“The Shack” (My Review)

To Begin With

To begin with, let’s spell out what we know is true about God and His relationship to mankind. I mean, before I start talking about my impressions of a work of fiction – a movie – let’s talk reality, theologically speaking.

First, God is best understood as existing in trinity:

TRINITY (from Lat. trinitas).† An expression for the revelation of the one God (Deut. 6:4) in three “persons,” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the trinity is a theoretical model intended to systematize various expressions in the Bible. The basis in Scripture on which it was built can be summarized as follows: there is only one God; each of the three divine persons is recognized to be God; God’s selfrevelation recognizes distinctions among these three persons in that there are interactions among them; and these distinctions are not just a matter of revelation (as received by humans) but are also eternally immanent in the Godhead.

Source: Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 1019.

Second, God has spoken and speaks to His children through the revealed and completed work of Scripture (the Bible). Therefore, what contradicts or stands in opposition to the Word of God is contrary to truth, therefore in error.

Third, God also speaks in a general sense through the works and workings of His creation (Romans 1:19-20).

Does God still speak to his children through dreams? I believe it is possible, for God can do anything He wishes, and He’s the same today as He was yesterday. However, does He speak through dreams and visions to His children in the same way which is recorded in the Bible? That’s debatable.

Fourth, God works in ways we can’t always understand…

For my thoughts [are] not your thoughts, neither [are] your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:8-9 KJV

Therefore, if He wanted to, there’re’so nothing to stop the Lord from giving a man a dream of being with the Godhead in a shack for a weekend, eating Divinely-prepared breakfasts and dinners, while not compromising what He has already revealed in the completed canon of Scripture. Has He ever done such a thing? I don’t know. But He could.

My Review

Look, I am not a professional film critic. I don’t know much about industry lingo. The best I can do is simply tell you what I think about what I saw.

Despite what many of my Christian brothers and sisters have said, I thought The Shack was a really good movie. I have never read the book on which the movie was based, so I don’t know how it compares. But what I do know is that what I watched did not contradict the overall truths about God as mentioned above. That’s the first big point.

What we have in The Shack is a story about a man who lost his youngest daughter to a terrible sex crime. The aftermath of the loss brought about bitterness, guilt, and questions of God’s character. In short, the lead character felt qualified to judge God.

Instead of being angry or disappointed with the lead character, Mack, we find out that God loved him and wanted to restore joy and wonder to his faith. Even more, God wanted Mack to trust Him. In The Shack we see a God who wants to restore relationships with His children, those who are His, but have strayed as a result of their pain.

There are certain elements in this movie that have been criticized unfairly. One of those is in the way God the Father (“Papa”) is portrayed for a good portion of the film as an older black woman. This alone has cause some to flip their lid. However, should one watch the movie he would find out that there was a practical, personal reason for God appearing as woman – Mack had an abusive father as a child, and it was always an older black lady who comforted him with godly wisdom and fresh-baked apple pie. When Mack asked Papa why He was a woman, she (God) replied: “After what you’ve been through, I didn’t think you could handle a father right now.” Later in the movie when Mack needed the leadership of a man, God assumed the role of a masculine male.

Essentially, no doctrine was compromised by the depictions of God the Father. The film told a story which reflected the same truths as depicted in Luke 13:34 and 15:20…God can be both a mother hen and a merciful father.

Believe it or not, Jesus was portrayed by a mid-30’s, Israeli-born Jewish man. The casting was perfect.

The Holy Spirit was portrayed by a young Asian woman. I didn’t get that one, but it really didn’t matter; if your going to put a physical appearance to the Spirit, an Asian girl is just as logical as an older black woman.

Honestly, before the movie started, I had in front of me a note pad ready to record every blatant heresy I was expecting to see. Yet, when the movie was over the pad was still bank. Frankly, there was only one line in the movie that caused me to pause it and have a quick discussion with my family…(NOTE: Discussion is the important key to watching any movie with one’s family.)…Papa responded to a question Mack asked about punishing people for their sins by saying: “I don’t punish…sin is its own punishment.” I understood the sentiment, but a quick word search on BlueLetterBible.com through some in some wrenches.

The important thing to remember is that the movie storyline clearly indicates Mack never actually, physically, went to the old shack. What we are left with is the question of whether or not God might choose to miraculously step in through a vision or dream and individually speak to a man in order to change his heart. But even that is not the main point of The Shack.

The main point of this movie is to show through admitted fiction that what we think we know about God might be wrong. Even though The Shack does do a good job of reinforcing a biblical description of the Godhead, especially relating to the question of pain and evil in the world, there is an element of danger: If we don’t point people to the Bible to read what God has written about Himself, only cause people to question their perceptions, then we are only left with more questions and more uncertainty.

In conclusion, there are many quality moments in this movie worthy of open discussion. As a Christian, I was certainly blessed by what I watched. My only concern is that, other than showing the main character and his family in the end worshipping together in a Christian church, there are too many loose ends: an unbeliever who watches is not given any distinct instructions on how to experience a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ, only an affirmation that it’s OK to trust God, even in the bad times, because He is always good.

I would love to hear your feedback, so share your thoughts in a comment. 




Filed under Apologetics, Faith, General Observations, God, Movie review

19 responses to ““The Shack” (My Review)

  1. Good review. I agree. I’ve had mixed reviews from people in my church (mostly loved it) because of the theological issues you mentioned. But you make the main point. It’s a dream! Dreams are allegorical by nature. The characters symbolize something in our lives. I especially liked the cave scene when Sofia (wisdom) made him the judge.

    Btw, on the Spirit being depicted as a woman, as you probably know, the Greek word for spirit (pneuma) is neuter; the Hebrew word for spirit (ruach) is feminine. Of the 89 times ruach is found in the Old Testament, 80 references are feminine, 44 of which  (including Gen 1:2 and throughout Judges) accompany feminine verbs. So, it’s not a theological stretch to make the Spirit a woman in the dream.

  2. Anonymous

    I admit that like you I came to this book ready to be upset. Any portrayal of God that puts words in God’s mouth can tend to frustrate me. Oddly this is worse for me with known fiction. When you say God (Papa) said, “this or that”, then my skin starts to crawl. But as a Pastor and Teacher I found I really appreciated the way it was approached. It is a good vehicle for discussions of tough topics whether one agrees with it or not.

    Since I thought that many who read it or saw the movie would like to talk it out I started a class at my Church to do just that. We are reading through the book and talking through each chapter. We are using the book as a way to openly talk through some of the tough topics relating to faith and religion. We are looking for scriptures to bring our discussions to the Bible and to be able to use the Bible to speak to those topics going forward.

    I have been blessed to have people who are mature in their faith and people who struggle that come. This weeks discussion on Chapter 9 broke into a great discussion of how a good God could put a tree in the garden that He knew would make man fall. Did he do that? Did He know? Did He create a “bad” or “evil” thing? I love these moments.

    You and others are welcome to listen into the recordings and comment. I think you might enjoy it and we would sure enjoy hearing from you. The site is hidden for now, but I will list it here as we are launching Sunday.


    Thank You for sharing

  3. Amen! I’m pleased you didn’t jump on the Shack bashing bandwagon. As to those unanswered questions, I’ve been really blessed by watching the Shack revisited,where the author does a series that expands on certain concepts and criticisms. Universalism, for example, or the nature of the Trinity. He really has a nice grasp of theology, it’s sound and well reasoned, and not at all what his critics often try to imply.

  4. Donald Norris

    Thanx for the review, Anthony. Our Pastor advised against seeing it, but assume he had not seen it himself. Don’t know if I’d pay to see it, but might watch it when it’s free on Netflix.

  5. I enjoyed reading your review. Both the book and movie are works of fiction and I have enjoyed both myself. Thank you for posting this.

  6. Bradley Griswold

    I had a similar review of the film. I enjoyed the main message of the film. I think there is much debate about the “Spirit” telling Mack that the incident with his daughter ,as well as his father ,was not caused by God. I believe the debate here was pointed toward the issue of the Godhead being all knowing or that the Godhead can know but chooses not to know. For some theologians that is an issue. Not an issue for me.

  7. I started the book and couldn’t get interested, so I didn’t watch the movie. I do believe that God can speak to us in dreams and visions and any other way He chooses. I also think that books and movies can be a great starting point for the conversations that keep us searching for our Heavenly Father’s answers as we grow in our relationship with Him. Thank you for this post.

  8. Anthony, thank you for the review. I read “the sHACK”. I haven’t watched the movie yet. Up until now, the shack is the best book I have laid my hands on. I read it at a time when I had just lost my brother–I questioned God on why he would let tragedy come my way and reading that book had me cry a few times.

    I realized that the reactions and mixed feelings about the story line and characters have been there since the book became accessible to the public. With people stating who the knew God is and that this book was trying to divert people from the bible truth–I didn’t see this at anytime.

    On the point where you say the movie does not direct people to read their Bibles, I have realized that God wants to appeal to your emotion.. What do you feel about him? Maybe I should ask you a question: Between experiencing God and reading the scriptures, what would you choose?? Reading the Scriptures is paramount to our christian walk but to have an experience with God supersedes anything else.

    I am forever thankful to William P Young.. I was healed and my relationship with God forever strengthened… __*Please read the book.. Please*

  9. Thank you Anthony. I am very much looking forward to seeing this movie when it heads our way.


    Karen S. Gaylor Sixth Grade ELA Language Arts/Reading National Board Certified Reading Facilitator gaylork.wordpress.com Julia Landon College Preparatory Leadership Development School

    “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” — Benjamin Franklin


  11. Well if the ends were too loose,then we should be available and ready to explain things to a person who has seen it. Of course we wound rather tell them about all of the heresy rather than Jesus. I made that same comment on another blog and got in horrible trouble . I have said that, while i would not want my preacher to preach from it, it is maybe a good start point for some. I read the book early in my Christian life, before everybody realized it was so horrid, and seem to have survived the trauma just fine

  12. Thank you for your review – I respect your opinions and am willing to give the book/movie a try from what you have written. Was avoiding it like the plague beforehand as I give a wide berth to anything that is spiritually dodgy.

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