“The Shack” was in the Top Ten on the New York Times bestseller list for Paperback Trade Fiction for two years. As of January 2010, it had sold seven million copies. It is being translated into 30 languages and a motion picture is said to be in the works.
Though its author, William Paul Young, is not a member of a church and is even reticent to call himself a Christian, and though its doctrine of God is grossly heretical, the novel is being touted as a helpful Christian book.
“The Shack” has been endorsed by Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, CCM artist Michael W. Smith, Mark Batterson (senior pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C.), Wayne Jacobson, author of “So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore,” Gayle Erwin of Calvary Chapel, James Ryle of the Vineyard churches, and Greg Albrecht, editor of “Plain Truth” magazine. The premier issue of Rick Warren’s magazine, The Purpose Driven Connection, refers to The Shack as a “notable best-selling Christian” book (p. 24). The Shack is recommended by Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet, authors of The Jesus Manifesto. Viola said, “I will shamelessly throw my hat in the ring with those who are giving unqualified praise for The Shack” (http://frankviola.wordpress.com).
Eugene Peterson, Regent College professor and author of The Message, is profuse in his praise of the book: “When the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian cross-fertilize the result is a novel on the order of ‘The Shack.’ This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” did for his. It’s that good!”
William Young was one of the speakers at the February 2009 National Pastor’s Convention in San Diego, sponsored by Zondervan and InterVarsity Fellowship. The 1,500 attendees were pastors and Christian workers. Other speakers included Bill Hybels, Leighton Ford, Brian McLaren, and Rob Bell. Young had his own break-out session and was interviewed in one of the general sessions by Andy Crouch, a senior editor of Christianity Today. It was said that 57% of the attendees had read “The Shack,” and Young was enthusiastically received. Crouch treated Young as a fellow believer and did not even hint that there might be a damnable theological problem with the way that God is depicted in the book. When Young said, “I don’t feel responsible for the fact that it [“The Shack”] is tampering with people’s paradigms” or how people think about God, the crowd responded with clapping, cheers, and laughter. The emerging church loves to tamper with traditional Bible doctrine and there is no fear of God for doing so!
Young was born in Alberta in 1955 but spent most of the first ten years of his life in Papua New Guinea with his missionary parents, who were ministering to a backwards tribal group called the Dani. He graduated from Warner Pacific College, which is affiliated with the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), with a degree in religion.
In “The Shack,” Young presents traditional Bible-believing Christianity as hypocritical and hurtful. The book’s main character grew up under “rigorous rules,” and his father, who was an elder in the church, was “a closet drinker” and treated his family with cruelty when drunk (p. 7).
Hypocrisy is very injurious to the cause of Christ, but hypocrisy on the part of Christians does not disprove the Bible. Let God be true and every man a liar (Romans 3:4)! All too often this type of thing is used as an excuse by rebels. I know this by personal experience. In my youth I used the inconsistencies that I saw in Baptist churches to excuse my rejection of the church. The chief problem, though, was not the hypocrisy of others but my own rebellion and love for the world. When I repented of my wickedness at age 23 and turned to Christ and received the Bible as God’s holy Word, I stopped blaming others and took responsibility for myself before Almighty God.
Rules and obligations under God’s grace are not wrong. They are an integral part of Bible Christianity. We are saved by grace without works, but we are saved “unto good works” (Ephesians 2:8-10). The New Testament epistles are filled with rules and obligations that believers are expected to keep and filled with warnings about disobedience. The true grace of God does not let us live as we please. It teaches us, rather, “that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:11-12). That is a very strict standard of Christian living.
There is hypocrisy in churches and there are false gospels that are law-based rather than grace-based and most churches today are corrupt, but the solution is not to reject the literal interpretation of Scripture and create a new God! God is amazingly compassionate and loving and He has proven that on the cross, but God is also holy and just and requires obedience and hates and punishes sin, and that side of God cannot be ignored without creating a false God.
The flesh wearies greatly of the holiness of God! I can testify to that. From time to time in my Christian life I have gotten discouraged at God. It is not a simple thing to reconcile God’s love and grace with His awful holiness and justice. On one hand, the New Testament tells us that the believer is forgiven, redeemed, justified, accepted in the beloved, blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ, holy and without blame before God, and seated in the heavenlies (Ephesians 1-3). On the other hand, the same New Testament tells us that the believer must be exceedingly careful about how he lives before God. We are to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1), which is the highest conceivable standard. The believer who does not pursue this is in danger of being judged (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:13-17; 9:26-27; 11:27-32; Hebrews 13:4; 2 John 8-11; Revelation 2:4-5, 16, 22-23; 3:15-16). There is even a sin unto death (1 John 5:16-17; Acts 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 11:30). Thus there must be many warnings in the Christian life (Acts 20:31; Colossians 1:28; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:13; 2:15).
These things seem to be contradictory to the fallen flesh and to the natural man, but they are two sides of the same compassionate, thrice holy God, and to reject either one is reject the true God for an idol.
In an interview with the 700 Club in February 2009 Young described a “huge personal failure” that occurred in his life at age 38. He says, “My life crashed and burned, and I had to go back and deal with some stuff from being a child on the mission field along with other stuff in my life.” He speaks of “secrets” that he kept from his childhood and guilt that he carried. He doesn’t describe any of this in detail, but it appears that he felt guilty for not obeying God’s Word and perhaps went through psychological therapy. He talks continually of “pain,” “damage,” healing childhood memories, and such.
“The Shack” is about redefining God. Young has said that the book is for those with “a longing that God is as kind and loving as we wish he was” (interview with Sherman Hu, Dec. 4, 2007). What he is referring to is the desire on the part of the natural man for a God who loves “unconditionally” and does not require obedience, does not require repentance, does not judge sin, and does not make men feel guilty for what they do.
In that same interview, Young said that a woman wrote to him and said that her 22-year-old daughter came to her after reading the book and asked, “IS IT ALRIGHT IF I DIVORCE THE OLD GOD AND MARRY THE NEW ONE?”
Young therefore admits that the God of “The Shack” is different from the traditional God of Bible-believing Christianity. He says that the God who “watches from a distance and judges sin” is “a Christianized version of Zeus.” This reminds me of the modernist G. Bromley Oxnam, who called the God of the Old Testament “a dirty bully” in his 1944 book “Preaching in a Revolutionary Age.”
“The Shack” explores the issue of why God allows pain and evil. It is a fictional account of a man who is bitter against God for allowing his youngest daughter to be murdered and who returns to the scene of the murder, an old shack in the woods, to have a life-changing encounter with God. The “God” that he encounters, though, is not the God of the Bible.
Young depicts the triune God as a young Asian woman named “Sarayu” * (supposedly the Holy Spirit), an oriental carpenter who loves to have a good time (supposedly Jesus), and an older black woman named “Elousia” (supposedly God the Father). God the Father is also depicted as a guy with a ponytail and a goatee. (* The name “Sarayu” is from the Hindu scriptures and represents a mythical river in India on the shores of which the Hindu god Rama was born.)
Young’s god is the god of the emerging church. He is cool, loves rock & roll, is non-judgmental, does not exercise wrath toward sin, does not send unbelievers to an eternal fiery hell, does not require repentance and the new birth, puts no obligations on people, doesn’t like traditional Bible churches, does not accept the Bible as the infallible Word of God, and does not mind if the early chapters of the Bible are interpreted as “myth.”
Note the following quotes from the god of “The Shack”:
“Don’t go because you feel obligated. That won’t get you any points around here. Go because it’s what you want to do” (p. 89).
Contrast 1 Corinthians 4:2.
“I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it...” (p. 120).
Contrast Isaiah 13:11; Ephesians 5:5-6.
“There are lots of people who think it [Eden] was only a myth. Well, their mistake isn’t fatal. Rumors of glory are often hidden inside of what many consider myths and tales” (p. 134).
Contrast 2 Peter 1:16.
“[Your heart] is wild and beautiful and perfectly in process” (p. 138).
Contrast Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21-23.
“To force my will on you is exactly what love does not do. ... True love never forces” (pp. 145, 190).
Contrast John 8:31-32; 14:15; Titus 2:11-12; Hebrews 12:5-11; Revelation 2:14-16, 20-23; 3:3, 16-19.
“Our final destiny is not the picture of Heaven that you have stuck in your head--you know, the image of pearly gates and streets of gold” (p. 177).
Contrast Revelation 21-22.
“My church is all about people and life is all about relationships. ... You can’t build it. ... I don’t create institutions--never have, never will” (pp. 178, 179).
Contrast Acts 2:41-42, 13-14.
“Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. ... I have no desire to make them Christian” (p. 182).
Contrast Acts 4:12; 26:28.
“Through his death and resurrection, I am now fully reconciled to the world ... The whole world. ... In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me ... When Jesus forgave those who nailed him to the cross they were no longer in his debt, nor mine” (pp. 192, 225).
Contrast John 3:36; Acts 17:30-31; 1 John 5:12, 19; Revelation 20:11-15.
“The Bible doesn’t teach you to follow rules. ... Enforcing rules, especially in its more subtle expressions like responsibility and expectation, is a vain attempt to create certainty out of uncertainty. ... That is why you won’t find the word responsibility in the Scriptures. ... because I have no expectations, you never disappoint me” (pp. 197, 203, 206).
Contrast 1 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 5:18. In Ephesians 4-6 alone there are at more than 80 specific obligations that believers are exhorted to keep.
“I don’t do humiliation, or guilt, or condemnation” (p. 223).
Contrast Isaiah 2:11; 5:15; John 3:19; Romans 3:19; 1 Corinthians 11:27; James 3:1; 5:9; Jude 4; Revelation 11:18; 20:11-15.
THE SHACK’S GOD IS EMERGENT AND NEW AGE
Not only is “The Shack’s” god suspiciously similar to the one described in the books of the more liberal branch of the emerging church (e.g., Rob Bell, Donald Miller, Brian McLaren), it also has a strong kinship to the New Age god promoted by John Lennon and Oprah Winfrey.
Lennon’s extremely popular song “IMAGINE” (1971) proclaims:
“Imagine there’s no heaven … No hell below us, above us only sky … no religion too/ You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one/ I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.”
William Young imagines the same thing in “The Shack.” If there is a God, he is non-judgmental. There is no hell. God just wants people to do their own thing and be happy.
Oprah preaches the same gospel to millions. Man is not a sinner; God is not a judge; all is well with the universe; and I just need to surrender to the flow. Her message is the celebration of self. She grew up in a traditional Baptist church, but she has reinterpreted the Bible and moved beyond its restrictions. She says, “As I study the New Age movement, it all seems to say exactly what the Bible has said for years, but many of us were brought up with a restricted, limited understanding of what the Bible said” (“The Gospel according to Oprah,” Vantage Point, July 1998).
Many of the statements in The Shack are out and out New Age philosophy. As Gary Gilley observes:
“The very essence of God is challenged when Young, quoting from Unitarian-Universalist, Buckminster Fuller, declares God to be a verb not a noun (pp. 194, 204). In a related statement, Young has Jesus say of the Holy Spirit, ‘She is Creativity; she is Action; she is Breathing of Life’ (p. 110). Yet the Bible presents God as a person (noun) not an action (verb). When this truth is denied we are moving from the biblical understanding of a personal God to an Eastern understanding of God in everything. Thus, we are not surprised when Mack asks the Holy Spirit if he will see her again he is told, ‘Of course, you might see me in a piece of art, or music, or silence, or through people, or in creation, or in your joy and sorrow’ (p. 198). This is not biblical teaching. This idea seems repeated in a line from a song Missy creates, ‘Come kiss me wind and take my breath till you and I are one’ (p. 233). At what point do we become one with creation? Again, this is an Eastern concept, not a biblical one.
“Young reinforces his Eastern leanings with a statement right out of New Age (New Spirituality) teachings: Papa tells Mack, ‘Just say it out loud. There is power in what my children declare”’(p. 227). Rhonda Byrne would echo this idea in her book, The Secret, but you will not find it in the Bible.
“Further, we are told Jesus ‘as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone’ (p. 100). So how did he do so? By trusting in the Holy Spirit. Jesus, the Spirit says, ‘is just the first to do it to the uttermost--the first to absolutely trust my life within him…’ (p. 100). There is enough truth here to be confusing but not accurate. Jesus, never ceasing to be fully God, had all Divine power dwelling within Him. That He chose to limit His use of that power and rely on the Holy Spirit while on earth in no way diminishes His essence. While Jesus is our example He is not a guru blazing a trail in which in this life we too can be like God. This idea smacks of New Age teaching, not Scripture. Jesus even tells Mack that ‘God, who is the ground of all being, dwells in, around, and through all things--ultimately emerging as the real’ (p. 112). This is pure New Age spirituality” (Gilley, “The Shack - A Book Review”).
DENYING THE INFALLIBILITY OF THE BIBLE
Another foundational problem with “The Shack” is its denial of the Bible as the absolute and sole authority. Note the following quote:
“In seminary he [the book’s main figure, Mack] had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. 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?” (pp. 65, 66).
To believe that the Bible is the infallible Word of God and the sole authority for faith and practice is not to “put God in a box.” It is to honor God by receiving the Scripture for what it claims to be and what it has proven itself to be. If a father goes on a journey and leaves behind a written statement of his will for the family during his absence, the family that truly honors the father submits to that written record. To reject the Bible as the infallible Word of God is to launch out upon the stormy waters of subjective mysticism. It allows man to be his own authority and to live as he pleases, which is an objective of both the New Age movement and the emerging church.
The author of “The Shack” points to changed lives as evidence of the truth of the book and the grace of God in using it. At the National Pastor’s Conference, William Young told Andy Crouch that the book was setting people free from “addictive bondages and doctrinal bondages.” He said, “Even people who have been vocally against the book, people in their own family have been healed.”
Healed of what and healed in what way?
What is happening is that people who don’t like Bible Christianity, don’t want to obey the Bible, don’t want to feel guilty for their sin, and have rejected the “angry” God of Scripture, are responding enthusiastically to the man-made idol presented in “The Shack.” The following is typical of the postings at Young’s MySpace site by readers of the book:
“Your book, The Shack, is amazing! It has changed so many people’s idea of what God is really like! It has set some of my friends free!”
Miracles do not prove that something is of God. There is one that the Bible calls “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and he can do miracles and answer prayers. I saw miracles and experienced answers to prayers when I was the member of a Hindu meditation society before I came to Christ. Miracles are not the proof of the truth; the Bible alone is the proof. The prophet Isaiah said, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).
“The Shack” is another building stone of the end-times Tower of Babel.
God’s people must be exceedingly careful in these days of awful apostasy. The Bible warns:
“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:25-26).
The willful sin described in this verse points back to the sin referred to in verse 29. It is the sin of counting the blood of salvation an unholy thing. It is the rejection of personal salvation through the blood of Christ, which many in the emerging church are doing. You can’t be saved if you reject the substitutionary atonement.
In these days we need to stay in the Bible every day and be in sweet communion with Christ, confessing our sins and walking in the light.
And we need to capture the heart of the next generation and educate them so they will not be taken captive by the wiles of the devil and the guile of false teachers.
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