In Brad Jersak’s 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 levelled at The Shack and its 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 50,000 views and still climbing. Because of this, Earthbound 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:
“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.”
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 these 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.
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, in “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 colours. 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.”
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” (Jersak) 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 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.
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 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” (Jersak)—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 there in theologically significant and culturally relevant ways.