The Shack Reviewed
Question: Dear sister Caryl, I have been a fan of yours for many years, because you expose the lies of the devil and give God's truth. I thank God for the few like you who are unafraid to speak out against the darkness. What are your thoughts on the book "The Shack"? I know it's New Age, but I'm interested in what you have to say.
On occasion, a new book bursts on the scene and takes a large part of the Christian community by storm. The Shack, by William Paul Young, is such a book. There are currently over five million copies of the book in print.
Many churches, Christian schools, youth groups, etc. are using it as a Bible study resource, and in some cases, it is supplanting the Bible as the source of wisdom about the nature of God and His desires for man.
Today we do not need more human wisdom, new ways of looking at truth, or new truth, “because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25, NKJV). What is desperately needed is the preaching of the old-time Gospel, a message that has never changed. The idea that we need more “relevance” is simply wrong. There is nothing more relevant than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Watering down and changing the Gospel message in order to be “relevant” to reach a new generation will result in no one really being reached and many false converts being made.
“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (I Corinthians 1:21-24, NKJV).
There is nothing of greater importance when evaluating books of human authorship than to recognize the supremacy of the Word of God in all matters. If the Scriptures are ignored or denigrated in any way, the value of the book doing so is immediately called into question. The Word of God is the standard by which all other things are measured. Those things that are found wanting should be ignored, and if they are doing harm, they should be opposed.
While I had heard of The Shack and had even skimmed through a couple of reviews of it, I decided to withhold judgment until I had read it for myself and then to write my own review. I further determined not to base my review on anyone else’s review but to read the book and come to conclusions based on Scripture. In reality, it does not matter what I think of the book or what anyone else thinks of the book. What matters is how the book stacks up to the truth of the Word of God.
The story is about a man named Mack and his struggle with the fact that his young daughter, Missy, was kidnapped, presumably raped, and brutally murdered. His continued experience with “The Great Sadness” consumed his life, damaged his family, and prevented him from moving on with any level of normalcy. One day, he received a note in his mailbox, presumably from God. His reason for believing it might be from God was that the note was signed “Papa,” which was Mack’s wife Nan’s pet name for God. The note invited Mack to visit the shack in the wilderness where evidence of Missy’s murder was found four years earlier, although her body was never found. Against his instincts, Mack finally went to the shack, which magically transformed before his eyes into a beautiful cottage, as winter magically transformed into spring. At the shack, he met the three persons of the Trinity, and conversations with these three led him to a new level of peace in his life.
It is not hard to believe that many people stop reading this book at the point where God the Father reveals Himself to Mack as a “large beaming African-America woman” who called herself “Papa” (page 82). I could not help but picture “Mammy” from Gone With the Wind. Regardless of all the reasons presented in the book as to why God the Father presented Himself in such a manner, the fact remains that God is always presented in the Scriptures as masculine, never feminine. God the Holy Spirit revealed Himself as a “small, distinctively Asian woman (page 84), later identified by the name “Sarayu” (page 87). Jesus was a man who “…appeared Middle Eastern and was dressed like a laborer, complete with tool belt and gloves” (page 84).
The Shack has been touted as the most significant piece of Christian fiction in our modern world. Eugene Peterson said on the cover of the book, “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!” Comparisons to Pilgrim’s Progress are inappropriate. The huge difference between the two books is that Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory based on biblical truth, whereas The Shack attempts to be an allegory to teach truth, but it is based on someone’s newly-formulated definition of the nature of God and His desire for a relationship with all of us.
One defense of The Shack stated that since it is fictional and allegorical, we need to realize that and not worry about what it teaches. That is precisely the problem. If one ignores the fact that this book is teaching falsehood, the power of that falsehood to convince unsuspecting readers is amplified. A well-written allegory about God would most certainly not have Him making false statements, and there are many false statements made by the three persons of the Trinity in the book.
There are a number of wrong and unbiblical views expressed in The Shack, as follows:
An Unbiblical View of Scripture – This book presents a very low view of the Scriptures and elevates our experiences and feelings at least to the level of the Word of God.
“…the thought of God passing notes did not fit well with his theological training. In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?” (Pages 65-66).
There are several basic problems with this statement, but we will consider just two. First, there is the implication that God would not have committed His Word to the “ancients and uncivilized” without also speaking directly to “moderns” and “educated Westerners.” That is a very condescending view of those who have gone before – men such as Moses, David, Solomon, Daniel, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the Apostle Paul, etc. It appears the author would call these men “ancients and uncivilized” in comparison to those of us who are “moderns” and “educated.”
It is a very good thing that God did not wait until today to give us His Word. The whole process would likely get tied up in church committees, regulations, lawsuits, and union rules created by “moderns” and “educated Westerners.” Are we to believe that we today are somehow better than they? We should be thankful that God spoke so long ago. It would be very confusing to have to wait for Him to speak to us. We have the advantage of having His whole Word without having to wait for more revelation to come along. There is no wisdom in rejecting or negating the Word of God in favor of the words of men, and we have far less excuse to do so than the “ancients and uncivilized” might have had.
Second, this statement about the Scriptures implies that we are all powerless to understand what God has said in His Word unless it is “properly interpreted, of course” and that it must “be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects.” While there are those who hold to such a view, to peg this onto all Christians is to build a classic “Straw Man” argument, a technique which is found numerous times in The Shack. The truth is that all believers have an anointing to understand the Scriptures, we have the very author of the Scriptures indwelling us and illuminating us to understand, and we are commanded to study the Scriptures in order to be “approved unto God.”
An Unbiblical View of God – Early in the book, Mack takes a very weak stand on who God is. Missy asked him, in the context of an old Indian legend, “Is the Great Spirit another name for God – you know, Jesus’ papa?” Mack responded, “I would suppose so. It’s a good name for God because he is a Spirit and he is Great” (Page 31). The Scriptures make it clear that anyone who worships any “god” other than The God of the Universe, through the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is worshipping a false god. Satan has always desired to be worshipped, and he is happy to receive the worship of those who knowingly or in ignorance worship any other god but the true and living God. Satan is behind every idol man chooses to worship. Mack, the main character of this book, a man who went to seminary, has no idea who God is. On page 79, he even expressed doubt as to the very existence of God.
“Sarayu” (The Holy Spirit) tells Mack, “We have limited ourselves out of respect for you… Relationships are never about power, and one way to avoid the will to power is to choose to limit oneself – to serve” (page 106). Yet the Scriptures make it clear that we are the ones who are limited, and we are to serve the Lord. He is not our servant; He is our Lord and Master. We are His servants. “Serve the LORD with gladness” (Psalm 100:2, NKJV). The Apostle Paul repeatedly referred to himself as “a bondservant of Jesus Christ.”
Mack learns from “Papa” (God the Father) that God has no control over His creation. “We carefully respect your choices, so we work within your systems even while we work to free you from them…Creation has been taken down a very different path than we desired” (page 123). This is the kind of thinking that certainly appeals to those who like the idea that man is in charge. However, the Bible very clearly teaches that God is the one in charge.
“…our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3, NKJV).
“The LORD has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19, NKJV).
“For I know that the LORD is great, and our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the LORD pleases He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deep places” (Psalm 135:5-6, NKJV).
“All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “’What have You done?’” (Daniel 4:35, NKJV).
“All nations before Him are as nothing, and they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless. To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him?” (Isaiah 40:17-18, NKJV).
“Papa” and Jesus teach Mack that God does not violate the choice or will of humans and that God actually submits to humans.
“We don’t use you…we want to share with you the love and joy and freedom and light that we already know within ourself. We created you, the human, to be in face-to-face relationship with us, to join our circle of love. As difficult as it will be for you to understand, everything that has taken place is occurring exactly according to this purpose, without violating choice or will…If you could only see how all of this ends and what we will achieve without the violation of one human will – then you would understand…I’m not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way. I am good, and I desire only what is best for you. You cannot find that through guilt or condemnation or coercion, only through a relationship of love” (pages 124-126).
“To force my will on you…is exactly what love does not do. Genuine relationships are marked by submission even when your choices are not helpful or healthy…Papa is as much submitted to me as I to him, or Sarayu to me, or Papa to her. Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way…because we want you to join us in our circle of relationship. I don’t want slaves to my will; I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me…we will never force that union on you” (pages 145 and 149).
These statements are in defiance of the glorious, almighty, sovereign God of the universe who is absolutely free to do His own will, and who never asks for or needs our advice. While there are many examples that could be cited of God not only violating, but utterly overwhelming human will, one only needs to consider the Great Flood of Noah’s day and the Tower of Babel in order to realize that God asks no questions and gets no input before carrying out His will.
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?” (Romans 11:33-34, NKJV).
God asked Job some profound questions in order to teach him who is really in charge.
“Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?” (Job 38:3-5, NKJV).
On page 141, we learn that God lives in the present. Even this little statement is in opposition to Scripture, which states in Isaiah 57:15 that God “inhabits eternity.” God is not bound by time. Time is a created thing which will some day come to an end, even as it had a beginning.
On page 191, “Papa” tells Mack, “My purposes are always and only an expression of love.” This is an expansion of the idea that when the Bible says, “God is love,” a complete definition of God has been stated. Nothing could be further from the truth. Love is an attribute, a characteristic, of God, but it is only one of His many attributes. God is also holy, just, righteous, jealous, etc.
Continuing on page 191, “Papa” tells Mack that God is fully human. “…we are now fully human, so our purpose and your destiny are forever linked.” The truth is that neither God the Father nor God the Holy Spirit have been or ever will be human, nor do they appear in human form. God the Son came into the world as the God man, the only perfect human, without sin, unable to sin. Some might argue that the three Persons of the Trinity are one, which they are, and therefore if Jesus became a man, so did the Father and the Holy Spirit. Yet the Bible tells us that “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19, NKJV).
On page 203, “Sarayu” tells Mack that God likes uncertainty. “…contrary to what you might think, I have a great fondness for uncertainty.” According to the Scriptures, God never changes, and He knows the end from the beginning. “Known to God from eternity are all His works” (Acts 15:18, NKJV). “Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’… Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it.” (Isaiah 46:9-11, NKJV). Nothing ever catches God by surprise, and there is no uncertainty in His character.
Clearly, the god of The Shack is not the God of the Bible, and this “god” should be rejected.
An Unbiblical View of the Trinity – There are those who believe that by reading The Shack, one can finally understand the Trinity. Anyone who thinks he understands the Trinity is only fooling himself. Neither The Shack nor any other book can accurately explain a mystery like the Trinity. If people read and study the Bible, God’s book, and still cannot comprehend such a truth, how can anyone believe a book by a human author can accomplish what God’s Word does not? God has told us in His Word everything we need to know. There are some things we would like to know but that we do not need to know. It is really quite possible that God does not mean for us to fully understand certain things like the Trinity. We need to accept some things by faith, not by human understanding. The Bible clearly teaches a triune God, three-in-one, the Trinity. There are three distinct personalities, yet one God. We cannot understand that. No illustration fully explains it. Yet we know it to be true. Not only does The Shack not explain the Trinity, it actually propagates false teaching about it.
On page 99, we learn that the Trinity is fully human. “Papa” tells Mack, “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed. Even though we have always been present in this created universe, we now became flesh and blood.”
Mack asked about the hierarchy or chain of command in the Trinity. “I have always thought of God the Father as sort of being the boss and Jesus as the one following orders, you know, being obedient.” Jesus’ response to this was, “Frankly, I haven’t a clue what this man is talking about” (page 121). When Jesus asked the Father if he understood it, “Papa” responded that, “…I’ve been trying to make head or tail out of it, but sorry, he’s got me lost.” Finally, “Sarayu” interrupted and said, “They’re just playing with you” (page 122). It is refreshing to know that neither Jesus nor “Papa” were confused, but it is a bit disconcerting to think that two-thirds of the Godhead would “play with” or “mess with” the mind of a human being. God does not speak deceitful words. “The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Psalm 12:6, NKJV).
“Sarayu” continued, “Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command…What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us” (page 122).
The Bible makes it clear that all three persons of the Trinity have distinct functions, and that Jesus Christ submitted Himself to the will of His Father. “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come – In the volume of the book it is written of Me – To do Your will, O God.’” (Hebrews 10:7, NKJV).
“…who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:7-10, NKJV).
On page 164, we learn that God the Father also died on the cross. “Haven’t you seen the wounds on Papa too?…He chose the way of the cross where mercy triumphs over justice because of love.” This brings up the classic question, “Did God die on the cross?” The answer is simple. God cannot and does not die. If God could die, then no one would be in charge of the universe while He was dead. Neither God the Father nor God the Holy Spirit died on the cross. God the Son, who is in fact God, took on Himself a perfect, sinless human body so He could die a perfect human death in the place of sinners. God never died. The one who is God died a human death in the body specifically prepared for that event. “Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me’” (Hebrews 10:5, NKJV).
An Unbiblical View of the Incarnation – The Scriptures do not teach that either the Father or the Holy Spirit are ever revealed in human form. “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, NKJV). When God appears in human form in the Scriptures, even in the Old Testament, it is always God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ who appears. “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18, NKJV).
John 1 gives us great insight into the incarnation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made…He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3;10-14, NKJV).
Jesus Christ is truly the God man. Although some would teach otherwise, He never did cease to be God, nor did he lay aside His power. He did lay aside His glory, and He voluntarily chose not to use some of his power. Yet “Papa” instructed Mack that even His ability to do miracles “proves that Jesus is truly human” (page 99). She goes on to say that “Jesus is fully human. Although he is also fully God, he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything. He has only lived out of his relationship with me, living in the very same manner that I desire to be in relationship with every human being” (pages 99-100).
Are we really to believe that Jesus Christ did what He did on this earth because of a relationship with God the Father that each of us can also experience? Are we to believe that we too can do all those things if we only get our relationship right? Such an idea is unbiblical, but it appears this is exactly what is being taught in The Shack. When Mack asks further questions about miracles, specifically healing the blind, “Papa” instructs him that Jesus “did so as a dependent human being trusting in my life and power to be at work within him and through him. Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone.” All assertions in The Shack to the contrary, Jesus retained and used the power and privileges of being God. The Gospels are full of accounts of the things that Jesus did, and only could have done, because He is God. Even though He did many other things, the relatively small number recorded in the Gospels were written down for a purpose, and that purpose was not to convince us of His humanity, but rather of His Deity.
“And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20, 30-31, NKJV).
This idea that Jesus did what He did as an enlightened human who was in touch with God sounds a great deal like the New Age idea that we all have the potential to tap into the “Christ consciousness” and evolve into a higher state of enlightenment. It also sounds like the old Mormon idea that “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” Nevertheless, the Bible makes it clear that Jesus retained all of His power as God while here on the earth. Not only did He have power to heal, He had power over life, even His own life.
“’Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.’ Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings” (John 10:17-19).
Not only does this Scripture negate what is being taught in The Shack, but it makes it clear that people tend to be repulsed by truth, because a division occurred among the Jews as a result of this specific truth.
It is obvious that the author of The Shack wants to go to great lengths to illustrate the humanity of Jesus, to the detriment of His power as God Almighty. We see on page 104 that Jesus was clumsy and dropped a bowl of batter or sauce on the floor. Then on page 176, He was unable to catch a particular trout He had been watching for some time. “I’ve been trying to catch him for weeks, and here he comes just to bait me.” Such an idea is inconsistent with His nature. Jesus doesn’t “try” to do anything. He just does it. Jesus did not come into the world to be so human that we lose sight of who He really is. So many people get into the idea that He became a human so we would know that He understands our plight. In truth, that is only a nice side effect of why He became a human, which was to die and rise again for the specific purpose of saving sinners and defeating death forever.
On page 96, “Papa” denies that Jesus understood what was going on when He asked, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” After Mack asked about this, “Papa” replied, “You misunderstand the mystery there. Regardless of what he felt at that moment, I never left him” (page 96). This teaches that Jesus was mistaken and that he relied on his feelings instead of what He knew to be true. However, there is no reason to doubt that God the Father turned His back on His Son when He became sin for us.
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NKJV).
“You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness” (Habakkuk 1:13, NKJV).
An Unbiblical View of the Nature of Man – Biblically, the nature of man is defined by his fallen state. Man was created in the image of God, a difficult concept to understand, but when he fell into sin, that image was marred. He disobeyed the only rule God gave him. This plunged the human race into a condition of total depravity, otherwise known as “total inability.” Man is unable to do anything about his lost condition.
However, The Shack treats the fact that man was created in the image of God as if nothing like The Fall had ever happened. “Papa” says, “Humans are not defined by their limitations, but by the intentions that I have for them; not by what they seem to be, but by everything it means to be created in my image” (page 100). This goes hand-in-hand with universalism, which could be summarized by this generic quote. “We are all created in God’s image, so there is enough good in us to save us and bring us into relationship with God. God would never allow anyone who bears His image to be condemned.” Such thinking ignores the exceeding sinfulness of sin and the condemnation it brings.
On page 123, The Fall of man is reduced to merely “choosing independence over relationship.” Again on page 146, The Fall is defined with no mention of sin. “The world is broken because in Eden you abandoned relationship with us to assert your own independence.” This is a very weak view of man’s rebellion against God and his disobedience to what He had commanded. The Fall did not just destroy “relationship.” It condemned man. “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18, NKJV).
On page 235, there is an overstatement of the importance of man. It is interesting to note that throughout the book, no distinction is really drawn between lost men and redeemed men. The only distinction made in the book is between those who choose “relationship” and those who choose “independence.” Note the following statement made by Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) to Mack:
“Mack, if anything matters, then everything matters. Because you are important, everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness and service, seen or unseen, my purposes are accomplished and nothing will ever be the same again.”
This, statement, like other statements in The Shack, strokes the ego of man, but man does not need his ego stroked. What he desperately needs is the message of redemption from sin through the Lord Jesus Christ.
An Unbiblical View of Salvation – There are several issues that point to a very faulty view of salvation. The first and most obvious is the massive overuse of the word “relationship.” Once the book got going, the word “relationship” came into view on almost every page, and sometimes several times on a page. One would think that Paul must have said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to establish relationships…” What he actually said was, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (I Timothy 1:15, NKJV). It’s not about relationships. It’s about redemption. Humans are not in need of a relationship, and they are not in need of “experiencing God.” They are in need of being saved from sin and its vile consequences. Only then can any kind of relationship with God and His Word become a reality.
It is interesting to note that in three commonly-used literal Bible translations, the word “relationship” is conspicuous by its absence. It does not appear even once in either the King James Version or the New King James Version, and it only appears one time in the New American Standard Bible. This one reference has to do with the relationship between a man and his wife, not some mythical relationship between all humans and God. Even though this word “relationship” is somewhere between nonexistent and insignificant in Scripture, it seems to be the most important word in The Shack.
According to The Shack, it seems that God is disappointed that we chose independence over relationship, but he still wants that relationship with all of his children, although he would never impose his will on any of us. He will try to help us see the need for a relationship with him by gently persuading and convincing us.
It appears that the author may well believe that all men are brothers and we are all the children of God – an unbiblical idea that has long been called “the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man.” At the beginning of chapter six, the author uses the following quote by Jacques Ellul from his book, Anarchy and Christianity: “No matter what God’s power may be, the first aspect of God is never that of the absolute Master, the Almighty. It is that of the God who puts himself on our human level and limits himself” (page 88).
That statement is unbiblical. “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3, NKJV). The word “Almighty” is used in many places in Scripture, and it is used to emphasize the power and might of God above all human wisdom and opinion. God made it very clear to Job that He is the one in control. "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4, NKJV). The idea that God “puts himself on our human level and limits himself” is unscriptural and should be rejected.
In his book What I Believe, Ellul declared himself to be a Christian Universalist, writing that "all people from the beginning of time are saved by God in Jesus Christ, that they have all been recipients of his grace no matter what they have done.” This statement stands in contradiction to the Scriptures, which declare otherwise. “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14, NKJV). The question becomes obvious. Why is the author of The Shack choosing such questionable sources for his inspiration? It would seem obvious that he is likely in agreement with Ellul on this issue.
On page 100, “Papa” declares, “I desire a relationship with every human being.” Nothing is said about salvation or redemption, but one can only assume that this relationship is the The Shack’s equivalent of salvation. This is another man-centered, man-exalting perversion of true Bible doctrine. The bottom line on this is that if it were the sovereign will of God for all humans to be saved, then all humans would be saved. Without getting into a big discussion of the doctrines of grace, it should be sufficient to quote Jesus from John chapter six.
“‘All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day…No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day…Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.’ From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:37-40,44,65-66, NKJV).
All of this is sometimes hard to understand, and some find it offensive. Many of His professing disciples left Him, because this teaching was just too much for them. Nevertheless, God gets to be God whether we like it or not, and the God of the Bible is not some kind of hand-wringing, powerless little god who is longing for a relationship with all humans, if only we would cooperate. That god is not God.
God’s Word makes it very clear that the idea of God desiring a relationship with every human is false. Jesus said in the passage quoted above, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me” (John 6:37, NKJV). Therefore, we must conclude that either all people who ever lived will come to Christ because all people are God’s children, or some will never come to Him because they are not all God’s children. The latter is obviously true, since there are many who do not come to the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, the other part of the verse says, “…and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37, NKJV). Jesus will not reject anyone who truly comes to Him. This is not a contradiction. Rather, it is both sides of the same truth. Coming to Christ is evidence of the grace of God at work in a person’s life.
Based on the authority of the Word of God, we can accurately conclude that there are some people with whom God has no desire for a relationship, which means He has no intention of saving them. We are not considering the “why” of this. Why one person is the object of God’s love and salvation and why another person is the object of God’s wrath and judgment is another discussion that is not necessary here.
On page 119, “Papa” says, “I’m not asking you to believe anything.” This is in conflict with Scripture, which emphasizes “belief” and “faith” repeatedly. Following are only a few examples:
“Jesus answered and said to them, “’This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent’” (John 6:29, NKJV).
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24, NKJV).
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NKJV).
We learn on pages 163, 211, and 224 that all people are God’s children. Even of the man who so brutally murdered Missy, “Papa” says, “He too is my son. I want to redeem him” (page 224). Question – If this man is already a son of God, why does God want to redeem him? Clearly, this “god” as presented in The Shack, has no idea what redemption is and does not understand that salvation is necessary for one to become a son of God. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12, NKJV). By contrast, our Lord Jesus Christ, the real Jesus of the Bible, made it very clear that not all people are children of God. Jesus said the following to some of the religious leaders of His day:
"‘You do the deeds of your father.’ Then they said to Him, ‘We were not born of fornication; we have one Father – God.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.’” (John 8:41-45, NKJV).
On page 225, “Papa” says, “In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship.” There is a big problem with this statement. If God has forgiven all human sin, then all humans are redeemed and are sons of God. However, the Scriptures make it very clear that there are many who are lost in sin and who will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire. This is not popular teaching today, but it is biblical, and it is therefore true. Truth is not always popular, but it is always right.
Mack asks Jesus what it means to be a Christian. His response is both startling and interesting. “Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian…Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims…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” (page 182).
On page 192, “Papa” again emphasizes the universal nature of salvation, and yet she places the responsibility for the completion of the work of salvation squarely on humans. “You asked me what Jesus accomplished on the cross; so now listen to me carefully: through his death and resurrection, I am now fully reconciled to the world…The whole world, Mack. All I am telling you is that reconciliation is a two way street and I have done my part, totally, completely, finally. It is not the nature of love to force a relationship but it is the nature of love to open the way.”
If God is fully reconciled to the world, why does the Scripture command men to be reconciled to God? The rationale behind the above paragraph is the old idea that “salvation is of God, but man has to do his part.” This is simply not true. There is no part in salvation that man can do. Left to our own devices, we would all surely perish.
An Unbiblical View of Christian Living – There is real resistance today among many Christians to the idea of “rules” for Christian living. Some will not even accept the idea of “principles” or “guidelines.” Many would prefer to go to a seminar on Christian living than to read, study, and obey the Bible. This anti-rules attitude is underscored in The Shack. On page 89, Jesus answers a question from Mack by saying, “You’re not supposed to do anything. You’re free to do whatever you like.”
On pages 197-198, “Sarayu” tells Mack that “The Bible doesn’t teach you to follow rules. It is a picture of Jesus. While words may tell you what God is like and even what he may want from you, you cannot do any of it on your own. Life and living is in him and in no other. My goodness, you didn’t think you could live the righteousness of God on your own, did you?…You will hear and see me in the Bible in fresh ways. Just don’t look for rules and principles; look for relationship – a way of coming to be with us.”
This is a bit of a “Straw Man” argument. To define someone who believes that there are such things as rules for Christian living as believing he can “live the righteousness of God on his own” is to totally miss the point. While we understand that rules do not save us and cannot make us right with God, there are, in fact, many commands in the Scriptures for believers to obey. There are numerous things we are “supposed to do” and other things we are not supposed to do. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NKJV). Colossians 3 gives us numerous instructions relative to what we are to do and what we are not to do. This sounds a great deal like “rules.”
“…put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry…But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds…Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection…Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them. Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eye service, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality” (Colossians 3:5,8-9,12-14,18-25, NKJV).
Christian freedom is freedom from the power of sin and victory over sin, not freedom to sin. In Christ, we have freedom to do what is right, not freedom to do anything we please.
An Unbiblical View of Judgment – “Papa” addressed the subject of judgment, with the following three statements: “I am not who you think I am, Mackenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it” (pages 119-120). “I don’t do humiliation, or guilt, or condemnation” (page 221). “The God who is – the I am who I am – cannot act apart from love!” (page 102).
These statements are in conflict with the Scriptures. Following are some examples:
“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, NKJV).
“Since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, NKJV).
“And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15, NKJV).
“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18, NKJV).
Conclusion – This brief review of The Shack is not in any way a thorough analysis of the book. Rather, my purpose has been to provide a measure of insight into the false teaching the book contains so as to warn those who will listen. While there are many more issues I could have addressed, I trust I have addressed enough to accomplish my purpose, with the following general conclusions:
- There is a great deal of ignorance of the Scriptures in the church today. This is a very unhealthy condition that cannot be remedied by encouraging people to read and study books like The Shack. There is a great need today to get back to the study of the Bible, the very Word of God, while continuing to deemphasize the use of extra-biblical books and seminars.
- The Shack is written from an unbiblical perspective and should, therefore, be ignored and/or opposed by Bible-believing Christians. If you have not read the book, I would advise you not to. It is a not-so-subtle attempt to undermine sound doctrine. If you choose to read it, please do so with a prepared heart and your Bible in hand, realizing that anything that contradicts the Word of God is false teaching.
- The book makes an effort to “humanize” God and bring Him to our level, thus making us feel better about ourselves. It plays very well into the modern day concept of “self-esteem.” Following is what God has to say about “self-esteem”:
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells…” (Romans 7:18, NKJV).
“For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am…” (I Corinthians 15:9-10, NKJV).
“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (I John 4:4, NKJV).
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3, NKJV).
It is appropriate to note that this last verse is the only verse in the Bible in which both of the words “self” and “esteem” are found, and it teaches the opposite of the commonly-taught concept of self-esteem. Self-esteem is not a Biblical concept. We need Christ-esteem, not self-esteem. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, NKJV). “…that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18, NKJV).
- The god of The Shack is not the God of the Bible. The god of The Shack is a very weak god, unable and unwilling to control his creation and to rule in the affairs of humanity. The God of the Bible is all-powerful, totally in control, and ruling in the affairs of men.
- Every pastor, youth worker, Sunday school teacher, Christian school administrator, Christian school teacher, and anyone else who leads others spiritually has the responsibility to sound the warning against false teaching. Failing to do so is not fulfilling the command to protect and feed the flock of God.
It is very difficult to watch many professing Christians “turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:4, NKJV). It is important to make every effort to point people back to the truth. “…in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil…” (2 Timothy 2:25-26, NKJV).
There are several warnings in the Scriptures about false doctrine. We are told “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love...” (Ephesians 4:14-15, NKJV). This warning is given because it is necessary. Many will be deceived by false doctrine if no one stands for the Truth, even if it is unpopular to do so. Truth always trumps falsehood, and we must not back away from our responsibility to “…contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3, NKJV). God’s Word does not change. Truth does not change. In order to stand for truth, it is often necessary to point out the contrasting falsehood.
Peace if possible; truth at all costs.
"But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable…"
A Review of The Shack by Ron Livesay
February 4, 2009 (Revised February 8, 2009)