a problem with The Shack

Here is the combination of all four parts of my blog posts about The Shack. If you don’t read all the way down, here is the summary:

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.

The Problem

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?

More Examples

the most obvious rebuttal is the crucifixion of Jesus that I mentioned above. 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.

New Testament/New Covenant examples:

You might be thinking that all that stuff about the Babylonians being prepared by God to wreak His vengeance on Judah as His sword is all just a bunch of Old Testament God meanness that doesn’t really apply in this modern church age of grace and mercy.

You are correct that God is exhibiting extreme patience with humanity right now in order to maximize the number of people who will accept His call to salvation. The problem is that we presume upon this patience and we begin to get a false picture of who God is and how seriously He takes His own holiness and glory. We begin to act as if we are the centerpieces of the universe when, in fact, He is.

Two quick examples from Jesus himself to show you that God in Ezekiel is very much exemplified in Jesus and the current time.

The first is John 9. A man blind from birth is encountered by Jesus and his disciples:

1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

emphasis added.

do you see that? a man was born blind and lived his entire life as an outcast blind beggar. Is that a bad thing? Just happenstance? the result of sin? NO. This man and his parents had to endure a life of blindness in himself and their son so that “the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Does that make you mad? or does that make you celebrate with this born blind man that he was considered to be worthy of such an honor?
your answer to this question will tell you a lot about your feelings toward God.

the second example is the one that John Piper wrote about after the bridge collapse in Minneapolis Minnesota from Luke 13:

1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

and of course you all remember John the Baptist’s message about Jesus, don’t you?

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

the message is clear. God still requires repentance. The kingdom of heaven that Jesus came to initiate is one based upon repentance. Failure to repent in the new covenant still leads to certain destruction at the hand of God’s “winnowing fork”


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.


9 Responses

  1. […] a problem with The Shack […]

  2. […] a problem with The Shack […]

  3. And yet, for whatever reason, many people’s lives are being transformed by this book. Thankfully, God is gracious! I spoke with a key leader in the Chine revivial about proper theology. And maybe this is the difference between the West and East, but those folks in China deeply struggle with theological training because of their high-rapid-growth and persecution, etc.

    In the West we focus so much on being “right” but so little on “acting out scripture.” In the East they seem to do the opposite I guess?

    How do we merge the two?

  4. Hey Chris,

    good to hear from you. ya’ll doing alright?

    I agree that God is indeed gracious and uses faulty tools. hallelujah!

    I don’t know how we get to where we worship God in spirit and truth. I know that is where we need to be though.

  5. Thank you. Too many “Christians” that I personally know have tried to explain this book away. They accept it because it has been accepted by others. They explain that they can indulge in it without being hurt by it. They are wrong. Few want to stand up and be counted when it comes to the defense of biblical truth. I appreciate you doing so. God bless.

  6. […] a problem with The Shack […]

  7. A friend at work told me that he had just read ‘The Shack’ and how interesting it was because it gave a different perspective on the Trinity. My question was “Why do we need a different perspective on the Trinity and how many people are going to be misled by this heresy?” My radar always goes up whenever I hear about the latest ‘Christian’ book that everybody (including the world) is raving about.

  8. Hey Jim, good to hear from you. I hope you guys are doing well.

    popularity makes my radar go off as well.

  9. […] a problem with The Shack […]

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