The Shack is making waves as the best-selling book hits the big screen and many Christians wonder: Should I support this movie? and better yet, Should I let my kids see The Shack?
This post contains affiliate links for your convenience. When you click on a link and make a purchase, a commission may be paid to Gather & Grow which helps support the ministry. . .so, thank you! Read my full disclosure here.
William P. Young’s, The Shack took the publishing industry by storm 10 years ago when the book, rejected by many publishing companies, went on to self-published stardom with over 20 million copies sold. Now, the movie is making waves as the story hits the big screen and many Christians wonder: Should I support this movie? and better yet, Should I let my kids see The Shack?
There are many articles from Christian media outlets denouncing the film or at least discussing what is wrong with it. And while I don’t disagree that there are theological holes in The Shack, engaging with the story is not necessarily a bad idea for Christians. On the contrary, I believe it could be good for many. . .even children (of a certain age).
Before we move forward I want to clarify a few things:
My response to The Shack is framed by my life experience. In the span of 6 years my husband and I lost both of our moms and 4 babies to miscarriage. We’ve had our share of loss and this has greatly influenced how I view this film.
I completely understand and respect those who hold strong convictions about the theological problems with The Shack. I hope my perspective adds to the consideration of those on the fence but I in no way aim to contradict or criticize those who have a different viewpoint nor do I wish to debate those differing opinions in this space.
My children (age 8 and 5) will not see this film (yet) but I hope parents with older kids will benefit from this conversation. Common Sense Media gives the movie a thumbs up for children age 12+ while Plugged In sticks to the theatrical rating in their recommendation, PG13.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, if your children are tween/teen age (or you’re simply curious about how this movie relates to kids) and you’re wondering whether or not they (or you) should see The Shack, I invite you to join this conversation with your (respectful) thoughts in the comment section below.
Note: my acceptance of this film in no way indicates my approval of Young’s theological views, especially those expressed in his newest book.
Should I let my kids see The Shack?
When I read The Shack, I’d recently had a miscarriage (or was it two? – I can’t remember the timeline) so I was not unfamiliar with asking the question, “Where were you God? How could you let this happen?” Had I realized at the time I’d go on to experience two more baby losses and in the midst of them, the loss of my mother-in-law to ALS and my own mom to Pancreatic Cancer, I might have processed the book even more personally. Still, I enjoyed the personification of the trinity and how Jesus and the Holy Spirit “relate” to God’s children. It comforted me in the midst of my questions and prepared me for the journey of loss I was about to encounter.
Now, having seen the film (which was visualized exactly how I pictured the book) the importance of this allegorical story was confirmed in my heart and though I won’t allow them to see it just yet (they are way too young) I told my husband this week, “I can’t wait until the kids are old enough to see this movie.”
What’s wrong with The Shack?
I think The Shack is a good idea for most teenagers (and maybe some older tweens), but there are some holes within it. I don’t believe the book or film was ever meant to be an evangelical tool (though it could definitely draw people to God) and it’s not a salvation story. This is a story of deep, traumatic loss and pain and the journey of one man to find healing through his relationship with God. You could barely call it a relationship at first but through the story we get to see the transformation and connection that comes through honest questions, hard emotional work and eventual surrender to the goodness of God.
No, this film does not overtly present a theologically correct message of salvation. It does not state that Jesus is the only way to God (though I didn’t see how it contradicts that fact). But The Shack is not about salvation. It’s about relationship. And while I believe you can’t have one without the other, I’m OK with enjoying just this part of the journey.
I had a bit of a hard time with a scene towards the end in which Mack has the chance to forgive his father (a big part of his healing process). I love the journey of reconciliation but I had questions about what the film makers were implying about heaven and hell. I don’t believe this was in the book (I’ve gone back to look and cannot find it) so it was likely added. There is nothing wrong with the idea of reconciliation of course, but this scene struck me as one of the few problematic theological moments. Still, it didn’t ruin the movie for me.
There were a few references that could be considered Universalist in this film. In a sweet scene at the end, Jesus tells Mack everything he does in his life is important. . .through his work, how he loves, every time he shows kindness. . .the universe is changed. Do I wish he had said “world” instead? I think so. That choice of words made it sound a little New Age but it didn’t ruin the rest of the movie for me.
A few lines like this one (I think I could count them on one hand) could cause someone to see the film through the lens of progressive theology or even Universalism but the strong portrayal of our relationship to each member of the trinity far overshadowed these small holes for me.
Why should I let my kids see The Shack?
As we lead our children along their spiritual journey, one of the hardest tasks we have as a parent is help them understand the character and nature of God. Much of my understanding of who God is and the settling in my heart that he is good and loves me so deeply, has come after wrestling through my loss and pain. And while I believe our children need to build their own relationship with God on the foundation we’ve laid over the years of Bible-based truth, authentic modeling and open communication, The Shack, for many, could be a wonderful tool to do just that.
This is a story about God’s deep love for his children. It’s a story that allows the viewer to see a glimpse of the nature of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Yes, there are holes in their depiction but those are holes a parent can fill through the conversations this movie will evoke.
This is a story about whether or not we believe God is good, no matter what. And this is the piece I connected with most. Because when you’ve been through hardship, whether you’ve known God all your life or a few short years, it’s easy to lose sight of who he is through the pain. We want someone to blame so we blame him.
Son, when all you see is your pain, you lose sight of me. – Papa
For teenagers who are struggling with hardship, disappointment; those who are having a hard time connecting to God, The Shack may soften their heart and open up lines of communication and understanding that lead to a real, deep relationship with him that lasts a lifetime, no matter what they encounter in years to come.
How are the persons of the Trinity portrayed in The Shack?
(including talking points to help you start conversations about each with your child)
God (Papa) – completely loving, patient and gentle with his children. Mack asks Papa about his wrath but the film doesn’t really address this side of God. There is a bit of a justice piece missing from God’s character but because this movie is about God’s immense love for his children, I didn’t let that bother me too much.
My favorite line expressing how they portrayed God. . .
Mack – “After everything I’ve felt in my heart for you, why would you still work on me anyways?”
Papa – “Because that’s what love does.
- Share a time you doubted God’s goodness. Allow your child to understand that questions are normal, especially when we encounter trials.
- Talk about how God is unchanging, even when we are hardened towards him, like Mack was. He is always good, even when we can’t see it.
- Discuss the idea of God punishing people for their wrong doing through tragedy. This theme comes up a lot in the movie and it’s an important aspect of God’s character we need to grasp. God does not allow things to happen in order to punish us. We live in a broken world where bad things just happen. But God, because he loves us, allows the pain to draw us closer to him where we can experience healing and restoration.
Jesus – a gentle friend and companion who connects Mack to Papa. I loved how in the movie (this is not how it happened in the book), Jesus is the first one Mack sees outside the shack. He’s frustrated and planning to leave and then Jesus comes and is the one who actually leads him back to the shack to meet Papa.
My favorite line expressing how they portrayed Jesus. . .
Religion is way too much work. I don’t want slaves. I want friends. I want a family to share life with. . . (about Christians) I don’t care what you call them. I just want people changed by knowing Papa. I want people to know what it means to be truly loved. – Jesus
I could see how some would have a problem with this language. “I don’t care what you call them” could diminish Christianity. And we need to be careful but here’s the thing. . .at the heart of Jesus, I don’t think he cares about our labels. He wants us to know God and walk with him. Period. So this moment could bring up some truly wonderful conversations with young people hearing all kinds of things in the culture today that would also diminish Christianity. But with the right words, rooted in the Word and tradition, we can help kids find the balance here.
- Share with your child that Jesus is the only way to God. He is the bridge that connects us to Papa. Without Jesus, and the work of salvation he did on the cross, we would not be in relationship with God and experience his deep love.
- Talk about what it means to be a friend of Jesus. Even though this seems like a conversation to have with a small child, it’s important to make sure older kids understand as they grow, what it means to be in relationship with Jesus.
- Discuss the problem with religion and what the world, both Christians and non-Christians, have done with the term to pervert and distort it. Address any wounds your child may have from the church and its leaders. Help them understand that people are human and don’t always represent Jesus the way they should. Encourage forgiveness and focus on God’s love for them (and his love for those who have hurt them).
The Holy Spirit (Sarayu) – a beautiful, creative, breath of fresh air. No, they did not call her the Holy Spirit and I’m OK with that. Because people seeing this film who may not be familiar with our terminology (or who may be intimidated by it) might be more open to the idea of this part of God after seeing her important role.
My favorite line expressing how they portrayed The Holy Spirit. . .
As beautiful as this all is, it doesn’t compare to how we see you. . .Wild, wonderful and perfectly in process. This mess is you. – Sarayu (In the garden)
- Explain that Sarayu is a depiction of The Holy Spirit, our helper. Jesus promised us a helper (John 14:26) that would “help us remember his teaching.”
- Talk about the portrayal of the Spirit as creative and nurturing.
- Discuss the idea of God’s children being “in process” – a wild, beautiful mess.
Should I let my kids see The Shack?
From my perspective, the answer is YES. But I believe all parents should prayerfully consider whether or not their children (ages 12ish+) are emotionally able to handle the tragedy (it isn’t portrayed in a graphic way but it’s impressive nonetheless). Parents also need to be ready to initiate important conversations that the film will bring up, including the discussion of any theological problems or holes you feel are there.
If the problems with The Shack are glaring to you and you simply can’t support a movie that doesn’t tell the whole story, I respect your conviction. There are many other tools available to encourage spiritual conversations with your teenagers. But if you aren’t sure, go and see the movie first and ask God to show you whether or not it would be helpful for your child.
I don’t think I’ll ever expect a “Hollywood Film” to accurately depict God, the Bible or Christianity. But I’m encouraged stories that portray even a glimpse of the good God I love are making it to the masses. My prayer is that parents, along with the church, would be ready to support these tools (however imperfect they are) with real life, Bible-based discipleship that leads people toward God’s saving grace and into true relationship with Jesus.
Have you seen The Shack? What did you love (or not love) about the film?
Movie images obtained via Lionsgate Publicity site.
(this post contains affiliate links, read my full disclosure here)