Why Are Some Christians Throwing a Fit About “The Shack”?

Back in 2007 an author by the name of William P. Young released a book called The Shack. When it was released many theologians pointed out heretical implications posed by the book, but much of the mainstream Christian culture ate it up. Now The Shack has been adapted to the screen (2017). There are some differences, but for the most part, it sticks pretty close to the source material. And again, much of the mainstream Christian culture has lapped it up and fawned over it while Bible scholars and theologians point out blatantly heretical points in the film that can lead people astray from right Christian doctrine (please note: “Doctrine” just means “teachings”. So, when we complain about “bad doctrine” it means, people aren’t rightly teaching God’s Word).

I have not seen the film nor have I read the book, but I have done a lot of research from various sources and watched many clips as well as read many passages that provide reasons that this isn’t a movie for Christians…or for those who want to better understand Christianity. It talks about “God” and “Jesus” and “The Trinity” and “The Holy Spirit”, but not the God, Jesus, Trinity, or Holy Spirit of the Bible. Now, it may sound hypocritical to say, “This movie is horrible…oh, but I’ve never seen it.” We don’t have to subject ourselves to something bad in order to warn against it. We don’t say, “How can you condemn [porn] [heroine] [alcoholism] [insert something bad] if you’ve never [seen] [experienced] [done] that?” We use our Christian common sense to listen for things that pastors and theologians are calling out for wrong teachings and then we do our best not to subject ourselves to it.

In The Shack, Young presents a God who is not the God of Scripture, but of fantasy. Many argued about the intents of the author and only had speculation about the author’s beliefs to go on, but in one of the links below you can hear, directly from the author’s mouth, his blatantly heretical doctrinal stances. It’s not an accident. It’s not a, “I didn’t realize” moment. He blatantly opposes sound Christian doctrine and pushes those false teachings through the guise of “fiction which points to how God really works with us.” That is the definition of wolf in sheep’s clothing. If we were to watch The Shack and then have conversations about anything that may not have been quite Biblically accurate, we’d have to discuss nearly every part in the whole movie beginning with the premise.

Some say, “It’s just fiction. Who cares if it’s not perfect?” The problem is, Christian doctrine is important especially when a work of fiction is suggesting that it promotes Christian doctrine. What we teach and what we claim to be in accord with Christian teachings is a big deal. So when an author says, “This is a fictional story about what God is like” and then presents something that is nothing like God, then it’s no longer a helpful work of fiction. Instead, it’s a story that pulls us from Christian teaching.

This may be a work of fiction, but it is not fiction that points us to right Christian doctrine. There is fiction which can be very good and point us to Christ. Then there is fiction that claims to be Christian but points us to false teachings and dangerous theologies that are popular in culture but are presented nowhere in Scripture. Even when reading the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, amid a lot of beautiful theology shared through fiction, there are plot points where we need to be cautious and make sure we don’t lose sight of Scripture for the beauty of the story. For example, in The Last Battle Lewis seems to insert a plot point that would suggest that Lewis subscribed to universalism (everyone is saved whether they confess Christ as Lord). We don’t agree with that and we have a chat about why that’s a problem when we come to that plot point. Sometimes fiction attempts to make a point but makes a bad one on accident…it happens and we try to make sure we don’t tell stories that lead people in a wrong direction. It’s also helpful to note that Lewis specifically says that the Narnia series is “Suppositional” rather than meant to be a one-to-one connection to God. In other words, “Let’s SUPPOSE that was another world that needed to be redeemed and had a character similar to the God of Scripture. What would that look like?” Again, Lewis is known for really good, theologically rich fiction. We still read it critically and point out where there is disagreement, but he pulls from and points to Scripture. That is not what is happening in The Shack. People say that anyone critical of this film or book just can’t handle “metaphor”. The use of metaphor is fine, but we must always be asking if it is rightly relaying the truth of Scripture?

In the case of The Shack, this is no accidental misstep with theology, it is deliberate and can easily make people believe that God is something other than what is shared in God’s Word and that the Christian faith makes promises that it doesn’t make. Young points people away from Scripture and to themselves. When looking at people’s reaction to the film, I see comments like, “This was great and really got me to think outside of the theological box!”WHAT!?! We’re never called to “think outside of the box.” What is the “box” that this movie made you think outside of? If it made you think outside of the box of Scripture, then we have a problem. There are many many comments about this film, but you can see the issue. If the metaphors and story are bringing people to “a new understanding of God” allowing them to “think outside of the Scriptural box” and so on, then there’s a problem.

We don’t look for God to speak to us in our hearts and minds or to solve life’s problems. If we want to hear God speak to us, we read His Word out loud. We don’t look for two women and a man to give us bad theology about God in a work of fiction. We study where God has revealed himself and trust in those things that he has promised. Fiction can enrich our understanding of God’s work in our lives. Stories have always done that as they bring out who God is and what he does. But the content of that fiction is still important. If it doesn’t align with Scripture, then it’s a problem.

Some people say, “This is a great evangelism tool.” Sharing God’s Word with people is a good evangelism tool. Pointing people to a movie and book full of bad doctrine is not. Pointing people to a movie or book that does a good job sharing God’s Word is good and can open a discussion. This is not that book or movie.

I asked a pastor who does a lot of movie reviews for the LCMS how to best talk about good vs bad fiction when it comes to the Christian faith. In particular, where is a good starting point when comparisons are drawn between Lewis with the Narnia series, and Young with The Shack. Here was his reply:

This is both hard and easy. Essentially I use my systematic theology studies and my Fine Arts degree with it’s minor in art history with lots of film theory classes and 41 years of weekly Sunday church attendance and scripture and catechism study as my starting point. I know not everyone has all of these things to start with. As to your example: CSLewis is really good almost all the time (the last of the Narnia books does get into universalist theology / which readers of Lewis need to be aware of). The work that Lewis does – especially when it come to Jesus and substitutionary atonement – reflects overall what Scripture teaches. With the Shack it doesn’t reflect well what Scripture teaches. It doesn’t take a systematic theologians to know that it would be a poor reflection of Scripture to show all three persons of the Trinity to have died at the cross. The nail wounds in the Shack is the place to start, The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe doesn’t delve into the Trinity in Asland you have a Christ Character and a “Crucifixion” that fits well with Scripture and when you lay them side by side with the Shack you quickly see that The Shack only provides contradiction between it and Scripture when it comes to Jesus and His cross and passion. From there you can lead the person into a discussion about the heretical moralism of The Shack.

Here are some resources that dig much deeper into all of this.

The Author discusses the “lies” of Christianity.
http://www.piratechristian.com/fightingforthefaith/2017/3/lies-wm-paul-young-tells-about-god

Various podcasts from IssuesEtc all about The Shack
http://issuesetc.org/search_gcse/?q=the%20shack

A good article from Desiring God
http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-does-the-shack-say-about-your-pain

The Shack as Evangelism tool
http://www.piratechristian.com/captains-log/2017/3/the-shack-movie-bombs-as-evangelism-tool

What to chat? Have a disagreement? What to dig deeper into this? Please let me know.