The Shack has been under scrutiny for a while (both the novel and the film). Critics of the novel point out that The Shack is crippled in the theological department. There is heresy upon heresy upon heresy upon . . . However, as I sit here, having just made a cup of tea, and reflect on the film, these possible theological misnomers come to mind. I will lay out the points, weigh them, measure them, and see if they are found wanting.
The first subject I’d like to discuss is the portrayal of God the Father as a woman. This is definitely what stands out most to people. In the Bible people read about God the Father this and God the Father that: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). God, when depicted in a human way, has always taken the masculine pronoun rather than the feminine one. Thus, when seeing God the Father portrayed as a woman, there is hesitation to accept it. Now, while this portrayal of God as a woman is controversial and shocking, I don’t think arguments against it hold much water. For instance, in the Bible it is explicitly told that God is not male or female but spirit: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). But someone may make the claim “Jesus came to earth as a man not a woman; therefore God is male.” The premise of that statement is true. Yes, Jesus came to earth as a man, and if The Shack had portrayed Jesus as a woman, then there would be validity to the arguments against The Shack concerning this. However, as it is, God the Father is spirit and only spirit. This is verifiable from Genesis: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Here, the term “man” is, for our purposes, more correctly translated as “humankind.” Since God created both male and female in his image, the image of God is sexless; the image of God is spirit. Thus, if one is to get angry at The Shack for portraying God the Father as a woman, one must also get mad at movies such as Bruce Almighty for portraying God the Father as a man.
Modalism (misrepresentation of the trinity)
This topic is along the same line as the previous one as it is examining the person of God. However, the claim that The Shack conveys modalism is a bit trickier. The orthodox view of the trinity is that there is one God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit.
However, modalism purports that the trinity is one person, one God who shows himself in different forms or functions (Father, Son, Spirit), but never simultaneously. A claim is that The Shack misrepresents the trinity in this way. However, as far as I can tell, The Shack depicts the trinity in its truest sense (orthodox). God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are personified in human form in the film, yes, but that is not to say that they are not three distinct persons. The Shack gets this theology right, undisputedly: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).
Universalism is a theory of salvation that is made up of quite a minority of people within Christendom. It is usually cast aside, along with theories such as pelagianism, as heresy. Universalism is the belief that, in the end—ultimately—every human will be saved. That is, every human being will be in heaven, and no human will be in hell.
I am not completely sure where I stand on whether I think The Shack promotes universalism or not. In the beginning of the film, it is shown how Mackenzie, the main character, was abused as a child by his father. His father was not a temperate man as he would get drunk often, beat his wife, and beat his son. One would probably call Mackenzie’s father a bad man. This would also make one think that, given scripture such as James 2:24: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone,” Mackenzie’s father would not be justified before God and would thus go to hell since “. . . [the unjustified] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). However, towards the end of the movie, Mackenzie sees and interacts with his father’s spirit. His father’s spirit is the opposite of what it was when he was alive on earth. He is now temperate, kind, and peaceful. Those are not the attributes one would ascribe to someone in hell. Even Mackenzie’s father says to him that when he was alive, he could not see God because he was blinded by his own anger. If he could not see God (spiritually speaking of course), then how could he even have faith in him? The bottom line, here, I believe is that I think The Shack did not accurately portray what happens to humans in the afterlife.
Another thing that seems slightly off about The Shack is the fact that, throughout the entire movie, Mackenzie is struggling to forgive God about what happened to his daughter. He doesn’t know how to deal with the idea that God allowed his daughter to die. Mackenzie’s heart becomes hard, and he closes himself off to everyone else, especially God. “How dare he blame God for what happened to him. God does not need his forgiveness nor does he need to explain himself,” retorts the sinless Christian. No, God does not need anyone’s forgiveness. No, Mackenzie shouldn’t have blamed God for what happened to his daughter. But what is revealed in The Shack is that God wants Mackenzie to forgive him. God wants Mackenzie to learn where the blame truly lies. So what if Mackenzie may be blaming God and will not forgive him? This is not a film about man’s greatness; it is a film about God’s greatness, and God wants to change Mackenzie’s heart so that he will forgive not only God but everyone else he has been condemning as well: “[God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
Purpose of the Film/Conclusion
This point, though it is not dealing with a theological issue, I think is the most important. When examining anything, one must try to observe what Aristotle called “the final cause” or the purpose. Many people are slamming The Shack for its horrendous theological teachings, but even the beginning of the film starts out by saying that the following is not true. The film is basically saying “the theology may not be one hundred percent accurate, but the message is good.” The critics of the theology of the film cannot see the forest through the trees. It is either that or they are claiming that a few crippled trees ruin the whole forest. This is a narrow-minded view of the film and of life itself if one is to extend this view to everything. If one is to condemn The Shack for not accurately portraying theology to perfection, then one must also condemn Jesus for his parables. Jesus told factually inaccurate parable after factually inaccurate parable. But nobody condemns Jesus for telling these. Why? Well Jesus never claimed them to be true (like the film). Jesus was not trying to portray accurate realities of things; he was trying to convey moral truths through hypothetical stories. This is exactly what The Shack is trying to do. It does not claim to be a theological treatise. Rather, it is best viewed as a parable conveying a moral truth: it is better to forgive than to condemn. In summation, The Shack, in my opinion does not do a perfect job of accurately portraying the theology of the Bible. However, as a parable, The Shack conveys a timeless and moral truth just as it is presented in the Bible.