NOTE: I wrote this book review of THE SHACK in 2012. I recently learned that a film has been made from the book. I have no interest in seeing the film, and would not want to support it by paying an admission fee.
But I am still very surprised (and saddened) at how many people, including Christians I know personally, are flocking to see the film.
Here is the opinion of just one Christian minister, who prays for discernment in the Body of Christ, and as always, the readers may make of it what they will...
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first.
2 Thessalonians 2:3
THE SHACK, written by William Paul Young (published 2007) is described as "Christian fiction".
The book rose to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and has garnered a cult-like following among Christians. There are "SHACK" study groups; SHACK online discussion groups; SHACK "projects", and strangest of all, even SHACK 'ministries'. Christians are buying multiple copies of the book and distributing it to their friends, family and church congregations.
It has received countless glowing reviews and the author, William P. Young, has been interviewed on many of the mainstream TV and radio talk shows, including Christian programming.
Consider this quote, displayed on the front cover of THE SHACK:
"This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress did for his. It's that good!"
From all the hubbub surrounding THE SHACK, you'd almost think some ancient hidden scriptures had been unearthed!
I first heard of THE SHACK in 2009, when some people I knew had chosen it for their Christian book discussion group. I was invited to participate but declined the offer. I hadn't read THE SHACK, but I did take a brief look at the front cover and perused the summary on the back. Immediately, I was struck with a sense of sinister foreboding. I did not get a good feeling about THE SHACK.
One day, about a year later, I was at the used book store. Most of the fiction books I read come either from the library or else I can trade in my old books for ones I haven't read. I went to the Christian section, looking for something else, and there it was, THE SHACK. I wouldn't have paid money for it, but decided that I would get it as an exchange, just to find out what all the fuss was about.
THE SHACK sat on my bookshelf for months, gathering dust. I didn't even open the cover in all that time, I had such a creepy feeling about it. When I finally decided to read it, I understood why: This book could be an insidious poison to the Christian believer, at least for those who have not developed a true spiritual discernment.
But I also could understand, from a more objective psychological point of view, how so many people, even genuine Christians, might be deceived by the book's false theology. The Shack appeals first and foremost to the reader's emotions and offers what appears to be a powerful and effective antidote to those who are desperate to fathom the depths of their pain and suffering. But the "solution" presented in THE SHACK is a contrived and counterfeit secular humanist, new age "spirituality" which bears no relation whatsoever to the actual Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Unlike so many Christian readers, who gushed praises that the book "changed their lives", or that they "finally understood the truth", I found THE SHACK to be deeply troubling, in more ways than one. But I'm not sorry I read the book, if only because having done so, I felt compelled to issue a warning to my fellow Christians.
This book review is not comprehensive, in the sense that I can only cover so much ground in pointing out the false theology. So I'll limit the focus to what I found to be the most salient errors.
Having read THE SHACK, I decided to do some research on the author. After watching some interviews of William P. Young, I later learned that the book was autobiographical in nature, not in the sense of the actual events depicted as fiction, but in terms of Young's personal feelings about experiences in his own life. Such as: that he was sexually abused as a child; and that after having an adulterous affair with his wife's best friend (also a member of their church) he and his wife were forced to leave the church in disgrace.
Young says that "the shack" is a "metaphor" for a place that is deep inside of him. And the story he tells shows how he was "transformed" by the revelations of "God". But sadly, Young's revelations are highly subjective in nature, and clearly limited by the level of his own perceptions and understanding of God.
In brief, the storyline goes like this: The protagonist is a man named Mackenzie Allen Phillips. During a family vacation, his young daughter is abducted and subsequently raped and murdered by a serial killer. Thus begins the "Great Sadness". Mackenzie, otherwise known as Mack, is emotionally devastated and at a loss to understand how to deal with or make sense of this tragedy, especially from a spiritual or "Christian" perspective. His faith is shattered, with nowhere to turn for answers.
The body of his daughter, Missy, is not found, but the police finally do track down a location where the murderer took Missy, an abandoned shack deep in the woods, where they find the girl's bloody clothing.
Time goes by, the Great Sadness seems only to get worse, but one day, a few years later, Mack finds a note in his mailbox. The note, claiming to be from God, is signed "Papa", and asks Mack to meet him at "the shack" for one weekend. Mack wonders if the note was sent by the killer, and can't believe it could really be from God, but despite his suspicion, decides to accept the invitation.
Upon arriving at the shack, to his great surprise, Mack is greeted by three characters: A "large beaming African-American woman" who introduces herself as "Papa" (otherwise known as "Elouisa"); a middle eastern man with a large nose who is "Jesus"; and a slender Asian woman named Sarayu.
It soon becomes clear that these characters represent the "trinity": "father", "son" and "holy spirit" (I use no capital letters, for what will become obvious reasons). The rest of the book tells the story of Mack's interactions with his new friends, mostly through his conversations with them, in which they dispense their spiritual wisdom for Mack's edification and enlightenment, and which results in Mack's eventual "transformation".
The conversations among the characters are reminiscent of a new age, secular humanist group therapy session. The theology is similar to that promoted in A Course in Miracles, claimed to have been "channeled" by Helen Shucman, in which "Jesus" is said to be speaking. Other new age manifestos also come to mind, such as Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations with God.
Among the most offensive false theology found in The Shack is Young's "trinity", grossly misidentified, misrepresented and worst of all, quoted AS IF what they are saying to Mack is the "gospel truth".
To put words in the mouth of God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit is the ultimate blasphemy. Because although the story is fiction, Young is identifying these characters AS IF they comprise the "real" Trinity. It's not as if Young is simply promoting his own beliefs or ideas by having the protagonist, Mack, talk about his personal perceptions of them. Rather, he has concocted specific quotes which are not only false, but which contradict the actual sayings of Jesus Christ and which deny and desecrate the most basic tenets of Christianity itself.
So, here's a guy who claims to be a Christian, who has the audacity to "speak" for God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Holy Spirit, through a fictional account purporting to spread a message of "truth".
Just as an example of how wrongful this is, imagine this: You are a real person who during your life wrote a number of articles and letters in areas of your expertise (what ever that may have been); you had a number of conversations with your friends, family and colleagues about your beliefs, your opinions, your view of the world. You spent your life in service to your ideals and principles, and it was important to you, as a person of integrity, that you made your position clear to others, through your communications and non-fiction written works.
Then you pass away. After your death, someone decides that he is going to write a biographical fiction novel about you, using your real name. But instead of using actual quotes from you (from your articles, letters or conversations) he decides he has the right to fabricate things you never said, putting them in quotation marks, along with your name. After all, he thinks, it is "only fiction". In his novel, the author misrepresents you, everything you worked for, everything you stood for. Your life is memorialized in a completely false light. Would you be outraged? Damn right you would!
Imagine doing something so outrageous, so flagrantly unjust, to a human being. To falsely represent him, to put words in his mouth which he never spoke. Now, imagine doing the same thing to God Almighty! And whether William Paul Young knows it or not, Jesus LIVES. And I feel sorry for Mr. Young to think what the consequences for his blasphemy will be: bearing false witness against God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
In THE SHACK, "God" is represented in the flesh, as a human being. That Young chose a "large African-American woman" makes it no more or less blasphemous than if he had chosen a more conventional image: an old man with a long white beard. Because the irrefutable fact is, God is spirit, NOT a human being.
True, many Christians will anthropomorphize God in their mental imagery, and to a point, maybe it can't be helped. From the perspective of male-supremacist fundamentalists, God is seen as male, though in truth, God, the Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, cannot be limited to a "gender"; even most of the fundamentalists, when pressed, will admit to this.
God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
But worst of all, by personifying God as a human being, a "created being", the absolute majesty and glory of God are immeasurably diminished. What Spirit-filled Christian could fall to his knees in awe before such a "deity"?
Young's personification of "Jesus" is similarly flawed. Reading some of the lines spoken by him, I found myself wondering how Young could possibly come up with such a twisted version of the message of Christ's gospel clearly given in the New Testament. Jesus is presented not as Son of God, but as some kind of goofy new age hippie.
And lastly, we have "Sarayu", the so-called "holy spirit". Again, putting the Holy Spirit into a flesh body totally misrepresents God's Truth. Can anyone imagine, for example, Isaiah or Jeremiah being "inspired" to prophecy by such a a creature? The very thought is ludicrous.
Now, let's take a look at some of the conversations of this "trinity" with Mack.
"Papa" to Mack:
"Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or "great chain of being" as your ancestors termed it. 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."
The scriptures clearly state that Jesus was "sent" by the Father.
Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.
So, if there is no hierarchy, how could God the Father have "sent" Jesus, if there is only a "circle of relationship"? Why wouldn't Jesus have just decided to make the journey on his own?
"Jesus" to Mack:
"That’s the beauty you see in my relationship with Abba [Father] and Sarayu. We are indeed submitted to one another and have always been so and will always be. 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"
Mack: "So then we've been seduced with this preoccupation with authority?"
Lord have mercy! Is he serious? To say that God "submits" to a human being? Who does Young think God is? To say God has NO AUTHORITY over His people? That submitting to God is not obedience?
If God Almighty does not have authority, then who does? Throughout this conversation, Young promotes the idea that there is really no difference between God and human beings. No, we should all just "submit" to each other, and everything will be fine and dandy. Anything goes...
Papa to Mack:
"We carefully respect your choices, so we work within your systems even while we seek to free you from them"
Again, the idea that God would "work within" the systems of the world of men. What about the fact that "God is no respecter of persons"? How could anyone with even the slightest bit of spiritual discernment ever believe something so stupid?
Papa to Mack:
"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."
The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates.
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'
Young's "Jesus" says he does not want people to become Christians. What then, does he want them to do? To become new age pagans, worshipers of created things?
"Papa" and Mack, discussing forgiving the man who murdered Mack's daughter:
"Mack, for you to forgive this man is for you to release him to me and allow me to redeem him."
So now, God cannot "redeem" the murderer without Mack first forgiving him? God needs Mack's permission to "allow" him to redeem a sinner or bestow His grace? This takes the power from God and puts it into Mack's hands. But who is Mack to usurp the power of God? Again, God is diminished in his majesty and power, as if He were dependent on the will of a mere man to forgive, redeem or administer justice. But in Young's worldview, "justice" doesn't even enter into the picture.
The tale woven by Young, filled with sentimentality and syrupy-sweet emotional projection, presents a "feel good" democratic God, who does not punish sin; who needs the permission and cooperation of human beings to redeem; who cares nothing for righteousness; who does not administer justice—and is powerless to rule His kingdom without human assistance, via the "circle of relationship".
Does God, through His sovereign grace, offer salvation to Christian believers, covered by the blood of Christ? Or does a flesh creature "god", who "submits" to created beings, offer "transformation"?
As for THE SHACK, it is the last place on earth (or in any other realms) where any true believer in Jesus Christ and His gospel would ever want to go.
KEEP OUT of THE SHACK.
Barbara Hartwell Percival
February 25, 2012
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
...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, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ
...but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.
They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. . . . For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect– if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.