Book Review: “The Shack” by Wm. Paul Young

Make no mistake about it. This is a book about theology in the guise of fiction, and it is dangerous at that. How any Christian bookstore can justify placing this on its shelves is beyond me. I have read many reviews about how people have had their view of God challenged, transformed, or, to take a word from the After Words of the book, revolutionized. Unfortunately, though, this book goes to great depths to undermine the very revelation of God Himself to the world.

…the Bible somehow left his hand… (115)

Christians believe that the sixty-six books constituting the Old and New Testaments are the sole authoritative and infallible source of God revealing Himself to us. The Bible itself exhorts the disciple of Jesus Christ to study to show himself approved. It is the “word” that is the lamp unto our feet and the light unto our paths.

The Shack, however, places communication with God on a face-to-face level that has not existed since man fell into sin in the Garden of Eden. While we as human beings might long for something tangible that we can see and hear and touch, the Bible teaches that faith is the evidence of things not seen, the assurance of things hoped for. The author associates searching the Scriptures with Sunday prayers and hymns that “weren’t cutting it anymore… Cloistered spirituality… little religious social clubs” which left the main character, Mack, wanting more (66). These are not so veiled shots at not only the sufficiency of Scripture, but against the church. Young uses pejorative and prejudicial language that takes the worst presuppositions about the church and assumes them as universally true for all who might hold to a high view of the Bible.

Overall, the Bible is viewed in a negative light, as is serious study of the Bible and theology in general. Mack’s seminary education is never referred to in a positive fashion.

Jesus’ work on the cross in constantly cited, although I’m not sure Young ever refers to Him as “Christ” or “Messiah.” Yet, His work on the cross, while extolled in the narrative, is downplayed by Mack’s longing for more. “I guess part of me would like to believe that God would care enough about me to send a note,” says Mack (71). Yet, Bible-believing Christians would point to a simple verse like John 3:16, or better yet, 1 John 4:9-10, to show that God’s care for those He loves is summed up in the fact that “God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” This craving for more than what is revealed in Scripture is not uncommon among many who sit in pews every Sunday, but it undermines the fact that God HAS manifested His love in Jesus Christ.

One of, if not THE, most sickening part of this book is its absolutely heretic display of the Trinity, which is historically understood as God manifesting Himself in three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – equally, eternally, and simultaneously. Young intentionally uses multicultural and multiethnic persons to represent the Father (a large black woman named Elousia, but called “Papa”), the Son (Jesus, a Middle Eastern Jewish carpenter), and Sarayu (an Asian woman who is erratic in her appearance), a not so subtle shot at many white people’s view of God. Yet, the Bible is clear that God is not to be described in terms of an image, but that God is spirit (John 4:24).

Scripture is also clear that while all three Persons in the Trinity are equally one being and work in harmony with one another, they do function in distinct roles. The Father has the function of headship within the Trinity. The Son functions in submission to the will of the Father, serving as an example, by the way, that we should follow in His steps (1 Pet 2:21). And how do we know the will of the Father? The Scriptures.

The Shack, however, absolutely denies biblical truth about the Trinity. Relationships predicated upon submission, as that biblically displayed by God the Father and God the Son, are viewed negatively. Instead, it’s all about love and relationship. The masculine image of God is called into question. God’s revelation of “itself” in masculine personages is explained away by the world needing a father more than a mother. The hypostatic union of Jesus Christ as fully God and fully man is affirmed in word in the book, but the more His work on the cross and His ministry are explained His deity is diminished for the sake of Him appearing “more human” than Papa or Sarayu.

The persons of the Trinity, in the view of the author, enjoys an altogether creepy relationship with one another. At one point Papa and Jesus will enjoy a moment that will leave the reader wondering if their are quasi-sexual overtones being implied by Young. Meanwhile, the enjoyment of Father, Son, and Spirit is put in fully anthropomorphic terms – laughing at kitchen accidents, enjoying meals, etc. Worldly chaos, and not the order of creation, is seen as that which brings God pleasure.

But if that were not enough, The Shack promotes an absolutely unbiblical view of salvation in which Christ’s work on the cross is looked at “fondly,” but the reason for His sacrificial death is never explained in any semblance of fashion representing that which the Bible explains. The idea that God poured out His wrath for the sins of those He was saving on His only begotten Son on the cross is outright refuted. “I am not who you think I am, Mackenzie,” says Papa. “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It is not my purpose to punish sin; it’s my joy to cure it” (119-20). So Jesus’ work was not about God displaying His love for people by punishing Jesus for their sins, according to Young. This is a denial of penal substitution, a denial of how the Bible describes the cross.

But wait, there’s more. Not only did Jesus not die for the punishment of sins, but it is not even necessary to believe the gospel in order to be saved.

Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans, and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. . . . 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, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved. (182)

Those are the words of Jesus, by the way, to which Mack responds, “Does that mean that all roads will lead to you?”

Not at all. Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road fo find you. (182)

This passage in a crucial section of the book does not teach universalism, the view that God saves each and every person who ever lived. However, it does teach an equally false gospel of inclusivism, the view that God will save, through Christ, “true seekers” in all religions. So not only did Jesus not die to absorb the wrath of God against sin, as a propitiation (Rom 3:21-26; 1 John 4:9-10), but now you don’t even have to believe the gospel to be saved.

The Shack amounts to an extremely dangerous textbook of theological psychobabble, a therapy session if you will, for anyone who suffers (meaning everybody). It denies Bible teachings left and right. I’ve only scratched the surface, not even really commenting on what it says about gender distinction in marriage relationships, the parent-child relationship, the idea of Christ being on a spiritual journey, and especially what it says about the church.

I find it shocking and sad that many Christian bookstores, including Lifeway Christian Stores (more on that in an upcoming post), have this book on their shelves. That gives the book an endorsement in a sense that the undiscerning reader has and will fallen prey to. One need only to look at how popular this book is, a New York Times #1 Bestseller, to see that I am right. Eugene Peterson, who has written a popular paraphrase of the Bible (which I do not endorse), has said 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!” Contemporary Christian recording artist Michael W. Smith says the book “will leave you craving for the presence of God.” As if the church doesn’t have enough self-inflicted trouble communicating truth, now it shoots itself in the foot by not calling this book what it is: heresy.

So I implore you, readers, to hack The Shack for the good of your soul, for the church, for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for the glory of God.

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