Saturday, April 18, 2009

By Renee Davies

For as long as the Christian church has existed there has been a spirit of legalism and all forms of ugliness amongst its members in the name of Jesus Christ. Not unlike the Pharisees in Jesus' day, we find men and women in our churches today who create rules by which others must live in order to be "accepted" as true believers. Abiding by these rules though, has little to do with true holiness and everything to do with mere appearances.

Far on the other side of the Christian spectrum and maybe somewhere in-between are those who have grown weary of the legal fetters associated with Christian churches, and who live spiritually free with an attitude of open-mindedness. Their philosophy's cardinal precept is tolerance. It is perhaps amongst this group that the book, The Shack, has found some of its truest Christian fans.

Endorsements from notable theologians and celebrities for this book say that it ushers the reader directly into the heart and nature of god; a masterpiece along the lines of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. One thing is certain, The Shack has managed to polarize two sets of Christians - those who love the book and those who hate it. The question is, why if a group of good Christians love the book does another group of good Christians hate it? How is it possible? Could it be that one group is more legal and traditional while the other is more free and tolerant?

Perhaps the real question is - on what do Christians base their fundamental beliefs? If in fact the very basis of a Christian's faith is based on Judeo-Christian scriptures, then a careful understanding of who these scriptures say God is, what these scriptures say about His character, should determine whether or not The Shack's allegory aligns itself with true Christian morality. If it doesn't, if the book teaches characteristics of a god other than the one we find in Judeo-Christian scriptures, then it has to be rejected. It's a matter of truth - and while the world may say that truth is relative, those who dare call themselves Christians are not given the option to flex on the character of God, Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit.

Had this book been an allegory of Buddha, Buddhists and Buddhism, a similar comparison could have been made against Buddhist scriptures but William Young is telling a story about the nature of the Christian God, and to deviate from the true character of the Christian God is to lead people astray. "Not so!" some might decry. They might insist that the whole point of the book is to draw people closer to God. But you cannot draw people to the One True God by changing His character and making Him someone other than He really is. Doing so would be deception. Scriptures tell us:

“Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you’; Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” Matthew 7:22-23

Clearly this passage describes people who were certain they believed in God but were turned away by Jesus Christ Himself. Is it possible that many who consider themselves Christians today have no sound knowledge of who God truly is and will not be recognized by Him on the last day? It is the Christian's duty to know scripture and to correct any fallacy being pawned off as some kind of truth or wisdom. Not to do so could bring one's salvation and the salvation of many others into serious doubt.

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 It behooves Christians to know exactly who Jesus said He was, how He represented God, what He commanded His followers to do, and why His sacrificial death was necessary for our salvation. Anything less is not true or intimate knowledge of the One who will either recognize us or not in Heaven.

Following is a list of concepts from The Shack against scripture references and comments, comparing one to the other. You, the reader, be the judge as to whether or not The Shack maintains the veracity of Christian scriptures, the integrity of God's character - the very essentials for our salvation.

Page 102 - Unless God had someone to love, then He would not be capable of love. So He created Jesus.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” John 1:1,2 God did not create Jesus in order to learn how to love. According to this particular verse in the book of John, the term Word is synonymous with Jesus Christ. Jesus is God – Supreme, Independent, Eternal – definitely not a creature. Jesus came as a man into the world He Himself created.

“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him.” 1 Jn 4:16. God does not need to create love objects in order to learn how to love – rather, He created people because He is love.

Page 112 - God is called El ouisa (sp?) which, according to the author, means "Ground of All Beings" and defined as a god who dwells in, around, and through all things.

The term Ground of All Beings is a human term coined by a German reformed theologian, Paul Tillich, “who would not use personal words to talk about God, not because he believed God to be impersonal, but because the God he sought to speak about was so far beyond the categories of the personal that he found personal words offensively inadequate.” (John Shelby Spong–The Bishop’s Voice)

Tillich’s theory which Moore uses in The Shack flies in the face of the many names God has given by which He chooses to be known. Refusing to acknowledge the names of God is to be ignorant of who He is and what He stands for in relation to us.

God is worthy to be called by His names – these are His names:

ELOHIM-Genesis 1:1, Psalm 19:1 "God" - God's power and might.
ADONAI - Malachi 1:6 "Lord", a reference to the Lordship of God.
JEHOVAH--YAHWEH-Genesis 2:4 a reference to God's divine salvation.
JEHOVAH-MACCADDESHEM-Exodus 31:13 "The Lord thy sanctifier"
JEHOVAH-ROHI-Psalm 23:1 "The Lord my shepherd"
JEHOVAH-SHAMMAH-Ezekiel 48:35 "The Lord who is present"
JEHOVAH-RAPHA-Exodus 15:26 "The Lord our healer"
JEHOVAH-TSIDKENU-Jeremiah 23:6 "The Lord our righteousness"
JEHOVAH-JIREH-Genesis 22:13-14 "The Lord will provide"
JEHOVAH-NISSI-Exodus 17:15 "The Lord our banner"
JEHOVAH-SHALOM-Judges 6:24 "The Lord is peace"
JEHOVAH-SABBAOTH-Isaiah 6:1-3 "The Lord of Hosts"
EL-ELYON-Genesis 14:17-20,Isaiah 14:13-14 "The most high God"
EL-ROI -Genesis 16:13 "The strong one who sees"
EL-SHADDAI-Gen. 17:1,Psalm 91:1 "The God of the mountains, God Almighty"
EL-OLAM-Isaiah 40:28-31 "The everlasting God"

Page 112 - He dwells in, around and through all things.

While we were made in God's likeness (Genesis 1:27) - spiritual and rational beings - God does not dwell in, around and through all things. Were God to dwell in all things today, there would be no sin, no hatred, no deaths. Genesis 3:1-5 recounts the fall of man. It was this event in human history that separated a perfect creature from its perfect creator. Since then, God has reached out to sinful humanity in history, and His greatest show of love was by reaching out to us through the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus says in Revelations 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him and he with me." But unless a person responds to Jesus Christ, God does not and will not dwell in and through that person. God allows people their free will.”

Page 115-116 - The author describes a type of flying in which the body lifts off the ground, views the world from the heights and experiences an exhilarating adventure.

1. A common practice in transcendental meditation called yogic flying, it is rooted in Hinduism with a background in ancient paganism where nature, animals, humanity are represented by various gods and goddesses.

Page 120 - God says He doesn't need to punish us.

1. “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” Prov. 3:11

2. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

Page 122 - 123 - God, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit have no concept of final authority - God says that hierarchy is a waste and that humans have been seduced by a preoccupation with authority.

1. Jesus Christ did have a concept of hierarchy – He submitted Himself to the will of God the Father: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Philippians 2:5-7

2. In Luke 20:25, Jesus tells us to pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to pay to God what belongs to God.

3. Romans 13:1 tells us that “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”

4. John 10:17,18 says “The reason my Father loves is that I lay down my life only to take it up again. No one takes it from me but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my father.” Jesus submits to the Father’s final authority.

Page 145 – God (Papa) submitted to Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

1. God the Father did not submit to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit. While they are the Holy Trinity, “God’s supreme expression of holiness is seen in sending His Son to die on the cross (Romans 8:3-4) - to pay for the enormity of our sins. It was the only price that could satisfy His holiness.” (John MacArthur). Jesus Christ submits to God the Father and never vice versa.

Page 148 - Jesus tells Mack that time is on his side.

1. 1 Corinthians 7:29 “What I mean brother is that the time is short.”

2. 2 Corinthians 6:2 b “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

3. 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4 “For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brother, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.”

Page 172 – Our dream life is just as real as reality.

1. For The Shack to suggest that our dream life is just as real as reality is to make truth subjective to our own personal experiences. The problem with this philosophy is that if truth is subjective, if reality is determined by our own senses, intuitions, dreams, and interpretations, then truth is relative to each individual which makes the Word of God irrelevant.

Page 182 – Those who love God come from every system that exists, including Buddhism and Islam.

1. Buddhists believe in many gods – Jesus Christ is not one of them.

2. Muslims believe in one God- Allah – they do not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; He is but a prophet.

3. Jesus Christ said: “I am the way, the Truth and the Life; no man comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

4. Acts 4:12 says that “Salvation is found in no one else [but Jesus Christ], for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Page 182 – Jesus will travel any road to find you.

1. Jesus said “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13

Page 184 – God does not want our sorrow.

1. “For Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation which brings no regret. But the sorrow of this world works death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10

Page 188 – God (Papa) calls men idiots.

1. “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, Raca, is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:22

Page 192 – Jesus’ death reconciles God to man.

1. This should read instead that Jesus’ death reconciles man to God. God is the reconciler while man is the reconciled.

2. Colossians 1:20: “Through the Son, God also reconciled all things to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, thereby making peace through the blood of his cross.”


The most glaring question for some after reading this book is why did the author need to affix a Christian label to a story that so obviously departs from Christian theology? A popular response has been that spirituality evolves – The Shack is just one example of that evolution – and that Christianity needs to keep in step. But scriptures tell us that God never changes (Hebrews 13:8), and that heaven and earth will pass away but His word will never pass (Matthew 24:35). If God as the name implies, is perfect, there is no need and no room for Him or His message to change.

It’s not a question of intolerance for Christians to resist this book; it’s a question of incompatibility. The entire Christian message centers on a God whose holiness is so great, so powerful, so perfect, that a fallen humanity cannot stand in His presence. God’s holiness is incompatible with humanity’s fallen nature. The Shack tells a story of a god who lowers his standards whereas Christianity tells the story of a God who calls humanity to lift their standards to meet His through faith in Jesus Christ.

It is this perfect God who steps into time in the person of Jesus Christ, suffers an excruciating death on a cross, crucifying once and for all the effects of sin, and dies only to rise again on the third day as He promised He would. Why? Why such a terrible death and what for? So that the sinful nature that humanity can never shake, that separates us from such a holy God whose standards we can never attain, can be abolished by His death and resurrection and through our faith in His work on the cross. Any book that claims to speak on God’s behalf, through allegory or otherwise, and yet minimizes both God’s holiness and our utter sinfulness is a book by any other name than Christian.


  1. Colin gave me the link to your post. Well done. You did a great job referencing quotes. I can tell you are a Bernard!

  2. C'est vrai, Ren. This was excellent!! I have the book at home though I hadn't read it yet.

    I felt the same uneasiness as I had with The Purpose Driven Life which I also have not read.

    Thanks for clarifying this.

  3. Great review. On the money, Renee. This is not a man centered life to live, as much as the culture insists. We are not Ayn Rand, as much as humanity tries to extricate personal responsibility from God's sight.

    My only concern is that the Rev. 3:20 is not a verse, in its context, that refers to man's free will. And further, I do have a problem with 'free will'. Free choice, to me, is much better. Personal opinion, on the definition, of course.

  4. Thanks Gene. I think it's very reasonable to make the inference from Revelations 3:20 that God's presence in a person's life is conditional on that person opening up the proverbial door. I could have used another term than free will - but I stand on the other side of the salvation argument with the Wesleyans. I'm more prone to believe that when God said He "so loved the world...that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life", He actually meant the "world" and "whoever", not just the "elect". It's a surviving paradox and certainly not one I was trying to treat in this article. Thanks again!

  5. Hey Renee, just read your comment on MJ's service at Just wanted to say that I agree with you. I've heard way too many Christians saying there was no fruit, so he's burning in hell. "He's not king anymore," I've heard too. And that kind of language makes me a little ill. Only the Lord knows. Did the theif on the cross have fruit visible to humans?? Thanks for posting that comment...

  6. Rene, I read the book and liked it you might go to and listen to his interview with Young, and his later interview with Driscoll who is rabidly against the book. But your critique was phenomenal.

  7. Hi Rene, I guess I'll just comment here since I didn't see a spot under your CS Lewis posting. I'm a little surprised you being a writer that you would not give Young a little literary freedom after all Lewis was a little out there himself. The one thing I do appreciate about your critique of the shack is your thoughtfulness, only you know if you read it with an eye to look for every possible aberration. I don't sense the sneering contempt that I have heard and read from others some never even read the book. Although I know you will not change you're position think about going to he is a Professor at Reformed Theological Seminary and a friend of RC Sproul and JI Packer. Listen to his interview with Young the author of the Shack and also look for the interview with Mark Driscol, Driscol has been interviewed by Brown a few times so you'll need to look for the interview about the Shack. Like I said it won't change your mind but you would find it interesting, Brown has some very strong arguments, not necessarily on the theology but the dilemma of our understanding of the Trinity.
    Thanks Mike

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