by Craig Cable
For those of you who may be wondering what the shack is and why would anyone want to film it, allow me to bring you up to speed.
In 2007, William Paul Young and Windblown Media published a fictional book called The Shack. It’s a story about a man named Mackenzie Allen Phillips and the horrific murder of his young daughter Missy. Four years after Missy’s death, Mackenzie receives a mysterious note, apparently from God, inviting him to the abandoned shack where Missy was brutally killed.
Mackenzie’s experience at the shack transforms his view of God, and the book challenges readers to reevaluate their own understanding of the nature of God. At its heart, the book wrestles with the eternal question “How could a loving God allow bad things to happen?”
It’s been my experience that anyone who has experienced significant loss or deep sadness finds catharsis and healing in the story.
The book is controversial. Backlash against it centers on two issues: the belief that the author promotes a universalist view of salvation and the portrayal of God as a portly black woman named Papa.
Since the book’s release, The Shack has lived on the New York Times’ bestseller list and has sold over 20 million copies. It’s currently ranked among the top-ten books on amazon.com, and nearly 28 million potential moviegoers have viewed the film’s trailer on Facebook alone. It’s a safe bet that the film will only fan the flames of the book’s popularity when the film releases nationally on March 3, 2017.
My intention in writing this post is not to reopen the debate on the author’s motives or his theology. My sole reason for writing this is to call attention to an imminent wave of opportunity that I’m afraid churches in America are simply going to miss as they watch from the shoreline of indifference.
Christians have so few opportunities to engage culture in meaningful ways. Maybe not since the 1970s, when the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar hit the screens, has it been cool to openly talk about Jesus around the water cooler. The film version of The Shack will create an unprecedented opportunity for Christians to respond lovingly and compassionately to the major question posed by the film, “Does God really love me?” If we squander this opportunity by being absent from the conversation, or worse, debating its theology, we miss the greatest gift that this movie offers: a conversation about the loving character of God. A God who pursues us with relentless affection. A God who, to quote the film, is “especially fond” of us.
During the week of March 5th, Lifetree Café branches around the country will open their doors wide and invite people from all walks of life into a safe and open dialogue about the film and their own views of God. I encourage churches across the country to boldly follow their lead.
Please don’t discourage your people from seeing the film; rather, embrace the opportunity to have an open conversation about the film after it’s been released. If you create a respectful, safe environment, I think you’ll find that people will jump at the chance to ask honest questions.
To help spark dialogue and guide the conversation, I’ve provided a link where you can download discussion questions. They can be used in both a large group format and in small groups. They also work well with book clubs.
All I ask is that you have the conversation. This is a rare opportunity. Please don’t miss it.