We should trust the Bible, says Timothy Paul Jones, because it is ‘grounded in the words of a man who died and rose again’ (p.111). Jones’s basic presupposition is this: ‘If we live in a world where it is possible…
- Publisher: Hodder Windblown
- ISBN: 978-0340979495
- Pages: 256
- Price: £5.88
Not really a Christian book
For months people have been asking me whether I’ve read The Shack. This book has been flying off the shelves in both Christian and secular bookshops.
Until now I’ve resisted, partly for lack of time. I’m glad I have now read it, but I need to say right up front that I’m concerned about its dangerous influence. Its popularity among many professing believers is alarming and indicative of the poor spiritual climate of our day.
There’s no question but that the book is a ‘good read’. It draws you in and engrosses you with its compelling storyline. I read it in two sittings, totalling about 5 hours.
The book never claims to be anything other than a work of fiction, though the undiscerning reader might get confused, since the author is himself a character in the story, and this helps to blur the line between fact and fiction. But that it deals with foundational biblical truths in a fictional context does not make it any less influential. Indeed, if anything, it heightens the danger.
A different God
I intend in this review to highlight some of The Shack’s main errors, as I see them, particularly in its depiction of God.
The ‘God’ depicted in The Shack is very different from the one revealed to us in the Bible. Not only does it depict God the Father as a woman, but the God of this book does not do what the God of The Book –– the Bible –– does.
Young’s God doesn’t judge in a way that involves destruction (p. 169), doesn’t ‘do’ guilt and condemnation (p. 223), and isn’t disappointed in sinful people (p. 206). This is totally different from the God who at one time was so disappointed in humankind that he was sorry he ever created it and proceeded to judge it by destroying all but eight people (Genesis 6-7).
The God of The Shack says bluntly, ‘I don’t need to punish people for sin’ (p. 120). He is not sovereign. Evil things happen outside his control and he has no purpose in them (pp. 165, 185-186). Yet Scripture tells us that Joseph being kidnapped and sold into slavery was part of God’s sovereign purpose (Genesis 50:20), and that God raised up Pharaoh for his own divine purposes (Romans 9:17).
The Shack‘s God is a God who loves uncertainty (p. 145), not a God working all things out in perfect conformity with his foreordained plan for the world (Ephesians 1:9-11). Moreover, he submits himself to human will and preference (p. 145) and does not require obedience from his children.
He actually sees any attempt to keep the rules as an act of sinful independence (p. 203)! This is in contrast to the true God, who says through his Son that one of the marks of our love for him will be that we keep his commandments (John 14:15).
In The Shack, God the Father expressly denies forsaking God the Son on the cross (p. 96). This is in direct contradiction to the Bible (Mark 15:34).
One of the strongest themes running through The Shack is that of the Trinity, and yet the Trinity portrayed here is a far cry from the Trinity of the Bible.
There is confusion between the persons of the Trinity and their roles, as when the main character Mack sees deep scars in the wrists of the Father. The Father goes on to explain that ‘We were there together’ on the cross (pp. 95-96). This is akin to an ancient heresy called patripassionism which taught that God the Father was incarnate and suffered on the cross.
The Bible reveals clearly that the Trinitarian relationship is characterised by subordination and obedience, as well as equality, and this relationship is a model for such human relationships as marriage and those within the church (e.g. John 6:38; 8:28; 1 Corinthians 11:3). Young, however, sees hierarchy, subordination and obedience as products of sin and man’s way of controlling other people for his own selfish ends (pp. 122, 124).
So the Trinity is depicted as a chummy, sugary-sweet trio of characters with whom God’s people can be relaxed and informal. While stressing the intimacy of the relationship between God and his children, the aspect of God most noticeably missing from The Shack is that of reverential fear. Mack meets and talks with God just as he would one of his workmates or friends. He swears in his presence and jokes with him.
Where is the unspeakably holy, majestic and transcendent God of the Bible, in whose presence those who knew him best and are entitled to call him Father fall on their faces as though dead and feel they are being consumed by the splendour of his holiness? Can we conceive of Isaiah (Isaiah 6) or John (Revelation 1) relating to God in the way Mack does?
The tangible, visible manifestations of God the Father and God the Spirit are also serious deviations from Scripture and in direct contravention to the commandment which forbids any image or likeness being made of God (Exodus 20:4). God is Spirit ‘whom no-one has ever seen or can see’ (1 Timothy 6:16).
This breaking of the commandment is a serious matter, which will be gravely compounded as and when the inevitable film version of the book is released. This is another case of man creating God in his own image in order to make him more comprehensible and manageable.
Given that, as stated, this book does not claim to be anything other than a work of fiction, do we need to be worried by these errors and deviations? After all, there are plenty of fictional works that are seriously at odds with the Word of God.
I think it matters a great deal. For a start, this is a supposedly Christian book, published by Christians and claiming to answer the question: ‘Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?’
It promotes itself by claiming to offer ‘one of the most poignant views of God and how he relates to humanity … a magnificent glimpse into the nature of God’.
What is also deeply troubling is its underlying agenda. Its story comes out of a post-modern world where there is no ultimate authority or truth and everyone’s interpretation and belief systems are supposedly of equal validity. The Bible is referred to in disparaging ways (pp. 65-66) and an understanding of God independent of Scripture is encouraged.
This approach attacks one of the key doctrines of the Christian faith –– revelation. We can only know God because he has revealed himself to us, and we can only know him through the means he has used, that is the Scriptures. Yet the God of The Shack is not the God who is revealed in Scripture.
God only and ever reveals himself to humans in male language. That does not mean, of course, he is of a male gender in a human sense. However, we are not at liberty to speak of God in any other way than the way in which he speaks of himself.
Perhaps the most subtle and dangerous aspect is that the book’s portrayal of God is not simply conveyed as one person’s interpretation and understanding. No; God himself speaks and reveals himself in this way. Surely this is nothing less than idolatry?
But it is not only The Shack that should concern us; it is the spiritual condition of the church on which it has been let loose. A more spiritually mature generation would quickly have recognised it for what it is –– heresy and blasphemy dressed up in literary clothes –– and the book wouldn’t have achieved such acceptability among professing Christians.
But our biblically illiterate and undiscerning generation is easy prey. Read the reviews on Amazon and you will even find some have changed their theological convictions, not because of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Scriptures but because of The Shack.
I know of one church that, unbelievably, used it as a study book for its house groups, thereby elevating it to a position of authoritative teaching among the congregation. One of The Shack‘s most incomprehensible commendations, made by Eugene Petersen and used on the book’s cover, says that: ‘This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!’
But Bunyan’s book, also fictional, is consistently faithful to Scripture and full of scriptural references (notably lacking in Young’s book). Let’s make no mistake about it. The Shack is not really a Christian book. It is at odds with the Scriptures and portrays a God unknown to the Bible and to historic, evangelical Christianity.
It preaches a gospel utterly at variance with God’s Word. I would not wish any immature believer to read the book and would certainly not encourage it being read by non-Christians.