Some have asked me to comment on the recent release of the movie version of the fantasy novel The Shack written by William Young. In order to do that, I must lay the framework for all religious-themed fantasy works by asking the following questions: 1) How much biblical truth is depicted in the work? 2) How close to the biblical narrative is the work? 3) Does the imagery or narrative cause unnecessary confusion about the Bible? 4) Do the characters paint a heretical version of the character of God?
When I was young, I read C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and told the series was an allegory about Christianity much like the classic Pilgrim’s Progress. When I was a young pastor, I was encouraged by some Mormon missionaries to read the Book of Mormon and explore my emotions that arose from the reading. When I was in Russia, I was asked to read Bulgakov’s The Master & Margarita to explore themes of God’s forgiveness and Satan’s benevolence. On a sliding scale, I would probably rank those books also in that order from benign to malignant. Even though my lost Russian friends told me Bulgakov’s work featured a false version of Christ, they said it had redemptive truth to help you know that God will ultimately forgive everyone, including Satan. Even though representatives from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said I would know the truth of Joseph Smith’s writings by the warm spiritual emotions that would arise in me, I found very little representation of mainstream Christianity. Even though I enjoyed Lewis’s attempt to allegorize Jesus as a lion who would be killed and resurrected, I found no reason to put my trust in a gospel according to Lewis any more than the gnostic Gospel of Judas.
Through the years, many writers have taken artistic license to employ biblical imagery but tell a different story. Jesus Christ Superstar won the hearts of 1970s hippies. Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven tells a story when played in both directions, while AC/DC’s Highway to Hell is straightforward. Bono sounds great when he cries about still not finding what he’s looking for. But these creative works have no more Christian truth than the allusions to Christ found in Mohammed’s Koran.
So, what about The Shack? Does it depict biblical truth or just allusions to a Trinity? How close does it come to actually following a biblical narrative? After reading the book or watching the movie, is the reader/viewer left with a different image of God than that which the Bible explicitly says? I’ll let you answer those questions for yourself, but just make sure you actually read the Bible to inform your conclusion.
And is it proper for a Christian to use artistic fantasy like Master & Margarita, The Shack, Stairway to Heaven or Highway to Hell, or Jesus Christ Superstar to convey a cloaked message along the medium of emotion? Should a Christian use false religions’ writings or even satanic literature to bring up discussions about the true Jesus? For me, it would be like using monopoly money to teach a kid about how many rubles will buy a loaf of bread in Russia: fantasy. There may be a lot of emotion in holding the pink, blue and green paper by Hasbro, but that’s just a game.