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3 heresies The Shack movie confronts in the church today

Doubling Down on The Shack’s Critics

In Brad Jersak’s (PhD) previous guest post, he talked about how The Shack movie unveils toxic representations of God. In the article he asked tough questions directed at The Shack’s critics; questions that asked whether the current ‘heresy’ accusations being leveled at The Shack movie and it’s author, W.M. Paul Young, are not in fact themselves borne out of heretical presumptions about God and the Bible that stand in direct opposition to orthodoxy as conceived in the minds of the Early Church Fathers. The article went viral, receiving over 25,000 views and still climbing. Because of this, Jesus For Humans (J4H) has decided to “double-down” and strike at the heart of toxic Christian theology by revealing 3 heresies The Shack movie confronts in the church today. To set the stage, here is what Dr. Jersak said via Facebook after he attended a prescreening of the film:

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT AHEAD!

 

Like the book, it asked the hardest questions and came with powerful responses rather than platitudes. It also reaffirmed my belief that the critics are willful literalists. Mack’s whole experience happens in a dream within a coma. If you can’t think allegorically there, sheesh. The real problem was that Young struck a bulls-eye to the heart of retributive theism, thus demonstrating his orthodoxy.

– Brad Jersak (emphasis my own)

Literalism as the common denominator

The common denominator of the 3 heresies we will list shortly is a tendency among The Shack’s critics to interpret and apply the Bible’s teachings with a rigid, and often vitriolic dogmatism, so bent on upholding biblical inerrancy that everything said or presented about God is labelled “heresy” for failing to line up with what their literalist hermeneutics conclude about God and how he relates to human beings. Even though their conclusions present a toxic and distorted deity that looks, sounds and acts nothing like Jesus, they claim “orthodoxy” nonetheless. To them, biblical literalism is synonymous with orthodoxy. But fortunately for us, orthodoxy is grounded in who the triune God reveals himself to be in Jesus. And so, the actual heresies we need to confront—which The Shack movie does—are those which distort the nature of God as anything but cruciform love.

3 HERESIES THE SHACK MOVIE CONFRONTS

1) God is Retributive and Violent

The Shack movie is about a God who is defined by such a deep and daring merciful love for human beings that He is willing to suffer and go the distance, especially when life hurts and we experience tragedy. In Jesus, God reveals that He is not a retributive deity, but a self-giving, co-suffering, forgiving and peace-making God who desires relationship with every human being. He comes to show us the path of love, the path of forgiveness, the path of the cross, and the path of peace. The cross of Jesus is God’s response to violence, pain, death and sin. Cruciform love is God’s response to hate and violence. Because God can only act out of His essential nature, which is cruciform love, revenge and retribution are out of the question. At the cross of the suffering Christ, “whom the fullness of deity lives in bodily form” and who is the “visible image of the invisible God,” the triune God of eternal conscious love reveals his true colors. This is orthodoxy. Dr. Jersak affirms that Paul Young’s portrayal of God confronts ideologies and theologies that distort God’s self-revealed nature in Jesus, striking a “bulls-eye to the heart of retributive theism, thus demonstrating his orthodoxy.”

2) THE BIBLE IS GREATER THAN God revealed in JESUS

One reason so many critics of The Shack “play the heresy card” is because of their theological presumptions about God and the Bible. This is where the “willful literalism” hijacks the orthodox message of The Shack by placing a rigid and hostile adherence to biblical inerrancy (that leads to literalist distortions of God in many cases) over and against the message that God is cruciform love in Jesus. Here, The Shack movie’s critics are entering into idolatry by placing biblical inerrancy over God’s superlative self-revelation in Jesus, thus demonstrating their heresy.

Allegory is a big part of The Shack movie’s cinematic genre, and it uses that genre as a way to communicate the orthodox position that God is not retributive or violent, but self-giving and peace-making. Jesus is the cruciform Word of the cosmos, and even though the Bible exists because of Him, it is also under Him and must submit to Him; any biblical hermeneutic or allegorical portrayal that attempts to communicate something about God and his relationship with human beings should align with this orthodoxy. By placing a rigid biblical inerrancy ahead of a cruciform hermeneutic, we end up with a distorted god who is conflicted, unstable, violent and sociopathic. However, inerrancy makes for a terrible measure of orthodoxy, because true biblical orthodoxy—and might I say true ‘gospel’ orthodoxy— is measured by whether or not our God looks, sounds and acts like Jesus.

3) GOD IS racist and misogynistic

Young portrays God the Father in the book and movie as a black woman. This piece has been quite controversial among many of The Shack’s critics who accuse Young of heresy for feminizing God. I seriously wonder though if the critics actually believe God has a “Y” chromosome, or that maybe God is literally the old white grandfather with the grey beard in the sky depicted in Michelangelo’s famous 16th century fresco painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. This wouldn’t all be so problematic were it not true that Young’s accusers are willful literalists—often ignoring the Bible’s cultural context and literary genres—whose hermeneutics tend to perpetuate patriarchal, nationalistic, and misogynistic images of God and similar treatment of women in church ministry. Perhaps the real heresy thriving in the church today is this idea that God is on the side of white America and that God is nationalistic at His core. But Young’s God looks, sounds and acts like the kind of God who loves all human beings despite gender or ethnicity; The Shack’s God looks, sounds and acts like the God we have come to know most clearly and concretely in Jesus. 

This is the orthodoxy the church needs today. And The Shack movie helps us get their in theologically significant and culturally relevant ways.

 

Josh is an award-winning faith and culture writer and the author of the upcoming book, God Incognito: Bonhoeffer's Theology of the Cross for the Trump Era and Beyond. He holds a master's degree in theology from Tyndale Seminary in Toronto and is the recipient of the Dr. Ross and Carol Bailey Theology Award. He lives in Murillo, Ontario with his wife and their two adorable daughters and has a column at ChristianWeek.org.

  1. Pingback: How The Shack movie unveils toxic representations of God – Jesus For Humans

  2. I believe all the criticisms of The Shack from the naysayers is the result of the religious spirit that is prevalent in the church today.
    _____________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Your comment about President Trump being a racist and mysogynistic is “fake” news that has been created by the liberal/progressive media and is being perpetuated by people like yourself (should I call you a Demobrat?).

  3. I just read your bio, and wanted to add that, as a Canadian, you have no voice in American politics. Take a look at your own countries issues, and its failing policies.

  4. I was following you until you brought politics into your essay. It’s placement and lack of truth was so jarring that I lost focus about what you were trying to convey. Remove that one sentence and you will have a much stronger (and less divisive) piece.

    • Josh Valley

      Thank you so much for reading and offering a very constructive suggestion. I think you are right! The sentence has been removed. Cheers!

  5. Pingback: The Shack, Should Be More Accurately Called... The Sham! - inkletter

  6. Philip Hoffman

    1) Not sure whether to read this article “literally”, “allegorically” or by some other method of interpretation:) We should always read and interpret written words based on the genre of literature in which they occur. To read literally simply means to do this and to accept the words at face value based upon their genre.

    Those who attack “literal” interpretation do so at their own peril as we should all stop writing and talking altogether if literal interpretation is mistaken!

    Most often this is done because folks do not wish to live under the authority of the document (whether the Bible or the Constitution) so they resort to the notion that we really can not understand the meaning of the original text. How could we possibly understand what this gentleman has written if he cannot himself be taken at face value within the genre he is writing? This becomes a retreat into unintelligibility. Is he not to be taken literally?

    2) This idea of cruciform love sounds wonderfully romantic but to say it removes “retributive” justice or “violence” from God is nonsense. While I would never describe God with the word “violence”, in the cross, we find love precisely because we find Jesus there bearing the full weight of our sins upon Himself. We find Him bearing the wrath of God the Father so that we do not have to do so. He paid the penalty for our sins and his death on the cross (while often reduced to a piece of jewelry) was one of the most violent acts ever perpetuated upon any man, particularly as this God-man; Jesus was Himself free of all guilt and sin, yet God Himself planned His death in a premeditated manner from before the foundations of the world (Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28).

    We dare not romanticize Jesus’s own suffering or reduce it to merely an “example” of love. It is very clear in Scripture that those who do not love and follow Jesus “perish” at the very least.

    Even if one granted a belief that non-believers are annihilated as opposed to going to an eternal form of suffering in the lake of fire (which I do not), they will still face some form of God’s judgment and wrath. This gentleman, like “The Shack” courts the idea of embracing universalism (that all will be saved).

    Origen, an early church father in Alexandria, Egypt in the second and third centuries emphasized the allegorical method of interpretation. He was later condemned for his belief in universalism and that perhaps even Satan would be saved.

    3) The principle of interpreting the Scriptures by Jesus Himself, as if we today would know anything of Jesus apart from the written Word and (not “or”) the Spirit proposes an unnatural and false juxtaposition. This should never be an either/or. Since the time of Jesus’ ascension, we have the Scriptures (the written Word) and the Spirit to minister in, to, and through us. While we should certainly admit to the possibility of misinterpretation, neither the Spirit, nor Jesus (as the Word) ever spoke or speak in contradiction to the written Word. Of the OT Jesus said, not one dot or iota (the smallest portions of the Hebrew alphabet) would pass away but would be fulfilled by Him (Mt. 5:17-18). While Jesus was on the earth, His disciples had Him in direct relationship to teach them how to interpret the OT. Today we also have the NT (I will not speak to the issues of how we arrived at the NT books). The Spirit spoke through the NT writers and their very words are the product of God’s breath (inspired) I Pet. 1:21; 2 Tim. 3:16. Jesus said to His disciples that it was actually better that He go away and that they receive the Spirit who would remind and teach them of all Jesus had said and done (Jn. 14-16). The ministry of the Spirit and the Word always go hand in hand and never contradict one another.

    This gentleman objects to “inerrancy”. The simple question is, “Does God’s Word speak truthfully or not?”. When he suggests a “Jesus over the Scriptures” perspective of interpretation He is creating an unnecessary and false dichotomy that may lead to justifying all sorts of personal interpretations and elevating our own experiences above that of God’s own revelation.

    4) The writer implies racism and misogyny are behind those who object to Papa being portrayed as an African- American woman. This is straight out of the current progressive handbook in politics. I know little of the motivations behind the writing of The Shack itself so I will not attribute this motive to him. But let’s just say that this gentleman’s opinion fits all too well with the liberal left feminist agenda. (The white man is bad. The Bible is fundamentally a patriarchal book.) While I would not deny God is imaged to us in a patriarchal manner in the Old and New Testaments, if one goes too far down that track (stressing the culture bounded nature of the Scriptures), one not only will have to deny the complete truthfulness of the Scriptures but will soon embrace more and more the notion that the Scriptures are full of errors while the concept of inspiration is reduced to a feeling!

    Being a counselor who has frequently worked with those who are dying or who have lost loved ones, as well as those who have been physically or sexually abused by their father or another man in their lives, I am particularly sensitive to the issue of speaking to someone carelessly of God as “Father”. But what of those who have been abused by their mother or another woman? Perhaps we would be better suited to speak of God as “The Force”?Realizing God the Father is a Spirit as is the Holy Spirit, does not change the language of the Scriptures. While God does on numerous occasions utilize feminine analogies and allusions, feminine pronouns are never applied to “Him” nor is He called “Mother”. If one says that proves the point of patriarchal language, where then do we stop? God is no hater of women or any race of persons. Neither are His followers!

    Please google the article by John Piper on the use of the “feminine” in regards to God for more on this.

    http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-does-the-shack-say-about-your-pain

  7. It seems to me that some Christians continue to put God in a box. I know that is a trite statement used all too often…..but it seems to me that it really applies to this discussion.

    In viewing the movie I would advise folks to take a deep breath and view it as one should view one of the parable of Jesus.

    None of the story line has to be true for the message it portrays to come through.

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