The Shack

When the Women’s Book Club decided to read the novel The Shack recently, I was asked what I thought.   What follows is the handout I have to the group:

For some of you this book may have been deeply moving and helpful in your walk with Christ, helping you to see things in a new and fresh way. For others, you may have had all sorts of red flags going up. For others (like myself), it was a trial just to get through the book. Here are some of my reactions to the book and some thoughts on what I liked and some concerns.

Introductory Thoughts

There is no shortage of discussion about The Shack as I discovered in just a few hours on the internet, from those whose lives and faith have been changed and strengthened to those who condemn it as heresy. Where do I fall? Not at either extreme. I don’t think it affected my faith very much, which is not an indictment of the book but a statement of fact. Perhaps the message of the book is not one that I needed at the moment, or maybe I already knew it. On the other hand, while I disagree with parts of the book, I am not prone to call for the book to be burned.

Not every book is a theology book, but every book has a theology. That is, every book says something about God and the universe He created, some certainly more than others. While a work of fiction, the Shack is “doing theology”, and more than many books. When you present God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – as characters in a book and put words in their mouth, you are doing theology.

Some might say, “I know it’s fiction, it’s not like I’m reading it to figure out what God is like.” The challenge is that every thing we read, watch, listen to, etc. has the potential to shape our view of God, even if subconsciously. I have had conversations with people in which they have talked about what God says or what God is like and the ideas that they had came from books or movies. Some of the comments were fine, others contradicted clear teaching in the Bible.

The point is that when reading a book like The Shack, we have to be aware of what is being taught (both implicitly and explicitly) and be able to sort things out in light of what the Bible teaches. I am not suggesting we never read books that have bad theology in them. My point is that we need to be so well soaked in Scripture that we can recognize truth and error. Below are some of the things I liked about The Shack and some places I would suggest discernment. (I am just going to use bullet points to try and keep this short. Page numbers reference the paperback edition.)

What I liked/positive about The Shack

  • It reminds us that God cares about us and is interested in a relationship with us.

  • I have some issues with the way Papa is done but it does help us rethink in what ways we have created an image of God and maybe put God in a box.

  • We see all three persons of the Trinity and that they live in relationship with each other.

  • We see a God who reaches out to people in their time of pain and helps them through it

  • A good description of idolatry on p98 (although one might wonder if the author does not then fall prey to the trap of “taking the best version of themselves, projecting that to the nth degree, factoring in all the goodness they can perceive, which often isn’t much, and then call that God.”)

  • The suggestion that God understands that difficult earthly fathers make it hard for us to relate to Him as Father.

Areas for discernment

I realize that The Shack is not trying to present a full theology of the nature of God, the Trinity or theodicy (fancy theological word to discuss the issue of the co-existence of a good God and evil in the world). The Shack is very ambitious in trying to take on two of the most challenging theological topics – the trinity and theodicy – in a relatively short novel. The result often is a partial picture; and I can hardly give a well-reasoned response in a few brief sentences, but I will try to at least highlight the issues. Some of the statements below are just reminders of some balance needed, things we need to remind ourselves of.

  • God is presented in a very personal way, reaching down to us where we are. But, God is also holy and in many ways so unlike us. Let us not forget that God is also the judge and the sovereign Lord, the one to whom the seraphim sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Think back on the Bible and the way people react when in the presence of God – they fall on their faces, they don’t eat scones with Him, swear around him, snap at him in anger (p96), or get angry and make God cry (p92).

On the trinity and the nature of God

  • In the novel, we see the Father with scars from the cross (p96) – not what the Bible would suggest- just the Son.

  • Only the Son become incarnate, not all three as suggested by “we three spoke ourselves into existence as the Son of God” (p99) See also “Papa crawled inside of your world” (p165).

  • There is much confusion in the book about submission, authority and power.The Shack

  • I am not sure what the whole “I am a verb” discussion (p204-7) was supposed to say, but it just didn’t come off right.

The cross, sin and salvation

  • We need to think more than The Shack does about how suffering and the cross are related.

  • Jesus is not simply the best way to relate to God (forgot the page) where “Jesus” says this, but the only way.

  • “Papa” says, “I don’t need to punish sin…” (p120); does this in any way fit with what we see of God and sin in Scripture? We see God giving people over to their sins in Romans 1, but there is some difference.

  • The whole conversation on p182 (“Those who love me come from every system … I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want them to join in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa … Most roads don’t lead anywhere”) is one of the most muddled parts of the book. How do these compare with narrow is the path to life and broad the path to destruction (Mt 7:13-14) or go and make disciples (Mt 28:18-20).

Theodicy

– Entire books are written on this; The Shack draws on some common arguments, including our failure to see the whole picture. Many of these really What strikes me is that this is one of the primary issues of the book, yet the most poorly developed. Part of the problem it seems to me is that what the Bible teaches is that God’s love and holiness cannot be reconciled with the world’s evil; in other words, what the Bible talks about is not trying to understand how God and evil exist at the same time but instead showing us God’s plan and action to overcome and destroy evil. We see a God who chooses to suffer to redeem us from suffering, and there is not a whole lot of that here. In my opinion, a discussion of theodicy from a Christian perspective must deal a lot with the cross and here we find mostly some sentimental God being sad.

CONCLUSION:

You will have to decide for yourself, testing it against the Bible. There are some good insights and some helpful challenges to us. There are also times where things, in my mind, are a bit muddled. If it has helped you to grow, or to go back to the Bible to search for answers, or helped you see something in a fresh way, then praise God. May you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 thoughts on “The Shack

  1. Well, I have heard this before “loving God calling Him father in love (the degree of love that is) may depend on the kind of earthly father a person has.” I don’t believe this is good Biblical thinking. My thinking is, there no earthly father good enough to compare to our heavenly father. So the very best earthly father would be a disappointment and not allow us to love our heavenly father beyond the point of disappointment, since at best our earthly father is a disappointment compared to God. It may be more probable that the poorer our earthly father is the more we may love our Heavenly Father. As I have said, I have heard this before and I think it is a bad argument and should not be used, after all who can compare to our Heavenly father. I believe as Scripture claims the Holy Spirit cries out from our hearts Abba, Father: Gal. 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”

  2. Lots of good reading here, thanks! I was searching on google when I found your post, I’m going to add your feed to Google Reader, I look forward to more from you.

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