Pastor Bob Russell offers some sound council against the theology portrayed in the popular book and movie, The Shack. The article containing his understanding of the departure from orthodox Christian doctrine appeared at: www.bobrussell.org as: Ask Bob: What’s wrong with ‘The Shack’? RMF
What’s wrong with ‘The Shack’?
by Bob Russell
Occasionally people ask my opinion on various personal or church issues. I recently received the following question which I have reprinted below, followed by my response.
“What is your opinion of the new movie, The Shack?”
Over the past decade, I’ve often been asked about the controversial book, The Shack. That’s understandable because the book deals with the vital spiritual issues of suffering, grief, forgiveness and eternal life. The Shack touches the heart and has sold over ten million copies since its publication in 2007.
I normally don’t enjoy reading fiction, so when questioned about it my standard answer has been, “I haven’t read the book and am not in a position to comment.” Recently The Shack has been released as a popular movie, and now the questions are resurfacing. So this past week I finally decided to read the book and see the movie.
The author, William P. Young, is a captivating writer and there are several very good spiritual lessons in the story. I can understand why many Christians are touched by the heart-warming portrayal of heaven and its relatable depiction of God. But The Shack communicates some very dangerous, anti-Biblical concepts that should concern us.
I’m trying to keep in mind that The Shack is a work of fiction. But the problem is it communicates theology, and people are significantly influenced by it. The false doctrine of universalism is sprinkled throughout the book. So is the popular notion that if you believe people should be accountable for their behavior, you are judgmental and lacking mercy.
When warned that the book and movie contain heretical theology, many Christians vehemently protest, “But it was so inspirational. It really comforted me. I loved it!” The problem is we’re primarily emotionally driven, and not Scripturally driven. I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t read the book or go to the movie. I am saying we need to be discerning. We need to know enough Scripture that we recognize sections where what is subtly taught is in direct conflict with the Bible.
I can hear someone protesting, “Oh, it just makes you uncomfortable that the book portrays God as a female.” To be honest, it makes me uncomfortable to have anyone play the role of God. We’re treading on dangerous territory anytime someone pretends to be The Almighty. The second commandment instructs us not to make a graven image. We’re not to fashion a golden calf or a Sphinx or any human form and suggest that this visual image represents God. The reason is God is a Spirit, and He is so far above our understanding and imagination that any likeness is an insult to his character and glory. It doesn’t matter if it’s George Burns, Jim Carey, Morgan Freeman or Octavia Spencer – it’s spiritually precarious when anyone attempts to represent God. He alone can fill that roll
Since all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, the Bible is the standard by which Christians measure truth. Following are several crucial points where the theological message of The Shack conflicts with the Bible:
(1) When Mack, the main character, first meets Jesus, Jesus defines His role as, “the best way any human can relate to Papa (God). But John 14:6 records Jesus as saying, “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is not the best way; He’s the only way to God.
(2) In another chapter, “Papa” corrects Mack’s theology by asserting, “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.”
Certainly, God’s greatest joy must be in the atonement accomplished by Jesus’ death on the cross. But Romans 1:18 warns, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” The idea that sin is merely “its own punishment” is not consistent with the Biblical account of Noah’s flood, (sent to destroy a totally corrupt world) or the promise of Christ’s second coming in judgment. God has in the past, and will one day in the future, punish unrepentant sin.
(3) What concerns me most is the theme of universalism, the idea that everyone is going to be saved regardless of whether they trust Christ as Savior or not, which is promoted several times in The Shack.
For example, Jesus tells Mack: “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions.” Jesus adds, “I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, my Beloved.”
Mack then asks the obvious question — do all roads lead to Christ? Jesus responds, “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.”
“Papa” informs Mack that he is now reconciled to the whole world. Mack retorts, “The whole world? You mean those who believe in you, right?” “Papa” responds, “The whole world, Mack.”
Jesus commanded His disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) It’s really important that we are familiar enough with Scripture that immediately a siren goes off in our spirit when anti-Scriptural ideas are proposed.
If you were given a glass that contained 99% pure orange juice and 1% arsenic would you drink it? Of course not. You’d recognize the poison is lethal and warn others of the peril. The same is true of polluted theology. Just a little can appear harmless, but the Apostle Paul warned that false teaching could, “spread like gangrene.” (2 Timothy 2:17)
I agree with Dr. Albert Mohler who wrote, “The answer is not to ban The Shack or yank it out of the hands of readers. We need not fear books —but we need to be ready to answer them.” He calls the failure of Biblical discernment, “A lost art among American evangelicals” and laments the fact that this loss can only lead to theological catastrophe.
Those who follow Christ need to practice biblical discernment. We need to be familiar enough with the Bible’s teachings on these questions that we can respond appropriately. The Bible warns that Satan masquerades as an angel of light and encourages us to “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the Devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:11)