The Shack

Should I read it? Would I enjoy it?

Many will have heard of, if not read, a Christian fiction book called The Shack. The book has enjoyed huge recent popularity. It has topped the USA Today and New York Times bestsellers lists and remained the number one bestseller on the latter for thirty-three straight weeks. As of July 2009, over five million copies were in print with proposed translations into over thirty five different languages.

EUGENE PETERSON, a well-known name in evangelical circles in the USA, has stated that ‘this book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!’ I beg to differ. Pilgrim’s Progress was a book faithfully built upon the sound foundation and teaching of the word of God. The Shack is not. In fact it hints at, and, in places, explicitly teaches doctrines that are contrary to scripture.

The author, WILLIAM PAUL YOUNG, was born in Canada and raised among a tribe by his missionary parents in New Guinea. He is married to Kim and they have six children.

Undoubtedly, the book is brilliantly written. YOUNG is able to paint beautiful pictures in the mind’s eye whilst engendering a sense of pace as the book moves from one event to the next. The plot of the book is simple and compelling; a meeting face to face with God at The Shack. The story follows Mackenzie Allen Philips, a family man, married to Nan and father of five children. Not only did Mack experience a troubled childhood, but, tragically, his youngest daughter Missy is abducted during a family holiday. The evidence that she has been brutally murdered later appears in a deserted shack, four years later to be the meeting place between Mack and God. Here, Mack wrestles to understand the painful events that have littered his life, for which he blames God. At this point I should offer a warning. As compelling and engaging as the book might be, it contains many serious doctrinal inaccuracies which must be rejected. Some of the more salient errors concern:

THE REVELATION OF GOD. The revelation of God in The Shack is a great shock to Mack. God the Father is referred to as ‘Papa’ and is represented as a ‘large, beaming African-American woman’. The Lord Jesus is represented as a Middle Eastern man ‘dressed like a labourer, complete with tool belt and gloves’ and the Holy Spirit as a ‘small, distinctively Asian woman’. Some would call this blasphemous.

Scripture clearly teaches that there is one God. He is three distinct (not separate) Persons in one divine nature, Matt. 3. 16-17, 28. 19. No man has seen God at any time. God is Spirit; only Christ has a physical body and only He is the revelation of God’s Person and character, John 1. 18.

THE NATURE OF GOD. There is an overemphasis of God’s attributes of love, mercy and grace at great cost to His holiness, righteousness and justice. This is a gross misrepresentation. For example, at one point ‘Papa’ states ‘I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment’. One of the most serious errors propagated by the book is the error of co-incarnation and co-crucifixion (the false teaching that the whole trinity became incarnate and was crucified). Young further suggests that Christ was not forsaken at Calvary but merely ‘felt’ as if this was the case.

God is holy and must punish sin, Ezek. 18. 2. Only Christ became incarnate, not the whole trinity, John 1. 14. Likewise, Calvary certainly cost God everything, but it was only Christ who suffered for our sins, 1 Pet. 3. 18.

THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE. YOUNG promotes personal experience over the scriptures. He clearly suggests that ‘the solutions to life’s basic problems come from extra-biblical experience, not from scripture. Nonbiblical voices are given precedence over the voice of God in scripture’, NORMAN GEISLER. The author’s lack of respect for the scriptures is evidenced throughout.

Such lack of respect for the word of God is certain to lead to error, 2 Tim. 4. 4, and denies the relevance, power and guidance the word of God provides for believers today, 2 Tim. 3. 16-17; Rom. 15. 4.

THE WAY OF SALVATION. The book overemphasizes the grace and love of God and limits His justice. This leads to the propagation of universal reconciliation, the doctrine that all will eventually find salvation in Christ. JAMES B. DEYOUNG has written at length on this subject, clearly showing that this damaging false doctrine seems to be at the heart of the whole novel. His paper, At the Back of The Shack, A Torrent of Universalism is freely available on the internet.

In conclusion, I would not recommend this book to any believer, far less a believer young in the faith. There is great danger contained in the subtlety with which this book propagates error. As CHUCK COLSON has stated, the reasons to ‘stay out of The Shack’ far outweigh any merit the book may exhibit.


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