God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 7

Part of me is feeling a little Shack weary, but I have a couple more topics I want to address in conjunction with the still-popular novel, The Shack by William P. Young. Yes, still popular. I saw the book listed in Monday’s newspaper as #2 on the Associated Press list of best-sellers, trade paperbacks category.

I think these last two points might be interconnected, and they both relate to my mantra—we must learn to read with discernment! For a Christian, discernment necessitates measuring what we read by the standard of God’s Word.

My first question is, How does The Shack treat the Bible? The Bible itself claims to be God-breathed, given for our instruction, correction, reproof. The Bible itself examines portions of itself as if it is true and reliable and authoritative.

Paul, for example, discusses The Law (recorded in the first five books of the Old Testament) and its place for the Christian. Jesus references the prophets, and the gospels report that He explained what the Law and the prophets had to say about the Messiah. The book of Hebrews uses a short reference in Genesis to an obscure king as the fundamental illustration of who Christ is. Paul makes lengthy comparisons between Jesus and Adam, whose life is only recorded in Genesis.

You get the point. The New Testament authors viewed the Old Testament as proper material upon which to base an argument or a principle.

So, how does the Bible come across in The Shack?

First, I’d say, the Bible comes across as insufficient:

In seminary [Mack] had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scriptures, properly interpreted, of course.

In addition, the Bible of The Shack limits God:

God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’s access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?

Third, as demonstrated in the last line of the above quote, the Bible of The Shack promotes guilt but apparently this is only as it is misused:

The Bible doesn’t teach you to follow rules. It is a picture of Jesus. While words may tell you what God is like and even what he may want from you, you cannot do any of it on your own. … It is true that relationships are a whole lot messier than rules, but rules will never give you answers to the deep questions of the heart and they will never love you.

Certainly the Bible is a picture of Jesus, but part of that picture includes things like Jesus saying, Take up your cross and follow Me. Or, Love God and love your neighbor. Or, If you love Me, obey My commandments. The Bible of The Shack seems to strip God’s Word of anything that could be construed as legalistic, ignoring the fact that legalism is actually an attitude of the heart.

Finally, The Shack implies that believing the Bible to be true is unimportant.

[Mack talking] “So was there really an actual garden? I mean, Eden and all that?”

[Sarayu answers] “Of course. I told you I have a thing for gardens.”

“That’s going to bother some people. There are lots of people who think it was only a myth.”

“Well, their mistake isn’t fatal. Rumors of glory are often hidden inside of what many consider myths and tales.”

But the Bible is more than “rumors of glory.” It is authoritative, but the philosophy espoused in The Shack takes a stand against authority. As Sean Herriott, a Catholic converted from Protestantism, points out in a section about authority in his excellent review of Mr. Young’s work:

The Shack‘s God says that perfect love means there is no need for a hierarchy of any kind.

Here’s the pertinent passage in The Shack. Sarayu is talking:

“You won’t find the word responsibility in the Scriptures … Religion must use law to empower itself and control the people who they need in order to survive … If I simply gave you a responsibility, I would not have to be with you at all. It would now be a task to perform, an obligation to be met, something to fail … If I change that ‘expectancy’ into an ‘expectation’—spoken or unspoken? Suddenly law has entered into our relationship. You are now expected to perform in a way that meets my expectations. Our living friendship rapidly deteriorates into a dead thing with rules and requirements. It is no longer about you and me but about what friends are supposed to do, or the responsibilities of a good friend.”

I can’t type those words without thinking how deceptive they are. There is a grain of truth, but the premise is false. God’s law does not equal legalism.

God’s expectation for us to be holy is not the problem. His Word laying out the law and chronicling our failure to measure up, and our consequent need for a Savior, is not harming our relationship with God but rather, pointing us to the only way we can enter into that love relationship with Him—one far better than The Shack paints.

Series continued in Part 8.

Published in: on June 3, 2009 at 2:30 pm  Comments (8)  
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  1. Certainly the law is invaluable to us in that it points out our need for a Savior. Without it, what would point to Jesus?

    I think that one could make the case that our relationship to God was never intended to be one of being bound to a canon of Law. We were certainly created to obey God and exist under His authority, but we were also made innocent of good and evil so we wouldn’t have to shoulder the responsibility of knowing the moral law and having to obey it under threat of judgment. God did put a limit on our burden, but Adam and Eve blew the burden wide open when they ate the fruit and gained the knowledge of good and evil. I think when Jesus came and died for our sins, he created a new law that we would exist in as believers in which we would never come under condemnation. I think people just don’t put the Law in perspective and they reflexively put it down as legalist, but it does have its place, and we should recognize that.


  2. Jesus Himself said He didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. The law required death for the forgiveness of sin; He died so that we could be forgiven. Because He died and rose again, no other sacrifice must be made on our behalf. The law was incomplete until then; His sacrifice was a complete work.

    He came to set us free from the law of sin and death; He also upheld the commandments, and reiterated the two greatest commandments: Love God with all one’s being, and love one’s neighbor as oneself. In these, He said, are contained all the law and the prophets.

    Secular laws exist to provide boundaries, to create order so that mayhem doesn’t rule. Man-made laws, as imperfect as they are, allow people to co-exist in as much harmony as our natures allow, and they provide a certain measure of protection and freedom, as long as we operate within the boundaries of those laws.

    I agree that LEGALISM is an attitude rather than something the Bible, God, or His law imposes. Legalistic people — be they people of faith, or no — tend to use whatever rules by which they view the world as a means of control. Legalism in the Church is devastating, and twists Scripture and one’s view of God into something He never intended.

    There is a tang of self-righteousness in the novel quotes included in Becky’s various posts regarding The Shack, as if the author’s voice is imposing on the story. God, who is over all and who speaks no good of Mankind’s self-righteousness, humbled Himself to come as a man and suffer on our behalf. The casual gospel presented in The Shack almost dismisses this fact. In the New Testament, we are warned about those who “trample underfoot the blood of the covenant,” who try to make His sacrifice of no account.

    (By the way, Becky, I watched that video you listed, and heard Mr. Young’s denial of Christ’s substitutionary death on the Cross. Thanks for the link; I’ve already shared it with others, but not my mom yet. Very, very disconcerting, especially since this novel is being so widely lauded.)


  3. Addendum: Jesus is called our Advocate, but we have no need for an advocate (an intermediary, a lawyer) if there is no law to which we are obligated.


  4. i’ve been curious about the shack! so good i’m enjoying your review!
    just wanted to mention I’ve got my review for Tuck up now! 🙂


  5. Jason, I agree. There are people today who are legalistic and others who are certain all law equates with legalism. The Book of James refers to the law of liberty, which certainly doesn’t sound like something burdensome.

    The thing is, the apostle Paul explains the purpose of the law clearly. In fact it is meant to show us our shortcomings, but The Shack claims God doesn’t condemn us or make us feel guilty.

    Well, I suppose technically you could say our sin causes guilt feelings, but we wouldn’t know about sin without the Law.



  6. Keanan, great thoughts. I really appreciate you taking the time. I should just ask some of you all to guest blog! 😉

    Legalism in the Church is devastating, and twists Scripture and one’s view of God into something He never intended. This is certainly troubling. I see evidence of it in the anti-fantasy babble.

    Legalism takes on several forms. One is to make tradition equal in nature to God’s word.

    Another is to interpret principles as black and white laws (for example, Scripture tells women to be modest in how we adorn ourselves. Some churches have taken this principle and turned it into a mandate about not wearing this or that or having to wear this or that).

    Another is to take a personal conviction from Scripture, apart from a clear pronouncement, and hold other people to it. I might be convicted that I should do XYZ (go to the mission field or give 50 percent of my income to the church or take TV out of my home), but I shouldn’t go around claiming that anyone who doesn’t do XYZ is sinning.

    Anyway, thanks for a thought-provoking comment.



  7. Jesus is called our Advocate, but we have no need for an advocate (an intermediary, a lawyer) if there is no law to which we are obligated. I forgot to comment on this. What a great point!! 😮 Excellent connection.

    Amy, thanks for letting me know about your review. I’m glad the book finally made it!



  8. Becky,

    Thanks for linking to my review! I host a talk show on a Catholic radio network, and listeners started asking me about “The Shack.” I’m glad you included the “responsibility” excerpt. I wrote down the quote, but forgot to note the page number. I must have spent an hour trying to find it again.

    I’ll link back to your review, and also recommend that folks read it when they ask about the book. I think what you said about the Bible being authoritative is incredibly important.


    Sean Herriott


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