Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Shack - a commentary

Young, William Paul. The Shack

Rauser, Randal. Finding God in “The Shack”

A lengthy and well-constructed critique of William P. Young’s, The Shack on the Boundless Webzine ends as follows:

“That The Shack is a dangerous book should be obvious from this review. The book's subversive undertones seek to dismantle many aspects of the faith and these are subsequently replaced with doctrine that is just plain wrong. Error abounds. I urge you, the reader, to exercise care in reading and distributing this book. The Shack may be an engaging read but it is one that contains far too much error. Read it only with the utmost care and concern, critically evaluating the book against the unchanging standard of Scripture. Caveat lector!”(The Shack, A Review by Tim Challies,

Although the book has been around for a few years by now, I didn’t take time to pick it up at the library until just now. The Shack is published as a novel, but Challies says that Young wrote it primarily for his children, and one can only assume from the reading of it that it was his intention to leave them with an alternative view of matters (like the nature of God, the problem of evil and the meaning of the fall and redemption), alternatives to standard orthodoxy, that is. The result of Young’s efforts would not, of course, have raised such close attention by people like Challies if it hadn’t become an international best seller.

People I’ve talked to who have read it seem to fall into two camps--some didn’t like it at all and considered it poor literature, and others raved about it as a ground-breaking and insightful way to think about God, a way that rings true, somehow. It seems the reviewers and critics diverge just as dramatically.

(I’d recommend to anyone reading The Shack that they also read Randal Rauser’s book, Finding God in the Shack. I’d also recommend listening to an interview with author William P. Young at the following web address:

There appear to be a number of issues raised by The Shack that mainstream pastors find disturbing. One is its portrayal of the Trinity, itself a doctrinal conundrum since the birth of the church. Criticisms of The Shack use words like heresy to blast Young’s Trinity: An African-American woman who morphs into a pigtailed male figure is God; A Middle-Eastern man is Jesus and an East Indian woman is the Holy Spirit. Some have found this representation of the three-in-one to be blasphemous. I found it a valid literary attempt to grasp the concept of one God with three aspects.

Another controversial issue surrounding The Shack involves the nature of revelation and the authority of the scriptures. The Godhead in Young’s tale is theologically liberal; He/she dismisses the notion of eternal punishment and says that sin is punishment enough, and that he/she is not interested in retribution, but rather, is passionate about redemption. Various quotations also imply that Christ’s death has saved everyone, that there are numerous roads to God and (by his complete absence from the novel) there is no devil as we have come to know him. There’s too much apparent divergence from scriptures to allow this book to be palatable to orthodox (small “o”) Christianity. Various creedal statements of various branches of the Church have made it clear that the Holy Bible is the only trustworthy revelation of God, of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Experiential revelation is a scary thing to contemplate if one holds such a creed as sacrosanct and non-negotiable.

A third difficulty with The Shack, for critics, is in its handling of the law/grace tension. God explains the purpose of the law in a unique manner to Mack, the central character: the Ten Commandments were given to show us how corrupted we had become. In other words, it is patently impossible to keep the law in any case, but its presence won’t allow us to forget that outside of God’s grace, we are doomed. For those who wanted the Ten Commandments to be permanently displayed at the entrance to the US Supreme Court, this interpretation might be hard to take.

The Shack, although also written loosely in a novel form, is as obviously a tract as is the Left Behind series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. As a novel, it is less than memorable; the plot is as contrived as Paul Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, most chapters consist of tedious question and answer sessions and you don’t have to be too far into the book to know exactly where the plot is headed. The dialogue itself is often stilted and the characters representing the Trinity often behave and speak as if they were in a feel-good, Walt Disney movie of the Sixties.

Nevertheless, there is a mighty message in the book, one that should not be dismissed because the book has weaknesses. God is Love, and Love is God. The road to genuine peace and wholeness cannot skirt this truth, and it is most likely for this reason that the gospels emphasize that no one comes to God except through Christ. The central character, Mack, has sunk into The Great Sadness as a result of the murder of his daughter. The road back to wholeness for him forms the backbone of the novel. Predictable, maybe. But simply raising the possibility of a new and better understanding of what forgiveness and love can provide for us in this world is well worth the undertaking.


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