Should Christians Watch 'The Shack'?

(Photo: theshack.movie)Octavia Spencer (2nd from right) plays God in the film "The Shack," in theaters March 3, 2017.

Debate continues to swirl around the new film "The Shack," based on the best-selling novel, as notable Christian leaders contend it contains theological inaccuracies and Christians must be watchful.

In a Thursday interview with The Christian Post, Carmen Fowler LaBerge, host of "The Reconnect" radio program, believes that the book and movie proves biblically problematic on some important fronts.

"[Media company] Lionsgate has sought to address some of concerns about the book by framing the movie in the context of the unconscious," LaBerge said of the controversy surrounding the film. "And so, we don't theologically have the same expectations of the way the mind works in its unconscious state. "

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(Photo: Courtesy of Carmen LaBerge)Carmen Fowler LaBerge is president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and host of "The Reconnect with Carmen LaBerge," radio program.

But those efforts to respond in this manner were due to some of the strongest criticisms of the film, namely, the representation of God not only as Trinity, but the Father and Spirit shown in human form, she noted. Such physical representation "is contrary to the way the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments represent Father and the Spirit," she said.

Yet some protest that people are making too big of a deal about the movie, particularly because it is explicitly a work of fiction and never claims to be the Bible. CP asked LaBerge what makes William Paul Young's The Shack different from other works of fictitious allegorical literature that draw upon biblical themes like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

Aslan the lion is the Christ figure in Lewis' book and is the only person of the Trinity that is physically represented but nowhere is he explicitly called "Christ" or "Jesus," she said.

But "in The Shack, the characters identify themselves as the Trinity and they identify themselves specifically as individual members of the Trinity."

The average American, she noted, probably would not even understand "how thin we're trying to slice the theological pie here."

"And so my concern really is that tens of millions of people are going to see this movie. And lots of people are going to identify with the depths and reality of pain and the infliction of evil in life" and the legitimate questions about God's place in it all, LaBerge said.

The movie answers these things "in a way we should be in conversation with," she continued. LaBerge herself has authored a backgrounder resource on how to do exactly that.

The film, which is in theaters Friday, follows Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) who falls into a depression and questions his beliefs after a family tragedy. He receives a mysterious letter and is directed to an abandoned shack where he encounters three strangers, including "Papa." Through the encounter, Mack "finds important truths that will transform his understanding of his tragedy and change his life forever."

Christians who see the film will likely be able to see "the differences in the way that God is portrayed in the film from the way God has revealed Himself in Scriptures in the Old and New Testaments," LaBerge said.

But Christians operating out of a distinctly biblical worldview make up a very small percentage of the American populace.

As The Christian Post reported Tuesday, a new study from the American Culture and Faith Institute directed by veteran researcher George Barna revealed that only 10 percent of the American public, and only four percent of American millennials, hold a Christian worldview by any measurable standard.

"And so it then becomes the Christian's job to be that 'interpreter' who has both a cultural fluency and a biblical fluency and is able to help people who are going to be emotionally and spiritually impacted by this film ... help them walk from where the film leaves them all the way to the truth of a relationship with the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit," LaBerge stressed.

Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer, who plays "Papa" — the character representing God the Father — in the movie, said in an interview with CP that she appreciates how the story "dispenses with the conventional images of God and what we have in our minds as God."

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(Photo: Facebook/Albert Mohler)President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, Albert Mohler.

But Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and who hosts "The Briefing," wrote on his website last week that The Shack shows how evangelical Christians have "lost the art of biblical discernment" rooted in a "disastrous loss of biblical knowledge."

"In evaluating the book, it must be kept in mind that The Shack is a work of fiction," Mohler said.

"But it is also a sustained theological argument, and this simply cannot be denied. Any number of notable novels and works of literature have contained aberrant theology, and even heresy. The crucial question is whether the aberrant doctrines are features of the story or the message of the work." 

What especially troubles Mohler is that many are drawn to the distinctly theological message of the book, but absent the ability to distinguish biblical truth from error they "fail to see how it conflicts with the Bible at so many crucial points."

"Discernment cannot survive without doctrine," he concluded.

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