Why I don't like THE SHACK (2)The Shack is a book that wants to kill the notion that God is a legalist who cares mainly about rules and about our keeping his rules. It wishes to dethrone a God who cares for us only if we attempt to win his favor by ferreting out his commandments and attempting to keep up with them. It wants to bury a gloomy God who would like us to grovel before him in fear; a God obsessed with his own image and one with whom we have to curry favor by doing enough good deeds, going to church and reading our Bibles and such. It wants to get rid of a God who offers us his love but leaves us uncertain if he'll continue to love us if we blunder a lot—a kind of carrot always held out in front of a hungry weary donkey sort of scenario. Click here for something like that.
I like that as an agenda.
Supposing a God like that existed and we could do it, dethroning, killing, burying and getting rid of him in the name of the true God would bless the world. We should kill a god like that the way wed kill a rabid dog, without mercy and without remorse at having done it. [Though I'm sure we'd be sad that the dog had been sick.]
The good news is there is only one true God and he is nothing like that!
What does The Shack substitute for the caricature it wishes to put an end to? It offers another caricature. Only for literary and teaching purposes it presents God as a female. We get a sweet, folksy, chuckling female called Papa; an I- love-to-cook God who dishes up pancakes, fried eggs and bacon and ceaseless goodies while making it clear that she has no interest whatever in commandments or obedience. While she is passing out things like hot muffins slathered in butter she tells her legalistic guest (Mack):
- That she has forgiven every human their sins against her (225) though the bulk of them refuse to be reconciled to him;
- That she never placed demands on anyone [God speaking to Mack (206): Honey, I have never placed an expectation on you or anyone else]
- That she is never disappointed in anybody! [God speaking to Mack (206): And beyond that because I have no expectations, you never disappoint me. Mack is startled and says, You've never been disappointed in me? God says, Never! [Isn't she sweet?]
- That the notion of moral responsibility is a form of sinful self-dependence and a lust for control (203, 205, 206).
[It'd be a bit easier to swallow all this if Papa didn't expect anything only of Christians—they're not under law, you see—but Papa never laid expectations on anybody for all she ever wanted was life with her human children and life has no expectations for expectations destroy life and friendship and love (203, 205). When she spoke commands to anyone she wasn't really asking for obedience, she was showing them that not only could they not obey, she was showing them that obedience has no connection with life anyway! Life is not about obedience, you see! Talk about obedience and doing God's will introduces responsibility and commands and guilt and God, she tells us, doesnt do guilt (223) and, anyway, its a psychological failure. She says. Commandments kill and accuse but bring no freedom (203, 205).]
When Mack complains that she is asking him to believe that she is God she tells him (119), Im not asking you to believe anything. So not only does she not command people or expect anything of them she doesn't even ask them to believe anything. How could she get mad at anybody? She says she is, but on what grounds?
Being together with God in The Shack is another vague, slippery notion that you can't grasp. It's easy to see what being with God or sharing life with her means for Mack. He's eating her pancakes and waffles and talking with her but what does it mean in actual life's experience? I know what The Shack says it isn't but what is it? It's a relationship were told. Yes, but what is that? The Shack is so afraid of legalism it waffles on and on about a God whose image has no shape or form. When God did actually take human form in Jesus and disclose his nature, character and purpose he is nothing like the Jesus or the God of The Shack. In holy, heartfelt obedience to his Father's will we went about doing good because God was with him (Acts 10:37-38). Horrors! Life isn't about doing the will of God for God has no expectations nor does he want people to do good things; doesn't even want them to believe him. So The Shack says.
The book is so afraid of legalism that it denies that Jesus wants us to be Christians (182). As soon as you say Jesus is our example the book gets all tensed up—Oh, oh, now someone's going to think we have to follow Jesus example and that brings in responsibility, expectation and certain behavior and that's law back in again, (205) and The Shack gets hives at such a thought.
NT writers don't speak like The Shack; they just boldly say (1 Peter 2:21), To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps. This is the same man who insisted that life was a matter of grace and who wouldn't tolerate a Pharisaical yoke (Acts 15:10-11). In Philippians 2:5 to undergird his call to righteous life in Jesus (2:1-4) Paul says they are to think and do as Jesus thought and did (he uses a present imperative). There's no legalism here, no exhaustive blueprint, just a plain unapologetic call to a joyful lifestyle that images Jesus. 1 John 2:3-6 makes no bones about it; it tells us that those who say they belong to Jesus pursue righteousness as he did and they do good things just as he did. It doesn't encourage heartless imitation and The Shack doesn't know the difference between legalism and conformity to the image of Christ. Put off this and put on that (Colossians 3:5-10) and this is from the man who said in chapter 2 that Jesus is all we need and that Jesus nailed our I.O.Us to the cross!
The Shack is so afraid of legalism that the notion of obeying God's commands always conjures up the picture of an exhaustive blueprint, a mechanical response to a list of rules. It gets hives when obedience is mentioned so its God just waffles on vacuously about life and being and relationship. The Shack is afraid of a godly life having content or parameters for all that brings in responsibility and keeping commandments and we all know what that means, right? It tells us: Legalism is lord again; ritual is king and friendship is dead! (205).
In good Lutheran Reformed manner it completely misunderstands the nature of the Mosaic Law and makes it into a legalist's handbook. You might think this useful: click
In The Shack Mack doesn't ask real questions. For example, he wants to know if God uses pain to force people to turn to him (189/190) and God tells him true love never forces. Who ever thought it did or could? But the God of Amos 4 explicitly says he uses pain to bring people back to him. The Jesus of Revelation 3:19 explicitly says I rebuke and chastise those I love, so be eager to repent. The God of The Shack is sho nuff sickeningly sweet, gently touches Mack's hand and forgives him for even suggesting that God might bring pain for a redemptive purpose. This isn't the God of Habakkuk 1 or Acts 2:23 or Romans 4:25 and 8:32. Its Benjamin Spock psychology that chuckles and eats another strip of bacon as it smiles its way past the entire biblical witness.
The Shack construes Ten Commandments as a demand for sinlessness but it doesnt deal the Ten Commandments as we find them in Exodus 20, it abstracts them from the covenant and makes them into free-standing moral demands. In the Bible theyre a part of a covenant of grace; in the Shack theyre legal requirements, a code, a set of rules. If the book was saying that thats how people have perversely understood the Ten Commandments it would probably be correct but thats not what The Shack is saying. It claims that the Mosaic Covenant was a legalist handbook on how to get life with God and, of course, no one could do that. The Shacks treatment of the OT law has nothing in common with the biblical understand of it.
Life under the Law, the Shack insists, is static, predictable, a noun rather than a verb, its unmoving, lifeless (204). But the psalmist who sang Psalm 119 would have been astonished at such a claim. He spins like Snoopy in ecstasy as he says (119:97), Oh how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Listen to him (119:111): Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. Take ten minutes right now and read the psalm, please! Ask yourself if this man saw the Torah (Law) in the way The Shack speaks of it.
God speaking to Mack: To the degree that one feels responsible to pursue righteousness and holiness to that degree you neither know me nor trust me. (206)
Yes, I know, the God of The Shack is sweet and chuckling and folksy and therefore more soothing and appealing than the God you meet in Genesis 69, Exodus 714, Amos 4, Numbers 16, Matthew 23, John 15:1-6, 1 Corinthians 5, Galatians 1 and elsewhere.
I dont have a doubt in the world that the God of the Bible is all about joy and dancing and life as opposed to death and gloom and mechanical submission to rules! Like millions of others Im staking my present life and hope on that! But to divorce loving obedience, a warm willingness to fulfil responsibility or gallant acceptance of a clear call to duty from all that is legalism run amok. Such things arent the destruction of relationship with Godamong many other things they constitute a relationship with God. Thats how people live real life with one another; in gallant, gracious behaviour, in loving mutual submission, which doesnt exist merely as a way of looking at thingsits the set of the heart that cannot do other than express itself in warm righteousness and allegiance. James debunks all this patter about a faith and love without obligation when he says faith works! He isnt talking about mechanical rule-keeping or heartless toeing a divine line! The entire 1 John epistle is a protest against this mystical, vague, indeterminate love of God that expects nothing and asks for nothing.
Jeremiah 9:24 gives us a God with some positive shape. Dynamic, yes; unpredictable in all kinds of ways, yes; but he loves and calls for mercy, and justice and righteousness in the earth. Micah responds to the whining ones who say they dont know what God wants of them and he tells them that God has told them plainly what he wantsnot ritual or heartless religion but for them to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly before God (Micah 6:6-8).
The Shack is opposed to a mechanical and lifeless rule-keeping but the answer to that false doctrine, the answer to that travesty of the image of God in Jesus Christ is not this shapeless, formless, vague, utterly unstructured view of life it offers.
Were aware that were not to slavishly try to imitate every move and act of Jesus and nobody knew that better than John but it didnt keep him from saying (1 John 3:16-17), This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? It doesnt matter that we dont always know how to do that best nor does it matter that we dont always do itthe truth remains that John says we ought to do it because its part of the meaning of Jesus self-sacrifice. There is no mechanical obligation here, theres no legalistic rule-keeping notion here but there is definite moral content and an expected response in a life committed to Jesus.
The Bible suffers at the hands of The Shack. Matthew 18 works on the basic truth that in Gods eyes everyone is precious and worth trying to redeem. Were not to dismiss them and think bitterly that we can easily live without themwere not to let them stew in their own juices. Were to pursue them in grace, knowing that weve been forgiven much, but if they will not have it, if they refuse to be reconciled they are to be excluded from the believing community (in hope). It isnt all aboutus as individuals! God didnt create millions of independent human unitshe created a human family, which by our choice became and at present continues to be a sinful human family.
The believing community is a community of righteousness which in the present is to reflect righteousness and warm-hearted justice which is what we say Jesus is coming to bringa world in which all wrongs are righted and joy-filled righteousness and holiness is the order of the day.
The Shack smirks at people knowing truth as if knowing truth is pretty much over-rated; but its filled with claims that God wants us to know the truth about him. The book is published to teach us truth so that we can get to know God in a life-giving way. Let me say it again, The Shack consistently downplays knowing truth and exists to teach us truth. In words it tells us, It isnt words we need! If it isnt words we need then why on earth would we need books like The Shack?
Mere knowledge is not what we need. Does anyone not know that? Click here.
The Shack is like a poor and fuzzy picture, underdeveloped and over-exposed.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.