by Ron Livesay
After writing "A Review of The Shack," I distributed many hard copies to members of my Sunday school class and others in the church. That resulted in many favorable comments concerning the article, although there has not yet been very much response to it here on my blog. I have discovered a number of other reviews that point out the weaknesses, fallacies, and dangers of The Shack. A few examples are as follows: "Sweet Tea and Theology: The Shack Review," "Deceived by a counterfeit "Jesus" - The twisted "truths" of The Shack & A Course in Miracles," and "The Shack & Its New Age Leaven: God IN Everything?" Several articles on The Shack are found here. Related articles on the New Age, the Occult, and other false teaching are available at Caryl Productions.
It is quite obvious that Christians are divided over this book. One website has over 2,000 brief reviews of The Shack, and it seems that those who like it really like it (5 stars), and those who don’t like it really don’t like it (0 stars). Only a relative handful gave it a rating in the middle. It is a sad commentary on the state of biblical knowledge among professing Christians that so many would rate it so highly.
It seems there are many Christians today who think we should always be positive and never take a position against anything. "Peace and unity above all." This may be the "politically correct" thing to do, but often it is the wrong and irresponsible thing to do. Is it always wrong to be critical? Should we simply strive for unity at all costs and avoid pointing out error when we see it? The biblical answer to these questions is obvious. "…the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" (James 3:17, NKJV - emphasis added). Clearly, this Scripture indicates that doctrinal purity takes precedence over peace and unity.
When anyone dares to evaluate popular books, ideas, music, etc. that come into modern Christian culture, there are always the voices of those who cry "foul" and claim fundamentalists are overly-critical and negative. They accuse us of nitpicking and trying to cause division in the Body of Christ. The reality is that those who produce false doctrine are the ones causing division. Truth always trumps falsehood, and we must not back away from our responsibility to "…contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3, NKJV). God’s Word does not change. Truth does not change. In order to stand for truth, it is often necessary to point out the contrasting falsehood.
I am one who is naturally skeptical when any new book or concept becomes very popular very quickly with a large number of people, because such popularity generally indicates an appeal to the old nature and ego of man. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NKJV). The truth is not as popular as something that makes us "feel good," because an honest, biblical view of the nature of God and the nature of man leaves humanity in a very humbling position. Books such as The Shack are examples of ear-tickling teaching over truth, personal opinion over the Word of God, and human desires and feelings over the sovereign nature of God.
It is wise to be skeptical and do due diligence when one of these books comes along. Some of these "new things" are nothing more than touchy-feely ideas that make people feel good about their lives. There is nothing wrong with feeling good, but good feelings that are not based in truth are of no value. Anything that produces such feelings outside of truth is deceptive and can be dangerous, in that it can divert attention from truth, and that is never good.
There is no concept of greater importance when evaluating books of human authorship than to recognize the supremacy of the Word of God in all matters. If the Scriptures are ignored or denigrated in any way, the value of the book doing so is immediately called into question. This is a sure sign that such a book has no place in the library of a born again believer. The Word of God is the standard by which all other things are measured. Those things that are found wanting should be ignored, and if they are doing harm, they should be opposed. The Bible warns us many times against false teaching. One such Scripture is found in 1 Timothy. "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Timothy 4:1, NKJV). For example, the picture of the Trinity given in The Shack is far from an accurate interpretation of it. Rather, it is a very grotesque caricature of what God has actually revealed to us in the Scriptures about the Trinity. It appears that The Shack was written to divert people's attention from the God of the Bible in favor of the false god of The Shack. No one needs to see a different side of God. If there were a different side to see, it would be in the Bible. It most certainly would not be in a book written by a man whose view of God is skewed by personal opinion rather than based on the Scriptures. There is no "new way" to open the mind to Christ.
I don’t expect anyone to believe anything just because I have said it, because I am certainly no one special. No one should believe anything just because a pastor, a Sunday school teacher, a theology professor, a famous writer, or anyone else said it. We all need to be like the Bereans, who "…received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11, NKJV). Using the Scriptures to question someone’s teaching or writing is a very right and very biblical thing to do. If anything I have written is not consistent with the Scriptures, then it should be rejected. If, however, the content of my review is consistent with the Scriptures, even if some find it offensive, then that content should be received, not because I wrote it, but because it is biblical.
My review of The Shack is just that – a review of the book. There is nothing implied about anyone who has chosen to read it or who likes it. If some choose to be at odds with me over my review of the book, I am hopeful that I can truthfully say that they are at odds not with me, but with the Scriptures, the source of my positions on these matters. However, I am always open to being instructed by the Scriptures, and if I am wrong at any point, I welcome criticism based on what God’s Word says, but I have no reason to listen to opinions, emotional arguments, feelings, or Scriptures twisted from their appropriate contexts.
While there is some truth in The Shack, it is not enough to overcome and validate all the blatant, unbiblical falsehood it contains. No amount of truth in a book can overcome even a small amount of error. Gopher bait is a very large percentage of good food and only a small percentage of poison. The good food causes the gopher to eat the poison, and then the poison does its work. The Shack contains a much higher percentage of error than gopher bait contains poison.
The Shack is sometimes defended on the basis that it produces an emotional response. The truth of the matter is that there are many things that can produce an emotional response, but this fact alone does not validate the thing producing that response. The fictional story in The Shack, especially the part about the kidnapping and murder of the little girl, certainly tugs at the emotions, but this does not justify all of the false doctrine it contains. Truth is not determined by an emotional response or even by the fact that one has been dramatically impacted by it. Truth is determined by consistency with the Word of God. An emotional response is merely an added bonus that neither confirms nor denies that truth. The fact that some people are impacted by a book does not, in and of itself, validate the book. Almost anything can have an impact on people, but sometimes an impact is a negative thing, especially if those so impacted walk away with a false idea. The impact or non-impact of any book is not the point. Truth does not change because falsehood is presented in an appealing way.
The Bible is clear that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:17, NKJV). It does not come by hearing other things besides the Word of God, and it does not come by seeing, feeling, smelling, tasting, or otherwise experiencing such things. Nothing replaces the Word of God. Faith does not come through emotion. Emotion is essentially irrelevant in salvation and in our lives as believers. While a person may get emotional at the time of salvation and even in relation to his/her daily walk with the Lord, it is neither necessary nor important that emotion be a part of it. Salvation is a great transaction, not an emotional experience. It has nothing to do with "making a decision" or "choosing relationship over independence," as The Shack says. God is much more interested in believers’ faithfulness and obedience than He is in how we feel about our relationship with Him.
The Scriptures teach us that "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9). We need to be careful when someone claims to have discovered a new truth or a new way of looking at truth. We also need to be careful when a book is peppered with innocuous sounding buzz words. Some of the otherwise perfectly good words that currently fit into this category and are included in The Shack are share, relationship, embrace, confluence, facilitate, and paradigm, among others. New ones are sure to appear as new books are written. It is hard to stay current, but such words never quite mean what they really mean when someone is trying to sell false doctrine as truth.
The Shack is quite obviously fiction. That is one of the common defenses of it. However, by its very definition, fiction is something that is made up from the imagination and is not true. Fiction that is based on true principles can be instructive and helpful, but fiction that is based on a false premise and false principles cannot possibly communicate truth. I must conclude that the book can’t communicate the attributes of God accurately, because it starts from a totally false concept of who God is and what He wants. The author makes no secret of his desire to present a totally changed god from the God of the Bible, and such a purpose is indefensible and inexcusable.
Even though the book is fiction, it is written in such a way as to attempt to lead the reader to believe that the events actually occurred in the life of a friend of the author by the name of Mackenzie Phillips ("Mack"). Even at the end, the author states that he is really not sure how much of the story is true. "Do I think that it’s true? I want all of it to be true. Perhaps if some of it is not actually true in one sense, it is still true nonetheless – if you know what I mean" (p. 247).
There is the danger that some may read the book and actually believe it is based on true events rather than being a far-fetched figment of the imagination of the author. To imply that a work of fiction is actually true is deceptive and can lead unsuspecting readers to believe the story is true, which in the case of The Shack, it obviously is not. In order to be true, it would have to be biblically true, which it very clearly is not.