Over the last decade the book and now full length feature film, The Shack, has swept through our culture. Books have sold, millions spent and made and people's lives profoundly impacted in immense ways. There have also been many detractors from the work due to parts of the book and its message.
The Shack is a work of fiction, an allegory of sorts, about God helping us work through the issues of pain and difficulty. It engages us to think through the facades we have created in and through life many times resulting from painful and difficult circumstances. We erect our own shacks, as it were, and never get down to being real and loving with God and others. In one sense, the book is a heartfelt plea for transparency before God so that we might be loving people. It also is a message of hope and forgiveness amidst the worst sorts of pain and human evil.
In the post I have no desire to do a book or film review. I also have no desire to offer a theological critique of certain ideas in the story for that has already been done by people I respect like Dr. Timothy Keller. Just do a search here on the web for "Theological problems with The Shack" and you are sure to find many voices. Some are quite thorough.
What I do want to offer here is something I have not seen as much of surrounding The Shack. How can people interact around the themes of The Shack in a way that is helpful, encouraging and unifying? That's a question of some interest to me as I've watched some Shack eruptions on places like the Facebook. I particularly want to speak to my theological friends who find major problems with the Shack and perhaps help them engage well with those who have been deeply touched by the story and message of the Shack.
Engaging at the Shack
What I want to offer you is five simple ways to engage with friends who love The Shack, even as you have major concerns about its portrayal of God and salvation. I hope these ways of engagement will help you both love and think well about truth with others.
#1 - Read the Book
I have little patience for those who harshly critique something without actually reading it. I remember years ago having to read Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code novel because so many people were asking me questions about its narrative and some of claims in the book. I had to read it. Not a bad book. Full of pseudo-Christian-religious falsehoods, but not a bad page turner. If you have read a critique by someone on The Shack and then have concerns for friends who are effusively rejoicing in it. Please read it before engaging with them. They will not care that you read Challies' blog on the book. They will likely ask if you have read it. If not, read it first. Then engage. Otherwise your critique just might come off as, and may actually be, disingenuous.
#2 Affirm the True and the Good
Not everything in The Shack is bad. There are many wonderful things about being human, about our feelings and about God that are discussed in the story of Mack at the Shack. When you engage with anyone about something they treasure, do affirm the good, the right and true found therein. Personally, I read the book in audible format and just wept in the early part of the book which tells a very difficult story. I was particularly moved by it because I have daughters.
Furthermore, the Shack tells us that God does care about human suffering. This is a biblical truth and I'm sure glad God cares. It is my view that the God of the Bible is a quite different than the allegorical treatment found in the Shack, but certainly the Trinity is not unconcerned about the human condition. God is not distant and uncaring. The Bible says he is a present help in a time of trouble (Psalm 46) and Jesus wept with friends at a funeral (John 11). Let's agree and affirm with our friends that we love the fact that God is not distant and uncaring and that our suffering must be engaged. Rather than stuff our pain we bring it before our Lord.
When interacting with anyone with which you have a disagreement, always look for some commonality and shared truth. It's good to start a journey and discussion holding hands in some way. You may part ways but let's not do so right at the beginning.
3 - Listen and Share Truth about Father, Son and Holy Spirit
We should listen to our friends talk about the Shack and its effect on their lives. As we listen we can also joyfully share. As the god(s) began to talk in the book, I felt myself longing for God of Scripture rather than Papa, Jesus and Sarayu. In one way I was grateful that God is not merely a bystander and helpless when evil comes. I was grateful that the Sovereign God would be with my little girls if they were ever so abused. I was grateful to know that they would be with God forever no matter what befell them on earth. They were safe in the hands of God even if tortured by the hands of men. I was also grateful that God will judge, rightly judge, unrepentant sin and evil done on the earth. The one who did evil to the child in the narrative of the Shack can indeed be forgiven and have his sins paid for. Yet if he persisted in numb, careless, evil doing without any repentance? I am grateful to know that God will fully judge such evil and evil doing. The true gospel became more delightful to me as I read about a God that could not stop anyone's free will and nobody would be judged in the end.
We can share kindly with our friends why we love the Sovereignty of God, the substitutionary death of Jesus for sinners and the reality and just nature of divine judgement. We can share our views of how the gospel is God's final and full answer to the question of suffering and that God's judgment is right and good.
# 4 - Ask Questions to Reveal Concerns
Nobody likes to have someone simply rubbish something we have found helpful or beautiful. Such direct, frontal assaults with people are rarely helpful or even welcomed by others. If you have concerns about The Shack and some of your friends being taken in by troubling teaching, try asking them questions instead of blasting blog posts at them. Here are a few to get you started:
- This book made me really think about God and suffering? Have you thought about this much before?
- In the middle of our suffering what would you want to know from God?
- What did you think about the part of the book where God seems rather helpless in the face of our "free will?"
- How do we know if God is really like these characters in The Shack?
- Do you think God is whoever we want God to be? How does it feel to you if someone misrepresents us to others? If God could "self-reveal" his character would you be interested in reading about that? The Scriptures are useful for correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness. Point your friend to the truth of the Bible.
Jesus always asked questions of others. He makes us think by questioning people and telling us stories that deeply challenge assumptions. This indirect mode of confronting us is a loving act of the loving God. We should look at the way of Jesus. No, he is not always "nice" to people he questions in that he tells them only what they want to hear. But he shows us that in bringing truth and clarity, asking people questions can help. If you want to share with Shack friends and be heard you may want try a different strategy than "Attack the Shack" with your friends.
#5 - Love Well
You don't have to embrace the errors of the Shack to interact with others who have been moved by it. In fact, to be loving, we must rejoice in the truth (See 1 Corinthians 13). Yet we must also be patient and kind with others and not simply seek our own desire to win arguments. Even arguments related to The Shack. I don't want my friends and family to embrace an impotent, sin accepting God or universal atonement. It is a false vision that needs correction. Yet to lead people to the sovereign, sin defeating, sin forgiving savior we must be patient and kind, gentle and respectful as we engage with others. Yes, even those who just love, love, love The Shack.
 And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,  correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,  and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:24-26
There are problems with fictional works if they teach people false things about God, Jesus, the gospel and salvation. It is a serious thing. And because it is, we want to engage well with others. I guess my plea is for you not to be another bit of proof to those rejecting theology and sound doctrine that those who are concerned about such things are mostly unloving jerks. All the best as you thoughtfully engage others with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even if this comes by engaging around The Shack.