ministry question and response

With what theology in The Shack do you disagree?

Out of all the questions that I received last Thursday at Discussions on The Shack, I experienced this as the most pressing from those that were there. All quotes come from Young, William Paul. The Shack. Los Angeles: Windblown Media, 2007. Here are a few my areas of disagreement…

The church

  • “‘It’s simple, Mack. It’s all about relationships and simply sharing life. What we are doing right now – just doing this – and being open and available to others around us. My church is all about people and life is all about relationships. You can’t build it. It’s my job and I’m actually pretty good at it,’ Jesus said with a chuckle.” (Young, 178.)
    • I agree with this perspective.
  • “‘Like I said, I don’t create institutions; that’s an occupation for those who want to play God. So no, I’m not too big on religion,’ Jesus said a little sarcastically, ‘and not very fond of politics or economics either.'” (Young, 179.)
    • I disagree with this perspective. What is the definition of “religion” or “the church”

Jesus as fully divine and fully human

  • “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed. Even though we have always been present in this created universe, we now became flesh and blood. It would be like this bird, whose nature it is to fly, choosing only to walk and remain grounded. He doesn’t stop being the bird, but it does alter his experience of life significantly.” (Young, 99.)
    • I believe that this tries to explain away the mystery and is inadequate

God as Father

  • “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.” (Young, 94.)
    • I disagree here – Father is how Jesus refers to God and it is in this relationship that we know God


  • “Try as he might, Mack could not escape the desperate possibility that the note just might be from God after all, even if the thought of God passing notes did not fit well with his theological training. In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course.” (Young, 65.)
    • I disagree and was not taught what Mack was taught in seminary. God does continue to communicate overtly.
  • “It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia.” (Young, 66.)
    • At Resurrection we hope that you love God with your mind.

10 replies on “With what theology in The Shack do you disagree?”

At Woodland we did a book study on “The Shack” in late January. I was surprised at how important the characters were to people (including the ‘mothering’ God) and at how much they appreciated being able to have something concrete (personalities, defined relationships) to understand the Trinity.

One person said, “it actually makes sense to me now. Before pastor’s had just said, ‘
It’s a mystery,’ and that was the end of the conversation. This book makes it seem real.”

I was a little humbled by that. I’ve probably been guilty of the “Trinity is a mystery…let’s move on.”


I need to push back on your statements about God as F/father. The writers of the Gospel were writing from their historical context and in there time, they had to, it was all they had available to them. We all do. As such they were writing in ways that would be acceptable and further the cause Christianity. I am not saying that Jesus did not call God his Father but it is possible that he also named God other things as well that are not included in our text.

That aside, Jesus was open to using female images of God, “O Jerusalem, and Jerusalem how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34). Can’t my relationship with God be known in this way?

Several hymns found in the UMH and TFWS talk about a God of many names and purposes, the inability we have to name the relationship with have with the mystery of God, and use female imagery for the divine (UMH 105, 111, 117, 122; TFWS 2040, 2046, 2047, 2050). Doesn’t our human finitude mean that all illustrations of God are metaphors anyway?

My main discomfort though stems from the fact that you told me what my relationship looks like. My God is pretty big and has meant different things to me at different times in my life. Sometimes as father (although, my biological father abandoned me when I was an infant so I struggle with this), sometimes a mother, a friend, a rock. In a human way Paul reflects a similar notion telling us that even he had to be different things to different people in order to reach out to them
(I Corinthians 9: 19-23). Saying, “it is in this relationship that we know God,” says that we only know God in one way, which seems to severely limit God and God reign.

Amy – Thanks for the push back. I appreciate it and am glad that you did. It helps sharpen me and clarify my thoughts as well as add to the discourse. I particularly appreciate your reference to hymnody. The Wesleyan / Methodist movement has been one that over time has been deeply shaped by the music, hymns and lyrics which we share together. I agree with you that one’s relationship to God can certainly be known in relationship to mothering.
I do not seek to limit relationships with God to a particular box. To clarify, my intent was to state that one is a child of God and sister or brother of Jesus Christ. The familial relationships are important.

Amy, your arguments for feminine imagery as they are found in the Bible are well grounded. Keep in mind, however, that the name “Trinity” which the church has historically confessed has referred to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We confess God as the “Father” who fathers us, mothers us, parents us, leads us, cares for us, comforts us, disciplines us, encourages us, and rules over us. Confessional language is important. I think we would be better served to take away from your comments that God is not gendered as human beings are gendered, and that the images of God found in Scripture and hymnody remind us of the more feminine ways God relates to us, thus expanding our imagination concerning what God is like. God created humankind in “[God’s] image…male and female God created them.” Your comments made me think of the paradoxical rendering of God Johnny Cash employed in “The Man Comes Around,” singing “the father hen will call his chickens home.”

As for Andrew’s quotes, I find it a bit humorous that Jesus is characterized as having no interest in politics or economics. Clearly John Howard Yoder did not influence this rendering of Jesus!


Thanks for sharing…

Personally, I really dislike the book, especially because of his vitriole against the Church. He seems to think that somehow we can all live as separate entities without connection, with no organization and be effective in life and faith.

Ben-If God is not gendered as humans are gendered (which I agree with) why is it important to further Trinitarian language that was created in a certain time, under certain conditions that no longer apply to today’s world (Chuck Russell outlined this process in a response to today’s post). If God relates to us in the many ways we have all outlined, why continue using a term (father) that for many is hurtful and puts God in a box? I often think God-the Creator, God-on Earth, and God-the eternal Spirit.

I’ve got to agree with Mark that Young was obviously deeply wounded by the church (abused by some of his parent’s congregation one source said) and his feelings color deeply his view of the church throughout the tale. The more we talked about the book in my group the more obvious it became that he really dislikes the organized church.

I think that “The Shack” is a project, in some ways, to free Young’s conception of God from the bounds of the church, and perhaps to say that an unmediated, (even mystical, right?) expereince of God is all one needs.

That’s no reason to hate the book in my mind. The story is emotionally gripping…that’s the reason it has sold so many copies. People like the story…the relationships. The theology matters much less to most. (same reason the “left behind” series could sell so well).

And for people who have expereinced loss, deep loss, I think Young offers some roads to healing, to understand why “bad things happen to good people” as Rabbi Kushner would say.

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