for It" 2009 part 5
A Visit to "The Shack"
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
September 6, 2009
Back in May of 2007, an
office manager and hotel night clerk by the name of William Paul Young…
who also happens to be Canadian… published a book that he had
originally written as a gift for his six daughters. He had never
intended to actually publish it, but after handing it around to several
friends and family members, he was encouraged to make it available for
the general public.
Which turned out not to be so easy. The book
was turned down by several publishing companies, so Young and a couple
friends formed their own company for the sole purpose of publishing
this one book.
And let me tell you, they did a terrible job
marketing it. All they did was pay $300.00 for a website, and that was
the extent of their marketing for the first five months. But word of
mouth did it’s job, and about a year later – in the summer of 2008 –
the book took off and on June 8, 2008 it debuted at number one on the
New York Times paperback fiction best sellers list, where it stayed
right on into 2009. 5 million copies and a couple translations later,
The Shack remains a very popular book in both Christian and
The book has received some high-profile endorsements. Eugene Peterson
who wrote “The Message” paraphrase of the Bible says…
“This book has the potential to do for our generation what John
Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress' did for his. It's that good!”
~ Eugene Peterson
That may be a little over the top, but Michael W. Smith throws in his
endorsement as well…
Shack is the most absorbing work of fiction I’ve read in many years. My
wife & I laughed, cried and repented of our own lack of faith
the way. The Shack will leave you craving for the presence of God.”
~ Michael W. Smith
The actor Will Smith and his family love the book. And there’s even
talk about turning The Shack into a major motion picture.
The Shack has really become quite popular. In fact, at the PEI library
there’s a list of 71 people waiting for a copy of the book. But the
book has also drawn some heat. There’s a bit of controversy surrounding
this book. And there are Christ-followers on both sides… some saying
that this book is terrific, and there are those who will advise you to
avoid this book at all costs.
Well, today we’re going to finish
up our “You Asked for It” series of messages. We do this series every
summer, when we take requests from you about what we’re going to talk
about here on Sundays. And many of you have asked me about this book.
I’ve read the book, and I’ve read many of the articles and opinions
about it. A lot of people really love this book, but I’ve also read a
lot of antagonistic reviews against the Shack and against Paul Young.
Some of the criticisms are valid, and we’ll get to those. But what I’ve
discovered is that a lot of the complaints people have are taken out of
context and not really what the book is saying.
some people warn that The Shack teaches Modalism, which denies the
Trinity and is a false theological concept that was a problem even in
the early centuries of the Christianity… And it is basically the belief
that God simply appears in different roles or wears different masks.
For example, there was God the Father in the Old Testament who
masqueraded as Jesus the Son in the New Testament and today exists as
the Holy Spirit. There’s just this one kind of shape-shifter who
appears as different people.
But that’s not what the Bible
teaches about the nature of God and it’s not our understanding of the
Trinity. Our understanding of the Trinity is that there is only One
God… that part’s true… but that He has three centers of personhood.
It’s not one person wearing different masks; it’s three distinct
Persons who exist as One God. We’ve talked about that in detail here
But I think The Shack actually does a pretty good job of
representing God as three distinct Persons and at the same time showing
their interconnectedness as One God. This claim that it teaches
Modalism… well, it just isn’t there. If anything, I think the danger
lies at the opposite end of the spectrum with polytheism.
are also claims that the book promotes goddess-worship. In case you
haven’t read the book, The Shack portrays God the Father as a rather
large African-American woman. And I do think there’s a problem with
this, and we’re going to get to what that is. But goddess-worship? No,
The Shack doesn’t actually teach that God is an African-American woman.
God just chose to reveal Himself to the main character, Mack, that way
in order to tear down some of his stereotypes. I don’t really think the
book promotes goddess-worship.
In fact, I think the book has a
lot to offer, because we do have a lot of stereotypes about God… about
His nature and about how He works… and we do have our ideas about what
it means to be a Christian and about the role of the Church… that just
aren’t Biblical, and The Shack does a pretty good job of helping us
move past them.
Plus, the book is really about experiencing
God’s love in the midst of our pain. So if you’ve experienced a great
loss or have endured what the book calls a Great Sadness… if you can’t
understand why God allowed it to happen, or if you blame God for it…
then this book is actually pretty good therapy.
But there are
some difficulties, and there are things that the book says that can be
taken in different ways. And I think that’s really where the
controversy is really coming from… people misreading and
misinterpreting what the author was trying to say. So I would say this
book is better to read if you already have a pretty good understanding
of what the Bible teaches. But if you’re not that familiar with what
the Bible says, then you might become confused and pull out some rather
strange doctrines. Don’t use The Shack as your source of theology.
let’s talk about this book. Without giving away too much, let me try to
explain the premise. The main character Mack, or Mackenzie Phillips…
and no, I don’t know if he can sing or act – that’s a different
Mackenzie Phillips. This Mackenzie Phillips takes his three youngest
children on a camping trip during which the youngest daughter, Missy,
is abducted and murdered by a serial killer known as the Little
Ladykiller. The police track the killer to an abandoned shack in the
woods where Missy was taken, but her body was never found and the
killer was never caught.
Several years later, after his life has
sunk into The Great Sadness, Mack goes out to check the mailbox one day
where he discovers a note from someone named Papa inviting Mack to join
Him at the shack. Well, Mack’s wife always calls God “Papa”, so Mack
wonders if the note could actually be from God. So after debating it a
while, he decides to go to the Shack to see if it could be true.
he gets there and discovers nothing, but then as he was leaving, the
shack and everything around him is transformed into a beautiful place.
So he goes back inside and he meets God the Father who is portrayed as
this African American woman named Papa, there’s Jesus who is a
middle-eastern carpenter, and there’s the Holy Spirit who is manifested
as an Asian woman named Sarayu. And Mack spends the weekend with them,
with all kinds of conversations and experiences.
There, I don’t
think I gave away too much. There are some powerful scenes in the book,
and I think it does a pretty good job of working through some pretty
tough subjects. So if you want to read the book, go ahead and read it.
But if you do, I want you to be aware that there are some problems,
too. So let’s talk about those…
Problems with The Shack:
It diminishes God
here has been to Mount Rushmore? I lived in South Dakota where Mount
Rushmore is located for a couple of years and had the opportunity to
see it three or four times. You’re familiar with Mount Rushmore… The
hill with faces carved out of rock… the faces of George Washington,
Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Al Gore. Just making sure you’re
paying attention. Theodore Roosevelt, actually. Mount Rushmore is
probably the most magnificent human creation I’ve ever seen. We’re
talking about recognizable faces carved out of rock over the course of
14 years using dynamite, faces that are 60 feet high, 500 feet up,
looking out over a setting of pine, spruce, birch and aspen with the
Black Hills of South Dakota as a backdrop.
Now, I have a piece
of bubble gum here. Could someone who’s been there take this bubble
gum, chew it up real good, and then using your fingers shape it into a
representation of Mount Rushmore for all of us to see and marvel at its
majesty? You say, “Greg, that’s nuts! You can’t make a fair
representation of Mount Rushmore with a piece of bubble gum. It’d be
easier to describe it with words than to do that. As a matter of fact
it would be better to have no image of the Mount Rushmore at all than
to try to portray it in such a limited way.” And that is exactly the
Any attempt at all to portray God using human means
would reduce Him… because we would never ever be able to portray God in
all of His splendor and all of His majesty. The scope and majesty, the
splendor and the character of God could never be captured by an image
of any kind. That’s the point behind the second of the Ten Commandments…
Exodus 20:4-5 (NIV)
shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven
above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow
down to them or worship them…”
Why? Because any idol that we
produce to represent God would fall far short and would reduce God. God
the Father is Spirit. He has no physical form. And no one has ever seen
Him take a physical form. In fact, the Bible warns that anyone who does
look upon God in all His glory will be overcome by the experience and
will die. God warned Moses…
Exodus 33:20 (NLT)
“But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and
no physical representation of God could ever do Him justice, whether
you imagine Him as a grandfatherly old man, a drill sergeant, or a
large African-American woman.
Isaiah 40:18 (NLT)
To whom, then, can we compare God? What image might we find to resemble
So that’s a valid concern about this book… that any physical portrayal
of God automatically reduces Him.
It puts words in God’s mouth
I realize that The Shack is essentially a work of fiction. But it can’t
just be dismissed as fiction, because it does make some pretty bold and
sweeping theological claims. Huge sections of the book are pretty much
preaching at us. And a lot of that is done through the words of God, or
The author has God explain about the nature of the
Trinity, about the implications of the incarnation and the crucifixion,
about what it means to really love and forgive, about all kinds of
things. If there were another character talking, fine. But to put words
into God’s mouth? Wow. That’s pretty dangerous ground. Paul Young had
better be glad we don’t live in Old Testament times…
Deuteronomy 18:20 (NIV)
a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not
commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other
gods, must be put to death."
It seems to me to be a little
presumptuous and a little dangerous to portray God as a character in a
book and to put words in His mouth.
It minimizes community
is a loner in this book. He’s been dissatisfied with the Church, he
doesn’t feel he fits in, and he’s been disillusioned about the whole
idea of Church.
And what happens at the Shack? He’s pretty much
encouraged to go it alone. There’s nothing in story that leads Mack
toward a sense of community with the Body of Christ.
not God’s design at all. His desire is for us to live in a Biblically
functioning community with other believers, supporting each other and
encouraging each other, lifting each other up, praying for each other,
worshipping together, learning together and growing together.
Jesus Himself established the Church…
Matthew 16:16-18 (NLT)
“…Upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell
will not conquer it.”
Jesus seems to say His Church is pretty important…but The Shack seems
to say that it’s not all that important.
I understand that this community of the Church may take different
forms… some are more formal, others are pretty casual. Some are pretty
structured, others are unstructured. Some meet Sunday mornings in
dedicated church buildings, others meet in malls, and even living room
through the week… I think there’s some flexibility there. But we are
designed for community.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)
And let us
consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let
us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but
let us encourage one another…
And the classic passage in Acts chapter 2 when the believers were first
coming together in community…
Acts 2:42-46 (NLT)
the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to
fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and
A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles
performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met
together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their
property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They
worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s
Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity…
Since the very beginning, of the Church, community has been essential.
But The Shack basically omits this, and instead gives the impresses
that everyone’s on their own.
It dismisses God’s justice
I really appreciated the emphasis on the love of God that permeates
throughout the book. I think that may be the greatest contribution of
The Shack. But in doing so, it dismisses the justice of God.
Papa in the book says that He/She doesn’t punish people for sin; they
cure it. And that’s a pretty nice sentiment. Except that the Bible does
teaches that while God is a God of love, He is also a God of justice.
Psalm 94:1-2 (NLT)
Lord, the God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, let your glorious
justice shine forth! Arise, O judge of the earth. Give the proud what
Romans 12:19-20 (NLT)
Dear friends, never take
revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures
say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.
remember, God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of
their sin. And He threatened to do the same to Nineveh. So much for God
not punishing sin. Now, I don’t think God takes pleasure in punishing
sin… I think the book got that right. And He is very patient and
forgiving. But He does punish it, nonetheless.
It denies God’s expectations of us
in the book says that God has no expectations on us… that expectations
are basically chains that we humans place on each other. Really? If
that’s true, what’s the point of the moral laws and principles in the
Bible… both the Old and New Testaments?
Micah 3:8 (NLT)
Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to
do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Ephesians 4:17,21-24 (NLT)
the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for
they are hopelessly confused. … Since you have heard about Jesus and
have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful
nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and
deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.
Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and
Obviously, God does have expectations for us. Now, it’s
true that God does not require us to live up to certain expectations to
earn salvation… Salvation is a free gift of God’s grace that we receive
through faith. We don’t earn it. But as Christ-followers, He does have
expectations for us. He does call us to become more Christlike in our
character and our conduct.
It misrepresents the birth and death of Jesus
trying to reinforce the unity of the Trinity, the book says, “When we
three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became
fully human,” telling us that all three Persons of the Trinity were
incarnate. And then Mack sees wounds from the crucifixion on the hands
of Papa, telling us that God the Father died on the cross.
belief actually has a name… it’s called Patripassianism. And it is
wrong. Only Jesus took on a human nature. God the Father didn’t, and
the Holy Spirit didn’t. It was only Jesus. And only Jesus suffered the
pain of the spikes nailing Him to the cross. God the Father didn’t, and
the Holy Spirit didn’t.
John 1:14 (NLT)
So the Word became
human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and
faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one
and only Son.
“The Word” is a reference to Jesus. God the Father
is also mentioned, but only The Word became flesh. So only He could
have died on the cross. That’s what the Bible teaches.
It recognizes other paths to God
I don’t think this was the intent of the book. So I'm not putting this
on the author. In fact, I think he says just the opposite. But
depending on how you interpret some of the book, it can be understood
to say that there are more ways to God the Father than just Jesus. So
let’s first of all remember what Jesus said…
John 14:6 (NLT)
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come
to the Father except through me.”
claimed to be the One and only way to God the Father; there are no
other ways. But that’s not the impression some people get from The
Shack. For one thing, in the book Jesus is recognized as being the best
way to relate to the Father. But being “best” is not the same as being
Plus, there’s a whole section of the book where Mack
asks Papa about other paths… other religions… and asks if they are
paths to God, too. Well, Papa explains that that’s not necessarily so,
but that God “will travel any road to find you.” Which some people take
to mean that other religions are just different options that are just
The actually intent of the book is to say that God can
find you even in the midst of alcoholism, or an abusive relationship,
or a deceptive religion, or anything else. I’ve heard Paul Young
express that in interviews. So the book is not really saying that there
are other paths to God. But it can give that impression. But the Bible
1 Timothy 2:5 (NLT)
For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and
humanity—the man Christ Jesus.
Acts 4:12 (NLT)
“There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under
heaven by which we must be saved.”
So if you’re looking for another way to God the Father, then you’re
going to be disappointed. Jesus is the only way.
It teaches that faith is not rational
this is something we’ve spent a lot of time addressing here at Sunrise.
We often look at the logical, rational reasons we believe what we
believe. The old movie “Miracle on 34th Street” had someone say, “Faith
is believing when common sense tells you not to.” But that’s a terrible
understanding faith. But that’s not what faith is at all. No, we
understand faith to be examining the evidence, seeing where it points,
and then going in that direction.
Bu this is what The Shack says:
are times when you choose to believe something that would normally be
considered absolutely irrational. It doesn’t mean that it is actually
irrational, but it is surely not rational.”
~ The Shack, page 64
But if it were not rational, then there would be no reason for the
Bible to say…
Isaiah 1:18 (NIV)
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD.
1 Peter 3:15 (NLT)
And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to
and reason are not enemies of faith; they are partners with it.
Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The
Christian parallel would be, “The unexamined faith is not worth
believing.” Faith has its reasons. It is rational.
my review of The Shack. If you’ve already read it or you want to read
it, fine. It does have a lot to offer. But just don’t count on it for
all your theology. Read with your eyes open. The Bible says…
1 Timothy 4:16 (NIV)
Watch your life and doctrine closely.
this is important, because we are bombarded by messages every day. The
media in particular... TV, movies, books... they all present a message.
Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not so good. And that's why you
need to watch your life and doctrine closely. Use a filter in regards
to what you accept as truth. Because if you're not careful, it's easy
to be deceived.
So "The Shack"... my opinion is that it's a
compelling book that deals with some tough subjects and does it pretty
well. It has a lot to offer. But there are a few problems as well, so
be aware of that. Let's pray...