“Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure the salvation both of yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16).
The Shack is set to be released as a movie on March 3. The book version of this fictional theodicy (why an all-powerful and good god allows evil and pain) has been wildly popular. It has sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million copies and has been translated into 50 languages. It is on the all-time top 100 list for works of fiction, and at one point it spent 49 weeks in a row on the New York Times bestseller list at #1.
The bottom line is this: Because of its popularity, it is very likely many people in our churches, those who work with us and many of our neighbors will watch this movie. This presents both an opportunity for conversations about the God of the Bible, but it also could be used as a tool of the enemy to distract and deceive. Are you and those you know ready for The Shack? Because The Shack is back.
In 2010, two very popular and well-respected leaders among evangelical Christians posted blogs, raising various concerns about the widely popular book. Tim Keller, on the Gospel Coalition Blog gave some impressions from his reading of the book but mostly devoted his words to expressing “strong concerns”.
Keller said, “However, sprinkled throughout the book, Young’s (the author) story undermines a number of traditional Christian doctrines. Many have gotten involved in debates about Young’s theological beliefs, and I have my own strong concerns. But here is my main problem with the book. Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible.”
In his blog, Albert Mohler develops more thoroughly several of the theological problems the fictional book transmits. Then at the conclusion of his article he wrote:
“In evaluating the book, it must be kept in mind that The Shack is a work of fiction. But it is also a sustained theological argument, and this simply cannot be denied. Any number of notable novels and works of literature have contained aberrant theology, and even heresy. The crucial question is whether the aberrant doctrines are features of the story or the message of the work. When it comes to The Shack, the really troubling fact is that so many readers are drawn to the theological message of the book and fail to see how it conflicts with the Bible at so many crucial points.”
Mohler continued, “All this reveals a disastrous failure of evangelical discernment. It is hard not to conclude that theological discernment is now a lost art among American evangelicals — and this loss can only lead to theological catastrophe.”
And this is exactly my concern and experience with The Shack. Yes it is fiction, but because it resonates with people by helping them deal with the issue of past offenses and forgiveness, they also seem to forget that the triune god, which is portrayed in the book, is clearly not the Triune God of the Bible. The potential result is that people will love the god of The Shack and not the God of the Bible. In not discerning the errors of the book, a god has been created that does not exist, or better yet an idol has been fashioned.
I acknowledge that many people in this broken world have had disappointing father figures and that they therefore project the poor example of those fathers toward our Heavenly Father. But that doesn’t mean that our Heavenly Father is like our earthly fathers, and it doesn’t mean we can quit calling Him Father. If we can say God is mother, what is to keep us from identifying god as tree, cat or dog?
The concerns raised by Keller and Mohler are both legitimate, and I wonder whether or not most Christians can read a popular book of fiction like The Shack and discern through the lens of the Bible, as opposed to emotional need, whether the book is simply an entertaining read or whether the idea of god it espouses is the God of the Bible. Echoing Mohler, what does it say about Christianity, and additionally a lot of our preaching and teaching efforts that so many people can’t discern the biblical God from the god of The Shack? What does it say that they prefer the god of The Shack to the God of the Bible? What does it mean that a person would allow their emotions to dictate their view of God? Emotions are important in the life of a Christian, but they are no sure guide for making decisions in a broken world.
Biblically speaking, this popular book raises many questions that I fear will only give us unbiblical answers. I don’t mean to demonize The Shack as though it were only good for kindling on a cold day. I am not saying don’t read it. I am not calling for a boycott of the movie. But should we not at least test the spirits to see whether they are from God (1 John 4:1), or whether they are as potentially dangerous as some have warned.
Until we know the God of the Bible and learn to love the God of the Bible with all of our heart and mind, however difficult we may find both, The Shack, or another book like it will keep coming back, and many people will believe in the god of that book too.