Driscoll teaches on the Trinity from “The Shack”

The Shack, a novel by William P. Young, is one of the best selling books on Amazon. It’s a guy-meets-God story that has been praised by the likes of Michael W. Smith and Eugene Peterson for combining “the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian.”

In a recent sermon titled Trinity: God Is pastor Mark Driscoll, of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, used his critique of the book to illustrate examples of wrong thinking about the Trinity, and the need for proper understanding of one of Christianity’s core doctrines.

Here’s what he had to say, what do you think?:


43 thoughts on “Driscoll teaches on the Trinity from “The Shack”

  1. i was thumbing through vintage jesus while killing time at borders and i noticed that driscoll makes a point to “stick it to” catholic theology often. now i see the whole very calvinist, not emergent thing. see, it/he has an emergent appearance, but it’s just old school reformed theology with hip jeans. and that’s cool if it’s your thing i suppose. i just wish that in this day & age we’d all unite under the most important thing – a shared faith in christ, instead of continuing this age old strife over all the crap of secondary importance. if jesus really is the most important thing, you’d be able to look past the theological differences (sacraments, mary & saints, liturgy, creeds, baptism, etc.)

    that really didn’t have anything to do with your post. sorry 🙂

  2. @timothy allen brown: Well, my post didn’t really say anything to begin with, so it’s all good.

    But since you raised the issue of “secondary importance” …

    Do you consider the doctrine of the trinity to be of secondary importance?

    What doctrinal positions are, in your opinion, of primary importance?

    @mudpuppy: I don’t know. I don’t think Driscoll would be opposed to something like Bruce Almighty. He’d probably enjoy it because of the underlying theme of surrendering to God’s will that emerges by the end of the film. However, I think he’d agree with the rest of us that Even Almight was super lame.

  3. The whole sermon that contains this bit was great, though. Especially for Christians who’ve been raised to think of the doctrine of the Trinity as too confusing or vague to be important. I really appreciated this. His latest one on The Fall is pretty good, too.

  4. Here’s the deal. Shane asked what was primary importance. I consider whether the trinity is equal or hierarchal is irrelevant to my salvation.

    Perhaps as part of a bible study this would be good stuff, but I’m not a big fan of this stuff as part of a corporate worship. Especially one that would contain fringe or non-believers.

  5. @mudpuppy – hope my comment didn’t sound like it was aimed at you. “Christians who’ve been raised to think of the doctrine of the Trinity as too confusing or vague to be important” refers to myself. No offense intended. And I see your point.

  6. The disappointing this about the whole fiasco is that Mark did not and has not contacted Paul (William the author is really Paul) directly.

    I had the privilege of spending a day with Paul, hearing his story and while I have questions about the way God is portrayed in the book (as well as other things which happen in the story) they are greatly diminished after hearing what God has done with Paul’s life.

  7. @JoshWay: No man, I hear you. I was writing my post at the same time. I’m just trying to see how many comments I can make on Shane’s blog today. 🙂

  8. @shane

    well, the trinity is of primary importance b/c it’s about who jesus christ is. here’s what i believe. the most important thing, the primary, the bottom line is what do you believe about jesus? is he the one true God in the flesh or not? obviously some weirdos say that they subscribe to that view and deny the trinity (td jakes is one i think), but i don’t see that as being possible. the LDS/mormons believe in christ’s deity but believe he’s one of many gods. not christianity. the most traditionalist catholic and most bible-beating fundamentalist can agree on who jesus is, and that’s what makes you a christian. so, yeah, the secondary things are important, but let’s unite over what’s primary. apologies to anti-echumenical wackos but that’s what jesus prayed for! that’s what God desires. i have to remind myself when i start bashing fundamentalists and the religious right. so, in my opinion driscoll and other like-minded reformists need to get over the catholic-bashing. you wouldn’t have the bible that you say is the only authority without them. and, for the bible only crowd, what about the first 3 centuries of the christian faith when there was no bible?!?! scripture & tradition to me go hand in hand…but jesus remains more important than that opinion. time for unity i say.

  9. I think Driscoll’s right on. I think many of us christians will read just about any “christian” book that comes along and see the “good” in it without discerning the “bad” in it. Case in point is Oprah’s latest teachings with Eckhardt Tolle. I’m amazed at the amount of christians who think that’s great. I’m sure Satan is jumping for joy over all all this. It sounds like “The Shack” is of the same mindset. No, I wouldn’t waste my time reading it! Thanks for the heads up on it Shane.

  10. @mudpuppy: I’ve been thinking about your last comment a bit and I think I disagree with you.

    The full context of this clip is a thorough teaching on the doctrine of the Trinity. As with all of Driscoll’s sermons it’s far more exegetical than your garden variety Sunday morning snoozer.

    Along with providing historical context, outlining the various interpretations, I would think it’s entirely appropriate to offer criticism of an aspect of modern Christianity – particularly when it’s a cultural phenomenon – when it deals with the topic you’re studying.

    Driscoll’s sermons frequently clock in at over an hour. I’m sure the vast majority of those in attendance know what they’re getting into when they enter one of the Mars Hill Worship services. And while this aside might not be the most edifying thing for a nonbeliever, the overwhelming majority of those in attendance are his “flock.” And as such his sermons are the only time he has each week to provide instruction, teaching, etc. to his flock.

    Critique of popular literature dealing with the subject at hand seems entirely appropriate in this context to me.

    @Mom2ryan: General rule of thumb, anything endorsed by Oprah is foo-foo New Age drivel. When you start hearing it from the pulpit, it’s likely time to head for the hills.

  11. @Shane Bertou: I can see your point on two issues. 1) This was only a clip of a much longer talk, and 2) He was talking to his people, and would know his audience.

    I’m just sort of tired of the christian on christian bashing that seems so popular these days, especially from Driscoll. That’s why I’m drawn so much to Rob Bell. He challenges me in ways that doesn’t bring others down. The whole log in the eye thing. Bells not perfect, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of what Driscoll has to say. I’m just saying that my preference would be something different.

  12. @ anyone who will listen 🙂

    the “mote” in your brother’s eye is a teaching on a very micro, close to home level. In other words, don’t nit pick your brother when you suck as well.
    But when it comes to false doctrine, the NT is FULL of heavy handed “bashing”. Paul crushes Peter in Galatians (in front of everyone) for being inconsistent. Paul wishes emasculation on folks mixing works and grace in the same letter (ch. 5). Paul is super harsh in Corinthians because idiots were challenging his authority. In Thesolonians Paul has to straighten up the heretical idea that Jesus had already come back. And in Timothy, Paul specifically warns that “in the last days” some will fall from the faith for a variety of reasons…not least among them FALSE TEACHERS.

    So, with all that said, we’ve got to at some point acknowledge the need for careful examination of what people are teaching. I agree with the concept that we should find common ground and stand on it. But when basics, like the trinity, start getting flushed down the ecumincal toliet, we’ve got to draw a line.

  13. (In the voice of Dwight Schute) Question.

    Does The Shack make any claims to be a theological book? A Trinity study guide of some sorts? Or is this more in the lines of the Da vinci Code that can be found in the fiction section of our local library?

    (Seriously, I don’t know)

  14. @ stem

    and the problem we run into is everyone thinking they are paul. why are there 20,000 protestant churches? b/c when they say or do something you don’t like or a new pastor comes in and isn’t your type you split and start a new church. the good thing about this is that there’s literally a church for everyone. the bad thing is we’re all slinging “skubala” at each other. and we all think WE have the grasp on what’s the BEST interpretation of scripture/faith, and it’s a huge ego battle.

    and, a side note, i think paul had a HUGE problem with ego. and one dangerous side effect of saying all scripture is equal & 100% God breathed is taking all the times paul says “i say” or “i teach” to mean “God says” and “God teaches”.

  15. i’m not talking about something i don’t like. i’m talking about a doctrine taught and held by the church for the last 2000 years. i’m not arguing about tongues or baptism for the dead or whether or not adam had a belly button. i’m talking about the foundation of the faith. these aren’t negotiable.

    about the ego thing…sure, people do that all the time. but that doesn’t mean that every scriptural disagreement is ego based. some folks genuinely care for the truth for the sake of the truth. humility demands that i submit to truth whether or not i thought of it first. God knows i’ve eaten enough crow in my short life!

    and i’m not sure how to respond to your critique of Paul. It seems to me a VERY difficult task to assign arbitrary percentages of “God Breathed” to various portions of scripture. Otherwise, as human’s with a nasty streak of self indulgence, we’ll just cut out the uncomfortable parts.

    There are “weighter” matters and portions of scripture due to content…but that doesn’t mean that less weightier issues are less scripture.

  16. it’s only a difficult task if you’re an evangelical or a fundamentalist. the vast majority of the world’s christians are neither (though the fundies and many evangelicals deny the validy of their faith). my own opinion – and it’s just that, my opinion – is that the only 4 books of the bible that are important and i believe inerrant are the gospels. i honestly could give or take the rest. now that might be extreme for some, and i understand that, but it doesn’t change my faith and who i believe jesus christ to be. i grew up fundamentalist and now as a very different kind of christian, my basic belief in who he is has never changed. call me a liberal and a blasphemer and a ecumenical plumber if you like, God alone knows my heart, and i know that it belongs to jesus christ.

    now, speaking of ecumenical plumbing, i would assume that since you called it an “ecumenical toilet” you’d be one of those folks who find it difficult (fundies & many evangelicals). and that’s fine. we all have different expressions of faith that we embrace (some are able to be more accepting of that as a reality than others). i just find exlusionary faith to be very discomforting and disturbing. and in regard to people seeking truth, they’re seeking THEIR version of truth. a baptist version of truth is very different from a quakers or greek orthodox – but they believe the same thing about jesus (as institutions). it’s all based on interpretations. the fundies, the evangelicals, the mainliners, the liberals, the catholics, the emergents, the freakin’ amish. we can sit around and argue about every single passage in scripture and every single theological issue that there is, OR we could once and for all admit our own fallibity and embrace all who believe the same thing about who jesus christ is and put the ego driven secondary arguments behind us.

    but that would be ecumenical, and therefore bad. though jesus prayed that his followers be one. oh well, what can you do.

  17. @Tim

    I’m not going to call you any names…though you seem convinced that I will.
    The toilet reference wasn’t to the ecumenical movement as a whole…it was a reference to sacrificing principal doctrines in the name of “getting along”. (The Trinity isn’t a fringe doctrine…it involves the nature of the Godhead.)

    I’m a part of all kinds of ecumenical groups in my area. My church is FULL of people who totally disagree with me on many points. But we’ve figured out how to have a community anyway. 🙂 So, I’m not anti-ecumenical…And I feel you on the “let’s just get along” vibe. However, arguing over scripture isn’t a bad thing if it’s done with love and humility. If our goal is the truth…to live the way God wants us to…then discussing divergent viewpoints is important if we want to grow.

    I’ve changed my position MANY times in the past 10 years. Some of these changes have caused huge discussions with family members, church members and mentors who violently disagreed with me. I’m not interested in advancing the party line, or skewing scripture to fit a pre-connived idea taught to me in Sunday school (which means it carries a nostalgic component that makes it all the harder to let go of). I really just want the Truth. And as you said, we’re all fallible and have wrong ideas and opinions…so I can only hope that John 14-16 is true and the Holy Spirit is leading us into “all truth.”

    As far as tossing out the whole of scripture except for the four gospels…I of course strongly disagree. But I wont question you salvation over it.
    For the sake of argument, Jesus quoted the scripture as if were a real history as well as God breathed. His temptation in the wilderness is just one example.

    And one final note of irony…Jesus’ prayer that we would all be one “as we are One” is a great Trinitarian reference. 🙂

  18. i believe in the trinity & i believe it’s of primary importance b/c it is completely related to who jesus is – the one true God in the flesh. that is what i’d been saying is the only primary thing, the most important thing – who jesus is. all the rest is secondary. so, i’m 100% with you there 🙂

  19. Right from the start, Mr. Driscoll totally missed the point of the book. It was not written to explain the trinity. The book was an illustration, a parable, an analogy to help people to understand something we can’t begin to wrap our brains around – the huge vastness of God.

    The intention was never to claim that God was a woman or that we should worship the book etc.

    In my opinion, this sermon smacks of sensationalism and the exact type of internal Christian squabbling and tearing down that makes non-Christians shake their head and walk away.

  20. jumping way late into conversation…i loved driscoll’s explanation of the trinity one of the best i have heard, but IT is one of the most essential doctrines of Christianity….
    All i had to hear was Micheal W Smith endorsed it and i was out…anyways..

  21. my question is…and i fully anticipate a river of flame here;

    does rob bell still believe in hell as an actual, eternal place of punishment…or has he totally metaphored it into something else?

    this is an honest question.

  22. In his “Jesus Wants to Save Christians” series, he mentioned a literal, eternal place called hell. He said “don’t worry, we’ll talk about this later” and then never mentioned it in the series. So I’m still waiting for later to see just where he comes out on it.

    He tends to say something like it’s “an immediate reality with eternal implications, that plays out in the here and now and for eternity” I’m paraphrasing from memory, from a couple years ago … so take it for what it’s worth.

    It’s tough to speak for the guy. I’ve never heard him unpack it completely, so I can’t give you his doctrinal position or anything. But I think he’s chosen to focus on the “here and now” portion of “hell” as a backdrop for the “on Earth, as it is in Heaven” aspect of his teaching on the Kingdom. Hell being the opposite of “Heaven” or being “in Christ” – both in the here and now, and for eternity.

  23. So, I’m halfway through reading The Shack and am fully convinced that Mark didn’t read this book at all. He got this one completely wrong. Everyone should read it for themselves.

    And watching this video again, I absolutely hate the manner in which Mark went about mocking this book and it’s author’s heart. Very bad taste. Almost as bad as mocking community service. 🙂

  24. I got down to the bottom and finally saw that someone (mudpuppy) was actually reading The Shack. GOOD!

    I have recetnly read The Shack as a piece of fiction and was incredibly moved. As a believer in Jesus for 25 years, I was not lured into goddess worship or any of the other baseless attacks hurled by this preacher.

    mudpuppy is right. His mocking exhibits none of the grace of my God, and I was embarrassed that his attitude and words were spoken in such a prejorative tone.

    This preacher (Mark) neglects to tell you that Mack’s daughter had been abducted and murdered by a pediphile years earlier, and that his Christian roots had withered under this unimaginable loss. (I have four daughters myself)

    Most importantly though, this novel is all about how God wants to have a relationship with us – with you and me! And the devices and characterizations the writer uses to draw you into the story are compelling, if not quite theologically pristine.

    I am shocked and saddened by this preacher’s attitide and words. Our God desires us to know Him and live in relationship with Him, and in our visual, material world I struggle to see Him and hear Him as I should.
    And along comes a book, a novel no less, that made me cry at how little I sense and enjoy His presence and His incredible love for me.

    And that is a bad thing?

    I challenge all of you to read it for yourself. If you are a Christian, you may well see flaws in the presentation, (it’s a NOVEL!) but triumphing over all of that will be a passionate God speaking your name and saying “I love you” so clearly you may never be the same.

    Christianity IS a relationship, not a reliigon. And if God wants to look like Aunt Jemima to get through to me, well, I always liked her pancakes best anyway 🙂

    The whole point of a black lady Papa was to mess with our preconceptions of our Heavenly Father. I am honest enough to admit I HAVE preconceptions about God – are you?

    If you are in perfect relationship with God at this moment, don’t read The Shack. If you’re a little like me, a son who sees often that I can be a jerk and a wretch and a lazy unmotivated servant, God just may be waiting for you at The Shack. (It’s a gorgeous log cabin, by the way!) But then, you have to read the book to know that……

    1. I don’t usually respond to blogs, but here goes….

      “I’m particularly fond of that one…” Papa says that more than once, and not always about the goody-goody church folk. Just a thought.

      Yes, for God to be portrayed as a large, black woman shook me for just a little bit, but I too, admit that I had preconceptions. I’ve been in the ministry for 11 years, seminary trained (at a fairly liberal seminary), and I have found that any tool I can use to get my folks thinking concretely about something confusing to them because of its abstract nature, is a tool that I can use to begin a teaching moment.

      The Trinity is one of the foundations of our faith, but let’s be honest, it’s more than just a little confusing. And what I have found is that some, if not a lot of folks, would rather shy away from the topics that confuse them. When we start thinking about our faith, really thinking about it, our entire foundations may be questioned. Not everyone is okay with that. It happened to me many times while I was reflecting and writing during seminary, but I eventually learned that it wasn’t something I needed to fear.

      Take “The Shack” for what it is, or at least what it appears to me to be: one guy’s attempt to make some tiny amount of sense out of this fallen world.

  25. I agree with Mac Webster’s comments. I too read The Shack and was moved by the way the story brings relationship with God to the front of my mind. To anyone who has suffered great pain this is a very hopeful story– For me it is an incredibly JOYFUL story about pain. Yes, I understand the theological arguments against it, but I believe they really do miss the point of the book. I really do appreciate the author’s gift here and I am thankful that I got the chance to read it. The Shack has affected how I live, how I pray, how I treat others in the workplace, and I have to say that most sermons, including the one recorded on this site, do not have that effect on me. I have shared this book with many friends and will continue to do so. I love thinking that God is awfully fond of me. But, if you disagree with me, it’s ok– just remember that God is awfully fond of you too 🙂

  26. i’m about ready to read the book…so, i can’t comment on it.

    but why the cavalier attitude toward theology? it’s as if we all have this instant formula run through our head if someone wants to defend basic tenets of the faith: theology=religion=pharisees=bad.

    the inverse is equally true: pop theology=relevant=rob bell=cult following. (Ok, that was a joke)

    the problem with throwing theology out the window in order to embrace a moving story is that it erodes our understanding of who God is. That’s probably why God didn’t want us to make “graven images”….we’d get a skewed concept of Who He was.

    As a lifelong charismatic, i know one thing for sure: embracing what feels good over what is actually sound doctrine will only lead to weirded out christianity.

  27. As a lifelong charismatic, i know one thing for sure: embracing what feels good over what is actually sound doctrine will only lead to weirded out christianity.

    And that’s why Stem’s my favorite charismaniac!

  28. One of the main themes I got out of the book was that we tend to think in stereotypes which may be wrong and prevent us from seeing some aspect of what God is like. Driscoll would probably have a real problem with Einstein’s analogy about scientific research being like going into God’s huge library where all the books are in a foreign language and we have only been able to translate a small portion of one book (probably something about God is a spirit and wouldn’t be able to user a typewriter or word processor). It is amazing that Driscoll didn’t even do enough research to know how to pronounce “Sarayu”. Just a guess, Driscoll probably has some real problems in his relationships with women.

  29. Just a guess, Driscoll probably has some real problems in his relationships with women.

    That is an unfair statement. Driscol’s objection to the book portraying God as a female does merit discussion. And he can make the case biblically that it borders on heresy.

    Whether you agree with that assessment or not is one thing, but to take his complaint and use it to paint him as some kind of misogynist is another. He and his wife seem to have a pretty happy marriage. That trumps your spectulation about his character in my opinion.

  30. shane! that was a very fair and well said rebutt to GJY.

    i guess he didn’t do enough research on driscoll to know that good theology is his concern, not gender clarification.

    and God as female has been bandied about for CENTURIES. It was heresy then and heresy now.

  31. Pastor Driscoll misses the whole point of the book. I think a course in analyzing and interpreting literature would be helpful for him.

  32. Really appreciated this being posted.

    It seems to me the question is this: is it okay for someone (me or anyone) to write stuff that will lead people to have incorrect thoughts about God? If I write and say, ‘this is truth, God is …’ then people can argue with that, and say I’m wrong.

    But if I’m clever, I will write a fiction book (it worked for Ron Hubbard), and then have someone in the book say, ‘this is truth, God is …’ And because it is fiction, I can claim immunity.

    We don’t understand why God chose to be called our Father. But that doesn’t mean we can change the label to ‘our Mother’. We don’t know why the Spirit was shown at Christ’s baptism as a dove. But that doesn’t mean we can turn Him into an Asian woman who likes to garden.

    Christ has the ability and authority to say, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like…’ and then describe His Father. But if we try that same thing, we’re going to make mistakes.

    It’s interesting that Pilgrim’s Progress isn’t a book that changes who God is, or who He appears to be. It is a book that changes how we see ourselves, and our sins, and our temptations, etc.

    Screwtape Letters similarly gives us a different picture of satan perhaps. But more than that, it gives us a different picture of ourselves, and our weaknesses.

    The Shack instead changes our picture of God. He’s not a God who judges us, He’s a God who never gets angry, never judges, never punishes. Williams wisely doesn’t say that hell doesn’t exist. Instead, he infers that God would never send anyone there, ‘I am not who you think I am Mackenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin, sin is its own punishment…

    And that phrase is partly correct. God is not who Mack thinks He is.

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