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Burning Down The Shack?

“You’ve got to read this book!” exclaimed the young woman before me. “It has totally changed the way I see God.” The young woman had periodically been attending my student ministry in the fall of 2008. The book she held in her hand – in seemingly sacred awe – was The Shack.

Throughout my ministry I’ve received an avalanche of highly touted books from friends. Most of them I simply don’t have the time to do anything more than peruse through. I thought The Shack would be one of these books; but as weeks progressed and I continued to hear the litany of accolades for this novel, I began to realize that this was a book I had to read.

I first picked up the book during Christmas vacation that year – much to the irritation of my family, as it was all I spoke of. My words for the book stood in stark contrast to the glowing tributes from others. I hated the book and I broadcasted my hatred to all who would hear. I picked apart the volume at any minor point, and if I’m honest, I don’t think any book would have stood up to my ferocious critique.

Nearly a decade later, ten years wiser, and with a bit of the edge rounded off my zeal to criticize (not my zeal for truth), I now see The Shack in a slightly different light. No longer do I see it as the greatest danger to evangelicalism. No longer do I hold it in absolute abhorrence. With that said, I do still consider it revealing, dangerous, and – if I’m honest – embarrassing to the Christian community. How so?

(1) Revealing. In 2 Timothy 4, Paul boldly predicts, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” It seems Paul was speaking directly of the American church in the 21st century. We live in a “feel good” culture where the Burger King mantra of “have it your way” applies to everything, including religion. The sad reality is that many believers literally can’t see the doctrinal error of books like The Shack because they have been more guided for decades by the tickle in their ears and the desires in their hearts than by the truth of Scripture. The fact that William Paul Young (author of  The Shack) could subliminally – or overtly – promulgate putting words in God’s mouth contrary to the Bible, modelism, no hierarchy among the Trinity, goddess worship, universalism and a half dozen other theological misnomers, and Christians across the world still buy this book in bulk and praise it on the level with The Pilgrim’s Progress is sadly revealing of the great dirth in Biblical literacy and the great rise in the “itching ear doctrine” of our day.

(2) Which brings me to the danger. If Christians aren’t grounded in truth they can easily be duped into a lie, which is extremely dangerous. The Christian faith has always been about who we know (Christ) and what we believe (truth). We can’t truly know Jesus apart from truth, and there is no truth apart from Jesus. For years defenders of The Shack (and even its own author) have claimed that this is not a theological volume. I remember walking into a Christian book shop in 2008 and seeing a sign that read something to the effect of: “Want to understand God better?” The sign hung over a table full of Shack copies. If this is really not a theological book (theology is simply the study of God) then how can it be promoted as a work that will help us understand Him more fully? Reality is that any work that speaks of or depicts God is a theological declaration.

I have no doubt that The Shack may have comforted more than a few believers who have wrestled through legalism or battled the tyranny of God in their minds – but I could point them to a great many more theologically robust and Biblically sound books that will provide longer-lasting more God-exalting comfort and worship. Why must we find comfort in a book that is so Biblically opposed?

On his own website William Paul Young called himself a “hopeful universalist.” If looking for it, this universalism is obviously seen in The Shack. Papa (Young’s portrayal of God the Father) states that she has no desire to make people “Christians,” that Muslims are children of God, and that Jesus is “a way” to heaven. These statements and others in the book wreak of the unBiblical and highly dangerous universalism that seems to rear it’s ugly head in every generation. Adherents to Islam – though we love them, are not children of God, and Jesus is not “a way” – He is “the only way” (John 14:6).

In addition to pushing His universalistic position, Young is also guilty of promoting modelism (a Trinitatian Hersey) and speaking for God (in Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu) – always a dangerous thing – routinely in contradiction to Scripture. The list of serious heresies or doctrinal errors rolls on. I am not going to address every theological pitfall here (though there are some other articles that go to that length and if you are not convinced of the danger yet you should certainly check out other blogs by staunchly Biblical writers), as I believe – and am joined by the church throughout history – that universalism, modelism, and speaking in error on behalf of God are sufficient reasons to strongly steer believers away from this book and others like it. Poison destroys and theological poison will destroy the soul. Keep it out.

(3) The Shack is embarrassing. The pervasive mindset from the liberal leaning left – especially the atheistic thinker – is that Christianity is a collection of idiots who don’t even know the ground of their own faith. Millenials for all their flaws are a thinking generation, and many millenials have bought into this mindset as well, not only because professors and bloggers have told them, but because the Christian community sadly has convinced them. The arguments and questions that the youth of our day are raising are incredibly significant and legitimate. Answering them with atrocious emotionalism or opinion in opposition to Scripture merely reinforces their opinions that believers are ignorant to their own faith. In Colossians 2 Paul calls us to be “grounded and established” in the faith. The book of Colosse was written in the face of the gnostic heresy. To combat this heretical teaching and others like it (i.e. Universalism or modelism) the apostle calls for Biblical rootedness.

A.W. Tozer once said, “What comes to mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.” If you fill your head with theological garbage, when you think about and talk of God you will do so to the detriment of your own soul and the souls of others. My hope is that in the face of all the humanistic, theological erroneous books being pumped out today, Christians would look to our Treasure and discard the trash. Don’t settle for a stripped down, unScriptural view of Jesus, or a trite explanation of His salvation. Go deeper. Be rooted. Too much is at stake. 

Semper Reformanda 

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