Perhaps the single most controversial aspect of The Shack is the display of God the Father as an African-American woman named Papa and the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman named Sarayu. Mark Driscoll's concerns about this narrative feature are striking indeed:
"It's goddess worship! If God the Father is really God the mother, that changes everything! That means when Jesus prayed ‘Our Father in heaven' he should have prayed ‘Our Mother ... in the Shack'."
"Someone will say ‘but God's not male or female, he doesn't have anatomical structure.' Understood."
"But the truth is if God reveals himself to us as father we are to honor him as Father. And if we say God the Father is now a woman we are not worshipping God. We're worshipping goddess."
Is Driscoll correct? Is The Shack promoting goddess worship?
No, the book neither promotes nor depicts goddess worship, and the claim that it does would be recognized as foolishness by anyone who had a passing familiarity with the literature on feminist "goddess worship". There is simply nothing in common between the radical post-Christian feminist theology of a Mary Daly, or even the more moderate syncretism of a Rosemary Radford Ruether, and the theology of The Shack. The difference is even greater when we remind ourselves that we are talking here not about a formal theological proposal but rather about a novel which has been described by the author as an extended parable. Charging The Shack with "goddess worship" is as vacuous as referring to single payer health care as "communism": it is a mere scare tactic devoid of substance.
Not surprisingly, Driscoll complements his empty charge with a misrepresentation of the book's contents. He claims that The Shack is seeking to substitute traditional reference to God the Father with reference to God the mother. But this is simply false. Papa says "I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it's because I love you." (93)
Thus the book is not suggesting that we replace reference to God as Father with God as Mother (as if God is "really" a mother). On the contrary, it is challenging Mack (and us) not to lock God into one narrow set of images, be it one role, ethnicity, or gender. As Mack reflected, "Since there were three of them, maybe this was a Trinity sort of thing. But two women and a man and none of them white? Then again, why had he naturally assumed that God would be white?" (87)
This again leaves us with the problem of interpreting Driscoll. And again I will assume that he is not maliciously trying to misrepresent the content of The Shack, nor that he is grossly incompetent. Once again this leaves me with the conclusion that he irresponsibly rendered a judgment on a book he had not read carefully. In doing so he has unfortunately quashed a very important discussion. In misrepresenting the book and making false charges against it, he has misled his congregation. And by shutting down the conversation (he advises his congregation not to read The Shack) he has lost a valuable tool of theological conversation.