3 heresies The Shack movie confronts in the church today
The common denominator of the three heresies we will list shortly is a tendency among The Shack’s critics to interpret and apply the Bible’s teachings with a rigid, and often vitriolic dogmatism, so bent on upholding biblical inerrancy that everything said or presented about God is labelled “heresy” for failing to line up with what their literalist hermeneutics conclude about God and how he relates to human beings.
Even though their conclusions present a distorted deity that looks, sounds, and acts nothing like Jesus, they claim “orthodoxy” nonetheless. To them, biblical literalism is synonymous with orthodoxy. But fortunately for us, orthodoxy is grounded in who the triune God reveals himself to be in Jesus. And so, the actual heresies we need to confront—which The Shack movie does—are those which distort the nature of God as anything but cruciform love.
3 heresies The Shack movie confronts
1. God is retributive and violent
The Shack movie is about a God who is defined by such a deep and daring merciful love for human beings that He is willing to suffer and go the distance, especially when life hurts and we experience tragedy. In Jesus, God reveals that He is not a retributive deity, but a self-giving, co-suffering, forgiving, and peace-making God who desires relationship with every human being. He comes to show us the path of love, the path of forgiveness, the path of the cross, and the path of peace.
The cross of Jesus is God’s response to violence, pain, death, and sin. Cruciform love is God’s response to hate and violence. Because God can only act out of His essential nature, which is cruciform love, revenge and retribution are out of the question.
At the cross of the suffering Christ, “whom the fullness of deity lives in bodily form” and who is the “visible image of the invisible God,” the triune God of eternal conscious love reveals his true colors. This is orthodoxy.
2. The Bible is greater than the God revealed in Jesus
One reason so many critics of The Shack “play the heresy card” is because of their theological presumptions about God and the Bible. This is where the “willful literalism” hijacks the orthodox message of The Shack by placing a rigid and hostile adherence to biblical inerrancy (that leads to literalist distortions of God in many cases) over and against the message that God is cruciform love in Jesus. Here, The Shack movie’s critics are entering into idolatry by placing biblical inerrancy over God’s superlative self-revelation in Jesus, thus demonstrating their heresy.
Allegory is a big part of The Shack movie’s cinematic genre, and it uses that genre as a way to communicate the orthodox position that God is not retributive or violent, but self-giving and peace-making. Jesus is the cruciform Word of the cosmos, and even though the Bible exists because of Him, it is also under Him and must submit to Him; any biblical hermeneutic or allegorical portrayal that attempts to communicate something about God and his relationship with human beings should align with this orthodoxy.
By placing a rigid biblical inerrancy ahead of a cruciform hermeneutic, we end up with a distorted god who is conflicted, unstable, violent, and sociopathic. However, inerrancy makes for a terrible measure of orthodoxy, because true biblical orthodoxy—and might I say true ‘gospel’ orthodoxy— is measured by whether or not our God looks, sounds, and acts like Jesus.
3. God is racist and misogynistic
Paul Young portrays God the Father in the book and movie as a black woman. This piece has been quite controversial among many of The Shack’s critics who accuse Young of heresy for feminizing God. I seriously wonder though if the critics actually believe God has a “Y” chromosome, or that maybe God is literally the old white grandfather with the grey beard in the sky depicted in Michelangelo’s famous 16th century fresco painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
This wouldn’t all be so problematic were it not true that Young’s accusers are willful literalists—often ignoring the Bible’s cultural context and literary genres—whose methods of interpretation tend to perpetuate patriarchal, nationalistic, and misogynistic images of God and similar treatment of women in church ministry.
Perhaps the real heresy thriving in the church today is this idea that God is on the side of white people and that God is nationalistic at His core. But Young’s God looks, sounds, and acts like the kind of God who loves all human beings despite gender or ethnicity; The Shack’s God looks, sounds, and acts like the God we have come to know most clearly and concretely in Jesus.
This is the orthodoxy the church needs today. And The Shack movie helps us get there in theologically significant and culturally relevant ways.
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