My Response to the Movie The Shack

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I have a correction for the article 1,000 ‘Faith Leaders’ Endorse Blasphemous ‘Shack’ Film Based on Universalist Novel Depicting God as Woman.  It’s now a bold 1001.

I rearranged my schedule to go see The Shack today because it finishes it’s run tomorrow in our area.  I do have one strong objection to the film we should get out of the way before I continue.  No one told me I needed my own personal box of tissue.  And soggy sleeves are not nice movie going companions.

I read the book when it first came out and then, like now, I do not understand the violent reaction from some who call themselves Christian and who purport to (and I’m sure do indeed genuinely) love God.

I’m going to respond to this film, not just as a ministry leader with 20+ years of experience, but as a missionary and as an artist.  And then I’m going to answer the objections as the same.

As someone who has spent decades in front line missions, this film (and the book it is based on) is a brilliant parable as well as contextualization of the Gospel.  And the Gospel is indeed good news.  Really good news.  Straight up hilariously good and unreasonably joyful news. About a good God Who. Is. Love.  If we don’t get that part right, our foundation for relationship is off.  Plain and simple.

This movie was not an evangelistic presentation complete with the 4 spiritual laws and all neatly wrapped up with a please sign the dotted line and repeat after me the sinners prayer.   Jesus never said repeat after Me, He just said come follow Me.  (Which has often made me wonder if some of our best meant evangelistic efforts might actually be counterproductive in ways we don’t even comprehend. Another post for another day.)

Missions is about being light in darkness.  About finding the fingerprints of God in a culture and using them as bridge-builders to Him. To His Truth, Who is indeed a Person.  Named Jesus.  And He is the only One who can give an accurate context for understanding Scripture.  It is only through a living relationship with the Living Word that the written word can ever be correctly understood.  E. V. E. R.

This movie (and book) identified so many of the heartfelt objections and misunderstandings and points of pain that almost everyone I’ve ever shared my faith with have expressed in some manner to some degree.  And it presents Papa as the answer.  Jesus as the answer.  Holy Spirit as the answer.  Relationship with them as the answer.  Not a cultural religious institution.  And that has some in the cultural religious institution spitting nails and splitting hairs over it all.

I get it.  But I wonder if we’d recognize Jesus at all in some corners these days of the religion that bears His name.  If I may be so bold, this movie represented His personality better than pretty much every Christian film I have seen combined.  You see, many Christian films miss the point of being films and are actually thinly veiled sermons that dismantle whatever creative effectiveness their story line might have had.

Jesus told parables and let those with ears hear the meaning.  The people most upset at His methods were the religious leaders of His day.  Full stop.

One of the best books I have read in my Masters studies is a book called Overhearing the Gospel by Fred Craddock.  It has to do with how we share our faith in Jesus in a culture overly saturated with Christian notions that may or may not actually reflect the heart of God.  Where listeners are often inoculated to the actual power of the Gospel by overexposure to information about the Gospel.  Craddock’s suggested answer was a return to the use of story, to the parable that lets listeners hear and engage at the level they are ready and able.  This makes room for the Holy Spirit to draw them in ways they can respond to.  That is exactly what is powerful about The Shack.

Not to mention it is one of the first movies Jesus is not played by a fair-haired white guy.  THANK you.  I’ve only been waiting for this moment since He walked into my room when I was seven years old and introduced Himself.  Spoiler alert: He’s not white.

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I’m adding a more Pinterest friendly graphic for you who love Pinterest 😉

OK, now to tackle some of the objections so vociferously being broadcast.

  • The novel/movie portrays God as all-loving and He therefore never punishes sin: Um well, God IS Love (He who is destitute of love has never had any knowledge of God; because God is love. 1 John 4:8, Weymouth NT). So not seeing how that’s a problem.  And then the second bit, well it misses the point entirely.  The point in the movie/book was sin brings consequences/punishment of its own… and we are not the judge of sin. So… step away from the throne.
  • The novel/movie does away with the concept of Hell as punishment for sin: Dear beloved church, hell is not being refuted, it is the main character’s concept that God makes or allows evil things happen and punishes people by sending them to hell and therefore is not loving that is being refuted.  The point was the main character needed to understand the love he felt for his children was so great he would rather go to hell himself than condemn them.  It was one of the clearest presentations of the heart behind the Gospel in the whole movie.
  • God is portrayed as an African-American woman and an Asian woman, so the book/movie is saying God is female: Not even a little bit.  The movie is presenting God as presenting Himself in the way the main character could relate to because the main goal was relationship.  God loves us so much He reveals His heart in ways we can receive.  For the countless millions who do have father-issues because of abuse or unresolved pain, God meets them where they are at and loves them past it.  It is one reason why so many relate to Jesus and Holy Spirit with greater ease than the Father, at least initially. And in case we forget our Hebraic roots in the Old Testament, one of God’s names there is El-Shaddai.  Shaddai can be translated as “the many-breasted one” and there is much scholarship that looks at the different feminine attributes of God.  I’m not saying God is female, I’m saying He has attributes from both genders completely interwoven within Himself.  And for religious leaders saying it is unbiblical to show God as female just to “soften things up for those who have been hurt by men”, I wonder if they have ever truly met Him in the place of their own pain.  This is the same loving Father that leaves the 99 in search of the one lost lamb.
  • The book/movie is pointing to universalism because there are spirits from every nation depicted as present in heaven: This might make me the saddest of all as a missionary.  And it has the easiest answer. Read Revelations 5:9 (“Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” ) and then flip over to Rev 7:9-ff.  Jesus died for every nation, tribe, tongue, race, people and culture. That’s not universalism folks, it’s the Gospel.
  • It’s universalistic because Jesus says religion is too much work, He wants all religions to be loved by Papa and He is not crazy about the title Christian: Well if the title Christian is supposed to imply we look and act like Him, I’d say we fall really short.  My take on this.  This isn’t a knock on the genuine church that does know and love Him and is committed to live in real relationship with Him and one another.  It is a knock on the institution that has co-opted His name but that doesn’t reflect His heart.  Religion is too much work. When Jesus paid the price to set us free to love Him and be loved by Him. This point is also speaking to the older brother who is lost in the house rather than the younger prodigal lost outside of it.  And Jesus does want all religions to know they are loved by Papa.  It is what He gave His life for.  He is not saying that all religions lead to knowing God, just that He wants all people from all religions to know Him (see the point just above this for reference.)
  • One author has retorted that only distorted images of God lie in The Shack, the God of true hope and healing can only be found in Scripture:  My suspicion is that the true image of the heart of God threatens and distorts the religious culture in some corners of the church.  The movie never claimed to be on par with Scripture in its authority.  But if it had been watched with the lens of Scripture as understood through the Living Word, rather than filtered through one or two religious interpretations of Scripture, His heartprint and Biblical references would be found all throughout the narrative.

The Shack is a parable.  Those who have ears, let them hear.  It just saddens my heart there are those who have committed their hearts and lives to One they seem to know so little.  You see the Gospel isn’t a doctrine.  The right doctrine alone will not get you saved. Doing great works in His name won’t get you saved.  There will be those who serve their whole lives who never let themselves be known by Him who will hear the words, “away from Me for I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23).  Practicing religion apart from real relationship is lawlessness at its deepest level.

The Gospel is a Person and it is a relationship with that Person.  Biblically, you cannot know something or someone without experience (look up the root meanings for yadah).  To imply we can know God through an intellectual doctrine apart from experience, that my friends is a blasphemy far greater than a parable that seeks to make His heart, goodness and love known to those who have ears and hearts able to receive it.

(Edited 03.14.17 to address some confusion about the title and to add a Pinterest friendly graphic.)

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