Mildew in “The Shack”

If Christian subculture has proved anything, it’s that we are easily infatuated with movements: WWJD bracelets, “praise and worship” music and boycotting Disney, all while we kissed dating goodbye. More recently, Christians are enamored with figures – certain men or women who are in the driver’s seat of Christian culture because of their latest book, blog or podcast. In our lack of wisdom we jump on many trains and sometimes board really bad ones.  As one of my professors put it, we become “intellectual sluts,” sleeping with every idea that comes our way. Such carelessness is dangerous for Christians.

Few things have demonstrated this phenomenon as clearly as William P.Young and his book, The Shack. The author of a New York Times article published June 24, 2008 reported:

1“Just over a year after it was originally published as a paperback, “The Shack” had its debut at No. 1 on the New York Times trade paperback fiction best-seller list on June 8 and has stayed there ever since. It is No. 1 on Borders Group’s trade paperback fiction list, and at Barnes & Noble it has been No. 1 on the trade paperback list since the end of May, outselling even Mr. Tolle’s spiritual guide “A New Earth,” selected by Ms. Winfrey’s book club in January.”

Today The Shack is still on the top 15 paperback trade fiction list and has remained there for 114 weeks. The website entirely devoted to the book has these instructions:

2“If you are as taken with the message of this book as we are, you may already have some unique ideas as to how you can best let others know about it. Here are some ideas to help you about ways to let others know about this remarkable book:”

“If you know of people (authors, speakers, etc.) who have a voice to the wider culture, ask them if they would review a copy and make it some comment on it in their website, newsletters, etc.”

“Buy a set of books as gifts to battered women’s shelters, prisons, rehabilitation homes and the like where people might be really encouraged by the story and its message.”

Not many seem to notice that the Christian community has gained energy on the coattails of a theological narrative with unfounded and misleading ideas about God where sin is not a big deal, the trinity is open to interpretation and if you have experienced tragedy in your life, God will come down from heaven (apparently the incarnation of the Son of God wasn’t enough) and make everything okay. The Shack paints a false picture of God and His redemptive plan. And yet, I have watched many Christians swallow the story whole and then give it t to their lost friends as an evangelistic gesture.

This is not a blow by blow critique of the unbiblical viewpoint and poor theology expressed throughout the story; Dr. Al Mohler, Mark Driscoll, and others have done this effectively. This is a question for Christians: when did we allow a book to steal our affections for and confidence in the gospel of Christ? Paul said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power unto salvation for all who believe.” Acts 4:12 says, “There is no other name under heaven or earth by which man can be saved (emphasis mine).” If Christians believe this is true, why would we point them to anything less than the gospel? Isn’t it captivating and sufficient enough for the ugliest of days and most cynical individuals?

The statements above from the book’s website prove that some no longer believe the gospel changes lives, but parts of the gospel plus something else (like their own ideas) might. The Shack cheerleaders believe its message is so hopeful and compelling that it should be taken to battered women’s shelters…nothing like junk theology couched in bad writing to help an abused woman. What happens when she’s done reading it? The book ends, it collects dust and she is no closer to understanding the truth of Jesus and His salvation than she was before. There is no anchor of hope, no promise of redemption and no one for her to follow.

The Shack is not the first train going nowhere. In the last ten years, many books have captivated multitudes, both Christians and non-Christians, overshadowing the heard-it-before story of Jesus and His cross. With creative titles, non-controversial statements and questionable theology, they distracted us from the piercing truth of the gospel: every human being is sinful and doomed to hell apart from Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Jesus commanded in Mark 12:30 to love Him with our entire mind which includes discerning what we read for both truth and error and wisely choosing how to respond. Indiscriminately consuming whatever comes along paves the way for unbiblical ideas to slip into our minds, vocabulary and eventually our practice, robbing God of worship and the world of its Savior.

Secondary to the Bible, reading gospel-centered material is healthy for believers. In my personal pursuit of this, I have occasionally allowed zeal about a particular book to steal my focus and blind me to fallacies it contained. It’s most problematic when the gospel takes a backseat and the lost around us hear the praises of works that do not alter their course to a Christ-less eternity. The true gospel is unpopular, offensive and costly…didn’t I hear that somewhere?


“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” (2 Timothy 4:3)



Read Dr. Al Mohler’s critique of The Shack

Watch and listen to Mark Driscoll’s critique of The Shack

(image credit)


2 thoughts on “Mildew in “The Shack”

  1. You raise an interesting point about giving books like these to friends as evangelism tools. Just thinking out loud here:

    While The Shack is certainly problematic, are there other works of fiction that can sufficiently mirror the gospel? The only thing that comes to my mind right this second is Narnia, but I don’t think I’ve ever considered giving that away for this purpose.

    What about nonfiction? I give away Mere Christianity and PDL all the time. While the latter is not perfect, it played a HUGE role in my own early days as a believer. Brino may remember the Purpose Driven Box in the back of my car…

    Lastly, and I’ve been wrestling with this for years, do you believe that it is CRITICAL for those to whom we are witnessing to fully comprehend things like the nature of the Trinity in order to begin their walk with Christ? Maybe I’m just too much of a good ol boy, but the finer points of theology just don’t interest me. I don’t believe I have any beliefs that would differ from yours or Brino’s, but ultimately I am comfortable with a “simple” faith in God, one that certainly calls me to righteousness (within a biblical context without liberal interpretation), but also one un-needing of finer debates. (I don’t classify the Trinity as such, I was just using that as an example for a NEW believer, but even then it can get confusing.)

    While I agree The Shack misses the mark, I believe the author was well-intentioned. Just thinking out loud, but do you think we could still use The Shack as a tool, or at the ever least a common forum, to discuss faith with nonbelievers? Call it a common context?

    • Thanks for the comments! You always provide a thoughtful new angle to the discussion. If we’re talking about giving “Mere Christianity” or PDL to a new or non-Christian I would say yes and amen! While both of us would have our disagreements with Lewis and Warren on some points, those are books which magnify God, are faithful to the Bible, and declare the gospel. When it comes to the Shack, however, we have a book which distorts God, ignores the Bible, and replaces the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus with the gospel of Mack’s conversations.

      Let’s just take Young’s view of God the Father. His portrayal of the Father as a black woman named “Papa” who serves up platitudes from the last Dr. Phil episode like the oracle from the Matrix is comedic at best and a violation of the 2nd commandment at worst. It is a view of God that strips Him of His holiness, righteousness, infiniteness, wrath against sin, justice, and glory and appears to owe more to Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of God in Bruce and Evan Almighty than it does to the Bible. That said, I don’t believe The Shack introduces anyone to the biblical God but rather to Young’s caricature.

      I’m all for feeding new Christians milk as long as its not sour. If a non-Christian has read The Shack than we can use it as a common forum. If they haven’t, I’ll point them in a different direction. A better direction would be the gospel. Further, we both know there are many long-time Christians who will spend more time reading “The Shack” this year than the Scriptures, which means their view of God is more like Young’s than it is Paul’s, Isaiah’s, or Jesus’.

      I guess at the end of the day, I think “The Shack” can be distorting for veteran Christians, confusing for new Christians, and misleading for non-Christians. Let’s give them for non-fiction PDL, Mere Christianity, or Keller’s Prodigal God and for fiction Lewis, Tolkien, or Dekker’s Circle Trilogy. These are my thoughts, such as they are.


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