What 'The Shack' Says for Offensive Artists and Offended Christians
Art can be offensive, and sometimes it should be. William P. Young's The Shack is a timely example, as the novel and film have sparked a recent firestorm.
The Shack is about a man who meets the Trinity in a near-death experience, only to realize Father God, or 'Papa', is entirely different than he imagined. In the film, which closely parallels the novel, Father God appears as a familiar black woman (Octavia Spencer) from the man’s childhood, and later as a middle-aged father (Graham Greene). The former depiction is especially controversial in evangelical circles, with some considering it idolatrous, and others going as far to say that merely watching it would be sinful (the latter depiction has remained generally unnoticed).
Ironically, much of the outrage comes from those who either miss the obvious use of imagery, or as co-author Wayne Jacobson points out, those who won't even watch the film or read the book. But race and gender aside, The Shack intentionally challenges religious paradigms, and how we respond is up to us. We can remain offended, or we can accept The Shack's challenge, overcoming our offense in the process.
God will offend our minds to reveal His heart and ours, and artists are often the prophets through whom the offense travels. While my intent is not to endorse or condemn The Shack here, the story highlights our untapped potential as artists to reach a mass audience, and a good artist who knows what God is saying can single-handedly usher an entire culture towards Him.
The only caveat is, what God is speaking is often unpopular, otherwise it wouldn't need to be said. It’s nothing new – the Bible shows us a God who is progressively revelatory, and progressively rejected. He's in the business of crossing comfort-zones and shifting paradigms, and those are controversial things.
If we can allow God to offend us when necessary, surely we can endure offensive misrepresentations from secular voices in the arts, often those affected by religion’s own distortions. Christ was silent amidst affliction (Isaiah 53), and reached His greatest enemies. Similarly, we cannot influence that which we hold offense against.
The arts are writing the future long before anyone notices. Those who realize it are kings on a mountain much bigger than we think. But a Christian culture that stays offended will never have a voice in the arts, or any realm of society. When His voice is absent, another is present – and that's how it's been for far too long.