The Shack has become a religious phenomenon. At the same time it is a lightning rod for claims of heresy. Even before the movie was released there were responses to the book titled Finding God in the Shack and Burning Down the Shack. You can probably tell which is for and which is not. Despite the potential of being burned at the stake, Layne and I attended the movie over the weekend. I had read the book a few years ago and tend to enjoy an imaginative narrative so I suspected that I would enjoy the movie as well. I don’t often say this, but I think I preferred the movie over the book.

The movie presents a theme of invitation that I particularly liked. Jesus invites Mack, the main character, to walk with him. The Spirit invites Mack to join her in the garden. “Papa” invites Mack to join the Trinity for a meal. I especially liked that scene where we see the Trinity at fellowship with one another. A picture of perichoresis. We do not often see good pictures of the Trinity at fellowship but here at least is an attempt. The general theme of the movie is an invitation to forgive.

Some highlights for me include the part where Jesus first arrived at the shack. I enjoyed the garden that was portrayed as a beautiful mess. That is, until we saw the view from above and realized it was actually a work of art. I enjoyed when Papa tells Jesus to show Mack some of his handiwork. I was expecting them to walk to the wood shop where Jesus had been working on something. Instead he took him outside showed him the sky, including a shooting star.

I like how the movie demonstrates the involvement of God in the lives of people. I suspect this is one reason many are attracted to the story. People want to have an encounter with God. The Shack presents a passionate God who is not without emotion. Here human pain is embraced by a deeply loving Trinity. Yet, I suppose one of the problems people are having with the movie is the way that God is portrayed. The Shack is an attempt to portray a story with imagination. Sometimes we forget that movies are a form of art (and a form of making profit). They are not intended for theological instruction. While theology may show itself in a movie, we should not be going to the theater to get our theology. Having said that, I like that The Shack reminds us that we have not got the Trinity figured out.

Here are some reasons to not see the movie;

  • You are certain you will like the book better
  • You think theaters are always too loud
  • You always wait for the blu ray

In other words, don’t stay away for theological reasons. I hope you never choose to go to the theater for theological reasons. Hollywood stinks at theology. If its theology you are looking for, read Barth’s Dogmatics. Go ahead and try to make a movie about Dogmatics. I doubt anyone would want to see it. But people are going to see The Shack which gives us an opportunity to talk about things we like to talk about with people who may not ordinarily be interested. I do like that The Shack is a catalyst for an important conversation.

The fact is, we want stories that speak to both head and heart. So when evil and forgiveness and the work of God are presented in The Shack it surprises me that some of us are not more interested. The criticism reminds me how much easier it is to criticize something we feel is wrong than it is to demonstrate something we believe is right.

Should The Shack be taken seriously – yes. Should The Shack be taken literally – no. Is it an exaggeration – yes. Will it prompt people to think and talk about God – yes.

4 thoughts on “A Quick Stop at The Shack

  1. Randy,
    I have not seen the movie and read most of the book a few years ago. My first thought was that I might like the book better because by it’s written form, it leaves some blanks for my own theological imagination to work. I did not want Hollywood filling in those blanks for me by giving me the pictures that could be distorted. In other words, I prefer the notion of a biblically guided imagination. [Imagination is something we have to engage in order to consider some of the heavier Christian truths like the Trinity and the Incarnation, so imagination is not necessarily bad.]

    I really like your review. It nudges me to give more well-rounded thought to both the book and movie because you shift the emphasis for the Christian who is thinking theologically away from what the book/movie might teach to what questions it might raise that can be inroads for us to talk about a more robust [Scot McKnight’s term] and biblical gospel. Good job.

    And Randy, let’s be clear. You are hip, trendy, cool and many other things.
    McGuire

    1. Steve, Glad you liked the review. I do like the idea of movies that give opportunity to have conversation we might not otherwise have had with people who may not have been interested. And do not like the idea that we often count on Hollywood to share sound theology.

      I also like the idea of a “robust gospel” and of biblical imagination. Maybe one day I’ll be hip and trendy enough phrases like those. Am always glad to hear from you.

      Blessings,

      Randy

  2. Randy,
    Thanks for your take on this. The book moved many in our congregation several years ago so the movie was eagerly anticipated. Frankly, I was surprised at the criticism and I think your review really helped put things in perspective. Several of our small groups have already gone and the movie spurred some fantastic discussions. It is always good to discuss the subjects of suffering, grief, loss and forgiveness just to name a few and from a God centered perspective at that.

    Ashland Theological Seminary had Young speak toward the height of the book’s popularity. It was interesting that even then they reminded the audience that this is a book of fiction. It is still fiction but it moves the audience to consider some very important things from a perspective not often portrayed in movies.

    Keep up the good work,
    Joe

    1. Joe, Thanks for your response. Discussing suffering and forgiveness from a God centered perspective – what a novel idea. I agree. Keep up the good work…

      Am always glad to hear from you,

      Randy

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