Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Outhouse of Abhorrent Theology: aka, The Shack

This is a long one. I probably should break it up, but i guess it's good to just get it all together. I also want to preface this with why i did what I did, that is: read this book.

When "The Shack" came out, i really had little interest in reading it. I barely knew it existed. With the exception of CS Lewis, and Robin Parrish, I have not really ever read ANY Christian fiction. I tend to read sci fi or general fiction so something like "The Shack" was not on my list.

Then I heard a few interviews with James B. Deyoung related to his book "Burning Down the Shack" and he pointed out a few of the theological problems with "The Shack" chief among them is that Young (authoer of the Shack) is a Universalist. That is, everyone from Adolf Hitler to the Apostle Paul eventually gets to go to Heaven no matter how bad (or good) they were.

Stalin, Mother Theresa, Pol Pot, Ghandi, Hitler, Mr. Rogers, Nero, and on and on.

How that works in light of God being a just judge, i have no idea, but it sounds like a sweet deal for bad people, and a bum one for the rest of us.

So, at that point i resolved to not read The Shack. Mainly because it seemed like it's not just a waste of time, in that it suffered from an extreme lack of ray guns and spaceships, but it was also full of false teaching. After all, if someone else wrote a book about all those pitfalls, why would i need to know anything else?

Well, that changed, and I think God wanted me to read it so i can tell you (whoever you are) about it. Let me tell you, it has been a struggle. Not just in exercising discernment, but also in just reading it. Not only is The Shack not my genre, and FULL of bad theology, it has also committed another crime. It is full of bad writing. Of course what do iknow, my novel remains unpublished...and also unfinished.

So, let's go through The Shack!

First, the good points. There were a few minor good or interesting points. There were also things i sort of agreed with (they were half truths after all). Also, this book got me to look thru God's word to see if what was said was actually so. Reading God's word is always a good thing.

(When referring to the "god" of the story, and "his" emanations, i will try to use lower case and quotes to separate them from the real God. Although they are supposed to be God, i will not give them that honor, as my God revealed Himself specifically in the Bible, and His Son, Jesus.)

To start with, the writing is "special". Special, in that afterschool or very special episode kind of way. It's very "cozy", and not in an enjoyable way. The characters are not very believable from the outset. It's as though the characters already know they're in an allegory (and not even a good allegory), and so act accordingly, trudging along their little model railroad track of plot.

The book is also plagued by "Postcard" descriptions of places like the park they went camping, rather than description of anything that mattered. Sort of a cheap way to set a scene rather than actually describing the actual place the characters were. Why do we care how tall mount Howard is, or when the tramway was built? Why do we care how cold Lake Wallowa is if no one is swimming in it at that exact moment? How about, "the campsite was filled with smoke and clouds of mosquitoes?" Nope. Maybe, "the leaves mack had used as emergency toilet paper turned out to be poison ivy, and while it burned like crazy, nan had a gut busting time. Until it happened to her too." Nada.

Because that would have actually affected the characters. Instead, we get something off the tourist brochure, which i'm convinced the author paraphrased when writing this.

Other pet peeves, is stuff we might want to know more about, like an internal thought process, or smart dialogue, we don't get. Mack gets into a situation, says a couple things, sticks his foot in his mouth, and the resulting dialogue resolves mack's issues.

A big way this happens in the book is Young often has Mack marvelling at how the alleged "trinity" "relates" to each other and how great it is, but doesn't explain it much further.
He's copping out of explaining (showing...portraying...INSERT VERB) the conversation and "relating" going on and mentions it merely in passing. Here's my attempt to paraphsrase one of these instances:

"oh, MAN are those guys relating!" Mack thought. "I mean, i am in the shack my daughter was molested and axe-murdered in, probably as a Satanic sacrifice, but MAN this relating is SO COOL! It just takes my mind off of the bloodspot by the fireplace.

"I'll just sit and watch how cool it is, then I'll interupt this relating so we can to move along to the next contrived one-on-one with me so i can deal with my junk by interacting with questionable spirits claiming to be God, rather than praying, reading the Bible and getting counselling."

"Say, can one of you three...i mean one... i mean...heck, someone just pass the gravy. PRONTO!" Mack said.

For a Christian, Mackenzie, the main character has about the most shallow faith i have ever seen. He doesn't test these spirits, they tell him they're "god" and he just goes along with it. His interactions with "god" are just plain...American, and his dialogue is often short snips of phrases like "OK." Or, "i thought you would really be like..." etc.

Anyways, let's move on from terrible writing, to...

Stereotypical characters!

Young gets racist points for naming his Italian mailman...wait for it...wait for it...Tony! That's right. Had the mailman been named Mario or Luigi, he would have gotten some sort of award had Tony actually appeared saying something stereotypically Italian, like "mama ma".

The midwestern post lady, a reject from the movie "Fargo" who says "don't ya know" and also talks with annoying slang that turned me off. She's just a stereotype, no racism really.

There's also the matter of "the large black woman" which edges Young up much closer to "Michael Richards award" territory. More on LBW later, but suffice it to say, it reminded me of older times that are better forgotten. I'd make a joke, but i really take that matter more seriously.

Let's move on. The sterotypes persist into "Brawny-Jesus" and "Sarayu". I'll explain their issues in a bit.

Let's get to the theology problems. I never read "burning down the shack" so these are original observations. De Young focused more on universalism in the interviews i heard, and i take a slightly different road, "no extra charge" as Chuck Missler always says.

Problem number one. When "god" appears it's nowhere close to how God has revealed Himself in His Word. It's fiction, i get it. The author can't be constrained to authoritative scripture in portraying our loving God. But at least in Narnia, it's another world, and sort of consistently ties in a fairly close Biblical portrayal. Where it differs, the model AT LEAST serves as a solid parallel for deep theological truths. While we're on Lewis, his planet series uses just a different name for the same God, but all the people recognize it's the same God. I can buy that. At least Lewis makes an effort to keep God as a reverent figure, and if not, he uses it as a parable. Which is what the shack is supposed to be.

No, the "god" revealed in this book is a folksy, sassy, black woman. A Jewish Paul Bunyan/Brawny paper towel guy, and an Asian woman with a fondness for gardening. Riiiiight.

First, god as a black woman. I'm not racist, but even by the standards of The Shack, they call god "papa" (which is a little familiar for my tastes, at least the New Guineans call God, "Papa God") so a woman of ANY description is already a stretch. I have no issue with a black woman playing a major role, i like the Oracle in the Matrix and the creepy black lady in the Ikea in-store videos. But God calls Himself The Father, and He revealed Himself in the Bible as the Father and "He". The god in this book is not God in any Biblical sense. It's Blasphemous. (I blame kevin smith's "Dogma" for this kind of approach.)

The author also constantly refers to "god" by the name "large black woman" even after the name "elouisa" is revealed. "LBW" is also in charge of cooking, bringing to mind unpleasant memories of Al Jolson, and "mammy" stereotypes.

(Btw, elouisa means "warrior", and God is not usually portrayed as a warrior, the Lord of Hosts fits. Google names of God for a good look at names God has used in scripture. What was wrong with those? Why do we have to have elouisa? Why not El Shaddai, or one of the many others?)

Another review i read, after starting this one, brought up the black stereotypes, especially the "slang sounding" talk, and the phrase "sho 'nuff." When i saw that in the book, all i could think of was Julius Carry's character in "The Last Dragon". All we need now is Bruce Leroy to show Mack how to get "the glow" or for her to tell Mack "that's right, BOW SUCKA!"

God showed Himself many times in the Bible. When He showed Himself to Moses in the Old Testament (Exodus 33 and 34) Moses was allowed only to see a small part of God, because God is too Holy for us to handle seeing. Even seeing that was alot for Moses, and the GLORY of God reflecting from Moses was too much for all of Israel.

Or how about Isaiah? When he saw God, he realized he was unworthy, and asked God to clean his lips!

How is it Mack can just nonchalantly "hang out" with god? Yes, Christ bridged the gap, and God loves us, but we must remember how AWESOME the Lord truly is. I think we've lost sight of that in our age, especially in America. We want the God to be our rich best friend. Whatever God does look like, it is NOT a large black woman. The descriptions in my Bible sound like an awesome, and all powerful, Holy God! Lightning, and power, and Holiness! I look forward to that day, but i realize how unworthy i am to see Him.

The Brawny-jesus. Where do I start? His first lines come off like the neighbor from Office Space (aka the Rexkwondo guy in Napolean Dynamite). Young also gets another racist point for calling out that Brawny-jesus has a big nose, of course, because he's Jewish. Not only that, mack (or is it Young subconsiously?) finds a large nose unattractive. Smooth move.

Now i don't know alot of Jews, but NOT ONE single Jew that I've ever met had a large nose. in fact NOTHING about them stood out from anyone else!

Does the real Jesus have a big nose? Who knows. but a large, Jewish nose calls to my mind a stereotype out of a Nazi racial hygiene propaganda poster. I have seen those before in school, and let me tell you, it was not good. Let's hope Young runs out of stereotypes before he runs out of characters.

Too late. The "holy spirit" as an Asian woman is just weird, and of course, also a blasphemy. I suppose the author, who seems unable to waste a good stereotype, chose an Asian woman because of the "exoticness" "quietness" and "mysteriousness" that is so stereotypically attributed to Asian women. To his mind it must seem a perfect match.

She also likes to garden, i don't know if this is anything to note or not, but Chinese and Japanese culture do have some place for gardens. Not ALL Chinese and Japanese, but in proper places. Japanese gardens are real, but this character is just "Asian" and is of course fond of gardening. I suppose i should be thankful she didn't know and teach Mack kung fu, of course this book was already too "Matrix-y" for my taste anyways.

The Holy Spirit in the Bible is usually kind of non-corporeal in any sense, when a physical description was necessary, He was described as "LIKE a dove". Or He came as tongues of fire. Or one can be filled by Him. How an Asian woman portrays any of these attributes is beyond me.

So, this sums up the weirdest, and probably least respectful attempt at explaining the Trinity. They interact in a goofy way, and are always laughing frivolously. The only way it would have been more disrespectful would be if the Three Stooges had been there representing God.

At least the story might have been entertaining, and Mack would have gotten the slap i think he deserved. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

As if screwing up "god" wasn't bad enough, let's get into how he screwed up what we know about God as revealed in His Word, the Bible. So here's a few theological mishaps, i'm sure i missed some, so please share your thoguhts.

* on page 101 it starts off with a reasonable description of the fall, and redemption. OK so far. But pg 101 starts going to dangerous territory and crashes headlong into it. Pg 102, "god" says that when Jesus was a man, He had no power on His own to do anything, even though He was fully God and fully man, He had power only by reliance on "god" of this novel.

I don't know how i feel about this, i'm open to your thoughts. We know Jesus in the Bible did the will of the Father, but Young seems to have stretched things here by saying that Jesus had no power on His own.

* chpt 7 starts out with "god," all 3 characters of "him" laughing, and cavorting frivolously. Apparently Brawny-jesus was clumsy and dropped something. It is here that we see the author basically insult Jesus by insinuating He lacks perfection, and thus dropped a bowl due to clumsiness. Even Brawny-jesus plays along. This sort of portayal of "god" persists, with each member of this "trinity" laughing and being giggly, especially when Mack sees them relating, or poking fun at his micro-brain observations.

They seem less like "god" and more like giggly school girls at a slumber party who just got caught in a pillow fight. But man, their relating rocks!

* sarayu - the name given to the character who portrays "the holy spirit". It's interesting to note that Brawny-jesus tells a lie. He tells mack that sarayu means wind...i'm not sure what language that is, but here's what i dug up on sarayu when i tried to figure that out. Apparently it does mean wind in sanskrit, so Brawny-jesus only half-lied.

The name sarayu does comes up though in "The Immortal Love of Rama." It's a river, not wind, i presume it's in India.


Sarayu river is also apparently where an incarnation of Vishnu, Rama (see my Buddha article for the link to Vishnu and a possible link to Antichrist. Vishnu is sort of one Hindu version of God incarnating.) has essentially a baptism. Upon this "baptism", Vishnu is able to return to his Brahman (fully god) state. An interesting parallel and mockery of Jesus's baptism by John which seems to fill Jesus with the Holy Spirit and sets Him on His ministry.

Sarayu river

The god-state rama returns to.

It's interesting to note, that the sarayu article has a "see also" section. In it, is the name Saranyu. Here's an interesting quote from that wiki.

"Saraṇyū is the female form of the adjective saraṇyú, meaning "quick, fleet, nimble", used for rivers and wind in the Rigveda (compare also Sarayu)." Sounds alot like the character to me.


So it seems that Young's Sarayu, is not the Holy Spirit as portrayed in the Bible, but rather a Hindu goddess! What does this tell us about Young's theology, or lack thereof? It certainly explains the "all different faiths get to God" viewpoint Young espouses.

Papa, aka "god" refers to herself (?) As Elouisa.
Elouisa \e-loui-sa\ as a girl's name is a variant of Eloise (Old German), and the meaning of Elouisa is "famous warrior". See my commentary earlier.

Gods names, why didn't Young use one of these?


Another review

Pg 112 Brawny-jesus tells Mack that He is the BEST way to relate to "god", whereas in the Bible, Jesus was crystal clear. He is the ONLY way.

The beginning of Chapter 8 has Mack dreaming. But not just dreaming. It seems to me, alot like lucid dreaming. I should know i used to try it. Lucid dreaming, as i understand it, is being in a dream, realizing it, and then taking control of the dream to do what you want.

I practiced this often in my youth, and i haven't done it since i renounced the New Age stuff i had unwittingly added to my walk with Christ.

Later, LBW says that he/she doesn't punish sin, that sin is it's own punishment. While it's true that sin is sometimes a punishment in itself, those who don't repent through Christ will be punished. 1 John 1:9, shows us how we get forgiveness from God.

The "relationship" of the "trinity" is described as a "circle of relationship." Maybe i'm reading too much into it, but perhaps this is a zen buddhist thing. Again, maybe i'm in discernment overdrive, but a circle is a Buddhist symbol.

At the close of chpt 8, "god" doesn't really explain pain and suffering that well. "he" just kind of gives a "i'm good, so suffering is OK" cop-out answer. At least in Job, it makes sense when God doesn't give an answer. But here, they sort of explain that it's because we are imperfect, and place our trust in authority figures. A good point perhaps. It also comes up that "god" is redeeming the creation (that's what i got anyways). But suffering itself doesn't bring redemption, and will save no one.

Wait a second. Papa seems to have forgotten its Bible, Hebrews 13:17 tells us basically to obey the athorities, within reason. What's going on? Did papa forget that it had that written down? Good thing that's only in one spot. What's that? Romans 13? "For there is no power, but of God?" Hmmm. I guess LBW must have just forgotten. Wait, the REAL God can't forget, apparently papa is not God. well...

Anyways, we know, from the Bible, that suffering refines us, and can perhaps sanctify us and tests our faith, (1 Peter 1) like in Job. In Job we can see that sometimes God allows suffering because Satan has been given permission to cause it. And at the end, God justly replaces what was lost with a double portion. But it wasn't the suffering that redeemed Job, it was his faith in God.

Speaking of Satan, he, and more importantly his role in all of this suffering is conspicuously absent from the whole discussion. I wonder why?

Mack later asks why the good creation went bad. Apparently (also evident EVERYWHERE) he isn't familiar with his Bible, because mine is pretty clear on the matter. It's right there in Genesis 3, the serpent, and man's sin. But, he's on even footing. Sarayu seems to have forgotten too. (Didn't the REAL Holy Spirit inspire scripture?) Sarayu says the good went bad because man chose independence. Partially true. Genesis 3 tells us it wasn't just man choosing independence, it was also Satan's rebellion and temptation of man that messed things up.

Wow, 2/3 of the "trinity" messed their scripture up, I'm not so sure this is my God. Oh, wait. 3/3 of this "trinity" messed their Bible up, because Brawny-jesus said that he was the "best" way, not the ONLY way. Case closed. I have to use google to find my chapter and verse markings sometimes, that's really sad that Young couldn't manage that.

On pages 136 - 138, Sarayu talks to Mackenzie and gives probably the only sound advice and theology in the book, and that is, humans are not qualified to judge good and evil, and so must rely on the standards that God has already established. Thats what i got anyways.

We are also told that evil is an absence of good, but i would say it's a REBELLION against good. So, there's that.

Pg 151, Brawny-jesus says that his life was never meant to be copied, that we're not supposed to try "to be like Jesus." I have a little problem with that, as we are being conformed to the image of Christ. Romans 8:29, clearly tells us that those that God brought to salvation, He will conform us to the image of His Son. Yes, that is done by accepting Jesus, and dying daily to ourselves and walking with Christ, but it is still something we are to strive for.

After all, who is a better example for human behavior than God in human flesh?

It's also interesting that here and later, when Mack walks across the water, it becomes mundane and something taken for granted. Much like many of the gifts the real God gives us.

You know, all of chapter 11 is just plain weird. And I have to tell you...I have read some weird stuff. There's some sort of judge setup, implying that "god" can't judge and send anyone to hell, because s/he loves them to much, which is why Brawny-jesus died. Apparently, it doesn't matter whether or not someone accepts Christ's death or not, "papa" loves them too much to send them to hell. This sounds perilously close to what Aleister Crowley, an apparent bedfellow of Young said: "Do what thou wilt" and also contradicts 1 John 1:9.

Somehow after this bizarre chapter, once Mack realizes through some vague dialogue with a suprisingly non-stereotypical Latina, the great sadness has left mack. How? We don't know. But it must have been the realization that his daughter was now in Heaven, and that he, Mack, wasn't fit to judge anyhow, based on a lifetime of superficial judgements and not trusting papa. Thank goodness he couldn't cut it, because I'd hate to find Mack instead of Jesus Christ judging me when I die. If only it were that easy to treat depression, though i suppose it would be that easy if us Christians were out preaching Jesus instead of reading the Shack and watching Dancing with the Stars or crazy-haired georgio.

Chapter 12, Brawny-jesus is back to his crazy antics skipping stones, and asks Mack how his time with sophia was...what? Sophia? I'm sure others have pointed out that this is A PAGAN GREEK gODDESS, and i don't think the description in proverbs of wisdom being a woman was talking about the greek goddess. Instead, i think Solomon was going for an PARABLE, rather than the non-parable this book is. but let's move on. Oh, and tying in my earlier Matrix comments, Jesus asks mack "what is real?" Don't tell me this book wasn't influenced by the Matrix movies.

Someone get me an exit.

Page 180, describes the church. This probably the only part of the book i liked. Brawny-jesus says that the church is the people who make up the church and love him, and that the church most of us are familiar with is an institution. Not to hate on Church, but i do think we as the church need to re-evaluate how close we are to Jesus and repent. I'd say we're fairly close to the Laodiceans in Revelation.

Pg 181, i saw this in an amazon.com review, so i won't say much. Brawny-jesus's view on marriage seems off, as does the comment that he "doesn't want to play God." Ummm. Well, i suppose the real Jesus isn't playing after all, since He's the real deal, but it's weird.
Pg 184, also saw in amazon...OK, OK, i'm getting bored of this book, and wanted to see what others said. Not just because the theology is bad, but so is this writing, dialogue and characterization. Yes, i realize that Young is a published novelist, and i'm not. Actually, i'm even surprised you made it this far. Anyways....

Pg 184 has Brawny-jesus saying that the people who love him basically are all kinds of faiths. Muslims, Buddhists, etc. Well, ok. There are people of all persuasions who love the real Jesus as a "good teacher" but believe the wrong things about Him. Perhaps of some of those, some really hunger for the real Jesus. But, what we all need is to ACCEPT the real Christ's sacrifice for our sins, BELIEVE in Him and His resurection and daily SUBMIT ourselves to Him, dying to ourselves. I doubt anyone who calls themselves a Buddhist or a Muslim would confess to that. If they did, they would be...Christians.

Though, to be fair the Crescent Project says a great way to witness to Muslims is to say that "I am a Muslim, THROUGH Jesus." The word Muslim, as I understand it means to submit. So, Young is on a slippery slope there, and pretty much wrong.

Chapter 13 opens up with Young entering questionable racist territory. I'd elaborate, but the less said the better. It continues with the Oracle, i mean Papa giving Mack questionable theological advice with more slang filled talk.

Pg 199, the Hindu goddess, Sarayu, gives Mack a good ol' classic New Age-ism! Sort of. Usually new agers say this about good and evil, sarayu just says this about emotions. That is, "they just are. They are neither bad or good. They just exist." Not exactly true. The Bible tells us the proper context for just about every emotion if we look. Such as "only a fool gives full vent to his anger" being but one.

This page also tells us that the Bible isn't for teaching us rules, but to point to Jesus. This is partially true, the Bible and Old Testament does indeed point to Christ, but we also need to follow the Bible and the rules God gave us. We are not saved by this, but we need to live by the rules outlined in God's words.

John 14:15

If ye love me, keep my commandments.


Pg 213, there is an army of (hopefully non-axe murdered) children that was glowing, and were the source of the light, yet none of us are the source of any light. We can only reflect the light and glory of Jesus Christ once we accept Him.

Then th story gets a little weird (ok, could it get weirder?) by saying that each person talks to each other and expresses things by using different colors of light. This and the dialogue explaining it all is pretty new agey to me, bringing to mind auras, and the colors of chakras. Maybe I'm stretching here, but that's what it's reminding me of, because in thos new age beliefs, certain colors affect emotions, and also have various properties and meanings. At any rate, none of it is Biblical, nor does it serve as an effective parable for anything i can think of outside of Trix cereal or Fruit Loops.

Pg 225, Papa said that guilt and humilation don't produce righteousness. I disagree, when i read God's word if i feel guilty, or humiliated i can pray to God, and ask forgiveness and be reconciled with God. Then, guess what. Those feelings are replaced by happiness!

Pg 227, Papa says that he has forgiven everyone because of Jesus, and that not everyone chooses the "relationship." Not true, Jesus' atoning sacrifice is for those who accept it. It is sufficient for all humans, but it will be only given to those who repent and accept it. So again, using Young's logic, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer and Jim Jones are all Ok, because of Jesus, even though they didn't repent and accept Christ. Good to know. If they had, like Berkowitz, that would be a different story.

Pg 229, Papa says there's power in what his children declare. This sounds a little like "blab it and grab it" that is Law of Attraction. It's a footnote really.

Also, this whole interaction of Papa FORCING Mack to forgvie his child's killer, seems not only contrived but also out the true God's character. Yes, our God commands us to forgive those who wrong us, BUT He equips us to do that and as Corrie Ten Boom said once, that it's Jesus and the Holy Spirit working on us to forgive our enemies.

Pg 239, there's a curious phrase "God, my servant." I think this definitely reflects the western Laodicean mindset. We have turned God into a cosmic vending machine, pumping in prayers and good works hoping to get some nice stuff out.

So, that about does it. I need to read some Bible and do a massive prayer time to clean all this off...here's my final thoughts.

Mackenzie is lost, and sadly he seems about as theologically "with it" as an average American "Christian" with a "Jesusa" bumper sticker. He assumes that God would listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (when Mormons believe in a de-deified, space alien, half-brother to Satan Jesus). Mack also has few clues (like the god of this book) about the Bible, or even basic sunday school theology.

Here's what i think the reality of the story is. And this explains the heresy of the whole thing. Mack goes to the site his duaghter was killed at. This is the lair of a notorious serial killer/molester. The murders (probably done as satanic rituals) have caused demonic spirits to take up residence in the shack. Mack never tests them (1 John 4) and so is misled by them. He's a luke-warm believer to start with, so it's quite easy for Satan to deceive him, with a few parlor tricks, funny jokes and wise sounding half-truths. And thus as Mack is deceived, so too us readers.

The final evidence for this is after Mack is well, good and deceived, he is hit by a car and nearly killed. Satan deceived him, then tried to kill him. This explains satan's absence from the book, he was there all along.

So with the shack, wyhat little truth there is in this book, is accompanied by lies, and delusions. Basically, Satan's normal tactics. Hiding the poison of his lies in a little bit of truth.

This book is indeed a good parallel for Pilgrim's Progress for our generation. Except, Pilgrim's Progress spread God's kingdom, while the Shack spreads Satan's.

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