This is my first attempt at reviewing a book, but I hope that there is value in what you find here. I had heard a few people reference The Shack and also read a few reviews of the book. I was skeptical of it when I read it, but I believe that helped me. Even though the book is a work of fiction, the ideas that drive the story deserve our full attention. If you do not approach this book with some skepticism, you will buy some assumptions that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
For a quick summary, the story centers around the character named Mack. Mack experiences a great tragedy in his life which shatters his world. In the midst of his “Great Sadness” Mack receives a note from god, inviting Mack to meet him at the Shack where the tragedy happened. Mack reluctantly goes and spends the weekend with god (as a quick side note, the god of the Shack will be spelled with a lower case “g”, any reference to the real God will be spelled with a capital “G”). Mack meets with the three persons of the trinity and leaves the shack a changed man. The story ends abruptly. I felt like I was riding in a truck that just driven off the edge of a cliff. Boom. It’s over. Deal with it. On a literary level, it left a bad taste in my mouth for the story in general. I felt like the author was trying to figure out some way to end it and this was the best he could do. You’d think after Mack has this existential experience in the forest, there would be more to the story. But no, it pretty much just ends.
I want to begin my comments on this book with a discussion of context. No matter what you want to discuss, context is king. You cannot take comments out of their context and expect to discuss the comment intelligently. I hope that I have not taken the author’s statements out of context. I have included page numbers so that you can go read the entire context for yourself. While I’ve tried to be careful to treat the authors comments within it’s context, I do not feel that the author has done the same with God. God has been ripped from His context. The Scriptures provide the context for God’s revelation of who He is and what His character is. The sad reality of this book is that God has been ripped from the very truth he states about Himself. This critique will be the foundation for the remaining critiques I lay out. So, let us begin.
The first objection I have to the god of the Shack is that this god is very man-centered. All god does is centered on and purposed for his love of man. On page 106, god says “We have limited ourselves our of respect for you…” On page 107, Jesus says to the father (who has currently manifested himself as a black woman) “You honored [Mack] and you honored me…” How the father treated Mack made Jesus feel honored. It seems to be saying that god finds fulfillment in man, in helping man. It seems like honoring man is a way to honor God. It seems like this honor is equal. What if we changed the word from honor to glory. Would Jesus ever say, “You glorified man and that brought glory to me”? I do not remember one instance where God declares the importance of His glory to Mack; that through all his pain, God’s glory was meant to shine through. There was never this conversation, only that god is love and his love overcomes the pain of Mack’s life. This is, sadly, a story of Mack’s pain, and Mack’s life and how god comes to help Mack be more adjusted and live in spite of Mack’s pain. This is Mack’s story, it is not god’s. God is merely an actor in the story of Mack. Probably the saddest statement comes on page 126 where god emphatically states, “I’m not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way.” This is sad because God does insist on His own way. His way is the best; the only way! What He purposes in His heart, He accomplishes. God is radically God-centered and we are the beneficiaries of that God-centeredness. If God is not God-centered, He is not truly loving. And, frankly, if God is content being focused on something other than Himself, why should I waste my time with him? I can find the same satisfaction in man he does. Thankfully, I am not left with that option. God is a lover of God and I am satisfied in resting in His good pleasure.
The author also presents sin in a man-centered way. Sin is not committed against God, but ultimately against ourselves. On page 120, god says “I don’t need to punish people for sin, sin is it’s own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.” Statements like these frustrate me greatly. The phrase is worded ever so carefully to get the reader to unconsciously agree with the statement without any thought. Essentially, god has said that sin is man’s punishment on himself. God’s only complaint about sin is that it hurts his children. Sin is not an attack upon god’s nature, but stepping outside arbitrary bounds god set up for social order. A careful review of the Scriptures will refute this view of God and sin. When David confessed his sin of murder, rape and adultery, he states that he had sinned against God and God alone (Ps. 51:4). That’s a bold statement. What about Uriah? What about Bathsheba and her family? Were they not sinned against? The answer is yes, they were, however the Scriptures are teaching us a very important doctrine. Sin is ultimately against God and His nature. To act counter to God’s nature is to sin. Why is it a sin to lie? Only because God declared it should be so? No. Lying is a sin because God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18, Titus 1:2). So when we lie, we attack God’s nature. We must understand that sin is so much more that what we do to others. It is primarily a rejection of God and His nature. It is to spit in His face and say “I know better! Screw you!” My friends, that is what sin is; do not be deceived. With a Biblical understanding of what sin is, we can now see why there is punishment involved. Is sin really what destroys, as the god of the Shack has supposed? Perhaps in the way that it causes separation between God and man. It makes you an enemy of God and the Bible is very clear, one day, God will route His enemies. They will be thrown into the lake of fire. The measure of the punishment fits the measure of the being who is sinned against. Since God is infinitely perfect, to sin against Him requires infinite punishment (or a perfect substitute). If God does not punish sin, then He is unjust. He won’t even defend His own name. But we know from the Scriptures that God is full of justice (Ps. 33:5, Ps. 37:28, Is. 30:18, Is. 42: 4, Is. 61:8, etc.), that He will never clear the guilty (Ex 34:7, Num. 14:18, Nahum 1:3) and all He does is for the renown of His name (Is. 48:9, 11). Sin is a big deal. Sadly, the god of the shack uses cloaked language to undermine the Biblical view.
The god of the Shack is incomplete. At least if it was trying to be the God of the Bible. The god of the Shack only talks about love. That’s pretty much it. If the author was intending to portray the God of the Bible, then he has committed the sin of reductionism. Basically, he didn’t tell the whole truth about the whole counsel of God. As I read, I could here the Beatles in the background singing “All You Need Is Love.” I got the feeling that the god of the Shack is a 1960’s hippie with rose-colored glasses and a tie-dye t-shirt. I half expected god and Mack to start smoking pot on the deck. The problem with this narrow discussion of God’s character is that people who don’t know better will begin to think that’s all there is. But, again, Scripture paints a different picture. God is jealous (Ex. 34:14). God is wrathful (Jn 3:36, Rom 1:18, 2:5). God is just (Is. 30:18). God is merciful (Deut 4:31, Dan. 9:9). God is sovereign (Ps. 68:20, Is. 51:22, Ez. 20:5, Is. 55:11, etc.). God is loving (I John 4). God is truth (Jn 14:6, I Jn 5:6). God is more things than I have space to write or expound upon or even know (I Cor. 13:12). As a side note, people wonder why guys don’t come to church. It’s because they only hear about the “love god.” Guys will not follow someone they can beat up. Basically, if they can’t respect you, they will not follow you. I believe that if we started presenting a fuller picture of who Jesus is, more men would follow. The god of the Shack is the same limp-wristed, dress-wearing, Herbel Essence using, pageant contestant being peddled by most American churches. It disgusts the heart of the true God. Check our Revelation 19 sometime, it’ll blow your weak view of God in a heartbeat.
For lack of a better word, the god of the Shack is bi-polar. What I mean by that is that god the father seems to love everyone in the whole world, all through out human history. She is quite “fond” of everyone. What that means, I’m not really sure (which we probably should be sure about). Jesus, on the other hand, loves the church. So, now I’m confused. Does god (father/jesus/holy spirit) love everyone or just the church? The god of the Shack never really answers that question. All we’re left with are ambiguous statements that could be construed to mean whatever you wanted them to mean. I think it’s kinda important we answer this question. A Biblical understanding shows that God does love everyone, just not the same way. God loves His enemies, but not the same way He loves the Church. These vacant statements on who and how God loves are boarding on criminal.
Another aspect of the unclear statements on God’s love is the muddied picture of who is actually saved. There is a scene where Mack gets to be reunited with his father and be reconciled. The reason that was needed was that Mack’s father was an angry, abusive drunk. He beat Mack and his mother often. Eventually, Mack runs away, but before leaving, he puts poison in every bottle of alcohol he can find. While it’s never explicitly stated, the implication is that Mack murdered his father. Anyhow, the scene appears to be a glimpse of heaven and somehow Mack’s abusive, drunk father gets in and on top of that, is allowed this reunion/reconciliation. So, if Mack kills his father while his father is still an unrepentant abusive, drunk, how’d he make it into heaven? It is consistent with the god of the Shack loving everyone, but dangerous in the assumptions underlying the scene. This assumes that all is needed for salvation is going to church (which Mack’s father did) and saying a prayer and no life change is required. That is flat wrong! If a man truly submits his heart, under the direction of the Spirit, he will change. If he says a prayer and never changes, he is not saved. You cannot come face to face with God and remain unchanged. This could simply just be a huge whole in the plot line and completely unintentional. If so, scrap this paragraph and chalk it up to a shoddy story editor. However, I doubt that. The author was intending to communicate something with this scene. The lack of any continuity with Scripture leaves this whole even open to wide interpretation. When it comes to who gets saved, themes like that should never be this obscure.
The final aspect of the book I found concerning was that the accomplishment of the cross is being twisted. God makes a statement in the book that the cross was a triumph of mercy over justice. I have some big issues with that. The cross was not a triumph over justice, but a dramatic display of it! God cannot violate His justice. He is required to punish sin (as I’ve discussed earlier). To say that mercy triumphed over justice is to say that justice was stayed, denied, ignored, in order to show mercy. In reality, the cross was the punishment of sin, and not everyone’s sin, only those who were to believe. Jesus purchased the faith of every believer on Good Friday. To say the cross was a triumph of purely mercy is to strip it of it’s power and beauty. I was meant to hang on that tree (as were you), but Jesus was my (and your) substitute. His atonement has been imputed upon me (and you). The cross is the greatest display of God’s justice, mercy and love wrapped up into one event. It’s the shining jewel of glory that we long to see and cherish. Don’t strip the cross of it’s glory by believing the shallow god of the Shack.
In conclusion, The Shack is a poor attempt to re-write the character of God. Had the author used plain language to make his points, this book would never had enjoyed the level of popularity is has. The veiled language and hidden assumptions are dangerous and destructive. Become a thinking Christian and engage the truth of Scripture as you read. The God of the Bible is not scared to tell us who He really is. He is authentic, the real deal. Unfortunately, the god of the Shack is a fraud, a sham. The god of the Shack is just the same old lie, cloaked in new garments. Save you money and time and read your Bible instead. It is the actual Word of God. You don’t have to hike to some dingy shack to spend time with God. Just open the Word and the very God of the universe is there, waiting to be discovered and loved.