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A review of The Shack. By William Young. Part Two.

Apr 11, 2008

Windblown Media, 2007.  (Available in Australia from Koorong Books)

I have offered my general (and positive) assessments of The Shack in part one of this review. Here I wish to address a few areas of concern I had with the book. They should not deter potential readers of this book, and they are not meant to detract from the overall value of the book. But they must be stated.

Obviously no one is perfect, and we are all fallen and finite. Thus we must be careful here, especially when we dare to write about such huge topics as God and the problem of suffering. None of us have all the truth, and our knowledge is partial. We see through a glass darkly, as Paul informs us. So humility and care is needed whenever we seek to talk about such matters.

Thus William Young has taken a stab at some of the harder topics to cover, and he deserves credit for trying. Yet we must all acknowledge that he will not get everything right, and there will of course be areas in which fellow believers may wish to disagree with him. These then are some of the concerns I noted as I read through the book.

Negative concerns

One might ask whether a work of fiction can even do justice to such topics. But God has often used fiction in the past to help convey biblical, theological and spiritual truths. I already mentioned The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. It has served believers well for centuries, and still blesses many. More recently The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis have also been mightily used of God to teach biblical themes. So without question there is a place for fiction in dealing with such theological and apologetic tasks.

Let me first deal with Young’s depiction of God. Although a work of fiction, Young is seeking here to represent actual biblical and theological truths about God. Much of this book in fact is Young’s attempt to try to portray God aright, and to deal with misunderstandings and distorted views of the Biblical picture of God.

I must say I initially found myself thinking that Young’s depiction of God the Father is much like the way he is represented in the two recent films, Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty. That is, God is a joke-telling Black American with a great sense of humour. Indeed, the Father is presented in this book as a large, jovial Black American woman. The Spirit is presented as a wispy Asian female, and Jesus is presented as a male of Middle Eastern appearance.

Now this need not necessarily cause problems. True, God in Scripture is primarily represented as male, but of course ultimately God is spirit, and is above sex or gender. Yet he has created us – male and female – in his image. While some feminine images are used of God in the Bible, overwhelmingly God is presented in male terms, imagery and language.

Later in the book the Father does appear as a male to Mack. It is because Mack had a horribly abusive father when he was a child, so he needed a maternal presentation of God at first. So no real damage is done here. Again it is a work of fiction. And in reality God can appear to us in any form that he chooses to.

Another possible area of concern is that by so stressing the love of God, there is always the tendency to get the Biblical portrait of God out of kilter. That is, God is love to be sure, but he is also holy, just, righteous, and so on. Often these other attributes get lost or minimised in a strong emphasis on the love of God.

And Young at times seems to move in this direction. Fortunately, he will balance things out on most occasions, thus preventing any real concerns about heresy (which already some are expressing about this book). For example, an unbalanced emphasis on the love of God, to the exclusion of his hatred of sin, or judgment on ungodliness, has led some believers into embracing a type of universalism, the idea that in the end everyone will be saved.

It is true that God through Christ has made a way for all of us to be accepted in the beloved. But we still must take the steps to realise that invitation. And that involves repentance and turning from ourselves, and submitting to God. Fortunately Young seems to include this, when it looks like he is just about to go over the theological edge.

For example, at one place (p. 182) Jesus is talking of all sorts of people coming to Him, and he says “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”. To which Mack rightly asks, “Does that mean that all roads will lead to you?” But then Jesus replies, “Not at all. Most roads don’t lead anywhere”.

Or consider another episode where the Father tells Mack that because of the work of Jesus, “I am now fully reconciled to the whole world”. This could be understood as a case of universalism, but fortunately the statement is then qualified by God saying that “reconciliation is a two way street, and I have done my part”. The inference is that sinners then have to do their part (repentance and faith, eg), which presents the balanced Biblical picture. And on pages 225-226 we finally hear such talk of the need for repentance and trust. So a potentially unbiblical position is here at least brought back into some kind of balance.

A related concern is that this important emphasis on love and relationships as being the heart of what Christianity is all about can lead to antinomianism and an unbalanced view of the workings between law and grace. For example, God tells Mack to not worry about following rules: “The Bible doesn’t teach you to follow rules. It is a picture of Jesus. . . . Don’t look for rules and principles; look for relationship – a way of coming to be with us” (pp. 197-198).

Of course one wants to take the spirit of this, and see the importance of a love relationship over against legalism and so on. But a fine line needs to be trod here, and it is unhelpful to set law against grace. Both are given by God, and both are used in his purposes. Young’s idea here seems almost to be that we must choose one or the other, that they are polar opposites.

But Scripture has a very high view of law. Sure, law cannot save us, but law is from God, and reflects who he is. To argue that we not concern ourselves with any rules means that we not only dismiss the 613 laws and commands given in the Old Testament, but that the many commands given in the New Testament are also to be treated as irrelevant and something to not worry about.

No one is saved by keeping rules, but once saved, and out of gratitude, we do seek to keep the rules that Christ and the apostles have laid down for us. By so emphasising love relationships (which admittedly, many evangelicals need to hear again, and hear in clear and forceful terms), Young seems to throw the baby out with the bath water. Yes loving relationships are at the heart of what God wants for us, but it is not at the expense of holy living, and/or seeking to please God in all that he asks of us.

Other potential concerns crop up. Three times in the book Mack tells us of the paucity and general unhelpfulness of his earlier theological training in seminary. Compared with his encounter with the living God, it fades in comparison, which would be expected. But it seems that Young is taking a bit of a dig at seminaries and theological training here. Hopefully he is not, but it seems to come out that way, both here and elsewhere in the book.

But of course there should be no dichotomy between knowledge of God (which is what theology seeks to do) and experiencing the presence of God. The two should reinforce each other. Both are important. Right living (orthopraxy) and right belief (orthodoxy) go together, and the one feeds off the other. Paul warns us to watch our lives and our teaching carefully. It is not one or the other, but both.

And while theology seems to be mildly scoffed at in this book, the book in fact is one big exercise in theology, albeit in fictional form. Young is seeking to present a theology of God, with an apologetic spin. That is the same sort of thing all good evangelical seminaries seek to do. So this may have been an unnecessary slight to theological education and seminary learning.

Another area which will bother some (at least those with some theological background) is the way the Trinity is presented in the book. The idea of any sort of hierarchy in the Trinity is slammed here. “Hierarchy would make no sense among us” the Father tells Mack, for example (p. 122).

Now that happens to be a position that some good evangelicals hold to. Most however would probably argue that there is some sort of hierarchy in the Trinity – certainly not a hierarchy of essence or nature, but of role or function.

Theologically conservative Christians tend to argue that just as there is a hierarchy of roles or functions in the Godhead, so too God has ordained such a hierarchy in human relationships, for example with the husband being the head of the wife and family, as Scripture suggests. Young would evidently reject both types of hierarchy.

All this is being debated in evangelical circles, as I mentioned. So Young is simply taking one side on this debate here, and not all evangelicals will be happy with his position. Young is insisting that his view is the way it is, but other believers might beg to differ.

Other related issues arise. Since Young is so against hierarchy and power, and sees them as antithetical to love and relationship, he seems to again go too far in one direction. Thus he says all human institutions – be they government, economies, marriage or family – are built on hierarchy and power, and therefore are all counter to his ways and purposes.

But it would seem that God in fact created many of these institutions, so we should not be so quick to dismiss them or rubbish them. God has ordained the institutions of the state, and of the family, for example. Clearly there is hierarchy in the state, and the use of power is God-ordained. So not all cases of human hierarchy and power are wrong. Again, believers can debate whether there should be any hierarchy in the home (as between husband and wife) but surely some hierarchy should exist between parent and child.

Other points of concern could be mentioned. On page 120 we find the Father telling Mack, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment…” Well, yes and no. Sin brings bad consequences on us, and this seems to be Paul’s train of thought in Romans 1 when he speaks of homosexuality as being both sinful, and in a sense, its own punishment.

But we also have many clear texts telling us that there is a separate punishment for sin (which Jesus of course took upon himself) and future punishment, which unbelievers will experience eternally in the form of hell. So Young seems to be unnecessarily downplaying some clear biblical truths here, in the interests of stressing the love and relationship side of things.

Conclusion

Defenders of the book – and perhaps Young himself – might argue that sometimes a push to extremes is needed to correct long-held wrong understandings and theologies that evangelicals have held to. Thus the emphasis on love and relationship may tend to go too far, at the expense of other biblical truths, but these defenders might argue that this is necessary, as we need to wake believers out of their slumber, and get them to realise once again the wonder of a deep, intimate love relationship with God.

I agree with the aim, but I am not sure if I am happy with the means. Yes church history tends to be a pendulum swing, of one extreme being matched by another extreme, and so on, in the hopes of finding the biblically balanced middle ground. While sympathetic to what Young is trying to do here, as one who feels we must pay attention to the whole counsel of God (as Paul exhorts us), and as a theologian and one who wants to let Scripture speak in all its fullness, I cringe at times at some of the lack of balance presented here.

But having said all that, I think that on the whole this book may achieve a lot of good for the Body of Christ. As I said at the end of Part One, this book may well help many. I hope it does. As with all things, let the reader beware. The reader needs to read with critical eyes, testing everything that is being said according to the word of God. We all need to be like the Bereans who searched the Scriptures daily to see if what was being told them was true (Acts 17:11).

But get the book if you are interested, and give it a read, being open to what God may seek to achieve in you in the process. I invite readers of this book to share their thoughts here with us in the comments’ section. Let the discussion begin.

Part One is here:

billmuehlenberg.com/2008/04/11/a-review-of-the-shack-by-william-young-part-one/

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35 Responses to A review of The Shack. By William Young. Part Two.

  • Much error relies on taking Scripture out of context and distorting it to fit a preconceived view. But here the audacity of presuming to put words into God’s mouth that are not found in the revelation he has given of himself beggars belief. Herein lies the mischief of this fiction, like the church notice board which reads, ‘”I believe in you”, God.’
    I’m afraid this comes close to blasphemy in my book.

    John Nelson

  • Good reviews, Bill.

    I mentally compared your critique with my recollections of CS Lewis’ Narnia series, and consider your comments well-balanced and on the ball.

    Well done!

    John Angelico

  • Thanks John

    But I might not go that far. In defence of religious allegory in general, and Young in particular, I don’t think there is any claim to be offering inspired words of God here. Christian fiction writers who put words into God’s mouth are simply using the means of fiction to help illustrate what God might be like or saying, hopefully all in accord with what we find in Scripture. So I don’t think we need to be concerned about the notion that what God says in fiction is intended to be taken as the actual Word of God.

    Having said that, one can and should still evaluate the theological content of any work, even a work of fiction, which a Christian might write, and see how it lines up with Scripture.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • The Bible of course already provides a current decription of the Second Person of the Trinity.
    Rev 1: 12-16 depiction of His Risen and Glorified form, coroborrated by a similar depiction given in Daniel 10: 5-6, apparently during a Pre-Incarnate visit.
    C.S.Lewis of course followed another allegoric Bible description of the Second Person given in Rev 5: 5 (a Lion), appropriate for the setting of his series.
    Daniel 7: 9 depicts what one can only take to be the Father.
    So William Young already had descriptions to follow if he chose.
    Stephen White

  • I may have expressed myself too strongly Bill, but I think there is a difference between spiritual allegory, as in Bunyan and Lewis, and using the medium of fiction to promote a radically different theology, one that appears to have much in common with the Baxter Kruger school of ‘Perichoresis’.
    From your description Young seems to be making God say things contrary to the Bible. Whatever his motives the cure is worse than the disease.
    Surely too, antinomianism and the downplaying of doctrine is a greater danger facing the church today than an under-emphasis on the love of God.

    John Nelson

  • Thanks John

    Yes the issue of the nature of Christian fiction and allegory is one thing, while the theology found therein is another. And you are right to place Young in the perichoresis camp, of which Baxter Kruger is the leading proponent here in Australia. Of course it then remains to assess that theology on its own merits.

    As to the value of the book, it might be apparent that I was trying to be quite generous to the book and its message. I gave it four out of five stars in my amazon.com review. I hope it will do a lot of good for a lot of people, although I noted in my review possible areas of concern.

    The truth is, most people reading this book probably would not be aware of the theological subtleties involved, since most believers are not really trained to think theologically or read theologically.

    Also, with not too many copies of the book in Australia, I suspect most comments made here thus far come from those who have not yet read the book. While that is fine, I am quite eager to engage with those who have read it as well.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Like John Nelson, I too would have thought that there is already an over emphasis in western evangelicalism on the “love and relationship” aspects of Christianity and what is needed to bring balance is not more of the same but something that would challenge antinomianism. What’s really lacking from the contemporary church is reverence, holiness and a healthy dose of the fear of God.

    Ewan McDonald.

  • True enough. How many churches have proper systematic theology classes? No wonder doorknockers from the Jehovah’s Witness cult can run rings around many church-goers with their heretical denials of the deity of Christ. See also Why Johnny Can’t Believe: On the Failure of the Church to Educate, by James Patrick Holding.
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Bill,

    I read your reviews with interest – and am now keen to read the book. I understand the theological issues you describe, and the importance of presenting the truth – as much as is possible in any work of fiction. I also understand the struggle any author would have in depicting a loving God, in balance with Him also being a holy and righteous God.

    It would be just about impossible for any human, with our own biases and prejudices, to be absolutely theologically correct all the time. I think the challenge would be to try not to present any theologically incorrect notions, still portraying God in the correct light, whilst still maintaining the theme of the book.

    As the theme of this book appears to be “where is a loving God in the midst of our suffering”, I think that what many need to hear is what this book appears to present – even though we may not always find out why?” God loves us, and his love is greater than any other…

    Whilst I agree fully that we must not forget the law and the commandments, if I was counselling a person who had experienced such pain, the last thing I’d be trying to do is raise the issue of sin and punishment, unless I wanted to push them away from God… I think that people experiencing such grief and confusion firstly need to be assured of, and experience God’s incredible love. It is only after they have received the healing balm of His love and forgiveness that issues such as repentance can be dealt with.

    There seem to be many in the church who have only a very limited understanding of who God is, and some who even have no real desire to develop their relationship with Him to a deeper level. Hopefully if they can read this book it will help them to want to discover his true nature – and hopefully to pursue a greater understanding through the bible..

    Andrew Munden

  • Hi,
    I read the book with interest after all the fanfare. I was disappointed. The depiction of the Godhead is very cosy and comfortable. Despite all the suffering and heartache, Young depicts his understanding of the problems of injustice in the face of a good God, in still classic western thinking. But it comes of course from the mouth of “God Himself”. He displays a “safe” God, and one who seems to me, as puzzled about suffering as we are. I thought your review was both gracious and informative, Bill. I personally found the book a bit like digging for the occasional gold nuggets in cow poo.
    C.S. Lewis, and again this is just my opinion, leaves this guy lightyears behind in his depiction of God, his wrestling with issues of theodicy, and in his writing style. I found the book very much on the “corny” side. SORRY!!!
    Savannah Hill

  • Thanks Savannah

    Nothing to be sorry about! I did solicit comments from readers of the book, so I appreciate your thoughts. As I said, some people may get much from this book. Others may be left a bit cold. But given all the attention being paid to this book, I thought I better investigate it myself, and then write up my reaction. I look forward to the responses of other readers.

    And needless to say, I am a great Lewis fan as well.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill. Very well done. I thought you analysis was fair, objective and insightful. Thanks. I enjoyed the book, but any work of fiction is somewhat like painting a picture… because of our human imperfection any visual representation of God is almost bound to also be a partial misrepresentation of him as well (by virtue of that imperfection). Nevertheless, I took away from the book some very helpful insights and also shared a few of your concerns.
    Allan Weatherall

  • Dear Bill,
    I have read ‘The Shack’ twice, as well as reading several sections a third time. I loved the book and have been lending multiple copies to friends who are just as enthusiastic as I am once they have received the blessings this book contains.
    I do not agree with your comparing the character of God as portrayed in The Shack as similar to the Bruce and Evan Almighty films, both of which were great in my view, both containing some deep truths and a clear understanding of the nature of God, however, in both films, God was singular. ‘The Shack’ portrays a relational God, Father,Son and Spirit. This is who God is. Not some analogy like water,ice and steam or like an apple ie core, flesh and skin being parts of the same apple like they are treaching at Christian City Church Bible College. (I know this, as my waitress at a restaurant last week was a student there, and when I asked about the Trinity, that was what she told me). So love is not an attribute of God. LOVE IS WHO THEY ARE, WHO THEY ALWAYS HAVE BEEN AND ALWAYS WILL BE! Love is THEIR nature. We are included in THEIR love and relationship as this was the eternal purpose of creation, for us to be adopted into THEIR family through Christ Jesus, our adopted Brother! All other doctrines must be seen in this context. God the Father is just that-first and foremost a FATHER. To Jesus first and then us through Jesus. ‘The Shack’ clearly teaches this! It does not promote universalism or antinominism as these are clearly not scriptural, but the Bible, Paul in particular, is clear, no one is saved by following the law, in fact all who try are actually refusing the saving work of Jesus. Jesus said that he did not come to remove the law but to fulfil it. Well, did He or didn’t He? I believe He did and so I am no longer held under the law! However, I am lead by the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit inclines me to law keeping, as He/She is transforming me gradually into the likeness of Christ, and He kept the law! He kept it for me and all humanity vicariously! So I am led by the Spirit to lead a Godly life, not trying to keep the law in some legal sense. The Gospel is law keeping, just not law dependant! As far as universalism, God is a universalist. Jesus’ incarnation,life death, resurrection and ascention was for all humanity. If not, He is not as powerful as the first Adam, through who all of humanity was diseased by sin.
    Much more to say, but have to go now. Loved the book and the people who have serious objections need to look carefully at their world view. If you have a legalistic or calvanistic bent, you will not like this book. But the book far more accurately portrays the God I worship-Father,Son and Spirit, and not some nameless faceless omnibeing who sits in judgement on us. That god is my devil!!!
    In THEM (Father,Son and Holy Spirit)
    Lou d’Alpuget

  • Hi,

    “The Shack” is about experiencing God’s love, but I don’t come away from the book sensing the same meaning of love as John says in 1 Jn 4:10-12 “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

    I read the book once and maybe need to read it again but the theology of the fiction leads me to look for God’s love in the wrong place and also the wrong meaning of love. God is invisible and we cannot see Him except in Jesus. Taking on a human body Jesus was able to reveal God to us. Jesus is no longer with us physically in human body form and therefore God reveals himself through the lives of those who abide in Christ. God’s love is experienced in us and through us. Our love for one another points to Christ and reveals God’s love to the world.

    It seems to me that the African-American lady Papa could be a picture of a believer who reveals God’s love, but that is not how the story goes. I sense the book leads me to experience God’s love in my imagination. The test will be when people who are moved by the book respond by living to reveal God’s love to the world. When I asked this question of some who promote the book I have been confronted in no-so-loving ways, at least not in ways that they would lay down their life to help me understand their point of view. Is the message of the book working? – I have not been convinced yet.

    It is a fine line between legalistic church work and a church of Christ with brothers and sisters loving each other. I think that they exist together whereas the fictional story seems to discourage Christians from meeting together in an organized way (p. 181-2).

    The theology in the book required in-depth study of the book with an in-depth understanding of the Bible, and therefore it is concern for readers who do not have a clear understanding of their own theology. An in-depth study of “The Shack” is not warranted. If it does not lead people to study the Bible and develop their own study of theology the book could lead to a lot of childish arguments that take us no where.

    Roger Kufske

  • I read the book once and maybe need to read it again but the theology of the fiction leads me to look for
    God’s love in the wrong place and also the wrong meaning of love. God is invisible and we cannot see Him except in Jesus. Taking on a human body Jesus was able to reveal God to us. Jesus is no longer with us physically in human body form He gives as the Holy Spirit that help as understand the things of God. Therefore God reveals himself through the lives of those who abide in Christ. God’s love is experienced in us and through us. The important of God love to love one another and points to Christ and reveals God’s love to the world. For those who bide in Him, the authority of kingdom have been give to them.therefore,we should respond positively as father did thought Jesus Christ the massiah,king of kings and lord of lords. It take some time for world to understand the love of God, they are absolutely correct, in human sense we can not understand the things of God, but thought Holy spirit, we have debits communication to the father and the son through holy spirit that live in as. According to human sense they are wondering and long to see God, in which they fore get that God promise them with Holy Spirit as the third person. The Bible of course already provides a current description of the Second Person of the Trinity.Rev 1: 12-16 depiction of His Risen and Glorified form, corroborated by a similar depiction given in Daniel 10: 5-6, apparently during a Pre-Incarnate visit.
    C.S.Lewis of course followed another allegoric Bible description of the Second Person given in Rev 5: 5 (a Lion), appropriate for the setting of his series. Daniel 7: 9 depicts what one can only take to be the Father. So William Young already had descriptions to follow if he chose. I believed God knew all of as if then for e -William Young ask question about excusing of God. Let him allows them self to know what God His, he can easily know God through Holy Spirit.
    Deng Ngouth

  • Thank you for your balanced review. I agree it can do good. I wrote a review on my blog today. http://heartofwisdom.com/blog
    Robin Sampson

  • I finished the book with a tear for Mack’s relationship with God and a renewed purpose for life. Oh that all of us could find rest and rescue in God’s Love. I enjoyed the book.
    One point of theology the book left untouched is the reality of Satan. No mention is made of him, only of the evil he causes. To make no mention of Satan gives him far too much camoflage. To deny Satan is to believe a lie as big as to say there is no God. neither is there any mention of the realities of hell as the eternal punishment for those who refuse the propitiation of Christ.
    Rev Steve Hankins

  • Albert Mohler did a review of The Shack on his radio show. The podcast is found here. In short he wasn’t very impressed.

    Also Tim Challies has a lengthy review here. Challies mentions that Young’s Jesus character when commenting on religion, politics and economics says “They are the man-created trinity of errors that ravage the earth and deceives those I care about.” This can’t be helpful given that we already have a situation where most Christians ignore politics and the result has been disastrous.

    Ewan McDonald.

  • Bill,
    Just a comment. You say it’s available in Australia at Koorong.

    FWIW, I started Life Books as a response to reading The Shack, and we have stock most of the time (unless we get a run of orders), and we give the profits away to TEAR. We have sole $20,000 worth of The Shack since Nov 07, so $2000 has been contributed to TEAR.

    On the book, firstly it’s a novel, not a systematic theology, and it paints a picture (a pretty good one) of our loving Father. It’s not the only picture, it’s not the complete picture, but it’s a picture. You can start all the theological arguments you like, (as is happening in the USA), but it was written by someone who wanted to communicate this picture to his kids. He didn’t intend for it to be published. That happened because he people wanted him to so they could share it. Most people who read the book are blessed by it, and Papa speaks to each person individually, and different people receive different blessings. And I don’t see how anyone reading this book could be “harmed” by it.

    Also, it’s also the number one selling book in the USA.

    John Jacobson

  • Oops didn’t get the links right.

    Just cut and paste into your browser to see the New York Times article on The Shack

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/24/books/24shack.html?_r=1&pagewanted=1&ei=5087&em&en=f752a3aff880b665&ex=1214539200&oref=slogin

    John Jacobson

  • I read The Shack – This book is a MUST for all – I mind-blowing and life-changing experience for all I have given copies of the book, including myself. The book clearly illustrates the Love of God and the finished work of Jesus on the cross – dont worry about theodicy or doctrine, just READ THE BOOK.
    Peter Pretorius

  • Thanks Peter
    Yes I mentioned that many would gain much from the book. But I must say, I cringe when I hear people saying don’t worry about doctrine. The New Testament is full of admonitions and warnings about this very thing. We are to worry about doctrine. Indeed, we are commanded to. I do not need here to cite the many passages that speak to this. We are being unfaithful to our Lord, and therefore not loving him as we should, when we minimise sound doctrine, or put it in the too hard basket. Loving God and others is always bounded by correct theology, teaching and doctrine.
    But I am glad you liked the book.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill, I am not a great theological thinker by any stretch but i cannot understand how “The Shack” can be of any real value or lead people to a greater understanding of God if it is simply a mish mash of half truths and deceptions, gift wrapped and packaged in slick creativity. All it will do is lay a distorted foundation of the true God and the Christian faith and potentially lead the reader astray to all kinds of heresies. In an age that is so lacking in discernment do we not have an obligation under Christ to reject everything that is not utterly and totally theologically sound no matter how creative it might be?
    Peter Friend

  • I was set not to like the book, The Shack but after reading it, I thought it was really good and thought provoking. All the time I reaad it, I kept thinking it needs a study to go along with it. I finally decided God was urging me to write a study which I did. If anyone would like it, email me at [email protected]. I would be glad to send you the study. You are welcome to use it and copy it for others.
    Trish Pickard

  • Loved it, hated it.

    I’m really grateful that in the land where the Book of Job is thought to be a political paper on work choices, a voice of theological comfort is available to the suffering. But I wonder if the author has stepped too easily into the circle of Job’s friends, and ends up in breach of the famous “Regulation 42.7”.

    I’m really grateful that theological discussion has been provoked in a spiritually indifferent culture, but hesitant to commend the method employed. Preparing the mind for a new theological paradigm by first assaulting it with an absolute tear-jerker needs to be so carefully handled. It’s not for nothing that only two chapters are allocated to the description of the assault on Job, and even then, with little recourse to an emotional roller-coaster.

    I am grateful that The Shack paints large the incredible love of the Trinitarian God of the Bible, but do wish that my God wasn’t soooo American. I will be commending The Shack to others, but with the rider that Job is perquisite reading.

    Rev David McDougall

  • Dear Bill,

    Of all the responses, Lou d’Alpuget seems to be raising the most important theological questions.

    In my view, “The Shack” will go a long way to correct the western view of God that has been so distorted by Augustine’s Platonism and Aquinas’ Aristotelianism. Unbiblical attributes – indivisible, inscrutible, impassible, etc etc.- are ascribed to God by too many theologians. Hence, the “God” of the West is twisted beyond recognition into a powerful, remote and singular being who, having set the world in motion, is largely uninterested in it and whose only real relationship with mankind is that of our final and terrifying judge.

    Our gospel also is distorted because it was framed in Greco-Roman legal terms by the early church father Tertullian – a Roman lawyer. It gives most people the impression that Jesus is the friendly person in the Godhead who changed the Father’s wrath towards us by paying the penalty for our sins.

    Jesus did not change the Father. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” we are told in 2 Cor 5:19. So Jesus did not change the Father – He changed us!

    The gospel has a legal aspect, but we have allowed that to obscure, even obliterate, the Father’s declared purpose in Christ. At the very heart of every gospel message should be the Father’s purpose in Christ from before the foundation of the world – namely, to adopt mankind as His Sons (Eph 1:3-10). Sin was dealt with at the cross as one part of achieving that profoundly inclusive purpose of our loving Father.

    Nor is Jesus a sort of Plan B – the plan to fix sin after creation went awry. Jesus was always the centre of the Father’s creative purposes. As Col 1:15-17 shows all things were created in Him, through Him and for Him. The astonishingly good news (the gospel) is that the whole creation has been created, decreated (2 Cor 5:14) and recreated (2 Cor 5:17-21) in Christ and is now awaiting “the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom 8:19).

    So we don’t receive Jesus into our life. He has received us into His life to share the glory of His intimate relationship with the Father. That is why Jesus told His disciples in John 14:20 that when the Holy Spirit had come “You will know that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you.”

    It is universal in scope, but not universalism. In John 5:28-29 Jesus says: “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”

    Even that judgment, however, overflows with grace. John 5:22 says “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son” – i.e. to the God-man who has experience all our temptations. But the Son does not judge us, because He says in John 12:47-48 “If any one hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.”

    The Shack shatters the Greek philosophical view of God presented in so much theology and puts a very effective spotlight on the flawless love-based character of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    Richard Eason

  • Thanks Richard

    You state well the perichoresis theology of C. Baxter Krueger, which both you and Lou so strongly endorse – and which The Shack more or less runs with. Needless to say, I do have some problems with this view, but I will not enter into my concerns here. I might however suggest that making rather reckless claims does not help much. To suggest that 2,000 years of Western theology has simply presented God as “a powerful, remote and singular being who, having set the world in motion, is largely uninterested in it and whose only real relationship with mankind is that of our final and terrifying judge” is quite a silly charge to be making. You are more or less describing deism, rather than the Western picture of God that runs from Paul through to Packer. But perhaps a future article will deal with Krueger’s theology.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Oops! Sorry if I hit a sore spot. I’ve not seen you respond with labels and ignore the argument before.

    You’ve made three wrong assumptions. Firstly, I do not strongly endorse the theology of Baxter Kruger, although I have been working through the issues it raises. Secondly, the views expressed were mine, argued from the Scriptures I quoted but which you ignored. Thirdly, the author of The Shack said recently that he first heard of Kruger after he had published the book.

    I didn’t make it clear when referring to “the west” that I meant western civilisation. Brilliant western minds, like Sir Isaac Newton, that have read theology have too often ended up as deists. In my view there is a spiritual reason for this. The “king of Greece” has a field day when people (including theologians) bring a Greek mindset to Scripture.

    A search for the universals and an abiding concern for the particulars has served our civilisation well in many respects – science, law, history, etc. But when we approach God’s Word we must first allow our mind to be renewed by believing the Holy Spirit’s revelation. Only after that do we begin to experience the glory of the mind of Christ, which is perfectly logical, but only to the mind that has adopted biblical presuppositions.

    Richard Eason

  • Thanks Richard

    Sorry if I appeared to be over-reacting. I did not mean to be. I was just somewhat taken back by the sentence I quoted. And given that it immediately followed your sentence about theologians, it seemed only obvious to me – and I would think most readers – that the sentence in question was describing Western theology and theologians.

    And the pedigree of a particular theological position is not the real issue here. There are many strands of recent theological thought that converge on some of these criticisms you raise about Western theology: that it is too dependent on Greek thinking, too legal/judicial, etc.

    I was just trying to place all this in its theological home. Thus Krueger, along with the openness of God theologians (or freewill theists, eg., Boyd, Pinnock, Sanders, etc.), and The Shack author all share in this theological persuasion.

    As I say, I have problems with much of this way of thinking, and hope to write it up at some point. As I said about The Shack in particular, I say about this theological perspective in general: it certainly has some good to offer. But it also contains elements which I find quite unhelpful and unbiblical. But that will have to be teased out in another piece.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts Richard.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • hello,
    I read all the comments with interest, but am somewhat discouraged by the tsunami of in-house doctrinal jargon which seeems to serve little purpose but to show-off. many make the suggestion that we “return’ to doctrine…but how do you even define accurate doctrine?
    Much of the canon that we define as the the real textual body of doctrine was authored by males – and a large proprtion of white males at that. Why do so many of us simply assume their interpretations are correct?

    “he Word” – that is, Jesus, was a living, breathing thing being. The ‘word”..that is, scripture,is also living and active. we need much more flexibility in how we approach it.

    I was delighted with The Shack simply because it focused squarely on the message that God is love. those who believ you can’t emphasise judgement strongly enough cannot have really experienced love…becaseu god;s love and his holiness are inextricably linked. When we are transformed by his love there is no need to flog outselves or others with notions of righteousness – we reflect it naturally and far more powerfully that if simply try to moderate behaviour because we fear god.

    Kimberley Gaskin

  • Thanks Kimberley

    But can I respectfully suggest that your remarks reflect far more of the spirit of the age and our postmodern culture than they do the Bible? You say that doctrine is unimportant or cannot really be known anyway. Yet your closing remarks are all about doctrine: God, love, holiness, judgment, etc.

    The Bible overwhelmingly affirms and insists upon the importance of doctrine, and that we can know what sound doctrine is. But according to your view, any old belief will do. So maybe the God of Islam or the New Agers will do, if we cannot know what right doctrine is.

    And what in the world is this silliness about “white males” all about? Are you actually suggesting that only coloured females can discuss doctrine? But if your idea that doctrine is really unknowable or undiscernible is true, why should we then believe the words of coloured females? Indeed, why should we even believe you?

    Sorry, but I again respectfully submit that your remarks seem to reflect a rather sad trend in the church of biblical illiteracy, relativism, and fuzzy thinking, which is really not very helpful.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • One thing which jumped out at me about Lou d’Alpuget’s response (to which Richard Eason refers), was his describing of the films Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty as “great” and which contained “some deep truths and a clear understanding of the nature of God”. Perhaps there is some Christian truth in both of these movies but can we so easily ignore the obscenity and the bad theology contained in both?

    From a review of Bruce Almighty:

    Of concern to families may be the fairly vulgar and sexual language and references peppered throughout some sections (about average for films these days), including: The name “God” is used in exclamations several times, “Jesus” (once or twice), “Holy Hell,” a few uses of the s-word, a–hole, and cr-p, pr-ck, and one use of a f-word (as mentioned above). The later is also represented repeatedly in one comic scene with Bruce’s middle finger. Bruce uses his “divine” powers from another room to pleasure his girlfriend into obvious sexual ecstasy. Bruce passionately kisses a co-worker in a bedroom. A song called “Bruce So Horny” is briefly mentioned in a TV commercial. A monkey comically pops out of (and then into) a mugger’s anus (not graphic).

    From a review of Evan Almighty a large part of the plot being that Evan is commanded to build an Ark (as in Noah’s Ark):

    I cringed when Morgan Freeman acting as God negates the word of God by saying that people are afraid that God is a judge and that this is not why Noah built the ark. Well, here I am having to explain to my kids that this is wrong, that God WAS judging the earth for sin.

    If these movies are “great” and contain a “clear understanding of the nature of God”, then perhaps The Shack is a great work containing accurate theology after all.

    Ewan McDonald.

  • Hi Bill,

    Thanks for your helpful review. I actually read it both before and after reading The Shack, and do agree with what you have to say about the book. On point that I want to take to task is the way in which the female God-figure was clearly disregarding what the Bible says on certain issues, telling half-truths, twisting words and meanings, and taking things to extremes.

    For example, on p96, “[God said,] “Don’t ever think that what my son chose to do didn’t cost us dearly. Love always leaves a significant mark… We were there together”
    Mack was surprised. “At the cross? Now wait, I thought you left him – you know – ‘My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?'” …
    [God said,] “You misunderstand the mystery there. Regardless of what he felt at that moment, I never left him.””

    As far as my limited understanding of the situation went, I thought that God the Father did indeed abandon Jesus at that moment, because He, as a Holy God, could not look upon the sin that Christ was bearing. It also seems that Young is verging on saying that Jesus was delusional or wrong in saying that the presence of the Father had left Him. It almost is in denial of the truth of Scripture.

    Throughout the book I found multiple other instances of questionable doctrine – as you mentioned. One of these was the portrayal of God’s characteristic of love which I do not at all deny. However in portraying God as only a God of love, Young has missed the full picture of Yahweh. This only confuses the picture, and brings up more questions. For example, why would a God of love destroy all the people in the world by flood? Or how could a God of love punish sin? If God’s holy nature is removed, then God fails to be Yahweh, and becomes a ‘friendly’ and ‘nice’ construct of our imagination.

    As for the message of loving needing to get to people, I think a lot of people really don’t know what God is like. People seem to know that God loves them, but don’t believe He is holy and can’t tolerate sin, so live the way they want, thinking that they are fine because God loves them! I think that what my generation, a generation educated largely without doctrine, needs more is to realise that God is Holy, and that He calls us to be Holy likewise.

    Thanks again for all your hard work Bill. I really appreciate reading your writing. I find it insightful and thoughtful, well-written and God-honouring.

    Jessica Dornan

  • Kimberley,
    Is it too forward for me to suggest that you too have to take your blinkers off?

    I submit it is incredibly inaccurate to lump together the authors and commentators over 2000 years of Christian history as “White Males”. Consider the African Bishop, the Jewish Author, the Roman Historian, the Arabic translation. Our Black/White categories mean nothing and cannot be applied to history more than 200 years ago, or so, I would think.

    In my experience the White Male argument is often used by those who disagree with conservative theology (I’m not sure if this is true in your case). Yet the places where conservative theology is strong in this century is Black Africa, South Korea etc. The White West is far more liberal than the Black South. “White Male” does not accurately describe, explain or discredit conservative theology.

    Your thinking will never be free of your own bias until you can stop worrying about what colour or sex the author is and interact with their arguments, their actual words and test them against the God inspired Scriptures.

    Michael Hutton, Ariah Park (White Male – but should it be relevant?)

  • Never heard mention of the statement by the fictional Jesus. “I am the best way to the Father.” Haven’t read the book read page after page of quotes, good reviews and bad reviews but this is one quote that seldom comes up.
    JR Sorrow

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