Christians Beware: Just Like “The Message” “The Shack” is New Age Mysticism


I can just hear Satan saying to weak or immature believers:

“Did God say that you must read the Bible? Surely you are wise enough to understand spiritual matters. The Bible is so outdated. Look for new revelations about God from other people. God just doesn’t want you to be as wise as he is.”  <hissss>

And so it begins.

Eugene Peterson

This man is the author of the New Age “mess” called “The Message.” Mr. Peterson is one of the biggest fans of “The Shack.”He was the pastor of a Presbyterian Church USA for 29 years. He was Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia until he retired in 2006.

What is Spiritual Theology?


“Spiritual theology is a branch of theology that emphasizes living “in the spirit” instead of “in the flesh.” In other words, it is concerned with how a person grows and develops spiritually. The term spiritual theology is most often used in Catholic circles, where it involves the exploration of the works an individual must perform in order to advance to “perfection” in the Christian life. Spiritual theology is seen by Catholic theologians as the uniting of the theologies of aestheticism and mysticism.

Catholic theologian Fr. Jordan Aumann defines spiritual theology as “that part of theology that, proceeding from the truths of divine revelation and the religious experience of individual persons, defines the nature of the supernatural life, formulates directives for its growth and development, and explains the process by which souls advance from the beginning of the spiritual life to its full perfection.” Note that, in this definition, “religious experience” is given equal weight with “divine revelation.” In other words, spiritual theology is not drawn from the Bible alone; it comes from experience in addition to the Bible. This fact alone should cause us to be wary of such a theology.” source

The “Beginning of spiritual life to its full perfection” sounds so much like Hinduism to me; reaching different levels of spirituality and “reincarnation” until they reach perfection.  Satanic lies – all of it. We will be perfected when we are in His presence.

Here is what Eugene Peterson says about The Shack:

“When the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian cross-fertilize the result is a novel on the order of “The Shack.” This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” did for his. It’s that good! –Eugene Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, Vancouver, B.C. – source

Other books written by Peterson:

Here are the titles of some of his works:

  • Traveling Light: Modern Meditations on St. Paul’s Letter of Freedom (Helmers & Howard Publishing, 1988)
  • Wisdom of Each Other: A Conversation Between Spiritual Friends (Zondervan, 2001)
  • The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980)  – source

SATAN’S PLAN (as it relates to mysticism in “The Message” and “The Shack”)

  • Christianity must embrace mysticism
  • Doctrines about the Bible rejected
  • Bible to be interpreted and taught allegorically, not literally
  • Christian doctrine to be changed
  • New Bibles will contain new Gospel and new message
  • Mysticism to be taught in Christian and Jewish seminaries
  • Mysticism to be made accessible to average person
  • Those teaching mysticism to the Church will deny it
  • New Age mysticism to be promoted by the Church and Masonry
  • Mysticism will become the universal religion through the ecumenical movement
  • World Bible to be based on mysticism   source

I really did not expect to find a book review on “The Shack” on, but I looked and lo and behold -there it was!


Note – At, we typically do not write reviews of books. Our goal is to provide quality, biblically-based answers so that people will be able to evaluate teachers / ministries / books for themselves. However, in recent months, we have been receiving a significant volume of questions about The Shack by William P. Young. As with any book, if you read The Shack, compare what it teaches with Scripture, and reject anything that does not agree with God’s Word.

What is’s review of The Shack by William P. Young?

Answer: The Shack has become a publishing phenomenon, a bestseller by a first-time author that has rocketed up the sales charts with rumors of an impending movie—not bad for a book that was self-published by the author, William P. Young, and started out being sold out of a garage.

The glowing reviews for The Shack hail it as everything from the new Pilgrim’s Progress (theologian Eugene Peterson, translator of the Bible paraphrase The Message) to “the best novel of 2007” and “one of the rare fiction books that could change your life” (various five-star reviewers). According to the book jacket, Young was raised by missionary parents living among a Stone Age tribe in New Guinea. He wrote the novel for his six children to explain his own journey through pain and misery to “light, love and transformation,” according to a profile in USA Today. The “shack” of the story was the ugly place inside him where everything awful was hidden away, a result of his history as a victim of sexual abuse, his own adultery and the ensuing shame and pain, all stuffed deep in his psyche, as Young explained.

This background is important because Young’s past appears to greatly color his view of both God and Christianity, resulting in a severely flawed view of both. The story begins with Mackenzie “Mack” Phillips, a father suffering great pain—a “Great Sadness,” according to the story—because of the death of his young daughter at the hands of a serial killer. Mack receives a note from “Papa” to meet him at the rundown shack in the woods where police had found evidence of his daughter’s murder six years earlier. Mack, who was raised by a hypocritical, vicious and abusive father who was also a pastor, already understands from previous experience that “Papa” is God. Mack approaches The Shack with rising anger, wanting to lash out at God for allowing his young girl to be killed. Instead of the old man with a long white beard, as Mack expects, he’s suddenly embraced by “a large beaming African-American woman” who introduces herself as Papa.

Mack is then introduced to the rest of the Trinity: Jesus, a Middle Eastern man dressed as a laborer, and the Holy Spirit, a woman of “maybe northern Chinese or Nepalese or even Mongolian ethnicity” named Sarayu. The rest of the story is a conversation among the three members of the Trinity and Mack as they work through issues of creation, fall and redemption.

Subtle and not-so-subtle heresies
Young’s intentions are good. He wants to introduce readers to a loving God who was willing to sacrifice his own Son to save us from our sins. But all heresies begin with misconstruing the nature of God. From Jehovah’s Witnesses to Mormonism to even Islam, they all get it wrong when it comes to understanding the God of Scripture. Young joins their company. Part of the problem arises because his story is confused and inconsistent. He doesn’t set out to mislead, but he himself is misled, either by himself or others.

He wants desperately to show us the God of love as found in Scripture (1 John 4:8), but he ignores the other side, the God of utter holiness (Isaiah 6:1-5) and, ultimately, the final Judge (Revelation 20:11-15). Any presentation of God that shows only one side of His nature is wrong. In an effort to counter a false view of God as only the judging avenger of wrath, we must not go the opposite direction and present Him only as a loving, indulgent parent who never judges sin. Both extremes are false in that they present an incomplete picture of God as He shows Himself to us in Scripture.

By emphasizing only one part of God’s nature, The Shack actually leads readers astray with regard to God’s attitude towards sin. Papa tells Mack, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.”

To be sure, sin often carries within itself its own punishment (Romans 1:27). But sometimes the wicked prosper in this life (Jeremiah 12:1). More importantly, Scripture is full of references to God’s impending wrath against sin and unbelief (John 3:36, Romans 1:18, Romans 2:5-8, Colossians 3:6, and many others.) For The Shack to give the impression that it is not God’s purpose to punish sin is the height of bad theology and irresponsibility.

We anthropomorphize (attribute human qualities to) God the Father at our peril. He is spirit (John 4:24), and when He refers to Himself in anthropomorphic terms, it is always as a father. This is important because any attempt to make God a female inevitably leads to goddess religion and God’s becoming some sort of fertility figure, a worship of the creation instead of the Creator (Romans 1:25).

And for some reason Papa changes form later in the book to become a gray-haired, pony-tailed male. No, God does not change Himself to accommodate our flawed understanding of Him. He changes us so we can see Him as He truly is (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Papa acknowledges that Jesus is both fully human and fully God, but she adds,

[H]e has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything. He has only lived out of his relationship with me, living in the very same manner that I desire to be in relationship with every human being. He is just to do it to the uttermost—the first to absolutely trust my life within him, the first to believe in my love and my appearance without regard for appearance or consequence.

But that’s not what Scripture says. Jesus in fact was before all things and through Him all things were created and hold together (Colossians 1:16-17). The words Papa speaks are a form of the ancient heresy of subordinationism, which puts Jesus in a lower rank within the Trinity. Scripture teaches that all three persons of the Trinity are equal in essence.

Scripture also teaches that there is a hierarchy of authority and submission within the Trinity. Papa tells Mack that authority and submission are a result of sin, and the Trinity is a perfect circle of communion.

Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or “great chain of being” as your ancestors termed it. 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. Hierarchy would make no sense among us.

But Scripture teaches that authority and submission are inherent to the Godhead and have existed from the beginning. Jesus was sent by the Father (John 6:57), and Jesus says it is his intention to obey the Father’s will (Luke 22:42). The Holy Spirit obeys both the Father and the Son (John 14:26, John 15:26). These are not the result of sin; they are the very nature of the Godhead in which all three persons are equal in essence but exist within a hierarchy of authority and submission.

The Shack also teaches a form of patripassionism, another ancient heresy that teaches that God the Father suffered on the cross. At one point, Mack notices “scars in [Papa’s] wrists, like those he now assumed Jesus also had on his,” and later Papa says, “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. Even though we have always been present in this created universe, we now became flesh and blood.”

God the Father and God the Holy Spirit did not speak themselves into human existence; only the Son became human (John 1:14).

A low view of Scripture
The Shack wants to make God accessible to a hurting world, but its author also has a very low view of Scripture; in fact, he mocks anyone who holds that there is such a thing as correct doctrine.

In seminary [Mack] 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. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges.

If one is to teach error, it is important to do away with Scripture, either by adding to it (Mormonism), mistranslating it (Jehovah’s Witnesses) or simply mocking it (The Shack and some others in the ”emergent church”). But if you are going to claim to teach about God, you must stick to what He has declared to be His revelation about Himself and His will to us. In other words, correct doctrine, a point stressed numerous times in Scripture (1 Timothy 4:16, 2 Timothy 4:3, Titus 1:9, Titus 2:1). Yes, we are not just to be hearers (and readers) of the Word; we are to live it. But we can’t live it unless we know it, believe it, and trust it. Otherwise, the God you present is merely a creation of your own imagination and not the God that everyone must stand before on that final day, either as friend or condemned sinner.

But it’s only fiction
Some defend The Shack by saying it’s only a work of fiction. But if you’re going to have God as a character in your fiction, then you must deal with God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. By using the Trinity as characters, The Shack is clearly indicating that it’s talking about the God of Christianity. But God has said certain things about Himself in Scripture, and much of what’s in this novel contradicts that.

More importantly, why does the author feel the need to change the character of God in this story? In a way, he’s saying that the God who reveals Himself to us in the Bible is insufficient. The author needs to “improve” the image to make it more palatable. But God never changes Himself so that we can understand Him better. He changes us so that we can see Him as he truly is. If God changed His nature, He would cease to be God.

If a friend had a cold, abusive father, don’t make the God of your story into a warm, loving female to compensate. Show your friend what a true father is like, using the example from Scripture. If your friend is hurting, don’t comfort him with soothing lies, such as The Shack’s assertion that God does not judge sin. Show him the God of all comfort found in Scripture, the God who was willing to save him from that judgment by sending his Son. – source

I’d like to speak about the “But it’s only fiction” statement.  If it’s truly only fiction, why are so many churches using this book as a resource in their Bible studies?

The lack of discernment, even among pastors, is alarming.  We have the Word of God – His OWN WORDS.

Why would we reach out to a flawed person for truth, when their writings do not align with the Bible?



14 thoughts on “Christians Beware: Just Like “The Message” “The Shack” is New Age Mysticism

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  3. What surprises me is that the author did not understand Jesus was a man from heaven. When Jesus came to earth as a man it is not HIS first time because we know this by the fact that GOD met Abraham in the form of man before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. .and old testament provides similar other examples…It always starts with westerners when they come up with mysticism, and i am tired of it..Father Son HolySpirit has been like a parable misunderstood. Those who walk closely with GOD will know GOD is one there is no three,,though he has different functions according to TITLE. If Jesus was not GOD…it is useless to follow Christianity because Jesus is the fleshly form of GOD with Holy Spirit inside. we actually don’t know what Jesus was saying when he was referring as Father…the closest interpretation could be his spiritual form of Holy Spirit. if Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, and Holy Spirit is the Spirit of GOD…what is the difference between father and son..nothing…just the visible and invisible. Other thing is about right hand of Father. How can large Jesus fit into father’s hand(I am trying to make a sense here),,,people worshiped Jesus and called him GOD in gospels. I don’t know why people are getting confused with trinity though it is similar to sun and water. Sun-heat-light and water, ice, vapor..they are one..without each there can be no water and sun. If Father GOD has the fleshly form Jesus and spirit form Holy Spirit…doesn’t that make sense..Holy Spirit is not a woman, neither he is Nepali like me,,,Holy Spirit is GOD himself.,when i was a child people called me Hoope, then i was named Raj Kumar, Today i am Thomas,,,but in reality all this three person is one…during different stages of life that’s it

  4. If taken as what it is; a Fantasy fiction novel, then I’ll be ok with it. Not unlike Lord of the Rings or Narnia. Now however, if one where to use any of them as a basis of bible study, then there becomes the problem. I’m of the belief that when studying the bible, USE the bible. Sure there are a few good commentaries out there, but still use the bible to interpret the bible.

    Not all new translations out there teach a “new gospel”. The ESV, TLV, and HCSB are a few that are very decent translations. There is no perfect translation of bible out there. However there are some VERY bad ones. Now, the Message is a paraphrase, not a translation. I do have a problem when places of study/worship use the Message as a point of scripture. I’d be very careful using a paraphrase as a matter of quotation. Are we as a people that dumb to read a normal translation that we need a paraphrase? I came to belief at a very young age and read through the bible NIV and KJV multiple times by the age of 13. I surely didn’t need a paraphrase……

    As for the Shack, when my hyper-faith, Word of faith friends tout it as such a wonderful spiritual experience, I’ll simply avoid it. There are many other fantasy Christian Based faith books and films out there that are kosher. The Encounter comes to mind.

    1. We will have to agree to disagree. In “The Shack” the characters are God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They are portrayed as bizarre characters – two of them as women. This is seriously corrupting the Word of God. You spoke of Narnia and Lord of the Rings. I do not believe that JRR Tolkein crossed the lines which were so recklessly crossed in The Shack.

  5. Geri, I am SO glad to see this article. We did “The Shack” in my Book Club and I was livid when I read it. They were all “happy happy” because they all thought they were going to heaven and this was a wonderful thing. We also read “90 Minutes in Heaven” and “Heaven is for Real.” (the second, was pretty easy to trash.) These blasphemous books will lead many to hell. Each time I came armed with the Word of God. I was not popular those nights but I was blessed by the Holy Spirit in my presentation of Scripture. It shows how willing people are to believe a lie when it tells them what they want to hear. (sorry for the rant)

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  7. Good work people. I’ll add my two cents from my pastoral letter posted in our church bulletin just last week.

    “Controversy over the 2007 bestselling book by William Paul Young will resurface when the film – which began shooting in June – is released.” (Prophecy teacher Jimmy DeYoung). While the film’s release date is yet to be set, the book sold 25 million copies and was printed in 41 languages. The author, uses spiritual pop-fiction “as a servant” of theology, (or so he claims). The book is really a gross allegorical painting an unbiblical portrait of God that’s sure to lead millions more astray. Instead of using his readership to advance the Gospel. Young teaches Universalism – that is, that because God is a loving God, all people will be saved. (Please don’t confuse the author of “The Shack” (William P. Young) with Dr. James DeYoung, professor at Western Seminary. That later recently wrote in a column for, “I maintain that ‘The Shack’ represents the greatest deception foisted on the church in the last 200 years!”

    So how does Young (not to mention Sarah Young and her “Jesus Calling” get away with this? One commentator writes,

    “Not since the time of the Colonies and Isaac Backus has universalism been in such ascendency in the public psyche. The Shack is not a new Pilgrim’s Progress for our day but a house of deceit deserving destruction.”
    DeYoung is the author of Burning Down The Shack, a book that critiques the popular novel. (You should also read Pastor Larry Debruyn’s book “Unshackled: Breaking Away From Seductive Spirituality,” 2009, which you can view at (no commission, just good reading)

    Although John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress has been compared to The Shack and both books employ allegory, the two could not be more different, DeYoung wrote. Bunyan “took the teaching of Scripture and allegorized it,” but “the theology promoted in [William Paul] Young’s novel is of a particularly sinister and heretical variety. William P. Young departs from an evangelical understanding of God, in whom holiness and love are equally balanced, to a Universalist understanding of God, in whom love is the overarching essence of “the divine.” For Universalists, love is paramount character of “God” and righteous judgment, unchangeable absolute truth and holiness are considered to be in conflict with his love. DeYoung wrote. “In comparison with Bunyan, Young denies that there is future punishment and that God punishes sin.” He also denies eternal Hell is his attempts to galvanize the Gospel with tarnished “truths” that exist in two minds: Young’s and the devil’s. Does he know what he’s doing? If he’s read his critics, he knows that there are serious Bible students and many pastors like myself that have written challenges with book, chapter and verse in tow. Yet, he presses on. Think money has anything to do with his motivation? I’m glad God is the one who’ll sort that out one day very soon. But let me help you understand the Young behind the book. for just as readers can learn a lot about the theology of “Pilgrim’s Progress” by studying Bunyan, they also can learn about the theology of “The Shack” by examining that author’s theology. Of Young, Dr. Jimmy DeYoung wrote.

    “I have known the author of ‘The Shack,’ Young, for more than a dozen years. In 2004, Young wrote a lengthy document in which he REJECTED HIS EVANGELICAL FAITH, AND EMBRACED UNIVERSALISM (emphasis mine). As DeYoung reviews:

    “… He said then: that evangelical faith and its teaching about judgment makes God ‘grossly unjust’; that ‘Jesus is a million times more vicious and vindictive than Pharaoh, Nero or Hitler put together’; that Jesus Christ is ‘not the Savior from sins’; that Jesus died ‘a failure and in vain and never saved anyone’; thus Jesus ‘is not even a good man but a liar, a rogue and a deceiving rascal’; that ‘Calvary is a farce, a travesty and a sham.'” Young then “began work on a novel proclaiming universalism for his children.” And then three years later Young “rewrote the fiction and published it as ‘The Shack,’ It’s partly his autobiography.”

    In promotion for another new Young novel, ‘Eve’, Young’s publisher promotes, “‘The Shack’ shattered our limited perceptions of God. ‘Eve’ will destroy our harmful misconceptions about ourselves. …”

    So for Young, the Bible is a book that limits human perception about God, and his first book, “The Shack,” corrected the Bible with a more broad-minded revelation! In like manner, Young implies his soon to be release “Eve,” will correct the Bible’s “harmful” revelation of the Fall of man he considers it to have fostered as “misconceptions about ourselves.” He’ll doubtless present a much more appealing version of humanity and the human condition than the one that needs “saving” by Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the grave alone. Young considers the Bible too narrow in its perspectives on both God and man, and creates new (false) ways to reconciliation man to God and God to man in a less offensive way. It is “another way,” and “another gospel,” contrary to Jn. 6:44-65:14:6. (See Galatians 1:6-9; 2Cor.10:3-5; 11, 13-15).

    In the book ‘The Shack,’ Young attacks the Christian’s traditional use of the Bible as God’s only spiritually inspired, Self-Revelation. Young promotes God as saying: “I am not who you think I am,” and, “Perhaps your understanding of God is wrong.”

    Traditionally, evangelical churches have stood as obstacles to the advance of Universalism and its humanistic teachings. Sadly, that is no longer the case. I am aware of church pastors who bought Young’s ‘The Shack’ BY the case and distributed copies free to their congregations! But this is not new. In the late 1700s, Universalism’s heresies were spreading throughout the colonies as carry overs from European’s “enlightenment” (really a counter reformation led by humanistic philosophers). Now it seem that William P. Young is WUI, (“writing under the influence) in a drive toward the bank! Evangelical churches need once again to “sound the alarm.” Sham on the many major Christian publishers who have failed Christian readership by selling this book instead of listing warnings about its theology. “O’ but it’s not theology; it’s fiction!” Save the life raft for someone else. I’d rather walk on water with the real Jesus when He returns as “Judge of the living and the dead” (2Tim.4:1). I agree with Dr. Jimmy. The Church in America no faced one of the most deceptive times in our history. The challenge is to “no longer be tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by cunning craftiness, whereby the lie in wait to deceive.” (Eph.4:14).

    May God grant us the wisdom gleanable from Biblical Truth to withstand the onslaught of the all-inclusive Universalism of our day, represented by ‘The Shack.’ And may God deliver us from a generation of lying writers masquerading as “Christians.” One thing’s for certain: Young’s tapped into a nerve that ministers some type of mystical steroid to that sector of the public who seek a “spirituality” that exalts them. In many cases, their fight is against depression from not getting a participation trophy just for being born. Why not go for a do-over dear friends. The Jesus of the Bible not only taught you CAN be “born again…. He taught that to see the Kingdom of God, “…you MUST be born again.” (Jn.3:3-8).

    In closing, the words translated “trickery” actually mean “to roll the dice” as in a gambling game. (1) life is not a game; (2) I’m not staking my eternity on a roll of any man’s dice. Why would anyone gamble away his/her life now and eternity future on the authority of William P. Young—a man who repudiates the Bible and reinvents the Gospels to suit himself?

    Pastor Gregory Allen, State College, Pa

      1. Thanks Geri. I apologize for the many typos in my piece. I wrote that in the middle of the night after having crashed after out-patient surgery that day. I think I was still feeling the affects of the anesthesia! LOL. This is why at discharge, they said, “And don’t make any important decisions or sign any legal papers for the next couple of days because your judgment might be blurred a bit from the after-affects of anesthesia”. Guess my proof-reading was a bit blurry too!

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