My Wickedly Late Guide to William P. Young’s Heretical Book The Shack

An open letter to anyone who thinks The Shack is a good book.

You’re not going to like me for this. For 4 good reasons:

1. It’s been over a year and a half since The Shack has been published. Better reviews are available. [I’m a terribly slow reader.]

2. I only read two-thirds of the book.

3. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

4. I think you’re not using your brain when you say it’s a good book.

Now, before you hit the Back button, let me explain.

What your over-zealous response to this book indicates to me is an obvious lack of critical thinking, faith or spiritual discernment.

How Can I Say That?

Well, any careful reader will see Young’s got a theological ax to grind. And he wants to create God in his own image. Which is bad.

How you missed this, I don’t know.

So, let me spell out to you what Young did right with this book before I go onto explain where he went really, really wrong.

Orthodox Storytelling

Young’s use of suspense, dialog and conflict are spot on. All three orthodox ways to thicken the plot. Which he does masterfully. But that’s where his orthodoxy stops.

What follows in the 240 odd pages is a bizarre, corny, heretical fantasy.

The Problem with the Eugene Peterson Endorsement

Eugene Peterson of The Message Bible fame compares The Shack to John Bunyan’s classic The Pilgrim’s Progress.

A horribly uneducated comparison.

Any casual read of Bunyan will see its steeped in Scripture. You can’t go two or three sentences without a direct quote from the Bible. Or at least an echo of the Bible.

Young, on the other hand, takes an undeniable and fatal departure from the Bible.

Downplays Revelation

Throughout The Shack Young consistently disparages Scripture at the expense of personal experience. He ignores the beauty, power, transmission and sufficiency of the Bible–and substitutes his own speculations.

However, without Scripture as our unwavering rule we are subject to every whim. Including fantasies like The Shack.

Perverts the Trinity

Throughout The Shack Young fails to make a distinction between God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Some would argue, and I agree, he entertains the heresy modalism.

Modalism says God is one person who works in three different modes. Young goes as far as to say that God was even on the cross with Jesus.

Wrong. Dead wrong.

It was Jesus who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born to a virgin, crucified by Pilate, buried in a tomb and raised from the dead. Not God the Father.

Muddies Salvation

Young obscures what the Gospel makes crystal clear– Jesus Christ is the one and the only way to be reconciled to the Father.

In fact, on page 120 Papa says:

“I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.”

While sin is a punishment, how can you reconcile that statement with Jesus’ death on the cross? The Bible makes it very clear that on the cross Jesus paid the penalty for our sin.

Distorts the Identity of God

No where in the Bible are we given permission to view God as a woman. However, Young portrays God as a big, black woman named “Papa.”

Wait. 3 things dreadfully wrong here.

1. Jesus said God is a spirit. That means God doesn’t have a body.

2. Exodus 20:4 says not to make idols out of wood, stone or flesh.

3. And Romans 1:25 says we’ve “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”

I don’t know about you, but a big, black woman named “Papa” sounds a lot like a creature to me.

Ignores Obvious Hierarchy

Young again departs from Scripture with his idea of the Trinity–and the damage he thinks hierarchy causes to a relationship.

On numerous occasions Jesus of the Bible said, the Father sent me, I only say what the Father tells me and I only do what the Father tells me to do. An obvious submission of one person to the other.

Furthermore, out of the teaching of hierarchy in the Trinity we get the reason why children should obey their parents, wives respect their husbands, Christians submit to their pastors and citizens honor government officials.

Drop the Trinitarian teaching and you get disobedience, chaos and anarchy. Dangerous stuff.

Downplays the Presence of the Glory of God

This is where I think Young gets really stupid.

In Mack, the main character, we find a man who can use foul language with God, and even snap in anger at God.

What’s obvious is that Mack is not in the presence of a being who is far superior to him. We have no sense of awe for Papa. Gone is the majesty and supremacy clearly defined in Scripture by such passages as Revelation 4:10-11.

The One Question You Must Ask Yourself

Now, the one question you should be asking yourself instead of charging roughshod with praise for Young is this: Where does Young get his information?

I have an idea.

His ideas are informed by men like Buckminster FullerPaul Tournier and Jacques Ellul–men he quoted at the start of three of his chapters–all unorthodox universalists.

To boot, Ellul was a Christian Anarchist, which probably explains where Young adopted the subversive quality of The Shack.

Speculations of a Rogue Christian

What the book amounts to is a bizarre, corny fantasy–equivalent to speculative science fiction.

In fact, Young joins a group of notable authors who’ve carved out Christianity, God, spirituality and Jesus in their own image: James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecies, Richard Bach’s Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret and Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth.

And like these authors, Young expects us to take his subjective speculations as absolute truth–over and above the objective truth found in the Bible.

If Young is involved in personal ideas of God that undermine Scripture, promotes new revelation and leads believers astray…who are you going to listen to?

I’ll be happy when this book goes away.


  1. Matthew Kauffmann says

    I read it, but it’s been a while…I think you are making some valid and well researched points BUT: much of your interpretation of any book where Christianity is a character is based on how you read it or what genre it is.

    As Holy Scripture, or a substitute: Horrible. As a story book [parable?] that gives one person’s interpretation of the Trinity: Ok. If I recall, it helped me make sense of some things. It will never replace the Bible, but I don’t think it was meant to.

    In the same way Left Behind was a [long but] enjoyable read that shed some light on the apocalypse. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t meant to be. It’s a story.

    In any case: if it promotes discussion and deeper understanding (connecting people with Jesus Christ?) it’s a good thing. It isn’t a substitute for Gospel, but it wasn’t meant to be.

    • DemianFarnworth says

      At least with Left Behind they tried to be true to scripture. I didn’t read that series, but that’s the sense I get. Correct me if I’m wrong. The Shack is pure fantasy. You make a good point about generating discussion. I guess the thing that frustrated me was that Christians chased after it fast and hard, where I’d love to see that sort of indulgence turned on the Bible. Oh well.

      Thanks for commenting Matt.

  2. Carolyn says

    Very interesting points, Demian. However, I never thought the book was meant to lead or guide anyone’s faith or beliefs. Instead, as one who enjoys fiction, I found this “story” to be a stimulus for critical thinking. Also as one who, at the time, was experiencing a metamorphosis of my personal faith–from being told what to believe (what religion does in my opinion) to coming to terms with what I really believe myself (what a personal relationship permits in my opinion), I found the “story” to be an instigator of a personal journey to the heart of God. Something that quite honestly, had never happened by my adherence to the rules (and believe me, I tried), but only began to happen (for me, I reiterate…for me) when I stopped trying to follow all the rules and started learning to follow the Holy Spirit in my heart. Since that happened, I’ve found that He is not limited in the way He speaks to us, while not discounting the foundation of the Bible at all. I add that I am more alive at this time in my life than I have ever been! And that’s saying a lot. I could be embarrassed by that statement, but I’m not–I’m alive! And reading “The Shack” played a part, albeit a small part, as other “stories” have, in this personal transition of my faith, in God mind you. A faith that is strong, solid, and grounded in God. Good discussion.

    • DemianFarnworth says

      Well said Carolyn! And thank you for sharing your story. I think you are living example of what Matthew said in the comment above…that the book can be a good spring board into conversation/discussion…even conversion in your case. No doubt God can use anything to reach people. I wish I wasn’t so critical about this book, especially when I hear stories like yours. But I guess it’s a little jealousy on part that those who are maniacs about this book aren’t maniacs about the Bible. Maybe that’s what’s truly bothering me. Oh well, I’m a curmudgeon to begin with, so pray for me. 😉 Take care and thanks so much again for sharing.