Yes, I read The Shack, and, no, I didn’t like it.
It’s been a while, and I forget the details, but it was not exactly a literary tour de force. All the characters were flat, even God. The main character has a singular problem, not a complex one. And God has a singular solution, and not a very biblical one.
But I remember the breathless excitement with which the book was shared with me. Wow! It’s a book about God that everyone is excited about— 10 million copies, 34 languages, and almost 100 weeks on the New York Times best seller list. Surely, everyone thinking about God and forgiveness must be a good thing. Actually, not.
In a positive review of the book in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Timothy Beal, a professor of religion at Case Western, says the buzz is because “there is a lot more interest in serious theological alternatives to sappy, simplistic devotional and religious self-help books than many would have presumed.”
I think he’s right about the buzz and wrong about the value.
Consider the metaphorical models of God; there is “Papa,” as Elousia insists Mack call her, a large, happy African-American woman; Jesus, a clumsy handyman who likes to fish, and Sarayu, the new-age petite, Asian woman with a green thumb.
Yes, Mack, who lost his daughter in a tragic murder, meets the Trinity. But it’s a Trinity of mixed metaphors, suggesting that God is a linguistic conception and not a real person. Frankly, God can manifest himself as a large black woman if he wants to. But that’s not the problem with this book. The problem is it doesn’t take seriously the way he has manifested himself in Scripture. (Papa tells Mack that she often manifests herself as a father because men are weaker than women and need a role model.)
But there’s more. According to Sarayu, “We have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command.”
To believe as I do that the members of the Trinity are co-equal is not to believe that within the Godhead there are not roles, responsibilities and authority. But in The Shack, as Beal notes, this follows from liberation theology, a theology which maintains that this “exchange of love” means that the Trinity is “offended” by social inequity. And in the end this is God’s only concern.
I’m not theologically astute enough to deal with all the implications of this, but one is it under cuts the notion of authority in every aspect of life, including the authority of God himself. Papa doesn’t care if people obey her; she just wants everyone to get along.
Consequently, obedience doesn’t matter because salvation is for everyone, without condition or faith. Papa says the whole world has been reconciled to her. When Mack says she must mean those who believe in her, she says, “No, the whole world.” The Shack’s Jesus says he has followers in every religion and has “no desire to make them Christians.” Apparently he didn’t remember the Great Commission thing about making disciples. In the end, even the criminal who murdered and raped Mack’s daughter has neither to believe or obey God. It’s all good.
Beal believes the popularity of this book suggests a “real hunger for alternative theologies.” He’s very excited about this.
I’m not. I believe the popularity of this book suggests the lack of theological discernment by people who should know better.