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Shacking Up With The Shack

  See the Emergent Church Podcasts for an mp3 download of this study

And they were unfaithful to the God of their fathers, and played the harlot after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. - 1 Chr 5:25

What is The Shack all about?

The Shack is a fictional work by William Young that has become enormously popular.  According to, "The Shack is still the #1 NY Times Bestseller, 36 weeks running, over 6 million in print".

...because  this is not the God   
you will find in the Bible.   

Main Character: Mackenzie Allen Philips (Mack)

Story Line:

Four years prior to the main events of the story, Mack takes his three children on a camping trip to Multnomah Falls and Wallowa Lake near Joseph, Oregon. Two of his children are playing in a canoe when it flips and almost drowns Mack's son. Mack is able to save his son by leaving his youngest daughter Missy alone at their campsite. After Mack returns, he sees that Missy is missing. The police are called, and the family discovers that Missy has been abducted and murdered by a serial killer known as the "Little Ladykiller". The police find an abandoned shack in the woods where Missy was taken, but her body is never found. Mack's life sinks into what he calls The Great Sadness.

At the beginning of the book, Mack receives a note in his mailbox from "Papa", saying that he would like to meet with Mack on that coming weekend at the shack. Mack is puzzled by the note - he has no relationship with his abusive father, who left when Mack was young. He suspects that the note may be from God, who his wife Nan refers to as "Papa".

Mack leaves his family and goes alone to the shack, unsure of what he will see there. He arrives and finds nothing, but as he is leaving the shack and its surroundings are supernaturally transformed into a lush and inviting scene. He enters the shack and encounters manifestations of the three persons of theTrinity. God the Father takes the form of an African American woman who calls herself Papa, Jesus Christ is a Mideastern carpenter, and the Holy Spirit physically manifests himself as an Asian woman named Sarayu. - Taken from a Wikipedia article on The Shack
  • Mack has various experiences with each person of the Trinity as he comes to terms with the death of his daughter.
  • Watches the stars on the dock with Jesus
  • Helps plant a garden with Sarayu
  • Walks on water with Jesus
  • Meets the personification of Wisdom (Sophia) and is able to see his daughter Missy in heaven
  • Sees his earthly father
  • The following day he takes a trip with Papa (now appearing as an old man) to find Missy's body in the woods where he is finally able to begin the process of forgiving the murderer.
Is The Shack Emergent?

In Willie's Personal Journey he says "I am not connected, or a part, or a member of, or involved inside any sort of organization or movement anywhere.  So Young clearly doesn't call himself an emergent.  Not many mergents would.  However, many of the themes listed below fall right in line with the themes coming out of the emergent "conversation".  That, and the fact that it is promoted at the emergent village web site lead me to place this kind of teaching in the emergent camp.

Major Themes

The Shack is a great illustration of how man will forge an idol of God in his heart when he does not have faith.  Man must believe two things, the total depravity of man, and the holiness of God, before he can properly comprehend and believe in the gospel of grace.  Without faith man will always create for himself a man-centered feel good gospel like The Shack.  Firstly, to Young, man is not sinful.  In fact, he never really talks about himself as a sinner.  Secondly, God is not holy nor is He offended by sin.  This destroys any need for a substitutionary atonement that appeases the wrath of God.  God is not offended by our sin, nor does He hate the sinner because to Young, God loves everyone and has even reconciled everyone to himself.
  • Clearly there are some Trinitarian concerns when Young fails to depict the Father and the Spirit in their divine natures, making them mutable human beings. Papa (the African American woman) says on page 99, "When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed." What would happen if God ceased to function in His divine nature?  God is even portrayed as mutable by Young when Sarayu says, "We have limited ourselves out of respect for you.  We are not bringing to mind, as it were, our knowledge of your children.  As we are listening to you, it is as if this is the first time we have known about them, and we take great delight in seeing them through your eyes."  How like sinful man to shape God into our likeness.  Also Papa says on page 192, "He (Jesus) is the very center of our purpose and in him we are now fully human".
  • Attacks authority of scripture.  Not necessary to believe in miracles, "There are lots of people who think it (the garden of Eden) was only a myth.  Well, their mistake isn't fatal.  Rumors of glory are often hidden inside of what many consider myths and tales" (p. 134)
  • Sovereignty of man over the sovereignty of God
    • "Only I can set you free, Machenzie, but freedom can never be forced" (p. 95)
    • "As difficult as it will be for you to understand, everything that has taken place is occurring exactly according to this purpose, without violating choice or will...If you could only see how all the ends and what we achieve without the violation of one human will" (p. 125)
    • (Papa speaking) "I'm not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way." (p. 126)
    • (Jesus speaking) "I've never taken control of your choices or forced you to do anything...To force my will on you,' Jesus replied, 'is exactly what love does not do." (p. 145)  Don't tell that to Pharaoh.
    • Young even goes as far as to say that God submits to man, "Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationship of love and respect.  In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way" (p. 145)
    • "Because we want you to join us in our circle of relationship.  I don't want slaves to my will; I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me" (p. 146)
    • (Papa speaking) "Don't ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes". (p. 185)
  • Preaches a false works gospel of relationship, "Sarayu continued, 'When you chose independence over relationship, you became a danger to each other."  Here Young equates the fall with rejecting a living vibrant relationship with God.  Salvation is the salvation.  Also, "The world is broken because in Eden you abandoned relationship with us to assert your own independence." (p. 146)  Young also writes a very common sentiment among emergents about evangelism, "All I want from you is to trust me with what little you can, and grow in loving people around you with the same love I share with you.  It is not your job to change them, or to convince them.  You are free to love without an agenda." (p. 181)  "Just don't look for rules and principles; look for relationship- a way of coming to be with us." (p. 198)
  • Man is the center of God's love, "Mack pondered what Jesus said, 'So then, where does that leave us?'...'Right where you were always intended to be.  In the very center of our love and our purpose'" (p. 111)
  • God loves everyone, "'Are there any who you are not especially fond of?'  She lifted her head and rolled her eyes as if she were mentally going through the catalog of every being ever created. 'Nope, I haven't been able to find any.  Guess that's jes' the way I is.'" (p. 118-119)
  • Propagates the moral influence view of the atonement.
  • Hell is not God's punishment for sin, (Papa speaking) "I don't need to punish people for sin.  Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside.  It's not my purpose to punish it; it's my joy to cure it.'" (p. 120)  "When Jesus forgave those who nailed him to the cross they were no longer in his debt, nor mine.  In my relationship with those men, I will never bring up what they did, or shame them, or embarrass them." (p. 225)  We wouldn't want sinners to feel embarrassed.
  • Youngs deconstructionism comes out as he expresses his skepticism of authority structures, "It's one reason why experiencing true relationship is  so difficult for you' Jesus added.  'Once you have a hierarchy you need rules to protect and administer it, and then you need law and the enforcement of the rules, and you end up with some kind of chain of command or a system of order that destroys relationship rather than promites it." (p. 123)  "Mack, don't you see how filling roles is the opposite of relationship?" (p. 148)  Jesus even goes as far as to say "I don't create institutions - never have, never will." (p. 179)
  • Pluralism, "They arrived at the door of the workshop.  Ågain Jesus stopped. 'Those who love me come from every system that exists.  They are Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims...  I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved." (p. 182)
  • Synergism, "It was God and you together who changed you to love this way." (p. 156)  And also Papa says, "through his death and resurrection, I am now fully reconciled to the world...The whole world, Mack. All I am telling you is that reconciliation is a two way street, and I have done my part, totally, completely, finally.  It is not the nature of love to force a relationship but it is the nature of love to open the way." (p. 192)
  • Antinomian, "Yes. In Jesus you are not under any law.  All things are lawful...Rules cannot bring freedom; they only have the power to accuse." (p. 203)
Is God Angry?
Read Hebrews 12:14-29, 2 Thess. 1:6-10.  Is God any "cozier" now that Jesus has become "the Mediator of a new covenant"?  Calvin says in his Institutes of Christian Religion Book 1 Chapter 1, "Hence that dread and amazement with which, as Scripture uniformly relates, holy men were struck and overwhelmed whenever they beheld the presence of God".  Give old testament examples of this.  Give new testament examples of this.  What does this say about Young's depiction of God?

Why must God love himself and hate sinners?  Why does He love His elect? (because we are in Christ - see Eph. 1:4)

Author: Dave Stevens (See the Emergent Church Podcasts for an mp3 download of this study)