By Warren Ryan (Elder at Wichita Bible Church) and Charles Heck (Teaching Pastor at Wichita Bible Church)
The book centers around a man by the name of Mack. Mack is a husband and father who, while on a family vacation, experiences a parent’s worst nightmare – the kidnapping of his young daughter Missy. Missy’s abductor, who turns out to be a serial kidnapper, and Missy are never found after a frantic search by local and national authorities.
A few years pass and Mack and his wife Nan are still dealing with the absence and presumed death of their little girl. One day, Mack receives a note from an individual named “Papa” who invites Mack to meet Papa and a few others at this run-down abandoned shack up in the mountains where the supposed murder of Missy occurred.
Papa is the name that Mack’s wife Nan calls God. Perplexed and disbelieving this is a note from God, Mack goes to this known shack anyway. Upon arrival, Mack is greeted by Papa who is God the Father and is depicted as an overweight, African American woman. Then there is Sarayu, who is the Holy Spirit, and appears in the form of an Asian woman. Finally, there is Jesus, who is a simple Middle-Eastern male figure but seems to be amused about his humanity, as if His deity is an afterthought.
The days in the shack with this supposed trinity turns into a time of healing for Mack as he is taught by these figures about forgiveness, the purpose of suffering, living with purpose, dealing with grief, God’s judgment, and love.
The end of the book produces a “renewed” Mack who has accepted Papa’s purpose in allowing his girl Missy to be abducted and killed and forgiving the kidnapper.
Our Primary Concerns
There are a plethora of issues this book presents, even though this is a fictional story. In short, a reader will discover blasphemous depictions of the Godhead and direct contradictions of Scripture throughout. Here are just a few of the problems:
- Depiction of the Godhead. God never displays or even suggests He could be manifested in the form of a woman (pg. 80); the same is true of the Holy Spirit (pg. 85). Both depictions of God are blasphemous to the true nature of our God. No one has the right to depict the Father and Holy Spirit in human form, which is a violation of the 2nd Commandment (Exodus 20:4).
- Perversion of God’s justice. God is full in all His attributes. In other words, He is never less loving than He is gracious. And He never ceases to manifest any of His attributes. In a dialogue between Papa and Mack, Papa claims to not have the responsibility of punishing sin (pg. 119). This is a direct contradiction of Scripture that tells us God does not absolve the sins of the guilty (Exodus 34:7). While there is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1), there is for those who reject Him (II Thessalonians 1:8-9), even though Papa claims to not be into condemnation (pg. 227).
- Reasons for Jesus’ death. Many reasons can be supplied for why Jesus came to die, but certainly one of them IS NOT because we are worthy of love, as Sarayu claims (pg. 164). Romans 5:10 tells us we were God’s enemies when Jesus died for us.
- Direct contradictions of Scripture.
- I John 2:6 tells us that we ought to walk as Jesus walked, and yet the figure depicted as Jesus in this book says, after being asked about the ‘What would Jesus do’ question, that Jesus is never to be copied (pg. 150).
- Later in the book, the Holy Spirit’s ministry is attacked as Sarayu claims that the Holy Spirit has a “fondness for uncertainty” (pg. 206). Yet, we know a ministry of the Holy Spirit is leading us to certainty – to truth (John 16:13).
Our Secondary Concerns
- Poor suggestions for dealing with grief. As Mack’s grief increased over Missy’s disappearance, the author suggests his grief can no longer be attended to through the means of prayer or songs, and Scripture is never even mentioned as a source of help (pg. 63). It is that triad of means of grace – music, praying, and the Bible – that is our best source of comfort. The absence of these means of grace suggest subjective means for finding real help. In fact, later in the book (pg. 81), Sarayu tells Mack that they are going to allow him to dictate the terms and in his timing. Ironically, many who have read this book claim that it has helped them see how to deal with grief, even though Mack is only able to come to terms with his grief after he has a supernatural meeting with his deceased daughter and supernaturally enabled to find and bury her remains—events that are not going to be replicated for anyone who is dealing with grief.
- Jesus’ experience on the cross. In an attempt to bring comfort to Mack about not being alone in his suffering (pg. 96), Papa tells Mack that at the cross he never left Jesus, and yet Jesus cried out that very idea of being forsaken (Mark 15:33-34).
The Issue of Its Genre: Fiction
Regardless of the genre, words matter. Fiction and non-fiction both teach. There is a worldview presented or represented in every movie, television show, and book. The Shack is no exception. While some argue this book is fiction and should not be taken literally, we cannot discount the flagrant misrepresentation of God and His Word as represented above. The author clearly has an agenda to present to the readers a god that he has created from his own imagination, but that he obviously prefers to the God of the Bible. The vocabulary of this book carries weight, as many have testified how this book either drew them closer to God or was even the best theology book they have ever written.
The Danger of False Teaching
The Scriptures are replete with warnings about false teaching and false teachers, including 2 Timothy 3:8, where some men are described as having corrupt or depraved minds and stand in opposition to the truth. The author of this book stands opposed to the truths of who God is, and what he is like, and has created an alternative god who is more to his liking—a distorted, perverted version of the true God. We are called to be “sound in the faith,” and “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). We are to assiduously avoid looking to other sources beyond the Scriptures to try to gain some further or different knowledge of God, or some other means of living out our lives of faith. God reveals himself as he really is through his Word. (And, in the ultimate irony, while presenting these erroneous portrayals of God, Mack laments that he has been led astray by others’ teachings (page 183)!)
The Word of God is never to be updated, changed, added to, subtracted from or altered in any other way (Revelation 22:18-19). No one will truly be helped by this book—believers and outsiders alike are seduced and led astray from the truth of God’s word by presenting an image of a god that the author only wishes could be. Therefore, we do not recommend this book as a resource for any Christian’s sanctification and would also warn all those who read it that they are exposing themselves to false teaching.
Other Reviews to Consider
Some Scripture for meditation: 2 Timothy 4:3-4; Titus 1:9-2:1; 2 Peter 2.1-22