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A ‘Shack’ divided

Sam Worthington as Mack (Jake Giles Netter/Lionsgate)


A ‘Shack’ divided

New film may raise some good questions, but avoid its heresies and answers

The Shack is a same-title movie adaptation of William P. Young’s controversial and heretical best-selling novel.

The film treads on very dangerous ground by personifying God in the image of man and putting words outside of Scripture into His mouth. The Shack is the first major motion picture that presents God in three visual, humanized persons: Father God or known here as Papa (Octavia Spencer) is portrayed as a huggable black woman who wears beads and jams to Neil Young; Jesus (Aviv Alush) is a super-chill, kind-eyed Jew who tinkers with wood in the shed and walks on water; the Holy Spirit or Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara) is a swan-necked, sparkly Asian woman who gardens and communicates in whispers. They have personalities, facial expressions, fashion styles—all portrayed according to the imagination of sinful human beings.

Like the book, the entire film unfolds into a long theological dialogue (mostly in gravelly or hushed tones) with little action. Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) loses his bubbly 6-year-old daughter on a camping trip to a sick serial killer who vanishes with her body. As Mack heaves under paralyzing grief, gnawing guilt, and a breaking family, he finds a letter in his mailbox signed by “Papa”—a term of endearment his wife uses for God. Papa invites him to the shack where his daughter died, so Mack shows up with a pistol.

The first time Mack meets Papa, who swooshes him into a bosom-crushing hug, he gasps, “Do I know you?” Papa answers, “Not very well, but we’re working on that.” And that’s how Mack spends his whole weekend: building a new intimacy and trust with God. But it is, of course, a god who is far removed from the God of the Bible: When Mack pointedly questions Papa about his wrath, Papa responds blankly, “My what? You lost me there.”

The novel sold 10 million copies against all odds (such as a piffling $300 marketing budget), so there is a hunger for its contents, which grapple with this time-old question: “What kind of God allows terrible tragedies in the world?” The film addresses serious, hard questions about suffering, evil, shame, judgment, and forgiveness without airbrushing them—hardcore themes that earned it a PG-13 rating. Mack’s questions (“Where were you when I needed you?”) are real and relevant to even the most mature Christians. Certain parts, like the scene in which Sophia (personification of God’s wisdom) challenges Mack to play God and judge who is worthy of love and who is condemned to hell, provoke both heart and mind.

But while The Shack may raise good questions, its answers (and its heresies) will make it just another downhill push for those on the slippery slopes of creating a free-form God out of loose-gripped truths and personal experiences.


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  •  Neil Evans's picture
    Neil Evans
    Posted: Fri, 03/03/2017 10:15 am

    It is true that there are caricatures in “The Shack” that can be perceived as “unBiblical.”  (Just like there are in most religious novels and movies.) I heard one person summarize it as simply seeking to present a God with whom people can be “comfortable.”  I personally believe the book was so popular not simply because it brings God down to a comfortable level but because it presents God as a Trinity Who personally cares about us.  Too often we as Christians have lived with and presented God to others as a stern and distant Ruler to the neglect of His character as a loving friend.  It is true that our view of God must conform to the Bible.  But it is also true that we desperately need to experience more of the personal relationship God gives us in the abundant life He purchased for us.  As the book says: "God is especially fond of you."  And, that is good news many people are longing to hear.  


  • Joe M
    Posted: Wed, 03/08/2017 11:01 pm

     "Too often we as Christians have lived with and presented God to others as a stern and distant Ruler to the neglect of His character as a loving friend." Guffaw. How many Christians know the words to "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" or "I Will Arise and Go to Jesus"? How many hymns are there about wrath? The contention that we overstress judgment versus friendship is laughable IMHO. I don't care if Eugene Peterson does like "The Shack" and Karl Barth endorses it from the grave or Marilynn Robinson gives it a new blurb. Its universalism is false gospel, plain and simple, no matter how down home its deities are. And all the Oprah-like warm fuzzies in the world won't help explain suffering. Anymore than the Book of Job does. God reigns, and we have to deal with it. That's the hard truth. "The Shack" is just the cheesy Hallmark Channel version of theology, where everyone finds True Love in The End. Last Judgement? Huh? Way too Old Testament....

  • Laneygirl's picture
    Posted: Fri, 03/03/2017 11:05 am

    For a different, but also mature, Christian perspective I recommend reading the review posted on : Focus On the Family's movie and video review website.

  • Sue Wilson
    Posted: Fri, 03/03/2017 11:57 pm

    Thank you for this review. What a shame that man has to make God human—not referring to the Son who came in the flesh—trying to make Him into man’s image. This is no different to me than what the Israelites did with their man-made idols, carved images, Asherim etc. “No man has seen God at any time” there is a reason for this. Just the Shekinah Glory which Moses saw was enough to change his appearance and when the prophets saw Him in visions they were completely overwhelmed by His majesty and holiness and a sense of their own sinfulness. When Job lost everything and demanded to know why, God answered him in a whirlwind and told him to dress for action like a man rather than trying to “justify” His reasons for allowing tribulation in Job’s life. I have read the book and discussed it with many folks who had no clue of the many heresies it contained. Not a one said it made them want to know the real, transcendent God of the scriptures. It’s very telling that people who name the name of Christ only discovered what true forgiveness is from the book (or movie) yet not from studying God’s Word. I prefer to view God as awesome, high and lifted up, worthy of being the bowed down to rather than squeezable and homey.

  • BBinNC
    Posted: Fri, 03/10/2017 11:55 am

    I have spoken out against this book (and now movie) since it first came out and a friend asked me to read it for my take on its theological angle. It took little time to see it for what it was - a vehicle for promulgating new age philosophies, targeting the Christian market segment with a dramatic tale and lovely (if not totally heretical, from a Christian perspective) sentiments.  From those in my audience who have the capacity (through the Holy Spirit) to exercise discernment in such spiritual matters, I received thanks, encouragement, and affirmation.  From others - blowback, anger, vilification.  I know what is Truth, and what is counterfeit.  I stand firm and assured of my stance.

  • attagreek
    Posted: Sat, 03/11/2017 11:10 am

    We went to see "The Shack" last night and both of us were very entertained and blessed.  There were a number of things that gave us pause...the Holy Spirit is an attactive young woman, Wisdom has a persona, not all good questions are answered...but the "truth" in the story is that he meets "God", struggles with "them", doesn't always accept "their" answers, but goes away a changed man who is now at peace once he accepts he can't and won't know everything.  The movie was better than the book. If you liked "God is not Dead", you may not like this...or you may.

  • Meg I
    Posted: Sun, 03/12/2017 09:03 am

    Glad to see "World" finally refer to "The Shack" as a heretical novel.  That was not the case when World first reviewed the novel when it first came out.  I got so sick of hearing people say back then, "Well, it's fiction and you must remember that...."  Yes, fiction that dealt with the one who is referred to as "Holy, Holy, Holy."    More than His love, His holiness is reflected more in the Word than any other attribute.  "The Shack," whether in novel form or movie form, is theologically heretical.  Thank you World. 

  • Terry L Brown
    Posted: Sun, 03/12/2017 05:05 pm

    This book/movie is theological poison, the same theological poison present in the forbidden fruit the serpent/Satan used to enticed and seduced Adam and Eve to mar and distort the being and identify of Yahweh. The Shack is the fruit of feminist theology with the result of a transgendered "god" created in the image of fallen man. 

  • SP
    Posted: Fri, 03/17/2017 04:10 pm

    I did not like the book, it made me very uncomfortable with how it was portraying God and was really frustrating as a believer. I didn't understand why everyone just loved it, so when the movie came out I opted to stay away.  Glad I did.  I don't understand why Christians are so quick to jump on the band wagon for the latest "sudo-Christian" books out there.  Stick to THE Book and you are good to go.

  • lexrex
    Posted: Sat, 03/18/2017 01:20 pm

    The problem here is that people try to derive their theology from literature instead of Scripture. They fail to read literature through a biblical lens. Do the latter and you can appreciate a work even as you criticize it. Do the former and you expose yourself to all manner delusion. Incidentally I think the same problem also exists,with fans of Max Lucado and Frank Perretti.