Discernment lesson: The Shack and Beth Moore's treatment of Paul. Part 1

Writers live with words. We are immersed in them, basking in their variety and understanding their power. I have been a journalist, so I know this intimately. A reporter chooses words consciously because we are limited to short article lengths. We must be precise, knowing that each word must convey a certain meaning in a short amount of space. I've been a grant writer, and have been even more restricted to limiting the number of words we are allowed to use. I know that each word counts and is consciously placed on the technical document to convey a certain thought. I've been an academic researcher, overlaying words to express what the numbers are saying. When I read a book I know that the author has chosen each word, and in some cases likely has fought with an editor over them.

Therefore when I read a book like William P. Young's "The Shack" or Beth Moore's "To Live Is Christ: a Study of Paul's Life and Ministry," I know that each word is on the page consciously and for an author-chosen reason. I also know that most readers absorb information unconsciously. The most dangerous heresies come from books, in my opinion, because a speaker could possibly be forgiven for misspeaking (once or twice). An author cannot. Writing takes time, and as noted above, each word is chosen purposely.

Most people read books without thinking of the words, but they are absorbed into the mind and certain emotions the author wanted to evoke will be created in the reader's heart. So please take note carefully when I say that discerning either Christian novels such as The Shack, or biblical non-fiction theological books as the ones Beth Moore writes have an intent. They are sharing a point of view in which the author desires to present a point and often that point is made without you even noticing it. Let's take a look at exactly what I mean when I say words count and they shade meaning.

I wrote a few years ago in a blog entry on The Quiet Life that "The Shack is a devilish Deception. I'd said about The Shack,  "A concern is also in the sly ways the book chips away at solid biblical principles with craftily written statements such as, "the dusty old King James Bible" or church attendance is "religious conditioning" or that the term "Christian" is "outdated", as uttered by in the book by the character "Jesus", saying,  "Who said anything about being a Christian? I am not a Christian." People may not even be consciously aware of having read negative intent against the bible or Jesus but they are influenced by them anyway."

Pastor Walter Henegar at the blog byFaith wrote of the sly craftiness of Young's choice of words in The Shack, and their cumulative effect: "[D]isdain is conveyed early on: “God’s voice had been reduced to paper. … Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?” (p. 65-67). ... More significant, when Mack [the main character] mentions biblical events or concepts (often in gross caricature), “God” promptly brushes them off and glibly explains how it really is. Unlike the biblical Jesus, who constantly quoted the Old Testament and spent many post-resurrection hours “opening their minds to understand the scriptures,” The Shack’s Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu turn Mack’s attention away from Scripture, coaxing him to trust instead their simplistic lessons set in idyllic, Thomas Kinkade-like scenes and delivered in the familiar therapeutic language of our age. ... The result? To the extent that you trust The Shack, you will distrust your Bible—including huge chunks of the Old Testament and at least half of the red letters. Few errors are more corrosive to vigorous Christian faith. Some will plead that there is enough meat for careful readers to spit out the bones, but sadly, this yeast leavens the whole loaf."

Mr Henegar makes a good point about the leaven. A leavening agent is used in recipes where the desired outcome lightens and softens the entire batch. Yeast is a common leavening agent. The dough rises upon foaming bubbles as carbon dioxide is released, making air pockets. However, since leaven is an ingredient, it is mixed thoroughly in the batch, and no part of the batch is left untouched by it. If the leaven is bad, the whole loaf will be spoiled.

That is a good metaphor for bad doctrine. No part of the church will be left untouched by heresy coming from the pulpit. No part of the mind will be left untouched by a false doctrine when reading it in a book. Such use of sly language is highly corrosive. Avoid The Shack. And when reading any book that alleges affiliation with Christianity, be mindful of the words the author chooses. Young says the bible is dusty, old, and outdated. I say the bible is fresh, living, and inspired. The difference in the words we choose reveals a point of view. Don't absorb Young's.

To those who dismiss any criticism of The Shack because it is 'just' a novel, Mr Henegar explains, "Of course, not every detail is worth dissecting; a novel is not systematic theology. Yet it’s clearly more than just fiction. Mack’s conversations with Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu make up the bulk of the book, with his questions serving as little more than prompts for their extended divine speeches. Though never citing Scripture directly, the characters make enough allusions to biblical content to imply fidelity to orthodox Christianity."

Of course if Young has written, "Don't believe the bible because it is old and outdated" you would spot the heresy easily. The craftiest heresy doesn't announce itself. It lays lurking in the negative words authors use to describe holy things.

I feel so strongly that The Shack contains crafty heresy, that not only did I write about it on my secular blog, but also on this blog, The End Time. Four times in all.

Burning Down The Shack

Why Christians Should Not Read The Shack

The Shack is a Doctrine of Demons

In the next blog entry coming up momentarily, let's take a look at a book that is not a Christian novel but a biblical exploration of the life of Paul from Christian speaker Beth Moore. We'll look at how Mrs Moore uses words to shape your perspective of Paul away from the biblical presentation of his character and toward her own skewed and emotional point of view of the man.


  1. I read "The Shack" because it was gifted to me, and before I even got through the first few chapters, I wanted to throw it away and never see it again... But I stuck it out, to say that I read it completely. And I was more disgusted with it when I finished than when I started.

  2. I was disgusted too. When the character of 'God' came to greet Mack, and she was a woman, I was disgusted. By the time 'God' said that Jesus wasn't the only way but He was the best way, I about threw the book across the room. And it is a shame, the writing was good.

  3. It's always a shame when a creative person, who has been given those gifts by the Lord, uses them in ways that do not glorify Him.

  4. Hi Elizabeth,
    I have been struggling with this post, you see I met the author. A group of us had dinner with him and questioned him about the Shack. I don't know if you know the history about this book, the reason why he wrote it and the persecution he and his family have gone through because of it. He explained this to us after dinner. You see, his niece use to go to my church and it was through her that this dinner was arranged, because during this time William was under going very hot persecution.

    William admitted that he was a gifted writer and words were his friend and this book was written for his family only, describing his healing journey through a very deep dark childhood. The book was never to be published, but to explain to his kids how God came in and healed him from a disturbing past. The book was past from his family to friends then to more friends of friends and the word came to him that this book should be published for it helped others to be released from ideas of a man made God and see God in a different light, as approachable, loving and very forgiving. He never wanted to do this but with a lot of persuasion, he agreed to bring it to publishers, which they turned it down as it was just to far out there from the conventional idea of God. In the end he started his own publishing company and millions of books were sold. He had letter after letter from hurting people who explained that this book helped them to get past the block in God and then gave their lives to Christ and could understand God as a loving forgiving Creator.

    This is a fiction book that was written after years and years of therapy and this is how he was able to see God as a forgiving Father and was able to forgive God for all the pain and suffering he went through as a result of his childhood trauma.

    I have issues with some of his concepts, but when looked at this book through his eyes and where he is coming from I can see this as a resource in helping people who just cannot get past the hump in their lives because of issues. It is not a bible and Williams words were along the lines of, it shouldn't be treated as such but only a tool to help people connect.

    I would never have understood all this if I hadn't personally questioned him and heard his answers for myself. The hardest critiques are Christians, which can be sad for we are to be understanding yet correcting as well.


  5. Hello Child of God,

    I thank you deeply for your thoughtful and winsome comment. I sympathize with people who have gone through stuff, as many have.

    However, I must gently respond in a contrary fashion. It matters not to me what a person has gone through, because we all have gone through things. Actually a Christian who has gone through stuff and come out on the other side with a stronger faith in the God of the bible has my admiration and is an example to be followed. A Christian who has spent 11 years wandering on the fringes of Christianity and has come out on the other side writing a book that presents a different God of the bible instead has my scorn.

    The fact that Young says that "it's only fiction" also has my scorn. That disingenuous comment was busted in the blog entry here:
    "To those who dismiss any criticism of The Shack because it is 'just' a novel, Mr Henegar explains, "Of course, not every detail is worth dissecting; a novel is not systematic theology. Yet it’s clearly more than just fiction. Mack’s conversations with Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu make up the bulk of the book, with his questions serving as little more than prompts for their extended divine speeches. Though never citing Scripture directly, the characters make enough allusions to biblical content to imply fidelity to orthodox Christianity.""

    Mr Young's own words in an interview as to the origins of the books are thus:

    First, choosing to present God in a way that He has not presented Himself, as a woman

    "Well, you have to keep in mind that my youngest child is 15, the oldest is 28. I wanted to play with the paradigms we have theologically. A lot of our paradigms I think are so male oriented and skewed gender-wise. You would almost think God was actually a male. Or at least 51% a male, and we know that He’s not. All maleness and femaleness are derived from His character. Imagery is going to be inadequate at some point, whether it’s male or female. Plus it fit the storyline".

    Mr Young decided to spice up the portrayal to fit his needs and to fit the entertainment value for his children. This is not a good reason to deviate from the most basic way God chose to present Himself: as a male.

    Second- Young's response to the fact that 'it's just a book of fiction.' He says:

    "I love the controversy. It elevates the conversation."

    So he decided to vary from theologically sound doctrine for the purpose of stirring controversy. Also, the book doesn't 'elevate the conversation, it confuses it. In effect, he is saying he can write a better theology than God. Doing this disrespects God.

    Third, as to his troubled origins and his difficulty in relating to God as a result of his hardships:

    "I held it together until I was thirty-eight years old, and then it all blew apart thanks to the grace of God, and I started an eleven year process of dismantling everything and putting it all back together."

    So we have a flawed man, troubled and outside the boundaries of doctrinal theology of the bible, choosing to be controversial, on the track of a personal dismantling ... and what 'came back together' was not Christianity. He did our faith a disservice by choosing to write a book that focuses on a *different* God of the bible than the one presented to us by Hismelf. I don't care how many people "come to faith" after reading this book, the faithful, forgiving God is in the bible, and if they need a watered down, non-exclusive, non-judging, no-sin kind of God to relate to, then they have problem. A BIG problem. Young has a bigger one. Teachers are held to a higher standard. He will have a lot to answer for in writing something so heretical. He may be a nice man, he may be a troubled man, but that does not matter. His response to the God of the bible matters. I forgive nothing in his journey to the publication of this book.

  6. the Young interview is here


  7. Hi Elizabeth,
    Thank you for this wonderful explanation. I see where you are coming from and since I am not gifted with words and do have trouble trying to say what is in my heart, I will leave it at this.

    I really appreciate you taking the time to explain things, you are very thorough and what you have said truly makes sense.


  8. Child of God, thank you. I do feel wretched when I have to explain something that is taking a side that is opposite from the person's I am speaking with, while knowing they have a personal connection to it...it's hard to be a hard-liner. Maintaining a balance of biblical truth and emotional compassion is important. I understand that the biblical/moral issues of the day become complicated when there is a personal or family connection, as there are so many parents I know who are dealing with children who are coming out of the closet...my only fall-back position is the bible. In cases where there IS an emotional connection it is even *more* important for the fall-back position to be the bible because our hearts love the people in our lives so much. It helps my vision stay focused.

    I thank you for your graceful response and peace be unto you always...

  9. Thank you, for this post! This helps.


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