Monday, February 02, 2009

The Shack *Possible spoilers*

One of the big bestsellers from last year, particularly in Christian book sales, was William Paul Young's The Shack. The rave reviews on the back promise that "This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress did for his. It's that good!" I recently finished it, and was left asking the question, is it that good?

Certainly the storyline is engaging. Mack* goes on a camping trip with his children, when tragedy strikes. The sense of panic is well conveyed and heart-rending. The development of the characters is well observed. The reader is carried along in the story, all the time feeling for Mack in The Great Sadness.

Yet the story is but a vehicle for the book's central premise. What if you could meet God face to face and discuss tragedy. Or, as Christianity Explored asks: If you could ask God one question and you knew it would be answered, what would it be?

Surprisingly, Mack finds himself encountering the three 'persons' of the Trinity. Each take time to discuss with him, gently leading him through his problems, and bringing him to trust God for all he needs. Yet as I read, I began to fear that Mack had not encountered the living God. Rather he has encountered the emergent God. While it may be useful for the book to appear, and to get people talking about God, the book is certainly not one on which to base our doctrine or understanding of God.

Others have written extensively on the Shack, but some of the problems for me include the statement by Papa, the African-American woman masquerading as God the Father: "I don't need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It's not my purpose to punish it; it's my joy to cure it." (p. 120) Well, that sounds like good news for modern man - God doesn't punish sin? Connect this to the statement that "I've never placed an expectation on you or anyone else... because I have no expectations, you never disappoint me." (p. 206) Gospel truth, or good news for itching ears (c.f. 2 Timothy 4:3)?

It doesn't seem to fit with the declared intention of God to punish sin for his own glory. 'Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.' (Jude 7) 'For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.' (2 Corinthians 5:10)

One other major problem (although there are several more), concerns the assault on God's sovereign choice in election and predestination. In one scene, Mack is introduced to Sophia, wisdom. Mack is placed in the judgement seat, to see how he fares judging God. Mack is asked to decide which of his five children will be saved, and which, therefore will not.

"You must choose two of your children to spend eternity in God's new heavens and new earth, but only two." ... "And you must choose three of your children to spend eternity in hell." ** Mack couldn't believe what he was hearing and started to panic.

"I am only asking you to do something that you believe God does. He knows every person ever conceived, and he knows them so much deeper and clearer than you will ever know your own children. He loves each one according to his knowledge of the being of that son or daughter. You believe he will condemn most to an eternity of torment, away from His presence and apart from His love. Is that not true?" (p. 162)

The drama is intense as Mack fights against it, before finally offering himself to go to hell so that his children will be saved. This is commended, as it is how God acts. It is absolutely true that Jesus dies in our place, but is it equally true that therefore everyone will be saved? Does it follow that Jesus died for all, and hell will be empty? To follow the logic of the book you could come to this conclusion. Yet again, it fails to match up to the Scriptural evidence.

At the very least, a reading of the parable of the Sheep and the Goats shows that not all will enter into the Kingdom. Some will hear that "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matthew 25:41) Further, the Book Revelation is clear that not all will be saved. Several times there is mention of the 'book of life of the Lamb'. Those without an entry in the book (which was written before the foundation of the world - Rev 13:8) will worship the beast, and will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:15).

As the Briefing article suggested, we need more Shack Time - with the living God, though, not the god found in The Shack. In knowing the living God, we will be able to recognise the false images we find in emergent literature.

*I've noticed this is the second book in recent years in which the main character who comes face to face with a spiritual being is called Mack. The other book is The Testament of Gideon Mack, by James Robertson, where Mack meets the Devil.

** Even though, it appears, that the writer would deny that hell exists.

1 comment :

  1. Was given the book. Read, sorry skimmed it in 1 sitting. Might be better visually, can't see it flying off the shelves "up the country". More suited to the intelligentia. The sort of book ones reads and thinks it's good cos someone tells you so.
    Glad I didn't spend any money on it.