Monday, August 25, 2008

The Shack

Several people have asked me my thoughts on the very popular William Young book called, The Shack. The first I heard of the book was in July. My wife and I were in Myrtle Beach having dinner with some friends right after one of them had just finished reading the book. She said it was the most unusual book she had read. She had it with her and told me I could take it and read it.

I hardly ever read Christian fiction, so I thought, “This will sit on my night stand for months.” (Although, I should say that the Christian fiction book by Randy Alcorn called Safely Home is one of the best five books I have ever read in my life. You can read my blog post about that book here.)

The book did sit on my night stand for several weeks, but it seemed someone new would ask me about the book every few days. So last week I picked it up and read it. What do I think about this controversial book? Well...

In short, I don’t think it would be a helpful book for a non-believer wanting to know more about God or young Christian not yet very grounded in the Word.

The book is full of ‘theology’. It presents an unorthodox view of God, the Trinity, and God’s relationship with man. Most of the ‘theology’ presented is OK if you remember this is a fictional book that is trying to make a point by painting a caricature of God. The caricature resembles the truth we know about God from Scripture, but a caricature always shows things out of proportion, and this book definitely does that.

For certain, there are many things in the book that flat contradict Scripture. To name a few...

William Young’s explanation of the role (and sin) of authority (God’s authority, man’s authority, submission to authority) is blatantly wrong. The Bible tells us repeatedly of the authorities God has set up and our responsibility to those authorities. The Bible teaches that we can’t be right with God unless we are also right the with authorities in our lives. In the Bible we see authority not as something that clouds our understanding of God, but just the opposite. God sets up systems of authority to teach us how to relate to Him. Understanding, respecting, and submitting to authority is the KEY to a close walk with the Lord. There is nothing more central to Scripture whether you are reading the law, the proverbs, the prophets, the gospels, or the epistles. The Shack misses this completely. The book teaches that no hierarchy can be found in the Trinity of God or has been instituted by God on earth. The only problem with that is the many verses that talk about the submission of God the Son to the authority of God the Father, the many verses that talk about the submission we should have to the governmental authorities that God has established, the many verses that talk about how authority and submission should work in a marriage and with kids, the many verses that talk about how authority should be organized in a church, and the many Bible warnings about the sin of rebellion against God ordained authorities. The Shack is wrong about authority!

Secondly, the Trinity is badly maligned in the book. When God gave us the Bible, He showed us the right way to look at the Trinity. God chose to describe the relationship between the ‘Godheads’ as the relationship of a Father, a Son, and a Spirit. It is no small thing to just change imagery for ‘shock’ effect or to get people to think of God in a new way. There are some things that are sacred. God is ALWAYS presented in His perfect Word as the Father, Son, and Spirit. Tinkering with that can’t be good, and saying, there is a better way to understand that relationship than the way God has revealed it to us borders on blaspheme.

The book’s worst error, however, is in how it presents God with a benevolence that precludes wrath. The book hints that there may be other parts of God that we cannot understand that explain why He appears to have wrath and anger, but the image of God that we come away with is of a God that does not have standards, expectations, or the anger and wrath that come because of the violation of these. If you know much about Scripture (the only authoritative source we have on the nature of God), then I don’t have to list the thousands of verses that show that while God is love and has provided for our sins to be forgiven, He is also a God of justice and of wrath. I’m sure you remember the stories of Jesus making whips and driving out the money changers. I’m sure you’ve read of God’s many judgments upon the earth. I’m sure you know the standard of church discipline that God instructs the New Testament church to hold. I’m sure you noticed that Jesus taught as much about the fires of hell as He did the forgiveness of God. There seems to be a new PC (political correctness) among many Bible teachers. In many of these modern movements and modern views of God, people feel like they have to clean up God’s image and omit much of what the Bible clearly teaches. I think this is very unfortunate.

So, do I recommend the book? No. I wouldn’t recommend it. In all honesty, I did enjoy the book. And I was personally challenged in some areas. But without a very firm grounding in Scripture, I believe many readers will come away with an extremely skewed view of God.

My fear with this book is that many people will develop their understanding of God more from this than from Scripture. I know people who have read the 250+ pages of The Shack that hadn’t read the New Testament even once in the past year. For those people, this emotional book will warp their view of God in a way they may never recover from. Some have said, that it is great news that this Christian book has been on the best seller lists for weeks. I disagree. I cringe every time I hear that someone else has started reading it.

Pastor Noel Dear