Who’s Afraid of The Big, Bad Shack?

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Who’s Afraid of The Big, Bad Shack?

By Wayne Jacobsen

It turns out quite a few people are.

As the movie adaptation of The Shack is set to release on March 3, I’m hearing increasing rumblings from people who want to denounce the story as dangerous for Christians to see. Mention the movie in your Facebook feed and you’ll hear from at least a few of your friends or family decrying it as heresy and judging those as fools who’ve been touched by its story.

Since I co-wrote the book and helped start the publishing company that distributed it, I often hear from some of these directly. A man wrote me last week concerned that the book distorts the Trinity, teaches that God is a woman, and promotes universalism. His email began like so many others, “I’ll be honest, I’ve never read The Shack, but…,” and then he launched into an all-to-familiar litany of misinformed interpretations of the book. And of course he’s concerned for the danger it represents to “the young in faith and those just growing in their understanding of God.”

It amazes me how people draw such certain conclusions from a book they’ve never bothered to read. I didn’t take the bait. It makes no sense to me to discuss a book with someone who hasn’t read it. We’d only be discussing his ignorance. Surprisingly most of those who have taken up my challenge to read it in a conversation like this have come back surprised that it wasn’t what they thought and tell me how deeply it touched them.

Why are people so afraid of a work of fiction? It’s not going to bite you. It’s not going to convince you something is true if you know already that it isn’t. And your fears just may rob you of an experience that many others have found so valuable in their own relationship with God.

The trouble is most of the accusations launched against The Shack aren’t even true, which makes me wonder what is really going on here. One pastor listed thirteen heresies in The Shack and I would disagree that The Shack promotes twelve of them and the other one isn’t actually a heresy. Like him, many quote a phrase from the book to justify an accusation, but ignore the rest of the story that argues against the very conclusion they want it to make. Amazingly not one of these people ever talked to someone involved with the book to find out if their judgments have merit.

One of the early detractors for The Shack was trying to build a cottage industry out of being the anti-Shack guy. He called me a few months after it was published offering to write a devotional guide to go along with the book. I asked him what he had in mind and he told me he wanted to help people mine the deep truths we’d written about. Having read his previous disdain for the book, I confronted him for his dishonesty. He didn’t want to unpack the story for people, but to attack it. He was surprised I knew and quickly hung up.

Spurious Accusations

Why are people so adamant about distorting the message of the book to scare people from reading it or from seeing the movie?

Some accused us of teaching that God is a woman when none of us who wrote The Shack believe that to be true. One even accused us of indoctrinating people into a black, Madonna, Hindu cult, whatever that is. You just have to make that stuff up.

The characterization in the book doesn’t speak to God’s gender, but through whom he chooses to reveal himself. For Paul Young and his family it was a black woman just like the one described in the book who first demonstrated the love of God to them in a brutal circumstance when few others would dare. In the story, Mack’s image of a father is severely broken by the abuse he suffered, so God comes to him through someone he can relate to. What it seeks to underscore is that God is Spirit and though he doesn’t have a physical body and gender as we do, Genesis assures us that both masculinity and femininity express the nature of God. This is more about Incarnation that God’s gender identity. The point is that he can reveal himself as easily through a black woman as a white male, an Asian senior, or a Latino child. It doesn’t get more Incarnational than that.

Some accused us of modalism, the idea that God is one person who takes on different forms at different times. They base this conclusion on one paragraph showing the wounds of the crucifixion on the Father’s character. They wrongly conclude that we believe the Father was crucified when the point in the book is that God didn’t abandon his Son even on the cross. He was “in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” Because Jesus took on our shame as well as our sin, he felt abandoned because he could no longer see the Father who was right there with him.

We were using a literary convention to convey the closeness between them, not as a depiction of modalism. To get to that conclusion you have to ignore the fact that the three persons of the Trinity spend most of the story in the same room interacting, loving and honoring each other. Of the theologians who wrote us in the first couple of years of the book’s release, 80% told us what we expressed about the relationship inside the Trinity was exactly as they see it. Only 20% took exception to it. But who knows for sure? The Trinity is an amazing mystery that defies description in our corporeal world. We could only depict it as loving, mutual relationships inside the one God.

Perhaps the most problematic accusation is that The Shack promotes universalism, the belief that everyone gets salvation in the end. Some who advance this idea quote from Paul Young’s paper for a think tank written before The Shack. Even today he describes himself as a “hopeful universalist”. However, Paul isn’t the only author of this story.

The original manuscript that became The Shack, was a rough cut of an endearing tale about God and suffering that Young had written for his children to explain his views of God. When he first sent me the manuscript, universalism was a significant component in the resolution of that story. When he asked for my help in publishing the book, I told him I wouldn’t work on it if that was his answer to human suffering. I didn’t agree with it and thought it would hamper efforts to reach the audience that would most benefit from the book.

Paul hoped to convince me I was wrong and sent me his paper on universalism. We spent some time discussing it, but in the end I felt it took too much linguistic gymnastics to bend Scripture to that conclusion. As I have friends who believe in universal salvation, it’s not a view I’m afraid of; it’s just one I don’t share. And regardless of what any of us believes, God will resolve this age exactly the way he has planned. I don’t have to figure it all out, but trust it to the God I know.  However, nothing Jesus, Paul, or John said points me to the conclusion that everyone receives salvation. In fact they warn of significant consequences in the age beyond for refusing God’s love in this one. I do believe God’s love is universal and his desire is for everyone to be saved, but that transaction involves a response from us.

At that point the conversations between God and Mack were a set of questions and answers, more like Sunday school lessons, interesting dialog surely but not yet a story of healing. To turn this into a book and later a movie, a friend of mine, Brad Cummings, and I discussed the need for those conversations to be more directed, moving Mack from anger and brokenness into freedom and healing. When we shared it with Paul he loved the idea. I explained to him exactly how to do rewrite it but he was reticent to do it on his own and begged us to rewrite it for him. “I’m done with it,” he told me one day. “If this book goes anywhere it’s because you’ll get involved.”

He agreed to let us take out the universalism theme saying he was less certain about it than when he wrote the first draft. So when people tell me that The Shack promotes universalism, I know it doesn’t because Brad and I don’t embrace it and when we rewrote the story in four different drafts over 16 months, we took it out.

Instead we wrote a story about God’s ability to find Mack in his brokenness and let his love invite him into truth and wholeness. Mack’s responses at every point are critical to the story. These quotes clearly set it apart from universalism:

“All I am telling you is that reconciliation is a two way street, and I have done my part, totally, completely, finally. It is not the nature of love to force a relationship but it is the nature of love to open the way.”

 

*     *     *     *

“Does that mean,” asked Mack, “that all roads will lead to you?”
“Not at all,” smiled Jesus as he reached for the door handle to the shop. “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.”

 

*     *     *     *

Now (evil) touches everyone that I love, those who follow me and those who don’t. If I take away the consequences of people’s choices, I destroy the possibility of love. Love that is forced is no love at all.”

 

*     *     *     *

The Real Controversy

One day I got a call from a church bookstore manager angry that we had included curse words in the book. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about and he reminded me that toward the end of the book, Mack calls his daughter’s murderer a son of a bitch as he wrestles with forgiving him. “My pastor won’t let me carry the book because of that.”

“Really?” I inquired further. “If it wasn’t there, everything else with the book is fine?”

He had to admit that it wasn’t. His pastor had other concerns, of course. The one curse word was only an excuse that others couldn’t argue with. It reminded me of Jesus healing people on the Sabbath. While nothing in the law forbid healing, it was something the Pharisees could point out to discredit him with the people. “We’re fine with him healing, he just shouldn’t do it on the Sabbath.” Sure!

I sense that with these many of the other accusations as well. They don’t stand up to the simplest reading of The Shack and seem forced on it by someone who has other issues they are not willing to admit. For some it may have been more about “black” than “woman”, but know that wouldn’t be well received. Or perhaps they didn’t like how gracious and playful Papa was with Mack. The story we wanted to tell was the story of a loving Father finding his way through all the pain, loss, and false accusations to reconnect with one of his children who was lost in his depression.

For the Pharisees Jesus was also too kind and compassionate with sinners, and not enough engaged with the religious elite of his day. He claimed to be a man of God but didn’t fit the mold the teachers of the law had designed for him. They preferred an angrier, more judgmental God. If there’s a controversy behind The Shack I suspect it is this: Who is God really? Is he an angry deity needing to be appeased by the submission of his fearful subjects, or is he a loving Abba winning people into his reality through tenderness and compassion? I grew up with the former, but have been won into the latter. But I can see why people would be threatened with the God of The Shack if he is more gracious to the lost than they are.

This book begs the question how a loving Father finds his way into the hearts of people in a broken world who are prone to blame him for their tragedies. That’s why I was willing to help rewrite this book. It’s one of the first books I knew of that attempted to show God finding his way into the darkness and paralysis of someone’s pain and personally walking them into freedom.

The Shack is a story of redemption, of God’s willingness to go into the worst of the human experience, and to the most broken of lives and love him into a friendship that could reverse the work of evil and restore a lost soul. In doing so it traverses the most difficult topics of God’s reality, suffering, depression, judgment, forgiveness, and love with a simplicity that befits the Gospel message.

Admittedly it is difficult to cover all of those issues without stepping on someone’s theological toes. I’m sure others would want to express these same truths differently and that’s what makes this novel such a catalyst for some fascinating conversations if it moves us to express our differences, and listen to each other rather than make accusations based on how we view the book. Fiction can be interpreted in a variety of ways, not all of them conforming to the intent of the authors. Like any piece of art I don’t expect everyone to appreciate it. But no one needs to fear it either. People throw accusations of heresy around way too easily these days. The idea that this is a dangerous book out to subvert the health of the Body of Christ, or that anyone who finds it meaningful is a theological simpleton is irresponsible at best and dishonest at worst.

The amount of email, and personal conversations I have had with people over the last decade tells me we got enough of this story right to provoke people to think about a loving God. Time and again I hear of people who had all but rejected God in the pain of their own lives, rediscovering how much God loves them by reading of this book. Is the book perfect? Of course not, but it was the best story three passionate men could produce a decade ago and we are grateful it has touched countless lives the world over. Our prayer is that this movie will do the same by helping people take a fresh look at God’s love and by sparking the conversations that will help them discover his reality.

I’ve seen the movie through its various edits and now in its final version. It simplifies these themes even more, and in an engaging way invites people to contemplate the existence of God in the face of human pain, and the lengths he would take to heal and redeem the brokenhearted. It is a visual feast that with simplicity and poignancy can open a wide door for God to make himself known to an audience who might never read the book. If evangelicals let the dialog speak for itself, they will be hard-pressed to find controversy here.

The point of the story is that none of us are so lost in our pain or despair that we are beyond the reach of a gracious Father.

Wouldn’t that be something to celebrate?

By | 2017-03-10T23:41:07+00:00 March 2nd, 2017|The Shack Movie|21 Comments

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21 Comments

  1. Ramona Young March 2, 2017 at 5:09 pm - Reply

    I love The Shack, and no one could say anything to change my feelings about it. The one thing I did not know was that Paul co-wrote this book with someone. I read the book with a group that read it before it was released in book stores. Paul joined our discussions & it was never mentioned that he co-wrote it with someone. I’ve also heard him talk about The Shack and had an opportunity to meet him. I just reviewed my original copy of the book and don’t see any mention of a co-author.

    • Leanne March 4, 2017 at 5:02 pm - Reply

      Ramona, the co-authors are on the inside title page of the book, not the cover.

  2. C J Beals March 2, 2017 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    I can’t wait to see the movie! Our home group read The Shack several years ago and we are going as a group to the movie. Personally, both books, The Shack and He Loves Me, had a profound impact on my walk with The Lord. I have entered into “living loved” by The Lord as never before in my Christian walk. P.S. The devotional, Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young, has also been transforming in my Christian walk.

  3. Phillip Dacus March 2, 2017 at 5:34 pm - Reply

    I loved the book. I am looking forward to the movie. The book generated a lot of comments back and forth. Some good and some bad. It was one of those books that you either loved or hated. It is often hard for us to accecpt things outside our comfort zone. The Shack did that. it took us beyond what we have been taught, heard, and seen as to who God is and how he works. The Shack not only challenged these beliefs and long held ideas, but completely shattered them.

    It can be very challenging when ones entire belief system is being seemingly threatened. This is why some have expressed down right hatred for The Shack. What we have to keep in mind though is that it is challenging and some are just not used to coloring outside the lines and will require more time than others.

  4. Dave Howard March 2, 2017 at 5:40 pm - Reply

    If you haven’t read it, you’ve missed the third best ever disertation on forgiveness and its necessity. The first, I think, is found in Matthew’s gospel witness and the second is ‘Amish Grace”, wouldn’t hurt you to read that one either. If you are offended by Jehova being portrayed as a black woman, you may want to consided that God is spirit, not flesh, and us English speaking humans don’t even have a pronoun that will encompass that Spirt’s glory!

  5. Rosemary Russell March 2, 2017 at 5:45 pm - Reply

    I received The Shack from a dear friend after I had suddenly lost my husband of 32 years. He has been gone 7 years and I have read The Shack no less than 20 times. Each time my soul is touched by the love jumping off the pages. This book reconnected me with my faith that I thought I had lost with the passing of my husband. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for presenting God as pure love filled with grace and mercy for all people to know and love.

  6. Gwendolyn Washburn March 2, 2017 at 5:53 pm - Reply

    I’m not it was the best book that I ever read. I couldn’t put it down I read it from front to back until I finished the book . Can’t wait to see the movie.

  7. Phil Calkins March 2, 2017 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    The heresy controversy: a dear friend of mine recently posted a dire warning to all of her conservative, believer friends to avoid the movie, The Shack, at the risk of losing their salvation. In fact, she was echoing the denominational party line of condemnation without ever reading the source book. And it was a very long Facebook post, too long to read in full but it was so close to another I had to wonder if it was a part of an inspired anti-The Shack letter writing campaign in advance of the movie premier tomorrow, March 3rd.
    I have personally read The Shack 6 times and have learned so much about redemption and forgiveness and Abba love and, of course, Grace that I promised my wife we would be among the first in line to buy tickets tomorrow (she’s read it at least twice).
    I asked an Elder in our mainline denomination if he had read it (yes) and did he have any reservations about the movie (no, if it’s true to the original story). He’s also my mentor as I am a lay-pastor in a little country church under his tutelage. We both read it independently. He has a doctorate in ministry. I have an MS in an unrelated profession. We both see this movie as a grace moment and opportunity for healing and understanding.
    May The Lord be praised and worshipped in theatres across the country!

  8. Marietta Huizenga March 2, 2017 at 6:35 pm - Reply

    Absolutely fantastic book. The Shack takes us on an incredible journey of loss, love, and the restoration of a broken heart. I can’t wait to see the movie. Bravo Shack Team! So happy for you Wayne, Brad, and Paul. I think I’ll be getting the DVD for all my friends and family this Christmas.

  9. Kristina Kelley March 2, 2017 at 8:36 pm - Reply

    All I can say is wow wow wow. This is the best book . God in Pure Love and I cant wait until I see the movie. Thank you so much because your words have touched me. And it makes me think a lot. About forgiveness , love and treating each other in this world different and looking at things different. Thank you again

  10. Martha Gibbs March 2, 2017 at 9:55 pm - Reply

    Its simply amazing what God speaks to you in the secret places of your spirit mind if you listen and believe. I hear Him….. the Shack “spoke.” Blessing, Wayne et al. Martha

  11. Donna Cooper March 2, 2017 at 10:46 pm - Reply

    I thought the book was wonderful. Those who are fired up aught to let go of their legalism and enjoy the story.

  12. Susie March 3, 2017 at 12:51 am - Reply

    My apologies to you for the ignorance and legalistic spirit that forces you to reply.
    My prayer is that God richly bless you. Please know he has your rear guard

    Took me several chapters to get into the book but then I put it with Hinds Feet

    Please know that the bride will at some point be spotless and white
    That means we will be a danger to the enemy and not each other

  13. j Hovila March 3, 2017 at 2:23 am - Reply

    I have not read the book but I have heard about the controversy. I will go to the movie to see for myself if it is a reliable depiction of the attributes of God.

  14. loualayn villareale March 3, 2017 at 10:37 pm - Reply

    I loved the book and was thrilled they made a movie out of it. It is about Faith and however you see it , it is the way you see God. I read the book 3 times and loved it. Maybe people should stop thinking that life and believing is a tv program and not what is living in your heart. I don’t care what other people think about it , it is just what I think about it. See it or read it and feel it in your heart.

  15. Stan March 3, 2017 at 11:39 pm - Reply

    Stan’s comments on the Shack

    Brings God closer to you

    God/Jesus/Holy Spirit is even better than we can imagine and wants to give us a much better life here on earth and in the afterlife. God will apply love, grace, and mercy over Justice anytime we use our free will to trust Him.

    It gives you a strong conviction that the spiritual applications can buffet tragedy and pain

    The doctrine is rock solid

  16. Rich Adena March 4, 2017 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    A previous comment about co-authorship brings up a question about the premiere showing of the Shack in New York. Did Paul Young attend it? This article brought to light the fact that God’s hand was on the whole project from the publishing of the book to the making of the movie. Three brothers, each unique and equipped for the task of telling each individual in the world that He is especially “fond of you”. I thank God that the three of you collaborated to produce this timely book/movie because reconciliation is what we need in our nation today. Papa wants to heal us individually so that we can heal our nation (then the nations of the world). I love you Paul, Wayne and Brad. Thank you for overcoming the opposition of the evil one. Earthly rewards & recognition was not your motivation and my prayer will be that it will not be your stumbling block.

  17. Leslie Puttmann March 4, 2017 at 10:20 pm - Reply

    Unforgettable, emblazoned images that bring joy to my mind, my heart and strengthens me beyond whatever I thought was possible.
    I appreciate the gut- wrenching ,stifling pain of the loss of a child that is so perfectly conveyed.
    My new mantra that I have taken to heart from my absorbing The Shack and hearing Paul speak twice is… “if anything matters, everything matters”. Wondrous talents springing forth by all immersed in The Shack.

  18. Susan Simpson March 5, 2017 at 6:58 pm - Reply

    Well written Wayne! We love you. Bravo and hugs from Colorado!

  19. Gayle D. Erwin March 6, 2017 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    After writing my endorsement of The Shack, which was carried in the book, a stream of condemnation broke loose on me. I found out it was organized–the wording, strangely similar, accused me of corrupting youth who happen to be a main audience for me. Some events I scheduled cancelled with a demand that I retract. I calmly stood my ground, answered genuine questions, and watched as minds changed in the absence of corruption. Indeed, I have never heard of anyone turned away from God by the story of The Shack, but I have watched many (including some I saw reading it on an airplane) turn back to God and breathe a great sigh of relief for His love and grace.

  20. Barbara Ingram March 6, 2017 at 10:08 pm - Reply

    God, Papa is shown in both female and male entities, We all see him in our own way! what difference does it make male, female, White Black or Asian?? He is our Heavenly Father and Savior!! Just finished my third reading and going to see the Movie hopefully tomorrow! Fantastic, sad, emotional, heart wrenching Journey, I take something new from it each time I read, the Movie plays in my mind! Hope the Movie I plan to see will stand up to the version in my mind!!

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