QUESTION: What is your opinion of The Shack?
ANSWER: I recently read the book to see what all the fuss is about. Here is my review of this controversial novel. I have used numerous quotations from it, and from Scripture, so you can see how the volume measures up to the inspired Word of the living God.
The Shack is a book of religious fiction, written by William Paul Young, a Canadian, and the son of missionary parents. It was published in 2007. Young says he originally wrote it as a gift for his six children. The author himself appears here and there in the book as a man named Willie, a friend of the central character, and the chronicler of his story.
With millions of copies sold, The Shack has become a run-away hit. Several in the entertainment industry have lent their names to promoting the book, and there is talk of turning it into a movie. Many have claimed their lives have been changed by reading it, and that it has given them a new understanding of God. (Though one individual pertinently asked, "Which god?") A favourable review asserted that it "points people back to the Bible." One enthusiast even went so far as to say, "This book is better than the Bible!"Grandiose claims–that any Christian will do well to challenge.
The novel is intended as an allegory, a kind of parable presented to teach spiritual truths. It hooks the reader emotionally, through the heartbreaking experience and turmoil of the main character. Many will be able to identify with his doubts and questions about God. Readers have been captivated by the emotional power and the creativity of the work. But, having said that, it will not be everyone's cup of tea. Young uses clever imagery to tell his tale, but some aspects of his theology are muddled, and often outright error.
As to the story presented, Mackenzie Allen Phillips ("Mack") and his family experience a terrible tragedy. His six-year-old daughter Missy is abducted and brutally slain by a serial killer. Mack struggles for years with the sorrow and bitterness of this event (called "the Great Sadness" in the book). Then one day he gets a note in the mail from God (p. 16), asking to meet him in the shack where his daughter was murdered. After some indecision, he decides to go to see what it's all about.
From the beginning, Mack's notions of God are hazy and stereotyped--in spite of the seminary training he claims to have had. He thinks "the Great Spirit" of Indian legend is another name for God or Jesus (p. 31). And that "maybe he's a really bright light, or a burning bush. I've always sort of pictured him as a really big grandpa with a long white flowing beard, sort of like Gandalf in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings" (p. 73). Actually, Mack is uncertain whether God exists at all (p. 79).
At the shack, Young uses conversations between Mack and the three persons in his "Trinity" to present his views on God and the Bible, sin and salvation, and other topics. The main purpose of this encounter, in Mack's case, is so he can learn to forgive his father, who abused him years before, and forgive the murderer who took his daughter. In this regard the author deals with such important subjects as coping with loss, working through anger, and restoring relationships. All well and good. But the work has not been without its critics, and rightly so.
However those in Young's camp are quick to counter any who would dare to question its message. One griped about the attacks of "self-appointed doctrine police." Well, God be praised for those who desire to defend sound doctrine! That is exactly what the Lord calls us to do, to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3, NKJV). Let's be more like the Bereans whom Paul commends because "they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). We must learn to discern.
One defender of the book reacted to a critical appraisal by saying that the novel is a work of fiction! (emphasis his), as though that somehow lifts it above criticism. Yes, it is fiction, but the author makes some significant theological claims through his characters, claims that must be tested by the Word of God. Even though some of the errors are put in the mouth of Mack–whose Christian faith is suspect all through, to say the least–that does not mean we can dismiss them. Time after time, his false statements go unchallenged, leaving the uninformed reader to do as he likes with them.
And many times it is Young's "God" who speaks in ways that are contrary to the Bible. It is unfair to put words in the mouth of a real Being (God), and then attempt to hide behind the fiction label when the words are challenged. "Willie" (the author) says, "Whether some parts of it [the story] are actually true or not, I won't be the judge" (p. 12). Perhaps not, but this sounds a little like Pilate trying to wash away his responsibility for sending Christ to the cross (Matt. 27:24). It is necessary to address doctrinal positions that are clearly and repeatedly espoused by the author.
W. P. Young presents the Persons of the triune Godhead in the form of three human beings who converse with Mack. But it will be the contention of this reviewer that the three individuals do not accurately portray the true God. For starters, two members of the Trinity appear as women, even though, in the Bible, there is not one single reference to the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit–or to any of the angels for that matter–manifesting themselves as female.
The woman who is supposedly God the Father states that she is appearing as such to counteract Mack's "religious conditioning" (p. 93). This is ridiculous. The true nature of God is not religiously conditioned, it is based on His inerrant Word. It is the New Age Movement, and other false religions that dare to present their gods as female. But rather than use quotation marks each time these heretical misrepresentations are identified in the following critique, the names Young provides for them will be employed, with one exception.
God the Father appears as "a large beaming African-American woman" (p. 82) named Elousia (p. 86), who is called "Papa" by Mack. (This is his wife Nan's favourite name for God, p. 16, 22.) She will be identified mostly as Elousia in this review.
God the Holy Spirit appears as "a small distinctively Asian woman" (p. 84) named Sarayu (p. 87, 110). She will be called Sarayu here. Interestingly, reviewer David P. Lamb states, "The name...Sarayu, is found in Hindu mythology. According to the Hindu epic, The Ramayama, the banks of the Sarayu River in India is where Rama, the seventh Avatar of Vishnu was born. He is said to have immersed himself in the Sarayu in order to return to his real, eternal Mahavishnu (an aspect of the Hindu god Vishnu) form when he retired from the throne of the Kosala kingdom."
God the Son appears as "a man...Middle Eastern and dressed like a labourer [a carpenter], complete with tool belt and gloves" (p. 84). He apparently has the stereotypical big "Jewish" nose (p. 111). The name Jesus is used repeatedly of this person, but since he certainly is not the Jesus of the Bible, in this case, the name will appear in quotation marks ("Jesus"), indicating it is Young's character, but not the Christ of Scripture.
1. A Ridiculed Religion
Traditional Christianity seems to take a beating in this book. We are told that Mack's father was an elder in their church, but that he was also a drunk, who repeatedly and cruelly abused his wife and son (p. 7, 8). So, are there not men like that? Yes, sadly, there are some. And if that were the only anomaly it could be excused as part of the story. But derisive comments are made again and again, suggesting Young's disdain for orthodox Christianity and the church.
Mack had attended seminary in Australia, where he "had his fill of theology and philosophy" (p. 9). The local church is described as "a bunch of exhausting work and long list of demands, and...sitting in endless meetings staring at the backs of people's heads" (p. 178). Terms such as institutions and structure are treated as dirty words–"tools that many use to prop up their illusions of security and control" (p. 179). Mack says, in the context, "I have been told so many lies" (p. 181).
But, in reality, an "institution" is simply an organization devoted to a particular cause or purpose. That the church is a living spiritual organism, the spiritual body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), does not prevent it from also being organized at the local or denominational level. And though there are dangers in the latter, they are not necessarily inherent. Even early on, churches were organized, with leaders appointed to give direction to the ministry, with workers assigned to particular tasks (cf. Acts 6:1-6; I Tim. 3:1; Tit. 1:5; Heb. 13:7, 17).
The author's conception of "religion" hardly squares with what is presented in the Word of God. Elousia says, "Religion is about having the right answers....[But] don't look for rules and principles" (p. 198). She is concerned about Mack's "religious conditioning" and "religious stereotypes" (p. 93), because "he believed, in his head at least, that God was a Spirit, neither male or female." Young's deity criticizes Mack's "preconceived notions" (p. 119). And "religious folk" are said to play off God the Father against God the Son in a "good cop/bad cop" fashion (p. 186).
In truth, religion may be defined simply as what the believer does for God. But there is nothing wrong with that--unless the doing is seen as a way of gaining God's acceptance, instead of an act of loving service in response to grace. The Apostle James speaks favourably of religion, stating, "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (Jas.1:27). How does this fit with Young's "Jesus" saying at one point, "I'm not too big on religion" (p. 179)?
The Word of God itself comes in for repeated mockery. The Bible is spoken of as "especially an expensive [book] bound in leather with gilt edges, or [is] that guilt edges" (p. 66, italics mine). Mack is "amused" to find "a Gideon's Bible" on his night stand at the shack (p. 115). When the Trinity is about to have "devotions" with Mack, "he half expected Jesus to pull out a huge old King James Bible" (p. 107). "In seminary [Mack] had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God's voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities" (p. 65).
But when we turn to this wonderful Book of books, that is exactly what we find: that God is speaking to us from its pages. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God [literally, it is God-breathed]" (II Tim. 3:16), and "holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (II Pet. 1:21). David says of God, "You have magnified Your word above all Your name" (Ps. 138:2), likely meaning that God's reputation is at stake in all that He says in His Word. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). That is why we are to "preach the word!" (II Tim. 4:2).
Mack wants to know how he will hear from the Lord in the future. Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) says he will hear her thoughts in his, suggesting a subjective source of truth, rather than the need to depend on authoritative Scripture (p. 195). But what does the Bible say? That we are to test everything by the Word of God. "To the law and to the testimony! If they [false prophets] do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no truth in them" (Isa. 8:20). Defenders of Young's fiction do well to consider that!
In The Shack, the literalness of statements regarding heaven is denied, giving us an entirely figurative explanation that does not relate to heaven at all (p. 177). But heaven is a real place. Christ promises, "I go to prepare a place for you" (Jn. 14:2, italics mine), and heaven is elsewhere called "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22).
The garden of Eden is said to have been real, but when Mack notes that some think it is all a myth, Elousia responds, "Their mistake isn't fatal" (p. 134). Implied conclusion: It is not important what we believe about such details. In contrast, the Lord Jesus Christ stresses the accuracy, not only of each written word, but of each letter, and even the parts of each letter in the words (Matt. 5:17-18; cf. 24:35).
2. A Humanized "God"
Will this book help readers to know and understand the God of the Bible? No. Young's attempt to portray the Trinity can only be described as bizarre, if not outright blasphemous. Some of his descriptions would be laughable and silly, if the subject were not so serious.
Members of the Trinity laugh and joke with one another. In contrast, the only time God's laughter is spoken of in His Word, it is a laughter of derision at the futile plotting of the wicked (cf. Ps. 2:4; 59:8). But the giddiness of Young's "Trinity" continues. When the Sarayu makes contact with Mack, he is startled. "Oh, don't mind her," says Elousia, "she has that affect on everyone," (at which they all laugh and "giggle," p. 86). "Jesus" says of Sarayu, "She's a riot! You can always count on her to throw you a curve or two" (p. 89). Later, the three stare at Mack with "silly grins plastered to their faces" (p. 200).
Elousia sometimes speaks colloquially (if not crudely). Example: "Well, Mackenzie, don't just stand there gawkin' with your mouth open like your pants are full" (p. 88). She listens to the music of a secular funk and blues group called Diatribe, "with a great beat" (p. 90). Mack responds, "I thought you would be listening to George Beverly Shea or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir." (Is Young implying that both are Christian? Mormonism is a false cult.) When Mack wants to express thanks for a meal, Elousia in "mock horror" says, "You aren't even going to bow your head and close your eyes?" (p. 120).
More seriously, Young's Trinity says, "We three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God" (p. 99), an apparent confusion of the distinct personages within the Trinity."In him [Jesus] we [the Father and the Spirit] are now fully human" (p. 192). This is totally contrary to what the Bible teaches. The baby Jesus was incarnated in the womb of a virgin, by the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20; Lk. 1:34-35). The Spirit of God did not become a human being, nor did the Father. This is ridiculous. But there is more.
Elousia (representing God the Father) is scarred as though she had been crucified (p. 95), and she says, "We were there together" (p. 96). Thus there is a denial of the separation of the Father from the Sin-bearer on the cross. The prophet Habakkuk says of God, "You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness" (Hab. 1:13). And a holy God could not look upon His Son, when He was charged with all the world's sins. But for Young, the agonized cry of Christ from Calvary, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matt. 27:46) is explained away as being how Jesus "felt" at the time (p. 96).
The claim is made, "Although he [Jesus] is also fully God, he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything" (p. 99), along with the strong implication that all human beings can do just as Jesus did. "Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone" (p. 100). But what does the Bible tell us? That when the woman who touched the hem of His robe in faith was healed, the Lord Jesus knew "that power had gone out of Him" (Mk. 5:30). It was His power that healed her. Compare Lk. 6:19, "Power went out from Him and healed them all."
Theologian Albert Mohler suggests that Young's "Jesus" is actually closer to the Mormon view of Christ as simply a highly advanced human. It is true that there are mysteries here, as to the interaction of Persons of the Trinity in what Christ accomplished. But the three Persons of the one God must be kept distinct--as the Bible reveals them to be. And as for the Son of God, He repeatedly did things that demonstrated His deity.
In Young's story, the Son of God is made to appear awkward and bumbling. As Papa (Elousia) is preparing a meal, "Jesus" drops a large bowl of batter that slops all over. Elousia calls him "greasy fingers" (p. 105), and he is labeled "clumsy" by Sarayu (p. 104). (Can you picture the Spirit of God saying such a thing–the One whose present mission, according to Christ, is to "glorify Me," Jn. 16:14?). But Mack is awed to see how forgiving the others are of the accident. "He knew that it didn't matter whose fault it was...that a dish that had been planned would not be shared." So, is this a deity with a "fault," and One whose plans are thwarted by a mistake made by the Son of God?
"We have limited ourselves out of respect for you" (p. 106), says Young's God. Looking at the stars, "Jesus" remarks that he created the universe "before the Word became flesh. So even though I created this, I see it now as a human. And I must say, it is impressive!" (p. 109). And when Mack and "Jesus" see a trout in the lake, the latter says, "I've been trying to catch him for weeks" (p. 176). Here we have a very limited Lord indeed! Whereas, in the Bible, Christ is quite able to catch fish for Himself, and help His disciples catch them in abundance (Jn. 21:1-11).
Young's deity also tells us, "Creation has been taken down a very different path than we desired" (p. 123). "Taken" by whom? Yes, there is God's permissive will involved in the fall of man. But focusing on this fails to reckon with the mysterious intertwining of God's sovereignty and man's free will. Somehow, all of our choices operate within the foreknowledge and absolute sovereignty of Almighty God. He was not taken by surprise at man's sinful folly. In fact, Christ was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). That is the path God "desired" from the beginning, and He followed it, in His own infinite wisdom, for His great glory. "Known to God from eternity are all His works" (Acts 15:18; cf. Rom. 11:36; Eph. 1:4, 7; I Pet. 1:18-20).
Mack asks if one member of the Trinity is "more the boss than the other two" (p. 121). Listening to that, "Jesus" says, "I haven't a clue what this man is talking about." Papa is likewise confused and mystified. "I have been trying to make head or tail out of it, but sorry. He's got me lost" (p. 122.) How is that for a limiting of the omniscient God? Instead, David confesses, "O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off" (Ps. 139:1-2). The Lord Jesus also shows this awareness and comprehension of man's inmost thoughts (Matt. 9:4; Lk. 9:47; Jn. 2:24-25; I Cor. 4:5).
The idea of a hierarchy in the Godhead is stoutly rejected. "Hierarchy would make no sense to us" (p. 122). "Jesus" says each member of the Trinity equally submits to the others (p. 145). Yet the Bible teaches that the Son willingly subjected Himself to God the Father–never the other way round. Christ declares, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work" (Jn. 4:34). "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (Jn. 6:38; cf. Heb. 10:7).
Even a hierarchical structure in human government, in the church, or in the home, is rejected by Young's deity as "a waste." Laws and rules, as required in a hierarchy, are said to be destructive to relationships (p. 123). Man was supposedly to be "unencumbered by structure" (p. 124). The husband's headship in the home is made a bad result of the fall (p. 147). And "Jesus" says, "The world, in many ways, would be a much calmer and gentler place if women ruled" (p. 148). Again, this is not what the Bible teaches. God is a God of order (I Cor. 14:40). He has ordained the headship of the husband in the home (Eph. 5:22-24), the leadership of elders in the church (I Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:7), and the authority of civil government in society (Rom. 13:1-7).
Then there is this shocker: The author's "Jesus" says, "My life was not meant to be an example to copy" (p. 149). Oh? After He washes the disciples' feet, Christ says, "I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you" (Jn. 13:15). Later we read, "For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow in His steps" (I Pet. 2:21). "Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us" (Eph. 5:1-2). The Apostle Paul declares, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (I Cor. 11:1).
Again and again, W. P. Young gives us a being who is out of tune with the God who reveals Himself in His holy Word. But there is a larger and overriding problem with all of this: That the triune Godhead cannot be represented as human beings in the first place. Yes, the Son of God was "made flesh," translating the infinite God into terms we could at least begin to understand (Jn. 1:1, 14). But against that we must weigh the fact that God, in His essence, is a spirit Being (Jn. 4:24), and "invisible" (I Tim. 1:17). He "inhabits eternity" (Isa. 57:15), and declares, "Do I not fill heaven and earth" (Jer. 23:24). Much about Him is therefore ineffable (defying description), and infinitely transcendent.
Wicked men repeatedly have made images depicting their idol gods. But representing such a boundless Being in physical form is impossible (cf. Exod. 20:1-5; Isa. 40:18-26). "To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him?" asks Isaiah. And the Lord Himself reiterates the challenge: "‘To whom then will you liken Me, or to whom shall I be equal?' says the Holy One" (Isa. 40:18, 25). In his graphic description of the spiritual and moral degradation of fallen man, Paul says, "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man" (Rom. 1:22-23). And that is exactly what the author of The Shack has done, creating a god in his own image.
Though Christ, while on earth, almost always veiled His glory, that is not how He is seen either before or after. When the prophet Isaiah was given a vision of the Lord "high and lifted up," surrounded by angels crying "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!" he was devastated: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isa. 6:1, 3, 5; cf. Ezek. 1:26-28). (And it is later revealed that the One whom Isaiah saw was Christ in all His glory, Jn. 12:37-41). When the Apostle John is confronted by the glorified Christ, he says, "When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead" (Rev. 1:17; cf. Acts 26:13-15). That is how we too will respond in His presence (cf. Rev. 4:9-11).
3. A Universalized Salvation
Universalism (sometimes called universal reconciliation) says that all will be saved, regardless of whether they personally put their faith in the saving work of Christ on the cross or not–that because Jesus died for all, all are forgiven. And if the author does not preach universal salvation, he comes perilously close to it.
All humans–even Missy's depraved killer–are said to be children of God (p. 119, 224). The plain implication is that Young's "Jesus" accepts those in other religions. In effect this means that there is more than one way to God. "Jesus" speaks of cultists and adherents of other religions and says, "I have no desire to make them Christian" (p. 182). And he says, "I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu" (p. 110). The best way? Not the only way? How far that is from the declaration of Christ Himself that "no one comes to the Father except through Me" (Jn. 14:6). "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). It is as we "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" that we are "saved" (Acts 16:31).
The doctrine of eternal judgment is denigrated and denied by Young's "Trinity." "I don't need to punish people for sin," says Elousia. "Sin is its own punishment" (p. 120). Yes, sin often brings temporal suffering for the sinner. But that is not some kind of mortal purgatory that cancels out the eternal destiny of those outside of Christ. Hell is an "everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41). And Christ repeatedly warns that unrepentant sinners will be consigned to these eternal flames as well (Mk. 9:42-48). "Anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:15).
It has been pointed out that the Lord Jesus had more to say about hell than He did about heaven. Yet, instead of His solemn warnings, Young gives us, "Judgment is not about destruction, but about setting things right" (p. 169). "I don't do humiliation, guilt, or condemnation," Elousia says (p. 223). What? How can a book say this, and claim to be Christian, and assert it is accurately representing the Scriptures? "He who believes in Him [Christ] is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (Jn. 3:18; cf. 5:24).
"Guilt'll never help you find freedom in me" (p. 187), says Elousia. Is she then denying the efficacy of the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:7-11)? The purpose of the revelation of God's holy laws is "that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Rom. 3:19). It is a sense of having offended the Almighty, and the fear of His just punishment, that drives sinners to the feet of the Saviour (cf. Acts 2:36-37; 16:29-3).
We are told that "God "cannot act apart from love" (p. 102), as though that were all there is to His nature. But the wonderful grace and love of God must not be allowed to overbalance or obscure His righteousness, His infinite holiness, and uncompromising justice. Both sides are taught in the Bible. And the kind and gentle Jesus of the Gospels will one day return "in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction [or ruin] from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes in that day" (II Thess. 1:7-10; cf. Rev. 19:11-21).
Young's false deity emphasizes that we are not to judge others (p. 158). "Judging requires that you think yourself superior over the one you judge" (p. 159). That was certainly the attitude of the hypocritical Pharisees, and it is why the Lord Jesus warned them, "Judge not that you be not judged" (Matt. 7:1-5). But, contrary to popular belief, the Lord was not forbidding all human judgment. We are to "judge with righteous judgment" (Jn. 7:24). And the Apostle Paul exhorts believers in the local church to judge sinners in their midst (I Cor. 6:1-5).
There is also a place for spiritual discernment, and a defense of the faith against those who teach error (Jude 1:3)–as this reviewer is attempting to do here. But to show the presumed folly of "judging" Mack is asked to select several of his children to spend eternity in hell (p. 162). "I am only asking you to do something that you believe God does." Again, the implication in this is that there is no condemnation to eternal hell for anyone to face.
Mack asks what is possibly the most important question of all: "What exactly did Jesus accomplish by dying? (p. 191). But no clear and biblical answer is given. To supply it for those who could not find it in The Shack, here it is: "I declare to you the gospel [the good news]...that Christ died for our sins...and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures" (I Cor. 15:1-3). "Christ suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God" (I Pet. 3:18). "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (Jn. 3:16). That is the answer to Mack's question, and the answer for you, if you are not saved.
At the cross, "mercy triumphs over justice because of love," says Young (p. 164). No, no! God's justice is not an enemy to be triumphed over. His holy standard was upheld at the cross, that is the point of it. And it is the significance of a tongue-twister Bible word, propitiation–meaning the full satisfaction of God's justice. Christ Jesus is the One "God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith" (Rom. 3:25). "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (I Jn. 4:10). Justice was satisfied at Calvary, freeing sinners from condemnation, if only they will claim Christ's saving work as their own.
The Word of God declares that Christ "gave Himself for our sins" (Gal. 1:4). He took upon Himself the punishment we deserve, so that we, through faith in Him, might be forgiven and receive the gift of eternal life. "This is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son does not have life" (I Jn. 5:11-12). It is that simple. Anything else is a false gospel–which means it is not really the gospel at all. Be aware, "there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:7-8).
Mack speaks sarcastically of "just some positional theological thing" which he contrasts with "a real indwelling" of God (p. 112). The Lord's indwelling, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, is certainly taught in Scripture (Rom. 8:9; I Cor. 6:19-20). But so is positional theology. Here is once more the belittling of a crucial doctrine of the New Testament. The Christian's position "in Christ," or "in Him," is spoken of again and again. It refers to our legal standing before God. When we put our faith in Christ, God views us as being "in Him" on the cross, and as therefore having already been punished for our sins. "For He [God the Father] made Him who knew not sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (II Cor. 5:21). Now, we are "accepted in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:6-7), and are "complete in Him" (Col. 2:10).
And what of living the Christian life, after one becomes a Christian? Is it true that "the Bible doesn't teach you to follow rules" (p. 197)? That is apparently what the author believes. Young's God says, "I have a great fondness for uncertainty." And "responsibility and expectation are just another form of rules we are no longer under" (p. 203). "Because I have no expectations, you never disappoint me" (p. 206). (Oh? Then why are we exhorted not to "grieve the Holy Spirit of God," Eph. 4:30?)
And how about this: "You won't find the word responsibility in the Scriptures" (p. 205)? That is true enough–at least with reference to the most common English versions. But nor will we find the word "Trinity" there, which Young refers to often enough! The point is not whether the terms are used, but whether the concepts are biblical.
So, what about our "responsibility"? "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man's all [it is what makes man whole]. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Ecc. 12:13-14). "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry" (I Sam. 15:22-23). "We ought to obey God" (Acts 5:29). "Present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God" (Rom. 6:12). "You serve the Lord Christ" (Col. 3:24). That is our responsibility!
I hope that this material has given you sufficient help in evaluating The Shack, so you will not feel compelled to waste your money purchasing it. My apologies to Mr. Young if I have misunderstood what he is saying a time or two. But there are plenty of problems with this book. It is heresy, pure and simple, and a seduction of Satan aimed at the untaught and uncertain. The Shack is a heretical fable invented to tickle itching ears (II Tim. 4:2-4). Like many of the devil's snares, it disguises the poison of error in a sometimes interesting and emotionally charged wrapper, so that it "feels" good to many readers. Do not be fooled. To borrow from Ronald Reagan, "Mr. Young, tear down this shack!"