As 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.