My rating: 1 of 5 stars
When you write a book review, usually even if you really didn’t like the book you point out the good things about the book. And I will tell you that there are a number of excellent things in The Shack. I found some of them very encouraging and intriguing. However I’m not going to mention any of them, and here’s why: Almost always, the most dangerous theological errors are presented with a whole lot of really good teaching. That’s why people fall for it. If you don’t put any bait on the hook you don’t fool any fish. And if you set a bottle of pure arsenic on the table, the person you’re trying to poison won’t drink it. It’s when it’s hidden in an otherwise good drink that the poison can be delivered. The principles that are harmful in this book are made palatable by the good things the book says. Every book you ever read that isn’t the Bible you must read with discernment, and glean the good and reject the bad. But there comes a point at which the bad is so bad that the book should be avoided altogether, and in my opinion that is the case with this book. Jesus did not teach us to draw out as much good as possible from false teachers. He taught us to avoid them. The errors of The Shack are serious enough (and subtle enough) that I feel the most loving thing is to warn people to stay away.
Before reading the book I spoke with a number of people who greatly enjoyed it, and they urged me to read it with an open mind. They pointed out that if you pressed every detail of C.S. Lewis’ allegories, or took too literally the scenery of classic works of Christian fiction, you could condemn them all as heretical. So I took that advice to heart and read the book with every intention of granting the author as much poetic license as possible.
It should be noted, however, that The Shack is not an allegory. The main character, Mackenzie (Mack) Phillips, is a real person who claims the entire story is true, and that it all actually took place. He is not a writer, however, and so he asked William Young to put the story on paper for him. Young’s assessment? “Whether some parts of it are actually true or not, I won’t be the judge. … I confess to you that I desperately want everything Mack has told me to be true.” In an allegory, there is no way to know which things were intended to represent some principle and which are just the scenery of the story – unless you ask the author. But this book is not an allegory. The book moves back and forth between storytelling and teaching doctrine. There will be an event that takes place, and then one of the members of the Trinity will teach something to Mack, and it’s crystal clear that the doctrines espoused by the God characters in the book are intended to be presented as true.
Authority and Submission
Most of the teaching sections are very short. For example, when Mack asks Jesus how one becomes a part of the Church, the answer is one short paragraph. Discipleship – one paragraph. Sin and punishment – one sentence.
There is one extended teaching section, however. It spans 6 pages and is by far the lengthiest teaching section in the book. The topic of that section is authority and submission. That topic comes up several other places in the book as well. There is no question in my mind that the most urgent agenda of this author is to promote a certain point of view regarding authority and submission.
The point of view taught by the members of the Trinity in the book is the classic feminist, egalitarian belief about submission and authority. The section that focuses on this begins with Mack asking if there is any authority and submission within the Godhead. The Father and Son are perplexed and don’t even understand the question at first. So Mack explains…
“Don’t you have a chain of command?”
“Chain of command? That sounds ghastly!” Jesus said.
“At least binding” Papa added as they both started laughing.” (Papa is the name of the Father, who appears as a black woman. The Holy Spirit appears as an Asian woman, and Jesus appears as a man.)
Then the Holy Spirit adds, “We have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle if relationship, not a chain of command… What you’re seeing here is a relationship without any overlay of power. … Hierarchy would make no sense among us.”
“But every human institution that I can think of, from political to business, even down to marriage, is governed by this kind of thinking; it is the web of our social fabric,” Mack asserted.
“Such a waste!” said Papa …”Once you have a hierarchy you need rules to protect and administer it, and then you need law and the enforcement of the rules, and you end up with some kind of chain of command or a system of order that destroys relationship rather than promotes it.”
Papa goes on to explain that the reason He works within authority structures is because “We carefully respect your choices, so we work within your systems… [But the system of authority and submission] lies behind every struggle for power, every prejudice, every war, and every abuse of relationship.” So God works within, promotes, and even commands us to engage in a system that is evil simply because He is so committed to accommodating our decisions.
Usually people who have an aversion to authority have an aversion to institutions as well. And that’s exactly what you find in this book. Mack doesn’t like organized religion, Scripture, church, singing hymns – any of it. And Jesus responds by telling Mack that He doesn’t like organized religion either. “It’s a man-made system. … That’s not what I came to build. … I don’t create institutions – never have, never will. … I don’t create institutions; that’s an occupation for those who want to play God. I’m not too big on religion. … and not very fond of politics or economics either.”
That’s a very strange statement. Jesus says He doesn’t create institutions because that’s an occupation for those who want to play God. The author is so adverse to authority that He doesn’t even want God to play God.
I wanted to make sure I had a good understanding of what the author was really trying to say in this book, so I did some research of his teachings. One source was a series of interviews by J. Michael Feazell, who is part of the World Wide Church of God. In that interview the author of The Shack said this, “yeah, I bash any institutional systems generally. I don’t care whether they are political or religious or whatever, because frankly, they are part of the world’s system. You know, a way to coerce and manage human beings.” He does claim to love the Church, but only as it’s separated from the institution.
If you bring up the passages about authority and submission to an egalitarian theologian they will always respond by pointing to Eph.5:21, which calls us to submit to one another. They say that means everyone submits to everyone in the same way. That is an incorrect interpretation of that verse. When the book of Revelation speaks of people killing one another in the end times it doesn’t mean everyone killed everyone. It means some killed others. And that’s the same way the phrase is used in Eph.5:21. “Submit to one another” means some submit to others. Who submits to whom? Paul immediately goes on to answer that – wives to husbands, children to parents, and slaves to masters. He does not call the authorities to submit to the subordinates. He does call them to serve the subordinates, but serving is not the same thing as submitting. But the feminist position confuses the two – so much so that God the Father tells Mack that God is submitted to us in the same way we are submitted to him. And one point in the book God even says, “I don’t want slaves to my will.”
Is that true – that God doesn’t want slaves to His will? The only reason anyone could ever make a statement like that is because the modern translations of the Bible don’t have the courage to translate the word “slave” in contexts that refer to Christians. The Greek word for “slave” is doulos. It always means slave – someone who is owned by his master. In Eph.5 when it says, “Slaves, submit to your earthly masters” that’s the word doulos. But every time that word is used to describe Christians, the English translations all opt for a less offensive sounding word. But if they were consistent then it would be crystal clear to everyone that a Christian is a slave of God. We are called slaves much more often than we are called Christians or disciples.
Acts 2:18 Even on my slaves, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days
Acts 4:29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your slaves to speak your word with great boldness.
Romans 1:1 Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus
Philippians 1:1 Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus
Titus 1:1 Paul, a slave of God
James 1:1 James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ
2 Peter 1:1 Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ
Jude 1:1 Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ
Revelation 15:3 they sang the song of Moses the slave of God
Galatians 1:10 If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a slave of Christ.
Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a slave of Christ Jesus
2 Timothy 2:24 And the Lord’s slave must not quarrel
1 Peter 2:16 live as slaves of God.
Revelation 1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his slaves what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his slave John,
Revelation 2:20 By her teaching she misleads my slaves into sexual immorality
Revelation 7:3 “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the slaves of our God.”
Revelation 10:7 the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his slaves the prophets.
Revelation 11:18 The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your slaves the prophets
Revelation 19:5 Then a voice came from the throne, saying: “Praise our God, all you his slaves, you who fear him, both small and great!”
Revelation 22:3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his slaves will serve him.
6 The Lord… sent his angel to show his slaves the things that must soon take place.
God is not our slave. We are God’s slaves. He is in authority over us. We are not in authority over Him. We submit to Him; He does not submit to us. His will is supreme; our will means nothing except when it aligns with His.
There is a constant temptation to twist the message of God’s love for man into a man-centered theology. Does God love us? Yes! Does He love us more than He loves Himself? Are we a higher priority to Him than His own glory? No. God does not commit idolatry. He never elevates anything higher than God.
But many today seem to think that the most important thing to God is man. And that our will is supreme even over His own. And you get tastes of that throughout this book. In statements like the one that says God accommodates Himself to the evil system of authority and submission just to respect our decisions. Or at the beginning when Mack hesitates to do something God said to do, and God responds by saying, “Not Ready?” she responded. “That’s okay, we’ll do things on your terms and time.”
Is that what we usually see in Scripture? Someone doesn’t want to do what God commands and so God says, “It’s OK – I just want to do everything according to your timetable”? Have you found that God does that in your life – adjust everything according to your will and your timing?
Here’s another statement from the interview:
“I was thinking about Christmas this year, and you have God who is working together for our redemption and they have this circle of relationship and they crack it open and invite a 15-year old little girl into it and they say, ‘Would it be ok if we did this?’ And they wait until Mary says, ‘Be it done unto me.’ And that’s the God of the universe who is in relationship with us and submitting the process to us.”
You all remember the famous Christmas passage where God comes to Mary and says, “Would it be OK if we did this?” and then submissively waits to get the go ahead from her before coming upon her with the Holy Spirit – right? Or is that missing from your Bible too?
It didn’t happen that way. Luke 1 tells us how it happened – God sent an angel not to ask Mary’s permission, but to inform Mary about what was going to happen and to command her about what to name the child.
Luke 1:31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.
Psalm 115:3 Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.
Psalm 135:6 The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.
Are we in a negotiating kind of relationship with God where He asks our permission, and we give our input, and God and us put our heads together and come up with a plan? Are we in a position to second guess what He comes up with?
Isaiah 45:9 Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’
11 “This is what the LORD says– the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: … do you question me … or give me orders about the work of my hands? 12 It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts.
46:10-11 My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. 11 … What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.
God’s plan is not a negotiation. He’s not asking our permission for anything.
Isaiah 40:13-14 13 Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? 14 Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding?
At one point in the book the Father to Mack: “…our relationship is not about performance or you having to please me. I’m not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way. I am good, and I desire only what is best for you.”
The God of The Shack doesn’t insist on His own way. He prefers to do what you want, rather than what He wants. What a curse that would be if that were true!
“Our relationship is not about … you having to please me”?
Ephesians 5:10 find out what pleases the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 4:1 Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God … Now we … urge you … to do this more and more.
Colossians 3:20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
1 Timothy 2:1-3 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, … be made for everyone– …3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior
Hebrews 13:16 Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
2 Corinthians 5:9 we make it our goal to please him
1 Corinthians 7:32 An u