I read “The Shack” several years ago. I knew many Christians were applauding the book, and that others had concerns about its theology. When a friend asked my opinion, I agreed to read a borrowed copy.
In the story, the main character reels from the aftermath of a horrific personal tragedy after which he experiences a personal encounter with God—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit–each one represented in a different human body. To be sure, the tragic story is deeply heartrending; no one argues against this truth. And the personal longing in such events for answers from God is as natural as breathing. However, if a theologically flawed message hitches a ride onto an emotionally-charged story, the dangerous message can easily slither straight into the reader’s unsuspecting heart. This is the issue I see in The Shack.
The Danger of Idolatry
The Majesty of all creation – the infinite, eternal, self-existent, all-knowing, all-powerful, holy, holy, holy God Most High who dwells in eternal unapproachable Light – cannot be reduced to a mental image, much less an image on a screen.
Once we create an image of the Almighty God that we can wrap our arms around, we have created a god entirely stripped of majesty, mystery, and infinite magnitude. We have created an idol. The apostle Paul warns, “For although they knew God, they did not honor Him … but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened … exchang[ing] the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man …” (Romans 1:21-23).
Wrong theology always leads to idolatry – and it all starts in the mind.
Using allegory is a beautiful way to capture complex truths (such as in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia), but the key word is Truth. To represent the holy triune God as human is not only unbiblical (in the Bible, only God the Son becomes incarnate), much of what the dialogue suggests about God is also in direct opposition to Scripture (for a brief but excellent article on this topic, I recommend Hank Hanegraaff’s “How Should a Christian Think about The Shack?” For a more in-depth review, I recommend the article by R. Albert Mohler Jr.) Many have claimed that the book has drawn them closer to God, but which god?
Thinking Accurately About God
As moral beings accountable to God, we each have a responsibility to think accurately about God. This includes guarding our hearts and minds from anything that debases the truth of what God has revealed to us about Himself.
Scripture commands us, “be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:23-24)
Being renewed in the “likeness of God” here refers to how we think as one who has “put on the new self [having a new spirit]” (2 Corinthians 5:17). How we think will in turn determine how we act.
God, in His love and kindness, has provided to us some small measure of revelation as to Who and what He is like and this encompasses all that we presently need to know about Him. And in case we haven’t yet studied or grasped what He says about Who He is, He also tells us plainly what He is not. “You thought that the I AM was one like yourself, but now I rebuke you …” (Psalm 50:21). Apparently, God finds the idea of us thinking that He is like ourselves utterly appalling. And why shouldn’t He? The Bible teaches that we are made in His image, not the other way around. God is Spirit (John 4:24), and we are to “worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” (Hebrews 12:28-29; Deuteronomy 4:24).
This does not mean, however, that God is not also personal, intimate, loving, tender, merciful – He is all of these and so much more! He created us so that we could experience a profoundly intimate relationship with Himself (1 John 4:10, 19; Leviticus 26:12). To attempt to rightly address the theological dangers in the book/movie does not negate these other truths the story attempts to convey about God, such as His love, mercy, and tenderness – all of which are clearly revealed in countless ways to all kinds of people throughout Scripture. (I can’t wait to share with you my new Bible study on the incredible story of Hagar being released by Leafwood/ACU Press in October 2017. Talk about God’s love and intimacy in the midst of heartache and tragedy! )
Now, back to The Shack and its theology.
Some have proposed that to watch the movie would be helpful to provide an open door for theological discussions. While God most certainly can use anything to accomplish His purposes, applying the same logic would also tell us that watching 50 Shades of Grey may open a door for a discussion about godly relationships. Therefore, even when we have the best of intentions, we need to humbly assess ourselves to ensure our decisions are aligned with God’s Spirit and to remember that at times, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.“ (Proverbs 14:12).
Nevertheless, we know that even secular movies can inspire unbelievers to seek the Truth – and for this I rejoice! And if you find that God is using your attendance at the movie to share Truth, I pray something in this article is helpful in that endeavor. However, for me, my personal convictions prevent me from supporting the movie.
There are times when God may call His servants (such as pastors) to be informed of false teaching in order to expose it and protect those whom God has entrusted to their care. For most, however, we would be wise to heed Scripture’s warning, “watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” And lest we think we are immune, Scripture also reminds us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked …” (Galatians 6:1; Jeremiah 17:9).
God, in His grace, has revealed Himself to us on some small level for our sake through creation, His Word, and ultimately through the life of His Son. Nevertheless, He is altogether above and beyond any mental conception we can possibly conceive of Him. In the little yet powerful book, “Knowledge of the Holy,” A.W. Tozer writes,
“Among the sins to which the human heart is prone, hardly any other is more hateful to God than idolatry, for idolatry is at bottom a libel on His character. The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is—in itself a monstrous sin—and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness.”
(For a short, but excellent article discussing the issue of idolatry in the movie, I recommend Tim Challies’ “Why I Wont Be Seeing or Reviewing the Shack”)
God Needs No Defenders
Whether or not you decide to see the movie is between you and God; however, The Great I AM needs no defenders.
Rather, as His children we are called to be His witnesses – witnesses of the wonderful truth: God is Holy. God is infinite. God is Spirit – and so much more – and “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son … who gave himself as a ransom for all. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.” (Galatians 4:4, 1 Timothy 2:6) Praise the Lord!
As His witnesses, may we each have the mind of Christ, who, though He was existent from eternity past and though He was “ … in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11)
When Jesus, the eternally existent Son of God, temporarily entered human history wrapped in human flesh to save His creatures from their sin, He “took the form of a servant.” Here we are reminded once again that God is Creator; we are His creatures. God is King; we are His servants. While I cannot wait for the Day when we will see Jesus “face to face,” God in all His glory dwells forever in unapproachable Light (Revelation 2; 1 Timothy 6:15-16).
If you are still on the fence as to whether you should see The Shack, your loving Father in Heaven is ready to lead and guide you as you humbly come before Him. Open His Word and your heart to Him and He will lead you on the right path.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” (Proverbs 3:5-7)
If you liked this post, you may also like my review of the movie Young Messiah.