William P. Young’s novel, The Shack, has captivated the interest of many Christians. Household evangelical names appear on the book’s cover, endorsing it as bringing breathtaking new insights into who God is, and how he wants to relate to us (for example, Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, and recording artist, Michael W. Smith). One pastor is leading his entire church in a Sunday School study of what The Shack teaches us about God.
Perhaps you have read the book and loved it; perhaps you have read the book and thought it provocative, or maybe you have not read the book at all. But if you are a Christian, it is important that you compare every insight that you gain from any Christian fiction, whether it be Young’s The Shack, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, or even John Bunyan’s, Pilgrims Progress, with what God has said about himself in his Word, the Bible. It is one thing for these human authors to tell us what God is like, it is quite a different thing to hear God himself tell us what he is like, and that is what we have in the Bible: God’s self-revelation.
When compared to the Bible, how does The Shack stack up? Is it built on the firm foundation of God’s revelation of himself in Scripture? This is a question that I have attempted to answer in my review, A Look Around The Shack. Here’s a brief summary of some of what we find:
What does The Shack teach us about sin and evil?
To his credit, it appears from the book that William P. Young believes in a literal garden of Eden and a literal Adam and Eve. Rather than believe and trust God, our first parents sinned by choosing to decide for themselves what was good and what was evil.
But when we come to the consequences of that sin, it seems that the God of The Shack has quite a different approach than the God of the Bible. Papa (God the Father, played by a large African-American woman in the book), says, “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.”
But God declares to us in his Word: “(God) repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face.” (Deuteronomy 7:10).
That verse may not be one you often hear quoted, but it is in the Bible, and there are many more like it! If we do not understand that as sinners we are facing the wrath of a most holy God, we will never be able to fully appreciate the love of God that sent his Son to die on the cross in order to save us from the holy wrath that we justly deserve. In the words of Deuteronomy 7:10, Jesus received that just repayment that we deserved to receive. This is love!
What does The Shack teach us about God’s love and his justice?
In one of the most dramatic portions of The Shack, Mack is challenged to take God’s place as judge of the world. Young tries to help us see how wrong it is for us to put ourselves in the place of God, but in the attempt he ends up casting doubt on God’s justice when he condemns sinners to hell.
He says, “You believe he (God) will condemn most to an eternity of torment, away from his presence and apart from his love. Is that not true?….”
and then later on, “judgment is not about destruction, but about setting things right.”
Young goes on to describe the Cross of Jesus as the place, “where mercy triumphs over judgment.”
But the cross is not about God’s mercy, which is good, triumphing over his justice, which is bad. The cross is just as much a pure and holy display of God’s justice, seen in his punishment of sin, as it is a pure and holy display of his love, seen in the redemption of sinners. God hates sin and justly punishes it. Young understands the salvation of sinners to be the ultimate purpose of the cross, and while it is undoubtedly true that the cross is for the salvation of sinners, its ultimate purpose is the display of God’s glory in the vindication of his righteousness, and the display of his love. At the cross, God’s glory shines, both in his just punishment of sin and in his unmerited favor shown toward sinners.
What else does The Shack teach us about the cross of Christ?
Speaking of Jesus’ death on the cross, Papa says to Mack, “Don’t ever think that what my son chose to do didn’t cost us dearly. Love always leaves a significant mark…. We were there together.”
But consider what the Bible says to us about how Jesus’ death on the cross saves us. We deserved to be rejected by God, but Jesus was rejected in our place. That is why, as he hung on the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” God the Father was not “together with” Jesus when he died. If he had been, then the penalty for sin would not have been paid, and we would not be saved.
Another very important part of what Jesus did for us on the cross was his obedience in our place. Not only was he punished as our substitute for our disobedience, he also fulfilled for us, as our substitute, the obedience that we have failed to give God.
But there is no place for Jesus’ obedience in The Shack. Papa says…
“Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle (emphasis in the original) of relationship, not a chain of command, or ‘great chain of being’ as your ancestors termed it. We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us. Actually, this is your problem, not ours.”
And later on she says, “Authority, as you usually think of it, is merely the excuse the strong use to make others conform to what they want.” Papa speaks of authority as a “diabolical scheme in which you are hopelessly trapped even while completely unaware of its existence.”
But what does the Bible says about Jesus’ submission to the authority of God the Father: “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8).
Where can you read more about issues like these in The Shack?
There is a lot more that needs to be said about the divergences between the God of The Shack, and the God of the Bible. Please take the time to read my detailed review, A Look Around The Shack. There you will find a much more complete evaluation that compares whole passages of The Shack with Bible verses that speak to the same issue.
A Look Around The Shack concludes with a very important section entitled, “What would I say to someone in Mack’s situation.” Much of the appeal of Young’s book is that he deals with very real questions that people have. God does want to answer those questions, and he invites you to meet with him. But don’t look for the invitation in your mailbox, it has already been delivered to you in the pages of inspired Scripture. Only there will you encounter the true God and discover the glories of knowing him as he has revealed himself to us.