The Shack: Reflection and Response to Wayne Jacobsen
As many of you know, several years ago we compiled a brief response to The Shack titled: The Shack: Helpful or Heretical?. (Note: All links to articles and shows are provided at the end of this article). Since the publication of that little pamphlet, it has been read or downloaded on various venues, thousands of times. It also started a good conversation over the nature of Christian doctrine and evangelical consistency.
Earlier this year on March 25, 2017, we were asked by Moody Radio to appear on the show Up For Debate, to discuss The Shack with Wayne Jacobsen, who served as a co-author of the book with William P. Young.
Throughout the show, we discussed numerous topics about doctrine with both Jacobsen and other callers. So, for the sake of brevity, I would like to discuss the most important features of our conversation.
First, in that dialogue, Wayne Jacobsen admits that William Young affirmed inclusivism (not universalism) when he first wrote The Shack, then he scaled it back a degree (whatever that really means) for the publication of The Shack, and ramped up his inclusivist views after the publication of the book. In particular, Young’s so-called “implicit” views in The Shack became “explicit” in the book titled, Lies We Believe About God, and the TBN television special, Inside The Shack, on March 1st, 2017.
Second, we also notice throughout the dialogue that Jacobsen and Young have significant theological differences. Jacobsen admits that Young affirms unorthodox views (i.e., inclusivism). Jacobsen also claims to affirm an orthodox definition of the Trinity. However, the major problem with that admission and his authorial relationship to The Shack, is that seemingly orthodox definition differs categorically from the view of God and the Trinity presented in The Shack. Jacobsen cannot have it both ways. Either he affirms an orthodox view of the Trinity or he does not. Either he affirms the view taught in The Shack or Jacobsen affirms the historical view taught by the Church and Scripture.
In addition, either Jacobsen and Young agree on the proper interpretation of The Shack or they don’t. For Young interprets The Shack through the lens of theological inclusivism, whereas Jacobsen does not. However, since Young’s name appears on the book, and for all practical purposes most readers recognize Young as the sole author, it seems best to continue to maintain The Shack teaches the false doctrine of theological inclusivism.
Third, another feature of the dialogue surrounds the fact that our critique of The Shack is “unclear” or “confusing.” Again, like I said in our dialogue, when we critique the Trinitarian aspects of The Shack, we are not offering a personal or individual assessment of the book. Instead, we are comparing the claims found in The Shack to the historic confessions and creeds of the Christian Church. Like we have said before, so now we say again, the view of God and the Trinity taught in The Shack is contrary to both Scripture and the historic orthodox profession of the Christian faith. Either there is one God in three persons (unity of essence, distinction of persons) or there is not.
Fourth, Jacobsen also seems to become agitated on the show over the fact that I tried to test the consistency of his claims against those made in the book, and ultimately, against the authority of Scripture. In other words, it is one thing to retract a view about the person and work of Christ and the Trinity on a radio show, and a completely different thing to prove those claims in your co-authored book. To correct these errors, Jacobsen would need to both affirm orthodox doctrine on each of the fourteen problems we found in his book and rewrite The Shack to reflect the historic Christian faith.
Given these claims, I would like to make a few brief comments:
First, evangelical Christians must understand that Jacobsen and Young worked to make and sustain a theological argument throughout their book. The Shack, unfortunately, falls short of the Bible’s teaching on the person and work of Christ, the Trinity, the nature of salvation, and much more. For that reason, it should be regarded as both dangerous and heretical.
Second, I also want to let people know that Devin Pellew invited Marcia Montenegro and myself on his podcast, Theology Matters, to discuss The Shack. There Marcia and I spent two hours discussing the theological ramifications of The Shack.
Third, I would also like to extend an offer to both Jacobsen and Young to formally debate the claims made in The Shack. Specifically, I would like to debate the nature of Christ’s work and atonement (e.g., inclusivism verses exclusivism) or the Trinity or both. This proper format would allow each side to make an argument for their view, clarify any misconceptions, and respond to objections in the cross evaluation.
I would like to conclude this brief reflection by reminding our readers of our final comments from the article: The Shack: Helpful or Heretical?. There we maintain:
The Shack may do well for many in engaging the current culture, but not without compromising Christian truth. The book may be psychologically helpful to many who read it, but it is doctrinally harmful to all who are exposed to it. It has a false understanding of God, the Trinity, the person and work of Christ, the nature of man, the institution of the family and marriage, and the nature of the Gospel. For those not trained in orthodox Christian doctrine, this book is very dangerous. It promises good news for the suffering but undermines the only Good News (the Gospel) about Christ suffering for us. In the final analysis it is only truth that is truly liberating. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). A lie may make one feel better, but only until he discovers the truth. This book falls short on many important Christian doctrines. It promises to transform people’s lives, but it lacks the transforming power of the Word of God (Heb. 4:12) and the community of believers (Heb. 10:25). In the final analysis, this book is not a Pilgrim’s Progress, but doctrinally speaking The Shack is more of a Pilgrim’s Regress.
Videos and Links:
- Moody Radio Show: Up For Debate: https://www.moodyradio.org/programs/up-for-debate/2017/03-2017/2017.03.25-should-christians-see-the-shack/
- Devin Pellew, Theology Matters: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/truliferadio/2017/03/08/theology-matters-with-the-pellews-the-shack-an-in-depth-discussion
- Paul Young on TBN: https://www.tbn.org/programs/inside-shack/watch/inside-shack
- Response to The Shack: http://defendinginerrancy.com/the-shack-helpful-or-heretical/
- YouTube version of the Up For Debate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sDGCQDc-TY
- YouTube version of Theology Matters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BU83qn5bCbA
Below is the response I received from Wayne Jacobsen. Unfortunately, Jacobsen fails to interact with the false doctrines in his book. I again, wanted to hold him accountable to the claims he made in the book. This mini Facebook interaction summarizes it well (May 12, 2017). Notice: 1) He believes I falsely characterize his book (read the responses, I directly quote him); and 2) He believes The Shack is nothing more than a work of art, not a sustained theological argument (which is false, because Jacobsen makes specific claims about God, the Trinity, Christ, the Holy Spirit, sin, and salvation).