Rev. Langerak (“Bring the books” editor) is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Joshua Engelsma is a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The Shack, by William P. Young. Windblown Media, 2007. ISBN 0964729237. Paperback. 264 pp. Available at christianbook.com ($8.99) orbarnesandnoble.com ($13.49). Reviewed by Joshua D. Engelsma.
The Shack, a recently published New York Times best-seller, falls into the genre of Christian fiction. Since being published last year, it has gained widespread support, not merely from the population in general, but especially in the church world. Many churches advertise their discussion groups on the book and promote it wholeheartedly. The book’s popularity in the church world warrants a review for Reformed readers.
The Shack focuses on the experiences of a certain Mack Phillips. While Mack was on a camping trip with his children, his youngest daughter, Missy, disappears. Evidence is later found in a wilderness shack that indicates Missy was kidnapped and brutally murdered. Her body is not discovered however. Mack becomes consumed by “The Great Sadness” for three years, until he receives a note in the mail, signed by God, telling him to return to the shack. Mack eventually revisits the shack and there spends a weekend living with and talking to three people. They are intended to represent the triune God. Papa, a large black woman, is God the Father. Jesus is a middle-aged Jewish man. And God the Holy Spirit is named Sarayu and appears as a small Asian woman. The out-and-out blasphemy of this portrayal of God is enough in and by itself to condemn the book, but there are several other dangerous, heretical ideas that Reformed readers should be warned about.
While The Shack may be a work of fiction, the author has several underlying purposes in writing this book. Young’s chief aim is to present a new and different view of God. He wants to encourage readers to think about God differently. His book poses the question: “What if God is different than what you think?” The God in whom Young wants his readers to believe is a God that is entirely different from the true God of Holy Writ. The God of Young’s imagination is a peaceful, all-loving God who has atoned for the sins of the entire human race. After “Papa” says that he hasn’t been able to find anyone that he doesn’t love, Mack then asks why the Bible describes him as “spilling out great bowls of wrath and throwing people into a burning lake of fire.” Papa responds: “I am not who you think I am, Mackenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin…. It’s not my purpose to punish [sin]; it’s my joy to cure it” (119).
This God that Young envisions and promotes stands in stark contrast to the triune God revealed in the inspired Scriptures. God is not a God that loves every single person and desires their salvation. Christ has not died for all men. We read in Romans 9:6 that “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” And further, in verse 13 of the same chapter: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Instead of presenting a new way of looking at God, as the book claims, the author presents a whole new God altogether, a God totally divorced from His Word!
Closely connected with this new view of God is the second, more subversive, purpose of the author. In attempting to find this new God, Young promotes a move away from religion and the instituted church. “Papa” calls religion “machinery” that “chews up people.” He despises all the do’s and don’ts of religion, and simply wants relationships. The author himself is no longer a member of an instituted church, and neither are the men who published the book. The Shack is an attempt to get people out of the instituted church and to make them believe that they can find God and salvation apart from the church and the preaching.
This despicable and blasphemous thinking must not be promoted. For it is “contrary to the ordinance of God,” says our Belgic Confession, Article 28, which clearly and definitively sets forth the duty of all men to bind themselves not merely to a church but to the true church, “out of which there is no salvation.” Not so, says Young.
Readers who anticipate or hope that this book will give them a new perspective of God or will change their life will be sorely disappointed. The God that this book presents is not the true God of the Scriptures but rather the idol god of the author’s imagination. The author openly denies the fundamental truths of Scripture and the Reformed confessions. It is no wonder the book is wildly popular. A God that loves everyone and doesn’t punish sin or require one to spend his Sunday at church—who wouldn’t want that? Be warned, Reformed believers! The best place for this book is not a treasured place in one’s house and heart, as many in the church world today would have it, but rather in the middle of a blazing fire.