‘The Shack’ Movie Review – Heresy, Universalism, & False Gospel


By Steven Bancarz| ‘The Shack‘ is a book that has sold over 23 million copies, and has recently become a major motion picture.  As someone who has not read the book, I was excited to see the film.  The trailer looked good enough, the cinematography appeared to be pleasant, and the story line one which could really initiate healing in many people’s lives.

I actually went to see the movie during a rainstorm and a power outage, because I was really looking forward to seeing the my first ‘Christian’ major motion picture in over a decade and wanted to see what the hype was all about.

This book has made a positive impact on a lot of people, who I fully believe have received healing and restoration from this book in some way.  But unfortunately, the movie contained strains of heresy that are so opposed to scripture that it is hard to stand behind.  There are some things that are so direct that they are shocking, and some things that are less direct but very slippery and suggestive.

Paul Young (author of The Shack) recently released a book called Lies We Believe About God where he clears up any confusion we may have about what The Shack teaches by denying the existence of Hell, denying that sin separates us from God, denying we must believe in Jesus to be saved (since he thinks we are all already saved), denying that Jesus was a sacrifice for our sins, and by claiming we can repent and be restored to God even after death.

While The Shack does not teach all of these heresies, it does suggest some of them implicitly.  One line that “Papa” says in the shack stands opposed to about 100 scripture verses and denies the heart of the Gospel. We are going to take a look at some heresies in The Shack movie right now, and we will clearly see that this is not the God revealed in scripture.

1. The Father was crucified with the Son.

The Shack teaches that the Father was actually crucified on the cross with Jesus, suffering for the sins of the world.  We know from scripture that the Father was in Heaven while Jesus was on earth:

“For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” – Matthew 12:50 (ESV)

It was the Son who was sent by the Father for the sins of humanity.  The Father sent the Son (John 3:16), the Father stayed in Heaven (Matthew 6:9, Matthew 7:11, etc.) the Son went back to the Father (John 14:12, John 14:28). To believe the Father suffered for the sins of the world is to commit the heresy known as Patripassianism:

When asked in an interview by Matt Slick of CARM if the Father was crucified with the Son, Paul Young finally says: “Sure…The Father was in the son when the son hung on the cross…He went through the crucifixion in the son.”  While the movie affirms three distinct persons in the Trinity, it is a pretty big error to believe that the Father suffered on the cross.

I really can’t see any reason to include this in the book or movie other than to make an appeal to emotionalism at the expense of Biblical accuracy. Here is the scene from the movie where “Papa” says that she was on the cross with Jesus:

2. God doesn’t punish sin.

This line almost made me fall out of my seat.  When Mackenzie (the main character) asks Papa (the Father) if she ever has wrath towards sin and punishes people for it, she replies:

“I am not who you think I am Mackenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring from the inside. It is not my purpose to punish; it is my joy to cure it.” (1)

The Bible says about 100 times that God punishes sin.  Jeremiah alone contains over 30 references to God punishing sin using the word “punish” specifically:

I will punish you according to the fruit of your deeds, declares the LORD;” – Jeremiah 21:14

Ezekiel alone contains over 15 direct references to God punishing sin, using the word “punish”, while Amos (10), Hosea (9), Zechariah (6) and Isaiah (6) are also littered with these specific references:

“Now I will soon pour out my wrath upon you, and spend my anger against you, and judge you according to your ways, and I will punish you for all your abominations.” – Ezekiel 7:8

If we add in the additional references to God’s general wrath against sin, we are looking at a number much, MUCH larger.  This one line denies the heart of the Gospel.  The wages of sin is death, we are sinners deserving of God’s justice, but Jesus took our punishment and judgment in our place so that we could be forgiven while God’s justice satisfied.  It says in Isaiah that:

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:4-5

Jesus was a propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2), was a fragrant offering (Ephesians 5:2) and sacrifice towards God (Hebrews 10:12).  Jesus died FOR our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3), and was the atonement for our sins against God (Romans 3:25).

This is what the whole theme of “justification” is all about, that we have been declared righteous and not guilty through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  We were redeemed, bought with a price, and ransomed by the death of Jesus.  He kept the law perfectly, we are imputed his righteousness through faith, and we are made right with God since God’s justice against our sins has been completed in the work of Christ.

So if The Shack teaches that God never punishes sin, and the Bible teaches 100 times that God punishes sin and that Jesus was punished for our sins, then we have a problem here.  This is not the same God of the Bible.  Plain and simple.

Paul Young teaches a false Gospel

How can you believe that Jesus died for our sins without believe that God punishes sin?  You can’t.  You must adopt a false Gospel in order to reconcile these two together.  Paul believes that everyone is already saved as of right now, and that we are just resisting relationship but can choose relationship at any point (even after death).

Paul doesn’t believe God sent Jesus to die for our sins, and this false Gospel of universalism that he teaches is the backbone of this controversial quote in The Shack.  This gives context and clarity to the line “Papa” says to Mackenzie.  Paul Young says the following about this traditional understanding of the Gospel:

God has never wanted sacrifice.  Never.  That has never been a part of God’s plan.  [Jesus] came to get us out of this retributive, punitive thing.  And this is not new doctrine, this is early church.  The early church didn’t believe that the Father killed his Son.  We’ve got God the Father who is the antiseptic one, the one who needs to be appeased and that we need to sacrifice to and Jesus provides himself so that God the Father doesn’t beat the Hell out of his like he did to him.  

You understand? How crazy is this? And who knows where the Holy Spirit is. Is the Holy Spirit trying to protect the Son from the abusive Father, or is the Holy Spirit just silently standing by being an enabler for the Father?” (2)

When asked if he believed the cross was a place of punishment for our sin, he responded by saying:

“No. I am not a penal substitution, reformation…I don’t see that it’s necessary to have the Father punish, in that sense, the Son.” (3)

So this one line in The Shack is enough to undermine the entire Gospel, the work Jesus did on the cross, and the God of the Bible.  This, to me, is the worst heresy in the entire film and book.  You can’t have the Gospel as it is revealed in scripture if you don’t have Jesus paying the price for our sins.

There is another scene that seems to suggest God doesn’t send people to Hell, there is a scene where Jesus says he is not a “Christian” and doesn’t care if other people call themselves Christians either, where the Father says men are such “idiots” sometimes, and how can we leave out that the Father is represented by a woman when Jesus says nobody has seen the Father (John 6:46) God says that nobody can see his face and live (Exodus 33:20).

I put together a full movie review where we go through some of this stuff more in depth, we look at additional problems in the film, as well as some more of Paul Young’s views and how they relate to scenes in the movie:

This is not a movie/book that accurately represents the God of scripture, it denies the heart of the Good News and the cross, and waters down God’s justice to nothing more than universalism.  While it may be psychologically and emotionally healing, it teaches a different version of God that contradicts the Father whom Jesus revealed to us.

Paul Young has taken accountability, justice, and the true nature of God away and replaced it with something more palatable.  The Shack is an excellent concept for a film, has a great story line, and even brought me to tears during a scene.  It brings me a certain level of sadness because I see the huge potential in this story, but theologically it is too far off base to be manageable.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” – 1 John 4:1

  1. The Shack, Windblown Media, 2007, pg. 120-121
  2. “An Interview with Wm. Paul Young (Part 2) – Orchard Grove Community Church MI – Feb 2017”, YouTube, 2017
  3. “Episode of wretched – Author of The Shack is universalist”, Wretched. YouTube. 2009
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