The Shack (Needs To Be Taken Out To The Shack)May 31, 2009
Over the last year this best selling book by William P. Young has created quite a stir among believers. Many praise it and many reject it. Here are my quick thoughts on the book ‘The Shack’:
The main character Mack dialogues a lot with God. You can tell that Young would have had to crack his doctrine 101 books about the nature of God, the nature of man, and other important doctrines in order to present this type of dialogue as being Biblically sound (Orthodox). In many parts, Young does a good job of remaining Orthodox and some of the explanations that God gives Mack are very practical and insightful.
I think he does a good job of upholding a Biblical view of free will (page 95), God’s self-sufficiency (pages 98-99), the Trinity (page 101), and even does a beautiful job of explaining why the Trinity is a precondition to something such as “love”, hence page 102 which says “Or maybe worse, you would have a god who, when he chose, could only love as a limitation of his nature”.
The book is also insightful in dealing with emotional or personal esteem issues. Young writes God as a type of man-infatuated cosmic counselor. Nevertheless, a lot of the encouragement given in the book by Papa (God the Father) would probably be very helpful for many who could use more encouragement and hope.
Lastly, I personally think that for his first published book, Young is a very decent writer. I was in complete suspense at the beginning of the book.
Some portions of the theology presented in the book are not only border line off but are dangerously off. This is probably because 1. much of the theology leans towards a liberal Arminian Christian worldview, and 2. the book is essentially Christianity thrown together with modern pop-psychology. In other words, it is tantamount of the modern evangelical’s gospel which is drenched in sensationalism, self-esteem, flattery, ego-boosting, and a “God” who is a cosmic flirt. It seeks to obtain the ultimate goal of every comfortable modern Christian: “SELF CONFIDENCE!” And it doesn’t help that Christ is portrayed like a soft girl instead of a manly Lord.
On page 96 it is said that the Father didn’t forsake Jesus on the cross, but that Jesus only felt forsaken because He was in such great pain. [emphasis mine] This is supposed to cushion Mack’s dread of being forsaken by God since he was forsaken by his own biological father. Papa ties this into a lesson for Mack to not focus on his pain but focus on God so he will see that he’s not forsaken after all. The jacked up thing about this left field interpretation of Scripture is that it assumes that Christ wasn’t focused on God because He felt forsaken! But isn’t that what Christ’s mission all along was?! To fulfill the Father’s will perfectly?! Jesus said, “I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6:38) What Mack needs to know is that Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22. Those hearing Jesus’ words knew very well where he was quoting from, as it was custom in that day to quote a part of a passage to allude to the whole. It happens to be a passage of hope by which the psalmist feels despair, yet prevails amidst the faithfulness and power of God. Jesus is applying this same concept to himself amidst his very own dire situation on the cross. He’s saying, “do not merely pitty me, but realize that Yahweh will deliver me out of this place”. Young has this colossal opportunity to reveal these profound truths, yet misses the mark completley and ends up making a lot of money off this book. What a shame of shames. If he did reveal concise Biblical truths his book wouldn’t sell to millions of “evangelicals”. I guarantee it. I bet me life on that statement.
On page 99 it’s said that Jesus never drew upon His God nature to do anything. Well, happy to inform you Mr. Young, Jesus did say He would raise Himself up on the last day. Page 100 further says that Jesus had no power within Himself to heal anyone. Again, Jesus could heal anyone with His own power because 1. He’s God (or YHWH) and 2. He has authority to raise Himself from the dead with His own power. (In John 2:19 Jesus says, “I will raise it” (speaking of His own body), where “I will” is “egero” in the Greek. It is a first person active verb. Because the verb is 1st person active, this means Jesus is the doer of the action)
On page 120 Papa says that she doesn’t “need to punish people for sin”, but that “sin is its own punishment”. It’s not her “purpose to punish it”, it’s her “joy to cure it”. But Jesus Christ is Lord and is in fact the one returning to punish sin (Phil 2, 2 Thes 1:8-10, Rev 19), NOT God the Father! Mack has a problem with the Father seeming vengeful and Jesus only being the “nice one” within the Trinity. Give me a break! If Mack just had proper theology, or received proper theology from Papa (that’s an irony of ironies), this would all be cleared up and Christ would be known comprehensively. And as far as the four letter word “justice” goes, it is because God loves Himself that justice is a reality. God loves Himself so much that He does not over look any sin, thus does in fact punish sinners. Sin is its own punishment, but so is God’s eternal wrath upon sinners guilty of sin. However, the good news of the gospel is that God remained loving to Himself AND us by crushing sin in the God-Man substitute, Jesus Christ, instead of crushing it in us! (Isa 53:10) The spirit of the cross is love, but the base of the cross is justice. Part of the apostle’s gospel is that sin will either be crushed in us or in Christ (Gal 3:10). Those are the only two options.
On page 165 Papa says that the tragedy which Mack faced was “no plan of Papa’s. Papa has never needed evil to accomplish his good purposes. It is you humans who have embraced evil and Papa has responded with goodness”. Like I said earlier, this book is drenched with an Arminian worldview whereby God is the great cosmic responder. This has problems because it assumes that God does not intend all evil for good. Yet in the OT, Joseph specifically says that “what you meant for evil, God meant for good”. This shows that God actually means for evil to happen, yet the major difference is WHY He means it. Sinners mean evil for evil, while God means evil for good, while all along meaning it! In addition, as God only being a responder to evil, this would mean that God must learn what humans will do and then must pick up the pieces of their mess. This takes away from God’s omniscience because He must first learn what people will do, before He learns what He will do in response. The other logical conclusion then would be that human “free will” is sovereign over God to a degree because God’s actions are predicated upon His response to human actions. Humans do have wills, but not totally free wills which are free from God’s knowledge of all things. Young may not even know it but he is subtly entering into the heresy of open-theism with this view of God as only being a great “responder” to us evil powerful sovereign creatures.
Similarly, on page 185 Papa says “Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me.” But Isaiah 45:7 says “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.” Disaster = “ra”, basically the opposite of “prosperity” given the context. God “bara” or creates this. Just like in Gen 1:1 “God created (bara) the heavens and the earth”. This is just one example from many in Scripture. Also, it would more properly be said that God uses evil to all the more REVEAL His goodness, not to make His goodness actually good. Scripture clearly teaches that sin was part of God’s plan because redemption was also part of His plan. Both of these have always been God’s plan from the very beginning. It never occurred to God that He would need to “fix” our sin problem. It must occur to us that nothing has every occurred to God! All of this is part of God’s purpose and will and has been so from eternity.
On page 186 Papa says “It’s not easy being the judge of the entire world”. Ummm. Need I really respond to this one and defend an omniscient and all-powerful being? This very statement in the book proves my point that Young’s view of God is simply that of a blown up person. There is very little Creator/creature distinction in Young’s mind, which is the very thing Job was lead to understand within his tragedy.
On page 186 Mack says “But I always liked Jesus better than you. He seemed so gracious and you seemed so…” Then Papa fills in the blank with “Mean?” In other words, God the Father is cranky and God the Son is like Richard Simmons. Sarcasm aside, the thing is that it isn’t even God the Father who is returning in judgment! Scripture teaches it is Jesus Christ! The greatest display of wrath in the Bible is not in the OT, it is in the NT when Christ returns and there is final and eternal judgment. And it’s not going to go well for those who reject Him! 2 Thes 1:8-9 “He (Jesus Christ) will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power”
On page 203 Mack asks Papa “are you saying I don’t have to follow the rules?” Papa responds “Yes. In Jesus you are not under any law. All things are lawful.” This seems to be how Young personally likes to view God because it does away with the notion of a God who would be overbearing and demanding. But God is only demanding and overbearing in Young’s mind because he views God the Father through the lens of his biological dad. All this is then transferred to Mack’s character. But Jesus says that he who loves me is the one who obeys my commands. (John 14:21) And the phrase “you are not under law” is a reference to Rom 6:14. The context says that “sin shall not be your master because you are not under law but under grace.” Paul is actually explaining the difference between being under the law as a strict tutor to control sin as opposed to the new covenant of being under the Spirit of grace to control sin. In either case, however, sin is needing to be controlled! Sin is just ultimately being controlled by different means.
In conclusion there are 2 major things I’d like to say. 1. I fully agree with Douglas Wilson’s critique of ‘The Shack’ in that God the Father needs to be properly revealed, not pushed aside and replaced with a female identity in order to help cushion certain emotional triggers in a man who hates his biological father!
2. Let us consider the story of Job and compare this story which really happened to Young’s fictional story of Mack. Job experienced more physical and emotional pain than Mack. Job’s entire family was murdered, his wife resented him, he had horrible soars all over him, he had to put up with 3 accusing friends, and God remained silent to Job way longer then Mack!!! Yet, how did God reveal Himself to Job? Did He appear as a black woman who bakes a lot of food, sings, and looks at Job with empathetic puppy dog eyes? Ummm, I’m gonna answer that with a “NO” times infinity. All it took was for God to ask Job 4 chapters worth of questions in regard to His own nature and abilities which Job wasn’t able to respond to. This was so Job would get the proper perspective of God to himself, thereby freeing him to trust God like never before.
We have to be careful when we write books which fictionally portray God. It’s a dangerous endeavor. You either have guts or a lack of conscious. If such books get too fictional they easily veer from Scripture and end up in blasphemy-land – a sobering place we should avoid like a two-year-old avoiding a high-way! I personally don’t think Young and his enthusiastic readers are watching for cars. Instead of following the examples set for us by church history, we idolize and entertain new ideas of “God”. Why? Because we’re idolators at heart. Those who have wept after gleaming from Young’s portrayal of God need to dry their eyes and maybe for a second consider some writings of church father’s who have poured blood, sweat, and tears into studying Scripture for church to come. You know, the church fathers who love the truth and whom God will say “well done good and faithful servant” to when they die and not have to cosmic-chiropractor their theology after they die. At least consider it for a millisecond. Please? With sugar on top?
It’s obvious that Young has done what many modern evangelical Christians today are doing, namely, making a god in their own image by viewing God as a blown up version of what they think would actually be an ideal god to themselves. It’s easy to cry and get all emotional about a god who looks more like us isn’t it?! Young is poised to mis-represent God from the outset because he developes his view of God from a “how could I write about God in such a way that would make me most accept Him despite my problems with Him” angle, rather than a soberly Biblical angle. Christians don’t get to each have their own stick of cosmic play-do by which they get to childishly play pretend and mold God into whatever their wild imaginations fancy. We can’t do that to God. Young not only grossly mis-represents God the Father but from all we can tell also shuns who He really is according to what Scripture clearly reveals.
But God doesn’t care that Young has a hard time accepting God to be who He really is. Young has the imperfect perspective, not God. That’s why we call Him “God”. Young’s first step should be to take Scripture in context, and take it consistently, so that he might use his time and energy viewing God in the most correct way, and cause those at his book signings to do the same. All who profess Christ should take God’s revelation of Himself seriously and derive awesome hope from it (as Job did who suffered way more loss than Mack). That way all could be truly liberated, not falsely liberated by a Christian/pop-psychology worldview which will pass away at the coming of Christ, and has already passed away considering that it doesn’t line up with the nature of the God of Scripture. It only lines up with the nature of Young’s wishful version of God.
If ‘The Shack’ doesn’t line up with Scripture and is not the most accurate view of God, then what good is it? What good is it to someone wanting to understand God’s nature amidst tragedy? Zero. In fact, it may even have negative effects on people considering that they will be confused when they compare Young’s god (who is supposed to accurately represent the God of Scripture) to the God of Scripture. So why write it? Why write it if that’s what it’s trying to show yet fails to show that very thing? Why are people running into Christian bookstores almost out of breath and asking the store clerk, “Where is it?! Where’s ‘The Shack’? I have to read it now!” Why this silly behavior if whom you’re reading about is only William P. Young’s fictitious god, not Scritpure’s God? From a Christian standpoint, why? WHY?! Get a grip of yourself and ask why!