The Shack Movie: A Review

Few books have been fraught with as much controversy yet sold as many copies as The Shack. With the release of the movie has come a fresh wave of conversation around its themes as well as rekindled its debate. The reviews have been extreme from testifying to a “life-changing encounter with God” to dire warnings of its contents that could very well “send you to hell forever.”

What exactly is the nature of and cause behind the polarization of its reviewers? And what is behind its global success? (25 million copies in 41 languages).

Since the book’s release in 2007 many have expressed how they felt its ideas have been an attack on their traditional beliefs. Consequently it has created much division in the Church. We are empathetic to how threatening and unsettling it can feel to have one’s theology challenged or tweaked. After all we’ve been taught that salvation is by OUR faith in what WE believe so we had better get it right!

Thankfully God understands that we humans are often a “frail” people and that we often “see through a glass dimly.” (Psa 103:14; 1 Cor 13). Therefore we mustn’t take ourselves more seriously than God does. As we sling our comments about how we are “just believing the Bible” we need to admit that our interpretation is simply one within a subset of 40,000 contradictory and often competing denominations! Perhaps it would be more accurate to begin to understand and accept what God believes about us before we can determine what we believe about Him! “We love because HE FIRST LOVED US”!

It is evident, based on our reputation as evangelicals, that we do not yet accurately believe what God believes. How do we know this? Because if we believed what God believed about us we would display an intensity of love for God and others that strives to match His love demonstrated for us on the cross! (1 John). Presently we do not witness that kind of impact on the world.

In the book Burning Down The Shack by Dr. James B. De Young, William Paul Young is accused of creating “another gospel.” But how affective has been the version we have been offering? Could we be missing something? Dr Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Church New York City, makes a candid observation:

“Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church.

That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.” (bold added)

It is clear that what we have been proclaiming has been less than good and not actually news but simply potential good and potential news. Perhaps this is the problem The Shack is exposing.

“Burning Down The Shack”?

Undoubtedly you know or will meet folks who agree The Shack is worthy of “burning down.” Consider the following points to build a foundation based upon Scripture and reason rather than upon an emotional reaction based on fear:

First, The Shack was meant to represent one man’s journey through unspeakable tragedy in the midst of his growing and living theology of what is called “Trinity.” Tragically, the doctrine of the Trinity has not been historically a transformative doctrine but rather just a tenet — in fact most believers don’t know why it is an essential and life-giving truth of the Christian faith. In The Shack William Paul Young demonstrated how the doctrine of the Father, Son and Spirit finally reached beyond his intellect and transformed his life. It was not meant to be the first nor the last word on “the doctrine of the Trinity” but rather simply a perspective added to the conversation by one transformed sojourner and saint. Contrary to the accusations, Paul Young was not attempting to “rewrite the doctrine of the Trinity” but to share the implications of just what can happen when we engage with and experientially enter into the relationship that HE IS…as Father, Son and Spirit!!

Second, God being portrayed and expressed as a human person and as a woman are not extra-biblical. While God cannot be contained in any one image or definition we create, we have many examples of God referring to Himself using various poetic metaphors. He has compared Himself with a nursing mother, a mother hen, a woman searching for lost coins, a shepherd looking for lost sheep and an undignified father running to meet a prodigal son where he loses all sense of propriety! (Isa 49:15; Matt 23:37; Luke 15) Further, the idea of God possessing both male and female traits comes from the very first chapter of Genesis where God pronounces the image of God to be reflected in the male and female gender expressions: “In His image He created them male and female” (Gen 1:26).

Ultimately we have Jesus Himself as the revelation of the Father, in human form. This we are told was God’s intention all along! (John 14:7-11; Hebrews 1:3) Human flesh is and has always been His favorite form from “before the foundation of the world,” not a plan B rescue mission.

Finally, accusations abound that the story teaches “universalism” but few agree on what that means. There are many interpretations and they are often contradictory. There is a monumental difference between believing that Christ’s death was a universal and finished redemption of the world (Jn 3:16; 1 Jn 2:1) and that of pluralism (“all roads lead to God”). The latter is what many assume universalism to mean and therefore what Paul Young teaches. But The Shack in no way promotes any form of pluralism. In fact The Shack offers a beautiful way to describe God’s Shepherd heart for the lost in a manner that would be in full agreement with the early Church Fathers, Christian history and the historical Creeds:

“Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslim, Democrats, Republicans, and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some were bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraquis, Jews and Palistinians. 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, into my Beloved.”

Does that mean,” asked Mack, “that all roads will lead to you?”

Not at all,” smiled Jesus as he reached for the door handle to the shop. “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.”

If you interpret universal salvation or what some call “Universal Reconciliation” to mean that it doesn’t matter what you believe or what you do then you could not be further from the truth of its message. The foundational premise of The Shack is that it matters immensely what we believe. Most crucial and life-altering is what we believe about the nature and character of God. In fact:

“Your image of God creates you.” Richard Rohr

What you believe about God determines what you believe about yourself and every person you meet. As a reflective being it is infinitely important to behold yourself in the correct mirror of your Maker: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18).”

You become what you choose to gaze upon.

There is Transformation in The Shack!

Mack, the main character in The Shack, had developed erroneous ideas about God that kept him in a prison of accusation, guilt, hatred and revenge. A sense of distance and retribution developed through the lens of his abusive authoritarian father and shaped his view of God and kept his faith a formality at best. Within lurked hatred and unforgiveness while holding “God in the Dock” for the evil in his life. But that all changed when he dared answer the invitation to meet with “Papa.”

Encountering a vision of a God who’s eternal nature is a relationship of unconditional covenant love broke through his unbelief and fear inviting him to trust for the first time. Seeing God as a union of mutual love, joy and peace built a firm foundation for his faith to grow. It was a vision that did not allow him to remain neutral but laid before him the choice of “life and death.” Finally Mack plunged himself into the healing flow of the authentic and original love and forgiveness found in the union of the Godhead. He experienced how only divine unconditional love has the power to heal.

Pastor Steve Brown of Key Life Ministries uncovers this transformation with keen insight:

“The only people who get better are those who believe they are loved and accepted even if they don’t get better.”

This is a vision that resonates with every heart who has ever had a taste of family and relationship and belonging. It resonates precisely because “…since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what is so that they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20). What is — is what transforms us!

Still, the question that might be stirring in your heart is “How can I encounter this God of relationship in my daily life without a mystical dream and experience like Mack had?” Well, thankfully the dream was simply a metaphor and behind the metaphor stands a real person acquainted with suffering, loss, tragedy and disillusionment in his faith. Paul Young’s new divine perspective was formed in the crucible of the harsh realities of his life. Our God is a God who truly wastes nothing. Paul’s mind and life were transformed through the substance of the journey. This transformation was represented in the vision you see on the screen: God is a relationship of Father, Son and Spirit in which you and I belong forever and where “Nothing can separate us from His love.” You are His favorite…He is “especially fond of you.”

Can you receive the Gospel, the Good News, that God is better than you thought? Can you begin to trust in “Him who is able to do infinitely more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us”? (Eph 3:20)

God really is that good!

The Father actually delights in being your Papa!

The Spirit truly is your advocate and counselor and

Jesus is your constant companion and true elder brother!

There is indeed a Shack to burn down…it is where we “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” about ourselves, others and our Creator. It is where we lost connection with the relationship that has always been “holding all things together” and “in whom we live and move and have our being” ( Col 1; Acts 17).

…Let’s just not let a religious mindest burn down the wrong one.

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Note: If you find yourself reacting to the message of The Shack like Jonah who resented God’s compassion, or the Vineyard workers who cried “your generosity is not fair!” or the Elder Brother who despised his father’s mercy or the Jews who railed against Paul’s inclusive gospel then you might want to consider the Biblical precedence for and implications of such a mindset. The Shack is not the first time that a radical inclusive message of grace and the finished work of Christ created an uproar among the religious elite and hierarchy.

For a Biblical and historical defense of the theology of The Shack check out Dr C. Baxter Kruger’s brilliant book: The Shack Revisited

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