“The Shack,” a film based on a novel of the same title that depicts God as a woman, will be released in March 2017.
The William P. Young novel has been the subject of debate among Christians for years. Some groups claim the depiction of the godhead is merely symbolic, while others say the book is blasphemous and waters down the gospel message.
The Lionsgate Entertainment film stars Sam Worthington as the main character, Mackenzie Phillips, a father who struggled with devastating pain at the loss of his daughter. The story says Phillips was on a vacation with his family when his daughter Missy was abducted. After a thorough search, authorities found her lifeless body in an abandoned shack.
After some time, Phillips received a note from “Papa” inviting to meet with him at the same shack where his daughter was found. Phillips went to the place thinking the message was from his daughter’s murderer, but instead he encountered the Godhead.
And this is where the debates begin. The Godhead, as depicted by Young, goes outside the box of conventional Christian belief. God the Father, or “Papa,” was shown as an African American woman named Elousia, while the Holy Spirit was portrayed as an Asian woman named Sarayu. Jesus was shown as a male carpenter of Middle Eastern descent.
Christian readers have criticized the depiction of the Godhead as unbiblical, but many others have come to the author’s defense.
CBN contributing writer Belinda Elliott said the whole thing is mainly symbolic of God being who we need Him to be and should not be taken literally. She said it is “meant to capture many of the attributes of God that we read about in the Bible.
“God relates to us in the ways that we will best be able to hear Him,” Elliott wrote. “Because of Mack’s painful childhood memories of an abusive dad, perhaps he would not have embraced God the way we typically see Him portrayed, as a Father-figure.”
“Why should we be concerned whether God is portrayed as male or female when, in fact, Scripture tells us that He is neither? God is Spirit and has no gender, even though the Bible often uses the pronoun ‘He’ for God and describes him as a Father-figure,” she said.
Tim Challies, author and blogger who does book reviews, said “it is no small matter” to portray God in an image, something that “the Bible clearly and repeatedly forbids.”
“The third of the Ten Commandments likewise forbids attempting to make any visual portrayal of God. To worship such an image, to acknowledge it as God or even to pretend it is God is to commit the sin of idolatry,” he wrote in Boundless.
Challies noted that the book “has a quietly subversive quality to it” that appears to challenge readers to veer away from “preconceived notions” about Christianity, such as the church, the Bible and “theological certainty,” and invites them to “accept what is.”
“Though we certainly do need to maintain some objectivity when we study Scripture, God has also told us many things with certainty and we need to cling tightly to these,” Challies wrote. “Many preconceived notions are theologically sound and informed by biblical truth.”
Challies also commented that the book “downplays Scripture at the expense of personal experience” when it comes to hearing God’s voice and does not give Scripture prominence in the story. The gospel message in the novel was also incomplete and “says little of sin and of justice.”
Author James De Young, who wrote ‘Burning Down the Shack,’ claimed ‘The Shack’ introduces a different gospel and does not emphasize that a relationship with God can only come through faith in Christ.
De Young warned that ‘The Shack’ has the “potential to damage Christian theology for several generations.”
“One does not use error to teach truth,” he told WND. “Jesus is love, but he is also truth. By deemphasizing or neglecting the justice or holiness of God in s the service of propounding a heresy about the love of God, one cheapens the love of God.”