My thoughts on The Shack

Many of you have asked me to read and comment on the book The Shack.  Before I offer my analysis, I thought you would like to read what others are saying about Paul Young’s book:

Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Seminary, calls The Shack “deeply subversive”, “scripturally incorrect”, “undiluted heresy” and downright “dangerous.”

Michael Youseff, pastor of the Church of the Apostles’ in Atlanta, Georgia commented, “The book is like a deep ditch covered with beautiful flowers — sadly, many Christians are falling into this ditch.”

Mark Driscoll, pastor of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle says, “If you haven’t read The Shack, don’t!”

My biggest beef with The Shack is that it is theologically misleading.

One might argue since The Shack is a novel it is fictitious in nature and, therefore, does not necessarily have to be theologically accurate.  And there may be some merit to that argument, if the author had not written this statement in the back section of his book titled, “The Story behind The Shack”:

There are some publishers that appeal to various religious marketplaces, often with pat answers and empty rhetoric, and other who appeal to secular audiences avoiding books that speak positively to issues of faith.  There seems to be a huge missing that would address people’s spiritual hungers with integrity and intelligence, even if the message risked offending religious powerbrokers.

If Mr. Young’s desire was to address people’s “spiritual hungers with integrity and intelligence”, then he should have depended more on Scripture and less on his own imagination.  It is one thing to write a work of fiction for the purpose of entertainment.  It is quite another thing to write a work of fiction to influence the beliefs of others.  And this was Paul Young’s stated purpose in The Shack.

While reading The Shack another author’s quote, Larry Crab’s, kept running through my mind.  Crab says, “There is a god of your imagination and a God who is; and there is a world of difference between the two.”

To Paul Young I would say the same.  I am concerned that he believes this “novel” is a work that will address someone’s spiritual needs with due diligence.  Instead, it will greatly deceive them.

Although I appreciate the author’s attempt to answer the question “Where is God in a world full of hurt and pain?” I find Paul Young’s work, to be theologically damaging.

Again, The Shack is weak and it is filled with many doctrinal holes.  Paramount among those gaps is the author’s false view of the Trinity.  His portrayal is not biblical.  God the Father is portrayed in the form of a large African American woman who is always cooking in the kitchen.  Jesus is a middle-aged Middle Eastern man, dressed in a plaid shirt, with a tool belt around his waist. The Holy Spirit appears as a delicate Asian woman named Sarayu, who loves gardening.

Nothing could be more misleading or deceptive than to describe the parts of the Trinity as fully human.  The Bible is clear: God is light (1 John 1:5), God is love (1 John 4:7), God is Spirit (John 4:24).  To reduce God to the stature of a human is heresy.

Additionally, to make God out to be three characters—an African American woman, a middle-aged Middle Eastern man, and an Asian woman—appears to be the description of three gods rather than one.  The Bible is clear in this respect, also.  Deuteronomy 6:4 teaches, “The Lord our God, is one.”

Finally, it may benefit you to know a few things about the author I discovered after reading the book.  USA Today Online provides this alarming description of the author:

Emotionally distant from his missionary parents.  Sexually abused by the New Guinea tribe they lived among.  Grief-stricken for loved ones who died too young, too suddenly. Frantic to earn God’s love, yet cheating on his wife, Kim.
Young functioned by stuffing all the evil done to him and by him into a “shack” — his metaphor for an ugly, dark place hidden so deeply within him that it seemed beyond God’s healing reach.
His adultery, 15 years ago, finally blew the doors off that shack, forcing him to confront his past. “Kim made it clear,” he says. “I had to face every awful thing.”

‘Shack’ opens doors but critics call book ‘scripturally incorrect’
By Cathy Lynn Grossman
News >> Religion Section
May 29, 2008

Now I get it.  More than a theological treatise, The Shack is a confession of heartache and pain.  Instead of stating his reasoning for writing the book as theological in nature, I would have preferred Mr. Young to depict the story as a drama of true heartache.  That way the reader would not be so prone to be misled.
I think you should also know this about Young.  Although he grew up in a missionary family, the author professes today to be a Christian Universalist.  For those who do not know, Christian Universalists believe that Jesus Christ is “a way” to God and not “the way” to God.  Perhaps that will explain some of his weak insight into the Scripture.

There are other areas of theological waywardness in The Shack.  Young’s understanding of the cross, sin, salvation and forgiveness are all man-centered and humanistic in understanding.

For those of you who desire to read The Shack, I invite you to read it with discernment.


7 Responses to “My thoughts on The Shack”

  1. 1 Searching
    September 29, 2008 at 9:33 am

    A compelling review Ryan!
    As one who enjoyed the book tremendously; the one presumption on the part of the “religious leaders” I have thus far read, including these you quote, is that the readers of this book are so easily misled. I wonder what evidence there is to support this presumption. The book is so obviously a catharsis for the author with the preiminant metaphor being that of the child’s abduction and death and the overpowering need to be able to forgive. The author was obviously working through a great deal of personal anguish and this story is the vehicle for his healing. It makes a great case for our need to understand forgiveness in our own lives and the damage that can be without it. And it is apparent that the “spiritual leaders” in the churches of this country do not have enough faith in their own teaching and leadership to believe the people they shepherd can read a book like this and be able to discern the truth and see it for what it is and yet get something useful from it. I do however have great respect for your approach; that of using discernment when reading it without telling us not to do so. That my friend was a breath of fresh air on this subject – to this soul. It troubles me though that you had to refer to the sins within the author’s own life to justify an overall negative review of the book. Are we to measure the messages from every pulpit in this country through the filter of the sins of the one speaking, even yourelf? We have our own pastors and leaders who fall into adultery and pornagraphy and so many other sins within the “Church”. How easily we forget that God has used the worst of sinners to share his message more than the religiously righteous throughout the scriptures and history. God is able to use anything for his glory, the barrier to that is usually “us” and not the vehicle. However, I do respect that you have offered a good deal more information for us to better enable the discernment of Holy Spirit to aid folk as they read this very interesting work.
    Thanks Brother Ryan, once again you bless me!

  2. 2 Dr. Mark
    September 29, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    I will say a prayer for you….”Searching” for your concern. The problem with pastors today is that they don’t call sin, sin. And, I sincerely appreciate Ryan for taking the leadership of giving the flock a warning about this book. The book, as well as many books out there, have some truth to them but in the end are false, religiously incorrect, and downright undiluted heresy. We must call sin, sin. We must take a stand. We are in the last days. And, Ryan is a pastor who is concerned with a large number of people, some who attend Crosspoint every Sunday, who simply are missing it. What is “IT”? It= Jesus. Jesus is the ONLY way to Heaven and please do not support the notion that the Trinity is two females and a male. The Trinity is God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. How can we allow books like the Shack to be considered a valuable book for people who are going through pain, etc…..? I have found that the Bible is the sole book to read that will give us all the input that we need to handle the intense stuggles in this World. Amen
    Thank you Ryan!!!!!!!

  3. 3 Searching
    September 30, 2008 at 10:00 am

    While I do understand where you are coming from Dr. Mark, and I appreciate the prayer for me, I strongly disagree with part of your assertion. I think the majority of pastors these days do call sin sin. And the problem to me is in their almost obsession with sin, they are neglecting the greater part of what Jesus taught and lived…love. There is nowhere in scripture that directs us to rid the world of sin, rather we are to bring to the world the love of God through Jesus Christ. Are you going to have me believe that the bible is the only book you read? NO. You appear to be an educated man, and in persuing that education you have, and likely continue to read many books. The compilation of that reading probably leads you to a greater understanding of the truth and relevance of the bible. Have you read The Shack? How is it that I have never heard mention of the fact that God actually appears in three different forms in the book? The only one mentioned is the black female; what about the caucasian man who lead him to the body of his child? Everything in life has a context and if taken out of context can be applied to support or oppose any issue or concept, even scripture. How many times have non-Christian people taken portions of scripture out of context and used it to support their own cause or find issue with Christians? Regularly. I have never heard anyone claim this book was a replacement for scripure or anything but a compelling look at the human need for forgiveness, at least not by anyone I know who has read it. You see, for me, God does not change in any way by a book like this nor my reading of it. He is God, no matter what we humans do or say. Besides, I agree with you about Ryan’s approach and his admonition to use discernment when reading it or anything for that matter. However, I personally believe that to try and ban books that you don’t like or agree with is totally inconsistent with the reality of God. Ryan is doing a fabulous job as pastor in his effort to help the people of CrossPoint to understand who God is and develop their concept of him, in my opinion.

  4. 4 Hawley
    October 1, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    Interesting points from all… I think the major challenge is that in Christ-centered churches, we often forget to recall the Grace, the undeserved and life-changing Grace that has been given us. Many think that forgiving or embracing those who are sinners is anti-nomian. But what did God do with us?

    I think the beauty of this book is that it presents a way of perceiving God in images, using our imagination to compel us to think twice about who God is – to begin to conceive of the Trinity truly being three in one and what that might look like. We are so quick to point fingers at others for their sin, to focus so much on making them believe what we see is true about God and they don’t… but sometimes God needs to come to people in very individualized ways, meeting them where they are.

    Many non-believers don’t read the Bible, and wouldn’t. But this book might make them more curious or receptive, understanding that Christianity isn’t about judgement. It is about recognizing our need to be at the foot of the cross, to be forgiven, to be loved completely and unconditionally. And that ONLY Jesus, only God, can love us that way and we can be forgiven through Christ.

    I agree that I wish there were more biblical supports for the book, but I plan on reading it with highschoolers in a small, intimate setting, asking them to question it, and providing scripture to go with each chapter. I want them not to be afraid of new material but to investigate Christ and God their whole lives long, to believe whole-heartedly and to truly experience and know God’s grace and love.

    Churches often get to a point of judging and pointing fingers without realizing it, forgetting to come along side people and love them.. and in so doing, things will be “Corrected” by the Lord and not with mistaken human hands.

    I believe in a Theology of Grace, not a theology of Law…

    Well, that’s my 2 cents anyways. May the Lord bless all of you and I thank God that He is the Ultimate creator, the way the truth and the life, and that He works in me though I am undeserving. All praise and honor to Him!

  5. 5 Marcus
    October 1, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    I consider myself in matters of theology both a conservative and a fundamentalist. I have read “The Shack” with discernment and a measure of skepticism. I was intrigued when I saw that Lifeway had placed disclaimers on the book. AS I read the book and got to the place where God shows up as a large, jovial African-American, I paused, took a breath and continued reading. I am so glad that I did. The book was refreshing on so many levels. I fear that too many pastors feel the need to “jump on the bandwagon” against the book because it seems like the thing a pastor is supposed to do. What I find interesting is the double standard that many, not saying that Pastor Ryan is one of them, display. Having read all of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, I would assume these pastors would to be consistent make the same claims against his books as well. He espouses a measure of universalism in his writings as well as putting Jesus into animal form as in a Lion. One would have to assume that John Bunyan would also receive a similar rebuke for his writing of both Pilgrams Progress and Holy City. Both of which push the envelope in allegory. I agree with searching. Let’s trust that the Holy Spirit is still in the business of guiding us into all truth, and that most are capable of understanding allegory and are able to be encouraged by that!

  6. October 3, 2008 at 6:31 am

    Great comments by all. The only problem with posting a comment is that they are one dimensional. We cannot see your face or hear your voice inflections.

    I appreciate what each of you have written, and I believe you are all in the same neighborhood, but not on the same street with your observations.

    I have had several ask me whether or not they should read The Shack. Again, I tell them to read it with discernment. My fear is that many will be mislead if they do not have a clear theological understanding of God, the Trinity, salvation through Jesus Christ, forgiveness and so on.

    Marcus, I am glad you mentioned Lewis and Bunyan. Yes there is plenty of allegory that is not without its debate. Yet I do not find their writings to be as misleading as The Shack. Would you agree?

  7. 7 Searching
    October 6, 2008 at 9:54 am

    You know… the bottom line with this book, which lay readers appear to connect with and ‘get’ that so many religious leaders appear to miss, is this; God adores us in a real and intimate way and he does actually want what is best for us and that the issues we face, with forgiveness being our greatest issue and the one Christ died for us over, can be overcome and dealt with if we look to God the Father, Jesus our Savior and Holy Spirit and make them a real and intimate part of our every day existence. That’s all. It allows us to understand that there are three parts to God with each having their areas of responsibility and still acting as one with one goal…to bring glory to God in every part of our lives, even the most painful. Now, I LOVE dissecting theology and digging as deeply as possible into things of God and searching for the truth and discussing it infinitely, but this book, this story, is about how much God really loves us, even with all our sins and issues, our lack of faith and our hard headedness. This book is about the love of God and not the theology of religion. Now why do you suppose our leaders don’t get that?

    But again, this is merely one person’s opinion.

    Ryan, I do want to thank you for allowing a dialog of this book and your openness to listen to opposing views. Your grace is appreciated greatly!

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