The Shack, by any metric, is one of the new millennium’s most successful Christian books. It’s sold 10 million copies since publication in 2007, spent 70 weeks at No.1 on the New York Times bestseller list, and been celebrated by Christian luminaries including Eugene Peterson and Michael W Smith. But at the same time, it has received widespread condemnation from prominent Christians like Chuck Colson, Albert Mohler and Mark Driscoll. Is it any surprise the film version is controversial?
Sam Worthington stars as Mack Phillips, an everyman with a loving wife and three children, including precocious younger daughter Missy. He occupies a pew at church and has a nodding relationship with spiritual things. Everything seems idyllic until a fateful family camping trip. His two older children are involved in a canoeing mishap. While Mack is administering CPR, his youngest goes missing. Every parent’s nightmare follows, involving police searches and a heart-stopping revelation by the FBI that Missy may be the victim of a serial killer. When her bloody dress is discovered in a rundown shack, Mack’s happy life comes to an end.
Mack withdraws into himself until, one day, he receives a note from ‘Papa’ inviting him back to that horrifying hovel. Papa is the name Mack’s wife uses for God, and what follows is a spiritual encounter unlike any other. Mack meets Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Father – a young Middle Eastern laborer, a mysterious Asian woman and a middle-aged African American woman, played by Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer. The Trinity has gathered at the shack to help Mack find a way through his grief.
Portrayals of God in film are fraught with danger – how can anything so finite contain the infinite? – but The Shack scores above recent attempts for its readiness to tackle the big questions. In just over two hours it considers the presence of pain, the nature of forgiveness, the necessity of trust, and of course, why God allows bad things to happen to good people.
The Shack is an allegory for suffering humanity’s struggle with God and, as such, does some things well at the expense of others.
On the positive side, the film leaves no doubt God remains sovereign in the worst situations, never abandons those who love him, and can bring ‘… incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies’. The Shack overflows with that sense of God’s plan to draw people into a deeper relationship with him.
Yet viewers will have to take the good with the bad. In its determination to reveal a personal, approachable ‘Papa’, The Shack abandons any concept of a holy Creator or divine Lord. Worst of all, the film drives a deep wedge between God and his word. The Bible’s revelation of who God is, is constantly sidelined in favour of whom we need him to be.
It takes an evangelical faith and replaces it with a mystical belief, in which our personal perceptions ride roughshod over God’s self-revelation. When it comes to God, feelings and experiences can be good guides, but they are bad masters.
The Shack can be safely entered by those who seek a reminder that the Father’s love is never in question, but it’s not a place to find a full picture of God. That resides in the Bible.
DISTRIBUTOR: Heritage Films
RELEASE DATE: 25 May 2017