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