Here goes another one of those blogs that I probably should not write, but what the heck? I have had dozens of people ask me for my take on William Young’s The Shack, so I guess I will give it to them. I will just keep it short.

The Shack is a fiction book that describes a man’s encounter with God after the kidnapping and death of his daughter. I found the book to be a good read and would have no problem recommending it to people. Theologically, of course, every thing I read could be better, but there were no red flags that concerned me too much. In fact, one of my biggest criticisms was that Young (the author) seemed to go to far out of his way to put orthodox language on the lips of God. In doing so, he avoided some of the major pitfalls when dealing with the Trinity and did his best to keep people like me off his back (which is often futile—especially when a work is too popular!), but he suggested, in my opinion, too much concerning our grasp of God’s nature. I like a bit more mystery left in tact. We may understand accurately, but let us not think we understand fully.

I was quite surprised by his understanding of many often elusive theological details. For example, when conversations with God occurred,  it was explained that while God already knows all (thus he was not an Open Theist), this in no way makes the conversation meaningless as it is God’s purpose and pleasure to genuinely engage with us. I was impressed as well by the description of the Holy Spirit. When Mack (the main character and father of the girl) attempted to look at the Holy Spirit, he could never really focus. That is some really good theology as the Holy Spirit’s role, as is stated in the book, is to point to Christ, not to himself. Christ is the central figure, yet all of the members of the Trinity are presented as one, yet distinct, equal, yet fulfilling a particular role. Good stuff.

Of course there are going to be many who don’t like descriptions made of God in such a way. I can understand this, but if you are one of these, you need to be consistent and have the same problems with fictional stories such as the Chronicles of Narnia. And to be sure people will have problems with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit showing up as women, but I think he did a good job of explaining why this was the case. God is neither male nor female, as Young elaborated, and a fatherly figure is not what Mack needed at the time. While, to be sure, God is presented as masculine in the Scriptures, there are times when he compares himself to a mother in order to describe that which is expedient to the need. I think this is all Young has done. If this were written ten years ago when all the gender inclusive stuff was hotter than it is now, I might have been more offended thinking there was some sort of agenda behind it. But I don’t think this is the case.

Of course I did not agree with all the libertarian freedom (Arminian) presuppositions (God will not interfere with human autonomous freedom). Young did, however, back off on this at the end when he said that God could have intervened and saved his daughter. Besides, I don’t judge the value of such works upon their stance on non-cardinal issues. I can appreciate them even if they do promote such silliness as libertarianism!

I did like how Young left it a mystery as to why God did not save Mack’s daughter. God has his purpose which we sometimes don’t need to know. I often think of that with regard to the death of my sister. The search for meaning can be maddening, but we must ultimately say that God knows what he is doing, is in control, and is good. We sacrifice none of these. Young communicated such in this book. There is so much to commend here.

In the end, I thought that the book was decently written, thoroughly engaging, and theologically sound. I would recommend it, not as a basic theology novel, but as a good attempt to deal with the problem of pain in a creative way that will cause one to step outside their box for a while. Don’t let it create a new box (as is so often the case when people get out of one box, they jump right into another), but consider it’s perspective and you will be fine. In other words, reading or liking The Shack will not send you to hell (at least I hope!).

PLEASE NOTE: I puposefully did not read many reviews of this book so as not to try to jump on any band wagon, one way or another. However, I have caught the wind that most conservatives don’t like it much. Am I missing something?

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    71 replies to "The Shack: Liking it Won't Send You to Hell"

    • C Michael Patton

      But, what I am saying is that he is not denying a punishment for sin, he is just using God in an indirect way. Sin is its own punishment saying that there is a punishment, and, in the context, eternal. At least that is how you could read it. Again, not much different than C.S. Lewis’ statement above.

      Look, I am not saying I agree with all of this dude’s theology. I could take him apart peice by peice with the significance of his Arminianism and make it sound as if what he is teaching is going to topple the faith, but that would be dishonest and lack wisdom and perspective. All I am saying is that I don’t see any major line being crossed.

      I would have loved to have seen more of the fear of God in this book, but that was not its purpose. Christ came to sinners with a simular message of love and forgiveness. Yet when Isaiah saw God he fell apart. Sure, he could have included both, but focusing on one is not heresy.

    • cheryl u

      Mt 25:41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

      But He IS the one the directly cast people into the lake of fire. And He has made it clear over and over that it is His purpose to punish sin. So I find it very misleading.

      I’m sorry, but I guess we will probably not agree on this. But I have a really hard time with fiction that either directly or indirectly teaches doctrine but is not true to the Bible. I think many people are way more affected by the fiction they read than you may think.

    • cheryl u

      Here is something very interesting I ran across:

      “….Adams pressed Young on why he had God assert in the book: “I don’t punish sin. Sin is its own punishment.”

      Young stated: “The cross is the plan of God . . . to redeem us back from being lost, living in the grip of our sin . . . There’s no hope for any human being . . . apart from the cross.”

      However, Young also stated that God is always motivated by love, and the wrath of God is always directed against sin, not against sinners. Therefore, God the Father did not punish Jesus on the cross as the penalty for human sin.”

    • […] Discussion cheryl u on The Shack: Liking it Won’t Send You to Hellcheryl u on The Shack: Liking it Won’t Send You to HellBryan Cross on Dobson About Culture: […]

    • C Michael Patton

      Cheryl, did you have trouble with the theology of Narnia, The Great Divorce, Pilgram’s Progress, or Lord of the Rings. I am sure we could pick those apart all day two, but I would say the same about them—they don’t cross any orthodox barriers.

    • cheryl u

      Narnia, yes. Never read The Great Divorce. Pilgram’s Progress, no.
      Lord of the Rings, yes.

      And since when has it become orthodox to say that God doesn’t purpose to punish sin or sinners? Maybe we have different definitions of orthodox. But from the beginning of the Bible until the end, God makes it clear it is His purpose to punish sin and sinners. How can someone deny something that major and be called orthdox?

    • JoanieD

      Cheryl, Michael is much more educated in theology than I am and he has made excellent points in his posts about this book. But I also wanted to say that I think what bothers some people about the book is that even though the view of Christianity does not stray from the orthodox view (like Michael said) the view of what Christ accomplished on the cross follows more the theory called “Christus Victor” than it does the “penal subsubstitution” theory. I, personally, have no problem at all with that. Read the sermon given on this Good Friday at the Vatican by a Father Cantalamessa at My reading of this sermon indicates a Christus Victor understanding of what God was doing within the death/resurrection of Jesus. (By the way, Cantalamessa quotes from Augustine, for those of you reluctant to read anything by a top Catholic guy!)

    • John C.T.

      CMP, “Cheryl, did you have trouble with the theology of Narnia, The Great Divorce, Pilgram’s Progress, or Lord of the Rings. I am sure we could pick those apart all day two, but I would say the same about them—they don’t cross any orthodox barriers.”

      The difference is, the writers of those other books were intentionally writing fiction as fiction. Unlike the writer of the “Shack” they didn’t claim to have a visit from God prior to writing their book, nor imply that God was behind their inspiration in writing, nor did they claim to be presenting theology as it should correctly be understood (Even in Lewis’ the Great Divorce, he was only putting forward a possibility, a speculation). Those differences are marked and put the Shack into a different category. N. Geisler’s review is very perceptive and clearly shows how unorthodox and incorrect the theology is the “Shack”. Moreover, even in the Bible God the father is never given an image, and the Bible is the basis of for the belief and tradition of not representing the father with an image. Finally, the author’s claim that his theology in his book is “orthodox” is patently false and misleading, and proves him to have little understanding of what he writes about and to be unfit as a teacher.


    • johnMark

      If I recall correctly, Young is in the process of making a move of The Shack. In the appendix to the book he says that he wanted to portray for others an accurate picture of who God is. Now, put this together with the book’s popularity and the movie in the works. Is it really just a simple work of fiction? Is that the book’s only intent?

      Just because some of Young’s positions in this book have been promoted in the past doesn’t mean we should promote them today. Even is The Shack is similar to CS Lewis’ writings, so what? It’s not Lewis and Lewis is no longer with us. I don’t see why the validity of The Shack must rise or fall on what CS Lewis wrote.

      One thing that The Shack has shown me is that there are people hurting out there who are not being connected with through local churches. For whatever the reason this is we can do better. This also shows us not only the importance of theology, but the importance of communicating it well.


    • cheryl u

      John C.T. made a point that I alluded to above. When I asked about the conversations in the book being conversations Young had with God, I was really saying this: If he really believes he had these conversations with God, and the theology presented is not true Biblically, where did these conversations really come from? Obvisiously not from God, either from his own mind or from another spirit. And people are rethinking their ideas of God from this book. That is dangerous, is it not?

    • JardinPrayer (Lynn)

      “Just make sure that people are properly discipled. If they are relying on either of these books for their discipleship, we have big problems.” <— That is the heart of this matter.

      I’m almost finished with “The Shack,” having resisted reading it for some time, citing “I don’t have time for fiction,” as my reason. But, when a respected brother and student of theology told me I HAD to read it for its theological content, his eyes alight, I downloaded it to my iPhone’s Kindle app and got started. I approached it with skepticism, expecting to do a lot of eye-rolling. I was surprised, and pleasantly so, at the presentation and the lessons it sets out to teach.

      Like you, Michael, I found nothing dangerous or seriously objectionable, though I agree with one comment above that I wouldn’t recommend it to seekers (or non-believers). I would, however, recommend it to many people I know who struggle in their walk with Christ on some of the foundational issues, as a supplemental resource to help illustrate certain principles.

      Thank you for this blog. The timing was perfect for me and I’m glad I read the book after taking your introductory TTP course! God is great!

    • […] don’t see any major line being crossed’ C. Michael Patton posts two posts (here and here) defending his positive appraisal of The […]

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    • Ron

      Hello Michael

      I read The Shack shortly after it was first published. I thought it was so good that I bought copies to give to my saved and unsaved family, friends, food servers, hairdressers etc. At one Bob Evans we even had an informal Shack discussion group. It was a way to open the door to a discussion of Christ and salvation. Many people then when out and bought books for their entire family.

      After I had given out 30 or more copies I read many pro and con blogs. But the one by John Mark Hicks went into great detail on the story and then he did an analysis of the claimed theological errors. Since he wrote back in October 2008 it may be hard to locate all of his blogs but a good place to start is:

      Thank you Michael for your post.

    • […] Michael Patton – I usually agree with him, but not this time (except I do agree with the title). […]

    • Cory Howell

      I just read The Shack. I read it in one day, found it very engrossing. I don’t think it’s life changing, but it was one of the better novels I’ve read recently. I had read several critiques of the novel that were very negative, and trusting Michael’s opinion as I do, I decided to see for myself. Having read it, I am quite surprised that so many Christians seem SO offended by it. I agree with Michael: cut the author some slack! Is it a theology textbook? No. Is it a well written, thought provoking piece of fiction? Yes. Will it lead people astray from orthodox Christian faith? I seriously doubt it. Bottom line: I enjoyed it, and will probably recommend it to others. I won’t tell anyone it was “life changing” or that it made me completely reconsider my ideas about God, but I would say it’s well worth reading.

      Certainly, I think The Shack was better than The DaVinci Code, and far more orthodox, as far as the author’s theology. But I am not one of those people that believes The DaVinci Code is “dangerous.” Misguided, perhaps, but not dangerous. It is my thought that, if any work of fiction is enough to shake your faith in the Bible, then your faith was on a pretty shaky foundation to begin with. Just my opinion, that…

      Finally, I would submit to any who want to criticize any book without having read it (not necessarily directing this to anyone who has posted here): if you want to know what the fuss about ANY book is, read it for yourself, and form your own opinions. If you disagree with it, decide why you disagree with it. Along with this idea, I would also say: if you hate something, why try to dissuade others from reading it? Let them form their own opinions, too. It is high time for Christians to begin thinking for themselves, and judging fiction and non-fiction accordingly. Does that make any sense? Hopefully so.

    • Marilyn McAlister

      Michael, I’m glad to see that you liked the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and have recommended, and even given, it to several people. In each instance I felt like I needed to put a disclaimer on it. “When you read the book, read it with an open mind.”

    • A Guest

      I had put you on my blogroll…until I read this entry. I’m sorry. How is it that you went to Dallas Theological Seminary and fail to see what is wrong with this book?

    • Jennifer Patton (no relation!!)

      Hi, Michael
      I read The Shack before alot of the “hoopla” started and I’m glad I read it when I did. As a parent it was hard to read about the abduction and murder of this little girl. It took a while to get past that. One of the things I took from this book, which may be a tad simplistic, is to be totally honest with God. The main character did that and was able to more effectively work through his grief. So many times we feel as “good” Christians we must “pretty up” our words and prayers before we come to God. Guess what guys?? He already knows how upset/angry/hurt/disappointed etc. we are. Just go ahead a talk to Him.

    • Matt mcmains

      I honestly think young butchered the atonement. The Father tells Mack that he didnt really forsake the son, but that it just seemed so at the time. This takes the wind out of what Christ really did for us on the cross.

      Also, the Father’s nail-pierced hands make u wonder who Young thinks actually died in the cross. Does this blend the persons?

      The last statement of the book kills me too: “God, my servant.” Pretty sure it’s the other way around.

      Just a few issues I had as I read it. Definitely well written and engaging, but not sure I can agree to theologically sound. That’s just me tho..really appreciate your thoughts on it.

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