Posted by: Billy Marsh | February 4, 2009

The Shack Revisited (Part III)

 The Shack ~ William P. YoungThis will be my final post in my series titled, “The Shack Revisited” (Part I and Part II). The name has a double-meaning. First, I have “revisited” The Shack in my analysis having now read the book in full as opposed to my previous warnings against it submitted prior to my reading it. Second, the title is a short summary of the story of the book insofar as Mack, the main character, “revisits” the shack where his daughter was murdered, but instead of finding the killer, he encounters the Trinity. From this point on out, during his experience with the Godhead, in essence, Mack is continually “revisiting” many different things such as the memories of that fateful day when his daughter, Missy, came up missing, his love for his other surviving children, his admiration for his wife, and the soundness (or lack thereof) of his “pre-conceived” notions about religion and theology.

This has been a fruitful study, and it has been a blessing to be able to inform people who are close to me such as family and friends, as well as those whom I’ve never met about the dangers of this best-selling “Christian” fiction book. With these final caveats, I hope that you will truly investigate this work through the lens of Scripture and with a heart loyal to God above all else. Although I have hit many topics in these posts, there are several other theological reasons why I find Young’s story poisonous with regard to the affect it could potentially have on people with respect to their view of Christianity, daily Christian spirituality, and ultimately, God; and therefore, I find it completely unenjoyable literature.

5) Christology: The Humanity of Jesus Christ and His Limitedness – One aspect of Young’s explication of the Trinity is his emphasis on God’s humanity. Yes, God’s humanity, not just Jesus’. But, as I have argued earlier, this should be a major point of contention for orthodox Christians regarding the fact that only God the Son became human, despite anthropomorhic language used in the Bible with reference to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

Near the beginning of Mack’s weekend with the Godhead, Papa breaks off from “her” description of the Trinity as being human and limited and focuses the subject on Jesus’ humanity. I admit that Young agrees that Jesus is fully God, but the manner in which he presents Jesus as fully human seems to undermine Jesus’ deity. In other words, his explanation of Jesus’ humanity is problematic to the point that it makes no room for his divine identity to thrive. Young writes, through the words of Papa, that “Although he is also fully God, he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything (99-100).” What?! Not only do I believe that this is an extreme overstatement, but theologically, it is impossible to sustain in light of Jesus as God in the flesh. Again, Papa gives an illustration on how Jesus healed the blind: “He did so as a dependent, limited human being trusting in my life and power to be at work within him and through him. Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone (emphasis mine; 100).” Part of Young’s problem at this point most likely is due to an erroneous interpretation of the relationship between the Father and the Son in John’s Gospel. I have no argument with the fact that God the Father manifested his words, will, and works through God the Son, however, Jesus was also simultaneously fully God, and most certainly did have power within himself to do the works that only God can do.

Typically, what Young is posing is referred to as the Kenosis Theory which argues that Christ literally gave up some of his divine attributes in the Incarnation. The Kenosis Theory is an inaccurate interpretation of Philippians 2:5-7, and it carries little weight; moreover, it is rejected by evangelical, orthodoxy. Although Jesus as the Word made flesh may have been limited in some respects, he never ceased being fully God and being fully equipped with all of his divine attributes. When Papa says that Jesus “had no power within himself to heal anyone,” she clearly is not talking about the same Jesus who demonstrated his deity by using his omnipotence over creation to calm the storm at sea with the disciples in Matthew 8. Or, what about when the NT attests to Jesus’ omniscience in instances such as John 21:17 where Peter proclaims, “Lord, you know everything.”  With regard to miracles, Jesus as God clearly performs his own works that manifest his glory (cf. Jn 2:11). Once again, when you accept Young’s version of the person of Jesus Christ, though he seems like a perfect fit, the Jewish carpenter in The Shack who says he’ll answer to Jesse is no God at all, but rather is a pale, man-centered portrayal of the risen and triumphant Lord and King, Son of God and Son of man.

Just as a note of warning, as you read The Shack, pay attention to other places where Young tries to show how the entire Godhead as limited in his knowledge, forgetting, and in other ways, not just with respect to Christology. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Young’s depiction of God is more human than anything else.

Other areas of theological concern that I’m not going to delve into which you should be on the lookout for while reading The Shack are the nature of special revelation, inclusivism/pluralism, the scars on the wrists of Papa’s hands, heaven, theodicy (God and evil), and the providence and sovereignty of God. In addition, Chapter 15, “A Festival of Friends” was just plain weird, and I’m extremely suspicious of Judas, the family cat.

6) God Didn’t Write The Shack – And finally, I’d like to bring up one final issue. Please bear in mind that in The Shack, although God is one of the main characters, it is not him really doing the talking. Not to over do it, but in the story, essentially Young is God. Yes, he uses the God of the Bible as the God of his novel, nevertheless, Young is the man behind the pen or the fingers typing away at the keyboard, moving the mouths of Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu. The explanation of the Trinity and other doctrines found in The Shack is not special revelation as comparable to what we have in Scripture. What we have in The Shackis no different than what exists in non-fiction Christian books that seek to expound upon God and theology. The only difference is that he has decided to use the medium of a fictional narrative to communicate his message and beliefs. Either way, it is Young’s theology we get, not God’s per se. It would be very beneficial to keep this mind as you listen to “God” explain himself in this story.

If your vision of God is lacking, or if you have questions about what your relationship with the Trinity is supposed to look like, or you are wondering how you recover from tragedy, I have a single admonition: Go to the Bible and read the words that God did write, and pray that the Holy Spirit will give you eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to believe what God has spoken concerning himself and how he works in his creation. Most of all, I pray that you find there a rich and glorious gospel where Jesus Christ becomes your most treasured possession.



  1. I’ve appreciated your thoughts on your reading of the book. Number 6 is a helpful point.

    I just read Fred Sanders’ interesting interaction with the book. He reviews it from 4 perspectives. My favorite is the “literary snob” section.

  2. I haven’t visited the scriptorium in a while because for some reason their website slows down my computer, but I was able to check out your link, and I was pretty impressed. Sanders really put a lot of work into all of that didn’t he? I wish I had the time to blog like that. It took me almost a month just to finish these three posts! I think my critiques fell into the “Worried theologian” and the “literary snob” categories. But by far, his example of the passive Christian reader was exactly the response that I’ve heard over and over and over.

  3. True, God didn’t write The Shack, but God didn’t write the Bible either. It was written through men.

    • Sandra,

      I’m sorry to say but you are incorrect. God is the author of Scripture. This is one of the most basic, orthodox doctrines of Christianity.

  4. Billy, I think your views are eisegetical. You, clearly will not agree. You probably realise that every person reads every thing (books, situations, people etc) through the lens of their own schema. Your schema doesn’t seem to allow for much imagination or flexibility. Your comments seem to be coming from a rigid perception of how God is and more specifically YOUR interpretation of what Scripture says about how God is.
    MY perception of the concepts of God expressed in The Shack is that they are congruent with Scripture.
    Paul Julian
    New Zealand

  5. This is really the fourth blog, of your blog I personally read.

    But yet I enjoy this 1, “The Shack Revisited (Part III) Joy in the Journey” the very best.
    Regards ,Bert

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