The Shack: A god without expectations

(This is part 3 in a 4-part series. See also part 1, part 2, and part 4.)

In The Shack, William Paul Young takes pains to present a god devoid of authority. We examined this in part 2. But what is it like to serve a god(dess) who has no authority?

It could be the most freeing thing you’ve ever experienced–if you’ve always hated the idea of obeying your Father. Let’s take a look at what The Shack has to teach us about obedience, expectations, responsibility, and duty.


1. No expectations
1.1. Are you saying I don’t have to follow the rules?
1.2. No responsibility
1.3. No knowing, no trusting
1.4. No sanctification
1.5. No testimony
2. Just sharing life
2.1. Not all those endless meetings
2.2. Not a bunch of exhausting work
2.3. No agenda
3. Just what we hoped for!

1. No expectations


1.1. Are you saying I don’t have to follow the rules?

Sarayu: Jesus laid the demand of the law to rest; it no longer has any power to accuse or command. Jesus is both the promise and its fulfillment.
Mack: Are you saying I don’t have to follow the rules?
Sarayu: Yes. In Jesus you are not under any law. All things are lawful.
Mack: You can’t be serious? You’re messing with me again.
Sarayu: Mackenzie, those who are afraid of freedom are those who cannot trust us to live in them. Trying to keep the law is actually a declaration of independence, a way of keeping control.
Mack: Is that why we like the law so much–to give us some control?
Sarayu: It is much worse than that. It grants you the power to judge others and feel superior to them. You believe you are living to a higher standard than those you judge. (203)

The law of God gives us no power to judge others and feel superior to them. Only the one who keeps it perfectly can be said to keep it at all, and we do not even come close–at every turn we sin and fall short. Our boast is not in the law. And in Christ, that law no longer has the power to accuse. We’re not under it. And the Jewish ceremonial law is gone as the book of Hebrews teaches us, having been a shadow pointing to the fulfillment by the Lamb of God; and the Jewish civil law is gone.

But God’s moral law (summarized in the Ten Commandments and the two great commandments) remains the perfect expression of the Father’s will. Think of a son who delights to do his father’s will. When speaking of his obedience to his father, he would not think of asking someone, “Are you saying I don’t have to follow the rules?” as if his fondest wish were to dishonor his father by ignoring his will. Is his obedience to his father, imperfect though it is, “a declaration of independence, a way of keeping control”? Does it grant him “the power to judge others and feel superior to them”?

No! He’s just an obedient son who loves to do his father’s will.

As for freedom, thank the Lord that in Christ at last we have freedom to obey our Father’s will (His law) to the best of our ability without being under the condemnation of that law! (See the Of the Law of God post for more about this.)

This freedom bears no resemblance to Mack’s ungodly question, “Are you saying I don’t have to follow the rules?”

1.2. No responsibility

Sarayu then speaks against ‘responsibility’ and ‘expectation’.

“Then let’s use your two words: responsibility and expectation. Before your words became nouns, they were first my words, nouns with movement and experience buried inside of them; the ability to respond and expectancy. My words are alive and dynamic–full of life and possibility; yours are dead, full of law and fear and judgment. That is why you won’t find the word responsibility in the Scriptures” (204-205)

Ignoring for a moment that this is a lie in implication (if not all translations have the exact word responsibility, they all have the word duty everywhere), in Psalm 119, the psalmist praises God for His…


Listen to just one section out of twenty:

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By keeping it according to Your word.
With all my heart I have sought You;
Do not let me wander from Your commandments.
Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You.
Blessed are You, O LORD;
Teach me Your statutes.
With my lips I have told of
All the ordinances of Your mouth.
I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,
As much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Your precepts
And regard Your ways.
I shall delight in Your statutes;
I shall not forget Your word.
– Psalm 119:9-16 NASB

If the words ‘responsibility’ and ‘expectation’ are “dead, full of law and fear and judgment”, then what are we to do with these words?

Are His laws to be rejected?
Are His testimonies to be ignored?
Shall we walk in ways other than His ways?
Is it our joy to spurn his statutes, commandments, judgments, and ordinances?
Do we desire to use our freedom to close our ears to His Word?

God forbid!

1.3. No knowing, no trusting

A little while later, “Papa” speaks similarly:

Mack: Are you saying you have no expectations of me?
Papa: Honey, I’ve never placed an expectation on you or anyone else…because I have no expectations, you never disappoint me.
Mack: What? You’ve never been disappointed in me?
Papa: Never! What I do have is a constant and living expectancy in our relationship, and I give you an ability to respond to any situation and circumstance in which you find yourself. To the degree that you resort to expectations and responsibilities, to that degree you neither know me nor trust me. (206)

“To the degree that you resort to expectations and responsibilities, to that degree you neither know me nor trust me”?

The Holy Spirit says that knowing God is wrapped up in obeying Him:

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.
– 1 John 2:3-5

And that it is the obedient one who can trust Him:

Who is among you that fears the LORD,
That obeys the voice of His servant,
That walks in darkness and has no light?
Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.
– Isaiah 50:10

See William Paul Young enticing the sheep away from from knowing and trusting his Shepherd, and be warned!

As for the unrepentant adulterer, the unrepentant pedophile, the murderer, the thief, the greedy man, the tyrant, the sodomite–The Shack gives false comfort to the unrepentant, teaching these not to fear even God’s disappointment, let alone His wrath…

But our God says,

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS…
– Romans 2:5-6

Think of the wife pleading with her emotionally distant husband to fulfill his vows and, for the love of God, share himself with her. Taught by William Paul Young, he answers, “Get away from me with your expectations and responsibilities, woman! Your words are dead, full of law and fear and judgment.” The one who calls someone to be faithful to a vow is now the problem, while the faithless one feels the continual smile of his god (who has never been disappointed in him but feels only a constant and living expectancy toward him).

1.4. No sanctification

There’s no sanctification, either.

Papa: “For now I just want you to be with me and discover that our relationship is not about performance or you having to please me. I’m not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way. I am good, and I desire only what is best for you. You cannot find that through guilt or condemnation or coercion, only through a relationship of love. And I do love you.” (126)

Yeah! Down with all those self-centered demanding little deities going around insisting on their own way. Who do they think they are, anyway, those bullies? It’s obviously much better for us to have our way.

I wonder what it is like to worship a god such as William Paul Young here suggests, a god over whom you are sovereign. Is there any difference between that and worshipping a god of wood or stone?

Now, it’s true that our relationship with God is not about performance. “By the works of the law shall no man be justified.” But we just as we are saved from something (God’s wrath), we are saved to something–good works:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. – Ephesians 2:8-10

And, God doesn’t insist on His own way? But how else will we be sanctified? No, thank the Lord He does insist on His own way with us:

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification…
– 1 Thessalonians 4:1-3

And, “You cannot find [what is best for you] through guilt or condemnation or coercion, only through a relationship of love”?
So, throughout history God has apparently been a fool to send His prophets and apostles and preachers to condemn sin and call to repentance. And all the plagues and foreign army attacks and famines that drove His people back to him (Psalm 106; Judges 2:11-19; Ezekiel 14:12-23) were a bad idea too, since coercion doesn’t work. Hell, God probably doesn’t even spank His kids, does He?

Brothers and sisters, see the dark wickedness in this teaching, a teaching that tries to separate a relationship of love from all the acts our loving Lord has done throughout history to call His bride, His children, back to faithfulness in that relationship.

1.5. No testimony

Turns out there’s no need to even be a Christian:

J: Remember, the people who know me are the ones who are free to live and love without any agenda.
Mack: Is that what it means to be a Christian?
J: Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian. (181-182)
Mack: No, I suppose you aren’t.
J: 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 Christian, 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.
Mack: Does that mean that all roads will lead to you?
J: Not at all. Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you. (182)

What freeing teaching the false Jesus of The Shack offers here. How magnanimous and open-minded of him! Think of all the suffering we can avoid simply by not bearing the name of Christ!

But see how differently the Scriptures speak:

…it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
– Acts 15:25-26

The Holy Spirit says:

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you…if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.
– 1 Peter 4:14, 16-19

The Apostle Paul bore marks on his body because of the name of Jesus:

From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.
– Galatians 6:17

And there is no other name by which we must be saved:

“…let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead– by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.
– Acts 4:10-12

The Good Shepherd will travel any road to find His sheep; but when He finds them, He will bring them into the fold through the Door…

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.”
– John 10:1-3, 7

Only a thief and a robber would say otherwise.

2. Just sharing life

Well. With the personal Christian walk taken care of, what does Young teach about life in the Body of Christ?

Mack: Then what’s with the pearly gates and gold stuff?
J: That stuff, my brother, is a picture of me and the woman I’m in love with. It is a picture of my bride, the Church…
Mack: “So how do I become part of that church?” he asked. “This woman you seem to be so gaga over.”
J: “It’s simple, Mack. It’s all about relationships and simply sharing life. What we are doing right now–just doing this–and being open and available to others around us. My church is all about people and life is all about relationships. You can’t build it. It’s my job and I’m actually pretty good at it,” J said with a chuckle.
For Mack these words were like a breath of fresh air! Simple. Not a bunch of exhausting work and long list of demands, and not the sitting in endless meetings staring at the backs of people’s heads, people he really didn’t even know. Just sharing life. (177-178)

Now in the Body of Christ there is sweet fellowship, we do experience relationships and share life.

And we know that…

Unless the LORD builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the LORD guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.
– Psalm 127:1

And that it is the Lord who builds His church:

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
– Matthew 16:15-18

But Young’s characterization here of what church is is just as bad as his characterization of what the personal Christian walk is. Let’s take three areas and compare what William Paul Young says to what God has said.

2.1. Not all those endless meetings

Church is “Not the sitting in endless meetings staring at the backs of people’s heads, people he really didn’t even know,” huh? “Just sharing life.”

A man after God’s own heart thinks much differently:

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD.”
– Psalm 122:1

And again,

How lovely is Your tabernacle,
O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, even faints
For the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
– Psalm 84:1-2 NKJV

But here Mack is thanking his lucky stars that he won’t have to be “sitting in endless meetings staring at the backs of people’s heads, people he really didn’t even know.”

I’m not sure the devil himself could come up with a more vomitous, turpid description of the ekklesia, the assembly of God’s people to worship Him. Fleeing from Saul in the wilderness of Judah, David thirsted more for that assembly than for water:

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
– Psalm 63:1-2

But it’s a breath of fresh air to Mack that he won’t have to be “sitting in endless meetings staring at the backs of people’s heads, people he really didn’t even know.”

2.2. Not a bunch of exhausting work

“It’s all about relationships and simply sharing life. What we are doing right now–just doing this–and being open and available to others around us.”

Look at the duties of elders and see what a bunch of exhausting work, what a long list of demands faithful pastoring is. Then compare it to the false religion J declares to Mack and that Mack finds to be such a breath of fresh air: just sharing life!

What a fool I’ve been, wasting my time trying to be true to my responsibilities as a faithful husband, father, and brother. What fools faithful pastors are, doing the exhausting work of getting into the messy, bloody, sinful mess of people’s lives and challenging them with the claims of God’s law, exhorting, encouraging, rebuking, teaching, always subject to the anger and slander of the unrepentant as well as occasional persecutions, messy divisions, and the scorn of the world and of the more respectable–when all they needed to do was be open and available to others around them, simply sharing life!

2.3. No agenda

Finally, there’s not even a commission. No agenda:

J: Systems cannot provide you security, only I can… I don’t have an agenda here, Mack. Just the opposite. I came to give you Life to the fullest. My life.
Mack was still straining to understand. “The simplicity and purity of a growing friendship?” “Uh, got it!” (179-180)

J: All I want from you is to trust me with what little you can, and grow in loving people around you with the same love I share with you. It’s not your job to change them, or to convince them. You are free to love without an agenda. (181)

The Lord Christ said,

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you”
– Matthew 28:19-20

And God has made us ambassadors of a proclamation that demands a response:

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
– 2 Corinthians 5:18-20

But the false god of The Shack says, “I don’t have an agenda here, Mack.”

3. Just what we hoped for!

The Shack teaches us of a god that you can honor apart from obeying. A god that offers friendship with you without having authority over you. No discipline, no authority, no responsibility, no expectation, no knowing, no trusting, no sanctification, no commission, and no testimony. Just “sharing life.”

We can say ‘Lord, Lord’ and it need have no connection to obeying what our god says. Wow! Just what we hoped for!

What son
What mother
What husband
What church officer
…wouldn’t in his flesh like to be free from the duty to submit to mother, husband, pastor, and the civil magistrate?

What mother
What husband
What church officer
…wouldn’t in his flesh rather be free from all responsibility for souls and obligation to teach and instruct, rebuke and discipline?

O brothers and sisters, flee from the lies of The Shack.

This entry was posted in authority, book reviews, false teaching, honoring God's Word. Bookmark the permalink.

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