“It’s Only Fiction”

An Open Letter to my Christian friends who respond to the theological criticisms of The Shack  with the reply, “It’s only FICTION!”
It’s true.  It is a fictional story, and obviously a story that resonated with millions of people. I read the whole book in one sitting shortly after it was published. Like many, I found the story both compelling and moving in many places.  However, the fictional story is set upon a theological backdrop that is severely flawed.  I won’t take time to describe all the theological errors – those have been well documented herehere, and here. That’s not the intent of this blog. 
What I would like to consider is the erroneous argument I’ve heard many times in defense of The Shack: “It’s only fiction.”  Consider for a moment if we were evaluating a work of historical fiction. Would the same defense of “It’s only fiction” hold water if the historical backdrop the fictional story was placed upon was flawed?  I don’t think it would.
For example, consider the masterful film Saving Private Ryan – a film that could accurately be described as historical fiction. The story of Private Ryan, and his brothers, is loosely based (like The Shack) on actual people. But the sequence of events that led to the rescue of Private Ryan is complete fiction, including the emotional conclusion of an elderly Private Ryan at the Normandy Memorial, weeping at the grave marker of the very one who died to save him.
I would contend that what largely made the movie so powerful and the fictional story so compelling is the fact that filmmaker Steven Spielberg went through great pains to keep the historical backdrop of WWII as precise as possible. Consider just a few of the details:
  • Every uniform was custom made to match both US and German uniforms.
  • The cast actually went through a rigorous boot camp to prepare for the film and make their characters more believable.
  • Spielberg modeled the filming of the movie off of authentic newsreel film in order to match the look and feel of that era.
  • The Normandy Invasion itself cost $12 million dollars to produce because of the precision used to recreate that devastating day.
The film was so precise that many D-Day veterans could not watch it because of the stark reality of the re-creation. That painstaking attention to detail resulted in the film being nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and in 2014 it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress because of it being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Now imagine if the fictional story of Private Ryan was presented, but the historical backdrop it was set upon was not so intentionally well-preserved.  In fact, how would the story have been received if the historical backdrop contained serious flaws? What if the Nazis were presented as the protagonists in the film? What if instead of storming the beaches with machine guns, they came on with swords and shields; bows and arrows? What if the exact same story was told, but at the end of the war the Allies were defeated and the global war was lost to the Axis Powers?  Would the cry of “It’s only fiction” be a valid response to criticisms of that kind of film? No, of course not. The film would be highly criticized and universally rejected –  and rightly so.
The same is true with The Shack. Though it is a fictional story, there can be no denying that the author is setting the story against a theological backdrop.  That theological framework is seriously flawed and does not present a Biblical portrayal of the nature of God, the Triune relationship of the Godhead, the importance of the local church, the authority of the Bible, or of the nature of salvation itself – just to name a few. Therefore, regardless of how compelling the story is and how much it resonates with human pain, suffering, and loss, it should be wholly rejected because of the serious theological flaws the story is set upon – even though, “it’s only fiction.”
Troy Walliser