The Shack and the Atonement

I have been reading The Shack by Wm. Paul Young over the last few weeks. Evidentially, I am not alone in this.

While I do find much of the book to be somewhat helpful when read very carefully, I cannot help but express some concerns with its theological underpinnings. I am going to leave some of the issues it raises regarding the trinity, theology proper, the incarnation, Christ’s exclusivity, and special revelation to those more able. (See Norman Geisler here.) I want to focus on the way the book expresses the atonement (what Christ did in His life and death to secure salvation for us).

On pages 95 and 96, we are told that God the Father has “scars in her wrists” just like Jesus does. The character that represents God the Father says that Christ did at the cross “…cost us dearly.” In this book’s scheme, the Father does not desert Jesus on the cross. The Father suffers with Christ. This has implications for other areas (see here and here), but it also has very personal implications for all of us.

God can forgive us only because Christ paid the penalty for our sins. And what was that penalty? The wrath of God the Father Almighty. All of the punishment that we deserve because of our sins was suffered by Christ. How could God the Father poor out His wrath on Himself? Christ must be seen as a distinct Person for Him to suffer God’s wrath, and if He doesn’t suffer God’s wrath for our sins, we will.

The character who represents God also states that “Regardless of what [Jesus] felt at that moment, I never left him…” (p. 96). Christ became a curse for us on the cross. All of our sin and shame were credited to Him as He suffered and died. How could God the Father not turn His back on Christ once He became a curse for us? God abandoned Christ because at the moment that Christ was credited with our sin, Christ was the worst sinner in the history of the world. God abandoned Christ so Christ could endure the abandonment we deserve on our behalf.

Because of what Christ did for us, we are no longer shameful sinners. We no longer need fear that God will punish us. God is not mad at us anymore. We need no longer fear that God will turn His back on us and leave us in our sins. As one Lutheran puts it, “God abandoned One, so He does not need to abandon you.” When we place our faith in Christ, we are loved and accepted by the Father. We are accepted because of what He did on our behalf.

(For a book-length treatment of what Christ did for us, see R. C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross.)

The Shack is an allegory, and allegories are not always a way to express great truth with equally great precision. Despite this, I do not recommend this book for newcomers to Christian theology. Much of it is misleading.

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