Christ · Culture & Society · Faith · God · Holy Spirit · Movies

The Shack

For those who know I enjoy giving details about the movies I see, good or bad, this is a spoiler alert. I will be giving some detailed analysis, with a few practical movie making suggestions tossed in.

For example, I would strongly urge movie directors of faith based films to find a razor for the main actors and a comb for the leading actresses. It is distracting to watch grubby characters try to articulate important thoughts when they look like they have just awakened bleary eyed from a three day drunken binge, or look like they have been in a cat fight. Give everyone a bath, a shave, a comb, and a clean set of clothing. Then, they can deliver their lines.

In addition, movie directors of faith based movies need to find actors who can talk above a whisper throughout the movie. Most movie watchers do not know how to lip read. Some of us have hearing problems.

Finally, let the director find scripts in which the professing Christian father is not an alcoholic who beats his wife and children while serving as an elder in the local church. Far too many movies present fathers as irrational and abusive. Good role models are needed. There are honorable Christian men. There are wholesome scripts. Find them.

Now, with these practical suggestions out of the way, I can proceed.

The Shack is a widely distributed Christian novel published in 2007 by author William P. Young, a former office manager and hotel night clerk. Over a million copies have been printed, which is unusual for a first time author. The movie based on the novel will no doubt help to drive up book sales.

Both the movie and the book are receiving mixed reviews. National religious figures have conflicting opinions. Eugene Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, says that the allegorical message in The Shack “has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim Progress did for his,” Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary says, “This book includes undiluted heresy.” Singer and songwriter Michael W. Smith says, “The Shack will leave you craving for the presence of God,” Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle says, “Regarding the Trinity, it’s actually heretical.” This controversy surrounding The Shack made me curious to know why. Today, my curiosity is satisfied.

The basic story line of The Shack is innocuous and universally familiar. The question is addressed of the place of pain and suffering in the plan of God. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why must the innocent suffer? Why did God allow the little daughter of Mack Philips to be kidnaped during a family outing, and brutally murdered? Unable to find a satisfactory answer, Mack (Mackenzie) Philips experiences a deep depression that causes him to be angry at God.

While dealing with the death of his daughter Missy, and a crisis of personal faith, Philips receives a mysterious note placed in his mailbox signed, Papa. Philips is urged to return to the abandoned shack where his little daughter had been taken after being kidnapped. In the shack only the child’s blood stained dress was found. To that place of horror Philips is instructed to go because that is where he lost his faith in God and his spiritual struggles began in earnest.

After an initial reluctance to return to the shack, Philips is obedient. He returns to the shack to spend a weekend with the Godhead. Each member of the triune Godhead is presented in bodily form.

God the Father first appears as a matronly African-American lady, because, it is said, Philips is not ready for a father figure on his initial encounter with the divine. God the Father, or Papa, goes by the name Elousia, the Greek word for tenderness. Later, Philips does need a father figure for a difficult task, and so the matronly woman turns into a pony-tailed Native-American with grey hair.

Jesus is presented as a middle aged man of Middle-Eastern descent.

The Holy Spirit is portrayed by a lovely Asian lady called Sarayu, which is Sanskrit for air, or wind.

During the weekend with the Godhead, Philips is instructed to go to a cave where he meets with Sophia, who represents the Lady of Wisdom in Proverbs. Wisdom is the personification of God’s wisdom.

Throughout The Shack, Philips discusses his great sadness, and his tremendous pain and anger associated with the death of his daughter. How can God be good, and allow an evil murderer to go uncaught and unpunished? Surely God is to blame for the evil in the world. Moreover, Philips declares, God is not good. Eventually, Philips changes his mind and comes to believe that God is good. However, in the process, there are some disturbing concepts that undermine the historical Christian faith and the Word of God.

The value of religious education is diminished. Family devotions and seminary training does not help Mack Philips in his hour of need. Being a Christian or Christ like, does not help and so is downplayed. It is disconcerting to hear Philips being rebuked with the statement, “Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian [said Jesus].”

The Bible itself, the Word of God, is reduced to a piece of paper in need of being deciphered by the proper authorities and intellectuals (The Shack, pp. 65-66). In the movie, Philips opens a Gideon Bible, but then lets it slip out of his hands onto the floor as he falls asleep. The Bible is not helpful. In contrast, devout Christians do believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, and eternal Word of God. The Bible alone teaches correct doctrine, the way of salvation, and the standard to which every follower of Christ must live.

Perhaps the most disturbing scene in The Shack is when Philips stands in the presence of God. He is invited to sit in judgment. He is allowed to curse, and use foul language (p. 140, p. 224) When Moses stood in the presence of God he fell on his face in holy honor, as did Isaiah. Gone in The Shack is the majesty of God, for men are not allowed to stand in His Holy presence and profane His glorious name.

Many Christians will find The Shack an appealing book to read, and an emotional movie to watch. Discerning Christians would be better served to read afresh The Pilgrim’s Progress. It is much more biblical, and sets forth the historic faith of the Church.

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