I was asked about the Shack – the multi million seller book which is about to be made into a movie – so here is a review article I wrote a few years ago. I still think it stands….
The Professor – “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 Petersen.
The Pastor – “Wrapped in creative brilliance, The Shack is spiritually profound, theologically enlightening and life impacting” – Steve Berger
The Pundit – “This book was absolutely amazing… so powerful and moving. Great for contemporary thinkers and a good starting point for people who struggle with feeling awkward about faith. It made me feel so peaceful and at ease… this book was fantastic” – Catie.
The Presenter – “The Shack will change the way you think about God forever.” Kathie Lee Gifford – Co-host NBC’s Today Show T
The Pedant (or Prophet) – “Sugary sweet sentimental sap. Heresy”
The Shack is the latest publishing phenomena from the US, selling from one to two million copies depending on who you are reading (now ten million plus). It is a work of fiction which tells the story of Mack, who is struggling to come to terms with the murder of his young daughter. Mack receives a note from God telling him to come to the shack where his daughter was murdered. There he meets the Trinity – Papa (the Father) an African American woman, a Middle Eastern workman (the Son) and an Asian girl (the Holy Spirit). There then follow several conversations and experiences as ‘the Trinity’ helps Mack to come to terms with his loss.
The book has been warmly received and is being seen by many Christians as a great way to communicate the Gospel. Indeed as tearful superlative is heaped upon tearful superlative one is hesitant to offer any criticism. In fact those who love the book, already have their defences in place – if one disagrees with them then we are either desensitised, not in touch with our feelings or with God’s, and worst of all, as one enthusiastic reviewer put it, we must be, wait for it, Calvinists.
I came to this book with an open mind. Not least because of the endorsement of Eugene Petersen and some other friends who were very supportive of it. And yet as I read it I became increasingly depressed, alarmed and even sickened by it. Why? Certainly there are some good points and some interesting discussions in the book but overall the Church which is the pillar and ground of the truth, needs to be warned and the flock protected from the teaching and false doctrine within. I don’t mind that that The Shack is not particularly well written (I found myself getting bored at what is in effect a sermon in story form) . Nor is it a major concern that the book is full of the sugary sentimentalism which results in the Disneyfication of Christianity. No – where it really matters is in the New Age spirituality, the heretical doctrine and the hyped commercialism.
Firstly there is the now familiar emergent/New Age attack upon the Bible – God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects…..Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one boulnd in leather with gilt, or was that guilt edges?. Who needs the Bible when as ‘the Holy Spirit’ says you will learn to hear my thoughts in yours? Anyway the Bible is not ‘me’ enough. As Mack puts it I guess part of me would like to believe that God would care enough about me to send me a note. That’s what we need. A note from God. Personal. Handwritten. Not a book that tells us about what God has really given. It is false doctrine about the word of God, revelation and how we know God. So much false doctrine in so few words.
And of course the ‘Church’. Jesus says ‘I don’t create institutions, never have, never will’. There is an element of truth in that but there is also a considerable element of destructive falsehood. It is Jesus who died for the Church, and Jesus who provided apostles, prophets, teachers, etc for the Church. It is an organic body – but it is still a body with structure and order – a structure and order which our touchy feely rebels can all too easily dismiss with a wave of their ‘it’s just an institution’ wand.
It gets worse. ‘Jesus’ says I have no desire to make them Christians (speaking of those who were Buddhists, Mormons, Baptists, or Muslims). Really. I thought the point was that we would become Christ’s Ones – followers of him who died and gave his life for us? Not surprisingly there is a completely inadequate doctrine of sin. God does not want to punish sin. He wants to cure it. So unless everyone is saved then it looks as though God’s will is thwarted. Which leads us on to the implicit universalism in The Shack.
Mack asks ‘Papa’ if there is anyone she is not especially fond of. To which the response is ‘ Nope, I havn’t been able to find any. Guess that’s jes the way I is. ‘Of course the notion that God loves everyone equally fits well with the Disney generation but it is not biblical nor logical. As my ten year old likes to point out, if everyone is special then noone is special.
But for me the major heresy in the whole book is the way that the second commandment is completely ignored. One assumes that the Lord had a good reason for telling us not to make an idol in the form of anything to represent Him. Are we now saying that we know better than the God who forbids us to make images of him? Does God not know best how to reveal himself without us getting in the way by creating our own images? Be warned. When we ignore Gods commands about himself we end up with the kind of speculative nonsense such as the reason for God being called Father is because after ‘The Creation was broken, true fathering would be much more lacking than mothering.’
Finally there is the hyped commercialism. At the end of the book we are asked to ‘continue our experience’ of The Shack at the website and to participate in The Missy Project which in effect means spreading the word, lobbying to get it made into a film, blogging and of course selling and buying as many copies of the book as we can. We are urged not ‘to make it an advertisement but just to ‘share’.
This book is dangerous. Not because it challenges us, or makes us think about ourselves. But rather because it could, as Kathie Lee Gifford points out, change the way that some people think about God forever (or at least until eternity). If you want to know about God then read the Bible. If you want to know God then believe the Bible. If you want to see how far down the road the church in the Western World has gone from reasonable, historical, biblical, Christ centred Christianity then read The Shack.