Yesterday I started a short series of blog posts revisiting the problems I have with the book, The Shack. It has been several years since this book took off as a Christian bestseller, but it seems to still have some influence. Today, let me share one of the greatest reasons why I did not like this book. It has to do with the view of the Trinity!
There is no doubt about it, the number one objection I have with this book is the way in which the Trinity is visualized. There are so many problems, starting with the fact that God the Father is personified as a large, African-American woman. God the Father is not black or white. He is not man or woman (however, all references to Him int he Scriptures are that of male or father, not mother, which is probably meant to mean something). God the Father is Spirit and we are to worship Him as Spirit (John 4:23-24).
The second commandment says that we should not make a graven image of any kind to represent God. That means, the Father and the Holy Spirit, we should not be seeking to create images of them. We can visualize Jesus as a man, but He became a man. The Father and the Spirit never did. Visualizing the Father as Aunt Jemima or the Spirit as a small Asian woman is in fact a sin of idolatry.
But that is not the main problem I have with how Young portrays the Trinity. His main error is what is known as Modalism. Before defining that, let me clarify what the Scriptural and Historical view of the Trinity. The concept of the Trinity is usually defined as "God is One in essence, three in persons." That means, there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct persons--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While God is one in essence, the Father and Son and Spirit exist as distinct persons simultaneously (Matt. 3:16-17)
It is a hard concept to grasp, but essential to our understanding of God. I have heard it said before, "Try to explain it and you'll lose your mind; Try to deny it, and you'll lose your soul."
Now on to Young's error of Modalism. This was an early Trinitarian heresy that taught there was one God, but that one God reveals himself in different ways over time; as Father, as Son, and as Spirit. This heresy would say that these are not distinct persons, but rather different names or functions for the one God. It would be like the One God is wearing three different masks as three different members. The classic illustration that I have heard many use to define the Trinity is in fact a Modalistic illustration. The same glass of water can appear as ice, liquid, or steam. But it cannot appear simultaneously in every mode. God can and does exist simultaneously as the Father, Son, and Spirit. How is this revealed in the book?
At one point, when talking about how Mack felt losing his young daughter, he looks at Papa (God the Father) and says:
"'How can you really know how I feel?' Mack asked, looking back into her eyes. Papa didn't answer, only looking down at their hands. His gaze followed hers and for the first time Mack noticed the scars in her wrists, like those he now assumed Jesus also had on his. She allowed him to tenderly touch the scars, outlines of a deep piercing, and he finally looked up again into her eyes. Tears were slowly making their way down her face, little pathways through the flour that dusted her cheeks. 'Don't ever think that what my son chose to do didn't cost us dearly. Love always leaves a significant mark,' she stated softly and gently. 'We were there together.'" (95-6)
Papa goes on to say in the book,
"When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed." (99)
At the end of that conversation between Mack (the main character) and Papa, mack says to God the Father,
"I'm so sorry that you, that Jesus had to die." (103).
The Father did not die. The Spirit did not die. Jesus died. This idea of Modalism is even more enhanced when Mack has a conversation with Jesus and asks if Sarayu (the name of the character) was the Holy Spirit.
"Yes, She is Creativity; she is Action; she is the Breathing of Life; she is much more. She is my Spirit." (110)
Once again, Young fails to distinguish between the personhood's of the Trinity. There are other parts of his view of the Trinity that I disagree with, but will not take the time to explain here. For instance, he says there is no authority even amongst the trinity. The Scriptures clearly teach that the Son submits to the Father.
Tomorrow, I will deal with the problems I have in the book in regards to its view of salvation.