Over the past two weeks, over 30 people have asked me my opinion. I'm Italian. This is usually gold as I rarely shy away from sharing my opinion when asked! Yet, when 30 people in that short amount of time ask about the same topic, there is something going down. They all asked about the upcoming release of the movie The Shack. I read the book when it came out. I posted this blog about it on our old site in 2008. Here you go:
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.
"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!"
That escalated quickly.
My review, which was written back in February of this year was supposed to be limited to 100-150 words! However, just in case you want to weed through it, I'll post it below. While reading, it might be helpful to keep in mind that it was originally written for an online forum of theology students for a Systematic Theology class in seminary.
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-what do we do with evil? Yep, the problem of evil in a work of fiction. It 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, per 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. 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 or nieces and nephews 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. Beyond the human-ness of my illustration, the problem 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).
As one can see, extreme caution is necessary when reading this book. As with 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 during pain. However, there are dangerous implications built upon a bad foundation. It is not rooted in the sacred text.
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) 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 is dangerous. Godliness and moral character become subjective because only the sin being away from God is of consequence. Young negates the promise of the New Covenant in Ezekiel and Jeremiah-the law of God written on the new covenant heart and the Spirit causing 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, follow Him, consider the cost of discipleship, and have Christ's life lived through Him.
Another shoddy foundation with dangerous implications is Young's 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 realiable 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 [Mack] 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 antagonistic of the example of the Gospel and sound doctrine continually transforming the mind of the child of God.
In addition to belittling the written word and the Spirit's application of it, 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, turning their hearts like streams of water.
There are many more theological problems expressed in The Shack which are too great to go into detail in this forum. Briefly, here is a quick rundown of some more of them.
FORGIVENESS - The entire book centers around Mack’s inability to forgive God. You've heard it before, "I just can't forgive myself." It's a completely man-centered response to God. It makes man the judge and reverses 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 universalism. 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 argument 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, & LAW - The Jesus character states “These three are the man-created trinity of errors that ravage the earth and deceive those I care about.” Contrary to popular, trite sayings - the God of the Bible likes religion. Pure and undefined religion in the sight of our God is this... James says.
FREE WILL - Though mentioned above, Young's free will argument is on steroids. He places more power in men than in God. He never addresses the consequence of those who freely choose to reject God. Again, the point can be made that he is vouching for universalism. Young wrongly portrays all law as evil. 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? Young denies that The law is good, holy, and a tutor to lead us to Christ - the one who became a cruse for us. It wasn't the law that was bad, it was the weakness of man's flesh. The law was given by a good God 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 & THE TRINITY - Young comments on the submission of the Trinity members to each other, but also comments on the God-head submitting to humans. God submitting to man? Many that I've spoken to have said that this book has taught them about the relationship of the Trinity, which is extremely concerning. They've said that they've learned more about God in this book than they ever have through church or His Word. Friends, this is alarming!
PAGANISM - There is a scene in the book where the main character meets with a character named Sophia. After their meeting, Mack had a greater revelation and understanding 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 a few things in common with God Almighty, but he is infinitely smaller and falls quite short of the glory, grandeur, and love that is the God of the Bible. I appreciate the purpose of the Shack-a book written to Young's kids to administer compassion in pain. Yet, good intentions lead to The Shack being built on a faulty foundation that falls short of the whole of biblical truth. Young emphasizes experiencing God's empathy 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. I would recommend this book to an astute, critical thinker that is steeped in God's Word so that they can engage in conversations with unbelievers and young believers who lack discernment. It is the most popular book of the year for a reason and could lead from error to the pursuit of Jesus in His Wors. Otherwise, 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 through His Word.
Wanting more info? I just read this beautifully articulate piece by Dr. Mohler that you may find helpful.
Hannah Aker Elrod said...hey, Im glad you shared that, I agree and have an article about the book posted on my page you need to read...
November 2, 2008 at 2:15 PM David Daugherty said...Excellent Jeremy. Excellent. Most deception is actually half truth and not entirely wrong. It is very eloquently written and spoken as well. Therefore many churchgoers who are not aware of the whole Truth can easily be led astray by things like this.
November 2, 2008 at 2:16 PM Beth Amato Thisse said...I just finished this book...I still can't tell what I thought about it!
November 2, 2008 at 2:17 PM Beth Amato Thisse said...I must admit, I read and continued reading, more to find out what happens with the daughter than anything else. It definately wasn't a life changing read. I really wasn't thrilled with it.
November 2, 2008 at 2:18 PM Joel Trigger said...Hmmm... yeah. I read this book a while back and had some of the same thoughts... but do you really think this is a case where you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as you said? It's a pretty important baby in there. I know it's important to deal with the theological problems, but I don't think just knowing the right theology will ... Read More answer the problem Young is trying to answer either. Theological answers to the problem of evil don't answer the personal problem of evil - but personally knowing and trusting the goodness of God's heart does (or at least it goes a long way). And I don't think you come to know God's heart just by sitting in a garden and meditating, OR just by sitting in a library studying theology. It's a much more complicated and holistic thing... I think that's what Young was trying to capture, but I think you're right - he didn't get it, and posed a lot of theology along the way I disagree with strongly. Which is unfortunate and scary when people swallow it all
November 2, 2008 at 2:18 PM Anonymous said...While I agree the theology pretty shaky, and I don't plan on using it another Bible, I think The Shack did an excellent job of portraying the relational heart of God. I grew up with a more legalistic view of God, and this book in that sense was refreshing. Once again, I don't agree with everything, like the doctrine of sin, or the low view of Scriptures; however, it remains a book that has certainly cause me to think.
December 18, 2008 at 10:22 AM Luca said...Update: I constantly see people reading this book (in airports, at the gym, and at the coffee shop). Typically, I ask them what they think... not wanting to jump on top of them, but to see what is going on in their heads. In addition to these comments, I've had many people tell me that I'm being self-righteous and pious. Interesting.
January 1, 2009 at 7:23 PM Anonymous said...Thank you so much for your insightful and very thought out perspective. I am a bible study teacher, and a "skeptic" maybe even agnostic--has asked me to read this book so we can have a dialogue about it. This book touched her. So, I am trying to gain all that I can from other believers before I have this conversation.
JS in TX