by Lori Twichell
Unless you have been under a rock, you’ve likely heard about the movie, The Shack. Open confession here: I haven’t read the book. That usually makes most people gasp and freak out when I say it. I read books professionally, so it’s just assumed that I read this one. When I was invited to this early screening (thank you KSLR, The Fish San Antonio and my friend Audra!) I was able to step in and watch without any preconceived notions.
But I will admit here that I was freaked out a little. My newsfeed on Facebook these days doesn’t look too awfully different than it did during the election. Instead of Hillary and Donald, some people are talking about the evils of this book (now movie) and others are talking about how it changed their lives. It’s pretty much split equally. The other day I shared a post that had all of the ‘heresies’ from the Shack in it with a question about it because again – haven’t read the book! That thread blew into a pretty heated argument from others and a few ended up with hurt feelings. So I understand how divided people are over this release. And last night when I checked in at the movie, I got a ton of private messages from people telling me that they were looking for my opinion before they’d go. No pressure there eh? Last night I wrote a review without any opinions on the theology or church side of the film. After all, some people are just going to want to know if it was a good movie or not. They don’t need to hear all the theological stuff. You can read that straight review here.
In case you don’t know what the controversy is, a lot of people are using this film (and used the book) to reach the unsaved or to change their faith. A lot of others are upset that it isn’t theologically sound.
I’ve been struggling with where to start here. I could go chronologically from the beginning and lay it all out, but I think my best course of action is to state the conclusion and backfill the reasons.
It is my firm belief that how you approach this film needs to be dependent on where you are (or aren’t) in your faith. Also, what you want from the film is going to play a huge part in how you perceive it.
If you are solid in your faith, understand the Bible, and have a deep relationship with God, I think this film can really be used to encourage and support you through difficult times. It might be just the kiss on the forehead that you need to get you through something you’re battling right now. God really does love us that way. He really does want to help us. And honestly, while I was watching, I just wanted to sit down and talk with Papa and get to eat a beautiful amazing meal with him. A hug would be nice too.
However, if you are a new Christian and don’t have a Biblical foundation or if you are unsaved, you need to know that The Shack shows some of God, but doesn’t give you a complete picture.
Here is the thing, if you’re strong, settled, and solid in your faith, you are able to watch this film and clearly see the parts that they didn’t touch on. There are a lot of big theological issues they skated over. They answered some pretty deep questions with wide, sweeping generalizations and didn’t go back to dig in deeper. There’s a line in the movie about how the main character (Mack) was trying to figure out issues without seeing the entire picture. Papa (God) said something about trying to see an entire room through just a knothole. That’s how I feel about the movie’s overall message. Questions of sin, heaven, hell, consequences of choices and even the specific salvation message were left wide open. Yes, I am aware that they were covered – but maybe with one line or two. Really more glossed over than anything else. Let me make this point. It’s obvious that the film wasn’t meant to do that. It was meant to show God’s love. How much he loves us. I get that. But if you’re going to use this as a tool, you need to be keenly aware of what’s missing so you can put it together and give them the WHOLE picture. If you can do that, it’s possible we might see an incredible revival based on this movie.
The questions posed in the film were a basic elementary level questions and they were worded very simply – without a lot of theological strings attached. (I try to be a good man. What’s good and what’s bad? How do you define bad? What about God hating us and the anger and wrath?) But they were also really deep questions that sometimes require more than meme-like phrases and “God loves everyone” sort of answers. If, as you’re watching the film, YOU are unable to answer the question without solid and specific Biblical references, then I would encourage you to study the word, talk with your pastor or a mentor, and get it all settled for you before you take an unsaved person.
There’s another scene in the movie where Mack’s young daughter asks him a question about God being mean. As parents, we’ve all been there. That question our kids ask and that we really struggle to answer. Mack’s response is “When we get home, Mom’s going to have a great answer for you.” Again, that’s how I felt about the movie. If you can’t answer those questions with solid Biblical back up, be careful taking someone.
As someone who has grown up in the church (so understands religion vs relationship) and also grown deeper in my walk the past few years, I told my husband that I loved parts of this movie. It felt like someone had taken all the things that have gotten me through my own walk with cancer and heartbreaking issues we’ve dealt with in our home. I have told people that sometimes you just need to get out of the boat. Or that during the storm, you need to keep your eyes on Him and not what’s happening around you. Those parts spoke to me. Giving up the burden you’re carrying. Passing it to Him. Good can come out of bad things. I watched those scenes and I felt God tugging at my heart. But as I was watching, I also knew all the Biblical references where the dialog was coming from. I immediately was able to say “That’s Corinthians. There’s Romans. There’s Proverbs.” I knew the words that came before and after the cherry-picked sentiments. In short, I knew all the things they weren’t saying. Because – hear me in this clearly. (I’m going to bold, italic, and capitalize it for emphasis.)
The Shack talked about the hard stuff in our lives. It did not talk about the hard things in our faith. There are tough topics with regard to Christians and living out our faith. There’s love and grace and beauty. But there are consequences to actions. There’s sin. There are ugly parts. You cannot accept Christ and continue to have an affair with the woman at work. You can’t accept Christ and then go on living as it nothing has changed. You need to yield to Him and His will for you. And if you don’t accept Christ as your savior, you do go to hell. But it’s not God’s choice to send you there. It’s a choice you make. That’s not really covered in depth. There are one or two lines but they’re easy to miss.
This was a feel good beautiful movie. There’s no way around it. And I think (guessing here) that the author probably got the million questions we all get in our lives about the judgement, damnation, anger, rules, etc. And I think he wanted to really show the God *I* know. The one who is Abba father. The one who would run to greet the prodigal son. The one that would rather go to a cross than to see his child have to do it. That’s the God I know. And that is the God portrayed in this movie. But when you look at the whole picture (and not through the knothole of The Shack) there’s so much more.
In our house, I’ve ‘adopted’ a lot of the friends of my kids. They come over all the time, they call me mom. They love me and I love them FIERCELY. I adore them. My pastor told me the other day he loves my kids so much he would stand in front of a bus without hesitation for them. I feel that way too. But when those kids leave for the night, they don’t see me telling my kids to pick up their stuff. Put it away. Fold the clothes. They don’t see me getting frustrated when my kids don’t listen and they don’t see me disciplining my kids. It’s not that I have changed or I’m a different person. I still love those kids as fiercely as I love my own. I send them care packages when they are sick and pick up the phone if they call at midnight and I stay up till all hours texting them when they need advice. I would, indeed, stand in front of a bus for them without hesitation. But they don’t live with me. They aren’t ‘technically’ my kids. I’m not paying for their schooling or their clothes or paying their bills. And I don’t discipline them. So as much as I love them, it is different. If they needed me and asked to come live here, I would make it work. But then things would change. I would have expectations of them because of that change. The Shack visits God. Gets all the love and the good stuff. But then it leaves and goes home. It feels like it doesn’t stick around for the rest of the stuff you get when you truly become a child of God.
The Shack can be an excellent tool for encouragement and support. It can also be used evangelistically as long you don’t forget (in the immortal words of Paul Harvey) the rest of the story.