THE SHACK — a Critique

This article was first published on October 25, 2009 by me on another blog and is presented here substantially the same as then. I thought, ten years ago, that this book would pass silently and without notice into that ether of lost memories where puerile books typically end up. But alas, someone has figured out how to make a fast buck off gullible and ungrounded Christians by using it as a basis for another “Christian” Hollywood movie. Hollywood, notorious for making lackluster and inaccurate portrayals of the Christian religion (do you really think ungodly men can produce a godly product?), should have in The Shack another mediocre and vomit-inducing production that will be swallowed whole by the unthinking public. I hope that you, my readers, will not be numbered among them. Read on to know why I am put off by the book.

It’s only entertainment

Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, says: “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good.” That’s like comparing the Bible to Alice in Wonderland. The one is filled with truth, the other with obvious fiction. One has stood the test of time, the other will not last ten years. Truth be told, The Shack is not that good.

“Bill, it’s a work of fiction!” That was the response one gave to me when I presented him with some of my criticisms of The Shack. That objection has been repeated by others. “It’s a fictitious novel and should be read purely for entertainment value. The author never intended it to become a ‘bible study book’ or anything of the sort,” is another example.

Is that a legitimate objection?

Christian fiction must meet a higher standard

I do not believe it is. One of those that objected to my criticism of The Shack has himself remonstrated against Dan Brown’s fictional work, The Da Vinci Code. If criticism against the later is legitimate why is it not against the former? Dan Brown, as far as I know, does not push his book as truth; Willie Young does. He would have you believe that while it is a novel, much of it is true. He states in his blog, Wind Rumors, that “Mack is mostly me” and “the conversations are very real and true.”

I also believe criticism of The Shack is fair and appropriate because, even if there was a flat-out denial of it being a true-to-life real story, it portrays Christianity and Christianity’s God in ways that are supposed to make God more personal and understandable to people, along with making the Christian life more real and understandable, as well. However, I believe the author misses the mark so widely that this book will further confuse the many who are biblically illiterate and whose Christian beliefs are shallow.

Fiction that purports to be biblical and that portrays God, whether written by a Christian or an unbelieving author, must first and foremost be truthful. It is at this very level that The Shack falls short.

The Shack is irreverent

My first objection to Shack is the constant over-familiarity of referring to God as “Papa.” I suppose this usage is deduced from Romans 8:15. Modern preachers tell us that “Abba” is the Aramaic word for “daddy.” Where they got that I do not know. Abba does not mean “daddy.” Abba comes originally from the Chaldee and passed into Aramaic and means, “Father.”

While the Bible tells Christians that they may come before the throne of God boldly, it never tells us we can come to God as familiars.  We must come to the Father only on the merits of Jesus Christ. None of the apostles, who were much closer to Christ than any character in The Shack, were so impudent as to refer to the Father of our Lord as “Papa” or “Daddy.” Consider the prophet Isaiah’s reaction when he came into the presence of He who is “high and lifted up”:

“Then said I, ‘Woe is me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, LORD of hosts.’”

 

The Shack creates God in the image of man

My second objection to The Shack is its misrepresentation of God the Father. Mack, the main character in the story, has a run-in with God. He sees God in human form. What does God look like in The Shack? Aunt Jemima — or, as it says in the words of the book, “he was looking directly into the face of a large, beaming African-American woman.” The author always refers to the Father as “she.” This is horrendous, to say the least.

The Bible repeatedly tells us that God is not a man (and by extension, not a woman). The Bible also tells us that God is spirit and no man has seen God at any time. When God did decide to reveal himself to mankind, he did it through his Son, who is “the express image of his person.” Thick or thin, black or white, God cannot be represented by a woman, let alone any man other than Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit, too, is portrayed as a woman. Her name is Sarayu. She is Asian.

The Shack uses crude dialogue

Mack’s vocabulary leaves a little to be desired. A book written for a supposedly Christian audience should be careful to be without fault and to set a good example. As I read the book I was often surprised and dismayed by the earthy language used. One example should suffice. On page 177 of my paperback edition, Mack is engaged in talking to the Lord of Glory (an image of Jesus which is actually lacking in the book) when he says, “But why do we keep all that crap inside?” Crap is a euphemism for … well, you know what for. It’s use is beneath the dignity of a child of God and certainly would never be used by one knowing he was talking to the Son of Man. That it is commonly heard, even in the house of God, does not justify its use in the book. In another place, Mack uses “Geez” in conversation with the Holy Spirit. Geez is a corruption of Jesus and its use is a violation of taking the name of God in vain.

Some theological errors

The book also contains theological errors. In one place (p. 194) God the Father says, “I am now fully reconciled to the world.” I do not find that concept taught in Scripture. What I do find is that God sent his Son into the world to reconcile the world to him (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Jesus is quoted as saying, “…I have no desire to make them [Buddhists, Mormons, etc.] Christian.” I find that statement absurd, coming from one who supposedly writes from a Christian perspective. If Jesus Christ did not come to make us Christians, we are doomed.

One more error: The Holy Spirit says to Mack, “In Jesus you are not under any law. All things are lawful.” The first sentence is not true. The second sentence is stated by the apostle Paul twice, in 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 1 Corinthians 10:23. Willie Young’s use of it in this context wrests it from the context in which the apostle used it. In the first place all Christians are under some law. We are not under the law of Moses, but we are under the law of Christ. We are not under the law of sin, but we are under the law of the Spirit of life. We are under the royal law, that which requires us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. To say that we are not under any law is sheer foolishness.

Are all things lawful? Is it lawful to steal? Is lawful to murder?  Is it lawful to treat your parents with contempt? Of course not.  What foolishness to believe so. When Paul says all things are lawful, he is speaking of those things not prohibited by God.

The protagonist is self-absorbed

My last complaint against the book is the attitude that Mack takes toward God in his great loss. Mack becomes bitter and withdrawn, condemns God and, in short, acts like a child robbed of his candy. Mack attacks and condemns God, doubts God, is angry with God. All of the emotions and thoughts that Mack expresses are those that you and I go through in similar circumstances. But they are thoughts, actions, and emotions condemned by God. How much better would it have been for The Shack to have pointed Mack to the book of Job where one suffers much more loss than what Mack did and responded without sinning. Alas, the author missed a great opportunity. The book finishes with Mack understanding more about God but never repenting of his self-centeredness and rebellion against God.

Greg Albright, editor of Plain Truth Magazine said, “William Young’s insights are not just captivating, they are biblically faithful and true.” I think Mr. Albright, along with a lot of others, need to do more reading from the Bible. That is where the answers to situations like Mack’s are found. They certainly are not found in The Shack.

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