The Shack: A rickety Emerging Church construct concealed in a stirring story of spiritual discovery


You know the feeling when someone describes you as someone you’re not? I do. I don’t like it. At all. I wonder how God feels about being misrepresented in The Shack?

Emotion and identification are powerful components of good fiction. William P. Young uses both effectively to craft a readable and powerful yarn that’s inspiring to many, confusing to others, and disheartening to me.

And now comes the movie version and another round of fresh emotions. Thanks, Hollywood.

What does The Shack have to do with the emerging church? Everything.

But first, what IS the emerging church? It’s a movement started by disaffected evangelical Christians who initially sought to make church more relevant in our postmodern age. In doing so, like Young with The Shack, they recreated a god, Christ-figure and spirit they can live with.

Young’s god in The Shack is a portly African-American woman named Papa who is warm, loving and accommodating in contrast with the cold, distant and demanding deity Young claims is the God of the Protestant Bible.

In a 2013 interview, Young said this:

“I’m a missionary kid and a preacher’s kid—evangelical, fundamental Protestant … You know, that’s about as distant from relationship with God as you can get. And it’s always been you know, religion that has been the primary impediment to actual relationship with God, because it creates a mythology about performance—that you can perform your way into the appeasement of the deity.”


Not to invalidate Young’s personal experience,

But don’t fundamental Protestants believe the Bible clearly and repeatedly teaches that there is nothing anyone can do to appease God? Hence the necessity of Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross? If Jesus’ life and death removes “the impediment to actual relationship with God,” what does Young mean by a “mythology” about performance?

What I think Young means is this:

Many emerging church adherents believe that evangelical Christianity’s teaching about sin and our response to it in light of Christ’s sacrifice is a performance-based appeasement strategy. This is because they believe God is only love, like Papa, and does not require a response to Christ’s atoning death.

And because emerging churchers do not consider the Bible reliable, they can dismiss its teachings that God is a holy and sometimes angry God. Just as they dismiss the existence of Hell and believe that God will forgive all, no matter their lifelong rejection of him. In the end, you see, love wins. And justice loses.


Lost in translation?

There are no examples of performance-based mythologies in the Protestant Bible. It has always been about Grace. But many in or sympathetic to the emerging church say they never felt like they fit in with evangelical churches. Or they decry evangelical pastors’ preaching about heaven and hell and the response to each for the Christian.

Perhaps they refer to Jesus’ Gospel teachings like this one in John 3:36 as a performance-based myth: “He who believes the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Ah. So perhaps this is the hang-up: People like Young have a problem with Protestant beliefs that call for obedience—or using their translation—performance. Can you imagine Young’s Jesus in The Shack uttering such absolute and intolerant words?

God’s word?

Young, like other adherents of his belief system, reject or affirm Jesus’ words based on what they choose to believe about him. When many in the emerging church do not believe the Bible is God’s word and cherry-pick it to build their construct, anything and everything is on or off the table.

In depicting God as a black woman, the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman and Jesus as a Jewish carpenter—all of which are all love all the time—Young covers many progressive bases—feminism and the anti-paternal God, universalism and the humanization of Christ.


Papa is no Aslan

Some will point out Young’s Papa is merely an allegorical device as, they say, is C.S. Lewis’ Aslan. This comparison is faulty for two reasons: Lewis’ Narnia is allegory, and Aslan is an alternate-world Christ-like figure; Young’s The Shack is didactic (meant to teach) and his Papa and Sarayu are depictions of God and the Holy Spirit, not allegorical devices.

For a better discussion of the differences between Papa and Aslan, feel free to read Tim Challies’ Why Papa of The Shack Is not Aslan of Narnia.

For an accurate description of Aslan, I leave it to the characters of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia:

“Is—is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”


Young’s Trinity is a triad of his own creation

Granted, many will find encouragement in a safe, passive Papa, a mousy and mysterious Sarayu and a bumbling, comical Jesus. I know that some feel burned by fellow sinners and pastors of traditional American Protestant churches, and I realize that The Shack is a balm to many.

I recently exchanged emails with my former pastor who thinks the movie version of The Shack can spiritually help “millions of people.” I certainly hope not. If helping millions requires misrepresenting God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus, please William P. Young and those behind The Shack film, don’t help us.

Stripping God and the other members of the Trinity of their purity and holiness and “dangerousness” while denigrating and dismissing the beauty and sufficiency of the Gospel and Christ’s atonement, as The Shack does, is no help at all.

This will help grow the emerging church; and it will help grow Young’s and the movie makers’ bank accounts. But it won’t help grow genuine faith in a loving, holy and just God.

The Shack distracts and confuses people from seeing God as he is and seeks to depict him as Young and others want him to be. This is a shame and a sham. It’s also a foolish misrepresentation.

Give me a dangerous Warrior-God who’s also the ultimate loving father over a passive Papa any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Subjective truth: It’s a lead balloon and the tie that binds progressives in religion AND politics.


While watching Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s Senate hearing, it hit me like a bolt out of the blue—our BIG issue as a nation is not Russian election meddling or LGBTQ rights—it’s our embrace of subjective truth.

I watched a senator say our Constitution is a living, breathing document that should adapt to the times. As if the principles of American liberty require adjustment because things have changed so much in a mere 229 years.

Does the senator truly believe we should reinterpret meaning in a static document simply because it’s more to her liking? And more to the liking of people who pretend that the truths woven into the Constitution are somehow less true with the passage of time?

The notion that truth is subjective is an absolute non-starter—and it’s faulty thinking.

If truth doesn’t exist, then it would be true that truth doesn’t exist, and once again we arrive at truth. ~Nabeel Qureshi 

Truth is, we all operate in a world of absolute truth, and we all affirm its supremacy a thousand times a day whether we realize it or not.

During the same hearing, another senator described the type of Supreme Court justice American needs right now.

It went something like this:

America needs a Supreme Court justice who will look out for the downtrodden. One who will protect our children and keep the rich from taking advantage of the poor.

Excuse me, senator, protecting our children and the poor is your job, not a Supreme Court justice’s. You draft and vote on laws; our justices make sure those laws are Constitutional. This is how our democracy works.


Progressive beliefs, regressive truth

Similarly, the progressive wing of the emerging church believes that the Bible is not Scripture, but is merely a “library of books” written by men whose prejudices and viewpoints make it unreliable as a guide for Christian living.

Question: If the Bible is a library of books, who’s the managing editor?

But rather than reject all Scripture, emerging church leaders cherry-pick Bible truths they can live with it. Like the uber-easily digestible maxim that God is love. But to them, God is only love. He doesn’t ask anything of them in terms of obedience or justice or sharing truth, no matter how unpopular.

To these spiritual progressives, we all have carte blanche to live for others without structure and without guidance other than what we feel is right. This eliminates personal responsibility and accountability.

Is not spiritual life without the truth of Scripture like self-governance without a timeless Constitution?

When either incompatible state is taken to its logical conclusion, the result is anarchy.


If there is no objective truth, how can we know the Constitution OR the Bible is reliable?

In the minds of progressives—in culture, government and religion—truth is purely subjective. Except when it comes to bolstering an agenda; then helpful truths quickly become absolute.

Like these convenient truths:

All men are created equal. This truth actually means that everyone is created with equal worth to the Creator. It has been subverted to mean that everyone IS equal and thus should be given every opportunity to act upon this equality through denigrating measures such as affirmative action.

God is love. According to Scripture, love is only one of God’s attributes. The Bible also says God is holy and just and righteous and pure. These characteristics, if true, call for accountability and responsibility—just as our Constitution calls for rule of law based on self-evident truths.

When progressives disregard the Constitution’s or Scripture’s authority, there is no rule of law—civically or spiritually.

Care for the poor. This is where progressives in religion and politics coalesce and differ most strongly with evangelicals and conservatives. But it’s not a question of if we should help the poor; it’s how.

Progressives think the federal government is best suited to help the poor. Conservatives think state and local government and religious groups and churches are best suited to help the poor.

I receive care from the federal government—the Veteran’s Administration. Trust me, the federal government is a ponderous, inefficient caregiver; it’s far from ideal. Local volunteers and people on the ground are much better suited to make a real, lasting difference by helping poor people help themselves.


When we leave caring for the poor to the federal government, we wash our hands of them.

The poor become enslaved to a system that crushes their spirits and keeps them dependent.

If political progressives think we should give people what they need without encouraging them to give themselves what they need, they do not understand human nature. If religious progressives think the Creator is all love and is not holy and pure and just and that the Bible is not reliable, they do not understand God’s nature or human nature.

Because our topic is subjective truth and its effect on the rule of law and the reliability of Scripture, allow me to offer these concluding arguments:

But first an observation:

I’ve never seen such a starkly obvious difference between those who rely upon Constitutional and Scriptural authority for governance and interacting with God and others and those who seek to create their own framework for the same. This self-created framework is based on feeling rather than thinking, emotion rather than cognition.

Today’s progressives in the political and religious arenas seem to have forgotten this objective truth: What feels right is not always what is or ought to be right.

Subjective truth is by its nature not true. If a tree falls in a forest, it’s irrelevant whether anyone is there to hear its crash. And no, God cannot create a rock that even he can’t move. The size and weight of the rock is irrelevant. If he can make it, he can move it.


Subjective truth is the pig that doesn’t fly.

It’s a sideshow clown who distracts and pleases childish minds with colorful balloon dogs. It’s a non-entity that binds the brains of many.

And sadly, its effect is on full display in our Senate chambers as we seek to confirm a Supreme Court justice whose job is to ignore subjective non-truths in favor of the rich tapestry of truth and human dignity found in our Constitution.

My message to Congress and my fellow politically- and/or spiritually-minded Americans is this:

Let go of the lead balloon of subjective nonsense and soar on the wings of truth. It will truly set you free.

Looking for Clover: Our pursuit of Paradise in a wonky world—Death is not the end. It’s the beginning.

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Is this life all there is? Is there a resurrection? Or are we here to muddle around as best we can and hope and strive for a good life?

What does clover have to do with life and death? Consider clover a metaphor for significance, for purpose—for whatever it is that you think makes life worth living. Is it life for life’s sake? Carpe diem?

Carpe diem. Living life to the lees.

Seems inspiring, but the problem with this philosophy is that it’s absolutely unsustainable. We grow older, we get sick, we fight cancer or heart disease or a myriad of other ailments. It’s hard to seize the day when your arthritic fingers can barely seize the remote.

Life to the lees? Many can barely choke down their plastic cup of meds and juice.

Can death be hopeful? YES!

Do you know that we’re made in God’s image and that he’s eternal? Do you realize what that makes us? God loves you and me and everyone reading these words with an EVERLASTING love. How would he love us everlastingly when we no longer exist? In memory?

“Today you will be with me in Paradise,” said Jesus to the penitent thief. He loved the man dearly and promised him eternal life with him and with God. He didn’t lie to him or offer some mild encouragement in the face of death.

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Heaven is the original Paradise. And one that can never be compromised by what some spiritual leaders call the “messiness” of our lives. It’s the real clover—the dazzling green and fresh stuff. And it’s well worth dying for.

Do you know that death is only a perishing of our broken bodies? When they dig that hole in the ground, it’s for our flimsy shells—it’s not for us. We won’t be there. Burial is for the living, not for the dead. They need it.

We need it like we need a hole in the ground.

I appreciate the exhortations to slow down and live. But these words make me wonder if people who write them know WHAT to live for. Our momentary lives are like hairs on a never-ending highway. Poof! Like a vapor—they’re over.

But real life is forever. Death is merely a portal to a richer, much more significant, ETERNAL life.

C.S. Lewis describes Heaven as a wondrous place where everything is deeper and brighter and more substantial. His words make this world seem like pale reflections of the greater world. The real deal.

God loves us infinitely more deeply than we can love each other and this momentary life. Do you know this?

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Here’s what encourages me.

These words were written by a man who talked with Jesus. I don’t mean talked in the form of prayer—I mean, he TALKED with Christ. And when he faced a sure and painful death, Paul wrote these words:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed … then the saying that is written will come true: Death has been swallowed up in victory.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?

Now, that’s encouragement.