Before I get to this review, I think that some background is necessary. I first heard of The Shack when Kandice came home and asked me to get the book from the library because a friend of hers had recommended it to her. Not long after that, I saw a video on YouTube of Mark Driscoll reviewing it and, as you probably know, it was not a positive review. Another friend of mine from high school also referenced it and that is when I first got wind of what it really was about. When I lashed out, he encouraged me to read it. To be honest with you, I really did not want to read it. I got the book on CD and have listened to it as I work.
I am probably a little more liberal than most when it comes to works of fiction, possibly because I enjoy writing, but maybe more because I know that when someone is to tell a story, it is sometimes necessary to suspend belief in certain things because it lends to the story more. While this story has some of that, it also presents some very troubling theology.
I think it’s important to point out here that my relationship with Christ is, hands down, the most fulfilling relationship that I have ever had. It is very easy for me to romanticize it and perhaps on some levels, that is warranted. Despite those wondrous mountain tops when you feel so close to God, you don’t think your body can handle it, there are also those times when the relationship feels like it is suffering or silent. Those are the times when I cannot rely on my feelings and have to resort to my beliefs. A simple relationship with Christ would never get me through those times, but my beliefs coupled with that relationship sustain me during the most difficult times of my faith. This story presents, I believe, a watered-down version of the gospel that would not sustain a person through difficult times, but offer a pseudo-hope of a pie-in-the-sky relationship that would not stand the test of evil, despite the best intentions of the author. The story itself is quite moving and if it was not for the fact that it presents some very questionable theology, I would probably recommend it. What troubles me is that Young could have changed a few things in his presentation and the story could have been a monument to the glory of God, but instead, it stands in error by promoting humanistic ideas and relative theology.
The first thing that struck me is that Mac’s assumptions about God were wrong from the beginning. God does still speak. The way that the ideas are presented is as if they are the assumptions that most people have about God. This simply is not true. I think that the straw man that Young presents gives permission for him to present some more very questionable theology. Below is a list of some things I saw that are most certainly questionable, if not downright wrong:
1. “The Great Spirit” that the Native Americans worshipped is not the same God that Jews and Christians worship.
2. The belief that sin is a sickness or a disease is clearly presented in this book and it appears that the idea of the idea of a penal substitutionary atonement is rejected. This further evidenced by a quote from the book. God is speaking and he (she) says, “I don’t need to punish people for their sin. Sin is its own punishment…It’s not my purpose to punish it. It’s my joy to cure it.”(I think that I should do an entire blog on this so we won’t go there now. This may require a bit of study so don’t hold your breath for this tomorrow.)
3. This may offend some of my female readers, but I do have a problem with God being presented as a woman. I believe the Bible has specific and theological reasons for presenting God as a Father and to present him any other way is not the way it was intended.
4. This book clearly states that God the Father and Jesus the Son became human (“We” became flesh). This is theologically incorrect. The person of God the Father was not part of the incarnation; why would Jesus pray to God if this was the case? Jesus the Son was the only person in the Trinity involved in the incarnation.
5. The book also states that Jesus’ miracles were not part of His divinity, but rather a result of His humanity. Since Jesus was the only person to live to His full human potential, he was able to perform miracles. This is so far off base that it is very disconcerting.
6. This book seems to ignore the sin issue or at the very least, redefine it. I am not even sure if the book actually mentions the word “sin” or not. The book says, “Humans are not defined by their limitations, but by the intention that I have for them.” I believe this is not biblical. As human beings, we are victims of the fall, born with a sin nature and, I believe, totally depraved in that we have no ability to reach God apart from His grace. This is not a mere limitation; let’s call it what it is: it is sin that separates us from God.
7. God does not limit Himself, as the book says. It is true that in order for Jesus to be human, some of his divine characteristics had to be veiled, but this is far different from limitation.
8. The book argues that Jesus Christ never established a church. At one point, Jesus says, “I do not create institutions.” Later, the book says, “We work within your systems even as we seek to free you from them.” So much for “Upon this rock I will build my church.” Oh wait…Jesus actually said that.
9. A particularly egregious point that this book makes is that it suggests that one can get to God the Father other than through His Son, Jesus Christ. THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY TO GOD—THROUGH HIS SON JESUS CHRIST.
10. The book says that in Jesus, “we are fully human.” This hearkens back to this book’s emphasis on Jesus’ humanity and de-emphasis (perhaps denial?) of Jesus’ divinity. We are fully human the day we are born, complete with the imago dei, but born with a sinful nature. We do not need to aspire to be more human. We need to aspire to be more like Christ.
11. I have defined the essentials as the Apostles Creed with a relational emphasis. This book takes it a step further and says that it is all about relationship. This is simply not true. It argues that one can be a follower of Christ and not be able to believe anything else other than He is in a relationship with Christ. Never mind God. Never mind sin. It’s not about those things. Well…while I do accept that there is a relational emphasis to being a Christ-follower as I wrote above, there is more to it. For me to have a relationship with Christ, I must believe certain things. There are prerequisites, if you will. You cannot just do what you want as long as you are in a relationship with Christ, which brings me to the next point…
12. The book says that we are not under the law. Depending on what one means, this can be true. It is true that we are no longer under the ceremonial or the civil law of the Old Testament, in other words, those ceremonial things that were limited to the tabernacle and the Temple and the civil laws that helped to guard the Israelites from disease and helped to maintain order. However, there are portions of the law that can be classified as moral law. Moral law flows directly from the character of God as revealed by Scripture. Since the character of God does not change because God does not change, this law does not pass away. For the most part, we have a very good synoptic statement of this law in what is commonly referred to as the Ten Commandments. A word of caution here: there is a happy medium here. This is not about following a legalistic and lawful standard that we could never reach anyway. This is about understanding the character of God so that we do not sin and place roadblocks in our way of having a relationship with Christ. There is a relational emphasis here, but it’s not all about relationship.
13. This book furthers a liberal argument that we are all children of God. The Bible speaks directly against this in 1 John when it says, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”
This was a really hard review to do because there is so much in the book that I disagree with and it had so much potential, but in the end, there is just too much here to be ignored. I do not suggest you read it unless you are very secure and firm in your faith. This is a book you should leave off your shelf.