The movie, The Shack, has made its way to the movie theatres and so I want to address what it conveys head-on. Disclaimer: I have not seen the movie nor will I see the movie. However, I did read the book so that is enough authority for me to write this to you.
The story, The Shack, tries to show how God (the Christian God) can help a distraught and spiritually bankrupt father (named Mack) work through the pain and find something redeeming from the horrible death of his young daughter who was abducted and killed by a serial killer as a result of the father needing to leave his young daughter alone at a campsite in order to save one of his sons from drowning.
After four years the father is summoned back to “the shack” where his daughter suffered at the hands of the serial killer. At the shack God supposedly appears to Mack in various personal forms in order to help him deal with not only the hellish death of his daughter but also the abuse Mack suffered from his own father.
In the shack God is described as appearing as a “papa” or father figure to Mack by the personae of an overweight black woman. In other scenes God is described as appearing as “Jesus” who has the personae of a Middle-Eastern carpenter. In other scenes God the Holy Spirit is described as appearing with the personae of an Asian woman named Sarayu.
The most obvious heresy in The Shack can be traced back to the third century A.D under titles such as Sabellianism or modalism. The heresy in its simplest form teaches that God is not three distinct persons (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) but instead He takes on three personalities in order to redeem humanity. There should be no serious doubt that The Shack is guilty of said heresy and thus should be dismissed as heretical with nothing more needing to be said. However, there is another demonic deception in the story that is more persuasive amongst Christians and thus more damaging to the Church than modalism. The deception is another expression of the idol that is Jesus and me, only.
The Shack has an appeal to the broken hearted who perceive that God was either not present in moments of their greatest suffering or that He was indifferent. The story of Mack being met by three different persons of the godhead who meet him personally at the points of his greatest vulnerabilities is an attempt to portray God as adaptable to our sufferings. Evidently, when a Christian comes to such an understanding about God then the faith of said person is preserved. But is that the gospel?
The gospel is described more generally as God so loving the world that He gave His only Son. God loving the world has an end product of Him redeeming His creation when He establishes a new heaven and a new earth and all who live will live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That Jesus is said to have been the sacrifice for the whole world (1 John 2:2) further verifies the ultimate end of the work Jesus accomplished. I underline “the whole world” and “the world” not as a universalist (for that too is a heresy) but to point out that all of God’s creation longs to be redeemed and Jesus has sufficiently supplied the means by which it will (all of it) be redeemed in the end and part of that redemption will be the suffering of those who will be judged for eternal damnation.
In addition to “the world” being redeemed we are also told that Jesus will return to take home his bride, the Church, to a place he has prepared for her, heaven. Therefore, the new heaven is going to be occupied by the Church. The “Church” is a collective noun made up of individuals who do not and cannot exist outside of the body of the bride. Directly speaking, Jesus is not coming back for individual believers but for his Bride, the Church, which is made up of individuals. The point being that if an individual claims Jesus as his Lord and Savior he must be a part of the Body, the Bride, the Church or there is no such Lordship and no such Salvation. Christians then are to think first of the Church and then of themselves as a part of the Church from which they cannot be separate rather than think of their personal salvation as priority and the Church and its importance in the redemptive story as tertiary.
This leads me to making the point that in The Shack the Church is tertiary and that is being generous. The reason for making the Church tertiary may be more complicated than I describe here, but what follows certainly contributes. Christians often apply the fact that Scripture tells us that Jesus was tempted like we are and yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15) to be an encouragement that Jesus identifies with us personally. And while the point the Preacher to the Hebrews makes includes personal encouragement, the greater truth is that Jesus is our High Priest and as a High Priest he identifies with us as a people, just as the High Priest of Israel did when he entered the Holy of Holies to make an offering for the sins for all the people of God.
There are other passages that Christians read individualism (Jesus and me, only ) into, such as when Jesus promises that he will never leave his followers. When he does so such as in Matthew 28:20 he uses the second person plural “you” which can only mean his Church, as opposed to speaking to each individual person. Even when he says in John 14 that he goes and prepares a place for “you”, that too is second person plural. Yes, the plural “you” includes the individuals that make up the “you,” but not apart from the whole, the Church.
Get to the point…Yes, the point is that The Shack portrays a God who becomes incarnate for the sake of an individual who has suffered a great deal of emotional and relational pain. But the God of Holy Scripture is revealed as One who became incarnate for the sake of all of God’s people that they might identify with him and that identification with him (Jesus) is sufficient for salvation and that salvation includes the healing of emotional and relational wounds. This is part of what St. Paul meant when he said to the Colossians, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” Here, Paul could not be saying that the suffering of Jesus was lacking for that would be inconsistent with his own teachings. No, instead he must mean that more of his own suffering is needed so that he could further identify with Jesus. Hence, in our suffering it is not Jesus who identifies with us but us with Jesus and as we identify more with Jesus the more we are molded into his image.
In summation the story of The Shack says that the incarnation of Jesus was not sufficient for all the pain humanity endures on the earth. In contrast the gospel says that the incarnation of Jesus was sufficient for all the pain of humanity only when people suffer in relation to Jesus in the context of the Church instead of as individuals who insist on God identifying with them.