Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Shack

This post is intended primarily for the folks in my church as a part of my responsibility to them as their Pastor/Teacher and as an Elder to “guard the flock of God” (Acts 20:28). If others pop in, I hope that you will be warned also.

From time to time a book comes into the public consciousness that is something of a literary sensation while at the same time presenting very dangerous ideas. Of course, there are a veritable plethora of dangerous books out there but not all of them gain as much notoriety and acclaim as others. In the past I have dealt with two of these literary phenomena, The Da Vinci Code and The Secret, publicly at our church. Now we must add another—The Shack. Frankly, I am amazed that supposedly solid Christians are being swept into the whirlpool of interest in this book. Even a cursory reading shows the blatant heresy put forth. Here is an introductory synopsis:

“As the story begins, Mack, who has been living in the shadow of his Great Sadness, receives a note from God (known in this story as Papa). Papa invites Mack to return to this shack for a time together. Though uncertain of what to expect, Mack visits the scene of the crime and there experiences a weekend-long encounter with God, or, more properly, with the Godhead.
Each of the members of the Trinity is present and each appears in bodily form. Papa, whose actual name is Elousia (which is Greek for tenderness) appears in the form of a large, matronly African-American woman (though near the book’s end, because Mack requires a father figure, she turns into a pony-tailed, grey-haired man). Jesus is a young to middle-aged man of Middle-Eastern descent while the Holy Spirit is played by Sarayu (Sanskrit for air or wind), a small, delicate and eclectic woman of Asian descent. Mack also meets for a time with Sophia, who, like Lady Wisdom in Proverbs, is the personification of God’s wisdom.”
(from a review by Tim Challies)

Most right-thinking Christians would hear the idea of God the Father being portrayed by an African-American woman and God the Holy Spirit by an Asian woman and would laugh, at best. How absurd. How heretical. Be forewarned. This is a book that plays with the reader’s emotions and causes the less discerning to be pulled away from sound doctrine.

For you ladies, my friend Nancy Leigh DeMoss is the first who alerted me to this book and warned of its growing popularity. She has devoted at least one of her radio programs to the book.

For those who would like to consider a sound, thoughtful review of the book, I would suggest Tim Challies’ work .

Folks, please be careful what you let influence your thinking. Paul warned Timothy of these types of issues when he said: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)


Shawn said...

Thanks for the warning about this book. I traced the link back to Chalies' blog and it seems strikingly clear that the author is striving to define, describe, and fashion 'a god' outside the biblical portrayal of God.
Psalm 29

hannah's mom said...

thank you for the amazing job you do as our pastor/teacher. mike and i have been so totally blessed by God through you. you work so hard, and we so appreciate it.

thanks for the heads up about this book. i don't know that i would ever have encountered it, but cwn think of some poeple who might and i am glad to be prepared to talk with them.


gene said...

thanks for this post.

i too am amazed at how many people are embracing this book as 'life changing.'

we've talked to a lot of other pastors who are actually promoting this book, calling it 'the most important book you can read as a Christian'...then, as soon as you cite the theology of the story they immediately revert to, 'well, it's just fiction.'

it's very sad, and, so far, it's been very damaging.

blessings and maranatha

A.J. Soldo said...

i love the verse at the end. thanks for the warning. blessings.

Greg said...

Greetings Mr. Price:
In your post, you make the comments:
"Most right-thinking Christians would hear the idea of God the Father being portrayed by an African-American woman and God the Holy Spirit by an Asian woman and would laugh, at best. How absurd. How heretical".

My question: Why is this absurd? Why is it heretical? If Lewis can portray a christ-like figure as a Narnian lion or Herman Melville can portray God as a whale each to make a point in their well-regarded fiction, why can't our abba be portrayed as an African woman? If He wanted to appear to someone as an African-American woman I think it's within His ability to do so, don't you? Perhaps more than a cursory reading would help you to be more quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Cheers!

walter price said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
walter price said...


I debated answering your comment since you left it basically anonymously. But I don't want my distaste for that to deter me from responding to your doctrinal error.

No, I do not believe God the Father would appear as an African-American woman. The Bible is very clear in the fact that He has appeared to us in His Son, and only in His Son. That's the main heresy of this book.

The danger of this book, compared to Lewis' works, is that no one is required to suspend their doctrinal clarity when reading Lewis. No one in anything resembling a right mind would think of God as actually manifesting Himself as a Lion. But you claim that God could manifest Himself as an African-American woman.

Read my blog again. I didn't claim that I had made a cursory reading nor did I claim to be angry. Your haste to be rude clouded your understanding.

Greg said...

Thanks for the response in spite of your feelings. I had no intention of being rude: I just don't have an account on your blog as I've never used it before.
You stated that "even a cursory reading shows the blatant heresy..." so I wasn't sure how much you had read beyond the passage you quoted. Should I assume you've read the entire book? I have. You are using strong terms like "blatant heresy". If so, where is the "heresy" in the quote you cite? Are you really saying that God couldn't appear to someone as an African-American woman if He wanted to? And are you really saying that a novelist is committing heresy by suggesting such? He appears later in the book as an older gentleman with grey hair. Is that less "heretical"? If so, why? No offense intended. I'm simply curious about your rather strong opinions on this. Cheers!

walter price said...


What I am saying is that God would not "want" to appear as an African-American woman since, as I stated in my previous comment, He has appeared to us in His Son (John 1:18).

The problem with the "old man with gray hair" is that the "god" in "The Shack" changes to accomodate the perceived wishes/needs of the main character Mac. That's heretical. God doesn't change in order to accommodate what we think He ought to be. He is unchangeable for all eternity (the doctrine of immutability).

There are other, better minds than I who have deemed this book heretical. I would refer you to them. Perhaps they can explain it more clearly.

Greg said...

Dr. Price:
Again, thank you for your candid response. And my apologies for the informality of my previous salutations in my previous posts: I see from your bio on your church's website (fitp?) that you have an extensive and admirable education. Which makes me wonder: you seem to have as good a mind as any (better than most apparently). And yet you're deferring in your last post in this thread to "others" who've deemed "The Shack" as heresy citing them as "better minds"?

Have you actually read the entire book which you now deem as "heretical"? Or is this charge based on "other's" opinions?

You stated:
"What I am saying is that God would not 'want' to appear as an African-American woman since, as I stated in my previous comment, He has appeared to us in His Son (John 1:18)."

Leaving aside the appearances in scripture of God appearing as a flame in a bush to Moses, as a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire to the Jews, a disembodied voice from the heavens at the baptism of Jesus by John or the appearance of the Holy Spirit as a dove in the same scene, I can't imagine being so bold as to assume that I know how God might 'want' to appear or to not want to appear. Nor would I make so bold as to call heresy the work of an author who imagines God appearing in a dream to Mack who needs to know, more than anything at that time, that God loves him! God seems to choose to appear to people as He sees fit to accomplish His will.

You quoted and referred to, in your original post on "The Shack" on this site, Mr. Challies' review which I have now read. Ironically, on Mr. Challies' site, there is a comment by a "Leanne" (the 23rd comment on the page with Challies' review of "The Shack") in whose response I find a good deal I agree with. Please take a look at her comment before responding as I would be interested in your opinion.

And again, I would be interesetd to know if you really have read this entire book? Your comments seem unusually harsh for a novel that attempts to tell people that God loves them, even in very difficult times.

walter price said...

Yes, Greg, I read the book.

Greg said...

Thanks Walter!
Did you perhaps read the posted comment I suggest from "Leanne" on Challies' website? I include it below for your convenience.

I'm curious, still, of your opinion on "Leanne"'s comments and would appreciate your thoughts.

If you choose not to respond, I understand: you've been quite patient. Cheers!

23. Leanne
May 21, 2008
10:36 AM
I’ll be honest, I read The Shack and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Currently I am also working through Millard Erickson’s “Introduction to Christian Doctrine” for the second time. You might wonder how I can enjoy reading both books when one may challenge the other? Simply because I see The Shack for what it is, a work of fiction.

Tim, wondering if you can touch on how you understand the author’s intent? I’m having a hard time understanding your credibility to judge it (and I mean this purely in an inquisitive sense). If the author means The Shack to sway people from the Bible, then yes, I wholeheartedly agree that we have a huge problem here. For myself, I never once felt that he was trying to pull me away from or compete with the Bible or that he had a subversive plot to undermine Orthodox Christianity. I simply enjoyed reading a fictional story that helped me see the different places that I have put God in a box. I agree that God reveals Himself to us through nature and through the Bible and we probably get the best understanding of Him through the Bible. Yet there are times when things outside the Bible can provide for some refreshing understanding of Biblical themes or of life in general. Should we be checking these things against the Bible? Yes. Is every truth plainly written in the Bible? No. My point is that as long as we have an understanding that, yes, there are things in The Shack or in Chronicles of Narnia that do not fully check with what the Bible says, take it for what it is. Still a work of fiction.

I’m wondering if Pilgrim’s Progress wouldn’t have gotten the same review back when it was first published, when people didn’t understand the context in which to apply it to their lives.

walter price said...


BTW, informality is good. Just Walter will do fine.

I am a pastor. I will give an account for the flock of God that I shepherd (Heb. 13:17). God has commanded me to guard the flock which was purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ (Acts 20:28).

So in that role, my personal experience has been somewhat like what Gene posted above. If you and Leanne can maintain objectivity and see this as a work of fiction only, I have no problem with that. My concern is for those who say "this book changed my life" or "well, I had to suspend my doctrine, but the book was life-changing." I will forever try to guard the flock I'm responsible for from that kind of error.

I wish I had the time to answer all your comments and questions in depth. Sorry.

This book is dangerous, as I said earlier, because, as you said, God might actually choose to show up as an African-American woman. If people choose to believe that, it is heretical. The gulf between that and true works of allegory is enormous.

IMHO, the answer to your previous queries is patently obvious. God's presence was "in" the bush and spoke to Moses "from" the bush (cf Ex 3:2f). He was not manifesting Himself as a bush. He was in (cf Ex 13:21)the pillar of fire and the cloud by day; He was not being a fire or cloud as the "god" of The Shack is being a woman.

Greg said...

Thank you Walter:
I appreciate the time that you did take to consider what I posted.
And no, "The Shack" did not "change my life" or cause me to change my doctrine in the way that I know some have responded. I find that kind of response a little scary (what will happen to them when they read another book?). I enjoyed it as a novel, as a potential tool to introduce someone, who perhaps may be struggling the way "Mack" was, to a fictional story that (albeit imperfectly) paints a picture of God's love and His desire for relationship. I think the book could very likely open the door to a lot of good conversation and potentially to a person's salvation if handled correctly.

To your concern about heresy I would say this: the only person I can imagine telling a story perfectly so that it didn't violate proper theology at some point would be Jesus. (I also believe if you throw a pitchfork far enough in hell, you'll hit a theologian! - (grin)). Taking the time to differentiate between, "in" versus "as" is a theological distinction worthy
of discussion. But I think it would be tough to make in a novel.
And it's not the point of the book.

I believe the intent of the book is simply to point people to the God who loves and desires relationship with us. I don't agree with everything the author says by any means. But that's true of any novel!

Having served as a deacon and a pastor and currently as an active lay leader in my church, I deeply appreciate your passion for guarding the flock.

I find it fascinating in our Christian community (particularly in the blogosphere these days) that we are quick to judge and to be "right" about things like theology (which has it's place) instead of putting more effort into putting on love (I Cor. 13:1-2). We (and I include myself here as well) strive to be right in what we know but end up acting more like a "noisy cymbal".

I know people who have suffered similar to "Mack" and who have a dim view of God (and theology) and who I would not have a problem handing this book to with the belief that it might help them better understand that God loves them. It is not a theological treatise so judging it in that sense is, to me, missing the mark.

All novels are theologically unsound at some point (that's why it's called fiction). So yes, there is the risk that heresy may creep in. But I liken it to the pharisees who Jesus looked at before healing the man with the withered hand on the sabbath (Mark 3:1-6). He definitely violated their performing an act of love! Later in Mark 9:40 He chides his disciples, admonishing them, "He who is not against us is for us". God's love trumps our theology.

Therefore, I found your initial post about "The Shack" frustrating: I felt it was unnecessarily harsh and caustic. I hope from my above comments you can see why. And I hope and pray you can see my heart in this.

If one person reads "The Shack" and begins to pursure a relationship with God because of it, the reward, to me, has been well worth the risk of heresy! And we (as the body of Christ) will have better represented our Lord to the world as those who have put on love in a perfect bond of unity (Col. 3:14) if we gently admonish where there is error and whole-heartedly encourage where there is common ground!

Thank you Walter for your patience in reading these long posts.


walter price said...


I do think I see your heart in your later posts and I appreciate your letting it show through. I'm sorry you thought I was being caustic because I gave a lot of prayerful thought (not "quick to speak") to not being that way. This is a horrible means for true communication.

Again, I hope my heart comes through in this because it seems that you and I have basic differences (which can be a very good thing). In my deeply felt compassion and concern for the flock, I believe we can only bring real comfort with the truth spoken in love. That is why I try never to "fudge" on the truth/doctrine in order to bring solace or encouragement.

Having said that without the context of knowing me or face-to-face communication leaves me open to your pre-conceived caricature of a hard bound fundamentalist waving his Bible with a red face, if you so choose. I can only appeal to the testimony of the flock I have pastored for over 24 years that, hopefully would say I always attempt to speak the truth in love.

Time to agree to disagree and part company, I think. Have a blessed day.

greg said...

Thank you. And I agree we must get on with the rest of our lives.

Again, I admire your passion and zeal in your role as protector of the flock. (The caricature you describe is not how I have perceived you.)

Even in our best moments, each of us is a heretical novel. The fact that God still uses us to communicate truth, show love and to be His children, is a measure of His grace. May we each extend that grace to our brothers & sisters, so that the world can see that His love is real, as well as to those who are not yet His children, so that
they will know that He is "especially fond" of each and every one of them!

Grace and peace to you Walter,


johnMark said...


I'm very glad to see another pastor taking care of his flock in this way. It's very encouraging for today.

In our recent church newsletter we published a review of The Shack by one of our members. I've reproduced it on my blog with an optional pdf download. In case you're interested.

Go here.



walter said...


Thanks for the encouragement. I read your guy's review and thought it was excellent. I'll probably refer folks to it now.
BTW, love those reformed Baptists, but I had a thought, wouldn't a reformed Baptist who knew krav maga be dangerous? 8-)

Pastor Chris said...

I am just now reading this book. I have to say that it is a heart-wrenching book that brought me to tears. It is also extremely heretical, even moreso (in my humble opinion) than The Da Vinci Code. I read that one too!

What I cannot figure out is this. With all of the blatent heresies in this book, you chose the African-American woman. How about God not judging sinners, not needing to because sin is its own punishment? How about total trancendence of God (wholly other) which is border-line deism? What about universalism?

William Young is a self-proclaimed universalist and pushes this belief onto his readers in such subtle manners (remember "I can't. I can't. I won't condemn my children to eternal you understand Papa's love"?) Young made a statment that the mind must change before the heart, but what Young does in The Shack is touch the heart of the reader in order to change his/her mind.

I'm simply confused as to why you jumped on the A/A woman versus all the other heresies.

walter said...

Pastor Chris, thanks for your comment. While I agree with you about all the "other heresies" in this book, I must say you made my "jumping on the African-American Woman" sound like racism.
The reason I focused on that part is because that is THE GREATEST heresy of the book, i.e., a distortion of the person and nature of God Himself.

cbmadison52 said...

Well, I've joined the dialogue much later than the earliest folks. I have read the book. I am a pastor. I do believe that God has revealed himself in Christ. That is the New Testament witness (Johannine literature, especially). It seems to me that The Shack is a way to try and address the issue of theodicy, or why the righteous suffer. Mac's daughter was brutally murdered. Mac's heavy depression and struggle to find peace, is something I can see anyone struggling with. I take the characters representing God in a metaphorical way. Scripturally, no, God didn't appear as an African American woman, or an Asian woman, or an old man in a garden. The scriptures do not point to God revealing himself these ways in the future. So, I take the book as fiction in that regard. I also do not believe that the author's solution to Mac's suffering would assuage my pain and anger if such a thing had happened to our daughter. Healing and forgiveness is not something that happens as neatly as flipping a switch. I would take solace from the thought of her in heaven. But, there would still be the issue of how to relate to her murderer.

I see The Shack as primarily metaphorical and imaginary, not as doctrine, and certainly not in line with Christian Systematic Theology. And, the Cross and reconcilation nowhere appear in this book. The Cross, as since Jesus' time, and Paul's writing has been a stumbling block for many.

I wonder if in this post-modern world, where folks are wondering about what God is really like, (if they believe in God at all), that the author, in a desire to be politically correct, portrayed God in the way he did.

I believe that God can represent God's self in any way God chooses. But, God has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ, and through the Presence of the Holy Spirit since New Testament times.

Pastorally, I would want to find some way to bring comfort, but do it in a way which is consistent with solid, biblical theology. And, while fiction is fiction, the Bible provides us with a lot of wonderful ways which God speaks to our needs.

Rev. Chris Madison, M.Div.