Posted by: Ed | June 10, 2008


I don’t know if you all keep up on the comments to the posts, but Deborah wasn’t happy with the positive run The Shack was getting on the blog & couple of times in brief statements in messages at Journey. D, I really don’t think you are going to like the previous post ☺

After I began to read the book I heard of the “theological controversies” that it was stirring up. So I kept looking for them as I read. I’m fairly good at finding them I think. Maybe not.

There are a couple of fairly well known Christian pastor / writer / speaker / blogger types who are have said some negative things about it. A couple of them seem to be against so many things that I would have been surprised with any other reaction (if you want me to name names, email me), but also evangelical luminaries such as Chuck Colson took a shot at it. So, I figured I better say something.

WARNING – this necessitates some PLOT SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the book, STOP & read it then come back to this. There is nothing in the book that will be harmful to your soul.

Before I deal with specific questions, there is something of a “meta-question”. Do we have to agree with everything in a book to profit from it? Can an author disagree with what is currently accepted as Evangelical orthodoxy or fall short of it and still write a book that benefits us? If not, then you might want to stay away from some of the early church fathers. You definitely want to avoid some of the great spiritual writers of the middle ages. Now, I’m aware that some books are largely incompatible with clear biblical truth & need to be read with that in mind up front. I get that. I wouldn’t read “Why I’m Not A Christian” by Bertrand Russell expecting to profit spiritually from it. Also, there really are false teachers out there about whom the people need to be warned. To be perhaps a little to vulnerable here, what I lose patience with are people who are too quick to treat fellow Bible loving authors & teachers as dangerous false teachers because they are working some things out in a way that doesn’t fit with some of the fine points of their understanding of theology.

So here’s some of the specific objections I’ve heard about:
1. TRINITARIAN ISSUES – Some seem to have a problem with the way the Trinity is portrayed in this book. I on the other hand applaud the author for embracing the uniquely Christian insight into the nature of God as Triune and fully integrating it into Mac’s encounter with God. Remember: this is not a Theology book. If you are going to talk about the Trinity other than propositionally, you will have to speak anthropomorphically. I didn’t see anything that was incompatible with an orthodox understanding of the Trinity. Athanasius, would give it a thumbs up in my opinion.
2. GOD IN THE FEMININE – God, the Father, appears to Mac in the form of a large African-American woman for most of the book. Later, He appears as a man. For the life of me, I can’t see how people who’ve read the book could not get this one. It’s quite clear that this is only a way that the Father is appearing to Mac. One critic said bluntly, God is not a large black woman. News flash: he’s also not an old white man. God is not a “male”. God refers to Himself normally in scripture in a male forms and the Bible uses male pronouns for God. But the larger truth is that God is of a different nature than humans. We, MALE & FEMALE, reflect the image of God. In God’s nature is both the essence & beauty of both masculinity & femininity.
3. UNIVERSALISM – this to me is the most legitimate criticism. Once again, I remind you, that this is not a theology book. I like the way the author deals with questions of eternal destiny, and the goodness of God in a way that makes “emotional sense” without, in my judgment, crossing the line into universalism. There is something else in play here that may make little sense if you haven’t been exposed to different theological systems.
4. GOD & THE NATIVE AMERICAN LEGEND – I think Paul’s connecting the God of the Bible revealed in Jesus with the Unknown God of the Athenians gave us a template for understanding how God has left a witness to Himself in cultures that are outside the special revelation of the Scriptures. This is the same thing the author is doing. For some further thoughts on this check out my 1st post on our GOD AT THE MOVIES series.



  1. “Do we have to agree with everything in a book to profit from it? Can an author disagree with what is currently accepted as Evangelical orthodoxy or fall short of it and still write a book that benefits us?”

    Great questions! Unfortunately, there are many Christian groups out there that would negatively respond to this and say we must agree with it. I, for one, have found there is very little out there that I can agree with 100 percent. In fact, if I had to use agreement as a rule of thumb then I would read very little, watch little, and listen to little.

    I, for one, haven’t finished the book, but even if he did teach universalism I wouldn’t say it is unworthy of a read. In fact, there are many well-thinking Christians out there, currently and in the past, as with some church fathers, that seem to toy with this idea. God alone knows the end.

    That’s my two cents for what it’s worth.

  2. YES, Jen! This is it.

    We’re in the midst of our God at the Movies series. One of the premises is how God’s story is found in all kinds of places, even in places where it’s not intentional.

    Yes, we need to read with our guards up, but we also need to appreciate the insights that a writer brings esp fellow Christ followers even if there are a few areas in which someone doesn’t meet our particular doctrinal litmus test.

    There are books that are dangerous. This is NOT one of them.

    I’m looking forward to you reading the rest of it.

  3. OK, I confess, I have not read this book. However, just based on the controversy I will absolutely read it.

    As a young Christian, some 20+ years ago, and a redneck conservative by pedigree, I found Christianity to be an extremely comfortable fit because I could make everything an absolute that was in alignment with my personally held beliefs. I differentiated not a twit among the true essentials of the faith and the broad spectrum of beliefs that were not essential by any stretch of imagination.

    A true friend of mine challenged me one night with one of my mostly closely guarded absolutes, “capitalism as the obvious offshoot of true Christianity”. To understand this belief, you have to understand, I am a CPA by trade. He dared me to consider the ugliness and sin committed and justified in the name of capitalism. That simple event began a journey (pun intended) for me in which I was called to lay all that I believed and held true on the altar. When God was done, the altar was pretty much bare!

    Praise God.

  4. Ed,
    I love this!
    I believe the Gospel, or it’s reputation in our culture, has suffered greatly b/c we have failed to make these distinctions.
    Bonhoeffer has great treatment in this in both his book on Ethics & in Cost of Discipleship.

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