Friday, June 30, 2017

The Shack is Powerful Medicine with Dangerous Inactive Ingredients

I heard about the book shortly after it came out, but I did not take time to read it.  When I heard about the movie, I also did not initially plan to watch it.  I wasn’t boycotting it or anything like that. It just didn’t seem important enough to find time for it in my busy life.

However, since the movie came out, two men whom I deeply respect and love, each independently shared with me how much they felt helped and blessed by watching The Shack. So yesterday my wife picked up the dvd from Red Box and we watched it. After sleeping on it, I’m ready to share some thoughts which I pray will be helpful.

The Shack is Like Good, Powerful Medicine which Unfortunately Contains Dangerous Inactive Ingredients

Medicine contains both active and inactive ingredients.  The active ingredients are those which are intended to help you.  The inactive ingredients do things like provide a smooth coating, or give a distinctive color, or hold the active ingredients together, or help your body digest and absorb the active ingredients. Drug manufacturers try to include only inactive ingredients which are very safe.  However, occasionally inactive ingredients have caused serious side effects and harm to those who take the medicine.

The Shack is like medicine that contains some very helpful, powerful, and effective main ingredients.  These are truths which can help people who have experienced deep heart wounds from very painful events, tragedies, and disappointments in their lives. Unfortunately, it also contains some elements which were not even necessary to the story or to the goal of healing broken hearts.  Some of these elements cause doubts about and undermine important truths we learn about God from the Bible.  Many people who watch The Shack will barely notice these elements, and for many these elements will likely have little, if any, ill effects.  But it is also very likely that some people will be adversely affected in serious ways by these harmful and unnecessary parts of the story.

The Good Stuff

The reason The Shack blesses many people is that it contains powerful truths that are useful for healing people’s hearts, minds, and emotions after they have suffered terrible tragedies and deep disappointments. Also, the author of The Shack is a gifted storyteller, and the format of the story makes these truths available to many people who might not find them in other places such as church, Bible studies, mature Christian friends, and Christian counselors.

Let’s review some of these truths.  Even if you never watch The Shack, or if you watch it and don’t like it, these truths are important.  You need to know them for dealing with pain in your own life and for helping others.  The Shack effectively communicates these truths, but it certainly did not invent them or discover them.  They come ultimately from God.  I learned them from His Word, from Christian books, from other mature Christians, and through dealing with hurt in my own life and ministering to others who have experienced deep hurt.

1.  Really terrible, ugly, evil things happen in this world.  The people who are victims of this evil are deeply affected by it at many levels.

2.  While evil harms us in many ways, the most significant harm is the way tragedy can warp our view of God and damage our relationship with Him.  Suffering a tragedy does not automatically or always have this effect, but it often does.  Specifically, suffering from evil will harm our relationship with God if it leads to us believing lies about God such as, “God is not really good”, or “God does not care about me”, or “God is not real”. This side effect of tragedy will eventually cause us much greater harm than the tragedy itself if it is not addressed and healed.

3.  It’s not God’s fault.  It is true that God allows evil temporarily, but God is not the one who did the evil and God never approves of evil.

4.  God does love you and He wants a relationship with you.  This is true no matter how much you have sinned and no matter how strongly you have rebelled against Him. He wants to win you over with His love.

5.  Forgiveness is a vital part of the healing process. If we have been hurt by someone, unforgiveness hurts us much more than it hurts them.  But forgiveness is not easy.  We need God’s help.  Also, forgiveness of people who hurt us terribly is not a one-time simple action. It is a process.  Forgiveness does not mean that there are no consequences.  It does mean that we do not seek to harm the person who harmed us.

6.  Believing God’s promises about eternal life in a perfect world is absolutely essential to the healing process.

7.  We don’t need to dwell in the past.  It is not helpful to fill our minds with past evil.  However, we do need to apply God’s truths specifically to past evil events, and this does sometimes involve revisiting these events in limited ways in our minds.  This needs to be done in a safe setting full of God’s loving presence and support.

8.  God is all about relationship.  Healing happens as we are engaged in a loving relationship with God.

9.  We can do amazing things when we are walking with Jesus.

10.  As God heals us, He also begins to use us to heal other people.  God does not cause evil, but He does bring good out of evil.

These good lessons (and more) are on display in The Shack.  They are true, relevant, and important.  People who have watched the movie have been helped by these truths.

The Bad

Unfortunately, Paul Young, the author of The Shack, holds to and teaches some really bad theology.  Thankfully, this bad theology is not strongly emphasized in The Shack.  Actually, his theological errors could have been left out without diluting the story or any of the ten truths I mentioned above. For the most part, these errors are only hinted at. As a result, many people who watch The Shack may be helped by the truth it contains without being infected by the elements of false teaching which are woven into it.

Since the false teaching is mostly just hinted at, you may wonder how I (or anyone) even knows for sure that Young holds certain wrong beliefs.  Well, the reason is that he has told us so.  At the same time that the movie was released, Young also released a non-fiction theological book, Lies We Believe About God. In this book, Young attacks key elements of the gospel and undermines important Biblical truths.  For two good reviews of this book, see Gavin Ortlund’s article and Tim Challie’s article.

So what are these terrible errors (and they really are terrible, and will harm a person greatly if they embrace them).  Here are a few:

1.  Young does not believe that anyone needs to believe the Bible’s teaching about Jesus in order to have their sins forgiven and be saved.  He believes that everyone is already saved, whether they have faith in Jesus or not. Young writes,

The Good News is not that Jesus has opened up the possibility of salvation and you have been invited to receive Jesus into your life. The Gospel is that Jesus has already included you into his life, into his relationship with God the Father, and into his anointing in the Holy Spirit. The Good News is that Jesus did this without your vote, and whether you believe it or not won’t make it any less or more true. (117–18 of Lies We Believe About God, quoted out of Ortlund’s review).

This one error is so serious that I would be opposed to allowing Young, or anyone else who believes this, to teach at my church.

2.  Closely related to the first error, Young also denies that our sin separates us from God. He does not believe anyone will be destroyed in Hell.  He believes that everyone will end up with God in Heaven.

3.  The error which is most explicitly portrayed in the film is that Young denies that God has wrath.  I’m not saying that the wrath of God should have been emphasized in a story about healing from terrible evil.  But it is one thing not to focus on God’s wrath, it is another thing to outright deny that wrath is a part of God’s response to evil in the world.  Correctly understood, knowing God’s wrath can actually help us heal from evil.  I’m glad that God wants to redeem people who have done evil.  I’m glad He redeemed me.  But, I’m also glad that God is angry at evil and that people who refuse to repent will eventually suffer God’s wrath and be destroyed.  I thank God for His love AND for His justice.  Young, undermines the Bible’s teaching about God’s justice.

4.  Young undermines belief in the foundational doctrine of substitutionary atonement.  He creates doubt about whether Jesus’ death on the cross paid for our sins by taking the penalty that we deserved.

These are not the only errors.  But these errors are so serious that they will deeply damage, if not destroy, the faith of those who embraces them. Thankfully, most who watch The Shack will barely notice these errors, much less embrace them.  Still, they pose a significant danger.

Pastoral Comments and Thoughts

I want to close with some comments and thoughts about how to respond to all this.

1.  I thank God for those who have been helped by the truths which are powerfully communicated in The Shack.

2.  We should not discourage people who have been helped by The Shack.  We should affirm and reinforce the good truths they saw in the movie. Some of the people who are most likely to be helped by the movie are deeply wounded.  They don’t need to hear us attacking something which God has used to help them.

3.  We can ask people who saw the movie, “What did you get out of it?”.  When they mention something positive and true, thank God and encourage them.  If they happen to mention one of the errors (which thankfully are less obvious), we can gently and clearly show them truth from the Bible.

4.  We should be constantly, gently, lovingly, prayerfully, sharing the ten “good truths” I mentioned above.  These truths are especially important in the context of people who have been harmed by terrible evil.  I have shared these truths in many settings, and I know many other mature Christians do the same thing.

5.  Some people, due to being wounded by evil, are isolated from many sources of Christian truth and help.  We should thank God that some of these people will be helped by a movie. We should pray that the truths seen in the movie will lead them into healthy, evangelical churches and Biblical truth.

6.  I personally do not feel comfortable recommending The Shack to people because of the errors woven into it.  However, I do not judge others who do recommend the book or movie.  Some may judge that the good done by the story outweighs the risk of harm done by the subtle errors.

7.  We should continue to study, believe, and teach all of God’s truth.  The best defense against false teaching is true teaching. We should base our beliefs on the Bible, which is God’s Word.  We should gently correct those who are confused or led astray by any false teaching. When necessary, we should boldly oppose and correct false teaching.

Those are my thoughts.  What are yours?

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .


  1. Good insights and helpful in knowing how to speak the truth in love!

  2. excellent article/blog, Mark. I'm going back to read the interview also. We've had some people in our church go and see the movie but they were so excited about it they are not now in a position to receive any concerns I might share with them, so I haven't. This will be a good tool in case they might ask. Thank you!

  3. I pray that God will use the good messages in the movie to bless your church members who saw it and are excited about it! May the truth that "it's not God's fault" (even though He allows it) and the truth that God is "especially fond" of each of them and the truth that forgiveness is hard but essential, may all these truths and more sink into their hearts and change their lives for good!