Life Matters: Finding love in “The Shack”

By DAVID WHITLOCK

Mark Driscoll, formerly pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, said of the enormously popular book, “The Shack”, “If you haven’t read ‘The Shack’, don’t.”

Such is the consensus of many Christian leaders regarding William P. Young’s book, now a hot item on the silver screen.

I haven’t read the book, but I did see the movie.

Some have hailed it as a groundbreaking story about God and his relationship with us. Eugene Peterson, author of “The Message”, said it “has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s, The Pilgrim’s Progress, did for his.” But, others have criticized it for being non-biblical and even heretical. Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said of “The Shack”: “This book includes undiluted heresy.”

Unlike Pastor Driscoll, I would say, if you haven’t seen the movie, see it. Just keep one eye open, and your other eye on the Scriptures, for like the book, the movie’s depiction of God will likely cause the biblically attuned to raise their eyebrows.

Whenever one side of God’s character is emphasized at the expense of another — as it seems to do in the “The Shack” — where the love of God overshadows the justice of God — the door is opened to gross misconceptions about God.

But that is only one concern the biblically orthodox seem to have about this movie. And yikes, there it is, that nasty word, “orthodox,” poking its head out like a dangerous dinosaur trying to hide its enormous head as it sends everyone scurrying in all directions for cover, scaring innocent bystanders, intent on avoiding a confrontation with the “orthodox.” 

The word evokes images of the Pharisees and the religious elite opposing, then crucifying, Jesus the Christ. And there it goes again, sending its heresy hunters racing down the corridors of history, in one instance, soldiers of the Inquisition, armed with instruments of torture, at other times, orthodoxy’s minions, lighting the fires that burn heretics at the stake.

But, despite the religious abusers, orthodoxy does matter, and “orthodox belief,” didn’t fall from the sky one crystal blue day,  but emerged from the creeds of early Christendom — carefully thought-out statements clarifying  belief in response to what the church perceived as distortions to revealed truth, dangerous deviances later deemed to be heresies,  misbelief perpetrated by people like Marcion, who in the second century promoted his opinions of God by simply cutting out the parts of the Bible that didn’t taste right to him, or by Montanus, also of the second century, who added his own prophesies as authoritative revelations from God.  

Orthodoxy can be a helpful and positive guide for Christians, as long as it is lived out with one side hinged by love and the other by truth.  

Yet, despite its questionable portrayal of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, at least “The Shack” has ignited a discussion about God, which is much more than most movies do these days. 

Is it true that Jesus never drew from his divinity to do anything, as the movie seems to imply? Is that a correct reading of Scripture? And, what about Jesus’ statement in the movie that, “I am not a Christian, and I have no desire to make them Christians.” What does that mean, exactly? What are its implications?

One thing is positively sure: God calls on “Mack,” the central character of “The Shack”, to find healing in forgiveness, both his own and the one who has hurt his family and him in a horrible way. Here is a struggle that speaks to many fractured people today.

This movie underscores that God is a God of forgiveness, a God who loves us, regardless of how good or bad we have been or are or might become. It’s difficult for us to see it, as attuned as we are to earning our ticket to heaven. And, sadly, there is usually enough good in each of us, at least in our own eyes, to blind us from the inherent bad in all of us, which is at the root of our alienation from God. 

Perhaps that is why the story of “The Shack” has been so attractive: there is yet within us a desire for the one who loves us, the one we want, even when we reject the love that is always pursuing us, for if you dig deep enough into your soul, you will find that you, too, want to be wanted by the God who, in the words of “Papa,” the name for the Heavenly Father, in “The Shack”, is “especially fond of you.”