What’s in The Shack?


With this week’s theatrical release of The New York Times bestseller The Shack, many will be wondering what to make of its unconventional presentation of God. [Spoiler Alert!] The book opens with Mack, a salesman from Oregon, receiving a note from God requesting to meet him at the abandoned shack where his six-year-old daughter was brutally murdered. Not sure what to make of it, Mack goes. There he encounters the Trinity who all appear to him in human form: the Father, mostly called “Papa,” appears as a “large beaming African-American woman” (p. 82); the Son appears as Jesus, a Middle Eastern carpenter; and the Holy Spirit is depicted as a small, eclectic, Asian woman who goes by “Sarayu.” Although Mack enters the shack burdened by “The Great Sadness,” full of questions and animosity towards God, he leaves forever changed. While not all of his questions are overtly answered, resolution and healing come as his view of God becomes radically adjusted. Over the weekend, Mack begins to trust once again that God is good. [END Spoiler Alert]

One of the most moving elements of the story is its tangible portrayal of being personally known and loved by God. It reminds many that God is not apathetic or aloof to our pain and suffering. As Psalm 34:18 assures us, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.” Perhaps this picture of God’s nearness is what draws so many to the story.

Though The Shack draws upon a number of Christian elements, the story needs to be engaged with much discernment as it radically alters many of the Bible’s core teachings. A few examples of this include its omission of God’s holiness, the gravity of our sin, and that salvation can only be found through faith in Jesus Christ.

God’s Holiness

When God appears to people in Scripture, it is never a light or flippant event. Even when John, the beloved disciple who writes “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18), encountered Jesus, he “fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17). For Mack, however, the whole encounter is rather nonchalant. The author even comments that Mack was just not “in the mood” to fall down and worship God (p. 82). Furthermore, Mack repeatedly snaps at God, speaks sarcastically to him, and uses explicative language around him. This is a stark departure from what we see with the prophet Isaiah who cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). It appears that Young does exactly what he has Papa warn against,

I am what some would say “holy, and wholly other than you.” The problem is that many folks try to grasp some sense of who I am by taking the best version of themselves, projecting that to the nth degree, factoring in all the goodness they can perceive, which often isn’t much, and then call that God. And while it may seem like a noble effort, the truth is that it falls pitifully short of who I really am (p. 98).

The goodness that that gets projected to the nth degree is captured well in Mack’s statement, “I would say that something is good when I like it—when it makes me feel good or gives me a sense of security” (p. 134).

The Gravity of Our Sin

To maintain a feel-good sense of security, The Shack also erases the offensiveness and gravity of our sin. Papa tells Mack, “‘because I have no expectations, you never disappoint me.’ ‘What? You’ve never been disappointed in me?’ Mack was trying to digest this. ‘Never!’ Papa stated emphatically” (p. 206). Since sin presents no offense, judgement is deemed unnecessary.

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” (p. 120). Here the true meaning and power of the cross becomes diluted. Though Young suggests that “the cross [is] where mercy triumphs over justice” (p. 164; emphasis added), according to Scripture, the cross is where mercy triumphs through justice (Romans 3:26). On the cross, Jesus did not dismiss the offensiveness of sin; he paid for it. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV).

Salvation Comes Only through Faith in Christ

Against the clear teaching of Scripture that salvation is received only through faith in Christ, The Shack repeatedly intimates that all will be saved. While believing in Jesus is a good thing, it is not necessary in The Shack. For example, the author changes Jesus’ words in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” to, “I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu” (p. 110). Later the author has Jesus state,

I’m not a Christian. . . . those who love me come from every system that exists. They are [present tense] Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims . . . I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved (p. 182; emphasis added).

In contrast, Scripture is explicit, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 NIV).

While The Shack may help awaken people to God’s personal care, it does so at the expense of his holiness. It includes a number of elements which significantly depart from the Bible’s teaching. As such, it needs to be engaged with much discernment.


For further study:

Randy Alcorn


Albert Mohler


Norman Geisler


Tim Keller



  1. Andre Alexander on March 1, 2017 at 8:03 am

    The Shack is a completely demonic inspired so as to prevent people to come to the full knowledge of The Lord God and his plan of salvation for all mankind. It makes a mockery of the Lord our God and His inspired roadmap, The Holy Bible , back to Him thru the sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour. Any one who sees a fraction of good in this blasphemous work is a deluded servant of Satan.

    • Iris Otori on March 3, 2017 at 1:19 am

      I bought and read the book because it was advertised on a Christian Chanel. The author stated that the story was fictional but based on the bible. If the author had stuck to the bible principle,it would have been amazing,the story was sad and moved me to tears,and I must admit that the conversation between God and man on one page went right over my head.
      It’s a shame that the author didn’t follow the biblical teaching….in the end the Holy Spirit is our teacher,and for some reason that I can’t explain,I gave the book away

  2. Richard Donahue on March 1, 2017 at 9:27 am

    Note: This film is based on the CONTROVERSIAL 2007 novel The Shack by Canadian author William Paul Young. “It is undeniable to the reader who will look to the Bible, that there is a great deal of error within The Shack. There is too much error.” READ: “A Reader’s Review of The Shack” (.pdf) by Tim Challies, author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.
    Theologian R. Albert Mohler, Jr. called The Shack “deeply troubling,” saying that it “includes undiluted heresy.” Theologian and Apologist Norman Geisler, “The Shack: Helpful or Heretical?” lists 14 points of theological disagreement with the book, saying it is “false,” “an unbiblical view of the nature and triunity of God,” “a rejection of traditional Christianity,” “uses personal experience to trump divine revelation,” “the rejection of Sola Scriptura,” “classic heresy,” “an unbiblical view of punishing sin,” “a wrong view of the way of salvation,” “non-rational,” “psychologically helpful… doctrinally harmful,” and “very dangerous.” Also see, Matt Slick’s Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry article.

  3. Desert on March 1, 2017 at 10:20 am

    This movie says what the false prophet pope says, “you don’t need Jesus”, that is a lie right out of hell! I will not buy, watch, or patronize this movie! I am disappointed that John Ankerberg would promote this apostasy!

    • Ginger Creese on March 1, 2017 at 10:46 am

      I hardly think he’s promoting this movie!!! Try reading it again with a clear and untainted point of view toward John Acker berg. Try a little love. It’s clear to me you don’t care for the man. If you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all.

    • Dee on March 1, 2017 at 6:25 pm

      He didn’t promote it – if anything he warned us about what is in it and asked “US” to use discernment if we choose to watch it. You might want to re-read the article Desert. I truly believe his whole statements were a warning to us NOT to see it.

  4. nisaruddin ahmed jeddy on March 1, 2017 at 11:18 am

    Great God Allah [All-Law/The Law] Proclaims Reformation A New Law.Directive Principles of Holy Quran [Final Revelation superseding past partial Revelations] and Teachings of Prophet Muhammad [Final Prophet superseding past Prophets] are Sources for Reform of Christians,because Religon got perfected in and as Islam by God in The Final Revelation.Prophet Christ’s second coming/reappearence will be as a Muslim renewing/teaching Law of Quran/Prophet Muhammad’s teachings , Just as Prophet Christ in his earlier Ministry was directed by God to Follow Torah of Moses.[The Law] , Now Prophet Christ will be directed by God to follow The Holy Quran/Prophet Muhammad’s teachings. In so far as salvation is concerned, Laws of Final Revelation Holy Quran/Prophet Muhammad’s teachings are to be obeyed in letter and spirit otherwise The Great Pit awaits those who disobey God’s Final Revelation and His Final Prophet’s commandments. You cannot sow thorns and expect Roses.As you sow ,so you reap in Hereafter [Next world] before God with whom Humanity has another term.

    • Dee on March 1, 2017 at 6:33 pm

      Allah and God are not the same and Muhammad’s teachings both contradict and emphatically state untruths and dangerous militant and hate-filled doctrine. Your beliefs do not teach that there is forgiveness for sins and instead of loving and witnessing to those who disagree with the Quran your Quran states that they should be killed. This is in complete contradiction to God’s Word and to the teaching of the true Messiah Jesus Christ. The Book of Revelation in the Holy Bible is the final prophecy – turn to Jesus Christ and be saved (1 John 5:11-13) or else you my friend will either go to this pit called hell or suffer during the Great Tribulation. The good news is that there is still time to turn from your false religion and come to Jesus Christ before you die…or perhaps you will see the truth and come to Christ after the rapture of Christian believers when the truth will be obvious and you will experience it for yourself. You are in my prayers.

    • Sharon on March 4, 2017 at 1:16 pm

      Galatians 1:1 Paul, an apostle,* (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)
      2 And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:
      3 Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ,
      4 Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:
      5 To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
      6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
      7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
      8 But though* we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
      9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
      10 For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.
      11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
      12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

      I am sorry young man, but your prophet was misguided in that cave. He actually believed at first a demon had spoke to him, but his wife convinced him otherwise. There is one God, Yahweh. Since he is spirit and truth, the only way for Him to manifest among us was by placing His spirit in human flesh. Emmanuel, (meaning God with us) is Yeshua the Messiah, the Word made flesh. There is no other name by which man can be saved. He came to this world to save us all from eternal death and damnation.

      My prayers are being answered, as many are being awakened to this truth throughout the world. May you too be blessed with this revelation. If you ask with a humble and contrite heart, Yeshua will reveal himself to you.

    • Tom Howard on March 7, 2017 at 3:38 pm

      No nisaruddin, you say; “Now Prophet Christ will be directed by God to follow The Holy Quran/Prophet Muhammad’s teachings”
      No, as He is now Lord of Lords and King of Kings, He follows no one, as He is the all sufficient one, “As many as received Him, to them He gave power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:12) Jesus followed God the Father and now we are to follow Jesus, as Peter wrote, 1 peter 2: 21,22, ” For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should ‘follow his steps’: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:” Why, because Verse 24 of the same chapter, speaking of how He suffered for us, said; “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree (The cross), that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness:..” He did this for the whole world 1 John 2:2, and that includes you. Believe on the Christ, the Son of the living God.

    • Alexia on March 19, 2017 at 4:14 pm

      Hello Mr. Jeddy

      I read your comment and I am slightly confused. Did you agree with the writer of the “Shack” or not on how he displayed God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit? [ When God appears to people in Scripture, it is never a light or flippant event. Even when John, the beloved disciple who writes “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18), encountered Jesus, he “fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17). For Mack, however, the whole encounter is rather nonchalant. The author even comments that Mack was just not “in the mood” to fall down and worship God (p. 82)] Could you Mr. Jeddy or any devout Muslim approach Allah in this manner? Please share your opinon of how a devout Muslim should regard this film. Thank you.

  5. CHN on March 1, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    We MUST be careful in what we read, see, hear. On the surface it looks like a feel good movie, but as some have suggested, it is a far cry from what the Holy Scripture says. It reminds me of that verse in 2 Timothy 3: ” . . . holding a FORM of godliness, but having denied the power thereof.” And we know what the rest of the verse says don’t we: “from these also turn away”. At first I was looking forward to seeing this movie. Now, no longer. This can be very dangerous for many people. New Christians, individuals who do not read or hold to Holy Scripture, people who are searching for Christ and the truth and then they watch this. The enemy is scheming and shady to be certain. If you are going to see this movie, be careful and if you are going to see it with the type of individual mentioned above be prepared to fully explain the truth so that the individual knows that this movie does not line up with Scripture. Yes, the Lord God is patient and He is loving but this is showing His Love and His Ways incorrectly. People should know this.

  6. Annette Tafte on March 1, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    please keep in mind, the book is fictional, GOD is not!!!!

  7. Don on March 1, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    According to Paul Young’s blog, he heard a voice one night that claimed to be God.
    Mr. Young wrote down the conversations with “god” and decided to write a book (dedicating it to his children) and call it “Conversations With God”. But that title was already taken. So Mr. Young incorporated these conversations with this “god” into a fictional story-line and called it “The Shack.”
    These conversations contradict the Bible – clearly showing that the “god” Mr. Young had conversations with, was NOT the one true God, but a demon. Mr. Young failed to test what this demon was saying to him, with God’s Word.
    Story-line – fiction..
    Conversations – non-fiction.

    • Don on March 1, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      According to William Paul Young’s blog…

  8. Terry on March 2, 2017 at 1:04 am

    I’m all for well meaning regular movies with good intentions. However, If/When they refernce God & Scripture, the simply “Must Line Up”. If they removed the God & Deity association, and changed it up a bit, I have no doubt it would be a really Good movie if they removed to profanity. I don’t consider myself to be a prude, by any stretch of the imagination, Just Cautious and Discerning in what I allow in my eye gates & ear gates and the same for my family. Thank you so much for clarifying these important issues in this movie so that those who do plan to see it are at least prepared to censor or bleep along the way. God Bless You & your Awesome Ministry!

  9. Randy on March 3, 2017 at 7:31 am

    Personally, I’ve give this blog 0 stars if that option were available because it seems that you say we can’t honestly express how we feel to God. Mr. Akerburg, I am left with this thought from you: That unless we can be like Isaiah, full of contrition, we dare not, CANNOT approach God. That, my brother, is wrong on so many levels. Yes, we are saved by faith, and to say Jesus is the best way to find Papa, well, isn’t He? Certainly better than finding Him through man’s traditions….

  10. Tom Howard on March 7, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Thank you John for standing against this movie!

  11. Kimberly Beninati on March 8, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    I saw the movie and again was reminded by the Holy Spirit, inside of me not in the movie lol, that God is kind.  I was praying this morning and the Lord gave me His word to discern truth.  

    “4 Love is patient,A)” style=”vertical-align: top;”> love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.B)” style=”vertical-align: top;”> 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,C)” style=”vertical-align: top;”> it is not easily angered,D)” style=”vertical-align: top;”> it keeps no record of wrongs.E)” style=”vertical-align: top;”>6 Love does not delight in evilF)” style=”vertical-align: top;”> but rejoices with the truth.G)” style=”vertical-align: top;”> 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 4-8.

    He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 1 John 4:8

    For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. John 3:17

    I dont understand why our western culture has so much difficulty in embracing God’s mercy and kindness unless it is to perpetuate the sins from our past.  Once it was common thought that all outsiders including Native Americans and Blacks are evil sinners so its okay to murder, rape, steal and enslave instead of what the Bible says how we are to treat others. Was that a grey area?  It does not seem that way to us now, but it was back then to most until God brought light to hearts.  Is He doing that now?  Is the Shack the new outsider?  What is the heart of the message in the shack?  Is it really saying its okay to sin?  Is it really saying ALL will go to heaven or could it be that we still can’t believe that Jeffrey Dahmer could really repent and go to heaven?  That He truly desires that none perish…

    I think those of us who are not afraid to believe God is radical love are the ones who really bless His heart. King David committed adultery and murder yet God calls him a man after his own heart.  I am so glad God does not judge from our outside actions or moments of constant failure but just like our very own childen, taking their first steps and making all the mistakes of saying no, pooping and peeing their pants, lying, etc. and we look on them with compassion and mercy and discipline them when needed but never expect more than we should, especially from babies….Can we believe our heavenly father could be that way with us?

    “Among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick’, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

    ‘But how?’ we ask.

    Then the voice says, ‘They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’

    There they are. There *we* are – the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith. 

    My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.”

    Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out

  12. Dee on March 10, 2017 at 10:47 pm

    What is so scary about this movie is that it promotes a false gospel. Sure we see the god in this movie as benevolent and loving, but anything that takes our eyes off the true God of the Bible and communicates that it’s all about how “you feel” is dangerous. No matter how beautiful and sincere it may seem to you and even if seems to point to something that is good we need to be careful. Satan’s agenda is to confuse and deceive and he does this by movies like this that touch people with a pseudo-message. I call it the beautiful side of evil. The Bible tells us not to follow our hearts for they are desperately wicked and we can’t trust it, but we are to follow the Word of God.

    I had a conversation with someone who said, “but the majority of this movie is good and it is actually drawing people to God.” Which I can’t argue with, yes, God can use it in non-believers lives to create curiosity that can lead them to the true Savior, but as Holy Spirit indwelled believers we are warned against false teaching and this falls into that category so then it becomes a question of your obedience. Even if the movie is 99% good, 1% is still bad. You might argue, “well, that’s not too bad.” But consider it this way. It’s like making a batch of brownies and adding 1% of dog poop and saying, “eat only 1% is bad.”

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