THE SHACK Probably Won’t Lead You Astray. . . But It Could Lead Some People
By Ben Kayser, Managing Editor
When the Christian Fiction book, THE SHACK, written by William P. Young, was released in 2007, it created a firestorm of controversy, receiving both praise and criticism from different Christian leaders. Ten years later, a Hollywood movie adaption is ready for release, and questions will re-arise among Christians, Is THE SHACK heresy in how it portrays God and the Holy Trinity?
First, let me clarify that I have not read the book, but I have seen the movie, and will be basing this article off that.
We should start off by making one thing clear: One of the most unhelpful conversations one can have is arguing and debating about whether THE SHACK (the movie) is heretical. This has been done, many books have already been written and well meaning, Jesus loving, theologically astute people have disagreed, and will disagree. The more important question is this: Will THE SHACK encourage or reinforce false doctrine among those who are theologically susceptible? Having seen the movie, there’s no doubt that there are positive, faith affirming elements to the story that Christians can glean from it. I’ve spoken to many people who were impacted by the book positively to pursue a deeper and more personal relationship with God. The movie could very well do the same for some believers, and this is a wonderful thing. However, those that may be new to a Christian faith, or have little knowledge of the Bible, could easily be confused and misled about the very nature of God, as revealed in the Bible.
For those who don’t know what THE SHACK is about, the story is about a man abused as a child who must come to terms with God and learn to forgive after his younger daughter is brutally murdered. When he travels to the small shack in the mountains where his daughter died, he has an encounter with God, who’s portrayed in a couple variations. There’s Papa, a middle-aged African-American woman played by Octavia Spencer in the movie, who represents God the Father. A Middle-Eastern man plays the Son (Jesus), and finally, The Holy Spirit, is shown as an Asian woman. There are many issues which have filled many books pertaining to portraying God in images. These are necessary discussions, but aren’t the focus of this article. Just keep in mind that the only visible manifestation of God in the flesh is Jesus Christ, who was born as both wholly God and wholly man (see Colossians 1:15).
That said, as I watched the movie, there were three aspects that should make us a little uncomfortable.
1. The movie seems to display a need to justify God’s sovereignty.
No Christian can explain why terrible things happen in this world other than the fact that we live in a fallen, sinful world. THE SHACK is essentially a Christian TWILIGHT ZONE episode wherein Mack, the main character played by Sam Worthington, must grapple with the idea of God being both all powerful, and all good. Most readers can attest that this is a very difficult conflict to wrestle with mentally. However, the problem with THE SHACK is that it is less concerned about who God is, and more concerned with how we perceive Him, by literally using the argument “how about you try being God and see how hard it is.” Nearly the whole movie has God the Father gently trying to convince Mack to come back into the fold. I’m sorry, but when did the Judge, the Creator of Universe, the Holy Triune God, get put on trial? There are many times in the Bible that David questions God, or feels distant, but nowhere does Scripture say God has to explain Himself, and when he does, people are put in their right place. Just look at Job.
Again, I understand the desire to encourage Christians to pursue a personal relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as three persons, and as one God. I also understand the desire to help believers grapple with the evils that happen in our fallen world. However, we sometimes just have to be satisfied with admitting to ourselves that we just don’t know why certain things happen the way they do, because God is God, and we are not.
Job 42:2-6 says, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’”
2. There’s a Lack of Repentance in Mack’s Journey
Mack’s journey of forgiveness is incredible in THE SHACK. To be able to forgive both the father that abused you, and the pedophile that killed your daughter, is a powerful testament of God’s grace. However, there’s little to no mention in the movie of repentance from sin, especially given the fact that Mack murdered his abusive father. Jesus didn’t die in order to forgive mankind, He died in order that mankind could be forgiven. Meaning: Our slate isn’t wiped clean until we choose to follow Jesus. THE SHACK has very little to say about Jesus’s Crucifixion and Resurrection because, ultimately, it falsely says that people are not innately evil. In fact, it suggests that even the worst of us are just that way because of something that was done to us in our childhood. This, of course, is a cheap grace that misses the mark. God is so loving, and so good, that even though he is a Holy God, and we a sinful people, He made a way through Jesus so that we could be in a relationship with Him.
3. God is Spirit, but He is not all spirits
Finally, the movie plays a very delicate dance around the universalistic idea that all religions lead to God. At one point in the movie, God the Father says that He’s (though played by a woman) known by many names. Some will argue that this is true, because the God of the Bible is known by multiple names. Also, they may point out that the movie takes place in a Christian context, with Mack and his family attending church, and Mack finding a Bible in a hotel nightstand.
However, the movie never explicitly seems to state that Jesus is “the way.” Also, there’s a running plot line throughout the movie of Mack telling his children a Native American legend of Multnomah Falls in which a young woman sacrifices herself for her people, and the Great Spirit honors her death by blessing the tribe with a stream that results in the beautiful Multnomah Falls. The Asian woman who portrays the Holy Spirit is given the name Sarayu, which is Hindi for “wind” or “holy river.” When you consider that this movie is made by the producers of THE LIFE OF PI, which argues that we should simply believe the truth we want to believe, it’s not surprising that THE SHACK is made acceptable for all religions. Thus, nearly every major religion may find something they like in THE SHACK that will reinforce their worldview. As Jesus says in John 4:24, God is indeed Spirit (John 4:24), but He wants us to worship Him, through His truth, not our own.
These three points may be missed completely by many who watch the movie. Truthfully, I hope they are missed. There’s no doubt that THE SHACK is a calculated attempt to be all things to all people, which inadvertently offers nothing substantive. Regardless, many Christians who might embrace the movie or the book don’t necessarily embrace (or even know about) the heresies in THE SHACK. For those that readily agree with this article, be gracious and quick to listen to others who like or were moved by the story, and be ready to correct false gospels if need be. For those who are fans of the movie or book, glean what you can from THE SHACK, but be careful about the desire to replace a comforting God with a false god who makes us comfortable.