One month from today, Lionsgate Films will release a new movie called The SHACK, based on William Paul Young’s book. Originally self published, the book took on a life of its own and has now sold over 20 million copies. After several people told me they’d read it and wanted to know if I had, I got a copy of the paperback and read it. It was rumored that Oprah and Idris Elba were going to star in a film version of the book, directed by Forest Whitaker. That didn’t happen and none of those three are in the upcoming movie. I shared some observations back then, and since the movie is getting ready to come out next month, I thought it wise to share them again.
A number of people have made careless commendations for this book. Not the least of which is Eugene Peterson who said, “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!” Uh-oh. But he’s not alone. A number of other leaders in evangelical Christianity have added their affirmation as well. One of them, recording artist Michael W. Smith said, “The Shack is the most absorbing work of fiction I’ve read in many years. My wife and I laughed, cried, and repented of our own lack of faith along the way. The Shack will leave you craving for the presence of God.” With all due respect to Michael W. Smith, the God of The Shack is not the God of the Bible. (Keep reading.)
Some will no doubt ask, “Can’t we be like Paul and just rejoice that Christ is being preached?” (Philippians 1:18) Not if it’s another Jesus and another gospel. Kathie Lee Gifford, cohost of NBC Today show’s third hour said,“The Shack will change the way you think about God forever.” I would agree with her. But it’s not the God of the Bible you’ll be thinking about.
Even a superficial scrutiny of The Shack reveals some glaring problems that would be obvious to any discerning Christian. For example, in The Shack the use of profanity, even if it’s a Christian “fiction” book, is inappropriate. Can authors use curse words in a Christian book as long as they call it “fiction” and not be held accountable? In The Shack, William P. Young, the author, takes a shot at the Bible and opens the door for extra-biblical revelation — a key component to his story line. The book tells the story about an actual note, written to the story’s main character, Mack Phillips. Here’s what it says on pages 65-66: “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. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges? The more Mack thought about it, the more confused and irritated he became. Who sent the d____ note?”
In The Shack, Young portrays GOD as a woman — “a large beaming African-American woman” (pg. 82) who loves to cook (pg. 88-93) and whom Mack calls “Papa” (pg. 91). The Holy Spirit is a “small, wiry looking, distinctively Asian woman” (pg. 84-85) named “Sarayu” (pg. 87), and Jesus is “Middle Eastern and was dressed like a laborer, complete with tool belt and gloves” (pg. 84).
In The Shack, Jesus wore “jeans covered in wood dust and a plaid shirt with sleeves rolled just above the elbows” (pg. 84). He “was not particularly handsome − not a man who would stick out in a crowd” (pg. 84). Mack notes Jesus’ average looks and his big nose (pg. 111) and says, “I just thought you’d be better looking” (pg. 111). In The Shack, “PAPA” (William Young’s female God) says, “Mackenzie, I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning” (pg. 93). The God of The Shack has “scars in her wrists, like those he now assumed Jesus had on his” (pg. 95). When Mack tells Papa he thought she had turned her back on Jesus at the cross and left Him, Papa answers, “You misunderstand the mystery there. Regardless of what he felt at that moment, I never left him” (pg. 96).
The false doctrine of The Shack is false doctrine — even if William P. Young portrays it as “fiction.”
In The Shack, Papa tells Mack that when Jesus performed miracles on earth He didn’t do that as God, “He did so as a dependent, limited human being trusting in my life and power to be at work within him and through him. Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone” (pg. 100).
In The Shack, Jesus is a bumbling, fumbling sort, who “dropped a large bowl of some sort of batter or sauce on the floor, and it was everywhere” (pg. 104). He gets a basin of water and some towels to clean it up and washes Papa’s feet (pg. 105).
In The Shack, when Papa (God) speaks she says, “Guess that’s jes’ the way I is,” and “Sho ’nuff!” (pg. 119). She also tells Mack, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it” (pg. 120). She also tells Mack that there is “no concept of final authority among us” (Father, or should we say, “Mother,” Son and Holy Spirit). "We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command” (pg. 122).
In The Shack, both Mack and Jesus walk on water and Jesus jokes, “C’mon, Mack. If Peter can do it … ” (pg. 140).
In The Shack, Jesus tells Mack that He, Papa (Mama/God) and Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) “are submitted to you in the same way.” The book goes on to say Mack was surprised. “How can that be? Why would the God of the universe want to be submitted to me?” (pg. 145).
In The Shack, Jesus also tells Mack, “The world, in many ways, would be a much calmer and gentler place if women ruled. There would have been far fewer children sacrificed to the gods of greed and power” (pg. 147-148).
Hold onto your hat on this one … In The Shack, Jesus tells Mack, “Seriously, my life was not meant to be an example to copy. Being my follower is not trying to ‘be like Jesus’” (pg. 149). What?
Two-thirds of the way through The Shack, we meet WISDOM. “A tall, beautiful, olive-skinned woman with chiseled Hispanic features, clothed in a darkly colored flowing robe” (pg. 152). Wisdom allows Mack to consult with and communicate with the dead (pg. 166-167). “She knows that you are here, but she cannot see you … Are you sure she knows I am here?” Mack asks about his dead daughter. “Yes, I am sure,” Wisdom assures Mack (pg. 167). Not a wise move, even in a fiction book since this is something the Bible clearly forbids.
We also discover in The Shack that Jesus can’t catch a fish. “I’ve been trying to catch him for weeks, and here he comes just to bait me,” (pg. 176). And then, on page 182, we are given a startling revelation from Jesus, “Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian … Those who love me come from every system that exists … 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.”
When Mack asks, “Does that mean that all roads will lead to you?” Jesus answers, “Not at all. Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you” (pg. 182). On page 192, Papa tells Mack that “through his death and resurrection, I am now fully reconciled to the world.” Mack asks, “The whole world? You mean those who believe in you, right?” Papa answers, “The whole world, Mack.” Universalism is complete heresy and is not taught in the Word of God. In fact, just the opposite is taught. (See Matthew 7:21-23.)
“James B. DeYoung of Western Theological Seminary, a New Testament scholar who has known William Young for years, documents Young’s embrace of a form of ’Christian universalism.’ The Shack, he concludes, ‘rests on the foundation of universal reconciliation.’”1
On page 205 of The Shack, Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) tells Mack, “That is why you won’t find the word responsibility in the Scriptures.” However, if you check your Bible you will find it a number of times.
On page 206 of The Shack, Papa (God) tells Mack, “Honey, I’ve never placed an expectation on you or anyone else. The idea behind expectations requires that someone does not know the future or outcome and is trying to control behavior to get the desired results.” Ever hear of the Ten Commandments? Ever read what Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” Or Matthew 28, when Jesus instructed His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples … “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
On page 224 of The Shack, Papa tells Mack that she doesn’t forget our sins. “But I thought you forget our sins?” Mack says. “Mack, I am God. I forget nothing. I know everything. So forgetting for me is the choice to limit myself. Son.”
At the end of The Shack, on page 231, Mack “found an engraving of Missy (his daughter who had been kidnapped and killed) with her cat Judas.” Am I the only one who finds that weird. Tragically, that’s just one of many weird details to be found inside The Shack. On page 112, author Young seems to endorse the false doctrine of pantheism − “God, who is the ground of all being, dwells in, around and through all things.”
Some have read The Shack and spoke of it’s transforming affect on their lives — how they “feel closer to God than ever before,” etc. However, the GOD of The Shack is not the GOD of the Bible. The JESUS of The Shack is not the JESUS of the Bible. The HOLY SPIRIT of The Shack is not the HOLY SPIRIT of the Bible.
The false doctrine of The Shack is false doctrine — even if William P. Young portrays it as “fiction.”
Dr. Albert Mohler said, “In evaluating the book, it must be kept in mind that The Shack is a work of fiction. But it is also a sustained theological argument, and this simply cannot be denied. Any number of notable novels and works of literature have contained aberrant theology, and even heresy. The crucial question is whether the aberrant doctrines are features of the story or the message of the book. When it comes to The Shack, the really troubling fact is that so many readers are drawn to the theological message of the book, and fail to see how it conflicts with the Bible at so many crucial points. All this reveals a disastrous failure of evangelical discernment. It is hard not to conclude that theological discernment is now a lost art among American evangelicals – and this loss can only lead to theological catastrophe.” 2
Jesus warned, “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect − if that were possible” (Matthew 24:24). Some will even write books that will dilute, distort and even deny the truth of God’s Word. That’s why God’s people need to be discerning.
The Shack is certainly not the greatest, just one of the latest in a long line of books/movies that create quite a stir, make a splash and bring in lots of cash for the authors and publishers but who, in the end, inevitably produce converts to another God and another gospel which is eternally deadly.
Paul said, “Not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:7-8).
© 2017. Barry L. Cameron
Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.