Shocked by the Shack
The Shack by William P. Young had its debut on June 8 2008. It landed and stayed in the No. 1 position on the New York Times (trade paperback fiction best-seller) list for 32 weeks (as of Jan.09). “It is No. 1 on Borders Group’s trade paperback fiction list, and at Barnes & Noble it has been No. 1 on the trade paperback list since the end of May, outselling even Mr. Tolle’s spiritual guide “A New Earth,” selected by Ms. Winfrey’s book club in January” (Christian Novel Is Surprise Best Seller By Motoko Rich June 24, 2008 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/24/books/24shack.html?scp=6&sq=the+shack&st=nyt
The Shack took on a live of its own in sales “Brad Cummings, a former pastor and the president of Windblown, said the company, which first shipped books out of his garage, spent about $300 in marketing. Word of the book ripped through the Christian blogosphere, talk radio and pulpits across the country.” “People would call back, asking for a dozen or a case,” Mr. Cummings said. (ibid)
William P. Young is a former office manager and hotel night clerk in Gresham, Ore., who says in his biography (personal journey) he has always been a writer, whether songs, poetry, short stories or newsletters. But was an unknown author, until now. Young’s father worked as a Pastor at several small churches in Western Canada, he attended Bible College and received an undergraduate degree in Religion.
His views on the Jesus and the Bible certainly are expressed in the story and the characters. Young writes, “The Shack will tell you much more about me than a few facts ever could. In some ways my life is partly revealed in both characters—Willie and Mack. But an author is always more. I hope that someday we can share a cup of coffee, or for me, an extra hot chai tea with soy. If that happens, and if you want, I will tell you a little more about the bigger story and you can tell me some of yours.”
“That about sums up my life. For me, everything is about Jesus and Father and the Holy Spirit, and relationships, and life is an adventure of faith lived one day at a time” (http://theshackbook.com/willie.html
There are others that are more familiar with him: “the author William P. Young, a man I have known for over a dozen years. About four years ago Paul embraced ‘Christian universalism,’ and has defended this view on several occasions. While he frequently disavows ‘general universalism,’ the idea that many roads lead to God, he has affirmed his hope that all will be reconciled to God either this side of death or after death.” (James B. DeYoung, Th.D Book Review – The Shack ) http://theshackreview.com/content/TheShackReview2Page.pdf
Young’s unbiblical open views are certainly shaped in the books characters and teaching that comes from them. The Shack is an entertaining story (or allegorical representation) that holds the readers attention as an easy read but it also subtly undermines the Christian faith by reinventing Jesus and the Godhead into something that is not recognizable from the Bible. the “Jesus” of The Shack may have the same name but he is not Jesus Christ of the Bible.
The endorsements of this book come from unrecognized and some recognized names such as: Eugene Peterson, Professor Emeritus Of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, Vancouver, B.C.; James Ryle, Author Hippo in the Garden; Steve Berger, Pastor, Grace Chapel; Gayle E. Erwin, Author The Jesus Style; Patrick M. Roddy, Emmy Award Winning Producer of ABC News; Bart Campolo, Founder of Mission Year and many others. (Found on http://theshackbook.com/endorsements.html)
The Foreword begins with: “who wouldn’t be skeptical when a man claims to have spent an entire weekend with God, in a shack no less? And this was the shack.”
As Christians we can have fellowship with God anytime and anywhere, so this unusual encounter that has skepticism seems to blur the reality of this common relationship offered to all through Jesus Christ.
The Shack is a creative work of fiction that can change ones thinking on certain Bible teachings by challenging the biblical held beliefs of Christianity with the characters in the story. The book reminds me of how little discernment the church has. Many years ago the book “God Calling” became a popular read - it was channeled messages. It is perplexing that people will read a book that introduces them to a different narrative, that actually challenges and changes the Bibles doctrines instead of taking the time to read the Bible to become strong in the faith. Enjoying entertainment comes under our freedom but when entertainment is wrapped in a spiritual package such as this it becomes a different matter. This book does not build up ones faith but alters it.
The Shack opens with tragedy. Mack's (Mackenzie) precious six-year-old daughter missy was cruelly murdered and it is 4 years later. “The tragedy had also increased the rift in Mack's own relationship with God, but he ignored this growing sense of separation. Instead, he tried to embrace a stoic, unfeeling faith…”
Being in grief, he receives a strange invitation. “I've missed you,” it says. “I'll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. Papa.” What could it mean?
“So when Mack received the note from Papa telling him to meet him back at the shack, it was no small event. Does God even write notes? And why the shack—the icon of his deepest pain? Certainly God would have better places to meet with him. A dark thought even crossed his mind that the killer could be taunting him, or luring him away to leave the rest of his family unprotected. Maybe it was all just a cruel hoax. But then why was it signed Papa?”
“Try as he might, Mack could not escape the desperate possibility that the note just might be from God after all, even if the thought of God passing notes did not fit well with his theological training.”
Mack heads for the Oregon wilderness and finds the old shack. “God” miraculously transforms it into a cozy cottage, and Mack meets his God: “...the door flew open, and he was looking directly into the face of a large beaming African-American woman…With speed that belied her size, she crossed the distance between them and engulfed him in her arms....”(p.82)
“Just as she turned... a small, distinctly Asian woman merged from behind her.... He then glanced past her and notices that a third person had emerged... a man. He appeared Middle Eastern.”(p.84)
“When they finally stopped giggling, the large woman... said, 'Okay, we know
who you are, but we should probably introduce ourselves to you. ...you could
call me what Nan [Mack's wife] does: Papa.'...
“Mack stood dumbfounded.... Just as he was about to
crumple to his knees, the Asian woman stepped closer and deflected his
attention. 'And I am Sarayu [the Holy Spirit, Creativity].' she said...
Mack is then reeducated in his beliefs, corrected in his biblical understanding of God. While some may look at this as upholding the deity it actually confuses it. Two females and one male seems to be a contradiction of Scripture unless one wants a postmodern Jesus.
This incarnate Jesus is “middle eastern and is dressed like a laborer, complete with belt and gloves…wearing jeans…and a plaid shirt.” This insinuates how our modern Jesus would dress today if he appeared. John who knew Jesus well, saw the glorified Jesus and fell at his feet because of how he actually looked.
We read, “In seminary (Mack) had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners' access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?” (The Shack p. 65-66).
How clever. The Bible itself is belittled and what he learns from Jesus is completely removed from the Bible except for the names and titles. The false representation of authority and control may fit the Roman Catholic church but not churches that teach a personal relationship with God. To say that reading the Bible in print forms guilt shows contempt for God’s eternal word. Implying the Bible is limited and passé the author then plants the concept of God still speaking to us new revelation, rearranging our understanding. The written word is replaced by his “voice of God” which is genuine freedom.
What does Mack learn from Jesus?
In explaining how God derived woman from man, Mack is told: “We created a circle of relationship, like our own, but for humans. She out of him, and now all males, including me, birthed through her (Eve), and ALL originating from God” (The Shack, p.148).
Unfortunately this can be accepted as true from many who do not know any better. Do we all originate from God like Eve did from man? No. Do we originate from God as Jesus? No. In fact the Bible teaches that we are estranged from God from birth, born of the fallen nature of Adam – we carry a deformed image of God because of sin, that has separated us (all mankind except Jesus) from Him. So we must be adopted- Gal 3:26: “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name (John 1:12). Two things- We are reconciled to God by faith (in the gospel-spiritually reborn) and notice we are to receive “him.”
The book is described as an allegory yet some want to accept the fact that God the Father can be portrayed as a woman. This is explained by Mack's inability to relate to God as a male father. Though later he does relate to God as Father after he forgives. This introduces a open perspective by man; we can shape God into our own.
Each of the members of the Godhead is presented in The Shack in bodily form. God the Father, known as “Papa”, also goes by the name Elousia - portrayed as a “large beaming African-American woman.”
The Holy Spirit is also a physically manifested woman of Asian descent whose name is Sarayu, which is Sanskrit for “wind” (p. 110).
This hard left departure from Scripture only gets worse as it develops. “Papa didn’t answer, only looked down at their hands. His gaze followed hers and for the first time Mack noticed the scars in her wrists, like those he now assumed Jesus also had on his...Jesus reached across the table and took Papa’s hands in his, scars now clearly visible on his wrists” (p. 95, 107).
The Father is included in the crucifixion which confuses the persons of the Tri-unity and its application to no end. The book teaches All the members of the Trinity took human form at the incarnation: “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human” We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed. ...flesh and blood.” (p. 99). All three being the son is a derivative of the ancient heresy of modalism. And the son of God did not come into existence, the son of man did. The Son of God is a term showing his unique eternal relationship to the Father as God.
“'By nature I am completely unlimited... I live in a state of perpetual
satisfaction as my normal state of existence:’ she said, quite pleased. 'Just
one of the perks of Me being Me.’
Besides the irreverent portrayal of God, his crass language spoken throughout the book, the diminished importance of sin, we have a completely unbiblical concept of God becoming man- all three persons. The Bible tells us –Jesus: “No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). But this book tells us of seeing on earth all three persons in one human form! Two females- one male.
What follows is an unraveling of Bible doctrine. Papa says “[Jesus] has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything. [Mack asks] ‘So, when he healed the blind?’ [Papa replies] ‘He did so as a dependent, limited human being trusting in my life and power to be at work within him and through him. Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone.’” (p. 99-100)
When you change the nature of God in so many ways, you have divorced yourself from truth. Biblically, Jesus did not use his power independently, but he did use his power as the Father led him by the Spirit or instructed him. Proposing that he was but a human, with no power to heal changes the theology of Scripture, and has us as equals to Jesus.
Because all three persons of the Godhead incarnated Young is presenting the view that the Father and the Spirit died on the cross with the Son and bears the marks of the cross to this day (pp. 95-95; 164).
Mack: “At the cross? Now wait, I thought you left him—you know—‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’” Papa answers: “You misunderstand that mystery there. Regardless of what he felt at that moment, I never left him” (p.96).
This introduces a form of the ancient heresy of Patripassianism (the Father suffering). The belief that God the Father became incarnate and suffered on the cross as the Son. This is further solidified by the explanation of “Jesus reached across the table and took Papa’s hands in his, scars now clearly visible on his wrists.” (p. 95, 107).
Young is then taking the position that the Father died on the cross and does not believe that the Father who was in heaven turned away from Jesus on the cross when the sins of the world were put on him as Scripture teaches; instead the Father physically participated in it.
“For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning.” (p.93) In other words he is introducing a challenge to historic Christianity.
It is not our own projection of the terms of gender for God, gender stereotypes of our culture. God has revealed to us himself as masculine. God in the Bible is always addressed in the masculine, yet as God he has female characteristics. This does not mean God is physically man, for He is spirit. This does not change the fact that God represents himself to mankind eternally as Father, Son and Comforter. The first creatures created are angels- called sons of God (not sons and daughters). The idea that men cannot be comforting or kind, that this characteristic can only come from females is a cultural identity of our age. Women have God’s characteristics because they were created in his image, not God has women characteristics. To change God into a female certainly makes him a goddess, which is not found in Christianity but pagan religions. Thus, this would make goddess worshippers quite happy in its portrayal of the creator.
The Holy Spirit
Mack asks Jesus, “Speaking of Sarayu, is she the Holy Spirit?” Jesus answers, “Yes, She is Creativity; she is Action; she is Breathing of Life; she is much more. She is my Spirit.” Mack responds, “And her name Sarayu?” Jesus explains, “That is a simple name from one of our human languages. It means ‘Wind,’ a common wind actually. She loves that name” (p. 110). Mack asks the Holy Spirit if he will see her again he is told, “Of course, you might see me in a piece of art, or music, or silence, or through people, or in creation, or in your joy and sorrow” (p. 198).
The spirit that Jesus has is a she! This Female Holy Spirit is also portrayed as an “it”, a force that indwells (not inspires) the inanimate objects. But the Holy Spirit is neither an it or a “she,” but “He” (John 16:13) throughout the Bible. And the bible goes to great lengths to present this consistently.
Fly the friendly skies
Papa keeps talking about flying and how Jesus can fly, “So, when you look at Jesus and it appears that he’s flying, he really is…flying. But what you are actually seeing is me; my life in him...love is the flying” (p. 98-101)
“Although by nature he is fully God, Jesus is fully human and lives as such. While never losing the innate ability to fly, he chooses moment-by-moment to remain grounded. That is why his name is Immanuel, God with us...” (p.99-100). Jesus is grounded on earth? Really- when did he return? The Bible does not teach Jesus flew here to there, he trans-located and was lifted up to heaven by the Father at his ascension. But this does not seem to be what happened according to the Shack.
On page 27 we read a story of Mack’s family stopping at Multnomah Falls.
Missy who is Mack’s daughter, (who will be killed by a violent criminal) asks
him to tell her the tragic story of the Indian Princess of the Multnomah tribe
who died at the falls. The story is about a plague that began to wipe the
Indians out. A prophecy is recounted by a medicine man that the beloved daughter
of a chief must give her life to stop the advance of the plague. After praying
and giving herself to the Great Spirit, the selfless princess threw herself to
her death on the rocks below (p.28). Young explains that the story “had all the
elements of a true redemption story, not unlike the story of Jesus” (Ibid).
This puts on the table the idea of Jesus types in other religions. Jesus did not die to save us from a plague but from sin. Opening this up to other religions stories of redemption (mysths or not) degrade the real historic account and the spiritual value of the Father sending his only Son to earth to accomplish this task.
Mack asks Jesus, “Is that what it means to be a Christian?” Jesus says, “Who said anything about being a Christian? (p.182) I’m not a Christian. The idea struck Mack as odd and unexpected and he couldn’t keep himself from grinning. 'No, I suppose you aren’t. “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrat, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions…I have no desire to make them Christians, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my beloved.” “Does that mean,” asks Mack, “that all roads will lead to you?” This is denied by Jesus, he explains, “What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you” (p. 182).
Of course Jesus was not a Christian, he was a Jew. The word "Christian" refers to those who follow Christ (Acts 11:26). People come from every culture, nation and religion because they are saved by the gospel, not just because they love him but because they understand He loves them. This transformation is not the new birth in John 3, Jesus is communicating He will travel on any road to “join them in their transformation,” but he has no desire for them to follow Him the way the Bible records, no desire to make them Christian is to say they do not have to be conformed (restored) in his image by faith, through the word in the power of the Holy Spirit. But how can one transformed unless they follow Jesus?
Rom 12:2: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” – which takes place by reading, believing and living his word.
Rom 8:29 “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son,” because they are in Christ through the gospel.
Man is found to have far more power and ability than he would have thought in this fallen world. In fact Jesus says “Seriously, my life was not meant to be an example to copy. Being my follower is not trying to ‘be like Jesus,’ it means for your independence to be killed” (p. 149). That’s not too comforting a thought.
But the teaching in Scripture is that we do follow and copy our Lord. John 13:14- 15; 1 Peter 2:20- 21 says “…For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul says, “Follow my example, as I follow Christ.” If we do not copy Christ- then whom?
The Shack’s “trinity” explains: “Authority, as you usually think of it, is merely the excuse the strong use to make others conform to what they want.... We carefully respect your choices....” (p.123)
This triune God exercises no authority over man. Mack is confused when he asks, “Why would the God of the universe want to be submitted to me?” “Because we want you to join us in our circle of relationships,” answers “Jesus” (p.145).
Jesus is liberal enough to allow man to make their decisions and he is willing to participate in it with us.
Young quotes Jacques Ellul, “No matter what God’s power may be, the first aspect of God is never that of absolute Master, the Almighty. It is that of the God who puts Himself on our human level and limits Himself” (p. 88).
This stands in direct contradiction to biblical revelation which God is the almighty, master over all his creation. While God emptied himself and became a man in Jesus (Phil.2:5-8)
“I'm not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way. I am good, and I desire only what is best for you. You cannot find that through guilt or condemnation....”(p.126)
God’s best for us is his way, not ours, this is why he tells us to obey him not ourself. “You thought I was altogether like you, but I will rebuke you...” (Psalm 50:21)
Isa 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The reader of The Shack is presented a universal gospel. When Mack asks what Jesus accomplished by dying he is told, “Through his death and resurrection, I am now fully reconciled to the world.” God further explains that He is reconciled to “the whole world,” not just the believer (p. 192). The Bible teaches that the world is reconciled to God, not the other way around, this is no small difference (Rom.5:10, 2 Cor.5:20 1 Cor. 1:21). “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). The world is not reconciled, it is an individual’s choice.
Mack asks Papa, “aren’t you the one spilling out great bowls of wrath and throwing people into a burning lake of fire?...[Papa replies] I don’t need to punish sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish sin; it’s my joy to cure it” (p. 119-120)
The god of The Shack is not judging sin as the true God does, instead, we are punished by our own sin. There is an elimination of hell as the final place for the rebellious. Thus we have a different ending to the mankind[s rejection of God and his gospel. Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus will judge the nations and will separate the sheep from the goats. The book teaches -We are supposed to judge God and the human race? (p. 160). Romans 2:5- 6; Acts 17:31 says that God “has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained.”
The god of the Shack states, “You don't need me at all to create your list of good and evil. But you do need me if you have any desire to stop such an insane lust for independence.... Mackenzie, evil is a word we use to describe the absence of Good, just as we use the word darkness to describe the absence of Light. ...evil and darkness can only be understood in relation to Light and Good; they do not have any actual existence.”(p.136)
Then evil which came through sin from Adam is not really here today and we are not suffering from sin? Evil being the absence of Good is true but evil and darkness do exist alongside God, in fact evil began in heaven with Satan’s revolt. The theology in this book becomes a circus act, taking truth statements and turning it on tits head and making it all entertaining. Similarities to “A Course in Miracles” denial of sin and evil cannot be overlooked. These are just some of the main boulders on the field but there are plenty of rocks and pebbles left. Various other aberrant teachings surface as well. Some are connected to the main teachings others have a life of their own.
The Incarnate Jesus is speaking to Mack: “God, who is the ground of all being, dwells in, around, and through all things—ultimately emerging as the real” (p. 112).
The idea of evil not being real becomes a necessity if God dwells through all things- he would dwell in evil as well. This statement is also similar to Rick Warren’s, in his book, The Purpose-Driven Life quoting the Message Bible (by Eugene Peterson), describing God: “He rules everything and is everywhere and is in everything.” (p. 88) (its no surprise that Peterson’s endorsement of The Shack is under the author’s name on the front cover).
This is panentheism, that God dwells within all things and this is crucial in its departure from the Bibles description of a transcendent God.
The Secret (Rhonda Byrne) and word faith teaching have become incorporated in this Jesus’ teaching as Papa tells Mack, “Just say it out loud. There is power in what my children declare” (p. 227).
We have power by speaking but on p.100 Jesus “as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone” which is contradictory.
The Shack represents God as being free from His constrictive word in the Bible. While hardly mentioning or quoting the Bible it does reference it and develop a theology based on the experience of the character of this fictional story. Gayle Irwin, Author of The Jesus Style is right when he states The Shack is “teaching powerful theological lessons…” just not the correct ones.
Young presents God’s direct communication with us as superior to what is already written in the Bible (p. 195). We are assured that we will “begin to better recognize (the Holy Spirit’s) voice as we continue to grow our relationship” (p. 196). Scripture is diminished to the voice of God that introduces doctrinal corrections to the Bible. Some will accept what this book says because they want it to be true, ignoring the foolhardy challenge to the truth already delivered. God spoke the truth and had it written down for all generations to hear. Yes, God still speaks but he does not give new nor change already delivered doctrine. The book speaks words out of the authors imagination that put new words in God’s mouth, many are 180 degrees the opposite of the Scripture. The Psalmist tells us in Psalm 138:2 “For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.” To rearrange the words and their meaning as done in this book is to misrepresent God. You can call it a parable, a metaphorical story or an allegory; it does not change the facts that the use of these in the Bible always had truth as their objective. This book makes use of Catabolism, ignoring the true meaning of the “The Word” and instead promoting imagination to improve on what Jesus taught.
The book is described as an allegory but the story uses real names of places, yet some want to accept the fact that God is portrayed as a woman explained by Mack’s inability to relate to God as a male father (though he later does after he forgives). God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit speak the words out of Young’s own imagination. Though it is fiction there are similarities to Neale Donald Walsch who thought he was having a conversation with God and introduced teachings to his readers that challenged God’s word. Numerous times Young subtly and sometimes openly criticizes the Bibles doctrines that one must wonder the real intent of the author.
Jesus: “Such a powerful ability, the imagination!” That power alone makes you so like us”
(p.140). Imagination is indeed powerful and can be used for good or evil (Gen.6:5; Jer.7:24; Lk.1:51). This books popularity in the church shows the state the church is in- more in line with the zietgiest then withstanding it with the spirit of truth. There is no excuse for the eagerness of people to read a book whose content is postmodern, imaginary and changes the nature of God and eternal truths, even if the theme is on forgiveness. The influence of the emergent church questioning the meaning of the word and doctrine should put a check in our spirit. So I add my voice to those that protest its popularity. Man forming god in his own image is the imaginary god of the Shack and reader beware. Consider the Apostle Paul’s words, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man” (Romans 1:21-23 KJV).