Setting the record straight. Over the past several months I have been asked about my opinions on the book The Shack. In the first few chapters, where Young sets up the story, I was intrigued with the topic--an allegory on God confronting our pain. As I continued, I wrote a lot of notes, theological notes, out in the margins. There were some good things said, but after further consideration of the book's message, theology, implications of this theology, and the response the author has given regarding criticism of his work, I must say that this is one book where you need to throw the baby out with the bath water, as it is a book that exemplifies Galatians 1:6-8:
"I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel of heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!"
You don't have to read my review, which was written back in February of this year (and was supposed to be limited to 100-150 words!). However, just in case... I thought I would put it below for those that keep asking. Keep in mind that it was written for a forum of theology students).
For those of you whom I have had conversations with concerning this book, it shows the importance of truth--Ephesians 4:14-15.
You may also find the response on this blog helpful.
Critical Analysis The Shack | Jeremy W. Lucarelli | February 2008
One of the most difficult things to understand about being a Christ-follower is how God uses our pain. Many quilts and little cards remind believers that “God works things together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose,” but it is often a struggle to recognize this love in the midst of the deepest pain. Young’s work of fiction, The Shack, speaks to this age old question--the problem of evil—and is one of the most popular and most-embraced books of this past year. Before listing my comments, however, it is noteworthy to point out that this book is theological fiction and, therefore, it is difficult to determine what the author means by what he says.
Young is depicting how real, genuine faith is vastly different from the going-through-the-motions, lifeless religion. There is an emphasis on the faith of Mack, the main character, transforming the way in which he lives his life. After encountering God, allowing Him to do some pretty tough surgery on the pain, Mack’s life is changed. Young indirectly deals with the problems of the health, wealth and prosperity gospel by showing how God allows pain and suffering in the lives of believers.
Eugene Peterson states that this book is the “Pilgrims Progress” of our generation. Yet, there are many dangerous implications in the book. Evil, according to Young, is the result of the choices humans make. This includes both social and environmental evils, but Young never concludes that the problem is sin. In one of the many questions asked in the book, Mack wonders why God allows bad things to happen in the world. God gets angry at the accusation that these actions are because of Him or allowed by Him. Though angry at the accusation, the God character refuses to stop them from happening because in doing so he would violate the free will of his children (apparently everyone in creation is alluded to as God’s children, as opposed to those who have accepted salvation). The God character says, "When you love someone you never, ever, try to get them to do something against their will because that is unloving. Our power of free volition is the greatest thing we have and worth all the evils of the world." Anyone with children knows that this is contrary to everything God says about discipline and love. My daughter will not be allowed to touch the stove because I love her. If I allowed her to, the love I have for her would be questioned. Yet, beyond the human-ness of my illustration, the problem here is Young's impotence of God's sovereignty and providence (Job 1, Genesis 37-50, the lives of David and Saul, Romans 5, James 1:2-4, and the entire book of Isaiah).
As one can see, extreme caution is necessary when reading this book. As with all works of fiction and allegories, the propensity is always there to take the analogy or man’s words too far. The message of the book is encouraging--pursue the presence of God fully in the midst of pain. There are many dangerous implications that are built upon the bad foundation mentioned above. For example, the God of the Shack makes God into a weak father who wrings his hands wondering what choices His children will make. The book also makes God out to be primarily a responder, as opposed to the initiator that Scripture portrays. God is not so much the sovereign sustainer of the universe as he is the one who needs sustaining. Instead of being the sovereign God who masterfully weaves and orchestrates every aspect of life, God is belittled to the one who cleans up the messes as they come. A friend of mine stated that it makes God the lifeguard, sitting in the chair twirling the whistle and waiting for something wrong to happen.
The hamartiology (Doctrine of Sin) implied in The Shack is damaging as well. The main character asks God what he expects of Him. God says... nothing. He states that there is no law, there is no guilt. Guilt is always bad and never leads to a right relationship with God. this, also, is dangerous. Morality becomes subjective because the only sin is being away from God. Young negates the promise of the New Covenant in Ezekiel and Jeremiah--the law of God is written on the new covenant heart and the Spirit causes the individual to walk in the law. The only test for “walking manner in a manner worthy of the calling” is our emotional experience, so one could be living in habitual sin but be convinced that his relationship with God is okay. God, in the Shack, never calls the main character to take up his cross and follow Him and consider the cost of discipleship.
Another dangerous implication of The Shack is the view of Scripture. When Mack’s first day with God ends, he goes into his room and finds a Gideon’s Bible sitting on the table by the bed. He started to read it, but fell asleep after a few minutes. This was one of the only times the Bible is mentioned at all in the book. It puts Mack to sleep. The book follows the trend that considers dreams, visions and emotional experiences more solid and real than the very word of God that God has established and brought as high as His name. Young’s God character never points to His word as the authority. “In seminary [Mac] had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects... Nobody wanted to put God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that built edges?” This view of the Word of God is both dangerous and whole-heartedly against the example of sound doctrine influencing the deeds of the believer.
In addition to belittling the written word and the Spirit applying the word, many biblical ideas are belittled and questioned by Young’s God character in this book. One of them is the Romans 13 principle of all authority being established by God. Young’s God character states that man was the one that made hierarchal authority structures, not Him. Clearly against the biblical model of church leadership and God being the one who ordains the kings and princes.
There are many more theological problems expressed in The Shack, which are too great to go into detail in this forum. However, in addition to the above they include:
forgiveness - the entire book centers around Mack’s inability to forgive God, which shows that the book is somewhat man-centered, reversing man's great need to be forgiven and at peace with God through Christ.
salvation-very little of the book deals with salvation. It could be argued that Young is purposefully leaving this out for the sake of universalistic doctrine. The Jesus character says that he is not interested in making people into Christians and denies that all roads lead to him, but rather that he will find them on whatever road they are on. One could make the arguement that the main character's transformation was his salvation experience (where effectual calling met surrender) but this is not emphasized by the author.
politics, religion and law-the Jesus character states “These three are man-created trinity of errors that ravage the earth and deceives those I care about.” Free will-though mentioned above, Young never addresses the consequence of those who choose to reject God. Plus, what about what Jesus said concerning the law--"I did not come to abolish the Law, but came to fulfill it." Or, what Paul says about the law in Romans 7 and Galatians 3? It wasn't the law that was bad, it was the weakness of man's flesh. The law was given by a good God in an effort to show the need for a Savior. After salvation, the Holy Spirit is given and the law is written on hearts of flesh, so that the true believer can carry out the law through the Spirit.
Submission-Young comments on the submission of the Trinity members to each other, but also comments on the God-head submitting to humans. Many have said that this book has taught them about the relationship of the Trinity, which is extremely sad.
Possible paganism-there is a scene in the book where the main character meets with Sophia, which suggests either a paganistic view of relating to god or Gnosticism.
The Shack was a poignant read, and the God of the Shack (Papa) has many things in common with God Almighty, but he is infinitely smaller and falls quite short of the glory and grandeur and love that is the God of the Bible. I appreciate the purpose of the Shack--administering compassion, but find some of the information falling short of the whole of biblical truth. Young expounds on the characteristic of compassion, but separates God’s love from His holiness, righteousness and justice. Therefore, the God of the Shack is not the God of the Word.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is trying to figure out some of the shortcomings of the emergent church, as long as they read it with a critical eye. Otherwise, buyer beware--the twisting of truth located within is deception. Instead of trying not to put God in a box, as many have said in response to this book, people need to recognize what God says about Himself.