Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Shack

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines on The Shack:

Q:  Is the book, The Shack, Christian?  What does it teach about God?  Should I read it?

This is easily the question which I have been asked more often than any other during the past year.  This popularity to which this book has soared seems to be surpassed only by the size of the controversy surrounding it.  The Shack was authored by William Paul Young as a way for him to pass on his understanding of spiritual things to his children.  At the urging of a few friends, he self-published the book in 2007, and has since sold several million copies.

The events of the book are that Mack, the main character experiences a tragic event in his life, following which he is invited and travels to the “shack” which was the scene of the crime, where he meets God, who is portrayed as a large African-American woman (intended to represent God the Father), a young Middle-eastern man (intended to represent Jesus), and a young Asian girl (intended to represent the Holy Spirit). 

Because of the news I had already heard about the book, I knew this unorthodox portrayal of God was coming before I started to read, but I was willing to look further to see what the author had to say before giving up on the book entirely.

Now, before going further, I must say that the evaluation which follows is necessarily very brief, and therefore incomplete.  Readers who desire a more thorough look at The Shack may find my in-depth evaluation at

To begin, there are some details which The Shack initially gets correct as it attempts to describe God and reconcile the idea of a caring God with the suffering and tragedy which afflict the world.  Early on, the book does acknowledge that there is one God in three persons, as well as acknowledging the fact that Jesus is both fully God and fully human.  These facts are in agreement with the Bible and historic Christian teachings.  There are also many isolated quotes from the book, which seem to be refreshingly Christian in a time where much of Christian literature could more properly be called self-help than theology. 

However, as the book begins to deepen its description of God, it factually denies the teachings it first affirmed.  Instead of the Trinity described in the Bible, The Shack actually teaches a concept called Modalism or Sabellianism, which has been rejected by Christians as false for more than 1700 years.  It also gets Jesus wrong in regard to both his identity and mission, and it undermines the truthfulness and authority of the Bible. 

In addition to Jesus and the Trinity, there are also serious discrepancies between The Shack and the Bible in their views of government, authority, creation, God’s law, divine revelation, knowledge of God, sin, grace, vocation, and the Church.

The Shack is often sold as Christian literature, but is its view of God Christian?  According to its vision of the Trinity and Jesus, it is not.  Is its author a Christian?  Perhaps, but if so, he is a seriously misguided one.  Should you read it?  That depends…

For the mature Christian who is strongly rooted in the Bible’s teachings, reading this book with the careful understanding that it is not an accurate portrayal of the true God will not do any harm.  In fact, since so many people are reading it already, I would urge mature Christians to be knowledgeable enough about this book that they can help guide others around its pitfalls.  On the other hand, for those who are young, new to Christianity, or not already well-grounded in the teachings of the Bible, this book should would not be a wise thing to read, because it will  only serve to obscure, rather than reveal, the real truth about God.

The shack is an interesting read, and it does have the potential to make the reader feel good.  Many have even found great comfort in its message.  Unfortunately, it is a misleading comfort because The Shack depicts a different god than that of the Bible and historic Christianity and leads readers away from the true comfort which flows from the death and resurrection of Jesus.

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