The new movie, The Shack, based on a fictional book by William Paul Young, has created quite a stir. After reading the wide spectrum of reviews--from condemning the book, movie, and author to loving the story with changed lives--I think the differences of opinions boil down to a few questions. Is a writer allowed to personify the Trinity in a story in order to convey some of God’s attributes? Will reading this book or seeing this movie sway people into believing false theology? Can the Holy Spirit work in people’s lives through fictional books and movies if they are not 100 percent biblical?
Individuals never perceive things exactly the same way. My own pastor has condemned the book and wrote about the author’s “heretical” assertions and suggestions. I read the book again (for the third time) to identify the anti-biblical concepts. While I didn’t see everything that others claimed, I discerned a few sentences in the book’s dialog that were doctrinally problematic. However, my son pointed out how some debatable comments could be interpreted in another way, and a close Christian friend disagreed with me over one questionable statement. Between different religious viewpoints and many unexplained biblical details, there is bound to be controversy. Yet, if this story causes readers to study the Bible, and talk about who God is and how He makes Himself known in the world, the authors’ aims are accomplished.
I have met Mr. Young and heard his personal testimony and the reason for writing the book, along with the events that preceded its publishing. I also read Wayne Jacobsen’s articles, another committed follower of Jesus Christ who contributed to Young’s book. Jacobsen acknowledged the book being edgy, but is saddened by the personal false accusations and by the polarization of God’s family—from “must read” endorsements to heretical denouncements. The authors have said from the beginning that no one has flawless theology or a complete picture of God that can be perfectly portrayed in a little story.
If you know the Bible well and believe it to be truth, you will probably disagree with a few remarks in the book’s dialog. Spiritual discernment is a blessing that comes from studying the Bible and is helpful to distinguish what is clearly biblical and what is not. Nevertheless, while movies like The Ten Commandments and The Bible deviate from biblical narrative, viewers are still moved by the storyline.
The Shack is a fictional story in which the Holy Trinity is represented as humans (male and female of different nationalities) who bring love, healing, and relationship to a hurting and confused man. The plot contains theological issues like God’s love, forgiveness, and omniscience; but messes with people’s religious stereotypes of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The storyline has God intentionally portraying Himself as both a mother and a father figure to Mack, while mentioning to him that He is not a human.
I read scathing comments on Facebook by passionate people that claimed the book promotes universalism and new age philosophy, devalues Scripture, trivializes and mocks the Trinity, and has demonic origins. I also read testimonies about how the book/movie has changed individuals’ lives and drawn them closer to God. Several people expressed how their views of a distant, angry God transformed to a loving God who is good, who knows and comforts us. Others told of how the story brought healing to their painful experiences.
Personally, I liked the movie better than the book. Most of the controversial notions were omitted, but I noticed one peculiar comment in the movie’s dialog. That brief statement did not make me question or change my beliefs, and my viewing friends didn’t even remember it being spoken.
If someone meets God through The Shack, I hope the Spirit will also lead him/her to the Bible to learn about the Trinity and the gospel of Jesus Christ. This movie reminded me that although our broken world is evil, God’s love for me is personal and unconditional. I walked out of the theater warmly remembering how God helped me persevere through a difficult time. I was spiritually encouraged, not offended.