When we think of false teachers leading people astray, we tend to picture leaders of Satanic or overtly pagan religions prophesying about their differing Gods. However, the attacks of Satan on the church of Jesus Christ is much more subtle than this. All throughout church history, Satan has led professing believers away from the truth of the Word of God with the slightest of departures from scripture. At times, these perversions of the way of Christ are so small that unless one is grounded in the Word of God, they will all together miss them.
In the first century, the Apostles battled the ideology of Gnosticism that was infiltrating the church. In short, the Gnostics taught that all things of the material world were evil. Therefore, according to these false teachers, Jesus could not have been God, because a deity would never encase himself in sinful human flesh. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved addressed the church, warning them of these false teachers in the letter of 2 John, calling them antichrist.
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.” 2 John 1:7.
The Apostle Paul confronted the Judaizers, who were teaching a false Gospel of faith in Christ plus works. And in the first chapter of the epistle, Paul warned the true church that if anyone came preaching a different Gospel than the one he had preached, they were considered accursed. Paul even accused those who were being led astray as being under a spell and not trusting in the Gospel truth of Christ crucified with their own eyes.
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.” Galatians 3:1.
There are countless other accounts of people straying from the truth of the Gospel found in scripture. And in many of these situations, it was never an out right denial of the existence of Jesus as a man. Rather, most times it was either a denial of His deity or perhaps an affirmation of His deity with a misconception of His attributes.
As Paul said in Galatians, if so much as one tiny aspect of the Gospel is changed, even ever so slightly, then it is no longer the Gospel. Satan doesn’t have to keep us from the truth in order to deceive. He just has to change the truth just a little.
Today false Gospel’s still make their way into the church. And much of this is done through the entertainment industry. One recent example of heresy infiltrating the church under the guise of Christianity is the new movie The Shack. The movie is based on the book written by author William Young in 2008. The book itself is wildly popular and has sold up to 20 million copies to date. And Sadly, many professing Christians are major proponents of Young’s book and are eagerly anticipating the new movie.
Pastor Josh Buice of Prays Mill Baptist Church rightly said, “Like many books that become popular in evangelicalism (such as Heaven is for Real), when people are captivated by the emotion of hardship or tragedy, they’re often willing to accept the false teaching that walks through the open gates of their heart like a Trojan horse.”
And therefore, a person’s religion becomes based more on how it makes them feel rather than being grounded in the truth of the Word of God. This is why there are so many professing Christians being led astray by The Shack, because their faith is more cemented in emotionalism rather than orthodox, Biblical doctrine.
William Young, the author of The Shack, is not a Christian, but rather a false teacher. James B. DeYoung, professor of New Testament language and literature at Western Seminary in Portland said of Young, “I have known the author of The Shack, Young, for more than a dozen years. In 2004, Young wrote a lengthy document in which he rejected his evangelical faith and embraced universalism,”
DeYoung went on to state about Young, “… He said then: that evangelical faith and its teaching about judgment makes God ‘grossly unjust’; that ‘Jesus is a million times more vicious and vindictive than Pharaoh, Nero or Hitler put together’; that Jesus Christ is ‘not the Savior from sins’; that Jesus died ‘a failure and in vain and never saved anyone’; thus Jesus ‘is not even a good man but a liar, a rogue and a deceiving rascal’; that ‘Calvary is a farce, a travesty and a sham.'”
This fact alone should be an immediate red flag to professing Christians who would look to the novel or movie in order to rightly give a more vivid image to the God of scripture. The Shack does exactly the opposite, in distorting the Biblical image of the one true God.
The plot of The Shack is about a man named Mack and his meeting with God after a horrible tragedy where his daughter was tragically murdered in an old shack after being kidnapped. Mack returns to the shack where his daughter was killed and meets God in trinitarian form. However, Young’s version of the Godhead is not what we find in scripture.
Young’s version of God the Father is an African-American woman named Papa , a middle-aged man from middle easter decent portrayed Jesus, and an Asian lady named Sarayu embodies Young’s version of the Holy Spirit. Immediately, we begin to see problems arise.
Young’s version of the trinity as portrayed in The Shack is actually a resurfacing of a third century heresy called Sabellianism or Modelism. According to Modalism, when Jesus walked the earth, He was merely God acting in one mode or role, and the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was God acting in a different mode. Basically according to this teaching, God does not and cannot exist as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the same time. Rather, He is one person and can only manifest himself in these three modes at various times.
In the book and the movie, Papa says “I am truly human in Jesus.” The Problem is that the Father did not become human, the Son did. Young suggests that there is no difference in the three distinct persons of the Trinity. However, the beginning of John’s Gospel totally demolishes the version of the Godhead that is revealed in The Shack.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:1-5
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” John 1:14.
In one specific portion of the book, Papa (God the Father) insinuates that she suffered with Jesus as He hung on the cross at Calvary. Although the Apostle Paul taught in Colossians that the fullness of the deity lived in bodily form in Christ (Colossians 1:19, 2:9), and that Jesus said that He and the Father are one (John 10:30), nowhere does the New Testament suggest that the Father became human or suffered physically on the cross. Again, this is a gross misrepresentation of the Godhead as seen in the Holy Trinity.
Aside from this distortion of the Trinity, The Shack promotes the idea of Universalism, a belief that as I mentioned earlier, Young was a follower of. Universalism not only promotes the idea that there are many ways to God, but also that eventually all people, regardless of if they have trusted in Christ for salvation, will be saved. Universalism doesn’t believe in the concept of an eternal separation from God in Hell.
In the movie, the character representing Jesus tells the main character Mack that Christ is “the best way any human can relate to Papa (God the Father) or Sarayu (the Holy Spirit).” However, the scriptures tell us that faith in Christ and Christ alone is not the best, but rather its the only way.
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6.
In another scene Papa (God the Father) says to Mack regarding the topic of sin, “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.” While it is true that it pleased God the Father to send the Son to be the atonement for our sins (Isaiah 53:10), the scriptures tell us over and over that God is a righteous judge who will most assuredly punish the wicked. As Albert Molher said, “The idea that sin is merely “its own punishment” fits the Eastern concept of karma, but not the Christian Gospel.”
Pressing further into this idea of Universalism, at one point in the book, the character of Jesus says, “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions.” “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, my Beloved.”
Once again, this is a blatant heresy to say that there are many door or paths leading to the same God. The Jesus of scripture specifically pointed to Himself as not only THE door, but the ONLY door that leads to salvation.
“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” John 10:9.
Elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus described Himself as the narrow gate that leads to eternal life, while all other broad gates lead not to God, but to eternal death.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13-14.
The Shack also distorts the authority of God, suggesting that He is submissive to humanity. At one point, Jesus says to Mack, “Papa (God the Father) is as much submitted to me as I am to him, or Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) to me, or Papa to her. Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.”
However, the scriptures themselves paint quiet a different picture. God submits to no man. God is the authority, not humanity. The Psalmist writes;
“He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” Psalm 2:4.
These are only a few of the many subtle contradictions that are strewn throughout The Shack. Some may ask, “What is the difference between going to see a movie like The Shack and watching another secular movie?” The difference is that The Shack is putting forth an unbiblical image of the God of scripture. And as a result, many are being led to believe a false Gospel.
As in the days of the apostles, there are many in our day and age who claim to be Christians because they were baptized or have their names on a church role, yet they have no prayer life and little to no in-depth study or knowledge of the scriptures. Their faith is almost completely based on their feelings regarding who they think God should be. If so much as one aspect is altered regarding who the scriptures say that God is, then it is no longer the God of the Bible, but rather a deviant version of the truth that is actually false.
Christianity is not merely believing in God. Eternal life is not found in simply claiming that we believe God exists. Because as James points out, even the demons say they believe in God, yet they are doomed to eternal damnation (James 2:19). So we see that there is a type of belief that is in vain. True salvation is found in knowing God truly for who He says He is throughout the pages of scripture.
“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3.
To believe that the version of God portrayed in The Shack is the same God found in the scriptures only proves that a proper knowledge of our Lord is lacking. It is a different God, which is to say it is no God at all. The Shack puts forth a false version of the Gospel.
The question is not to ask if Christians should read the book or view the movie. That is not the issue. Our reaction as Christians should not be merely to ban the movie, but rather it should be to educate believers and equip them to discern doctrinal errors in our society. We must stand firm on who God says He is as defined by scripture and measure what is espoused from our culture and called falsely Christianity by the truth of the Word of God.
Albert Molher said it best when he wrote, “The answer is not to ban The Shack or yank it out of the hands of readers. We need not fear books — we must be ready to answer them. We desperately need a theological recovery that can only come from practicing biblical discernment. This will require us to identify the doctrinal dangers of The Shack, to be sure. But our real task is to reacquaint evangelicals with the Bible’s teachings on these very questions and to foster a doctrinal rearmament of Christian believers.”
The warning of Paul to young Timothy ring just as true as they did in the first century.
“For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” 2 Timothy 4:3.
No doubt there will be some avid fans of The Shack who would grow offended by any accusations against this movie that is currently being praised by our culture of Americanized Christianity. But to those who may take offense, I would ask them to measure everything that they learn about the character of God against scripture. Ask yourself, “Is what I am reading or seeing truth?” Is it a version of God that is desirable to my emotions and senses? Or is the book or movie leading me into myths and fables about God? I pray that the Lord give a Spirit of discernment to judge rightly and a passion to chase the knowledge of God as given throughout scripture that leads to eternal life.