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The Shack by William Paul Young
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's review
Aug 18, 2010

it was ok

I have seen how the “The Shack” has helped many get closer to God. I know some wonderful church ladies who credit the book for helping them grasp the Trinity for the first time. Others have spoken forcefully about the God of grace depicted by the book. “The Shack” has allowed them a glimpse of the height and depth of God’s love. Those are wonderful results, and I am reluctant to offer my own perspectives. However, I have also met a few folks who felt bad that didn’t like the book. They believed that they were less faithful because it didn’t speak to them. For these folks, I offer my critique.

I wasn’t particularly interested in reading “The Shack”. I did so primarily because a few church members encouraged me. For me, I knew the basic plot, and I just didn’t want to wade into the emotional waters with Mack. To be fair, I know that God wants to redeem our whole lives including the parts filled with hurt and sorrow. Our theology shouldn’t ignore our pain, and “The Shack” faces the challenge directly. As the tears flow freely, these readers identify with the characters’ pain. I wish I could have experienced that. Instead, riding the emotional rollercoaster left me feeling manipulated. I experienced Mack’s pain as an outsider or worse as a voyeur.

Soon after my ordination, I was at a gathering of clergy, and someone asked me about my “faith journey”. From the time of entering seminary and onward, I have shared that story a number of times. I shared trying my best to offer an abridged version. Before I finished, one church leader proceeded to lecture me: “I was once where you are. Someday, I hope you will rise to my maturity.” All that was missing was the pat on my head. Assuming for a moment that this man was absolutely correct, his encouragement still fell flat. I felt similarly after reading “The Shack.”

When Mack finally enters his spiritual vision, the author expects that his readers will be surprised by his teachings. The author wants to shock our prejudices. God tells the main character that “this weekend is not about reinforcing your religious stereotypes.” Traditional authorities such as the seminaries, the Church, and even the Scriptures serve as foils for his theology. I certainly agree that religious error and hypocrisy are rampant among today’s Pharisees, but it’s tough to call for humility when you are also placing pages and pages of words in the mouth of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Even John Bunyan failed to do that in “Pilgrim’s Progress.”

The book is a narrative and not a systematic theology, but the theological statements are thrown at the reader from all angles. Some have merit, but others are purely speculative. For example, all hierarchy is a creation of sinful humanity. Economics, politics and religion are idolatry, not simply powers corrupted by sin. God refuses to judge humanity. I could argue that there is Scriptural evidence to the contrary. At the very least, I wouldn’t settle the matter with God-given pronouncements. I don’t personally have a problem with speculation. I love reading books that stretch my understanding of God, but rejecting thousands of years of tradition with “thus saith the Lord” seems a little too easy. God in the book of Job is modest by comparison.

Finally, I will not suggest that this is the most important theological point in the book, but it pained me. The Church seems absent from “The Shack”. Jesus does profess his love for his bride, but that love is abstract. Almost every concrete example of the church is negative. Mack’s father is a church leader who beats his son. The church hierarchy wants to lock God away in a book. Mack’s seminary education perpetuated religious stereotypes. Mack doesn’t recognize the church that Jesus describes. Now, the Church has long understood itself as flawed. Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares should keep all of us humble. Still, that simple group of imperfect believers who gather weekly for worship are heirs of the Church at Pentecost. For all the talk of community in “The Shack”, I was surprised at how little we saw.

Again, I do not want to take away the comfort that others have found in the book. I would welcome a dialogue with William P. Young. I think he and I might enjoy reveling together in the grace that God has given us in Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, we should approach our faith with humility, and humility is not simply a rejection of arrogance. We should examine ourselves in the light of Scripture and in concert with the Church.

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