Monday, April 10, 2017

Review of The Shack


I rarely go to the cinema anymore because it has gotten to be such an expensive proposition. First, there is the ticket, of course. Even with discounts for being a veteran or a senior citizen or a child maybe, admission is often 100% more than it was when I was attending the triple Wednesday horror show at the Bellaire Theater in Houston. Once you're inside, the smell of popcorn drives you crazy until you relent and purchase a bag. For $25, you can buy a big container, take it home with you and bring it back next time. They'll presumably fill it up without ever charging again, but you still have to pay $25. If you want a one shot deal, you have to pay $4 or $5. Naturally, all that popcorn makes you thirsty and Dr. Pepper is the only liquid that can satisfy that sort of thirst. Cha-ching, another $4 to $5. If you've got a sweet tooth, that's another 4 or 5. Anyway, it's too dang expensive to go to the movies anymore, but I did anyway because my date wanted to see a particular show.

Okay. She wanted to see a movie entitled The Shack. Derived from the popular Christian book, The Shack overall has a gracious message that is presented via an unorthodox view of the nature of the Holy Trinity and in so doing commits several egregious heresies. It could have been a little more entertaining (it was long and slow) and if you like didactic and preachy, then this is one for you...

The story opens with our hero as a boy (Mackenzie, Mac) watching his drunken Christian father beat his mother. Afterward, Mac pours strychnine into his father’s alcohol bottles yet this murderous plot is ignored for most of the movie. These scenes remind us that white Christian males in the US are secret drunks bent on controlling their wives and children through physical coercion and cruelty. At this point, we are being set up to appreciate the ultra-wisdom and philosophy of the long-suffering black American woman.

Years later, Mac is grown and we see him and his family on a camping trip. When the older daughter and son capsize in a canoe, Mac swims out to save them leaving the youngest daughter Missy alone. Missy is subsequently kidnapped by some nut roaming the woods. A manhunt is instigated and they find Missy’s red dress and blood on the floor in a shack in the Oregon Mountains.

Time passes and one day Mac finds a letter in his mailbox inviting him to the shack to renew his relationship with “Poppa.” Poppa is the name his wife and daughter gave to God.

Mac suspects the letter is from the murderer and so takes his neighbor’s four-wheel drive truck and drives to the shack. On his way, he almost collides with a truck -- it's a plot point. Mac finally makes it to the shack and has a bit of a mental breakdown. On leaving, he meets up with a guy who he thinks might be the killer but as it turns out, the guy is Jesus. Yes, THAT Jesus. Jesus asks Mac to return to the shack, which has been supernaturally restored and there he meets the other two sides of the Holy Trinity. God the Father is portrayed as an African-American woman who looks like Mac’s childhood neighbor; God the Holy Spirit is portrayed as an Asian woman.

If God was a woman...
I found that part of the story to be particularly blasphemous. Why? Because the producers attempted to anthropomorphize aspects of God and while doing so, they pictured God in an iconic politically correct light. So the Holy Spirit is a beautiful Asian woman with magic powers and broad sex appeal. The female black version of God was a ringer for the Oracle in the Matrix movies with the same sort of smart-mouthed banter we've come to expect from portrayals of black people in our sold-out and useless media. By the way, the "banter" is weak and generally poorly written.

All righty then, these three aspects of God try to help Mac forgive Missy's unknown murderer by sending Mac on different quests. On one excursion, Mac meets a woman sitting on a throne who says she is the personification of Wisdom and explains that Mac is trying to be a Judge in place of God.

Returning from the cave, Mac walks on water with Jesus and then is sent on another quest to bury his daughter. Afterward, Mac is allowed to view departed spirits, one of whom turns out to be his father, who forgives Mac, apparently for poisoning him to death with the strychnine. At that point, God tells Mac he can either stay or return home. That's when we learn old Mac actually got hit by that truck mentioned beforehand and he's been recuperating all the while in a hospital bed. All that God stuff? It was all in his head. Or was it?

Anyway, there are Christian affirmations in the movie, but these are mixed in with subtle, politically-correct messages. You might not like to hear this, but in Christianity, God is not a woman -- neither is any scriptural reference to God as a woman. Presenting the Holy Spirit and God Himself as female delivers a message to the audience that is opposition to scripture. And who is this "Wisdom" character represented by yet another female? Some demigod the Bible does not mention? Additionally, The Shack offers a non-scriptural view of the resurrected body that offers very little hope or joy, as well as an easy forgiveness that never asks Mac to repent of his own sins.

Homoiousianism is the heretical Arian doctrine that Jesus is of a similar, but not identical, substance or essence to God the Father. In the orthodox Nicene Creed adopted by Christian churches, however, Jesus Christ is of the identical substance or essence as God the Father. The heretical monophysite view of Jesus denies his human nature whereas the orthodox Christian position is that Jesus is both human AND divine. Ultimately, The Shack diminishes the need for Jesus Christ to have died on the Cross and passes along the notion we are really nice people who can be perfected.

One could write tons and tons of theological treatises about the aberrations and unorthodox views in the movie. In many ways, The Shack is a politically correct guide to spiritualism, Spiritism, cheap grace, and ignores the power of the Cross and the power of the Resurrection. All while calling itself Christian.

Even so, my guess is the producers of the movie tried to do the right thing. Unfortunately, in trying to repair the theology of the popular but misleading book, they failed to create a compelling, dramatic movie.

Most of the movie gives the audience a string of scenes punctuated by unconvincing speeches full of pithy phrases delivered with condescending expressions. It all made me wonder if God is going to make fun of me when I get to heaven (if I get to heaven -- maybe after this review, I won't make it.). Also, the movie has very little action. I did think the camerawork was good.

Like Siddhartha, The Shack teaches that we can create our own Heaven or Hell and that God is who you make Him (or a politically-correct Her) out to be and all our problems can be solved by just being nice. Oh brother, wait a minute. What brings us face to face with the power of the Cross, however, is that just being nice is never enough to reconcile us to God or our neighbors.

The Shack takes on the human condition and the nature of God in a fictional feature film. The results have implications for spiritually susceptible individuals. While The Shack is not anti-faith, or anti-Christian, it attempts to explain God’s nature outside of what scripture says and in so doing takes away the mystery and holy reverence. Strong caution is advised when viewing The Shack. Subtle blasphemy.

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