Several years ago, the book “The Shack” was published and was all the talk in Christian circles. It’s description of the Trinity, and also how it deals with the problem of evil in the world, inspired many. At the same time, however, many others condemned the book, saying that it promoted universalism and unbiblical ideas about God and the Trinity. Out of curiosity, I picked up the book and started reading, only to put it down out of boredom a short time later, never to return. Cut to today, and the film adaptation of “The Shack” is playing in theaters, and many Christians are wondering what to make of it: is it a Christian movie? Should I see it? I’ll attempt to answer these two questions here.
Is “The Shack” a Christian movie?
In response to those who have criticized “The Shack,” many have said that people need to lighten up; the book is fiction, after all, and its intended purpose is not to lay down precise doctrinal statements. While this may be true, it is also true that every work of literature espouses and promotes a particular worldview and theology. From “Huckleberry Finn” to “Little Women” to the latest Stephen King horror novel – every book espouses truths about God (even if they aren’t overtly stated – the characters’ views of morality and truth are statements about God), and about the proper way of interpreting our world and reality. “The Shack” is no less an espousal of theology and worldview, even if it does not do so conspicuously.
That being said, we can confidently say that “The Shack” is decidedly not a Christian book or movie. There are multiple problematic elements that come out in the book and movie, including the representation of God the Father as a physical woman named Papa, the espousal of universal salvation, and more. To read a thorough list of the theological problems with “The Shack” read Tim Challies’ review here.
But aside from problems that come directly from the book/movie, Paul Young has made it apparent that he, himself, is not a Christian, and therefore cannot espouse a sound Christian theology or worldview in his literary work. That is a bold statement, but it is one that is based on Young’s own confession of faith. Earlier this month, Young released a non-fiction book entitled “Lies We Believe About God” in which he exposes what he believes to be lies associated with traditional Christian belief. Unfortunately, the “lies” that Young identifies are the pillars of the historic, Christian faith. For instance, Young denies that humans are inherently sinful; Young further denies that God is sovereign; he denies that human beings are in need of salvation (Young favors the idea of universal salvation – that all are saved regardless of belief); he denies a literal hell or punishment for sin; he denies that Jesus had to die on the cross for our salvation; and on and on the list goes. (For a more in-depth understanding of Young’s beliefs, see Tim Challies’ review of “Lies We Believe About God” here.)
While Young’s fictional story of “The Shack” may have been ambiguous when it came to specific Christian doctrines, his book “Lies We Believe About God” unambiguously sets him clearly outside of the historic, orthodox Christian Faith. This is important to realize, because it means that the theological foundation upon which “The Shack” is built is not Christian. And if the foundation is not Christian, then the theology espoused by the book is likewise not Christian. It does not propagate a sound Christian theology, nor does it espouse or promote a Christian or biblical worldview. In fact, if a person does base his or her theology on this book and/or film, he or she will come away with a heretical and powerless theology, and a worldview built upon unbiblical falsehoods.
Should I see it?
Although “The Shack” is clearly not a “Christian movie,” that fact alone does not disqualify it from being viewed by Bible-believing Christians. After all, you have probably seen dozens and maybe even hundreds of movies that are not explicitly Christian – I know I have. Christians are called to engage the culture with biblical discernment, and to let God’s word be our guide when we evaluate the images, messages, and ideas that go into our minds and hearts. Just because a movie isn’t “Christian” isn’t a good enough reason to not engage it – at least in my way of thinking. Instead, I would advise believers not to see “The Shack” for two very different, very important reasons.
First, although “The Shack” is demonstrably not a Christian film, it is portrayed as one. This means that there are potentially millions of people who have either read the book or seen the movie and believe themselves to be engaging Christian truths and ideas. This is not the case, and is in fact much more deceptive and dangerous than ideas and truth claims that are clearly unchristian. Christians have been and will be duped by this book/movie into believing that the theology and worldview espoused by it is biblical and accords with traditional Christian faith. However, as I’ve stated several times, it does not. The fact that this movie does not espouse sound Christian theology and yet masquerades as being faithful to the Bible makes it dangerous and, in my opinion, makes it unwatchable by a Christian audience. For this reason, I would advise you not to see it.
A second – and related – reason I would advise you not to see “The Shack” is that it can easily lead you astray. The movie deals with very emotional subject matter, and it can be easy for our emotions to influence our engagement with truth claims. Put simply, this movie will tempt you to believe errant theology and wrong ideas about God, salvation, sin, and human beings. It would be unwise to purposely expose yourself to such temptations. The easiest and most obvious way to remove the temptation to believe false doctrine is to not see the movie.
While many have said that “The Shack” is a Christian movie, it clearly is not. While this fact alone may not be enough to dissuade us from seeing it, the reality that it is being promoted as a Christian movie makes it a dangerous film, and I would advise Christians to avoid it. Instead, check out the Lego Batman movie. My son recommends it.