Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Modern Reformation Reviews "The Shack"

"The shack is William Paul Young's metaphor for the heart housed by hurts, lies, and secrets. His aim in the story is to offer an approachable God of relationality and love through whom his protagonist can make sense of tragedies, failures, and disappointments. However, there is another task threaded throughout the book. Young means to dismantle preconceived notions about God and all religious conditioning (93, 119, 179, 205). In so doing, however, he creates false antitheses between faith and life, belief and practice, doctrine or religiosity and the experience of God, all of which in his view are mutually exclusive.

"The book is useful in that Young makes a number of assertions and arguments that serious Christians should consider. He is an engaging storyteller-even if the plotline is prosaic at times-and the themes tackled (namely, how we think about God) matter a great deal. However, Young has little regard for the way in which God has revealed himself in Scripture, as when Papa tells Mack, "If I choose to appear to you as a man or woman, it's because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning" (93).

"This misses an important point, namely that God reveals himself to us by accommodating our creatureliness. God names himself and describes himself in ways that are graspable to humans; he gives us metaphors and analogies that are readily understandable. Although God is spirit, and thus neither anatomically male nor female, he identifies certain pronouns that conform to the way of redemption itself (God sends his Son, who becomes man in order to make satisfaction for sin, so that we might become children of God, Abba, our Father). It is no small thing to challenge God's self-revelation the way Young frequently does and play fast and loose with the names, titles, and designations we find in Scripture. There is, therefore, a more fundamental issue at stake in The Shack: the act of naming and the authority that goes with it. By renaming God, Young subverts the authority of the One to whom the act of naming belongs in the first place."

Read the entire review HERE.

Read Tim Challies excellent review HERE.


Mainline Mom said...

You should've heard the discussion between Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore on Twitter the other night. They both just read the Shack and apparently LOOOOVED it. But they were easily able to dismiss the "Christianity" in it.

Todd Pruitt said...

That is a very telling reality. I agree with their assessment. It is easy to dismiss the "Christianity" (such as it is) in The Shack.

Mike said...

This idea of accommodation I find fascinating because if you go down that road it opens up all kinds of doors...e.g. who God is and how we understand him (or her to use The Shack analogy), how we interpret the Bible, epistemology...just about everything is up for grabs.

case.jess said...

A haiku for The Shack. A Shaiku if you will...

Eugene Peterson
Said it was good as Bunyan.
He must have meant Paul.

Todd Pruitt said...


Nice haiku!

I was floored when I saw that Peterson compared it to Pilgrim's Progress. Even if I was a fan of the The Shack I would think that comparison was ridiculous.

threegirldad said...


Yes -- the comparison is absolutely ridiculous. The major themes of this book are idolatrous feel-goodism.

The USa Today article from last May is telling:

Lynn Garrett, senior religion editor for Publishers Weekly, calls the book's success "most unusual. It's every self-published author's dream to start out this way and sell at this level."

Why are so many heading for The Shack?

"People are not necessarily concerned with how orthodox the theology is. People are into the story and how the book strikes them emotionally," Garrett says.

Just listen to him in the interview with Matt Slick (CARM).

Todd Pruitt said...

We are certainly living in a time when feelings trump the truth and I'm talking about within the church.

People have gotten very defensive about The Shack. "Don't confuse me with all that theology and Bible stuff! It helped me (ie. made me feel good) and that's all that matters."

Kancop said...

Todd, what did you think when you read The Shack? Did anything you read resonate with you?
What do you think of people like John Elredge who use mainstream media to convey an eternal message? He uses extensive passages from "Lord of the Rings" in his best seller "Wild at Heart".

Do you see these as similar in nature? Hope your transition to PA is going well, getting ready to get hammered with a big snow here in ICT.

Todd Pruitt said...


As theology The Shack fails. It's not that he gets a few details wrong but he messes around with the nature of God and the atonement. No small matters.

Contrast that with Bunyan's alegory. He tells an engaging story with fanciful characters, danger, etc. without failing at biblical precision. It can be done.

Don't mean to sound like a grumpy old man but I'm not a fan of Elldredge. His doctrine of God is insufficient (He's to cozy with open theism). Also his doctrine of revelation is tricky. He maintains that God speaks to him in movies, through birds, etc. That's a recipe for disaster. God speaks to us through His Word. Certainly there are ways that secondary sources can illuminate Scripture or help with application but God does not speak to Mr. Elldredge through movies. God speaks through His appointed means - the Scriptures.

Bottom line - Elldredge's books are full of pretty sloppy theology. There's some good stuff but that's part of the problem. Error is always more dangerous when it is mixed with some truth. Hope that doesn't sound too harsh.

Doug said...

Todd, I guess I don't see things as cut and dry as you do.

I was discussing this with someone, and they reminded me that God literally spoke to Balaam through a Donkey (Numbers 22:28).

Another pointed out, "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." John 5:39-40.

Hey it is your blog and your opinion, but The Shack was a particularly inspiring book to me, and I have found that John Eldredge's use of media has helped me grow deeper by pushing me to God.

I have enjoyed reading your blog for the last six months. . . .

Todd Pruitt said...


Heberws makes it clear that during the Old Covenant God spoke through various means. It goes on however to tell us that in these last days God has spoken through His Son. The Scriptures, as Jesus pointed out, testify to Him.

God does not speak to us through movies. Can we gain spiritual insights and applications through various means? Absolutely. But we must be very careful to guard the fact that God has spoken through His Word.

Many people find Buddhism or Islam helpful. But this does not make it true. Richard Dawkins finds atheism helpful. Whether we find something helpful, however, is not the final test for its value. The question is, "Is it true? Does it conform to God's Word?"

In too many matters Mr. Elldredge's books and The Shack depart from God's truth revealed in His Word.

Doug said...

I certainly did not mean to “lock horns” on a theological matter with you. I certainly will defer to your education and background and consider it more complete than mine ever will be.
That isn’t to say that many of us that listen to your messages online or read your blog regularly don’t appreciate your thoughts on tough subjects of the day. It certainly is easier to play the middle ground on issues of importance such as doctrine of scripture, salvation or other social issues that confront the church today. I don’t see you running from those issues and your passion is right on.
However, what I do see is an issue is the interpretation of such matters. You see, I have no doubt that you and I believe the same biblical doctrine. I have sat in your church and listened to you speak truth from the pulpit. Without a doubt I do think that you have an ability to extract from the Scriptures, God’s truth.
I don’t see that Paul Young or John Eldredge is doing anything else than you. Certainly a different approach, but the same end. I guess you might have an exception there. You consider it sloppy theology, perhaps by your standard it is. But is there room for others to voice their view with room by you?
I reject any notion that Buddha or Islam is another path go the Triune God. However, when it comes to getting to the Triune God, let us both agree that the only path to the Father is through the Son. Hence Jesus’ plea to listen to his voice, as a shepherd.
I also don’t think that Young or Eldredge have it all figured out either. Not necessarily sure that Young even imagined he being here to begin with, considering he wrote the book for his kids and the rest of the world seemed to pick it up. John on the other hand has given thousands of men and women a clear picture at what Christ invites them to do. That is reclaiming what is essentially lost in our society--our hearts. He has pointed us to the only one that can save us and fix us, Jesus.