“The Shack” Trailer Is Reigniting a “Heresy” Controversy

BY RELEVANT CULTURE / CULTURE December 27, 2016

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.

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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