I wrote this review a little more than eight years ago on a now-retired blog. Since a film adaptation of the story is on the horizon, I decided to post it here.
If not for the fact that this book has become a major bestseller, I would not be taking the time to do a review. If not for the fact that many people have been deceived by the insidious material in this book, I would not have bothered to finish reading it. If not for the fact that professing Christians are passing this book around and begging people to read it as if it were the inspired word of God, I would have thrown it in the trash and laughed it off as yet another vacuous attempt to water down the truth of the gospel, another slipshod exercise in constructing a house upon the sand that would surely blow away in the next hefty breeze.
Yet, The Shack continues to dominate bestseller lists. Online reviews exclaim in ecstatic verbiage how the story has radically transformed lives. Shoppers arrive at the checkout line with a dozen copies declaring their intention to freely deliver this new gospel to their friends.
Such is the deception.
Although others have undertaken the task of exposing The Shack for the shoddily written, unbiblical, poisonous book that it is, I have decided to write my own report. Why? I will be commenting on issues that I have not seen in other reviews, and, frankly, there are people who have asked me to share my opinions, so I am responding to their requests.
The Shack begins with a man named Mackenzie (Mack) who receives a note from God, inviting him to visit a certain shack, a place where the murder of Mack’s daughter took place. The story then flashes back to describe the daughter’s (Missy’s) kidnapping, thus capturing the reader’s emotions and generating sympathy.
Almost any parent would be horrified at the thought of losing a daughter to a rapist-murderer, so the author, William P. Young, uses this bait-and-hook technique to its fullest. Once the hook is set, the story then turns to the longest sermon I have ever seen in a story, Mack’s meeting with the trinity in the aforementioned shack.
Since Young puts words in the mouths of all three persons of the godhead, it is crucial that the words reflect truth. Yet, they are often far from truth, as I will soon point out. Some people have defended the book by saying, “It’s fiction!” but that changes nothing. Fiction is a powerful vehicle for dispensing and illustrating truth. Fiction stories have altered major courses of events in nations all over the world and throughout history. If a fictional story teaches a lie, we must reject it and expose the story for the lie that it is.
Young reveals hints of his doctrine early on when he recounts an Indian legend about a princess who jumps from a cliff in order to bring healing to her tribe. Then, Missy asks her father a series of questions about the story. These questions, and Mack’s answers, foreshadow nearly everything that follows. The author ties Missy and the princess together when Missy asks, “Will God ever ask me to jump off a cliff?”
Although Mack replies “no,” the rest of the story makes the reality of an affirmative answer quite clear.
Mack equates the Indians’ Great Spirit with the true God. He also equates repentance-free forgiveness of self-inflicted sin with healing of non-self-inflicted sickness. Both equations are troubling. Sure, Mack could simply be wrong, but the rest of the story affirms these and many other falsehoods, as we will see.
Young sets up his errant view of revelation and authority in the following paragraph, in which Mack is pondering a note from God inviting Mack to a meeting at 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.
This paragraph becomes Young’s straw man, that is, the idea that must be destroyed, and, of course, the straw man is defenseless. The author uses the rest of the story (a protracted sermon, really) to destroy Mack’s ideas about the authority of the Bible. When Mack meets with this author’s God, he learns that revelation derived from a relationship with the divine supersedes (and contradicts) what he has learned from the Bible. Although Mack is a seminary graduate, his attempts to defend what he has learned from the Bible become laughable. Young uses Mack as a bumbling foil, apparently attempting to show that serious Bible adherents are incapable of defending the truths gained from Scripture. This is an insidious use of the straw man fallacy.
In fact, Young even denigrates family devotions in which the Bible is used:
Often, it was a tedious and boring exercise in coming up with the right answers, or rather, the same old answers to the same old Bible story questions, and then trying to stay awake during his father’s excruciatingly long prayers. And when his father had been drinking, family devotions devolved into a terrifying minefield, where any wrong answer or inadvertent glance could trigger an explosion.
Does the author provide any contrast? Maybe a view of a family reading the Scriptures with real devotion? A loving father teaching the word with enthusiasm and without hypocrisy? No. Because for Young, Christianity isn’t defined within the pages of God’s holy word. It comes through subjective relationships.
When Mack meets God, “God” is an overweight black woman who claims to be the “Father” of the trinity and wants to be called “Papa.” Some claim that it’s fine to portray God the Father appearing this way, but they misunderstand the trinity. The Bible says of Jesus, “He is the image of the invisible God,” (Colossians 1:15) and “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.” (Hebrews 1:3) (These and all other quoted Scripture are taken from the New American Standard Bible.)
To see God the Father is to see Jesus. As Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9) Jesus is the appearance of God the Father. He doesn’t visibly appear any other way. To portray the Father physically in one form in concert with a simultaneous physical appearance by Jesus in a different form is to confuse the truth about the trinity, especially when the author shows nail marks in Papa’s wrists. The Father did not die on the cross. The Son did. Young sets the reader up for a warped view of the godhead.
Young portrays this Papa as a brusque, sometimes vulgar woman. For example, at one point she says, “Don’t just stand there gawkin’ with your mouth open like your pants are full.” Would God use coarse jesting in violation of his own precepts (Ephesians 5:4)? I don’t think so. Young constantly tweaks the reader’s sensibilities and concepts about God in this way, lowering the Father to the status of a bathroom-level jokester, a gun phobic Aunt Jemima, and a lover of anger-inspired rock music (which would be in violation of Galatians 5:20, James 1:20, and Colossians 3:8).
Yet, every complaint I have so far is relatively minor compared to what I found in the rest of the sermonized story.
I could write on and on about the myriad fallacies the author puts in God’s mouth, the internal inconsistencies, and self-contradictions, which are bad enough, but I will focus on the worst of these errors—the author’s belief that God doesn’t punish sin and rescues everyone in a universal salvation, whether they call upon the name of Jesus or not and whether or not they repent of their sins.
These falsehoods begin when Papa tries to counter Mack’s view of God:
I am not who you think I am, Mackenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It is not my purpose to punish it; it is my joy to cure it.
The Bible says otherwise. Here are just a few examples:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18)
He also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night. (from Revelation 14:10, 11)
And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. (Revelation 19:15)
Obviously God does need to punish people for sin, and it is in God’s purpose to punish it. Young’s view is clearly unbiblical. He paints a skewed portrait of God, a sugar-daddy deity who doesn’t demand obedience, as the following shows:
For now I just want you to be with me and discover that our relationship is not about performance or you having to please me. I’m not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way.
Yet, God does demand that we please Him. “The person who sins will die” (Exodus 18:20). “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might … for the LORD your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the LORD your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 6:5, 15)
That doesn’t make Him a bully. He is God, and we are His sheep. We are not on an equal plane. And if we don’t obey Him, He sends us to Hell forever. That’s the biblical God, but Young is trying to invent something else, a god who just wants to be friends.
This becomes clear in the following conversation between Mack and Jesus, in which Mack is used again as Young’s bumbling foil (Note Abba is Papa and Sarayu is the book’s representation of the Holy Spirit):
“That’s the beauty you see in my relationship with Abba and Sarayu. We are indeed submitted to one another and have always been so and always will be. Papa is as much submitted to me as I to him, or Sarayu 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.”
Mack was surprised. “How can that be? Why would the God of the universe want to be submitted to me?”
“Because we want you to join us in our circle of relationship. I don’t want slaves to my will; I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me.”
The Bible doesn’t say anywhere that the Father is in submission to the Son. It’s the other way around. And submission really is about obedience as well as a relationship of love and respect. Obedience and relationship are not mutually exclusive. Young seems to want to pit obedience against relationship, as if they cannot exist at the same time. This is a false dilemma, another one of the author’s many fallacies.
Also, Jesus does not call us His friends unless we obey Him, as He said, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14), which clearly demonstrates the truth, that our relationship with Jesus is based on obedience. As John Wesley wrote about this verse, “A thunderbolt for Antinomianism! Who then dares assert that God’s love does not at all depend on man’s works?”
There are so many examples in which Young puts words in the mouths of his invented trinity that directly contradict the Bible, it would be impossible to list them all. So I will go on to the most dangerous teaching this book foists upon its readers, and it will take some time to present how the author sets up his emotion-baited trap.
When Mack visits another female, who seems to be the personification of wisdom or justice, he is invited to sit in a seat of judgment. When she begins her instructions, she says. “Judging requires that you think yourself superior over the one you judge.” It’s clear that Young is trying to take away the foundations by which we are to make judgments, and by doing so, the reader is made to feel wrong, perhaps prideful, when he or she makes a judgment.
Yet, we are told to make judgments all through Scripture (e.g. 1 John 4:1). We cannot survive without them. We cannot make sound decisions regarding whom to trust or to whom to render service unless we make judgments. And if the responsibility to judge is taken away and judgment itself is vilified, then the basis for God’s judgment is also swept to the side, which we will see.
When Mack is asked to make a judgment regarding a man who would prey on innocent little girls, here is how the conversation ensues:
“What about him, Mackenzie? Is that man guilty? Should he be judged?”
“Yes!” screamed Mack. “Damn him to hell!”
“Is he to blame for your loss?”
“What about his father, the man who twisted his son into a terror, what about him?”
“Yes, him too!”
“How far do we go back, Mackenzie? This legacy of brokenness goes all the way back to Adam, what about him? But why stop there? What about God? God started this whole thing. Is God to blame?”
Mack was reeling. He didn’t feel like a judge at all, but rather the one on trial.
The woman was unrelenting. “Isn’t this where you are stuck, Mackenzie? Isn’t this what fuels The Great Sadness? That God cannot be trusted? Surely, a father like you can judge the Father!”
When Mack then says that God is to blame, the woman goes on to demand that Mack become a judge, a judge who fits Mack’s idea about God as judge. She says that Mack must decide which of his children will go to heaven and which to hell, and he must choose only two of them to go to heaven. The only basis the story gives for the judgment is that his children have sinned. But Mack refuses to make the choice and asks if he can go to hell in their stead.
To this, the woman replies, “Now you sound like Jesus. You have judged well, Mackenzie. I am so proud of you!”
Does that sound like Jesus? To the undiscerning reader, it might. Jesus died so that we wouldn’t have to suffer judgment. But our salvation in Christ is dependent on our turning from sin, believing in Jesus’ atoning work, and surrendering to God in obedience. In Young’s world, you obtain salvation automatically. No turning, no faith, no repentance. There isn’t even a hint that anything is required, not even faith in Christ.
Young sets up a false view of God’s judgment, that God arbitrarily sends some sinners to Hell and other sinners to Heaven, without consideration for repentance and faith, and dashes that idea, thus killing a straw man. So, what is left to believe after this contrived debate? That God takes everyone to Heaven, because with Young’s false dilemma, that’s the only option remaining.
The following excerpt should make it clear that Young believes in universal salvation, even for those who don’t call upon the name of Jesus. In the book, Jesus says,
“Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. 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.”
The key is the author’s words, “I have no desire to make them Christian.” This, by itself, should have raised red flags for every reader. Of course Jesus wants all people to become Christian. In the Bible, He tells people to come and follow Him over and over. They can’t be saved without being His followers. Yet, thousands upon thousands of professing Christians, lacking discernment, are singing the praises of this deceptive book.
Young portrays God as someone who has no expectations on our behavior (“I never placed an expectation on you or anyone else”). There is no judgment. Everything is about relationships. Although our relationship with God is crucial, it is not something that supplants our obedience and God’s justice regarding those who do not obey.
Are you still unconvinced that the author is pushing universalism? Read on.
As the story winds down, Mack is given a vision in which he sees his father in a heaven-like place. Of course, there is no hint given that his father ever repented and turned to God, so we are left wondering how he made it to heaven. Though in Young’s world, turning from sin has no saving value, so this is really no surprise. Mack, in concert with this repentance-free economy, forgives his father, again pulling the reader’s emotions into acquiescence with this false forgiveness.
False forgiveness? Yes. It seems that the church today has fallen for a false definition of forgiveness, that somehow we can forgive someone who has not repented of his wrongdoing. Without repentance from the offending party, the offended party can decide not to hate or harbor a desire for revenge, but that is not true forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the restoration of a relationship from both sides, both the one who offended and the one who was offended. If we decide that forgiveness is merely the cessation of a desire to punish the offender, we will short circuit true forgiveness. Why? Because if engaging in this revenge-free thought pattern is all we need to do, then we will no longer seek the restored relationship only repentance will bring.
Does God forgive those who don’t repent? Of course not. Yet, in Young’s world, God, because of the sacrificial work of Jesus, forgives everyone, whether repentant or not, whether a Christian or not. As “God” says in this book:
“In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship.”
Convinced yet? If this isn’t universal salvation, then what is? I could write pages about Young’s warped view of forgiveness, but here it is in simplicity. Forgiveness is simply deciding not to punish someone, regardless of whether or not that person has repented. So God doesn’t punish anyone, whether they have turned from their sins or not, or even whether they believe in Jesus or not.
This twisted view is exemplified in Mack when he “forgives” his daughter’s murderer, though he has no idea whether or not this killer is currently raping and killing another innocent girl. What nonsense! This isn’t forgiveness. The killer hasn’t repented. He hasn’t sought forgiveness at all. All this is is Mack trying to feel better. It is merely the self-centered flushing of negative feelings. It does nothing to redeem the offender, though Young thinks it does.
“Mack, for you to forgive this man is for you to release him to me and allow me to redeem him.”
Somehow, God’s redemption is predicated on Mack’s decision to forgive the unrepentant rapist-murderer. Such is Young’s view of God, a deity who demands nothing but a touchy-feely relationship. There are no expectations, no responsibilities, only a kiss on the lips and a pat on the head when his creatures rebel. Everyone will be saved, no matter what.
God has become the Great Spirit in the bedtime story who sends a princess to jump from a cliff, thereby healing all people no matter the condition of their heart or the confession from their lips.
It is such a tragedy that so many in the church are accepting this blatantly false view of God, judgment, and salvation. A book like this should never have become a bestseller. It is poorly written, it is obviously false, and it is an insult to God. But sales continue to skyrocket, forcing us to sound an alarm that really shouldn’t be needed.
Categories: Thoughts from the Heart
This was a very interesting read, Mr. Davis.
I haven’t read “The Shack” yet, but you have given me something to think about.
I have not read this book, nor have I heard of it, but I agree with your criticisms of the book.
However, I see a few red flags within this review.
I agree that we need to repent in order for God to forgive us, however, nowhere does the Bible say that for us to forgive someone they need to repent. Rather, Matthew 6:15 says “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” We are meant to forgive everyone, whether they tell us that they are sorry or not, otherwise we will not be forgiven.
Moreover, you say that we are meant to judge. It is true that the Bible warns Christians to judge what people tell us, specifically if they claim to know God’s will or desires, and filter it through the Bible, however, we are not meant to judge people. Luke 6:37 says “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Also, Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. We are no better than any sinner we meet. Also, Galatians 6:14 says “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” We are not to boast in our apparent “sinlessness” but in Jesus only.
That brings up another point. When you talk about obedience God’s love, you imply that, after coming to know Jesus, we should never sin, otherwise we are not being obedient and lose our salvation. You don’t specifically say that, so correct me if I am interpreting it incorrectly, but that does seem to be implied. However, according to the Bible, God loves us unconditionally, proven by the fact that He laid our deserved punishment on Jesus so that we can go to Heaven. God hates sin, but He can still love the person. I agree, though, that God will not save anyone who does not believe that Jesus died for our sins, and, in order to do that, they must acknowledge and repent for their sins. However, we do not lose salvation if we make a mistake. John 6:39 says “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” Once we are given to Him, we can not be taken away. If people lose their salvation, then Jesus fails to do the will of the Father because He doesn’t raise them to Heaven. Some will argue that if we “lose ourselves”, then it is not Jesus’ fault and does not cause Him to have sinned, which is what keeps it from being possible. However, even if we lose ourselves, Jesus still would have sinned because He would not raise those people to Heaven, which means that even we can not cause ourselves to “lose salvation”. (For more on that argument, go to https://carm.org/scriptural-proof-christians-cannot-lose-salvation)
Simply because I have already committed so much time to this post and arguing over Scripture interpretation in fiction, allow me to address something that really bothers me with your books, Mr. Davis. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love your books, and I think you are a phenomenal author. However, in Tears of a Dragon, you greatly imply, if not explicitly say, that Billy is the dragon Messiah. This is in direct opposition to the Bible, as God only has one Son, and that is Jesus. Moreover, the only reason Jesus had the power to save anyone is because He never sinned, and He could only do that because He is the Son of God and God in the flesh. Billy is not Jesus and in the first book, Raising Dragons, he was not a Christian. Jesus, being God, would have been a Christian from the moment He was able to think it, if not before. Billy has certainly sinned, as he is only human (also dragon, but not God), and, as mentioned previously, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Only Jesus is the exception, since He was both God and man, and therefore perfect because “As for God, his way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30). If you had implied that Billy was some sort of conduit for Jesus’ salvation because he is an anthrozil, I could have accepted that as necessary for a fictional world in which there are animals with souls that need to be saved. However, that is not what is implied at all, but rather that Billy is the Messiah for dragons, as if anyone could have been the Messiah and it did not need to be God’s Son.
This exact same argument can be applied to the ending of the Dragons of Starlight series, in which Cassabrie becomes an analogy for the Savior after eating the mercy flower. Jesus was not the Messiah because He was merciful (He was, but that was not what allowed Him to take the punishment), but because He had never sinned. Hebrews 7:26 says “Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens” in reference to Jesus. In order to be the Savior, He must be sinless. That is what makes sense; a criminal must pay his own bail before being able to pay someone else’s, but the “bail” for sin is death (as in, going to hell), and a person can not go to hell twice. Neither Billy nor Cassabrie were sinless; they couldn’t be, because they were not God, and “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Being a “starlighter” or some form of prophet combined with some mercy and a star does not clean a person of their sins. Granted, the argument against Cassabrie is not as strong since she is not made out to be the actual Messiah, but rather provides a metaphor for how it looks to be saved by Jesus, shown through the necessity of the incredible pain in order to be cured from the deadly disease, which parallels the pain Christians go through when God begins to change their life, but we gain eternal life from trusting Jesus and submitting to that pain. Still, the repeated reference to a Messiah-figure who can not be the Messiah shows that it was not a coincidence that it appeared in one book, not simply a mistaken implication or interpretation on my part. Please correct me if that was not your intention, but that certainly appears to be implied.
I am certainly open to hearing any critique anyone has about my arguments.
PS: All Scripture references come from the NIV (New International Version).
It is clear that we disagree on the meaning of forgiveness and what is required for forgiveness to occur. We also disagree on salvation and holiness. I am not, however, going to argue the points. The purpose of this post was to show what I believe to be wrong with The Shack. Obviously people are free to disagree and state their beliefs, as you did in a kind and civil manner.
Regarding Billy as the dragon messiah, he was a “type” of messiah who was able to bring the dragons out of Dragons Rest, as a deliverer from that bondage, but he was not a savior who could take them to heaven. This is made much clearer in the Oracles of Fire series.
Regarding Cassabrie, that story takes place in a different world, not earth, so different rules can apply. I have always seen Cassabrie as a “type” of messiah who provides an illustration, however imperfect, of salvation. Since it is a different world, I see no need for her actions and characteristics to perfectly match the messiah of our world.
Thank you for your insightful comments. 🙂
Thank you for clearing up that part about Billy being a messiah! I absolutely love your books, but that was one part that I always had problems with. That definitely makes more sense.
As for Cassabrie, I never had too much of problem with it because it is an analogy and obviously not meant to be an accurate picture of Jesus. It mainly bothered me because it reminded me of the illustration of Billy as the Messiah.
I certainly hope I didn’t offend anyone, and this goes out to anyone who read my previous post. I might have gotten a little carried away and turned my reply to the review into something dealing with much more controversial topics concerning interpretations of the Bible than need to be on a site meant to be about books.
No worries, Amanda. I welcome your comments, and I’m glad I could clear things up.
Yeah, Billy was the dragon messiah, however it was equally clear in the books that these dragons also needed the Messiah of dragons and men. In that sense, Billy was almost more of a Joshua or Moses. I know that conversation came up at least once on the old DIOM site, which sort of forced me to articulate it that way.
This book is outside the genre I normally read, so I haven’t read it at this point. It does sound like The Shack has a lot of problematic stuff in it.
When it comes to forgiveness, I’m not sure if I entirely agree with your ideas on it. I agree that this book’s idea of forgiveness is toxic, and I do think that we need to ask for God’s forgiveness in order to receive it. I would also really want to look into the meanings of the word forgiveness in ancient Hebrew and Greek before I say exactly how I think God wants us to handle forgiveness between two people.
Still, there’s things to consider. If forgiveness is a matter of restoring the relationship on both sides, then forgiveness can probably be achieved even without an apology. People would just have to be willing to put aside their differences and not let it affect their relationship and loyalty to each other. Another interesting dynamic is that even if someone apologizes, and the other person forgives, that doesn’t mean the relationship is going to be restored to what it was before. Depending on how bad the offense was, the forgiver may hold no malice in their heart for the offender, but still not enjoy being around them anymore.
Personally, I’ve had to deal with people not apologizing. There’s people that have wronged me and don’t necessarily even understand what they’ve done wrong, but I am slowly trying to let go of how upset I feel about some of it and make things work. But even if they apologized and I was able to forgive completely, things would still not be restored to exactly as they were before. Not because of malice on my part, but because those problematic situations made me desire and appreciate other things in life. Part of that is because those situations gave me a lessened desire and ability to rely on other people.
Also, the Lord’s Prayer has a line about God forgiving us as we forgive others, along with the verse Amanda pointed out above that says ‘forgive, and you shall be forgiven’. If I recall correctly, that verse talked through a lot of lines about being good to those who wrong us. That could be interpreted to mean that God won’t forgive us of our sins unless we forgive those who wrong us. If that’s the case, I really, really hope forgiveness doesn’t work the way you think it does. If we are required to forgive in order to receive salvation/forgiveness, and we can’t forgive unless other people apologize to us…a lot of us are going to be damned for reasons beyond our control.
Also, it’s a bit strange to say that God stops loving us if we sin. If he didn’t love us, he wouldn’t have made a promise to Abraham, put up with the Israelites’ nonsense, been willing to forgive them, and ultimately send Jesus. People are not perfect, they will sin at least now and then after becoming Christians. If God has a tally sheet of everything we’ve done right and wrong and what we’ve asked for forgiveness for, then it would be hard to know if any of us are saved, or whether we have God’s love. People don’t always know when they’ve sinned. People can try to solve that problem by saying “God, please forgive any sins I may have committed today”, but does that actually count in God’s eyes?
I don’t know. I don’t think anyone can truly know until the end. But I think your review brings up a lot of interesting discussions about false doctrine. The Shack probably has far too much of it, especially since it’s supposed to take place in modern times with personifications of God. But if we look closely at every Christian, and every Christian writer, we can find some arguably false doctrine there. Even C. S. Lewis had some questionable things. I remember one scene in particular that dealt with salvation in The Last Battle. Also…in Narnia it almost came off like the only requirements for salvation were to be good, believe in Aslan, and fight on his side. Other people could complain about the types of creatures that are in Narnia. Yet, Narnia is still seen as a beloved Christian book.
I think some deeper points of theology should be depicted as a character’s perception and opinion, that way if something is incorrect, readers won’t take it as God’s word. This is how I’ve handled the concept of some sensitive topics, like whether there are some people that can’t accept God. In one story, I have a character that avoids God’s help in trying to bring his friend to salvation, only to fail miserably at the end. Everything he went through led him to wonder if it just wasn’t possible for his friend to accept God. He sort of seems to bring her to God in the end, but if a reader really analyzes the situation, they can’t really know if she was saved or not. I definitely don’t believe in universalism, but there are other things to consider. Does God give everyone a chance to accept him, and are there some people that lack the ability to accept him? I didn’t want to write the story as if I knew the answer to all that, because I don’t think anyone can know for sure.
Thank you for your contribution to this topic. As I commented on Amanda’s points, I don’t want to defend my theological beliefs here. I might do that at another time and another place. Suffice it to say, however, that I am able to defend them with detail and vigor. 🙂
There are three points, however, that I would like to make here.
(1) I did not say that God stops loving us if we sin.
(2) Characters in a story can speak what they believe about God and not reflect the author’s beliefs. In the author’s mind, the characters can simply be wrong. That changes when the speaking character is God. A God character likely does speak what the author believes.
(3) Many of us talk about “false doctrine” in stories. I might agree that Mr. Lewis portrayed false doctrine in The Last Battle, but he would likely disagree. You might call my beliefs false doctrine, while I might say that same about yours.
My beliefs about forgiveness, salvation, and sanctification are in the minority, which means that many would call them false doctrine. I am, however, more than capable of defending them biblically when the need arises. In this post, I stated my own beliefs versus Mr. Young’s, and others are welcome to take them for what they’re worth and decide for themselves if The Shack is a problem or not. I don’t wish to debate the theological points themselves beyond what I have done in the post.
Thanks again for your thoughtful comments. 🙂
I certainly regret what I have turned this into.
Perhaps we can all simply come to agree to take any Christian novel with a grain of salt and only rely on the Bible for truth about God. It is the only absolute truth we have in this world.
There are so few Christian-fiction books for kids and teenagers compared to secular books, and, frankly, I get tired of secular books, where I know that if the protagonist dies they will go to hell. I have no desire to stop any Christian bold enough to use their writing gifts if it brings glory to God. We all just have to be wary readers and filter everything through the Bible.
I don’t think you have turned this into anything bad. I appreciated your comments. No worries. All is well.
Bryan, Thanks for your review. I always had an unease about The Shack. Something didn’t set right with me, and i never got around to reading it. Makes me wonder if this book relates to the warning of Matthew 24:11?
I’m glad it was helpful.