Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call with by T.A. McMahon I'm Gary Carmichael. It's great to have you tuned in. In today's program, Tom begins a two-part series with guest Dave James as they address the topic: Why Are Christians Flocking to The Shack? And now, here's Tom.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. Today and next week we're going to be discussing a movie that's having an impact upon multitudes of Christians in particular, as well as non-Christians. The movie is The Shack, which is based upon a book by the same name. And my guest for our discussion - he's actually coming to us from Budapest, Hungary, or near there (and it's pretty late there) - his name is Dave James, and our listeners are familiar with him because he's...well, he's no stranger to evaluating popular Christian books with bad theology. He's the author of The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? and The Biblical Guide to the Shemitah and the Blood Moons.
Dave, welcome back to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Dave: Well, thanks, Tom. It's always great to be with you, and I'm looking forward to our discussion, even though it's somewhat of a tough topic.
Tom: Well, it's tough, but it's in some ways - and we've discussed this before - it's like you don't want to deal with it, but we have to deal with it. And why don't we want to deal with it? Because there's so much involved that's so far from biblical Christianity. But I don't want to get ahead of myself.
Dave, before we begin our discussion of The Shack movie, I want to give our listeners a perspective of movies in general, and really how they work, and I think that might help them understand the medium of film better, especially theatrical movies, and hopefully it will underscore some important aspects of why we're having this discussion. Now, my thoughts are based here as someone who's been trained in the medium of film at the university level, and then I worked in Hollywood as a professional screenwriter for a number of years. So let's begin here.
First of all, theatrical movies are first and foremost made for entertainment. If they don't entertain, they don't make money. Movies cost a lot of money, so box office success is critical. That's the overriding objective of making a theatrical movie.
Now, theatrical movies are primarily emotion manipulating vehicles. I'll say that again: they are emotion manipulating vehicles. You see, screenplays are blueprints for taking audiences through scenes that, in effect, manipulate. In some ways, that's the idea - they influence the audience's emotions. They're designed to make people laugh, cry, to frighten them, shock them, anger them, make them cheer, repulse them, and we could go on and on. Whatever will keep them connected with the film's story, that's the strategy of movie scripts. Rare are those who have not brought forth tears in a movie, and that includes even watching animated films. For some people, it could have been Toy Story 3, or in my day, Bambi - when something takes place that really...it really hits you emotionally.
Many movies are created to deliver a message, but not every movie. Movies are never a truly accurate representation of a historical, factual account. They are never - even though they may say it on the screen, they are never true stories. Now, why is that? Because they are mere re-presentations of what the screenwriter, director, actors, [and] cameramen think may have taken place historically. Those are some of the basics of how movies work, and they are certainly apparent in The Shack, and that's why I presented this.
Dave, now let's pass, regarding the movie-making qualities of The Shack, its cinematic flaws, for example, and just address what kind of influence The Shack is having on audiences, Christians and non-Christians.
And let's start with non-Christians: you know, The Shack makes a number of points regarding things like the value of love and forgiveness, and having a relationship with God, and problems with guilt, self-control, the importance of communication, and so forth. Now, isn't that worthwhile? Isn't that of value?
Dave: Well, it would have a value if it's in the proper context. I know that you and I both deal with the issue of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis and all of these psychology things getting into the church and influencing the church, so if you go to see a "Christian psychologist or psychiatrist," he supposedly deals with these exact same things, whether it be forgiveness, relationship, all those kinds of things. But he's coming from a context that doesn't have its basis as the Bible and absolute truth. So that means the way that he deals with these very important issues (which are a very important part of everyday life and impact us socially, emotionally, spiritually at the very core of our being), if it's not in the context of the revelation from God and the truth in the Bible that tells us how to think about these things, then even thinking about the manipulation that happens with movies, they're going to manipulate people into a certain direction and a certain mindset that's either going to be taking them closer to the truth of the Word of God or taking them further away.
And even touching on this idea of emotion, I've read reviews concerning The Shack movie where some people - I read one person said there wasn't a dry eye in the place. And I even remember back a couple years ago when I was dealing with the movie Heaven Is for Real, I had read the book, I went into the movie knowing it wasn't biblical; this little boy had not gone to heaven and hadn't come back. And it got to a point in the movie and I found myself multiple times at the verge of tears because of this. So if you're trying to get people to think appropriately about love, forgiveness, and all these kinds of things, but you're manipulating them emotionally and taking them in the wrong direction, it's not helpful no matter how much it might seem that it is.
Tom: Right. Dave, in my view, you're absolutely right. Not only does the medium do that, but, folks, here's a point: you can find all of these things that I've mentioned... You know, Dave talked about psychology, the value of love, forgiveness, okay, being thankful - this is New Age stuff! All you have to do is look at the documentary and the material for something that came out not too long ago called The Secret. It was all positive mental attitude stuff, and so on. Now, no one's going to say that these things are wrong, but, Dave, your point is well-taken: if you put that in the context (or leave it out of the context) of the true and living God, the God of the Bible, then you're going to end up with another god, a false god. And certainly, whether it be the New Age, whether it be psychology, the god of psychology is self. So that's the problem.
One other point about this: many people have heard that if you have rat poison, for example, they like to say, "Well, it's mostly protein, stuff that's good for you, but there's enough arsenic in it to kill you." Well, you could almost reverse that with this: when you're promoting these ideas, and let's say it's 90 percent of attributes and qualities that are good, but there's a shift taking you to another Jesus, another God, the Trinity (which is not the biblical Trinity), and so on, that's where you run into trouble, right?
Dave: That's right. Even Warren Smith in his book Another Jesus Calling, responding to the book Jesus Calling, pointed out that we're talking about two different Jesuses. I mentioned in a class today that I was teaching here at the Word of Life Bible Institute in Hungary that the Allah of Islam is not the God of the Bible. Even though they may, to some people, seem to be referring to the same one, they're referring to two different ones. The Allah of Islam, the Qur'an says he has no son. Well, certainly he's not the same god. So I would say in many ways you can say that the god of The Shack does not reflect the God of the Bible. And so even though it talks a lot about having a relationship with God, the question is with which god is it encouraging us to have a relationship?
Tom: Dave, when we look at the attributes that we've talked about, the things that come out of the movie - and, folks, we're going to be saying this over and over again - they are...to respond to it, they are, for the most part, emotionally driven. That's what has convinced people that this is really a good thing. Well, the question then is, as you've pointed out, these values in the context of this story, are they valuable? And I think an analogy might be a polluted stream, or a polluted pool. There's nutrients in there; because it's water, it may have some value. But how long can you drink from a polluted pond, or a polluted pool before it could kill you? That's the point that we're trying to make here.
Dave: Well, that's right. I use an illustration and take off... Sometimes people make the argument, "Well, you eat the meat and you spit out the bones." Well, I know that you're a fisherman, and I'm a fisherman, too, and we've caught a lot of fish and we've eaten a lot of fish, and what I ask people - just like we have, we've all eaten fish where we've swallowed bones we didn't mean to swallow. The fish is good, and I ask the audiences, the students that I have - I say, "How many of you have eaten fish and how many of you swallowed a bone that you didn't mean to?" Well, everybody raises their hand. It happens, even though the fish is good. Then I say, "If that's true, how many of you think you've probably swallowed a bone you didn't realize you swallowed because it was embedded in the fish?" And again, almost everybody raises their hand.
And that's the point here: The Shack, when you consider the book, there are truths in there. For example, it's very clear that Jesus is not only the Son of God, He is God, and that He is fully man and He is fully God. It shows the nail imprints in His wrist, the idea that God is a God of love, that God is both transcendent and He's above the creation, but He also enters into the creation and has throughout history. So those truths are in there, but at the same time, they're embedded, and what's embedded with those are some very dangerous - I would say not just bones, but shards of razors.
Tom: Mm-hmm. And the - to nuance it, in a sense, there's mercury, as well. We try and get rid of the fat of the fish usually when we cook it, because that's not just where the pollutants but the toxic aspects of it are, and so on.
Now, a good point, Dave: we've been pointing out that there are some things in it that, by themselves, as characteristics, as qualities, they're of value. But what we've been saying: if the value doesn't override the errors, the false teachings, the doctrines, then the only value of it, and it's not of value at all, but it draws people into a false teaching, a false god, and false doctrines.
Now, let's talk about some of those things: The Bible lays out some very specific things, and it's truth. It's God's Word. It's truth. So how does...and we'll go over some of these things - in terms of false doctrine, false teaching, what can we say about The Shack that would hopefully bring it to the attention of those who are enamored by it?
Let's start with representation of God the Father, of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. You see a problem with the way they presented that?
Dave: Well, I think there's a big problem...for example, and let's just talk about the movie, because it very closely parallels the book in most of these things we're going to discuss. We'll just talk about the movie, because that's what people are going to see, and what's important about the movie is you have the additional element of the added impact of the visuals plus the cinematography, the directing, the lines that are said, as well as the music. So these things are enhanced in the movie.
So let's consider the Trinity: God the Father is played by a black actress named Octavia Spencer, and so the name that the main character uses for the Father is Papa. So Papa, the Father, God the Father, is portrayed by a matronly black woman, because it is said that the character needs a mother rather than a father. Well, this is a huge issue. Some people will try to defend it by saying, "Well, this is just allegory like Pilgrim's Progress." The problem is that it portrays, again, a different god. Even though it is true [that] God is Spirit and He is not male or female, He is masculine as He has presented Himself throughout history in every bit of revelation that He has ever given. He presents Himself as a Father and He presents Himself as a Husband to Israel, and Christ is the Husband, the King, with the church being the bride of Christ. So there's this masculine element, and all the things that we need to relate to God properly are to relate to Him as the Father. Otherwise, He would have presented Himself in an ambiguous way and as both a male and a female. At one point in the movie, the Father is represented by a Native American man because it says - well, at that point the main character needs a father figure.
Then let's consider Jesus. Jesus is presented as a Middle Eastern carpenter, kind of a cool, flannel shirt-wearing Middle Eastern carpenter, and here's the thing about the theology this is communicating: a lot of people are very confused about visions of Jesus that they claim to have and all of these things, and we understand that even though Jesus came the first time as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world, He's not coming back and not presenting Himself to people until He returns as described in Revelation 19 as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords who is going to execute judgment upon the earth in preparation to set up His kingdom. So portraying Jesus differently than what He's going to be like when He returns is a grave error.
And then you have the Holy Spirit. Again, the Holy Spirit is referred to as "He" with a masculine pronoun in the Greek; that's the way God has revealed Himself. And yet in the movie He is portrayed by a well-known Japanese actress. And what's more, He has a name, or she has a name - the Holy Spirit has a name, and it's Sarayu. Now, that is a word for "breath," but what's interesting is the language in which that means breath or wind - it's Sanskrit, which is the ancient language of India, which is the cradle of Eastern philosophy and paganism with millions and millions of gods. It's not by accident that that name is brought in and used of the Holy Spirit.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Folks, we're not trying to nitpick or just pick out little things here and there; these are major issues. You see, in the Word of God, we have God's direct communication to mankind. The Bible is referred...it's said to, and rightly so, it is the plenary verbal inspiration - in other words, every word is from God. That's what we have in the Scriptures. Now we have men, screenwriters, okay - it isn't just the author Young's perspective, but now we have it elevated to a visual medium in which screenwriters are involved, and so on. But my point here is that when you present something, it is a re-presentation of what Young believed that God is like. So whether you call it a fictional book - you say it's allegory, whatever - no! It's a medium that is teaching you, or giving you Young's perspective on what God is like.
Now, first of all, Dave, does God the Father or the Holy Spirit ever show up as a physical being?
Dave: No. John - in fact, John the Apostle says, "No one has seen the Father at any time." And the Holy Spirit...the closest to any physical representation is at the baptism of Jesus, and then it's a - he says He appeared as a dove, but even then it's not clear exactly what was going on. So even though the Holy Spirit was active on the day of Pentecost and came and indwelt, we never see the Holy Spirit.
Tom: Okay, so then what we have here is, as I said, because it's Young's book The Shack - he wrote it, it's his concepts, it's his ideas, and he's presenting a false image now in the movie sense, but also in the book, of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. So that's a huge problem.
Now, I like to use the word "blasphemy."
And [they] say, "No, no, no, come on, it really treats God wonderfully," and all of that stuff. Folks, blasphemy is not just using the Lord's name in vain or something that you might hear on the golf course, blasphemy is a misrepresentation of God. That's what it is, and throughout this book (and, you know, we could talk about many other so-called biblical movies) you have the same problem. God is not represented in the Scriptures like this. So we've got that issue.
Now, there are other things in here that are major. Dave, talk about Young's theology in The Shack with regard to "Does everybody get saved? Do only a few get saved?" What's his perspective?
Dave: Well, that's a very important question, and let me just touch one more point about this thing on blasphemy, and I'll get to answering this, but this is what came to my mind: because the movie is such a visual medium, now anybody who thinks of God the Father in the future, they are going to visualize Octavia Spencer. That is a blasphemous view. As much as she may be a nice lady, she is not God the Father. So that's a very important point.
Now, as far as salvation, one: the gospel is not clearly presented...in fact, it's only presented in the most very basic way and alluded to only when you see the nail prints both in the Father's wrists and Jesus, and we can talk about that in a little bit. And what you find is that it's very clear that Young's theology is that everyone is saved. This is a universalism or universal reconciliation, and this is tied together with the idea of forgiveness. At one point, well, for the storyline is that the main character's daughter was kidnapped, abducted, apparently raped, and murdered. And so Papa, the father, encourages the main character, whose name is Mack, to forgive his daughter's killer, and the idea of repentance is brought up, and the father dismisses it and...so what you have is forgiveness without repentance, and the main character is being encouraged to do that because the message is this is what Young believes that God forgives without repentance. Now, as that comes to the matter of salvation, there's no need for people to repent, because everyone is already presumed to be a child of God. That's the way they're presented in the movie, including his father, the main character's father, who was a child abuser, an alcoholic, a wife beater, the father in the movie asks the main character, "Well, what about murderers, rapists, alcoholics," all these kinds of horrible people who are not believers, who have not been born again, it's...the idea is that the Father is extending unlimited grace and forgiveness to those, so that there's no need for the gospel to be presented because there's no such thing as being saved. Everyone is already a child of God.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Let me interject this (we've got about three minutes left here for this segment): this is from William Paul Young's latest book Lies We Believe About God. Now, he equivocated in The Shack and in books and interviews prior to that, but now he lays it out. So he says - in the book it says, "Young asks himself the rhetorical questions: 'Are you suggesting that everyone is saved, that you believe in universal salvation?' He answers, 'That is exactly what I am saying.' Young goes on to teach that every single human being is in Christ, and that Christ is in them."
If that's the case, even though there were allusions to the gospel, he's denied it. So he can throw that out in the movie and in the dialogue between the characters, but that's not what the movie is about. This is what the movie is about from the author of the book and that's what the screenplay says.
Dave: Well, that's right, and then what you do is you enter into...not only have you entered into blasphemy, you've entered into a full-fledged, a full-blown heresy. You have to completely deny all the things that Jesus said about those who would be cast out, those who would be in hell, which was created for the devil and his angels, and all those who had not trusted in Him. You have to completely discredit the last verses in Revelation 20, which says that the unbelievers of all ages who have never trusted in Him will be cast into the Lake of Fire, which is the second death. So you have to throw out all of this - huge portions of the theology that God has given us.
Tom: Yeah, and it doesn't work just to pick out a quality, an attribute, that you saw in the movie, and...look, it may minister to you. But again, this is a polluted pool.
Now, we're out of time for this segment, but Dave James, my guest, who's...well, he's no stranger to dealing with things like The Harbinger and other books that are out there, so we're going to continue on this, and we're going to deal with many of the other heresies - many of the other false teachings.
And, folks, this isn't just academic, these are things that people watch, hear, listen, take in, put their faith in, and believe, and, as we've been saying, they do not adhere to the Word of God, to the Scriptures, and that's our concern.
So, Dave, thanks for being with us, and we look forward to next week's program.
Dave: Thanks so much. I look forward to it, as well.
Gary: You've been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 with T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of resources to help you in your study of God's Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019 Bend, Oregon 97708. Call us at 800-937-6638, or visit our website at thebereancall.org. I'm Gary Carmichael. Thanks for tuning in, and we hope you can join us again next week. In the meantime, we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.