God doesn’t live in The Shack

I am writing this article primarily for the benefit of my church family, First Baptist Church of Diana, but I would be delighted if it benefits others as well.

As a pastor, one of my chief responsibilities is to warn my church family of error (1 Tim. 4:6-16). I do not regularly ring any bell of alarm, however, so this word may come as a surprise to some. An alarm is not what I intend to sound here, but a pastoral warning. I am offering this warning, not as an officer warns a would-be thief, but rather as one thoughtful person warns his friend when there is a pitfall to be avoided.

The Warning

The Shack (the bestselling book and the forthcoming movie) is coming to a theater near you, and I don’t think it is a good thing. I realize that my negative words about this book and movie will only be a whisper when compared with the cacophony you’ll hear from others as they celebrate and admire The Shack, but I ask that you will consider my own character, temperament, and love for Christ as you read on. Judge for yourself who is more worthy to be your trusted source.

The Shack is a story of heartbreak and resolution. In the Job-like plotline, a man loses much and feels the bitter sting of that loss. He then wrestles with his suffering, his grief, and his understanding of God’s providence. Like the book of Job, The Shack is a story to which many people can relate. We have not all lost so severely, but we have all felt the pains of suffering to some degree or another.

After all, what Christian hasn’t suffered, and who hasn’t struggled to understand why?

Though the book is quite popular, and the movie is sure to exceed the book, there is great danger here. When such profound questions are raised (especially in an emotionally charged manner) there is a weighty responsibility set upon the shoulders of anyone who would raise his voice to give an answer.

The Danger

There are several dangers, both implicit and explicit, within the walls of The Shack. I will highlight only two, believing that these alone are sufficient grounds for my warning. First an obvious danger, and then a less noticeable one.

First, The Shack as a literary story presents each person of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Spirit) in human form. The movie version of the story must include these odd characters, since the storyline centers upon them. These appearances of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are most shameful, but an imaginative appearance of God the Son is also quite dangerous.

God explicitly forbids any image to be ascribed to Him. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4, Deuteronomy 5:8). Quite frankly, the clarity of this command will not allow us any wiggle room. There are absolutely no exceptions; we are forbidden to give God any image, likeness, or appearance.

Tim Challies has addressed this danger at greater length in an articulate article, and I think he is spot on (read his article here).

Before I move on to the second danger, allow me to explain why this first one is so dangerous. Evidently, God forbids us from ascribing any appearance to Him… but why? Well, any image or appearance given to God will do more to distort His nature than it will to appropriately reflect His nature. We will not know God better when we give Him an image, but we will actually know Him wrongly.

God want us to know Him; that is what He has revealed Himself to us in Scripture. However, we are in grave danger of misunderstanding Him if we look for Him in forms or images. As Challies said,

The Shack will give “a visual representation of the God who has existed from all eternity, the God who planned and purposed the creation of the universe, the God who was the subject of human rebellion, the God who set into motion a great plan of redemption, the God who poured out His holy wrath on His Son, the God who will declare that the time has come for the great Day of Judgment.”

Second, The Shack is one of many popular stories aimed at the consumeristic tastes of an American Christian culture. These stories of life, faith, and personal discovery have been happily received among a financially capable market. Many people want to read, hear, and see things that feel Christian. But people also generally try to avoid thinking deeply or critically about spiritual matters. So, dramatic stories of sentimental triumph have flooded the market, and the masses unsuspectingly continue to absorb the deluge.

These sensationalized stories are a great potential danger to us because we often do not notice their influence right away. Have you ever turned up a great song from your pre-adult days, and belted it out… with your kids in the car? My wife loves the 80s, especially 80s music. But there are a few songs that she has only just realized are terrible. These are songs she has sung and enjoyed for years. How did she not notice the message was so bad?

The Shack, like much of what American Christians consume today, seeks to answer some of our most piercing questions with insufficient and/or unbiblical content. Who is God? Who am I? Why is there suffering in the world? What is my ultimate purpose? What do I do with my sense of shame or guilt? These questions are worth investigating, and the biblical answers will amaze us as well as sustain us.

On the other hand, the intriguing wordiness of a captivating author or the emotional stimulation of a heart-wrenching narrative will only go so far. One day we will come to a truly solemn moment and no mere cliché will do… we will want some solid place to land.

The Shack only offers the reader/viewer superficial answers (at best) that cannot stand under the slightest amount of scrutiny. You deserve better, and God Himself offers you better.

The Pastoral Encouragement

It is a strange and frustrating thing to observe popular American Christianity. Christians were once called “people of the book” (referring to the Bible), but today it is hard to find a Christian in America who knows much of anything about the contents of the Bible.

This does not mean that people are not theologians, however. No, we all still have many theological beliefs. We believe things about God, about the Gospel, and about Christian living. We practice our theology every day, and our practice informs the watching world of our theological dogmas. As R.C. Sproul says, “Everyone’s a Theologian.”

My pastoral encouragement to you, my church family (and anyone else who might find this beneficial), is to resist the temptation to settle. Don’t settle for pop culture’s answer to your deep questions. Don’t settle for a mushy cliché when what you really want is solid truth. Don’t settle for speculative images of God when He has graciously revealed Himself to you in Scripture. Don’t settle for stories about life instead of living your own to the glory of God.

As always, much more could be said on all of this… but I will sign off by inviting my church family to more discussion about these things and not less.

May God shape us through humble and thoughtful relationships, and may He continue working in us to the praise of His glorious name.

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