Monday, May 19, 2008

review of a book The Shack - a runaway best seller

The Shack - A very critical review.


Mackinzie Allen Phillips (Mac), who has had his young daughter murdered in a shack during a camping trip, is invited by God to revisit the shack four years later. At the shack he is met by the Trinity in the form of a large African woman (God the Father), an Asian woman (The Holy Spirit) and a Jewish man (Jesus) He has apparently been invited to the shack by God to help him deal with the pain of the loss of his daughter. (P.92) There is some attempt by God to help Mac deal with a variety of theological questions.

What do we know about Mac?

1) He was raised in a rather harsh Christian home.

2) Family devotions were tedious and boring.

3) His father had a drinking problem

4) He has been to seminary

5) He is a rather superficial thinker as he never faced up to the problem of the evil in the world until he experienced the loss of his own daughter.

6) He has some familiarity with church and with church beliefs.

The author of the book has declared on a web site that the Mac in the book is really a picture of himself. He has also stated clearly that the book is a book of fiction.

The book, in many ways, is a theological disaster. The first and most glaring error is the feminization of the Trinity. The biblical writers, from cover to cover, all seem to think that the masculine image is the most appropriate image to represent the Trinity. Nobody suggests that God is a man -- only that the masculine image is the best image to represent God. C.S. Lewis says that the whole universe is feminine before God. God gives and the universe receives. Even in sex, the male gives and the woman receives. What justification do we have to declare that the Biblical writers and 2000 years of church history are wrong in preferring the masculine image to the female image to represent God? Any religion that puts the feminine at the heart of the universe rather than the masculine would result in a religion very different from historic Christianity. This is important. (See C.S. Lewis - 'Priestesses in the Church' in God in the Dock.

A second error is the clear assertion that there is no hierarchy of office within the Trinity (p 121-123). The whole New Testament speaks of hierarchy of office. The Father sends the Son, not the other way around. The Son prays to the Father, the Father doesn't pray to the Son. The creeds say that the 'Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son', the Father does not proceed from the Holy Spirit. The author of this book boldly puts words in God's mouth that don't square with the Biblical record. The whole tone to the relationship of the members of the Trinity the each other is annoying. They kiss each other all the time, They call each other and Mac sweetie and honey.

Odd things about the story:

1) God twice refers to the possibility that Macs pants might be or get full of poop (p 88, 121).

2) All three members of the Trinity became human in the Incarnation (p. 99)

3) Suggests that Jesus is physically ugly. (p. 113)

4) States that God the Father has scars on her writs that match the scars on the wrists of Jesus. (p 95)

5) God loves everyone equally but he especially has love for Missy (the dead daughter p 92). He is also especially fond of everybody (119). The word especially loses its meaning if it applies to everyone. Verbal confusion.

6) God is bigger than the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Why?)

7) God cries (p 95) (the author does not seem to realize that there is a strong theological support for the idea that God is impassible)

8) The attempt to discuss the problem of free will is very superficial (p. 94-95)

9) “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” God explains this to Mac by saying that Jesus was wrong, He was not forsaken, He only felt forsaken. This complex problem is explained away quite simply - too simply.

10) “When all that humans can see is their pain, perhaps they lose site of Me” (p. 96). This is only true if humans have not had good teaching in church. The whole point of the book of Job is that a man can suffer terribly without losing his faith in God. Suffering should not have any effect on a person's belief system.

11) When God tries to tell Mac that He is more than just a large human, Mac says that His explanation does not make much sense. (p. 98) Why not? It’s not that complicated.

12) “When we three spoke ourselves into human existence as the Son of God we became fully human - - we became flesh and blood.” (p.99) Where in the world did the author get this idea?

13) Mac seems to think that we learn truth from our experiences (p.102). This is true if by experience he means thinking but not true if he means his feelings. Mac is a bit weak on thinking.

14) Jesus is clumsy (drops a bowl of batter) (p.104). God calls him ‘greasy fingers”.

15) Mac is very impressed they way the members of the Trinity treat each other. (p 105). “How different this was from the way he (Mac) treated the ones he loved” How?

16) There is a frequent subtle hostility through out the book against theology, seminary, rules, law, obedience, religion, authority, power, judgment, repentance, guilt, responsibility, expectations (p. 112, 123, 148, 158).

17) God uses slang. “Those things will give you the trots if you ain’t careful (p.121). “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet’ “(p 203).

18) Jesus and God the mother are so dense that they can’t understands Mac’s questions about hierarchy within the trinity (p. 121, 122).

19) God is very disparaging of human's ability to determine what is good and evil (p.147). This is theological and philosophical nonsense ( see C.S. Lewis - Abolition of Man and the book of Romans)

20) “power in the hands of independent humans - - does corrupt” Maybe often but not always

21) God is critical of Mac for judging the actions of other people (p. 158). This is contrary to common sense. We are not to judge motivations but are compelled to judge actions.

22) God says that judging requires that you think yourself superior over the one you judge (p. 159). More nonsense. All we need to judge the actions of others is common sense. We don’t need to think our selves superior.

23) Jesus loves people who he had judged worthy of His love (p.163). This is a flat contradiction of God’s grace. We are not loved because we deserve it. He loves us in spite of the fact that we are not worthy of it.

23) Jesus says that he has no desire to make non-Christians, Christians (p.182). What kind of nonsense is this. He has no desire to make people his followers?

24) Mac asks ‘why didn’t you tell me about Missy (the killed daughter) before?’ (p. 176) What has he learned at the shack about Missy that he didn’t know before? We are never told.

25) All the evils of the world are all related to religion, politics and economics. (p. 179) A silly assertion.

26) The Bible doesn’t teach you to follow rules (p. 197), yet Jesus said, ‘If you love me, keep my commandments’.

After Mac’s encounter with God in the Shack the great sadness of the loss of his daughter was gone. Is this a good thing? How would anyone want this kind of sadness to be gone?

Why is this book receiving such a positive response? Because it presents a very mushy and undemanding God, one that satisfies our emotions and makes no demands on our minds. If laypeople were better educated theologically this book would be a colossal flop. If people are being ‘blessed’ by this book, it only means that God can use even bad teaching to a good end.

Apparently the author went to seminary. I wish he had stayed awake in class and would have avoided writing this awful book.


Anonymous said...

Hi Don - I'm reading it, thanks to you. Other people have also told me I should read it because it's being talked about etc. I don't ussually read this kind of stuff because I find it tedious. In terms of pop fiction, it's well crafted to create interest. But it's so predictable (which goes with the territory). Two or three pages into it you are like, oh, and now will have to got through twenty or so pages of emotion laden description of the event in which the girl is abducted. Then, predictability of predictabilites, the girl asks hard questions about suffering on the night before she herself under goes the same. How crassly convelient. The characters are all quite cliche. It feels like they are descriptions of people the author has seen in movies (the female portrayal of God? Think the oracle in the Matrix. Why is it that so many characters these days are like Mas: the silent types who don't say much, but when they speak they say important things? Well, because that is the typical hollywood character. It's easy to portray the strong, sometimes sullen, silent type on film because you get to watch him and so it doesn't matter if he talks or not. This is another way in which the screen has dumbed us down). The other thing is, I don't like the way in which evangelicalism more and more treats the problem of evil as if there was no answer, as if it's a big surprize when bad things happen. And this whole book works that out. You always have to get mad at God and tell him that you hate him or that it all "his fault". It's like people don't bother to consider the plight of others long enough to be presented with the difficult problems of suffering wihtout reference to their own circumstances. The only time people seem to think seriously about suffering is when somenting bad happens to them. But come one, people, terrible things are happening all around us all the time. It seems to me sign of self-obsession that people don't really get how bad evil is until it happens to them. They don't seem to be looking around at the world, they aren't angry about injustice if it happens to somewone else. But oh boy, once it happens to them then they can get all mad at God. I concurr that this is a sign of superficiality.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I agree that the theology in the book is so horrible always. The church is presented poorly, and that is a problem and there are lots of problems. But I'm not sure the polemic contra Heirarchicalism is so far off. Is orthodoxy saying that there is an inherent authority structure in the trinity or is it saying that the cooperation between the members of the trinity is the result of voluntary mutual submission? It seems to me that the latter is more appropriate, for otherwise we are saying that there is a precondition that determines God's behavior (an inherent heirarchy). Whatever the arragnements between persons of the trinity (a topic we are probably wise to handle humbly), surely they have come about by the free decision of God and nothing more. God presented as an african american woman: Well, ok. I see the point that God is always presented as male in scripure and church tradition and I think that is important too. But we should at least give the narrative it's due. God says in the story that he is neithre male nor female, and the reason he appears as he does to Mac is becuase of Mac's negative associations stemming from his father and because Mac thinks of God as Gandalfian type of a character. I think I'm willing to go along with this in the logic of the story. (eventhough I question the significance of the "I had a bad relationship with my dad and because of that I see God as a mean old guy up in heaven who is going to spank me" thing). It makes narrative sense. Now, I would not be surprized if that nicety was lost on both detractors and promoters alike and the book eneded up being seen as a ground breaking portrayal of God for evangelicals. One final thing: I think the portrayal of the trinity as always joking with each other and being sappy with each other is a monumental projection of the author's likes and desires. Obviously, this is what he thinks good relationships are all about. But come on, that is lowering our description of things incomprehensible to such a level if granularity that we end up with a god who fits a particular personality. Young likes sappy relationship where people are always engaging in trivial joviality. I like relationships where people are all intellectual and like to tell punns. The next guy likes relationship in which people don't really talk very much, but they go out and play games. The variety is as endless as are human friendships. We can't fit the relationship between the trinity in to any one of these! It is something completely beyond all that and which no doubt also incorporates all that is good about human relationships. Young often has God saying that he is not like Mac, that he is different. And yet, I suspect that this God is pretty much just like "Mac" (Young).

Rob h

Anonymous said...

There is something to be said for a book that can sweep a nation and have some of the most recognized biblical scholars battling over the book's contents. Some of the people that have fought to point the USA back to the heart of God are declaring this book to be instrumental in sparking revival throughout America.
The goal of the book was not to write a commentary, nor to re-define doctrine. The goal was to capture the reader in such a way that their picture of God was challenged to include His character of Love and Grace and Forgiveness. For too long religious personalities have attempted to scare laypeople into embracing Christianity. But "faith" gained through unhealthy fear will not be genuine. What if this book just opens our hearts enough to consider that God is "especially fond" of us? For people that have spent their lives striving for acceptance this is one of the most freeing declarations of the book. There isn't anything in the book that would fall outside of mainstream Christian teaching, but it just seems to be a different perspective to the journey we all are on as Christians. The author does make comments about the church establishment, but NONE of the comments that he makes are new to the scene. Churches are full of hurting people who make mistakes and try to capture the idea of God in a box. All this does is create another institution and duty we must perform. What if we could just "do life" together, and be a part of community with the expectation that it would be messy along the way? Would we have grace for people that we don't have now?

Sometimes the worst thing we do as humans is try to intellectually comprehend something way beyond our own scope. If this book is one that brings healing to the broken-hearted and allows people to see a different facet of God's character, then I would encourage them to read it. That is who Jesus came for anyway, to heal the sick, not meet with the well and all-together folks.

Anonymous said...

Hi Don - It is unfortunate that you have reviewed this book poorly. I think that you are committed to a legalistic view of God, where the rules matter rather than the message. Anyone who can review a book by tearing the contents paragraph by paragraph into little pieces and failed to see the "whole". Take a step from your legalistic perspective. Look at the forest - not the trees. God is love, unlimited,unconditional. Why is it so important whether you see God a a woman or a man. God is neither - and to focus on that as an example of the books failings tells me that you have missed the MESSAGE instead you focus on the words. Open your heart and experience the message of unconditional love this book describes.


Anonymous said...

Even though the story line of Missy's death was little predictable, this book has opened my heart in ways I would have considered impossible. Whatever your theological stance, know that God found me, drew me in, and changed me. I won't use this as my Bible, but I believe it is quite fine to not confine God. Your review makes you seem like a respecter of persons. Sorry.

Tiny Tim said...

It never ceases to cause me wonderment how people will turn to books of this nature for Christian enlightenment(and uplifting). The book to enlighten far and beyond this highly flawed type of writing is of course...THE BIBLE!!!
When the time comes that this type of book no longer is needed...God will be near.
Timothy Chapman

Anonymous said...

God is indescribable. Who he is is far greater than we understand. Yet - we choose to ignore what he has revealed of himself through the word (Christ) and we run after inadequate descriptions...? When will people realise that we serve God, not the other way around. What an audacious thing to imagine that it is OK to impart an imagined God which fits your issues and comfort zone. I completely agree with the statements made in your review. We should always test teaching by using the word of God, which is the supreme truth. Everyone is human and makes mistakes, or misinterprets the word...but are we not meant to ask the Spirit for guidance and decernment?

God is love, and by His grace and through Jesus we are put right with him - but this never changes the fact that God is Holy Holy Holy! Isaiah in a vision falls flat on his face when he realises He is in the throne room of the Almighty. God does not change. He is still that awesome God, and His very being demands honour.

I don't deem it necessary to discuss the author's ability to write...I merely recongnise that I don't want to feed my spirit on this lie, and therefore reject it. My prayer is that we will learn to humble ourselves before God - and learn to serve him on his terms instead of our own.


Trish Pickard said...

I was set not to like the book, The Shack but after reading it, I thought it was really good and thought provoking. All the time I read it, I kept thinking it needs a study to go along with it. I finally decided God was urging me to write a study which I did. If anyone would like it, email me at I would be glad to send you the study. You are welcome to use it and copy it for others.
Trish Pickard

Anonymous said...

I utterly disagree with your comments on the book. You show your ignorance of the Word of God. Remember that Christ came in Grace and Truth. He came in Love, not hate and slander. Stop building straw dummys up just to beat them down. You obviously read the book with a skeptical mind, hence your perspective.

If you read this book you must remember to read it as a fiction, though it depicts many biblical truths, you need to study the bible for truth...not get it from a book or movie. This book can be very well enjoyed by any reader, especially one interested in the God of the bible, who is more powerful than the God the writer of this blog depicts.

As for the one writing the comments...defending the faith does not mean slandering a brother or anyone for that matter. Let God still be God and you keep on loving and growing and leading a Chirst-like example.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever stop to think that maybe this book can lead people to God?? I know people who would NEVER read a christian book and they read this book and began to explore christianity further and now go to church and worship God. Maybe this book can be a seed that can grow into a relationship with God. Don, I think you need to read the chapter where he goes to see "The Judge"!

theSpicket said...

Greetings, Mr. Holmes, and thank you for your thorough review of this book. I was hoping to find such a review, so I wouldn't have to read it myself. I know of it from a dvd that's going around, wherein the author tells his story to a large church body in Santa Cruz (but not, as he makes clear, for the purpose of selling books). Immediately the Spirit in me kicked against the obvious heresies I heard him espouse. I wonder, does anyone else find it amusing/disturbing that the publisher that was "birthed" to distribute this book is named "Windblown Media", in light of Ephesians 4:14? Welcome to the "falling away"... May our God bless you with continued wisdom and discernment, and keep you in His love.