I had not heard about The Shack in a while, but on January 27th two very popular and well-respected leaders among evangelical Christians posted blogs raising various concerns about the widely popular book. Tim Keller, on the Gospel Coalition Blog gave some impressions from his reading of the book but mostly devoted his words to expressing “strong concerns”. Keller says:
However, sprinkled throughout the book, Young’s story undermines a number of traditional Christian doctrines. Many have gotten involved in debates about Young’s theological beliefs, and I have my own strong concerns. But here is my main problem with the book. Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible.
In his blog, Albert Mohler, develops more thoroughly several of the theological problems the fictional book transmits. Then at the conclusion of his article says:
In evaluating the book, it must be kept in mind that The Shack is a work of fiction. But it is also a sustained theological argument, and this simply cannot be denied. Any number of notable novels and works of literature have contained aberrant theology, and even heresy. The crucial question is whether the aberrant doctrines are features of the story or the message of the work. When it comes to The Shack, the really troubling fact is that so many readers are drawn to the theological message of the book, and fail to see how it conflicts with the Bible at so many crucial points.
All this reveals a disastrous failure of evangelical discernment. It is hard not to conclude that theological discernment is now a lost art among American evangelicals — and this loss can only lead to theological catastrophe.
And this is exactly my concern and experience with The Shack. Yes it is fiction, but because it resonates with people by helping them deal with the issue of past offenses and forgiveness, they also seem to forget that the triune god which is portrayed in the book, is clearly not the Triune God of the Bible. The potential result is that people will love the god of The Shack and not the God of the Bible. In not discerning the errors of the book, a god has been created that does not exist, or better yet an idol has been fashioned.
I acknowledge that many people in this broken world have had poor father figures and that they therefore project the poor example of those fathers toward our Heavenly Father. But that doesn’t mean that our Heavenly Father is like our earthly fathers and it doesn’t mean we can quit calling Him Father. If we can say God is mother, what is to keep us from calling god a tree, cat or dog?
God is who He is and not what we want, or even need Him to be. If God in the Bible were something other than what we needed, then He wouldn’t be enough for all people at all times, and therefore would not be God. God did not become an English Setter named Pete because my dog was ran over by a car as I looked on as a devastated young boy. God was and is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit because that is who He says He is in His word, and that is the way He has chosen to reveal Himself; as one God in three persons.
The concerns raised by Keller and Mohler are both legitimate, and I am concerned with them whether or not most Christians can read a popular book of fiction like The Shack and discern through the lens of the Bible, as opposed to emotional need, whether the book is simply an entertaining read or whether the idea of god it espouses is the God of the Bible. Echoing Mohler, what does it say about Christianity, and subsequently a lot of our preaching and teaching efforts, that so many people can’t discern the biblical God from the god of The Shack? What does it say that they prefer the god of The Shack to the God of the Bible? What does it mean that a person would allow their emotions to dictate their view of God? Emotions are important in the life of a Christian, but they are no sure guide for making decisions in a broken world.
For me this popular book raises many questions that I fear will only give us a lot of frightening answers. I don’t mean to demonize The Shack as though it were only good for kindling on a cold day. I am not saying don’t read it. Perhaps we should read it and compare our thoughts with the thoughts of an Albert Mohler or Tim Keller to test the veracity of a person’s biblical understanding.
The problem with Christianity is not The Shack. The Christians and their leaders are the problem with Christianity. Until we know the God of the Bible and learn to love the God of the Bible with all of our heart and mind, however difficult we may find both, The Shack, or another book like it will keep coming back and many people will believe in the god of that book too.
Here is Mark Driscoll was some additional Thoughts about The Shack, Doctrine and Theology and the question, “Who Is God?”