Monday, March 20, 2017

I’ve seen “The Shack” and question its theology.


“The theology isn’t perfect, but it’s an amazing story of forgiveness.” So said one very respected Christian writer about the movie, “The Shack,” based on a best-selling 2007 novel by William Young. Here’s the basic story. A man named Mack Phillips has a faith crisis after his daughter is murdered in a shack. He receives a letter telling him to go to that shack. There he meets God in the person of an African American woman called Papa. (Papa says she has many names, a possible hint at Unversalism.) The whole trinity is there as well. Jesus is a Middle Eastern carpenter, and the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman. How convenient that the godhead has manifested as a politically correct, multi-cultural collection of characters. Mack also has a conversation with a being named Sophia, the personification of God’s wisdom. For those unaware, Sophia was a goddess of the Gnostics, a first century heretical sect whose teachings Paul condemned in the letter to the Colossians. She was believed to have fallen from grace and afterwards helped create the material world. Can we all say together, “Jezebel, Lilith!” Three of four divine beings are women? What’s going on here? After having suffered through God as George Burns and Morgan Freeman, what hath “The Shack” wrought? Artistic idolatry? We expected blasphemy from Burns and Morgan. But “Shack” is the product a confessing evangelical Christian.

If you want an emotionally moving film, this is it. A tear jerker. Who wouldn’t be moved by the story of a father whose daughter is abducted and killed, especially when the movie’s climax shows Mack being led to a cave where he find his dead daughter’s body. A five-handkerchief alarm. I do understand, as a writer, the use of allegory to fictionally make a point. But the Father and Holy Spirit as female? What’s that all about, and can such mistreatment of biblical truth be taken lightly? Just because the film/book emphasizes Christian themes of grace and forgiveness, does that make it “Christian?”

The message of “The Shack” is this: Papa, mother-god, is a graven image in cinematic form; it’s template is the New Age, not historic Christianity. Worst of all it promotes Modalism, the idea, borrowed from eastern religions, that god may manifest in many forms. Modalism, sometimes called Sabellianism, teaches that God has three modes of revelation, which is heretical to the doctrine of the trinity. (Modalism believes, for example, that Jesus was god playing a role as the Son. The same for the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Just God in another mode.) This teaching that God is really one person in three modes of expression is in contrast the Christian doctrine that the Trinity is the coexistence of three distinct persons as one. Early church fathers, such as Tertullian in the third century, condemned such ideas as heresy. “The Shack” confuses Christian doctrine that the Godhead consists of three consubstantial persons, distinct, yet of one substance, essence, and nature.

Interestingly, in Hinduism, the second of the Hindu trinity, Vishnu (a demon I’ve face on many occasions), sometimes appears as a female god. Other Hindu demon-gods, appearing in female form, which I’ve faced as evil spirits, include Lakshmi, Kali, and Parvati (wife of Shiva.) The Shakti tradition of kundalini-awakening yoga sees god as a female (Shakti is the Divine Mother). The same for Bhakti yoga. Brahma, the first of the Hindu trinity, is beyond gender and can appear as male or female. Shiva, “the Destroyer,” is the patron god of yoga.

Whatever author William Young’s personal convictions and intentions, very serious issues about the nature and character of God are raised by “The Shack.” I’ll say more next week.

NOTE: Part #2 continued next week!

“The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness.” That statement from Psalm 29:8 seems strange. What’s the point? The rest of the verse identifies the “wilderness of Kadesh,” an isolated and ignored place in ancient Israel. Perhaps the psalmist wanted us to realize that there is no place too remote to escape the voice of God. The impact of God and His Word knows no earthly boundaries. From the loftiness of Mt. Hermon to the lowliest of forsaken places, God speaks. And it is to all those places we must take the gospel. What is, figuratively speaking, the wilderness near you where you need to speak about Jesus? It may be friends, it may be family, it may be your own neighborhood.