Friday, November 21, 2008

The Shack: A House Built on the Sand

by Bruce Mills

A friend recently sent me an email asking me if I was familiar with William Paul Young’s book, The Shack. I was familiar only to the degree that I had heard one of the DJ’s on our local contemporary Christian music radio station talking about it in glowing terms. When I heard that, I immediately became suspicious because this is the same person who has promoted other books which were superficially Christian, in that they only talk about faith and God in vague generalities rather than with theological precision. The same individual has also promoted books by "Emergent Church" authors, so when I heard the promotion for The Shack, warning bells went off in my mind. But I didn’t take time to familiarize myself with the book.

Anyway, when my friend asked me about it, I began to learn what I could about the book. I found out that the author never originally intended to publish this book. It was written as a story for his children as a way of explaining certain theological issues to them. After finishing the manuscript, he bound it and gave it to his children as a Christmas gift. He later showed a copy of the manuscript to a former pastor who had started a small publishing company. The company published the book and initially, it was promoted only by word-of-mouth. It has gone through multiple printings and, to date, it has sold over a million copies.

Obviously when a book which promotes itself as an explanation of the heart and nature of God sells that many copies, Christians ought to know enough about it to make a decision about whether or not to take the time to read it. So I went to a couple of websites written by men whose theological perspectives are sharp and trustworthy to see what they had to say about the book.

Apparently, the primary focus of the book is on the most difficult of all theological dilemmas: the goodness of God and its relationship to the problem of evil. Where is God in the midst of pain and suffering? How can a good God allow evil to exist? How can He allow mankind to suffer the effects of horrible crimes and dreadful calamities? Why doesn’t He do something to stop it? Why does God seem so unconcerned about suffering and injustice?

These issues are discussed in the context of a story regarding a man whose daughter was kidnapped and murdered years before. He spends the subsequent years in great sorrow until God invites him to meet with Him in the shack where it is believed that his daughter was murdered by a serial pedophile. After spending two days with God in the shack, he emerges as a changed man who has learned about the power of forgiveness.

However, in reading the various reviews by men of such theological fortitude as Dr. Glenn Kreider, professor of theological studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and the world’s most famous Christian blogger, Tim Challies, it didn’t take long to realize that The Shack isn’t worth reading because, as Al Mohler has stated, “this book includes undiluted heresy.” The problems are that it promotes heretical views of the Trinity, the humanity and deity of Christ, God’s punishment of sin, and the exclusivity of salvation through faith in Christ alone.

As the protagonist of the story, Mackenzie Philips, meets with God in the shack, each of the members of the Trinity appears to him as separate, distinct individuals. God the Father appears in two forms; primarily, that of a large, matronly African-American woman, but also as a pony-tailed, grey-haired man. Jesus appears as a Jewish man, while the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman. Philips also meets Sophia who is a female personification of God’s wisdom. It is in this faulty presentation of the Trinity, as well as the conversations between Philips and the members of this strange Godhead, that the false theology which permeates this story comes through.

Young claims that the story which is told in The Shack is fictional, but he also claims that the conversations with God which take place in this book are all real and represent actual conversations he had with God, friends, and family members over a period of several years. In other words, he is claiming to have received “special revelation” from God other than that found in the Bible, which is God’s completed revelation to man. And much of the theology found in the book contradicts that found in God’s Word, revealing Young’s low view of the authority and inerrancy of Scripture.

So, with all these problems, I have no desire to waste my time reading The Shack, nor will I recommend it to anyone. As Chuck Colson has stated: "stay out of The Shack." But if you want more information about this book, I recommend you download and read Tim Challie's extensive review of The Shack, or listen online to Dr. Al Mohler's review.

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