In Part 1, I commented on how The Shack removes God's justice and transcendence in a way similar to other books by emergent authors. There were other similarities as well.
Deprecating the Bible’s sufficiency and clarity:
Scriptural content was markedly missing in this book, and in fact, the picture is often at odds with the Bible. Young advances a low view of scripture:
In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. 63,64
Young’s own argument in this book, largely the product of his imagination, is a good argument for making sure our supposed encounters with God are moderated and governed by scripture. His characterization of scripture as limiting and incapable of being interpreted objectively matches other emergent arguments perfectly. Emergent authors use biblical points (like that God speaks to us today) to make points that the Bible never makes (that scripture limits God, or that it can’t be interpreted objectively).
Deprecating all authority:
Emergent authors are consistently repelled by authority of any kind. This theme comes across strong in The Shack.
Mack raised the question of authority within the godhead, and Jesus says “That sounds ghastly!” The Holy Spirit (Sarayu) explains: “We have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command… What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Heirarchy would make no sense among us. Actually this is your problem, not ours. Humans are so lost and damaged that to you it is almost incomprehensible that people could work or live together without someone being in charge.”
Mack points that that every institution from government to marriage is governed by authority.
“Such a waste!” said Papa… “Hierarchy imposes laws and rules and you end up missing the wonder of relationship that we intended for you.”
Mack points out that people have adapted to it.
Sarayu was quick to reply, “Don’t confuse adaptation for intention, or seduction for reality.” 122, 123
Then “Jesus picked up the conversation. ‘…If you had truly learned to regard each other’s concerns as significant as your own, there would be no need for hierarchy.” 124
“Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In Fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.”
I’m not concerned with the argument about authority within the godhead. But this picture suggests all authority is really unnecessary and unenlightened. Confused and fallen humans have mistakenly opted for authority, but it’s “such a waste.” On the other hand, the God we read of in scripture is very authoritative. God sees authority as a good thing, and no problem for godly people. It is not confused humans, but God himself who establishes authority in the world (Rom. 13:1), the church (Heb. 13:17), and even the family (Eph. 5:22). According to the Bible, relationship is compatible with God’s authority, and should not be put over against it.
Deprecation of Jesus’ exclusivity
According to the Bible, Jesus is God's only provision for forgiveness. Those from other religions are called on to repent from their error and turn to receive Christ. Emergent authors skirt around the issue of universalism with ambiguous language designed to create the possibility of those from other religions being saved, without actually saying that. McLaren is the supreme master at this kind of language, but Young takes his place with similar language.
After Jesus points out that he, himself is not a Christian, he says,
“Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans, and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christians, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters into my Beloved.” 182
The use of the past tense, “were” makes this comment ambiguous, especially when connected with his denial that he wants to make them Christians. What is the point in this statement? Is it that believers come from these different backgrounds before they were believers, or that they’re fine within their other religions? Hard to say. But it matches the ambiguous statements by McLaren. After explaining that Muslims do what they do because they love God, he says:
I am more and more convinced that Jesus didn’t come merely to start another religion to compete in the marketplace of other religions. If anything, I believe he came to end standard competitive religion (which Paul called "the law") by fulfilling it; I believe he came to open up something beyond religion—a new possibility, a realm, a domain, a territory of the spirit that welcomes everyone but requires everyone (now including members of the Christian religion) to think again and become like little children.’ It is not, like too many religions, a place of fear and exclusion but a place beyond fear and exclusion. It is a place where everyone can find a home in the embrace of God (A Generous Orthodoxy, pp. 266,277).
What does he mean by “beyond exclusion?” Again, it’s hard to say, but it creates the impression that Jesus’ claims are not exclusive. In other places, he has claimed that universalism is completely compatible with good theology.
So, in a word, while The Shack says more things right about God than flat wrong, the overall picture is very wrong. Omitting or deprecating God’s transcendence, justice, authority, and exclusivity leaves us with a caricature of God. This is the God humans would like to have—a big friendly teddy bear who wouldn’t hurt a flea. Bible believers will wonder who this god is.