Terrific Theatre – Tricky Theology

Terrific Theatre – Tricky Theology

A Personal Review of THE SHACK

The journey to arrive at this point of writing a review of the movie The Shack has been very difficult for me. There are many people with strong opinions about the movie and how it has helped them in some way. It is not my desire to debate how God might be using this movie to heal your heart.  It is my deep desire to humbly represent the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only means of true healing and help. I want to both commend noteworthy projects that help people with real hurts, and at the same time address the sometimes subtle and sometimes obvious deceptions of the enemy of God that are built into the help that is provided.

In this blog, I am going to give a summary of what I observed as I watched the movie. This reviews requires some pastoral teaching on theology that is so very essential in today’s culture of whitewashed belief systems. I would encourage you to contact me personally if you would like further explanations.

I am writing primarily for the sake of disciples of Christ who want to be discerning and helpful to people who come out of this movie with questions about God. And they will come out of the movie with questions about God. Many will be honestly seeking to know Him. It is our privilege to lead them to the truth. Please recognize that some of your friends may believe that they understand God better because of this movie. Please engage them in truth conversations based on the Bible and lead them to true salvation and healing.

First, let me tell you that from a purely theatrical perspective, this movie is very well done. It engages the audience dramatically and emotionally, and sincerely touches on one of the real issues of people’s hurts. That is commendable.

I also saw value in the teaching that came from the personification of wisdom who explained the need for mankind to stop judging others. I thought this was handled very well.

The movie also does a good job of expressing three truths that are foundational to Christianity: God is by nature three-in-one; God loves us; and His love can bring powerful healing to hurting hearts. This can be a great opportunity for disciples of Jesus Christ to begin a conversation with people who are drawn to God through the movie. That is commendable.

The way these three truths are presented impacts every part of our being – our hearts, our minds, and our emotions. So deeply does the healing power of God affect people as they watch that dry eyes are uncommon. That is commendable.

But with each of the commendations come several cautions. We live in a world governed by consistent appeals to our emotions so that they become our personal validation of truth. That is one of the great deceptions of Satan, who seeks to lead us to base our understanding of eternal truth on nothing more trustworthy than human reason, human experience, and human emotion. If we allow the emotion of this movie to influence our understanding of the truth of God, then we open ourselves up to falsehood. We must be cautious.

“Some defend The Shack by saying it’s only a work of fiction. But if you’re going to have God as a character in your fiction, then you must deal with God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. By using the Trinity as characters, The Shack is clearly indicating that it’s talking about the God of Christianity. But God has said certain things about Himself in Scripture, and much of what’s in this novel contradicts that.” (quoted from GotQuestions.Org/The-Shack-Review)

Before I list the cautions so you can address them with people who truly seek the truth, I must issue a spoiler alert. The only way to truly evaluate this movie is to reveal the ending, so I am about to do that.

The entire context of the representations of God in this movie are the product of a man’s imagination while he is in a coma of who he wants God to be. After seeing the end of the movie, I concluded that the teachings about God in this movie are nothing more than man’s desire to define God in a way that is acceptable to our way of thinking, rather than an attempt to declare the truth of who God is and then conform our thinking to that truth.

That logical conclusion drawn from the end of the movie reveals then, in my opinion, the author’s desire to so emotionally involve us in the story that we will accept conclusions about the nature of God that are not true even though they are very appealing. I will address in detail only three major cautions, and then end with a list of other concerns that you need to be prepared to address with people who are interested in conversations about God.

Caution #1 – Be prepared to share with your friends that this movie should not be the basis of our understanding of the nature of God. It presents a flawed view of both the nature of the Trinity and the perfect nature of God’s attributes.

Scripture teaches that there is a hierarchy of authority and submission within the Trinity. The “God” character tells Mack that authority and submission are a result of sin, and the Trinity is a perfect circle of communion.

“Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or ‘great chain of being’ as your ancestors termed it. What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us.”

But Scripture teaches that authority and submission are inherent to the Godhead and have existed from the beginning. Jesus was sent by the Father (John 6:57), and Jesus says it is his intention to obey the Father’s will (Luke 22:42). The Holy Spirit obeys both the Father and the Son (John 14:26, John 15:26). These are not the result of sin; they are the very nature of the Godhead in which all three persons are equal in essence but exist within a hierarchy of authority and submission.

Regarding the nature of God, many will argue that the movie is not intended to reveal the full nature of God, and I agree. However, the primary aspect of His nature that is addressed in the movie – God’s love – is presented in a context of love being the totality of His nature so that other aspects of God’s nature are directly denied. Any presentation of God that shows only one side of His nature is wrong.

For example, the movie clearly teaches that the love of God completely excludes any possibility of the judgment of sin. The character representing God declares that God has nothing to do with wrath against sin, and that sin is its own punishment. This is a huge problem, yet it appeals directly to our desire to understand God only in the context of love.

Here are some Bible verses that the movie denies as truth:

  • Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
  • Romans 2:5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
  • Romans 2:8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
  • Ephesians 5:6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
  • Colossians 3:6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Is God love? YES! Does God love sinners? YES! Does God forgive sinners? YES! Does God’s love negate any other aspect of His nature like justice? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Caution #2 – Be prepared to talk to your friends about Divine justice against sin. This movie teaches that God’s love eliminates His need for the punishment of sin. It clearly states that after we have experienced the human consequences of guilt and shame, our punishment is complete and we will all be saved and enter the presence of Christ.

No matter how this belief is explained away by the author of the book and movie, who describes his belief system as hopeful universalism, it denies the truth of Scripture that only those saved by grace through faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross will be granted eternal life, and all others will be sentenced by God to eternal damnation.

The not-so-subtle representation of unsaved people all being saved and observed in the movie in the presence of Christ as eternal lights is false teaching. The words of Jesus tell us clearly that “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36)

Be very careful here with people’s word skills. The false doctrine of universal salvation is clear in this movie, and the wordsmithing that is taking place is a great deception with eternal consequence. Be prepared to help people to understand this by balancing the love of God with the perfect justice of God against all sin. Only then will people be able to understand the magnificent grace of God for salvation available because of Christ’s death on the cross. Help your friends understand the truth.

Caution #3 – Leading your friends to the cross of Jesus Christ and His resurrection is vital after seeing this movie. Nowhere in the movie is our personal accountability to God for our sin presented. It is not even hinted. Nowhere is repentance from that sin and faith in Jesus Christ offered as the only way of salvation. This movie does not teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is an entertaining movie, but it is my fear that the average unsaved person will walk away with an underlying philosophy of faith that gives them a false hope. My fear is that they will believe that in the end, no matter what they have done and whatever sins they may have committed, they are automatically forgiven because God suffered for those sins and will never punish them.

The depiction of God with nail scars in “her” wrists is not only an offense to the truth, but it validates the belief that God the Father will never pour out His wrath against sin. This is the false teaching of patripassionism, another ancient heresy that teaches that God the Father suffered on the cross. In the book upon which the movie is based, the “God” character says this about the scars: “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. Even though we have always been present in this created universe, we now became flesh and blood.” God the Father and God the Holy Spirit did not speak themselves into human existence; only the Son became human (John 1:14). And while He was human, He was still fully God. The Trinity did not lower themselves to the limitations of humanity.

We live in a world that demands that there be many ways to eternal life. This movie validates the fundamental belief behind such demands – that God is only love and will never punish anyone for their sin. That is so very dangerous.

Well, there are several other things that I could mention, but I will only mention two of them:

  1. Be prepared to talk to your friends about the near-death experience and vision of heaven. It is Mack’s vision that gives assurance to the family that their daughter and his father are safe, and this is not in agreement with Scripture. There is no substantiated truth from Scripture that anyone ever dies and sees heaven and then returns to earth. This is based solely on man’s desire to declare personal experience as absolute truth, which is a false premise.
  2. Talk to your friends about the danger demanding an experience to validate faith. The representation of God as a human may be a good theatrical device but should be recognized for its errors. First, God the Father has never revealed Himself as a human except in the person of Jesus Christ. Never! He is the eternal Spirit. We tend to like this device in the movie because of our desire to define God in human terms. But God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) Second, faith that saves people from their sin is not based on human experience but rather on God’s Word, even when it cannot be explained in human form. Here’s how the Bible defines faith: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1) Be careful not to base your faith on what is seen. In reality, faith leads to seeing rather than seeing producing faith. Help your friends understand that.

Hopefully this has helped you to become more discerning about Biblical truth. My goal is that as you see the movie with your friends, you can engage in spiritually healthy conversations that result in hearts, minds, and souls becoming grounded in the truth of who God is and His redemptive purpose for mankind.

Deception is always subtle at first, and usually appeals to our emotions. It is my goal to help you move beyond emotional gratification.  Do not fall victim to the philosophy presented in the book that Scripture is not sufficient to communicate with God. (This was done when Mack’s seminary teaching about the Bible was mocked.) I encourage you and your friends to study the Word of God so that you may be approved by God, so that you are not ashamed of the true Gospel because you correctly understand and interpret the truth of God’s written revelation of Himself to us. It is ALL in the BIBLE. (2 Timothy 2:15)

I encourage your comments.

Pastor John