Author Ava Pennington
Author Ava Pennington

The ShackAs if there isn’t enough to argue about these days, along comes a movie such as The Shack, releasing tomorrow. With Christian supporters and detractors who are equally determined and vocal, what’s the big deal? It’s just a book/movie, right?

Fans of The Shack are quick to praise its depth of emotion, communication of redemption, and willingness to tackle a subject many Christians wrestle with: why does a loving God allow suffering? Many strong Christians have joined Christian celebrities in testifying to the immensely positive impact the story has had on their walk with Christ.

Critics denounce The Shack’s theological edginess, biblical infidelity, and theme of implied universalism. Theologians such as Albert Mohler and Tim Keller do a much better job of explaining the biblical objections to The Shack than I ever could. Still, I wonder why the greater Christian community does not sound the alarm over a premise that asserts a lack of future judgment in the name of love. I’m confused by those who claim to believe the Bible, yet are eager to overlook the affirmation that there are many ways to God which don’t necessarily include belief in Christ.

Even greater than the impact of this single story is the danger it heralds. The boundaries between fact and fiction are disappearing with increasing rapidity. And the results are more significant than we might initially realize.

In recent years, our culture has magnified the power of story. Storytelling has evolved far beyond the confines of tales spun with the words, “Once upon a time….”

For much of literary history, the differences between fact and fiction were generally clear. Allegories such as Pilgrim’s Progress (John Bunyan) and fantasies such as the Chronicles of Narnia (C. S. Lewis) communicated truth without confusing fact and fiction. More importantly, the authors took great pains to ensure the biblical fidelity of what they wrote.

The author of The Shack used his novel to offer Christianity as he hopes it is, rather than what the Bible says it is. That’s his prerogative. In fact, that’s every novelist’s prerogative. The very definition of fiction is that it is not true. Novelists have the ability to create worlds as they wish them to be.

But difficulties ensue when huge numbers of Christians espouse an author’s personal preferences as inviolate truth without applying a biblical standard. Two-thousand years ago, the Bereans were held up as a role model for all Christians (Acts 17:11). Today those same Bereans would be dismissed as legalistic. We’ve come a long way…in the wrong direction.

When readers cannot or will not differentiate between fact and fiction, we have a problem.

When Christians join unbelievers in embracing a story that depicts God stripped of holiness and transcendence, we have a crisis.

And when Christians choose to elevate the foundational principles of a novel to the level of biblical authority, we have a disaster.

The Bible tells us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). The Shack sacrifices truth on the altar of love and compromises real love in the absence of truth. It may be a riveting work of fiction, but my heart aches at the destructive spiritual consequences that are all too real.

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  1. Jane Roach

    Thank you, Ava, for clarifying the issue so clearly!

  2. Karen Casassa

    Thank you, Ava! Clearly the Christians I’ve talked to about this movie have different convictions. I personally would not be able to go and sit through the heresy. God bless you, friend.

  3. Ava Pennington

    Thank you, Jane, for your encouragement!

  4. Karen teeters

    Ava, thank you for such depth of clarity on issues, I appreciate you!!

  5. PauletteBeurrier

    Good for you for tackling this one! I kind of liked the book, what has stayed with me is the imagery of the Holy Spirit. The way He was described as one you couldn’t see when you looked directly at Him. Even though I think the book portrayed Him as “she”, I don’t remember things I don’t agree with! So when I read about the heretical theology I think, hmmm, I don’t really remember that. You are absolutely right that anyone without a firm grasp on her faith should not be reading or seeing this. But that won’t be the audience. 😞

  6. Ava Pennington

    Thank you Paulette. It’s true there are good points in the book. But sadly, poor theology will influence many Christians in ways they may not realize for a long time, if ever.

  7. Ava Pennington

    Thank you, Karen. And thank you for your encouragement. I appreciate you, too!

  8. Ava Pennington

    Thank you, Karen Casassa. Yes, this book/movie generates strong opinions!

  9. Douglas J. Bender

    Thank you, everyone, for thanking each other!!

    (Sorry. I just had to say that. 🙂 )

  10. Linda Kennedy

    Great, and clarifying, comment. I’ve only seen previews and a few comments on facebook. Sadly, an instrument of Satan, the great deceiver. Makes me even sadder that Tim McGraw is a part of it. Have always appreciated his stand for a Christian belief. Also sad that those of us who object at the misleading message will be perceived as radical weirdo’s.

  11. Ed Deiwert

    Well said, Ava. I’ve already had men in the BSF class ask me my opinion, and I’ve had little helpful to say (other than I read only the first five pages of the book before putting it aside as doctrinally uninformed). This helps me articulate my objections to it much better. And thanks for providing the Keller link, as well.

  12. Ava Pennington

    Thank you, Ed.

  13. Jane Nowakowski

    With all the violent content in movies nowadays I fail to see how this movie is harmful. I remember the Harry Potter alarmists who feared our children would be lured into witchcraft. Instead, it was a wonderful story of friendship and laying down one’s life for a friend. People CAN separate fiction from truth. God is not “out there” but rather meets us on our level. That is why salvation is not reserved only for scholars of the Bible and is accessible to the simplest of minds who have a pure heart. This movie will stimulate our deepest desires for peace and forgiveness. Why discourage this work?

  14. Ava Pennington

    Thank you for commenting, Jane. While people can separate fiction from truth, even many Christians are not familiar enough with biblical truth to know the difference. And what about non-Christians who read it and because of the support of Christians, believe it’s an accurate view of Christianity? Take, for example, the following content found in The Shack (either explicit or implied), all of which contradicts the Bible:
    1. God the Father was crucified with Jesus.
    2. God forgave all of humanity regardless of whether they repent.
    3. God will never judge people for their sins.
    4. God places Himself in submission to human desires.
    5. Justice will never take place because of God’s love.
    6. Eternal judgment/torment in hell does not exist.
    7. There are many ways to God.
    8. Jesus is constantly being transformed along with us.
    9. Everyone will get to heaven.

    It’s true the book/movie could provide conversation starters, but Christians need to be well-versed in what the Bible says on each of these subjects!

  15. Gale Tate

    Thank you for this Ava. Im so thankful for BSFand you that have help me grow in my faith and be able to discern fact from fiction. Its really sad how the world is so quick to accept fiction as fact & be so easily led astray. Just proves the importance of staying in Gods word daily so we can know fact from fiction. Too many just want to hear anything that makes them feel good instead of knowing truth. Thank you again, God bless you.

  16. Ava Pennington

    Thank you, Gail. So encouraged by your desire to stay in God’s Word!


  1. New Lies - Ava Pennington Ava Pennington - […] week, I wrote a blog post expressing concerns about the unbiblical theology undergirding The Shack. I noted that both […]

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