I’m not ashamed to admit it. I spend what some would consider to be an unhealthy amount of time perusing the black hole of my Facebook newsfeed. And every so often, while sifting through the social media shrapnel – selfies, political opinions, hunger-inducing recipe videos and the like – a particular photo, video or article begins to surface with notably greater consistency. Such was the case with a recent article written by Tim Challies entitled, Why I Won’t Be Seeing (Or Reviewing) The Shack Movie. It’s likely to have appeared on your newsfeed at some point, and perhaps you’ve even read it. I did – and while I found his arguments both engaging and compelling, I found myself disheartened by his approach and conclusion. So much so, that I’ve done a bit of research myself, perused a number of additional articles on the matter, and decided to put my thoughts to paper – in the digital sense, of course.
I recognize that wading into the murky waters of online Christian opinion is dangerous – otherwise I would have written this two weeks ago. I’m always weary of the spiritual “hall monitors” – pacing the floors of the internet, always prepared to write up pink slips of absolute truth and send me to heretical detention. Despite the risk, I offer up my thoughts on The Shack – the book, the upcoming film and why I plan to see it.
WHAT IS THE SHACK?
In 2007, William Paul Young was working multiple jobs and living in a tiny apartment with his wife and four of his six children after losing his home to bankruptcy. One morning, while on his 40-minute train commute, he began writing a novel that he hoped would express his feelings about God to his children. It was a genuine gift of the heart – the one thing he could offer during a season where he lacked money to buy gifts. He expected it would be read by a few select people – his family and maybe even a few friends.
He was off by over 20 million.
Young’s novel, The Shack, about a man whose mourning the death of his young daughter prompts an unexpected (and unorthodox) visit from God, has sold over 20 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling books of all time. Not surprisingly, it has recently been adapted into a film set to hit theaters this weekend.
As people all over the world began turning its pages, The Shack quickly became the focus of countless debates on grief, loss and – most significantly – theology. Battle lines were drawn between those in favor of the book and those adamantly against it. Boycotts were organized, Christians nationwide rallied to physically remove copies of the book from local libraries and heated debates among believers caught on like wildfire. Agreeably, there is plenty to be debated when it comes to the spiritual “meat” of the book. But rather than attempt to delve into the theological hits and misses of the book, I’ll simply refer you to others who have done a much more exhaustive (and likely accurate) job than I ever could. A very thorough review was written by author/blogger Tim Challies, detailing the many orthodox theological concerns raised by the book. I encourage you to balance his critique with an article by author Wayne Jacobsen, which provides a defense to each of Challies’ concerns.
THEN THE PEOPLE SAID, “LET THERE BE A MOVIE”
In the 10 years since the release of The Shack, the dust had all but settled. And then announcements of the film adaptation began to surface, once again stirring the pot that had finally come to rest. What we’ve seen develop since those initial announcements has been almost an exact replica of the argumentative whirlwind that took place nearly a decade ago. But now we are in an age where information travels faster than ever before and the audience to our words and actions is virtually limitless. Not surprisingly, Challies was quick to release his aforementioned article. Apart from his theological arguments, Challies’ most significant concern is with the film’s physical representation of God (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) by human actors.
I’ll be honest – I was truly compelled by Challies’ arguments. He brings up some valid concerns – many of them affirming how much ground I have yet to cover in my intellectual grasp of the vast depths of Scripture and theology. But my main concern is with Challies’ conclusion – and that of many believers with whom I have spoken about the film – which is to simply not see the film at all. Many have taken this conclusion a step further, calling for an all-out, worldwide boycott. This is where I feel there simply has to be a better way to “represent Christ” to a world that is in such desperate and obvious need of a Savior.
With that, I’d like to offer up just a few encouragements for my fellow Christ-followers to consider as the debates continue, and as the film is released this weekend.
DON’T SIMPLY DECIDE THAT YOU WON’T SEE THE MOVIE
I heard something said recently that was deeply impactful and relates directly to this conversation – when people open spiritual doors, we should have enough sense to go through them. Far too often, those doors are opened by the world around us and we respond by slamming them shut. Our response may be rooted in Scripture and grounded in theological truth, but the result is always the same. Many of those doors that we claim to be knocking on have been slammed shut one too many times.
This book and story have obviously connected with millions of people over the years. That in itself reflects a deep spiritual hunger in the world around us. But what good will it do to simply turn up our spiritual nose to a seeker – or even fellow believer – who chooses to see the film? One of the first questions raised in these conversations will undoubtedly be, “Did you see the movie?” When “No.” is our response, the discussion is over. This story is deeply rooted in emotion, and thus its connection with many who choose to see the film is an emotional one. Any concerns that we have with the film will fall on deaf ears if we don’t have the intellectual curiosity to see it.
If the dilemma of contributing to Hollywood’s wallet by seeing this film in theaters is troubling you, wait until it comes to Netflix. But I encourage you – rather implore you – to consider seeing this film. Doing so will allow you to emotionally engage with other viewers and effectively “till the soil” of hearts seeking the Truth. Why did they choose to see it? What hurt have they experienced that drew them to connect with the story? What deep, burning questions do they have that they hoped this film would answer?
Allowing for these conversations will result in some very intimate doors being opened to us.
BE CAREFUL WITH HOW YOU SHARE YOUR OPINIONS
Debate and disagreement are inevitable. We can’t simply choose a world in which everyone gets along (although that would be terribly boring). Matt Chandler puts it beautifully – “Truth should always be handled like a scalpel, never like a club.” If we wield the Truth of God and the life-giving power of His Gospel like a club, then it’s questionable how deeply we understand His truths. The opportunity to actively engage in conversations with others about the Truth of God’s Word is something that we are called to seek out. We are literally called to “go out into the world” – to spread the Good News and share of God’s incredible work in our lives through Jesus Christ. But too often we forget that God calls us into those conversations to win their hearts for His glory, not to hammer them down or “put them in their place” with belittling or aggressive rhetoric. We need to seek out and engage in those conversations in a way that is winsome and beautiful.
PRAYERFULLY CONSIDER WHY OVER 20 MILLION PEOPLE HAVE CONNECTED WITH THIS STORY
The numbers don’t lie. Over 20 million people have bought a copy of The Shack since 2007. And when you consider how many of those copies have been shared, checked out from local libraries or passed on to friends and family, we can easily conclude that 20 million is a conservative figure. Before we immediately discredit this book, its story and its film adaptation for seemingly sound theological arguments, we have to acknowledge the elephant in the room.
This kind of response is indicative of a deep, spiritual hunger – both in the world and within the Body of Christ.
Sure, one could argue, “Fifty Shades of Grey sold over 120 million – over six times as many copies as The Shack. So are you saying we should see that movie too?” Obviously not. The difference here is that The Shack boasts a spiritual theme and focus that is not only unapologetic, but celebrated. We simply must acknowledge that by flipping through its pages, over 20 million people have opened a spiritual door of curiosity and questions that they hoped The Shack would answer.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t. But if the Body of Christ has decided not to address it, and has effectively slammed every single one of those doors shut in the name of “theological integrity”, then those who read the book or see the film in search of answers will take what The Shack gives them and go on with their lives – never fully experiencing the Truth of God’s Word and the life-changing power of the Gospel. We’re past the point of denial – people are hurting. This world is hurting. The question is, what is more effective in winning people’s hearts for the glory of God – shouting from our mountaintops to the hoards of moviegoers below, or engaging in conversations with hearts and souls seeking answers?
DON’T WORRY – GOD IS DOING JUST FINE
One of Challies’ main critiques of The Shack is that “it presents God in human flesh. It makes the infinite finite, the invisible visible, the omnipotent impotent, the all-present local, the spiritual material.” He goes on even further to say that portraying God in human form “diminishes” Him, makes Him small. But I fear that worrying so desperately about the damage that The Shack can do also makes God small. Should we not consider the incredible work that God can do with 20 millions souls seeking answers to spiritual questions? If that doesn’t qualify as freshly-tilled soil, I’m not sure what does.
In 2014, the film Noah was released in theaters worldwide. As you can imagine (and probably recall), that film was met with its own fair share of boycotts and accusations of heresy. But what you may not know is that YouVersion reported a 300% increase in the US and a 245% increase globally in people accessing Genesis 6-9 – the biblical account of Noah. BibleGateway reported its own statistics, noting a 250% increase in viewing of the same passage.
Films like these are drawing people to Scripture. They are stirring in people’s hearts a hunger for Truth and a desire to understand something bigger than themselves. God can use that. Don’t underestimate how big our God is and the work that He can do in a world that is so obviously reaching out for answers. But what part are we playing in that work by boycotting movie theaters and shutting down conversations by admitting to all those inquiring, “Nope, I never saw it”?
YES, WE’RE STILL FRIENDS (I HOPE)
Obviously there will be some (perhaps many) who disagree with me on this – and that’s ok. These are just a few propositions that I wanted to make to all those caught in the whirlwind of opinions being shared left and right. At the end of the day, I pray we can all agree that the decision to either see or skip The Shack this weekend has absolutely no bearing on the redeeming work that God has done in our lives through Christ.
Far too often, those within the Body of Christ latch onto issues like these and turn them into weapons of division. Some may argue that I’ve only propelled this “machine” further by writing this article. But my hope and prayer is that, rather than divide, it encourages discussion. That it does its own small part to draw us to a deeper awareness of the world around us and the work that God is doing (and can do) in it.
If any of my thoughts above encourage you enough to see the film, I love you.
If you share in Challies’ sentiments and choose not to see The Shack, I also love you.
And I hope that, despite any disagreements we may share, you can return the sentiment.