The Shack – Enemy of Good Doctrine?

shackI figured that title would bring in all the lovers and haters of the book.  I hope you enjoy my thoughts on it and please feel free to discuss your opinions in the comments.

I know I am a little behind the times doing a review and critique of a book that came out almost 2 years ago. I have never been a big fan of fads so when something gets big I wait for it to die down and then decide if I still want to invest the time.

My decision to read the book came from the varied opinions I have heard about it. I have friends who loved this book deeply and some who feel that it is a mockery to good doctrine. Do a search for the “The Shack”  on Google and you will find a wide range of very different opinions both for and against the book. In fact one famous pastor, Mark Driscoll, dedicated a portion of his message on the Trinity to dissect The Shack’s doctrinal concepts. His opinions were not favorable and you can watch them on YouTube.

First the story.

In The Shack, Mackenzie Allen Philips is struggling with what he describes as the great sadness. It first came when his 6 year old daughter, Missy, was kidnapped and murdered. Now, four years later, he is about to have an amazing encounter with God in the very place where it was first determined that his daughter was dead, an old shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. In this encounter Mac learns about anger, pain, forgiveness, love and most of all trust. It’s an emotional roller coaster that takes Mac to the depths of his bitterness and the height of the Father’s love.

That is the basic premise of the book but is there more there than meets the eye. Almost everyone who has read it would say yes, although some in praise and some in contention. Before I go any further let me give you my overall opinion on the book and then I will deal with some of the issues that many see as problematic .

Did I like the book?

I actually loved this book. In all honesty, I don’t read novels. This is my first in over 15 years. So I will admit that I am in no position to critique writing style or even the authors ability to effectively tell a story from a scholastic perspective. As a reader, I thought that William did a great job. He told the story that he wanted to and it kept my attention.

As a thealogical treatise, I would say that it’s not intended to be such, even though some have thrust this upon it. The question I  have been asking myself is can something be biblically faithful without being necesarily biblically accurate? I know this seems like an absurd question but I would say yes, although I am sure some would disagree.

The movie The Passion of The Christ is a perfect example for me. I truly believe that it was biblically faithful where few could argue that some of its images were not biblically accurate. To me, when this is the argument, I feel we are defending the letter and forgetting the spirit. Where do we draw the line. Scripture is silent on a great many issues and it is those issues that we must rely on the spirit and intentions of His Word to guide us. WHy couldn’t God reveal Himself in another way that is not specifically seen in scripture but is still faithful to it.

What I really like about The Shack is that it raises questions. I wonder if this is what scares most people? I feel far to many people think they already have the answers so some questions would do them some good. Believe me when I say this, although I know it is what God has asked me to do in my teaching, I know far to little to tell people much smarter than myself that they know far to much. I will be obedient none the less. Now lets deal with what some people seem to have a problem with.

The Concerns

I would like to use Mark Driscoll’s argumuments since they are so clearly explained in his video that I mentioned earlier and then I will mention a few of my own that I noticed. If you didn’t watch it yet, please do so first. Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you.

Great, lets begin.

Do not make a graven image of God.

Mark spouts off a lot of scripture and points that he feels make his claim but in the end I truly feel this comes down to the biblically faithful vs. biblically accurate issue. God has chosen to reveal himself in many forms in order to make a point. We have the ones we all know. Father, King, Saviour, Spotless Lamb, Dove, Tongues of Fire, Pillar of Smoke, and light. We know and like these because they are already explained. There are many others that we may not be as familiar with…

Bread, Eagle, Gentle Breeze, Mountain, Fortress, Rock, and of course there’s how He is presented in various parables. Mark claims that these are all ok because they are in scripture. I submit that they are all ok because they all present something that is true about God’s nature. They are all symbols, some graven and some not, that help me understand a piece of God. Not the whole but a piece. In my opinion that is what The Shack does and nothing more. Again, biblically faithful while not being spot on accurate. The Shack does not explain the Trinity any more than The Lord of the Rings explain the Human journey. It is only a shadow or sliver of understanding in the heart of one author.

Goddess Worship

This point only make me assume that Mark hasn’t read the book. Not to mention his also very vocal stance on the inferiority of women seems to be a bias here. In The Shack God decides initially to appear to Mac as an African woman named Papa. Papa, although appearing as woman because of Mac’s past,  clearly states that, “I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature.” That sounds pretty biblical to me. Not to mention that near the end of the book Papa appears as man as well. Really, goddess worship?

Modalism

This is got to be one of the best. Modalism, for those who may not know, is the idea that God is only one singular person revealed in different modes/forms during periods of time within human history. In other words He was God the Father in the Old Testament, God the Son while Jesus walked the earth and God the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ ascension. What Mark seems to miss is that modalism means that these modes are consecutive and can never appear at the same time. Modalism denies the uniqueness of three persons within the Trinity.

In The Shack we see all three persons together very frequently. This is in no way Modalism. Nowhere within the book does it imply that one person experienced being the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It implies that as the Godhead they were present in each persons unique experience. The Father is truly human through the Son’s experience according to the book. Is this biblically accurate. Maybe not. Is this biblically faithful, yes.

The Issue of Hierarchy

Mark does a nice song and dance about equality with deference in his counter to the books claim that there is no hierarchy within the Trinity. This is little more than an argument of semantics. There is great deference within the Trinity as presented in The Shack. Each person has his role and purpose and is in submission to the others. Deference does not presuppose hierarchy.

Me and my wife are a perfect example. There is no hierarchy in our marriage. We have great deference without one once of superiority needing to be enforced. We are completely submitted to one another without being subservient in any way.

Universalism

To me, this was the far greater concern. In Mac’s conversation with Sophia in the cave and then later with Papa on the journey to find Missy’s remains, I was a little concerned about that lack of clarity on the issue of salvation. Although I don’t believe the book ever crosses the line it seem to imply at times that all people are saved regardless of whether there is true genuine repentance. Papa at one point states, “All are saved but not all choose to enter into relationship”. The implications are vague at best and to me, if there would be any concern, that would be it.

In the end this book is a story of one man learning to trust God completely. With this in mind we can lift this book on a pedestal, we can villainize it or we can trust God to accomplish His good work through a sincere author’s attempt to share his own personal spiritual journey.

I choose to trust.

In a later post I will share all that God did challenge me with through this book.