more reviews of The Shack

some big guns have turned their attention to Wm P. Young’s book, The Shack. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian has read it and Dr. Al Mohler is concerned about the discernment ability of modern evangelicals in light of the fact that this book is so popular among them.

If you remember my main concern with the book was its false portrayal of God.

my summary is:

I am afraid that if someone reads the Shack and falls in love with Papa, then all they have fallen in love with is a fictional African American woman who likes to cook and give hugs. They have not been led to God. They have not fallen in love with the biblical Jesus.
They have instead been distracted by an anthropomorphic three headed idol created by Wm. Paul Young.

Therefore, I was pleased to see Tim Keller say:

But here is my main problem with the book. Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible. In the prophets the reader will find a God who is constantly condemning and vowing judgment on his enemies, while the Persons of the Triune-God of The Shack repeatedly deny that sin is any offense to them. The reader of Psalm 119 is filled with delight at God’s statutes, decrees, and laws, yet the God of The Shack insists that he doesn’t give us any rules or even have any expectations of human beings. All he wants is relationship. The reader of the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Isaiah will learn that the holiness of God makes his immediate presence dangerous or fatal to us. Someone may counter (as Young seems to do, on p.192) that because of Jesus, God is now only a God of love, making all talk of holiness, wrath, and law obsolete. But when John, one of Jesus’ closest friends, long after the crucifixion sees the risen Christ in person on the isle of Patmos, John ‘fell at his feet as dead.’ (Rev.1:17.) The Shack effectively deconstructs the holiness and transcendence of God. It is simply not there. In its place is unconditional love, period. The God of The Shack has none of the balance and complexity of the Biblical God. Half a God is not God at all.

I also very much enjoyed Dr. Mohler’s take. He points out the numerous serious theological concerns and wonders why so many people fail to see how the book contradicts Biblical theology.

here are some of the problems but be sure to read the whole article for others:

The relationship of the Father to the Son, revealed in a text like John 17, is rejected in favor of an absolute equality of authority among the persons of the Trinity. “Papa” explains that “we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity.” In one of the most bizarre paragraphs of the book, Jesus tells Mack: “Papa is as much submitted to me as I am to him, or Sarayu to me, or Papa to her. Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.”

The theorized submission of the Trinity to a human being — or to all human beings — is a theological innovation of the most extreme and dangerous sort. The essence of idolatry is self-worship, and this notion of the Trinity submitted (in any sense) to humanity is inescapably idolatrous.

The most controversial aspects of The Shack’s message have revolved around questions of universalism, universal redemption, and ultimate reconciliation. Jesus tells Mack: “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions.” Jesus adds, “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, into my brothers and sisters, my Beloved.”

Mack then asks the obvious question — do all roads lead to Christ? Jesus responds, “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.”

Given the context, it is impossible not to draw essentially universalistic or inclusivistic conclusions about Young’s meaning. “Papa” chides Mack that he is now reconciled to the whole world. Mack retorts, “The whole world? You mean those who believe in you, right?” “Papa” responds, “The whole world, Mack.”

emphasis added.

I think the bit that I bolded above is why the book is so popular. self love and self worship has been honed to a fine art in our culture including our church culture. we like hearing ourselves say to each other “you’re good enough, you’re smart enough and doggone it, people like you.”

We very much would like to believe that God believes the same thing about us that we believe about ourselves.


another review of The Shack

Trevin Wax has the same problem with The Shack that I do. I really like his approach to the “it’s just fiction” argument.

Check this out:

Let’s say you meet an author who wants to use your grandparents as the main characters in a novel. The author tells you that the narrative will be fictional, but that your grandparents will have the starring roles. Sounds great!you think.

But when the manuscript arrives in your hands, you discover that the story does not accurately represent the personalities of your grandparents. The relationship between them is all wrong too. Grandma berates Grandpa. Early on, they run off and elope (which is totally out of character). At one point, they contemplate divorce.

When you complain, the author responds, “Remember? I told you it would be fictional.”

“Yes,” you say, somewhat exasperated, “I knew the story would be fictional, but I thought you would get my grandparents right. The grandparents in your story aren’t anything like my grandparents.”

“Who cares?” the author responds. “It’s a work of fiction.”

“Well, I care,” you say, “because people will put down this book thinking that my grandparents were like the way you portrayed them.”

My biggest problem with The Shack is its portrayal of God. I understand that the book is a work of fiction, not a theological treatise, and therefore should be treated as fiction. But the main characters are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are actual Persons. To portray God in a manner inconsistent with his revelation to us in Scripture (and primarily in Jesus) is to misrepresent living Persons.

When people put down The Shack, they will not have a better understanding of the Trinity (despite the glowing blurbs on the back cover). They will probably have a more distorted view of God in three Persons.

What he says nicely is exactly what I said not nearly as graciously.

I am afraid that if someone reads the Shack and falls in love with Papa, then all they have fallen in love with is a fictional African American woman who likes to cook and give hugs. They have not been led to God. They have not fallen in love with the biblical Jesus.
They have instead been distracted by an anthropomorphic three headed idol created by Wm. Paul Young.

Do not read The Shack and think that you have gained insight into the Trinity as it is portrayed in Scripture.

Trevin goes on to point out some other problems with the book as well as things it does well. Definitely worth a read.

HT to Justin Taylor.

Do people have free will?

Andrew Naselli takes a long look at the question of free will over here. Fascinating stuff. take some time this weekend to explore it.

Here is the introduction to get you started:

Non-Christians and Christians alike often give the same answer to difficult questions like these: Why did God allow sin in the first place? Why does God save some people and not others? Why does God send people to hell? Why can living like a Christian be so frustrating? The immediate solution often suggested is simple: “free will.” To many people, it’s a satisfying answer: “Oh, that makes sense. Yeah, God does x because he has to preserve my free will. Yeah, OK. Next question.” I’d like to suggest that we re-think this important issue. 

The title of this short essay is a question: “Do We Have a Free Will?” That question may be jarring to you because it asks if something exists that most people assume exists. My short answer to that question is that it depends on what you mean by “free.” The longer answer is the rest of this essay.

ok and just because I can’t let it go, here is another section to tease you over there for all of it.

Is libertarian free will the reason for the origin of sin?

Short answer: No. 

When addressing this hugely difficult question, it is helpful to consider the following: 
1.  God is not the author or agent of evil, and he is not culpable for evil. 

2.  Satan is not God’s equal opposite (i.e., a God-versus-Satan dualism). 

3.  God, who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, ordained that sin would enter his universe. (See the short essay in this series entitled “How Could a Good God Allow Suffering and Evil?”) God sovereignly works through secondary causes (such as humans) such that he is not culpable for evil but the secondary causes are. 

4.  Satan and then Adam and Eve sinned because they wanted to sin, and they are morally responsible to God for it. (The ability of humans to sin has four historical stages. First, Adam and Eve were initially able to sin. Second, after their fall, all unregenerate humans [i.e., those who are spiritually dead] are not able not to sin. Third, regenerate humans [i.e., those whom God has given spiritual life] are able not to sin. Fourth, glorified regenerate humans are not able to sin.) 

5.  Tension remains because compatibilists cannot explain exactly how God can ordain all things without being the author or agent of evil. It is at places like that that your head will start spinning if you try to put all the puzzle pieces together (we don’t have all the pieces!). Rather than deny explicit statements of Scripture that support compatibilism, a far better option is to acknowledge that this is a mystery that we finite and fallen humans simply cannot comprehend exhaustively.

6.  There is no easy answer to explaining why God ordained the origin of sin in the first place. John Piper offers a helpful pastoral perspective in Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008). (This is available online for free as a PDF: See esp. pp. 39-64.) Why doesn’t God simply wipe out Satan? Piper concludes, “The ultimate answer . . . is that ‘all things were created through [Christ] and for [Christ]’ (Col. 1:16). God foresaw all that Satan would do if he created Satan and permitted him to rebel. In choosing to create him, he was choosing to fold all of that evil into his purpose for creation. That purpose for creation was the glory of his Son. All things, including Satan and all his followers, were created with this in view” (p. 48).

emphasis added.

I read Spectacular Sins earlier this year. it was really very good indeed.

Now it is on sale for 5.00

Do yourself a favor, and if this stuff interests you, spend five dollars on Spectacular Sins and read it too. Then you will see why I was so offended by Wm Paul Young on page 165 of The Shack.

Hat tip to Challies who says this one is not for skimming so set aside a few minutes to read it.

the Shack part IV (conclusion)

this is the wrap up of my series on The Shack. Part I, Part II and Part III are intended to convey to you that God is God.

The reason that I am so exercised about this book is simple. The god portrayed in this book is not the God of the bible. Papa is not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Papa is not the God who delivered the Israelites from Pharoah. Jesus in the Shack is not that Jesus preached about by John the Baptist. Jesus in the Shack is not the Jesus who taught that unless we all repent we will all likewise perish.

I am afraid that if someone reads the Shack and falls in love with Papa, then all they have fallen in love with is a fictional African American woman who likes to cook and give hugs. They have not been led to God. They have not fallen in love with the biblical Jesus.

They have instead been distracted by an anthropomorphic three headed idol created by W. Paul Young.

God does love you. He loved you enough to send His only Son to die on your behalf and in your place. He planned for this rescue and reconciliation from before the foundation of the world.

The God who would do that for us when we had nothing to offer Him back is a God of great love and mercy.

But here’s the thing that is glossed over, ignored, and contradicted by the Shack repeatedly. God is also holy. God is also righteous. God is concerned foremost with His glory. God requires repentance of us in order to be restored into fellowship with Him.

Failure to repent and confess Jesus as Lord will result in perishing. This truth makes the gift of salvation even more glorious and that is why the Shack is so incredibly bad. If we aren’t that bad, then salvation means less. If God won’t really destroy us then we don’t really need to be saved.

the Shack part II

Saturday, I wrote the first part of my rebuttal to this statement spoken by “Sophia” the distillation of God’s wisdom on page 165 of the Shack:

“But I still don’t understand why Missy had to die.”

“She didn’t have to, Mackenzie. This was no plan of Papa’s. Papa has never needed evil to accomplish his good purposes. It is you humans who have embraced evil and Papa has responded with goodness. What happened to Missy was the work of evil and no one in your world is immune from it.”

emphasis added.

the most obvious rebuttal is the crucifixion of Jesus that I mentioned in my last post. Check out this list of prophecies fulfilled by that event.

There are many other examples in scripture of God acting to further His glory in ways that human beings might consider to be evil.

Look at Habakkuk for instance. He wrote sometime during King Josiah’s reign and wondered why God was letting evil prosper and what God was going to do about it. God’s answer is amazing:

5 “Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.
6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
that bitter and hasty nation
who march through the breadth of the earth,
to seize dwellings not their own.

emphasis added.

“I am raising up the Chaldeans.” God was preparing the Babylonians to be His instrument of justice on the evil that was so bothersome to Habakkuk. Habakkuk’s response was disbelief and further questions, but at the end, he accepts that God is in charge and that he will trust God:

16 I hear, and my body trembles;
my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us.

Habakkuk Rejoices in the LORD

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.

Later, Ezekiel chronicles the actions of God in fulfilling God’s promise to Habakkuk that He would punish Judah with the Babylonians. In chapter 21, God refers to Nebuchadnezzer and the Babylonians as “My Sword.”

1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuaries.[b] Prophesy against the land of Israel 3and say to the land of Israel, Thus says the LORD: Behold, I am against you and will draw my sword from its sheath and will cut off from you both righteous and wicked. 4 Because I will cut off from you both righteous and wicked, therefore my sword shall be drawn from its sheath against all flesh from south to north. 5 And all flesh shall know that I am the LORD. I have drawn my sword from its sheath; it shall not be sheathed again.

(Or shall we rejoice? You have despised the rod, my son, with everything of wood.) 11 So the sword is given to be polished, that it may be grasped in the hand. It is sharpened and polished(V) to be given into the hand of the slayer. 12 Cry out and wail, son of man, for it is against my people. It is against all the princes of Israel. They are delivered over to the sword with my people. Strike therefore upon your thigh. 13 For it will not be a testing—what could it do if you despise the rod?” declares the Lord GOD.

14″As for you, son of man, prophesy. Clap your hands and let the sword come down twice, yes, three times, the sword for those to be slain. It is the sword for the great slaughter, which surrounds them, 15 that their hearts may melt, and many stumble. At all their gates I have given the glittering sword. Ah, it is made like lightning; it is taken up for slaughter. 16 Cut sharply to the right; set yourself to the left, wherever your face is directed. 17 I also will clap my hands, and I will satisfy my fury; I the LORD have spoken.”

Most of us would agree that slaughter and captivity are evil things. passages like this one in Ezekiel give your ordinary run of the mill 21st Century American Christian extreme heartburn.

The point is that God does whatever He does for His glory and for His purposes. Just because we don’t like it, doesn’t make it less so.

the Shack part I

I am reading the Shack. It took all the way to page 165 (out of 246) before I got completely angry. Up to that time I was reading at a relatively low grade frustration level. The prose was juvenile. the story was wooden. The theology was wrong. The emphasis was on Mack instead of God. All frustrating things.

But on page 165 Mr. Young finally made me mad. Here is what appears there, beginning at the bottom of 164 for some context:

“For love. He chose the way of the cross where mercy triumphs over justice because of love. Would you instead prefer he’d chosen justice for everyone? Do you want justice, ‘Dear Judge’?” and she smiled as she said it.

“No, I don’t,” he said as he lowered his head. “Not for me, and not for my children.”

She waited.

“But I still don’t understand why Missy had to die.”

“She didn’t have to, Mackenzie. This was no plan of Papa’s. Papa has never needed evil to accomplish his good purposes. It is you humans who have embraced evil and Papa has responded with goodness. What happened to Missy was the work of evil and no one in your world is immune from it.”

emphasis added.

The “She” above is Sophia, who is the distillation of God’s wisdom like Solomon portrayed in Proverbs.

Now just think one brief minute about what we know about God from the scripture. Revelation 13:8 says that there is a book written before the foundation of the world that is known as the book of the slain Lamb. It seems fairly obvious to me that God “needed” “planned” for some evil to occur that would result in the propitiatory sacrifice of His Son for the reconciliation of the folks whose names were written in that book.

The idea that God didn’t plan for things we don’t like is deeply offensive.

The thing about it is that this statement that Mr. Young puts in the mouth of God’s distillation of wisdom undercuts the whole central message of the book up to that point.

The Godhead was up to then taking turns convincing Mack that he had no right to sit in judgement of God’s actions or others. The author then does exactly what he is writing a book to argue against. He sits in judgment of God and decides that God would never plan or need what the author and Mackenzie agree to be evil. how arrogant is that? how stupid? how blasphemous?

Don’t get me started.

For a contrast between this kind of theology and the Bible’s portrayal of God see this post of mine regarding two approaches to the bridge collapse in minneapolis minnesota.

W. Paul Young is trying to do the same thing that Roger Olson wants to do which is to help God get off the hook for bad things that happen in the world that we humans don’t like.


And God says, “Pray because sometimes I can intervene to stop innocent suffering when people pray; that’s one of my self-limitations. I don’t want to do it all myself; I want your involvement and partnership in making this a better world.”
It’s a different picture of God than most conservative Christians grew up with, but it’s the only one (so far as I can tell) that relieves God of responsibility for sin and evil and disaster and calamity.

emphasis added.

The Bible:

5 I am the LORD, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the LORD, and there is no other.
7 I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the LORD, who does all these things.

emphasis added.

So the question is, do we take God at His word or not? Do we think it is our job to “relieve God of responsibility” for things that happen to us that we don’t like?

strong words from ToddonGod

Todd Burus has written a two part “personal” review of the Shack. He pulls no punches on either the theology or the literary style of the book. Entertaining stuff. Now I think that I will have to break down and read it myself.

Here is part 1 where Todd addresses the book as literature.

for example:

So what did I think? Well, just to get it out of the way now, I think as a piece of literature this book was horrible. The author lacks all understanding of subtlety, choosing instead to beat you over the head with certain images he deems important and completely missing the concept of foreshadowing. Things like God’s dislike of Mack’s gun (cf. p.90) or the scars on God the Father’s wrists (cf. p.97) are repeated shamelessly and with the same words, making it perfectly obvious that the author wanted to make a point through them. And even if you were interested in what was going to happen next, there never was much anticipation because the author continually short-circuited himself by giving way too much information or using “suspenseful” sentences eerily reminiscent of the ones my 8-year old daughter uses in her 2nd grade stories about evil elves.

and here is part 2 where Todd addresses the theology.

for example:

Next, consider the other image which Young beats to death in the book, that being the idea that both Jesus AND God the Father bear the scars from the cross. There are two things wrong with this. First, it is inaccurate. It did not scar the Father to have his Son sacrificed. In fact, it was the opposite. Isaiah 53.10 says, “It was the will of the Lord (Father) to crush him (the Son).” The Father was not tortured in doing this; through the sacrifice of his son, God was propitiated, which means that his righteous anger was satisfied. God was satisified by the death of his son. Obviously, this is not a popular message in the era of belief in the “divine child abuse” theory of the atonement, but it is Scriptural nonetheless.

The second reason why depicting scars on the Father and the Son is inaccurate is because this, along with the statement on page 101 that the whole Trinity made itself fully human and limited in the incarnation, advances an old, old, old heresy known as Sabellianism, or modalism. This is the teaching that God exists in different modes as experienced by the believer. It also historically teaches that God the Father suffered on the cross. This heresy has been out of vogue for at least a good millenium and a half, but apparently is receiving a revival in the popular appeal of this book. As a note, if a heresy is so false that it goes dormant for 1500 years, it is probably a good indication that it really is wrong. Yet not only does Young present it, he goes back to it again and again by constantly retelling that the character of God the Father has scars on his wrists like Jesus.

Go read all of both parts linked above. Very entertaining.

I just can’t resist posting the conclusion as well. Sorry Todd.

Anyways, I’ll close with four words: don’t buy the hype. This is not a life changing book, unless of course you read it and embrace all that it teaches, in which case you have just become a heretic. Maybe that is strong language, but when I see a wolf like this coming in and devouring sheep the way it has I can find no better word. Well, maybe one: pathetic. Try reading the Bible instead. It has a lot more to say than this glorified dollar bin crap.

that is some good stuff right there.