Introduction to the Theology of The Shack
A. The Shack and the Second Commandment
B. The Shack and Sexual Confusion
C. The Shack and Trinitarian Distortion
…..1. The Economical Heresy
…..2. Redemptive Distortion of the Triune God
…..3. The Shack and the Incarnational Heresy
D. The Shack and Free Will
E. The Shack and Gospel Distortion NEW! (6/6)
In spite of defenses to the contrary, The Shack is a theological treatise. Though it does not take the forms of such works as The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin or The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther, it nevertheless propagates a thorough and distinct theology. The Shack, however, opposed to the aforementioned works by Calvin and Luther, acts more or less as a theodicy, a work designed to justify the ways of God to men. In the case of The Shack, it is a theodicy that seeks to justify the supposed “problem of evil,” a philosophical problem that exists in the mind of some who cannot reconcile the amount of evil and pain in the world with the notion of a good and omnipotent God. This is clearly the intention of the author, for it is said of William Young in his short biography on the book’s jacket that “he suffered great loss as a child and young adult.” But now, Young has somehow “theodicized” God to himself quite effectively, for he “now enjoys the ‘wastefulness of grace’ [whatever that means] with his family in the Pacific Northwest.”
And unlike other fictional works, such as C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia where there is a fantastic element that clearly separates it from the God of Scripture, The Shack has no such element, and, more importantly, the god of The Shack claims throughout the book to be the God of Scripture and explains herself/himself through the Scriptures. And despite whatever “good” intentions Young had when he composed The Shack, good intentions are never justification for bad and heretical theology, which exists on almost every page throughout the work, especially in the section formed by chapters 5-17 where Mack meets “God” in the shack. The theology that Young creates in these chapters is complex, and therefore it will take several pages to critique and to evaluate it. I plan to do so thoroughly and methodically, dealing with the heterodoxy according to the book’s chronology as closely as possible.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments (Ex. 20:1-6).
Anyone who has read any of my previous posts on the Second Commandment knows that I hold to a very reformed and orthodox view of the Second Commandment, being personally convicted of and disallowing in my own sphere of influence even those images that aim to depict Jesus Christ, who according to orthodox Christianity, is God of very God and therefore should not be portrayed pictorially or described physically, a theology that I believe is consistent with the testimonies of Scripture as seen in its own refusal to describe Jesus Christ’s physical appearance to its readers.
However, though I know that I am among the minority of Christians with regard to the banning of images depicting Jesus Christ, I know that I am in the majority of orthodox Christians who understand that it is wrong to create images of God the Father and the Holy Spirit. For we know that God is Spirit and is therefore invisible (cf. Jn. 4:24; Col. 1:15; 1Tim. 1:17), and that no man can see God and live (cf. Ex. 33:20). And we know that God does not leave one unpunished or his children or his children’s children unpunished who disobey this clear command from God not to make images of him (Ex. 20:5).
In spite of this, The Shack, in the majority of its text, clearly and thoroughly disobeys this clear command from God, for it does not merely create depictions of Jesus Christ (if such a practice can be called “mere”), but it creates depictions of God the Father (who according to the god’s revelation to Mack, is an obese, black woman named Papa who seems to resemble Aunt Jemima) and of the Holy Spirit (who is depicted as a shifty, Asian woman named Sarayu). And though it does not include a step by step guide for making actual, physical idols of the god depicted in its pages, it does create idols in its readers’ minds, for that is what imagination is, viz. the creation of images in one’s mind out of that which is not images, i.e. from descriptions and concepts. Therefore, what Young does in his descriptions of God to his readers is no less idolatrous and sacrilegious than imagining God as “the old, bearded, white man upstairs.”
B. The Shack and Sexual Confusion
One of the most striking, if not the most striking, elements of The Shack is its depiction of the triune God. Not only are each of the persons of the Trinity depicted in human form (as mentioned in the previous section), two of the Persons, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, are depicted humanly as women–God the Father as a large, black woman and the Holy Spirit as a slender, Asian woman. These depictions are, as addressed before, sacrilegious in and of themselves for the mere fact that they create an image of God, who is spirit, in human form, which is a clear transgression of the second commandment and an evidence of the wicked depravation of humans (cf. Rm. 1:23). Despite this, the sacrilege is carried further in that the author depicts the two invisible Persons of the Godhead as women, an act that contradicts everything revealed in Scripture about Yahweh, the one true God.
Though it is indeed true that God is Spirit and therefore possesses no human anatomy that makes him male as human men are male, the concern that exists is not the classification of God as a particular sex, but it is the utter disregard of God’s revelation of himself to men. For God in his infinite wisdom has chosen to reveal himself eternally in his Word to his creatures as male, therefore making any attempt to depict God otherwise a judgment on God’s ability to reveal himself adequately to his creatures.
Indeed, this is the purpose behind Young’s feminine portraiture of God, for he declares that God reveals himself to Mack as a woman, because the revelation of God in the Scripture as Father is insufficient for Mack’s “needs” since Mack had such a horrible and abusive father. This special accommodation to Mack is seen in one of the first dialogues between Papa and Mack:
“I think it’d be easier to have this conversation if you weren’t wearing a dress,” [Mack] suggested and attempted a smile … “If it were easier, then I wouldn’t be,” she [Papa] said with a slight giggle. … Mackenzie, I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you (p. 95).
This declaration from Papa clearly demonstrates Young’s view of Revelation, for it shows his contempt for the clear revelation of God’s wisdom to men concerning himself and suggests that, at the end of the day, God’s revelation is man-centered rather than God-centered.
Also, Young declares that God’s revelation to humans as male is a result of the Fall not of his eternal decree. This is seen in an ensuing dialogue:
“But then”–[Mack] paused, still focused on staying rational–“why is there such an emphasis on you being a Father? I mean, it seems to be the way you most reveal yourself.” “Well,” responded Papa, turning away from him and bustling about in the kitchen, “there are many reasons for that, and some of them go very deep. Let me say for now that we knew once the creation was broken, true fathering would be much more lacking than mothering, Don’t misunderstand me, both are needed–but an emphasis on fathering is necessary because of the enormity of its absence” (p. 96).
Therefore, God, instead of being the independent initiator in his revelation to humans, is a dependent responder, basing his revelation of himself in the Scriptures upon the human need for a good father figure not upon his own good pleasure. This claim by the god of Young is nothing short of a declaration of the insufficiency of God’s Holy Scriptures, for the Scriptures are only sufficient if human need deems them so. In the case of Mack, God’s revelation of himself as the Eternal Father is insufficient for his present need, therefore God chooses to reveal himself as a mother instead. It is only at a much later point in the book that Papa deems it sufficient to reveal himself to Mack as a father, saying before their hike to find his daughter’s missing body, “This morning you’re going to need a father” (p. 221).
Though it is clear enough that any depiction of God the Father as female is blasphemous in and of itself, depictions of the Holy Spirit as female is thoroughly so. For it is clear by the intentions of the writers of Holy Scripture that the Holy Spirit it to be thought of as explicitly male because of his portraiture in the Greek language–the language of the New Testament. For Greek nouns, like nouns in many other languages, are classified as certain genders, (viz. masculine, feminine, and neuter), and the word for spirit (pneuma) is a neuter noun in the Greek. However, the writers of the New Testament, instead of capitalizing on the opportunity to show that God is indeed neither male nor female, always use masculine articles and pronouns when referring to the Holy Spirit. Christ declares as much in his promise of the coming Holy Spirit:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you (Jn. 14:16, 17).
Therefore, since the Holy Spirit against linguistic accuracy is referred to in Scripture as male, and since the Holy Spirit has no gap to fill in human need as a father or brother or what have you, his masculine revelation of himself in the Words that he inspired are by his good pleasure and for man’s proper understanding of God.
C. The Shack and Trinitarian Distortion
1. The Economical Heresy
The doctrine of the trinity is a doctrine that is foundational to the Christian faith, and as such, to misunderstand the trinity is to misunderstand Christianity. The early church fathers well understood this and rose in unison against the heresy of Arius who taught (like modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses) that Christ is not the eternal God, but that he was a god created by the Father, claiming that “there was a time when the Son was not.” Responding to this, the church council at Nicaea composed what has been the orthodox stance of the Church for almost two millennia:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The chief point of the Creed was to affirm what the Scriptures had already taught concerning God, expressly that God is One and is Three Persons–Father, Son, and Spirit, existing eternally in beloved fellowship. They have always existed as such and have existed eternally in the same economy, that is the Son and the Spirit have always been of one accord and subservient to the Father though all Three are fully God. It is indeed a great mystery, but its truthfulness resounds nonetheless.
The Shack in spite of the ancient Truth, rises against it in several ways. First the The Shack denies the economy in the Triune God. The book instead propones the heretical notion that God changes when his creation changes, and that the manifestation of hierarchy within the Triune God is an accommodation to sinful men not a part of who God is. In a conversation around the breakfast table at the shack, Mack offers to the three what he believes to be his understanding of the economy of the trinity:
“I mean,” Mack hurried on, “I have always thought of God the Father as sort of being the boss of Jesus as the one following orders, you know, being obedient. I’m not sure how the Holy Spirit fits in exactly. He … I mean, she … uh …” Mack tired not to look at Sarayu [i.e. “The Holy Spirit”] as he stumbled for words. “Whatever–the Spirit always seemed kind of a … uh …” “A free spirit?” offered Papa. “Exactly–a free spirit, but still under the direction of the Father. Does that make sense?” Jesus looked over at Papa, obviously trying with some difficulty to maintain the perception of a very serious exterior. “Does that make sense to you, Abba? Frankly, I haven’t a clue what this man is talking about.” Papa scrunched up her face as if exerting great concentration, “Nope, I have been trying to make head or tail out of it, but sorry, he’s got me lost.” You know what I am talking about.” Mack was a little frustrated. “I am talking about who’s in charge. Don’t you have a chain of command?” “Chain of command? That sounds ghastly!” Jesus said. “At least binding,” Papa added as they both started laughing. … “We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command. … Hierarchy would make no sense among us” (pp. 123, 24, emphasis mine).
This conversation is one of the most heretical and anti-Scriptural dialogues in the entire book. First, it stands against the repeated and clear testimony of the Scriptures that the Son is about the will of the Father. Repeatedly in the Scriptures, we find Christ submitting obediently to the will of the Father, even unto death on a cross (Ph. 2:8). At no point is this seen more explicitly than in the Garden before Christ’s crucifixion. There Jesus says, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt. 26:39). Jesus’ submission to the Father’s will extends beyond his years on earth, for he says concerning his return, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Mt. 24:26). Jesus’ life on earth and outside was and is at every moment, perfect obedience to the will of the Father. To claim otherwise, as The Shack clearly does repeatedly, is nothing short of blasphemy.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rm. 3:23-26).
In the work of redemption, which God had decreed before the foundation of the world, indeed before Adam had rebelled against his Creator, there is in the Triune God a glorious manifestation of his work in each of his Persons (cf. Eph. 1:4). In this great story, we see in Holy Scripture the Father giving his elect into the hands of his Son (cf. Jn. 6:37; 10:29), the Father sending his Son into the world to seek and to save them (cf. Lk. 19:10; Jn. 3:16, 17), we see the Son laying down his life by his own authority for his beloved (Jn. 10:18), and we see the Holy Spirit causing souls to be born again to believe and to receive by faith the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (cf. Jn. 3:5-8; 2Cor. 4:6).
This work of redemption accomplished by the Triune God centers around the work of Jesus Christ. For it was Christ who became flesh and dwelt among men, it was Christ who lived perfectly and righteously thereby fulfilling the law, it was Christ who offered himself up for the sins of those who would believe in him, sealing them eternally by his blood and justifying them by his righteousness, and it was Christ who rose from the grave conquering in one glorious act both sin and death.
The Shack, however, does not see redemption in this way. It does not portray redemption the way that Scripture portrays redemption, viz. as the perfectly orchestrated act of the Triune God planned before the foundation of the world and manifested fully and finally in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Instead, The Shack blurs the works of each Person of the Godhead and purposely blurs the particular work of Jesus Christ.
Some have confused the depiction of the trinity in The Shack with the heresy known as modalism, that is the belief that God is only one Person but manifests himself at different times as Father, as Son, or as Holy Spirit. The classic analogy for this heresy is that of water, in that water exists in three different forms at different times, viz. liquid, ice, and vapor. While it is quite clear that The Shack does not teach modalism, for it depicts the Trinity as three human persons simultaneously, it does terribly warp the distinction in the revelation and works of each Person in the Godhead.
This terrible confusion can be seen in a discovery of Mack after he chides “Papa” for claiming to know how he feels in his loss of his daughter:
Papa didn’t answer [Mack’s charge], only looked down at their hands. His gaze followed hers and for the first time Mack noticed the scars on her wrists, like those he now assumed Jesus also had on his. She allowed him to tenderly touch the scars, outlines of deep piercing. … [Papa said], “Don’t think that what my Son chose to do did not cost us dearly. Love always leaves a significant mark. … We were there together.” (p. 97, 98).
If the insinuation is not clear enough, this depiction of the “Father” with scars on her wrist is declaring that it was not merely the Second Person of the Trinity on the cross, but it was the Triune God who was crucified. If this picture is not clear enough, Young clarifies himself in a later explanation by Papa: “When we three spoke ourselves into human form as the Son of God, we became fully human” (p. 101).
This horrible declaration by Papa that the Triune God became flesh completely contradicts the testimonies of Scripture. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than at the baptism of Jesus:
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:16, 17).
Here in the glorious picture of the Triune God, we see the Son obediently fulfilling all righteousness, the Spirit of God descending upon him anointing him, and the Father speaking from heaven of his great pleasure in his Son. This glorious picture in Scripture must be forfeited by the God of The Shack, for it declares that the Trinity became flesh, not the Word (cf. Jn. 1:14) and therefore confines the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in a human body.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:6, 7).
Concerning the Incarnation, The Shack falls upon heretical grounds in multiple ways. First, as shown in the previous section, The God of The Shack claims that the entire Godhead (viz. Father, Son, and Spirit), became flesh in Jesus Christ and that all Three died on the cross in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Shack also confusingly moves beyond this heresy and declares that when Jesus Christ became flesh, he emptied himself of all divine attributes and lived his life entirely as a mere man. The Shack shows this in yet another “enlightening” dialogue between Papa and Mack:
“Mackenzie I can fly, but humans can’t. Jesus is fully human. Although he is also God, he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything. He has only lived out his relationship with me, living in the very same manner that I desire to be in relationship with every human being. He is just the first to do it to the uttermost–the first to absolutely trust my life within him, the first to believer in my love and my goodness with regard for appearance or consequence.”
“So when he healed the blind?” [asked Mack]
“He did so as a dependent, limited human being trusting in my life and power to be at work within him and through him. Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone” (p. 101, 2).
These claims by Young in the dialogue of Papa, are, one, absolutely unbiblical, and, two, are simply a restatement of a relatively new heresy know as the “kenosis theory.”
Concerning the “kenosis theory,” the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry gives a good explanation on its site:
The kenosis theory states that Jesus gave up some of His divine attributes while He was a man here on earth. These attributes were omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Christ did this voluntarily so that He could function as a man in order to fulfill the work of redemption. This view was first introduced in the late 1800s in Germany with Gottfried Thomasius (1802-75), a Lutheran theologian.
[However,] Phil. 2:5-8 [the Scripture from which the heresy is derived] does not teach that Jesus gave up any of His divine attributes since it says nothing of those attributes. Instead, it is speaking of His humility that moved him, according to the will of the Father, to leave His majestic state in heaven and enter into the humble position of human nature (link).
This heresy is terrible for it both diminishes the divine nature of Jesus Christ and it makes the ultimate purpose of Jesus Christ not to fulfill all righteousness (cf. Mt. 3:15) but to be a perfect example to men. Though it is indeed true that Jesus is our example and we are being conformed by the Spirit into his image, Jesus’ presence here on earth was much more than to be the first human being to live a faithful life. He did live a perfect and faithful life, but it was because he was both fully human and fully God, drawing upon his own divinity rather than solely on that of the Father’s or the Spirit’s. For if this were not true, and Jesus was in fact a God-man devoid of divinity, Christ’s claim, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:8), is devoid of truth.
D. The Shack and Free Will
Given that The Shack is in part a theodicy and in part an attempt to explain that which is Foolishness to “wise” men (cf. 1Cor. 1:18), it is no surprise, and indeed it is expected, that The Shack propones an extremely high view of the will of man. Indeed, The Shack declares that men’s wills are fully free and that everything that happens in the world, especially tragedy and pain, are one hundred percent a result of the free will of man and zero percent the decree of God.
Concerning this, Sarayu (the physical manifestation of the Spirit in The Shack) speaks:
“We carefully respect your choices, so we work within your systems even while we seek to free you from them. … Creation has been taken down a very different path than we desired” (p. 125).
Therefore, according to The Shack, everything that has happened in history is due to the fact that men’s wills are absolutely free, and since God’s chief goal is that human wills be free, he does not violate men’s free wills thereby making what has happened in the history of the creation much different than that which God had desired to happen. Papa further explains God’s “great purpose” in The Shack in an ensuing dialogue:
“We created you, the human, to be in face-to-face relationship with us, to join our circle of love. As difficult as it will be for you to understand, everything that has taken place is occurring exactly according to this purpose, without violating choice or will” (p. 126, 27).
Therefore, according to The Shack, the chief end of man is to freely choose God and to freely enter into a relationship with God. Now, this notion of the chief end of man being to enter freely into a relationship with God is not much different than what we hear preached from our pulpits every Sunday. For the Gospel call in evangelical Christianity has shifted over the past decades from orthodoxy to that of The Shack, being changed from the biblical call, “Believe and repent!” to the present, “Would you like to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” These, however, are not merely two ways of saying the same thing, but the shift is indicative of the American church’s loss of the great doctrine of Justification by Faith (see my post) in favor of a justification by free acceptance by asking Jesus Christ into one’s heart. Nowhere is this seen more clearly in the popular quote of American Christianity, viz. “Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship.”
This shift in language is contrary to that of orthodox Christianity and that of the Bible. The Westminster divines rightly understood man’s great purpose, penning the great first lines of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” Scripture declares quite clearly the same purpose, declaring in one of the most despised passages by American Christians in Holy Scripture:
So then it [salvation] depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory–even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Rm. 9:16-24).
This passage stands clearly opposed to the purpose of God revealed in The Shack, for The Shack declares that God’s great purpose is to allow men to freely choose him and therefore be saved by entering freely into a relationship with him without any reference to the glory of God, while Scripture declares that all of creation exists chiefly to glorify God, especially salvation, which is not based upon man’s will or works at all but upon God who has mercy. Even the damnation of sinners is for the purpose of displaying “the riches of [God’s] glory for vessels mercy, which has prepared beforehand [i.e. before the foundation of the world] for glory” (Rm. 9:22, 23).
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).
In The Shack, we find a great perversion of the relationship between God and humans, between the Creator and his creature. Orthodox Christianity declares that humanity (as does the rest of creation) exists for the chief end of glorifying God and submitting to him as their Lord and King. This relationship between the Creator and his creation is not an impersonal one, as would be between an earthly monarch and his subjects, but it is a deeply personal one. This deep personal relationship between the King and his subjects is seen in the correlation of love and obedience, for as Christ declares, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15; cf. Ex. 20:6).
The Shack, however, for the sake of the personal relationship between the Creator and his creature, utterly rejects the reality of the kingship of Jesus Christ. For the person who declares himself to be Jesus in the book says to Mack:
“Have you noticed that even though you call me ‘Lord’ and ‘King,’ I have never really acted in that capacity with you? I’ve never taken control of your choices or forced you to do anything, even when what you were about to do was destructive or hurtful to others. … To force my will on you … is exactly what love does not do. Genuine relationships are marked by submission even when your choices are not helpful or healthy.
“That’s the beauty you see in my relationship with Abba and Sarayu. We are indeed submitted to one another and have always been so and always will be. Papa is as much submitted to me as I to him, or Sarayu 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” (p. 147).
Therefore, according to The Shack, the God of the world does not demand us to submit to him or for us to acknowledge him as our King, but for the sake of a genuine love relationship, God submits himself to human beings. In spite of the clear declarations of Scripture that genuine love of God demands obedience, The Shack declares that God is instead submitted to us and does not inflict any sort of expectation on us for the sake of entering into a relationship with us.
Though this notion of God’s submission to men seems nice and strokes our ego because the God of the universe is somehow at our bidding, this declaration is nevertheless false in its entirety and creates a notion of human position that is found nowhere in Holy Scripture.
The Shack however does not stop at this point, but declares that the salvation wrought by Christ was not a salvation that takes one from being a slave of sin and death to being a slave of righteousness and obedience (cf. Rm. 6:17, 18), but is to make one free so that he might enter freely into a love relationship with Jesus Christ. The Jesus of the The Shack declares as much:
“Seriously, my life was not meant to be an example to copy. Being my follower is not trying to ‘be like Jesus,’ it means that your independence is killed. I came to give you life, real life, my life. … But we will never force that union on you. If you want to do your thing, have at it. Time is on our side.” “This must be the dying daily that Sarayu was talking about,” said Mack and nodded (p. 151).
While this declaration clearly flies in the face of the declarations of Scripture that we by the Spirit are being conformed to the image of Christ (cf. Rm. 8:29) and that we are to look to Christ to run the race of our life who is the author and finisher of our faith (cf. Heb. 12:2), this claim by The Shack more significantly destroys the Gospel. For men are not those who are dead in trespasses and sins, blind to the glory of God, and deaf to the Gospel call, but they are those who have a freedom, not to believe in Christ and to be saved from sin and condemnation, but to choose to love him and to become a part of a Kumbaya relationship. Christ’s righteous work was for the sole purpose of creating a way for sinful human beings to be in a relationship with a God who desperately needs our relationship. For as Papa declares in a later dialogue with Mack:
[T]hrough his death and resurrection, I am now fully reconciled to the world.” “The whole world? You mean those who believe in you, right?” [asked Mack.] “The whole world, Mack. All I am telling you is that reconciliation is a two-way street, and I have done my part, totally, completely, finally. It is not the nature of love to force a relationship, but it is the nature of love to open the way” (p. 194).
Therefore, the work of Christ accomplished nothing, and Jesus saved no one when he died upon the cross. Jesus’ work was for no one in particular, but it was a way to make a relationship with God possible. Therefore, at the end of the day, men save their own souls, not God. If a person is in a “love relationship” with God, it is because he has willed his way into it, freely choosing God over the world by his own volition. And this being the case, men do indeed have reason to boast in their salvation, for their salvation rests solely upon themselves, for Jesus Christ died for all men who have ever lived in the same way, and “reconciliation is a two-way street,” confirming the good, old American “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” theology of meeting God half-way.
Though this notion of redemption might mirror that of popular American Christianity, it clearly contradicts the boast-less faith of which the apostle Paul speaks in his epistle to the Romans where he asks and answers, “What the becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By a law of works? No, but by a law of faith” (Rm. 3:27). Opposed to The Shack and opposed to popular American Christianity, salvation is God’s work alone from beginning to end and not a two-way street, for, “Those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to image of his Son, … and those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rm. 8:29, 30).