By the time I read William Paul Young’s The Shack nearly a decade ago, criticisms had been voiced concerning the content of the novel. At the same time, some Christians were saying that they loved the book and that everyone should read it. I was curious. While I don’t read many novels, I added it to my summer reading list.
As I headed out onto my deck with The Shack, I picked up a notepad and pencil so I could jot down inaccurate representations of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ if I noticed any. The tale Young told drew me in and I kept turning pages despite the emotional difficulty of the tragic story. Nearly half of the book sets up the protagonist’s encounter with God. I was 101 pages in when some statements made by the character representing God started sounding unusual to me. I suspect, though, that had I not been intentionally attentive to the theology of the book (there is some), I might have read past some Biblical inaccuracy and taken it for creative writing.
The female representation of father God had already been revealed, so I put that aside and continued to document dialogue between Mack and the members of the Trinity that seemed to contradict God’s revelation of himself in the Bible. By page 184, I had noted thirteen suspicious statements. The most troubling to me related to authority (not God’s intent), God’s punishment of sin (not necessary), and the way(s) to salvation. And then there was the strangeness of Mack’s encounter with the Holy Spirit character, another woman who teaches him about fractals (?) and, if I remember correctly, introduces him to Sophia, a personification of God’s wisdom.
I’m taking some time to think and write about The Shack because a movie version will release later this week. People are picking up the book again and, I fear, are embracing an attractive, but deceptive picture and description of God and His ways. I checked out what the folks at Got Questions had to say about The Shack. I appreciate the respectful way inquirers’ questions are addressed and the biblical references that are provided with each statement made. In this case, Young is commended for his good intentions in writing about the love of God, however his confused theology is refuted by Scripture. I hope you’ll read this Got Questions article if you’re planning to see the movie.
I then dug a little further into what has been said about The Shack and who has been saying it. I found interesting information on the Lighthouse Trails Research website which links “fractal theory” to New Age teaching. The researcher describes Young’s writing as “New Age thought and Eastern Mysticism interspersed with some Christian terms”.
My husband read the novel and, as I did to some degree at the time, dismissed it as fiction. Got Questions makes a good point though, saying, “if you’re going to have God as a character in your fiction, then you must deal with God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. By using the Trinity as characters, The Shack is clearly indicating that it’s talking about the God of Christianity.” Reviewer Tim Challies stated, “Despite the great amount of poor theology, my greatest concern is probably this one: the book has a quietly subversive quality to it. Young seems set on undermining orthodox Christianity.”
Our challenge as believers in Jesus Christ is to know what the Bible reveals as truth and to keep alert to the subtle lies that have sought to undermine God’s word since Eve was deceived in the Garden of Eden. It’s not an easy task, but truth is worth pursuing and defending. I can only recommend one book that everyone should read – the Bible.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:13-17