‘The Shack’ Trailer Is Reigniting a ‘Heresy’ Controversy

A trailer for the upcoming big screen adaptation of William Paul Young’s popular novel The Shack recently hit the internet, and reignited a controversy about the book’s depiction of God.

In the book—and the new film—a grieving father meets God in the form of three individuals who make up the Trinity: a Jewish carpenter (Jesus), an Asian woman (the Holy Spirit) and an African-American woman (God the father), who is played in the movie by Octavia Spencer.

Evidently, this still isn't settling well with some critics. As The Washington Post notes in a long feature about the book, movie and the controversy, a California pastor and filmmaker named Joe Schimmel is speaking out against it. He told Christian News Network that the “caricature of God as a heavy set, cushy, nonjudgmental, African American woman called ‘Papa’ (who resembles the New Agey Oprah Winfrey far more than the one true God revealed through the Lord Jesus Christ—Hebrews 1:1-3), and his depiction of the Holy Spirit as a frail Asian woman with the Hindu name, Sarayu, lends itself to a dangerous and false image of God and idolatry.”

Some have even gone as far as to call it heretical.

Spencer herself has referenced theological controversy, telling USA Today that the movie isn’t a literal depiction of God: “It’s like ‘Oh, my God! Someone is playing God.’ But people have to remember it’s a manifestation of God. How (the film subject) sees God. Not necessarily how or who or what God is.”

Last year, William Paul Young explained in an interview with GoodReads that he wanted to challenge people’s ideas about the character and nature of God with his work of fiction.

The word "mercy" is from the same root in Hebrew as the word "womb," and so every time you read "mercy" you are dealing with the maternal nature of God …

We need to have a conversation that deepens our understanding of, and appreciation for, what being human is all about and that everybody, in my view, every single human being is a unique expression of the spectrum of both the masculine and feminine, because God is neither male nor female.

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He also seemed to welcome the controversy—and conversation—the has book caused, saying, he liked the “visceral response way more than I appreciate ambivalence,” explaining,

At least with an angry person you can have a conversation, because when people are upset, something in them is being challenged enough to raise their ire, and that's an engaged process and opens up the possibility of really great conversation. I love the questions, I love the conversation, and I think it's our way forward.

The movie, which also stars Avatar’s Sam Worthington, hits theaters in March.

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Matt Wright

11

Matt Wright replied to Simon L Smith's comment

I think if many people took the time to investigate how much maternal imagery is associated with God throughout the Bible, their heads might collectively explode

Shawn Walrus

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Shawn Walrus commented…

Firstly, 'Sarayu' is not a Hindu name. It's a name of an Indian river that means 'to flow', 'air, wind' and 'that which is streaming'.

Secondly, I understand why some people might be uncomfortable with God the Father being portrayed by a large black woman, but think about it - He was portrayed by Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty (with much less controversy)... as if that was any more accurate! No one can accurately portray God in acting, simply because we are all confined to one biological gender, whereas God is beyond gender; neither male nor female. The best any writer could do was to portray someone who displays some of the known characteristics of God (gender not being one of them), which I think was decently achieved in the story.

To place God within your mind's framework of 'What God is supposed to be like' is to create an inaccurate image, because, if we believe that God is infinite, how can we, in our finitude, expect to conceive an idea of Him that's anywhere close to His full reality? We have but a glimpse in our current life! To worship an IMAGE of God is not the same as worshipping God. And the critics talk about idolatry, ha!

I'm glad this book was written and this film made, because I think so many of the Church's paradigms need a good violent shake! (:

11 Comments

Drake De Long-Farmer

2

Drake De Long-Farmer commented…

I actually got to sit down with the author (Wm Paul Young) and talked about the book, the story behind the story, how he deals with his critics and exploring a better way to dialogue when we seriously disagree with someone. It is interesting that we are quick to lay utter judgment when we don't even understand the full story. One may still disagree with the end conclusion, but we may be better off to find clarification and know the details before we jump to conclusions. You know?

If it interests you, here the in conversation we had in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5SMhJqCvS4

Teri Simpkins

1

Teri Simpkins commented…

Religions have always had a problem with the way people see God, especially if it's not the same way they want him to be. And the way they want God to be is the way they interpret the Bible, not always the way God is, seeing as the Bible is interpretations of interpretations of interpretations. When movies come out that say something about God that isn't the same as any religions version, they call it heresy or call for boycotts. "The Last Temptation of Christ" was boycotted by Catholic churches all over this country. The Catholic church didn't like "Godspell" nor "Jesus Christ Superstar," because both used modern music the church didn't approve of.
If something makes more people discuss God, I'm all for it, whatever that might be.

Shawn Walrus

11

Shawn Walrus commented…

Firstly, 'Sarayu' is not a Hindu name. It's a name of an Indian river that means 'to flow', 'air, wind' and 'that which is streaming'.

Secondly, I understand why some people might be uncomfortable with God the Father being portrayed by a large black woman, but think about it - He was portrayed by Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty (with much less controversy)... as if that was any more accurate! No one can accurately portray God in acting, simply because we are all confined to one biological gender, whereas God is beyond gender; neither male nor female. The best any writer could do was to portray someone who displays some of the known characteristics of God (gender not being one of them), which I think was decently achieved in the story.

To place God within your mind's framework of 'What God is supposed to be like' is to create an inaccurate image, because, if we believe that God is infinite, how can we, in our finitude, expect to conceive an idea of Him that's anywhere close to His full reality? We have but a glimpse in our current life! To worship an IMAGE of God is not the same as worshipping God. And the critics talk about idolatry, ha!

I'm glad this book was written and this film made, because I think so many of the Church's paradigms need a good violent shake! (:

Jennifer Treadwell

1

Jennifer Treadwell commented…

If anyone is interested, Paul Young is appearing at a church in Florida to take questions and discuss the book: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-shack-seminar-tickets-29793938472?aff=C...

Robin Burkhalter

1

Robin Burkhalter commented…

I just watched the movie. There is a reason why God is depicted as a woman and it becomes apparent as the story progresses and you find out more about the main character. I think most people fail to ever discover God because they are so boxed in by religion. Religion has him all figured out. They never get outside the box. And like the main character, what they believe, what they have been TAUGHT, actually causes more problems. I know people who live for church and all the religious ritual of devotion and prayer and so forth will disagree, but some people have to get away from that to actually discover God. I know from experience. So I actually pretty much agree with comments "Jesus" made about religion.

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