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The Shack: A Warning for the Unsuspecting

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On June 8, 2008, an important milestone was reached: a small, relatively unknown, self-published book called The Shack sold its one millionth copy. Over the next several months, The Shack would sweep the American landscape like a storm. As of April 2009, according to its publisher, the book had sold over 6 million copies, and had been at number 1 on the New York Times best seller list for 36 weeks and counting.

“Wait a minute,” you are probably thinking to yourself, “what’s the big deal about The Shack?”

Perhaps you are reading this thinking, “I’ve read The Shack, and I thought it was a great book. In fact, I can honestly say it changed my whole perspective of who God is and how God relates to me.”

You are not alone. Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, a popular paraphrase of the Bible, compared the book to The Pilgrim’s Progress. On the book’s front cover endorsement he notes, “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ did for his. It’s that good!”

Other endorsements found on the book include Michael W. Smith, who called it “the most absorbing work of fiction I’ve read in many years,” and singer Wynona Judd said “this story has blown the door wide open to my soul.”

Still, what lies between the covers of The Shack is what Dr. Albert Mohler referred to as “undiluted heresy.” The danger, as Dr. Michael Youssef observed, is that this heresy is wrapped in powerful emotions and covered by a beautiful landscape. In a sermon delivered to his church congregation in August 2008, Youssef noted that The Shack is “a measure of truth wrapped in a whole lot of poisonous dough.”

“Half truths,” Youssef said, “almost right, outwardly appealing, are far more dangerous than plain wrong and evil. We must learn to discern subtle heresies, even when they are wrapped in powerful emotions.”

The Shack is just such a book. 

William P. Young

The Shack was written by William P. Young. The author is the son of missionaries, and spent his childhood in New Guinea. He is a bible college and seminary graduate. Before becoming a writer, Young served in the ministry for a number of years. Young has also experienced great trauma in his life.  According to published interviews, he was first sexually abused by tribal men at the age of four in New Guinea.  After he was transferred to a boarding school for missionary children, he was again abused at the school. Those who have met and visited with Young report him to be a likable and genuine person.

In an effort to communicate to his children some of the hurt he had experienced as a child, and how he believed God had healed him from his inner pain as a result of the abuse, Young wrote The Shack. He admits that he never intended for his story to be published. Young initially made 15 copies of his story, one for each of his six children and the others for friends and family. His small audience was so impressed with the story they encouraged him to publish it.

After reworking his manuscript, and with editing assistance of some friends, Young submitted The Shack to 26 publishers. It was rejected by all of them.  Tired of attempting to publish via the traditional route, Young and two friends formed Windblown Media and self published the book in 2007. They spent $300 on marketing The Shack. The book reached the New York Times best seller list in June 2008 and by the end of 2008, The Shack was the top selling book of fiction for the year. In addition to the secular market, The Shack was also the top selling Christian book of 2008.

The Story

From Amazon.com, here is the book’s summary:

Mackenzie Allen Philips’ youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at The Shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack’s world forever. In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant “The Shack” wrestles with the timeless question, “Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?” The answers Mack gets will astound you and perhaps transform you as much as it did him. You’ll want everyone you know to read this book! 

When the main character, Mack, arrives at The Shack he meets a most unlikely trio identified as the Trinity. God the Father is presented as a large African-American woman named “Papa.” She is described as an Aunt Jemimah-looking woman, also known as “Elousia,” who enjoys cooking, listens to pop music on her iPod, and spending time in the kitchen. “Jesus” is presented as a common-place, unattractive Jewish carpenter in a plaid shirt with a big nose and a tool belt. The Holy Spirit is described as an Asian woman named “Sarayu,” a mystical river in ancient India related to the Hindu deity Kali. 

In March 2017, The Shack was released as a major motion picture.

The Underlying Heresy in The Shack

Begin to research The Shack and you will find many critics. Some of the Bible teachers and scholars who have spoken out against The Shack include Dr. James De Young, Dr. Michael Youssef, Janet Parshall, Jan Markell, Mark Driscoll, Dr. Larry DeBruyn, Norman Geisler, Chuck Colson, Chuck Swindoll, and Dr. Albert Mohler. 

Why is The Shack so dangerous? There are many reasons. First, the dialog between Mack and the various members of the Trinity is very casual. There is not one place in the book where Scripture is referenced. As a result, the reader is presented with “divine revelation” in the form of casual conversation.

For example in one conversation between “Papa” and Mack, “Papa” declares, “I’m not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way. I am good, and I desire only what is best for you. You cannot find that through guilt or condemnation….” (p. 126).

In another dialog, “Papa” explains how the Trinity views rules:

[Mack] “Are you saying I don’t have to follow the rules?”

[Papa] “Yes. In Jesus you are not under any law. All things are lawful.” 

“You can’t be serious! You’re messing with me again,” moaned Mack. 

“Child,” interrupted papa, “you ain’t heard nuthin’ yet.”

“…enforcing rules [says Sarayu] …is a vain attempt to create certainty out of uncertainty. And contrary to what you might think, I have a great fondness for uncertainty. Rules cannot bring freedom; they only have the power to accuse” (p. 203)


Theologically, Dr. Norman Geisler outlines 14 areas of disagreement with fundamental biblical doctrine. Eric Barger highlights some of the most significant problems with The Shack

  • Young’s Papa character insists that sin is its own punishment. This distorts the reality of Hell and discounts eternal retribution for sin.
  • Readers of The Shack are told that Jesus is only the best way to know God – not the only way.
  • The Shack teaches that when Jesus went to the cross, God Almighty died there too. This is a heresy known as patripassianism.
  • The Shack states that there is no structure or hierarchy within the Trinity and that the three personages of God are all equally subject to one another and to humans as well.
  • Young’s “Papa” character is suspiciously akin to a Polynesian/Hawaiian goddess who also happens to be known as “Papa.” The similarities with The Shack’s God character are stunning.
  • The Bible is very clear: do not portray God in an image. It is impossible to make the Creator part of the creation. Jesus said, “God is Spirit, and he who worships Him must worship Him in Spirit and truth” (John 4:24). The second commandment forbids us from making a visual portrayal of God. To worship such an image is pure idolatry (Exodus 20:4-5). Paul, in his epistle to the Romans states, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Romans 1:21-23a).

Universalism


Perhaps the greatest error presented in The Shack is its blatant universalism. As Eric Barger observes, however, William P. Young’s brand of universalism is different from traditional universalism. Young believes in what is called universal reconciliation.  Classical Universalism teaches that all religions lead to heaven. Jesus is a way to heaven, but Jesus is not the only way. Universal reconciliation teaches that all of mankind is already saved because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. In other words, when Jesus died on the cross, He died for all mankind, and at that moment all mankind was reconciled to God.
Barger notes, “This position purports that there is no penalty for sin, no literal hell and no need to accept Christ and repent of one’s sins. It dramatically undermines the work of the Church, evangelism and the core teachings of the New Testament. It is a satanic trap denying essential beliefs taught by Jesus, the Apostles and Bible believers throughout the Church Age.”
Unfortunately, Universalism is sweeping through American Christianity.


What is most concerning about this book is that it has been so warmly embraced by American Christians. Pastors are encouraging their congregations to read the book and embrace it. Christian booksellers have The Shack prominently displayed in their stores. Christians are giving away books by the thousands telling their friends and family that it has changed their life. Churches are using The Shack in their small groups and Sunday school classes.


American Christians are falling in love with universalism. From Brian McLaren to Joel Osteen, American Christian writers, pastors, teachers, musicians, politicians, etc., are all on the politically-correct bandwagon that declares all men saved.
Bert Kjos states, “countless pastors and church leaders are delighting in its message. By ignoring (or redefining) sin and guilt, they embrace an inclusive but counterfeit ‘Christianity’ that draws crowds but distorts the Bible. Discounting Satan as well, they weaken God’s warnings about deception.“


Michael Youssef warns that “The day is coming when Jesus Christ is going to sit on the judgment bench to separate those who have accepted His Father’s plan from those who have accepted another plan. He will separate those who tried to stretch His plan, who are trying to make the plan popular, or are trying to rewrite His plan.”


The foundation for the beautiful cathedral in Lübeck, Germany was laid in 1173. Inscribed on one of its enormous medieval doors in an ancient gothic alphabet are the following words:
Ye call me eternal, then do not seek me.Ye call me fair, then do not love me.Ye call me gracious, then do not trust me.Ye call me just, then do not fear me.Ye call me life, then do not choose me.Ye call me light, then do not see me.Ye call me Lord, then do not respect me.Ye call me Master, then do not obey me.Ye call me merciful, then do not thank me.Ye call me mighty, then do not honor me.Ye call me noble, then do not serve me.Ye call me rich, then do not ask me.Ye call me Savior, then do not praise me.Ye call me shepherd, then do not follow me.Ye call me Way, then do not walk with me.Ye call me wise, then do not heed me.Ye call me Son of God,  then do not worship me.When I condemn Ye, then do not blame me.


May each of us take seriously our calling as Christians who hold high the authority of the Word of God. The challenges before us are great, but so are the opportunities. Whether you sit here today as one who has never heard of The Shack or you are someone who believes it has transformed your view of God and of what it means to be a Christian, the lesson for us is clear: let every word that is preached, written, spoken, sung, be held up to the mirror of Scripture. Don’t believe something just because it is well said, covered in beautiful language and powerful emotions. Learn to discern. Know your Bible and ask God for the wisdom to guide in the paths of righteousness and truth.


 
 
Sources:
 
Challies, Tim. “The Shack” by William P. Young. Accessed April 4, 2009 at http://www.challies.com/archives/book-reviews/the-shack-by-william-p-young.php.
 
Duin, Julia. “’The Shack’": Book on accessible God hits big.” Washington Times, August 7, 2008. Accessed April 4, 2009 at http://washingtontimes.com/news/2008/aug/07/story-about-accessible-god-becomes-best-seller/.
 
Grossman, Cathy Lynn. “’Shack’ opens doors, but critics call book ‘scripturally incorrect,’” USA TodayMay 29, 2008. Accessed April 4, 2009 at http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2008-05-28-the-shack_N.htm.
Posted by Chris Eller with 1 Comments
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Trending Reads | March

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Trending Reads is a monthly post from Pastor Travis Walker that features pertinent and informative blog posts and articles for the growth of the people of FFC. This month, instead of articles or blog posts, Travis has put together three great videos on loving your city, the reformation, and lent. Take a look:

SEEK YOUR CITY'S GOOD

 

WHAT IS THE REFORMATION?

WHAT IS LENT?

God Has Spoken

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Although it might seem like just another year, 2017 marks a special anniversary for a historic event. Five hundred years ago, in 1517, a monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed His ninety-five thesis to the castle door in Wittenberg, Germany. Appalled by the Roman Catholic Church's horrific twisting of God's word, Martin Luther felt compelled to oppose the tyranny.

When his list of contentious points was discovered by the people, a wildfire of argument and discussion broke out and eventually led to what we now know today as the Protestant Reformation. Out from this era of spiritual awakening came five Latin phrases: "Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone), “Sola Gratia” (Grace Alone), “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone), “Solus Christus” (Christ Alone), and “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God Alone Be Glory). Although these concepts of grace, faith, Scripture might seem commonplace to you, they were life-saving rediscoveries during this bleak period. 

Although all of these points of doctrine are absolutely essential for retaining Christian orthodoxy, there is one of them that lays a firm foundation for the rest to stand upon, and without it we would kill ourselves by doing what is right in our own eyes, no matter how noble the intentions might be. 

Sola Scriptura basically teaches that the Bible alone is are highest authority. This doctrine does not sympathize with any teaching, tradition, or idea that can't point to a chapter and verse to establish it's validity. Your bright ideas, creative solutions, and innovative tactics concerning life, godliness, and church must all bow the knee before "Thus saith the LORD."

God has spoken.

His word is true. His voice expects to be obeyed. Divine retribution is extended to those who think lightly of this authority. However, don't take my word for it. Let’s examine this ancient book to see if that's what it claims. 

As we peek inside this library of heavenly revelation, we find this issue of authority to be of critical importance extremely early on in the biblical story. The first conflict of the human mind between good and evil is fought in the historic battleground of Eden. God made the heavens and the earth and it was all very good. Man enjoyed a blissful paradise as long as he submitted himself to God's word concerning the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:15–17).

However, you know how the story goes. All of that happiness ended when mankind doubted God's Word and bought the Serpent's lie, "has God really said...?" (Gen 3:1). Because they disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit, all the sons of Adam are born hostile towards their Creator.

Let's consider another example. This one was recorded for us by Moses in Leviticus 10. The nation of Israel has just been redeemed from the iron clutches of Egyptian oppression by the sovereign hand of their omnipotent God. Now at Mount Sinai, Yahweh is revealing His perfect law to the people in very specific details. Observe what happens when we think lightly of the Consuming Fire's written Word: Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.

Then Moses said to Aaron, "It is what the LORD spoke, saying, 'By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored.' So Aaron, therefore, kept silent.” Leviticus 10:1-3 NASB. What is happening here? Has God gone off the deep end? Isn't this a bit of an overreaction? The crux of issue is that of worth. When you or I think lightly of or disobey God's clear commands, it necessarily portrays a low view of our Maker.

We're basically saying to the world that God is not worth the time of day. This type of attitude tells our peers that the uncreated One is of so little consequence that it really doesn't matter if you take Him seriously. That is why He says "By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored" (Lev 10:3).

At this point in the article, you might be tempted to think that the current New Testament era in which we live is void of this kind of language. Please don't kid yourself. Our God, the LORD, does not change (Mal 3:6). Jesus had stern words for those who let their customs overrule what was written:

“Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 'Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.' He answered them, 'And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, "Honor your father and your mother," and, "Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die." But you say, If anyone tells his father or his mother, "What you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father." So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the Word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: "'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"” Matthew 15:1–9 ESV

If we allow the commandments of men, no matter how good the intentions may be, to dictate the way we do worship, church, evangelism, marriage, family, and the preaching of the gospel, then we'll be nothing more than a people who honor Christ with our lips while our hearts are far from Him.

This scarlet thread of supreme loyalty to the voice of our good Shepherd is seen distinctly in the ministry of the Apostle Paul. When departing for Jerusalem, Paul warned the elders from Ephesus that from among their own selves false teachers would arise. His last words of wisdom commended them to God and the word of His grace (Acts 20:32). Paul commanded young Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of scripture (1 Tim 4:13) and to the teaching and preaching of that scripture (2 Tim 4:1-2). Paying close attention to the book ensured salvation for the teacher and the taught (1 Tim 4:16).

Much more biblical evidence could be investigated, but I hope that you are beginning to see what the Bible thinks of itself. Israel wanted to be like other nations, and God drove them into exile because of it. Today churches want to be thought of as relevant and cool, so we try to dumb down the gospel so that people won't be offended by it. If you're afraid to take God at His word, you'll lose the saving message of the cross faster than you can say apostasy.

If you do a little research, then you'll find out that this is exactly what the Roman Catholic Church was doing. No Biblical literacy among the common man added with the fact that the Pope's words were considered to be of equal weight as God's word gave birth to a horrible damning man-made religion of works.

How then shall we escape if we neglect this so great salvation? Let us heed this Divine mandate: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15 ESV).

God has spoken. Your responsibility is to abide in His Word. Remember your beloved Savior and the immeasurable riches of His love towards you. Let Calvary capture your heart and compel you to stay faithfully following your King.

We're saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as revealed in scripture alone to the glory of God alone!

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My Sunday School Teacher

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I vividly remember all of those Sunday mornings almost thirty years ago. The paint in the room was forever being touched up, leaving me with a perpetual sting in my nose. The linoleum was chipped in more places than not, and my big Sunday School room could easily be partitioned into several smaller rooms with the rickety accordion divider. Didn’t all churches in the eighties use accordion dividers?

My classmates were the same boys and girls I had grown up with through nursery. The boy who always answered every question first. The super blonde kid who was picked up by the church bus every Sunday morning and dropped off at home every Sunday afternoon. I never met his parents. The brunette girl who never let me have the markers I wanted to use to color in the shepherd staff or Jesus’ beard. My best friend in Sunday School, the girl who I sat next to in class every week. We were all there.

Our teacher was a woman in her early thirties. Back then, perms were the way to wear your hair and she was no exception. She often wore a long cotton skirt and some kind of sleeveless shirt. Our old church building didn’t have air conditioning and our upstairs Sunday School rooms could be sweltering. Hot to the point of summoning ancient smells from the water damaged ceiling tiles.

I remember how strong her arms were as she led us in games and held high the weekly teaching picture. Every week she would gather us in a circle and read to us from the Bible. I learned about how God created the Earth and everything in it. I listened about Noah and how his family had to board that huge boat in order to survive the flood. I remember being baffled when she explained the Tower of Babel to us. Did those people really think they could build a tower to reach God? As years went on, she revealed more to me about Jesus and His word.

My Sunday School teacher always explained things to us at our level. It wasn’t complicated or overly drawn out. I never learned about great theologians, historical controversies or latin root words. I learned about a man named Jesus and how wonderful He was. I heard about what He did for me on the cross. I put my faith in Him and a seed was planted that, over the years, has continued to grow.

My Sunday School teacher wasn’t magical. As a matter of fact, I found out years later that she had only become a Christian a few years before beginning to teach our class. What she taught us about the Bible was all she knew. It wasn’t profoundly deep, but the impact was.

Her life, much like mine today, was busy. She had several children at home, a part-time job, other commitments, and ample reasons to not help with my Sunday School class. I believe her one reason to say yes far outweighed all of the reasons to say no. My Sunday School teacher was my mom.

Even as a new Believer, she understood how critical, imperative, vital, essential, and necessary it was to plant the seed of the gospel in the hearts of her children and her children’s friends.

Was it convenient? I doubt it.

Was it exhausting? Most likely.

Was it difficult? No more so than any other task we’re asked to step up to as adults.

Was it rewarding? I say yes. Eternally yes.

I was once the little girl in Sunday School who cried when the boy behind me yanked my ponytail... again. I was the girl in Sunday School who had to go to the bathroom five minutes after entering the room. I was the girl in Sunday School who asked my teacher to tie my shoes multiple times in one class period. But most importantly, I was the girl in Sunday School who received a gift. A gift of time, a gift of patience, a gift of deliberate dedication. My mom, as busy as she was, said yes and for that, I’m forever grateful.

Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. Pslam 127:3

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The scope of today’s refugee crisis is truly unprecedented, affecting nearly 60 million people. Never before have so many been displaced, put in danger, and forced from their homes. In Syria alone, more than half of 22 million people have either been displaced or killed. More than 4 million have fled to neighboring countries. I share these numbers to remind us of the sheer enormity of this crisis...

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6 Attributes of Churches That Make Disciples

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False Teachers and Deadly Doctrines

For the past few years, lists of Christian bestsellers have been topped by a book claiming fresh revelation from Jesus Christ. Before that, they were overrun by books describing people’s purported visits to heaven. And before the heaven tourism fad, there was the best-selling novel that reframed the doctrine of the Trinity. Meanwhile, the largest church in America is led by a man whose platitudes are indistinguishable from fortune cookies. But it’s not just authors and church leaders who are swerving away from the truth. Theologians and laypersons alike are abandoning traditional understandings of manhood and womanhood, of marriage and sexuality. Never has it been more important for Christians to commit themselves to rejecting false doctrine and pursuing sound doctrine, to ensure they are following teachers of truth, not peddlers of error...

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