‘The Shack’, A false gospel: Chapter 2

'The Shack' by William P. Young
'The Shack' by William P. Young

This chapter introduces us to Mack before his tragedy, a man struggling with his understanding of the gospel. He may not “know” that he has the gospel wrong but Young places a false gospel on these pages without qualification.

We can look first at the good aspect of this chapter – “Obviously, Nan’s nightly prayers were having an effect.” Though not as much as recommended in the Bible (Deuteronomy 6:7), Mack and Nan have a family that does pray and attempt understanding of the Bible. Unfortunately, Mack is “reluctant” to worship God though he thought of himself as a rich man “in all the ways that mattered”. The family’s understanding of the Bible and Mack’s reluctant worship (even before his tragedy) seem to have been hampered by their understanding of the gospel, to which we now turn.

Explaining the gospel is a life-long venture. Exploring and understanding and relating to God in light of the gospel of Christ Jesus is what the Christian life is. So we should not expect an exhaustive explanation of the gospel in this chapter. We should, however, see where so many parts of the gospel are left out that it no longer remains the gospel but becomes a false gospel.

Mack retells the tale of the Princess of the Multnomah tribe. Young narrates after the fable that, “It had all the elements of a true redemption story, not unlike the story of Jesus that [Missy] knew so well”. Young never mentions the vast number of things that make the fable completely unlike the gospel, the story of Jesus. I’ll take this post to touch on some of them and treat two a little further.

First, Jesus was a man. Starting in Genesis the man is given the role of responsibility and leadership. As such Adam is held accountable for sin’s entrance into the world even though Eve sinned first (Romans 5:12, 19). And so Jesus Christ also had to be a man to take the role of responsibility and leadership to be our representative in righteousness, the opposite of sin. The Chief’s daughter was, obviously, a woman who underwent no special act to be the one of responsibility and leadership among her people. But Christ did undergo a special/miraculous act. Christ was incarnated, He put on humanity to be our representative. Second, because of Christ’s incarnation He was fully God and fully Man, which made Him the perfect mediator between God and Man. The princess held only her humanity. Third, God the Father asked God the Son to die a sacrificial death to redeem His people (Matthew 26:39, Philippians 2:5-8). The Chief nor the great spirit ask the princess to sacrifice herself. In fact, she decides for herself that she should be the sacrifice. Fourth, Jesus is the only Son of God not, like the princess, the only child left. Fifth, Jesus has saved us from our sin. Our sin comes both from Adam, as above in Romans 5, and our own thoughts, motivations, actions, etc. We deserve the spiritual death that is the just punishment of God’s wrath. The people of the princess have not done anything to deserve their current state of sickness. Sixth, they are not dead but only sick. We are spiritually dead from our sin (Ephesians 2:1-3). The people of the princess were only sick. Seventh, the princess is not sinless, which makes her unable to listen to her heart (Jeremiah 17:9) and a completely unworthy sacrifice. Jesus lived a sinless life so He could take the wrath of God for our sins (Hebrews 2:17, 4:15). Eighth, there is no resurrection from the dead for the princess. This event is essential, as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15 (see more below). Ninth, repentance and faith are required to be saved (Mark 1:15, Acts 16:29-31). No faith was required on the part of the people of the princess. Tenth, Jesus died to save His bride the church (Ephesians 5:25-27). The result of the princess’ death was that her betrothed and their tribes all lived. This is a message of universalism, everyone in the world being saved without respect to their relationship to the Savior (a relationship which Young seeks to make much of in the book). Eleventh, Mack later counsels Missy that God will not ask her to jump off a cliff. This is, of course, exactly what Jesus asks us to do – take up our cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23).

Two of these are most grievous, the supposed redemption and the absence of the resurrection. Without the Chief’s people being guilty of something and thus deserving their sickness, there is no redemption. They’re not redeemed from anything by the death of the princess. Though Young says it is a redemption story there is nothing the people need redeemed from. Apparently there is no wrong they have done for which they’re condemned. When Young states that this myth is a redemption story though it is not one, he highlights two things. One, he disregards our sins, the exact state from which we need saved. Two, he perverts the justice of God. God is not pictured as both just in His judgement against us and our justifier through Jesus Christ (Romans 3:26) but only as the conductor/commander of death.

The second of the most grievous two things is the lack of the essential piece, the resurrection. A pool forms where the princess dies. She doesn’t return to life. She doesn’t offer any hope that her people will not truly die. She doesn’t even rise to end all future sickness. But Jesus’ resurrection attests to His faithfulness, sinlessness, truthfulness, deity, and acts as our future hope. Mack later wavers concerning the truthfulness of the princess tale. Eventually he affirms that Jesus’ story is true and so the one of the princess is probably true too. The amazing difference in these truth claims is that Jesus’ is anchored by an amazing and historical fact: His resurrection. She remains dead. If there is no resurrection in the gospel then “we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

For application there are two points. One, we should be very diligent and consistent with our discussion of the Bible – who God is, what He has done, and what we should believe. Second, we must be especially zealous over the gospel. It is the power of our salvation from beginning to end (Romans 1:16).