By Elizabeth Prata
The Shack. You remember that book, right? Written by William P. Young. After Young received repeated rejections, it was self-published in 2007. A year later, one million copies had been sold. It then vaulted to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, where it comfortably spent 139 weeks, or two-and-a-half years, resurging to the top ten again when the movie came out in 2017. It seems that The Shack is here to stay.
Since this book and now the movie has had such lasting power and such impact, let’s take a look behind the scenes of its origins.
Young’s early life
Young’s parents were missionaries in Papua New Guinea, ministering among a tribe whose very first contact only occurred in 1920. There, Young was cared for during the day by members of the area’s Dani tribe, who Young says sexually abused him. When he was sent to a boarding school in West Papua as a young boy, the abuse continued, there, by older boys at the school. At age 10, Young returned to his homeland in Canada with his parents, but attended 13 different schools before graduating high school. As a married adult with children, Young then had an affair with his wife’s best friend. They spent the next 11 years in counseling, which continued through his bankruptcy, sale of his house, and all belongings at auction.
That is the point at which Young wrote The Shack.
Young based his book on his own self and his own real pain. He states that the book was generated by whispers from God, dreams, and written pads of conversations he’d allegedly had with “God”. Young said in an interview that originally he’d wanted to name his book “Conversations with God” but someone had already put out a book with that name, so Young changed it. (The book Young is referring to is “Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch, which I reviewed along with The Shack in a three part series here).
In a quote from this review of The Shack by Dallas Theological Seminary, we read,
“Though the book itself is fiction, the author claims that the conversations between God and the main character ‘Mack’ reflect conversations he had with God. After years of such dialogues, Young was looking for a way to hand them down to his children. Thus the story is not real, but the conversations were. “So is the story true? The pain, the loss, the grief, the process, the conversations, the questions, the anger, the longing, the secrets, the lies, the forgiveness . . . all real, all true.” Again, he claims, “And the conversations are very real and true”.
Young could not reconcile the pain he was personally experiencing and the pain of others he saw all around him, with the God of the Bible. At least, the Jesus of the New Testament, which Young saw was the kinder God as opposed to the Zeus-like God of the OT. Young wanted wanted a god but not THE God. Exhibit A:
When it came time to write the book, Young decided “I was trying to get as far away from ‘Gandalf with a bad attitude’ God as I could,” he says, referring to the common depiction of God as an old white man with a long white beard. “Zeus is not a helpful presentation of the God that is revealed in Jesus, and that’s part of the reason I did that. It was so much more embracing and open [as a woman].” (Source).
So essentially, Young is “helping” God along with the way people perceive Him, and he changed God into a woman because Young thinks women are more open and embracing.
Believers don’t fashion golden calves today or statues of Molech or wooden fish gods like Dagon. But we do worship idols. When we re-make God into something else, we are making an idol. Idols are worthless. When we turn from the One True and Living God to a god we have fashioned for ourselves, we abandon our faithfulness.
“Those who are followers of worthless idols abandon their faithfulness,” (Jonah 2:8)
Too many people make the mistake of thinking the God of the Bible is a split personality, Old Testament God angry, New Testament God, nice. Yet the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God in the New Testament. Grace is found plentifully in the OT, beginning in Genesis: ‘Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD’ (Genesis 6:8 NKJV). Jesus’ wrath is found plentifully in the New. We saw that in His overturning of the tables, pronouncing woes upon the Pharisees, and, ahem, hasn’t Young ever read Revelation? It’s ALL about the wrath of the Lamb.
As for a woman being more open and embracing? The prodigal son was insulting, rebellious, a runaway, and filthy, but was sought by the Father and embraced when he returned. Celebrated even. This isn’t enough for Young.
Also not enough for Young, and for many people who fashion a different god for themselves, is understanding that our God who forgives his enemies, loving filthy sinners at enmity with Him, adopting them, welcoming them into His kingdom, and even at His table, at the expense of the life of His Son, is the MOST embracing act in the universe. You cannot get any more embracing than that.
The REASON people go outside of scripture is that they are dissatisfied with God as revealed in the Bible. It doesn’t begin with seeking more of God outside scripture. It can’t be, because the Bible is infinitely alive and we can never plumb its total depths. No, people who go outside scripture are unhappy with God as revealed in His word, and are seeking something other than God. They need to fill their ungodly lusts, develop different perceptions, or fashion themselves a more appealing god.
It is the same with Beth Moore, Sarah Young of Jesus Calling, Jennie Allen of IF:Gathering, Joanna Gaines of Magnolia Enterprises and Fixer Upper, and other popular evangelical celebs who claim to have had a word from God outside the Bible, or a conversation, a dream, heard a voice, or had an experience.
As you might expect, The Shack is full of errors and heresies. Here is Tim Challies with a negative review containing explicit biblical explanations as to why.
If you, dear sister, feel the rumbling of incipient seeds of dissatisfaction and start asking for a word from Him apart from His already delivered word, stop. You are walking down a dangerous road toward fashioning an idol for yourself. As the Psalm says, soon you will abandon your faith.
Knowing our God is a privilege, He has sought us and bought us at great expense. He loves us, indeed before we even loved Him, He loved us. He spent 1500 years inspiring the Bible to 40 men, revealing Himself in all His beauty, truth, and glory. It is SUFFICIENT.
The End Time, 3-part series on Channelers, part 1
GotQuestions: The Shack Review
Spurgeon: Beauty for Ashes, sermon (includes a section where Spurgeon decries modern day revelations)
Does God still give revelation? Sermon, Grace To You