Why 'The Shack' Is So Controversial

New movie, renewed theological debate.

You’ve probably seen the trailer for the upcoming film adaptation of William Paul Young’s wildly popular novel The Shack recently going around the internet. As is probably expected, the movie, which hits theaters in March, is reigniting the controversy surrounding the book.

If you’ve been around Christian circles long, you know this controversy isn’t new. But if you may not know—especially if the controversy is news to you—what exactly all the fuss is about.

In the book, as in the new movie, a grieving father meets God in the form of three individuals who make up the Trinity: a Jewish carpenter (Jesus), an Asian woman (Holy Spirit) and an African-American woman (Father—played by Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer).

And that’s where things get controversial. Here’s a look at the problems critics see—and what some even call “heresy.”

God as three individuals.

In the novel, Mack, the main character, goes to the shack and sees three individuals and immediately assumes that they represent the Trinity, but is surprised when he asks for God and all three of them answer. This reignited the controversy behind the theology of modalism, which says that God is one individual that presents itself in three different ways, but is ultimately still one person.

He knew his mind was rambling, so he focused on the one question he most wanted answered.
“Then,” Mack struggled to ask, “which one of you is God?”
“I am,” said all three in unison. Mack looked from one to the next, and even though he couldn’t begin to grasp what he was seeing and hearing, he somehow believed them.” – Page 87

The novel also goes on to describe the three God individuals as all submitting to one another and to Mack—and presumably every individual human—an idea many fear could easily become dangerous and lead into idolatry.

God as a woman.

In the novel, “Papa” is only different from the way God is biblically characterized in gender—Papa is compassionate, loving and fully invested in Mack.

However, we refer to God almost exclusively using masculine pronouns. The Bible also refers to God using masculine pronouns, but also talks about God being beyond gender.

The book’s original publisher, Wayne Jacobsen, has explained that the decision to see God as a woman—and as non-white—was to show that God can reveal himself and work through anyone.

“The paternalistic mind-set that a man can reveal God to the world better than a woman can is a mistake, and part of the book is meant to undermine that,” he told the Washington Post last year.

Williams Paul Young’s Response

As we reported earlier, William Paul Young explained in an interview last year with GoodReads that he wanted to challenge people’s ideas about the character and nature of God with his work of fiction.

The word "mercy" is from the same root in Hebrew as the word "womb," and so every time you read "mercy" you are dealing with the maternal nature of God …

We need to have a conversation that deepens our understanding of, and appreciation for, what being human is all about and that everybody, in my view, every single human being is a unique expression of the spectrum of both the masculine and feminine, because God is neither male nor female.

He also seemed to welcome the controversy—and conversation—the has book caused, saying, he liked the “visceral response way more than I appreciate ambivalence,” explaining,

At least with an angry person you can have a conversation, because when people are upset, something in them is being challenged enough to raise their ire, and that's an engaged process and opens up the possibility of really great conversation. I love the questions, I love the conversation, and I think it's our way forward.

Regardless of your take on The Shack, there's no denying its renewed buzz is sure to stir up some interesting conversations.

Top Comments

Mike Handy

16

Mike Handy commented…

Honestly I get a feeling that the emotional anchor, and use of a black woman as God is designed to shut down opposition. Given that "Papa" is represented as a minority and woman allows the author to sling racist and sexist at anyone who object to the theology. The problem is not black woman, the problem is the book has God very wrong and one dimensional. The Author never deals with these issues when speaking, instead he makes emotional appeals. The author makes overt attacks at theologians in the book which further disarm discernment.

The book says there is no hierarchy in the trinity so that is different than the God of the bible.
The book says that God submits to man, so that is different.
The book demotes God's sovereignty and is extremely hard line on free will so that is different.
The book says that all of the trinity went to the cross, so that is different.
The book says that Jesus had no power to heal, so that is different.
The book says that most roads lead no where in particular, so that is different.
The book suggests sin is its own punishment and God doesnt care too much so that is different.
The book suggests that Jesus will go to any road and it doesnt matter what you believe so that is different.
The book suggests that God is totally devoid of Justice which is biblically aligned to his mercy so that is different.

Jesus references his relationship with the father all over the place, and Jesus sends the spirit.

So get the image of God wrong really is far deeper than portrayed as a women which is probably a minor offense in light of the other more blaring issues. The portrayal is possibly even commendable given the number of white bearded images of God the father that have been made over the centuries. The problem people have with the book is it gets the whole of God wrong. It is a different Gospel, and its encased in an emotional appeal that prevents deep thought.

So God is pretty different in the shack from the God of the bible to say "God is no different than the biblical portrayal" is to shut down discernment. As a work of fiction, if one wanted to make an argument that this is a one sided dimension of God to spark conversation, sure. That isnt how the author is framing it, and that isnt how the vast majority of people are framing it. There are deep theological issues here they should not be minimized.

Barbara Terry

1

Barbara Terry commented…

all some would have to do is read the book and they would see that there's nothing controversial about it

4 Comments

Barbara Terry

1

Barbara Terry commented…

all some would have to do is read the book and they would see that there's nothing controversial about it

Jeff Prock

4

Jeff Prock commented…

God characterized himself as a man. Jesus called God his Father. Get a grasp on the implications of the why and then do you fantasy about goddesses

George Giovos

1

George Giovos commented…

"the has book caused..."

the book has caused?

Mike Handy

16

Mike Handy commented…

Honestly I get a feeling that the emotional anchor, and use of a black woman as God is designed to shut down opposition. Given that "Papa" is represented as a minority and woman allows the author to sling racist and sexist at anyone who object to the theology. The problem is not black woman, the problem is the book has God very wrong and one dimensional. The Author never deals with these issues when speaking, instead he makes emotional appeals. The author makes overt attacks at theologians in the book which further disarm discernment.

The book says there is no hierarchy in the trinity so that is different than the God of the bible.
The book says that God submits to man, so that is different.
The book demotes God's sovereignty and is extremely hard line on free will so that is different.
The book says that all of the trinity went to the cross, so that is different.
The book says that Jesus had no power to heal, so that is different.
The book says that most roads lead no where in particular, so that is different.
The book suggests sin is its own punishment and God doesnt care too much so that is different.
The book suggests that Jesus will go to any road and it doesnt matter what you believe so that is different.
The book suggests that God is totally devoid of Justice which is biblically aligned to his mercy so that is different.

Jesus references his relationship with the father all over the place, and Jesus sends the spirit.

So get the image of God wrong really is far deeper than portrayed as a women which is probably a minor offense in light of the other more blaring issues. The portrayal is possibly even commendable given the number of white bearded images of God the father that have been made over the centuries. The problem people have with the book is it gets the whole of God wrong. It is a different Gospel, and its encased in an emotional appeal that prevents deep thought.

So God is pretty different in the shack from the God of the bible to say "God is no different than the biblical portrayal" is to shut down discernment. As a work of fiction, if one wanted to make an argument that this is a one sided dimension of God to spark conversation, sure. That isnt how the author is framing it, and that isnt how the vast majority of people are framing it. There are deep theological issues here they should not be minimized.

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