literally breaks to think of people trying to put such nonsense into real life use.

Let’s examine this under an extreme case: If you do not believe God should violate anyone’s will, then you ought never to pray for the salvation of the lost. They are kept in that very state by their wicked wills. Heaven forbid you should not submit to them, and delight to leave them to their wills. Absurd? Yes. But the logical extension of Young’s position.

6 – Jesus: “Women…turned from us to another relationship, while men turned to themselves and the ground. The world, in many ways, would be a much calmer and gentler place if women ruled. There would have been far fewer children sacrificed to the gods of greed and power.”[19]

I have but one word to ask you to consider in weighing the validity of the statement above: Abortion. Where millions of children in this culture at least, are sacrificed by women on the altars of fear, convenience and self. Not all, we know. But how very many? Young’s polemic is naive, and couched as though women were not disobedient in the Fall themselves somehow. I am at a complete loss for where his reasoning on this point comes from. This is simply so strange to the Biblical patterns of thought. And all asserted as though spoken by God, yet never articulated in His Word?

7 – Sophia: “He [Jesus] chose the way of the cross where mercy triumphs over justice because of love.”[20]

Here is a fundamental flaw so very basic as to make one gasp. In it, justice and mercy in God are pitted against each other. As though justice is bad, and needs triumphed over. However, the Biblical presentation is so far different. The glory of Christ’s substitutionary atonement, is that God remains just AND the justifier of those who have faith in Christ. (Rom. 3:26) At this place in The Shack the very heart of the Gospel is cut out. Can Young really not know that God’s justice was completely upheld while in fact mercy was also poured out? That no one’s sin was just set aside, but that the blood of the Lamb of God was required to atone for sin? In Christ, righteousness and peace kiss each other (Ps. 85:10) neither one is set aside.

Time and space preclude me from citing a host of the lesser but still obvious and serious errors. Sadly, they are legion. And I say sadly because once again, Willie Young is most probably a lovely man, who having been hurt very deeply, earnestly desires to help others – by means of a new way he believes he has come to understand God and His interaction with mankind. But in this case, the cure is much more deadly than the disease. For God Himself is so mutilated in comparison to the Bible’s representations – and the Gospel is so distorted, as to make the chewing of the meat to spit out the bones virtually impossible. These are bones that can stick in the throat, and cause one to die.

Three last citations.

8 – Jesus: “Mack, I love them. And you wrongly judge many of them. For those who are both in it and of it [the world], we must find ways to love and serve them, don’t you think? asked Jesus. Remember, the people who know me are the ones who are free to live and love without any agenda.”

Mack: “Is that what it means to be a Christian?”

Jesus: “Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian.”

Mack: “No, I suppose you aren’t”.

Jesus: “Those who love me come from every system that exists…I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.”[21]

At this point, rather than taking the reader to some Biblical understanding of what a Christian is he actually wants to steer men and women away from it altogether. This is so dangerously subverisve to the Christ given mandate of making “disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28:19) The term Christian IS used in Acts 11:26, where it originated as a slur against Christ’s followers. And in Acts 26:28 – King Agrippa completely understood the Apostle Paul’s aim was in fact to make him a Christian! Young does every reader of his the greatest disservice in rejecting the very words of Scripture to ply his own vision. One which – if not overtly denying someone would have to abandon their Budhism, Mormonism or Islam to be Christ’s – at the very least implying it could be so. This is positively horrific.

Please note, we cannot be “brothers and sisters” in Christ, apart from partaking of His Spirit, which is the promise given to those who believe and obey the Gospel. Young’s construct is a child of “Papa” without the Spirit of Papa. It is a contradiction in terms, and creates a new class of man – one unknown to the pages of holy writ. It is a lie. One cannot be Christ’s with out owning both Christ, and His people.

9 – Mack asks Jesus how he becomes part of the church, and Jesus responds: “It’s simple Mack. It’s all about relationships and simply sharing life. What we are doing right now – just doing this – and being open and available to others around us.”[22]

See this again reader, it is a tacit denial of the Gospel.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body —Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (ESV)

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. Romans 8:9 (ESV)

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Galatians 3:2 (ESV)

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17 (ESV)

It is imposslbe to ignore the chain here. To be in the “body”, the Church of Christ, we must be baptized into it by His Spirit. And any who do not have His Spirit, are not His. How is that Spirit received? By the hearing of faith. And this, is rooted in one thing – the word of Christ, the Gospel.

This is basic Christianity. This, Young fails to ever articulate, if indeed he does not actually deny and undermine it.

10 – Papa: “I don’t do humiliation, or guilt, or condemnation.”

Dear Reader – The very heart of our salvation is rooted in the realization that we already stand guilty before the judgment bar of God, and need to be made righteous. This pronouncement of righteousness comes but one way – through faith in Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3:4-11 (ESV) 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

We ARE guilty already. Before God. Christ was crucified for our sins, and raised again for our justification – our being pronounced – RIGHTEOUS. God does guilt. We produce it, and He makes a way for our deliverance from its bondage in the death, burial and resurrection of His Son.

And God does “do” condemnation. God alone is the One who can and does judge us guilty and condmen us for our sin. The very same God who puts Jesus Christ out before us a propitiation, a satisfaction for our sins – to be received by faith. (Rom. 3:25)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. John 3:16-20 (ESV)

To deny God’s judgment on sin, and His just condemnation of it, once more is to deny the need for the cross, and Jesus’ atoning sacrifice there. It is to gut the Bible of its very focus and theme. To rob Christ of His glory. To make God a liar. To lead men to follow after the lies of men.

We’ve received the warnings:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (ESV)

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:8-9 (ESV)

Join me in praying that Mr. Young’s contrary Gospel is one he has preached unwittingly. Pray that he will be recovered from such dark and dangerous errors. Pray that those who already have and who will yet read this book will reject its soul-damning falsehoods. Pray that the Gospel might ring out in truth, clarity and power.

With nearly 500,000 copies sold, and glowing endorsements from the likes of Eugene Peterson (Professor Emeritus Of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, Vancouver, B.C.), Gayle E. Erwin of Calvary Chapel notoriety, and musician Michael W. Smith – the popular appeal is great.

I realize this review has been unusually candid and perhaps confrontive. It is not my delight to say the things I’ve aid above. To be honest, I hate it. I say them with no rancour toward the auther himself. I know it will be received by some as cautsic, hateful and deliberately negative. I am so sorry for that. But sorrier still should any buy into its teaching. I hold no rancour toward its author. Though I hope to stimulate him enough to reconsider some of these very serious errors.

By God’s grace, I am well aware many will simply not “get” the more grievous errors because they are already Christians and read it against the backdrop of their own Gospel presuppositions. Praise be to God! But there are so very many who are either not acquainted with the true Gospel yet, or whose faith is still so young and ill-informed, it could be the cause of such a poor theological base as to be destructive to the truth for years to come. And then there are those who will believe they don’t need to be Christians, and God isn’t interested in them being so. These especially need our prayers, and our loving and gentle intervention.

What about the good parts? Someone might well ask. It is a right question. There are some sections I truly loved and thought long and hard about whther or not I should dea lwith them in this review. I opted not to.

I can only say that if a wonderful, healthful, gourmet meal were offered to me, but it was sitting in a chamber filled with toxic gas – it would be wiser to skip the meal than risk the fumes. What there is here, can be had elsewhere, more safely, and in concert with the Scriptures. It simply isn’t worth it.

Mr. Young, I love you. I love what you are trying to do in helping those who hurt. But I beg you in God’s name to carefully and prayerfully reconsider the system of truth you’ve exented to the world in the name of Christ. It is ultimately – another Gospel.

[1] From the back cover of the paperback edition by Windblown Media – Los Angels, CA. © 2007 All quotes from the book that follow will be from this edition.

[2] Young, William. The Shack. 3rd printing. Los Angeles: Windblown Media, 2007

[3] Ibid. p. 88 “Her” first words to Mack are: “Well, Mackenzie, don’t just stand there gawkin’ with your mouth open like your pants are full.”

[4] Ibid. p. 218

[5] Ibid. p. 219

[6] Ibid. p. 16

[7] Ibid. p. 81

[8] Ibid. P. 82

[9] Ibid. p. 86 While elousia may be a reference to a Greek word for tenderness, given Young’s portrayal of God’s being “the ground of all being”, “in, around and through all things” (p. 112) it may in fact be a homage to apostate theologian Paul Tillich’s view of God as “the ground of being.” Not truly a personal God, but simply Being-itself. Technically this is known as Panentheism. http://herescope.blogspot.com/2008/07/shack-elousia-mythical-mystical-black.html

[10] Ibid. P. 84

[11] Ibid. p. 152

[12] Ibid. p. 170

[13] Ibid. p. 247

[14] Ibid. p. 120

[15] Ibid. p. 123

[16] Ibid. p. 134

[17] Ibid. p. 136

[18] Ibid. p. 145

[19] Ibid. p. 149-150

[20] Ibid. p. 164

[21] Ibid. p. 181-182

[22] Ibid. p. 178

18 thoughts on “Un-SHACK-led / A Review of: THE SHACK

  1. Thanks for the review. I just finished reading the book and absolutely loved it! I recommended it to my cousin, who pointed me to your review, as a counterpoint to the book.
    I appreciate your dissection of the biblical anomalies in The Shack- it’s always good to look to the ultimate source (God’s Word) for discernment.
    My reaction is this………The Shack is a fictional work, and never claims to be inspired. It is one man’s attempt (good-hearted, IMO) to explain God, His righteousness, and most importantly, His love for us. It paints a picture of our Lord that is so loving and beautiful, that I literally was in tears for the 2nd half of the book. It is a very very emotional story- I felt specially connected to Mack as the father of a young girl. The biggest emotion it drew from me is an increased love of God, and the desire to draw closer to Him in all I do.
    The doctrinal anomlalies you point out amount to technicalities in my view, and overshadow the central points of The Shack- that the Lord loves us beyond what we can ever imagine, and that above all He desires each of us to live in a loving and fulfilling personal relationship with Him. All we do as Christians should flow from that central tenet- that God lives within us, and we in Him. That relationship will manifest itself in our thoughts, words, and actions if we truly seek His will and His guidance.
    I don’t mean to disparage your efforts- it is critical that Christians do all we can to maintain the integrity of the Gospel and be sure that false teachings are tempered by biblical truths. I wouldn’t recommend The Shack to a non-believer or a new Christian seeking to understand the nature of the Trinity or the redemption God gives through Christ’s suffering and death. But, for the person already versed and secure in those aspects of faith, I would wholeheartedly endorse The Shack, as I think it can have a positive effect on many, increasing their desires to love God and walk closer with Him.
    Thanks and God bless!

  2. Thanks for stopping by, and for taking the time to leave a comment Derrick. Let me point to where I believe the error in your assessment lies. The notion that because something is fiction, that excuses it from needing to expound Biblical truth rightly, only exists where the subject of the fiction is not Biblical truth. In fact, there are several interviews with the author which you can access from Youtube where Young clearly states at least part of his purpose in the book was to convey theological truth he had come to know, to his children. Hence the use of the fiction in his own words was not to be purely fictional, but to convey concepts about God as he understands it. Because this book does in fact purport to convey concepts of God – for this very reason, it absolutely must be subjected to Biblical and doctrinal scrutiny. Scrutiny which is fails miserably, and in my estimation blasphemously under. For that reason, it ought to be dismissed out of hand.

  3. I really appreciate your review. I became aware of this book some time ago, and heard so many conflicting assessments of it that I went out and bought it to read. After about 75 pages (or however many it took to get to meet “PAPA,” I cast it aside as heresy. I was convinced that I couldn’t read it. Then a very close friend said I should read it, remember it is fiction, blah, blah, blah. So I did finish it. I was actually uneasy as I read it and felt that I had to ask my Lord for forgiveness for even finishing it. I don’t know what Mr. Young’s intentions are. I know that in Oregon there are some very strange “religious” situations, and perhaps this book came out of some of that. I just know I appreciate your candor and evaluation. It reinforces my own impression as I read it. Some folks close to me are somewhat critical of my stance on the book. Thank you again.

  4. Thank you for your review of this book. The thing that amazes me is how many people stand up to defend this book (do people defend the bible with the same passion?). I am often asked my opinion about the book. ‘Papa’ is all I need to mention. God has revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Why do we feel the need to reinvent God to fit what we want? The response I get is usually ‘it’s a great book, you have to look past those parts’. My question is what happened to the holiness of God? Why do these authors think they can play with the image of God? I met Christ as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the Holy One, the Savior, the Sin Bearer, the Alpha and Omega… I knew I stood before the one and only God and had to answer to Him. I am afraid that many have lost the fear of the Lord. If we were to reinvent someone’s parents or spouse they would be livid. How much more should we take offense when someone messes with the character of our Holy Lord and Savior. He purchased us with His blood, He deserves better than what some of these books are offering today.

  5. Thanks for stopping by and commenting Tim. And I concur. The extent to which this book is received – and as you mention – defended is mind boggling. It is an indicator of the desperate need for discernment in the Church in our day. May He be pleased to visit us with true revival to that end.

  6. Dear Friend,
    It is obvious to me, and trust me I am not an intellectual as yourself, that your ego seeks to reinforce your investment in education. That is in itself is appreciable. Thus is our dillema. “the trap in life is, that we are always attempting to escape the trap”. I have been blessed to understand this: that as long as we use language and words to express our understanding of the dimensions of God, we will always fall short of an accurate description of him. Conversion is a very intimate and personal experience. It is our nature to try to lead others to experience that which has been revealed to our “selfs” to be true. In so doing, we deny the very essence of our own, personal experience. In fact that is the very origin of “religion”.
    I have witnessed many instances of persons, citing great works of writings,form religions
    or cutlts from ideas. I liked the Shack. It challenges “religion”. Acadamenians will flirt forever wtih the theological challenges made by one authors interpretation’s of God. If this author sells 4 million copies and reaches just one person, he has met his objective. God Bless You . Don’t walk around with a tigh sphincter. Its not good for your health.

  7. Thanks for stopping by, reading and leaving your comments George. I have no idea how you may have come to assume something regarding my intellectualism, education or the health and state of my rectal health. Perhaps the matter for another time – eh?

    What is important, is that God has chosen to communicate about Himself in very precise and identifiable ways. Creation gives us natural or general revelation. But it is in the Bible and consummately in the person and work of Christ Jesus that He communicates regarding Himself most precisely. Whether or not one likes The Shack on one level is irrelevant. How truthful The Shack is when measured by the divine revelation of Scripture is the real issue. And, it is (IMHO) the key issue. The Scripture alone is our means of weighing and measuring all truth. Abandon that, and all you have left is rank subjectivism.

    The Shack is problematic chiefly for this one reason – it denies the direct communication of God about Himself and the ways HE desires to be perceived and understood. In other cases it imagines a whole new set of communications. Hence it seeks to provide its own measure of revelation. This, must be flatly rejected if our authority is to rest in what God has said, and not in what man has imagined.

    I have no problem with challenging man-made “religion”. In fact, that is exactly what I am doing by criticizing The Shack. I am challenging Paul Young’s self-originated religion, in favor of God’s revealed revelation in His Word. That is the only safe place.

  8. Reid,
    I have been amazed at the number of Christians that are recommending this book, especially to new believers. I am surprised that the Christian community hasn’t been more vocal about it.Thanks for putting light on this heretical writing. Judy

  9. Reid,

    Aaahh…what is truth? Thank you for relaxing your sphincter long enough to preach from Revelation (through your tears) about the Heaven that the Lord’s presence and beauty will fill and in which He will personally wipe away all of my tears. No more death, pain, mourning, or sin. And thanks for not making it up – that would have provided no comfort at all. Oh, and thanks for not using any big words this time.

  10. Hey Rick – it was so good to be with everybody over the weekend, and especially to spend a little more time with you, and to get to know your sister. Bonus!

    Thanks for the encouraging words. They ARE appreciated.

    Blessings brother.

  11. Pingback: Meanwhile, back at “The Shack” « ResponsiveReiding

  12. I’m very grateful for this review in which you show such a firm grasp of biblical truth. One of my “men-of-the-cloth” friends recommended I read the Shack. I did read excerpts, which I found it so contrary to the Bible. For myu friend, Christianity was about relationships (and realtionships ands relationships.

    The following often go together: 1. strong emaphasis on human relationships , 2. rejection of biblical inerrancy (Thus says the Lord of the OT is a definite no no, 3. universal salvation, 4. emphasis on “free” will AND 5. rejection of penal substitution.

    If you have the time/inclination you may want to read my “Love, the enemy?” which is related to your review.

    Raphael (Onedaringjew)

  13. Thanks so much for taking the time to stop and especially to comment. It is most appreciated.

  14. Through its caricature of God as a refuge and nurturing protector, the book provided temporary relief from emotional pain resulting from long term abuse. It provided a sense that God sees my pain and His desire is for it to heal, as a parent feels anguish when a child has severe pain
    I really think this book provides acknowledgement of the deep needs for love, acceptance and understanding that emotional or sexual trauma victims carry, which is exactly what the author experienced and where he is coming from.
    It cannot be understood by those who have not experienced it. It is a permanent change in the brain that cannot be healed.
    You have written a careful, thoughtful analysis. I see the potential danger if one were to believe God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were accurately depicted in the story.
    I did not see it as theological truth. I saw each aspect of God contributing to healing.
    I could not identify with his portrayal of Jesus. I did like his example of joyful fellowship between the three God figures being an example for us.
    I have never been able to receive healing in the church body. It is difficult to carry a defect that is undetectable, that creates a barrier between human relationships, and still try to relate to other Christians joyfully. This is very common with abuse victims.
    Doctrine does not remove the pain and fear, or renew my trust in men on this earth. It only gives hope for the future.
    It hurts me to hear that something that makes me feel relief and love is wrong.
    I guess you can compare this book’s effect to the novel “The DeVinci Code”, that led some Christians astray.
    On a similar note I thought the movie “The Passion” was way off base. It seemed to promote guilt over the horror of how Jesus was treated as a means to accepting Christ as Savior.

  15. Dear Kathy – Thanks so much for stopping and commenting. And I am genuinely grateful you found some comfort in the book. I am always reminded of a statement I heard a good brother make some time ago: God is very capable of drawing straight lines with very crooked sticks. So I am completely confident that the Lord can use this as much as I am certain its actual teachings are sadly heretical in many ways.

    But because some good CAN be gotten from it in God’s mercy, is not a reason to justify it in its dreadful errors. Men dying of thirst are known to drink their own urine in desperation – and it may at times even save their lives. But this would be no recommendation of the practice for sure. This is a difficult call I know.

    I do know from an interview with the author that he clearly wrote the book to explain his own theological understanding to his children. He meant it to be theological, even if some do not read it that way. I did.

    I do sympathize with the pain of what you must have endured through what you have suffered. But I am also convinced that truth, the truth about God, His love and mercy and grace in His Word, and the work of the Holy Spirit can fully (and not just temporarily) meet those needs in their fullest. May you find that soon. Blessings.

  16. I appreciate your laying it on the line. I wonder why I never felt that I was loved by the Christians in my life. The Word that was preached meant nothing because I didn’t see it lived out in anybody, to the degree I needed simple recognition of the pain and confusion I carried. No Christian reached out. It seemed Satan was more attentive because I was so vulnerable to be deceived, having no point of reference of God’s gift of love.
    How does a person in that situation find his needs met through God?

  17. Its such as you learn my mind! You seem to understand so much
    approximately this, liike you wrote the guide in it
    or something. I believe thazt you just can do with
    a few % tto force thhe message house a bit,however otber than that,
    this is great blog. A grerat read. I’ll certainly be back.

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