The following article was written by Dennis and Ava Shupert, friends of the ministry. They wrote this several years ago in response to the release of the book, "The Shack." We offer this edited version for edification in light of the recent release of the movie by the same name. – Brian Smith.
In 2007, a novel called The Shack was published. The book was written by William Paul Young, a man who claims to be a Christian. In 2017, the movie, based on the book, was released under the same title. The book/movie is about a family whose little girl is abducted and murdered. The father becomes overcome with sadness, and ultimately is invited by God to the shack where the girl was abducted. It is in the shack that the father encounters God, and from there the author paints a picture of who God is, what He is like, and how we can have a relationship with Him. Although this book was extremely popular with most Christians, we believe it to be a cleverly disguised, yet serious threat to the spiritual health of the church. What follows in this article are key heresies from the book of which we want to make Christians aware. Scripture tells us not to believe every spirit, but to test the spirits (1 John 4:1), and that is our aim in this article.
An evil that is obvious is easy to avoid. As you know, our enemy, Satan, is a master of deceit and subtlety. That is why he wraps lies in pretty packages. The Shack is a beautiful story. Paul Young is a gifted author. He paints vivid pictures with his words and evokes deep emotional responses from his readers. But, hidden within the masterful storytelling, there are subtle lies that lead people away from the truth. Even a little poison hidden within something can cause death though it is small in comparison to the whole. (1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9) “A little leaven leavens the whole lump”.
We feel very strongly about this danger. Before writing this, we spent hours in prayer asking the Lord to remove this burden from us. He has not but has instead increased the urgency and weight of it. We cannot dismiss the directive the Lord has given us. We must obey even at the risk of offending or angering some people who believe this book to be a great work of Christian literature.
Let me first address the most common defense of The Shack. “It’s only fiction.” It is interesting to note that most who defend the book with this phrase then say something like, “It changed my life.” There is no denying the power behind this story to affect people’s lives, and it is this very fact that negates the argument that it is “only fiction.” Any author who addresses the eternal issues that Mr. Young addresses and calls himself a Christian is responsible to adhere to the Bible as his/her source of truth. And we, as Christ followers, are instructed to test the spirits and the teachings that we encounter. I am not judging Mr. Young as a person or even as a believer. Only God can look into a man’s heart. I am, however, judging his teaching and the spirit behind it.
There are dozens of ministries and notable scholars, teachers, pastors, apologists, etc. who agree that this book is unscriptural in its teaching. There are also dozens, maybe hundreds by now, of sermons and papers that have been written to address the unbiblical content of The Shack.
I have attempted to condense the information I have read and listened to, coupled with my own study to arrive at six crucial points which I believe to be fundamental to our faith.
The Shack maintains that scripture is not always reliable or valid. Without the word of God as our foundation, God's people would be “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.” If scripture cannot be trusted, then our salvation is not secure. The importance of scripture cannot be minimized.
For example, on page 98 the book questions the words of Jesus on the cross (“My God. My God. Why have You forsaken me?”). The character "Papa" (who represents God the Father) says, “Regardless of what He felt at that moment, I never left Him,” and “He found His way through it to put Himself completely into My hands.” Jesus was not mistaken or lost in some emotional state at that moment. Rather He was declaring truth by directing His listeners to the prophecy written by David in Psalm 22, where the crucifixion is described in great detail although it was written hundreds of years before the Romans began using crucifixion as a form of execution.
A second example on pages 67-68 finds the character "Mack" (father of the murdered girl) declaring, “God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects…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?” Note his disdainful attitude.
In a third example on page 136, Mack says to the character "Sarayu", who represents the Holy Spirit, “There are lots of people who think it (i,e,. the Garden of Eden, Creation) was only a myth.” Her answer is, “Well, their mistake isn’t fatal. Rumors of glory are often hidden inside what many consider myths and tales.”
The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to us, His followers, and as such we should be defending and proclaiming the inerrancy of scripture and elevating its teaching to the place of respect it deserves as the source of absolute truth breathed out by God Himself, not casting doubt on its validity (see 2Tim. 3:16).
Mr. Young misrepresents the very nature of God. He portrays God in a way that is not consistent with His revelation of Himself in His Word and in His Son. I’ll give four examples:
On page 84 and elsewhere, God the Father is represented by a female character. God is neither male nor female as humans are, however in the Bible God has chosen to describe Himself as Father and with a male pronoun, never with feminine pronouns. Choosing to portray God the Father as female is clearly an attempt to counter scripture and confuses the true nature of God.
Secondly, on page 85 Papa says to Mack, “We’ll do things on your terms and time." God does not do things on our terms or time. There is a myriad of scriptures that tell us God does things according to His purpose, to fulfill His plan and His will, never ours. Ez. 36:22 tells us that God acts, “for the sake of His holy name”.
Thirdly, on page 124 it says, speaking of the Trinity, “We have no concept of final authority among us…You end up with some chain of command or a system of order that destroys relationship rather than promotes it”. On page 147 “God” says, “We are submitted to you in the same way”. Mack asks, “Why would the God of the universe want to be submitted to me?” The answer is, “Because We want you to join Us in Our circle of relationship”.
In fact, God is the author of authority, structure and order. All authority comes from Him. (Rom. 13:1) I know of no instance in the Bible where God is submitted to us in any way. And authority even exists within the Trinity. 1Cor. 15:27-28 says, “God has put all things in subjection under His feet…it is plain that He is excepted who put all things in subjection under Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subjected to Him…that God may be all in all." In John 14:10 Jesus says, “The words I say to you I do not speak on My own authority”. In 1Cor. 14:40 the word instructs us that, “All things should be done decently and in order”.
Fourth, on page 122 Papa says, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. It’s not My purpose to punish it”. On page 164 the character of Wisdom says to Mack, “I am only asking you to do something you believe God does. You believe He will condemn most…Is that not true?” Her meaning is that the assumption that God will judge is wrong.
But God says in His word in Isaiah 13:11, “I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity”. Rom. 2:8 states, “For those who do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury”. Jesus warns us in Luke 12:5 to, “Fear Him who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell”. God is love, but His love is also just and holy. I Peter 1:16 says, “Be holy for I am holy”. We cannot choose to love and accept only part of God’s nature, nor can we define God on our terms. Either He is who He says He is or He is not God at all.
In The Shack the deity and significance of Jesus is called into question. If the importance of Jesus is questionable then so is our salvation. On page 88 the character of Jesus speaks of His name as being open for debate. He says, “Jesus? Yes. And you can call Me that if you like. After all, it has become My common name”.
I understand that the Hebrew word for Jesus was Yeshua and Joshua may be a closer English translation, but this statement gives the impression that the profound significance of the person and the name of Jesus is up for personal interpretation. Phil. 2:9-10 says, “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven on earth and under the earth”.
On page 101 Papa says, “Although He is also fully God, He has never drawn upon His nature as God to do anything”. On page 102 it says, “Jesus, as a human being, had no power within Himself to heal anyone”. And “Although I have only been limited in Jesus, I have never been limited in Myself”.
The implication that Jesus was somehow limited or less God because He became human is certainly not biblical. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…All things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made that was made”. In Matt. 9:5-6 when Jesus healed the paralytic it says it was to show that, ”The Son has authority to forgive sins”, something that only God could do. And Col. 2:9 tells us, “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”. Finally, in Rev. 19:15 it says, “He (Jesus) will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God”. That does not sound like a limited human to me.
The Shack passes a harsh verdict on the church. On page 95 Mr. Young uses the terms “religious conditioning” and “religious stereotypes” to define the established church. Page 125 refers to a “system of order that destroys relationship”, and on page 183 Mack says, “But so many of the people I care about seem to be both in it and of it. Mack was thinking of friends, church people. He knew they loved Jesus, but he also knew they were sold out to religious activity and patriotism”.
Scripture teaches us that Jesus is the Head of the church, it is His Body. (Eph. 5:23) The system of order that governs the church was set up by God in the first place. (I Cor. I & II Tim. Titus) It is also interesting that the author twists the scripture to say that we should be in the church but not of it, when the Bible says it is we, the church, who are to be in the world but not of it. John 17:14&16 say, “They are not of this world even as I am not of this world”.
Unfortunately man, under the influence of our enemy, has taken what God intended and corrupted it. I know too that Jesus was no fan of the religious hypocrisy of His day, nor does He approve of it today. I personally am outspoken against legalism and hypocrisy. However, the attitude behind Mr. Young’s statements condemns the church and all it stands for as a whole. It leads readers to the conclusion that being involved with their local church is a bad thing.
The Bible teaches that we should not forsake the gathering together of the brethren. There are hundreds of verses that instruct us to love our brother. In the New Testament the word translated brother means brother or sister, specifically siblings in a family. Our brother is referring to other believers, the Body of Christ, the Church. We are supposed to be known by our love for each other so let us be careful to treat our Lord’s Body with respect.
Mr. Young consistently leads readers to the conclusion that our enemy and his followers do not exist. He never refers to Satan. Mack is the only one to speak of hell and whenever he does he is ridiculed. I’ll cite three examples here:
– On page 138: Papa says, “Both evil and darkness can be understood only in relation to light and good, they do not have any actual existence”.
– On page 192: Papa states, “All evil flows from independence and independence is your choice. Evil is the chaos of this age that you brought to Me”.
– On page 164: Wisdom infers the fallacy of belief in God sentencing anyone to hell.
Jesus, Himself spoke very vividly of the reality of hell. (Luke 12:5, 16:23-24) I John 3:8 says, “Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil”. In Eph. 6:11 and I Tim. 3:7 we are warned about the schemes and snares of the devil. And in Rev. 20:15 we are told of the destiny of those whose names were not found written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Hell and Satan are very real. He and his followers hate us, the church, and will stop at nothing to destroy us. However, one of his favorite tactics is to lull believers into a place of false security denying that he really exists or that we are in a battle against him. I Peter 5:8 tells us, “Our adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour”. Ephesians 6:12 warns us that we are in a battle. How can we overcome our enemy if we spend our time in emotional fantasies, sniffing flowers and drifting in canoes completely unaware or denying that we are being shot at?
For unbelievers the denial of hell and judgment is eternally devastating. I’d like to quote an excerpt from the famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards titled, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God:
“You cannot bear the fierceness and wrath of the infinite God. Tis a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you as against many of the damned in hell. Consider this, you who are here present, that yet remain in an unregenerate state. When God beholds the ineffable extremity of your case, and sees your torment to be so vastly disproportionate to your strength, and sees how your poor soul is crushed and sinks down, as it were into an infinite gloom, He will have no compassion on you. He will not forbear the executions of His wrath, or in the least lighten His hand. There shall be no moderation or mercy, nor will God then at all stay His rough wind. Ez. 8:18 “Therefore I will act in wrath, My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity, and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.”
For us to allow the lost to believe there is no danger of hell is unthinkable if we are to love them. This brings us to point Six:
Mr. Young embraces a form of Universalism or Universal Reconciliation. He has said as much (albeit in his typically elusive manner) in interviews which can be found on-line. There are several instances in The Shack where this belief surfaces.
Papa states on page 225 “In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship.” On page 93 Papa refers to all people as “Her kids”. On page 164 the author calls all people God’s children and implies that God will not send anyone to eternal torment. On page 192 Papa states that, “the chaos of this age will not have the final say even though it touches everyone whom Papa loves, those who follow and those who don’t”.
We are not all God’s children. We are all His creations to do with as He pleases, but John 1:12 tells us, “All who did receive Him, who believed in His name; to them He gave the right to become children of God”. The Bible does refer to others. In Eph. 5:6 God refers to the “children of disobedience” and in Matt. 13:38 Jesus teaches, in the parable of the wheat and tares, “that the good seed is the children of the kingdom and the weeds are the sons of the evil one”.
His purpose will be fulfilled, but it is not for everyone to be saved. Romans 9:22-24 says, “What if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy which He has prepared beforehand for glory-even us whom He has called”. And Eph. 3:10, “So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places”. There is more going on here than we can fathom, but it is not universalism.
On pages 193-194 there is a conversation between Papa and Mack where Mack asks what Jesus accomplished by dying. The answer Papa gives is, “Through His death and resurrection I am now fully reconciled to the world”. (This is backward incidentally!) Mack replies, “The whole world? You mean those who believe in You right?” To which Papa replies, “The whole world, Mack”.
On page 121 Papa says to Mack, “I’m not asking you to believe anything”. And on page 184 Jesus says, “Who said anything about being a Christian?”
If not a Christian, then what? The Bible says, “Those who do not believe are condemned already”. John 3:18 and John 8:23 says, “Unless you believe you will die in your sins”.
In the few places where the perfect opportunity to share the Gospel arises there is instead a mass of ambiguous, flowery words that miss the mark entirely.
On page 149 when Mack asks Jesus if there is any way out of this (declaring what is good and evil and trying to determine our own destiny) Jesus answer is, “by returning. By turning back to Me. By giving up your ways of power and manipulation and just coming back to Me. (as if we were already saved, we just forgot for a little while)
This next passage may very well be the most critical of heresies in the whole book. Here, in two short sentences, is “the gospel” of The Shack.
On page 180 when Mack asks how to become a part of the church, Jesus replies, “It’s all about relationships and simply sharing life. What we are doing right now, (talking in the forest) just doing this and being open and available to others around us”.
On page 184 Jesus says, “Those who love Me have come from every system that exists…Buddhists, Mormons, Baptists, Muslims, Democrats, Republicans…Jews, Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian”. Mack asks, “Does that mean that all roads lead to You?” “Not at all”, Jesus replies, “Most roads don’t lead anywhere”.
In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me”. Matt. 7:13-14 says, “The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, many enter by it. The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, few find it”. Any road except Jesus leads to destruction. If there is no hell then Jesus died in vain.
Finally, on page 226 Papa tells Mack, “For you to forgive this man (the man who murdered his daughter) is for you to release him to Me and allow Me to redeem him.” and “But he too is My son”.
Certainly God can redeem anyone, but it has nothing to do with us releasing them. It has to do with them believing in the finished work of Christ on the cross and confessing with their mouth that He is their Lord. Forgiveness is for our benefit, for us to be free from bitterness and resentment, and to remove ourselves from the place of judge. Only God is a perfectly just judge. He says, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay”.
In Romans 3:25 and I John 2:2 Jesus is called the Propitiation for our sins by His blood. The word propitiation means to appease. It was the holy and righteous wrath of God that Jesus was appeasing by His suffering and death. Is. 53:10 tells us that, “It was the will of God to crush Him”. He suffered immeasurably to fulfill the requirement of God’s just judgment. How can we gaze into the eyes of our Savior and deny the import of what He did for us? This is nothing more than pure unadulterated blasphemy. Nor can we turn our backs on the lost and allow them to die in their sins. Again I will quote from Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God:
“We know not who they are, or in what seats they sit, or what thoughts they now have: it may be they are now at ease, and hear all these things without much disturbance, and are now flattering themselves that they are not the persons, promising themselves that they shall escape. If we knew who it was, what an awful sight would it be to see such a person! How might all the rest of the congregation lift up a lamentable and bitter cry over him! But alas! Instead of one, how many is it likely will remember this discourse in hell.”
How can we claim to love God and the thousands of people who flock through the doors of churches every week seeking to know God if we tolerate and even promote teaching that blasphemes our Lord and leads people away from the truth? Why would Christians buy a book that causes such confusion? They should not.
In closing, let us be reminded of the warning in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching…but will accumulate teachers to suit their own passions and turn away from the truth and wander into myths”. Galatians 1:6-10 also gives a warning, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ, and are turning to a different gospel - not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ”.
We have a responsibility to teach and proclaim the word of God and to uphold the truth to the glory of God Almighty. If we tolerate anything that deviates from what God has revealed to us in His word, we risk falling down the Slippery Slope (an article by Charles Spurgeon) of heresy into an abyss of lies.
Finally, as lengthy as this article is it is by no means exhaustive! There are many other places The Shack strays from sound doctrine or implies errant theology. A whole book could (and probably should) be written to expose its “truth claims” compared to Biblical Truth. We have only addressed what we consider to be the most critical areas.
Obviously, the message of The Shack has found a receptive audience, but it is not the message the apostles proclaimed and for which they died. The theology of The Shack more closely resembles that of the Emergent Church than that of Holy Scripture.
On a lighter, humorously ironic note, we noticed (in light of Ephesians 4:14; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.) that the publisher of the book, appropriately, is Windblown Media! Does God have a sense of humor, or what?
We hope and pray all Christians will receive this humble appeal in the spirit and attitude that is intended. Not as a rebuke but rather, as an exhortation and plea as fellow workers in Christ, standing together in this great Cosmic Battle, fighting as one united Body against our common enemy and the lies and illusions of the world, the flesh, and the devil; working together toward the common goal of building up and equipping the Body of Christ and helping those far from God to become fully devoted followers of Christ.