The Shack’s Attacks Against Christianity

The Shack front book cover

William P. Young, in collaboration with Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings. The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity. Ca: Windblown Media, 2007. Print.

One of William P. Young’s major themes in The Shack is how God relates to people in diverse ways. “For any created being, autonomy is lunacy. Freedom involves trust and obedience inside a relationship of love” (Young 132). Young makes humans incredibly powerful and autonomous when compared to God, to the point where God Himself (or herself, according to Young) must work out His own will “without the violation of one human will” (125). The nature of God, how God relates to man and how He communicates to us, obedience, free will, expectations, election and predestination, submission, and the law of God are some of the Christian doctrines that Young severely, even blasphemously and heretically, distorts in The Shack.

Young seems confused at best when he answers important questions about Christianity. The following quote contradicts the one previously stated: “To force my [Jesus’] will on you [Mack]…is exactly what love does not do… Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we [the Trinity] are submitted to you in the same way” (145).[1] Young stresses a “relationship of love” with God and claims that submission is not about obedience or authority—even though Christ commanded, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15)[2]—yet he also asserts that freedom is about obedience, so is obedience part of it or not? Despite these contradictions, we will see that Young ultimately does not advocate any type of obedience.

 

The Shack’s passive and pagan mama-god complex

According to the Bible, God does force or impose His will on people: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1). He has no alternative because “there is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside” (Romans 3:10-12). Moses did not want to stand up to Pharaoh, but God never gave him a choice: “Moses said to the LORD, ‘I am slow of speech and slow of tongue’… Then the anger of the LORD burned against Moses, and He said…‘You are to speak to [Aaron] and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do” (Exodus 4:10, 14-15). And contrary to what the god of The Shack teaches, the God of the Bible does get disappointed with people, including His own, because He holds all of them accountable for their thoughts, words, and actions, and will judge them according to the standard He has set forth in Scripture:

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent… It is for discipline that you [believers] endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are [bastards] and not sons… For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome…let us [therefore] keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. (Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12:7-8; I John 5:3; Philippians 3:16)

If a person is not disciplined and rebuked by God, then he is not God’s adopted son, which is the exact opposite of what Papa—Young’s blasphemous and idolatrous portrayal of God the Father as an overweight black woman—tells Mack: “Honey, I’ve never placed an expectation on you or anyone else… And beyond that, because I have no expectations, you never disappoint me” (206). The reality is quite the contrary, for it would be impossible to grieve and disappoint the Spirit of God if He never places any expectations on us as Young alleges: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). God judges unrepentant sinners and condemns them to hell because they are guilty criminals who have broken His righteous, holy law (Psalm 7:11; John 3:36; I Corinthians 6:9-10). The reason repentant, born-again believers are no longer condemned is that they have the blood of Jesus as a propitiation—appeasement of God’s holy wrath—for all their sin. They are thus forgiven and are no longer sinners and criminals in God’s eyes but have been regenerated, washed, and sanctified through the Holy Spirit, and become adopted sons and daughters, and saints of God (Galatians 4:5; Titus 3:5). Contrary to what Papa says about expectations, the God of the Bible expects many things from His people,

for we [believers] are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them… [Jesus] appointed [us] that [we] would go and bear fruit… Therefore, beloved, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless… Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification [holiness] without which no one will see the Lord. (Ephesians 2:10; John 15:16; II Peter 3:14; Hebrews 12:14)

Believers are constantly exhorted throughout the Scriptures to be obedient followers of Christ and to maintain a holy, righteous, loving, and godly standard in their lives. The end of almost every New Testament letter commands believers to do something that God expects of them. Christians are called to be “the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men” (Matthew 5:13).

 

To choose, or not to choose, that is the question

Just as it was in the Old Testament with Moses having no choice, so it is in the New. God did not give Mary a choice because she was already chosen, and there was nothing she could do to change that: “Behold, you [Mary] will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus… The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:31, 35). God did not ask Mary permission to use her womb, just as He never asked Paul to go to Damascus—He commanded them. In fact, God has never given anyone a choice because He “commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man [Jesus] whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31, cf. Luke 13:3, John 14:15), even though He has already chosen whom He will save:

All that the Father gives Me [Jesus] will come to Me… No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him… You did not choose Me [Jesus] but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit… He [God the Father] predestined us [believers] to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will…having been predestined according to His purpose [not ours]… For many are called, but few are chosen…who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God [alone]. (John 6:37, 44, 15:16; Ephesians 1:5, 11; Matthew 22:14; John 1:13, NASB)

The Bible teaches election and predestination, for God “has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires… So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Romans 9:18, 16). Ultimately it is up to God to determine whether he will save someone because he has foreordained all things to come to pass according to his will: “and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). God does not consider human free will because it doesn’t exist; the will has been in complete bondage to sin ever since the curse of sin came into the world,

because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God… Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil… The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked… Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. (Romans 8:7-8; Jeremiah 13:23, 17:9; Romans 5:12, 15; cf. Genesis 3, Romans 3, 8:18-25)

The Jesus of The Shack, however, tells Mack the very opposite: “You’re not supposed to do anything. You’re free to do whatever you like” (89). I’ll address this antinomianism (lawlessness) shortly, but Sarayu—Young’s blasphemous and idolatrous feminine portrayal of the Holy Spirit as a “windy” oriental woman—also tells Mack, “Relationships are never about power… We carefully respect your choices,” and Papa later tells him, “We won’t use you [without your consent]” (106, 123-124). All of this blatantly contradicts the Bible, which states that a person must become a “born-again” slave of righteousness to become a true follower of Jesus Christ:

Most assuredly, I [Jesus] say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God… Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (John 3:3; Romans 6:16-19)

 

Do what thou wilt

Concerning the relationship that Jesus wants with His chosen people, the Jesus of The Shack once again tells Mack the opposite of what the real Jesus says in Scripture: “I don’t want slaves to my will; I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me…[but] we will never force that union on you” (146, 149). This is partly based on the assumption that “true love never forces” (190). Yet the Jesus of the Bible says, “No one is able to come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him… If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross day by day and follow Me… No servant can serve [Greek douleuein, derived from doulos ‘slave’] two masters… A pupil is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master… He who has My orders and observes them loves Me” (John 6:44; Luke 9:23, 16:13; Matthew 10:24; John 14:21, MLB; see also Phillips’ New Testament in Modern English). Christians are commanded to “glorify God in [their] bodies” (1 Cor. 6:20) and to present themselves “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…[for] [they] were bought with a price” (Romans 12:1; I Corinthians 6:20). The Bible commands sinners to repent, deny themselves, and follow Christ, who becomes their Master, “for whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25, cf. 16:24). Young contradicts Scripture when he has Jesus say things like, “I don’t want slaves to my will,” because that’s exactly what God wants.

Moreover, Papa and Sarayu teach Mack antinomianism, or lawlessness:

“The Bible doesn’t teach you to follow rules… Just don’t look for rules and principles; look for relationship…

…………..

“Are you saying I don’t have to follow the rules?”…[Sarayu answers,] “Yes. In Jesus you are not under any law. All things are lawful….”

“Trying to keep the law is actually a declaration of independence, a way of keeping control….”

“Enforcing rules, especially in its more subtle expressions like responsibility and expectation, is a vain attempt to create certainty out of uncertainty. And contrary to what you might think, I have a great fondness for uncertainty. Rules cannot bring freedom; they only have the power to accuse.”

“Whoa!” Mack suddenly realized what Sarayu had said. “Are you telling me that responsibility and expectation are just another form of rules we are no longer under? Did I hear you right?”

“Yup”, Papa interjected again.  (197-198, 203)

To Young’s dismay, the Bible does teach you to follow rules and obey commands—obedience is the very mark of a Christian’s love for Christ: “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (I John 2:3-4). Young is promoting the heresy of antinomianism, or, in the words of Jesus, the doctrine of those “who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23). Jesus warns against this kind of false teaching: “Many will say to Me on that day [of judgment], ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’ ” (Matthew 7:22-23). Yet the Jesus of The Shack also tells Mack, “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…. But, we will never force that union on you” (149). Young clearly has no regard for what the Bible says, for he is at odds with the Apostle Paul: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). It’s no wonder that he attacks and undermines Sola Scriptura—the Bible as the supreme authority in all matters of doctrine and practice—all throughout The Shack:

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. In seminary he 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?  (65-66)

 

Can’t we all just get saved?

 The Shack contradicts the Bible on numerous levels and presents an entirely different God. Young flirts with universalism, the belief that everyone—including unbelievers—will eventually be saved, regardless of their belief about Christ. This is evident when Papa tells Mack, “Son, this is not about shaming you. I don’t do humiliation, or guilt, or condemnation. They don’t produce one speck of wholeness or righteousness, and that is why they were nailed into Jesus on the cross” (223). It gets worse when Jesus tells Mack:

“I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu. To see me is to see them. The love you sense from me is no different from how they love you. And believe me, Papa and Sarayu are just as real as I am, though as you’ve seen in far different ways.”

“Speaking of Sarayu, is she the Holy Spirit?”

“Yes. She is Creativity; she is Action; she is the Breathing of Life; she is much more. She is my Spirit.” (110)

It doesn’t take much to see that the Bible reveals an altogether different God:

The boastful shall not stand in Your [God’s] sight; You hate all workers of iniquity… God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day…God [is] the Judge of all… For the LORD is our Judge, The LORD is our Lawgiver, The LORD is our King; He will save us… God is the Judge: He puts down one, And exalts another… He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God… He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him (Psalm 5:5, 7:11; Hebrews 12:23; Isaiah 33:22; Psalm 75:7; John 3:18, 36)

Problem Seven: A Wrong View of the Way of Salvation

Another problem emerges in the message of The Shack. According to Young, Christ is just the “best” way to relate to the Father, not the only way (109). The “best” does not necessarily imply the only way, which then means that there may be other ways to relate to God. Such an assertion is contrary to Jesus’ claim, “I am the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes unto the Father except through me” (John14:6).  He added, “He who believes in Him [Christ] is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of  the only begotten Son of God” (Jn. 3:18). Jesus is not merely the best way, but He is the only way to God. Paul declared: “There is one God and one mediator between God and Men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).[3]

What’s worse is that Young calls God the Father “Papa” yet blasphemously and idolatrously portrays and embodies Him as an obese black woman:

I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature.  If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you.  For me to appear 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. (93)

My criticisms are not based on racism or sexism. The problem is that Young wants us to shake off the “religious conditioning” that the Bible itself imposes on us, since it always and only refers to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit with masculine pronouns, and whenever He appeared in human form it was always and only as a man. Not to mention that the reason God expresses and manifests so much wrath and retribution on sinners is because of the rampant idolatry and “humanizing” of God that The Shack shamelessly promotes:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. (Exodus 20:2-4)

…although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 1:22-25)

 

Look! It’s the Father! No, it’s the Son! No, it’s the Spirit! No, it’s all three!

Young attempts to affirm the orthodox view of the Trinity when Papa explains to Mack: “We are not three gods, and we are not talking about one god with three attitudes, like a man who is a husband, father, and worker. I am one God and I am three persons, and each of the three is fully and entirely the one” (101). But he disregards this definition by promoting the heresy of patripassionism:

Patripassionism is a theological error dealing with the Godhead which states that the Father became incarnate, was born, suffered, and died on the cross, hence, the Father’s (patri) passion (suffer) on the cross.

This is an error because we know that Jesus spoke to the person of the Father, and that it was Jesus who went to the cross. If the Father and Son are the same person, that how is it possible for the Father and Son to speak to one another and have separate wills? It is not. Therefore, the doctrine of patripassianism is incorrect and heretical.[4]

The Shack unabashedly promotes this heresy, such as when Sarayu (Young’s version of the “Holy Spirit”) says, “Haven’t you seen the [crucifixion] wounds on Papa too?” (164). But Young doesn’t stop there; he compounds his heresy by including the Holy Spirit in Christ’s suffering for good measure, as if portraying all three persons as humans, two of them as women, wasn’t bad enough:

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.  Even though we have always been present in this created universe, we now became flesh and blood… Don’t ever think that what my son chose to do didn’t cost us dearly.  Love always leaves a significant mark… We were there together.  (99; 96)

Patripassionism also presupposes the heresy of modalism:

Modalism is probably the most common theological error concerning the nature of God.  It is a denial of the Trinity. Modalism states that God is a single person who, throughout biblical history, has revealed Himself in three modes or forms. Thus, God is a single person who first manifested himself in the mode of the Father in Old Testament times. At the incarnation, the mode was the Son; and after Jesus’ ascension, the mode is the Holy Spirit. These modes are consecutive and never simultaneous. In other words, this view states that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit never all exist at the same time–only one after another. Modalism denies the distinctiveness of the three persons in the Trinity even though it retains the divinity of Christ.[5]

These are illogical heresies because, rather than suffer with Christ, God the Father was pleased to pour out His own wrath on Christ to satisfy His perfect justice, for

it pleased the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin… (Isaiah 53:10)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:23-26)

It should be obvious that God the Father has no body because “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24), and the Holy Spirit is, well, spirit. Another odd Trinitarian heresy promoted in the book is that all of the persons in the Trinity are equally submitted, not only to each other, but to mankind as well: “Papa is as much submitted to me [Jesus] as I to him, or Sarayu [Young’s “Holy Spirit”] 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” (145). This denies in the worst possible way the orthodox understanding of the economic Trinity regarding authority and order: that the Father is preeminent—“My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28)—that the Son submits to and proceeds from the Father, and “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a slave, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 1:6-9). And that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son[6]:

“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.” (John 15:26)

  1. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten.
  2. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten.
  3. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. (The Athanasian Creed)[7]

 

But it’s just fiction…

It’s convenient to say that The Shack is just a novel because it gives Young plausible deniability. Earlier self-defensive poets like Geoffrey Chaucer used dream visions and allegory, partly to detach themselves from their writing and avoid suspicion from church and state:

And afterward the story I engage

To tell you of our common pilgrimage.

But first, I pray you, of your courtesy,

You’ll not ascribe it to vulgarity

Though I speak plainly of this matter here,

Retailing you their words and means of cheer;

Nor though I use their very terms, nor lie.

For this thing do you know as well as I:

When one repeats a tale told by a man,

He must report, as nearly as he can,

Every least word, if he remember it,

However rude it be, or how unfit;

Or else he may be telling what’s untrue,

Embellishing and fictionizing too.

He may not spare, although it were his brother;

He must as well say one word as another.

Christ spoke right broadly out, in holy writ,

And, you know well, there’s nothing low in it.

And Plato says, to those able to read:

“The word should be the cousin to the deed.”[8]

Many defend The Shack in a similar way that some defend Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code because they are novels, even though they promote anti-Christian agendas. After all, it’s just a dream, right? It’s just a work of fiction, right? Here’s one prominent example from CBN:

The Shack‘s depiction of God is an interesting portrait that isn’t meant to be taken literally as much as it is meant to capture many of the attributes of God that we read about in the Bible. These characters’ interactions with Mack show that God is compassionate, loving, and that He desires a close relationship with each of us.

God relates to us in the ways that we will best be able to hear Him. Because of Mack’s painful childhood memories of an abusive dad, perhaps he would not have embraced God the way we typically see Him portrayed, as a Father-figure.[9]

The problem is that the ways in which Young “captures” the many attributes of God are utterly opposed to what “we read about in the Bible.” God relates to us through His Word, and the Word reveals God as a holy, just judge and a Father who rebukes those he loves, so if Young cannot embrace God as a “Father-figure,” then he’s embracing an idol of his imagination, which is what The Shack is a product of.

The Shack is such a wild and synergistic concoction of heresies that new theological terms and categories must be coined to accommodate them. I couldn’t find hardly anything in the book that was Biblical. I marvel how so much heresy, blasphemy, and idolatry can be packed into one book and be marketed as Christian literature and, in the words of Eugene Peterson,[10] author of The Message bible, even be compared to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, which has virtually nothing in common with The Shack, because The Shack has virtually nothing in common with the Bible. I have never read a book claiming to promote Christianity that is so blatantly blasphemous and offensive. It is no wonder that Scripture warns how “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect…. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light” (Matt. 24:24; Luke 16:8).

Don’t stop here! Put on heresy repellant with these resources:


Notes

[1] Bold emphasis always mine.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from the New King James Version (NKJV).

[3] “The Shack: Helpful or Heretical?” A Critical Review by Norman L. Geisler and Bill Roach, http://inplainsite.org/html/the_shack.html#Shack4

[4] Matt Slick, “Patripassianism,” https://carm.org/patripassianism

[5] Matt Slick, “Modalism,” https://carm.org/modalism

[6] See Matt Slick’s “What is the filioque clause controversy? Is it biblical?”, https://carm.org/what-is-the-filioque-clause-controversy-biblical

[7] http://reformed.org/documents/index.html

[8] Geoffrey Chaucer, “The General Prologue,” The Canterbury Tales, Translated by Edwin Duncan, Lines 723-742, https://tigerweb.towson.edu/duncan/chaucer/duallang8.htm

[9] Belinda Elliott, “What’s So Bad about The Shack?”, CBN, http://www1.cbn.com/books/whats-so-bad-about-the-shack

[10] “When the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian cross-fertilize the result is a novel on the order 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!” –Eugene Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, Vancouver, B.C., quoted in Ken Silva, “STAY AWAY FROM ‘THE SHACK,’” http://apprising.org/2008/09/15/stay-away-from-the-shack/

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