4.21.2009

The Shack

If you haven’t read The Shack, the wildly popular Christian fiction book by William P. Young, you’ve probably heard about it. I had certainly heard about it quite a bit, from several different sources, and finally decided to read it.


Put very basically, the story is about a father who experiences a horrific family tragedy, and whose faith in God is shaken as a result. He is invited to spend a weekend with God at a remote shack where God (personified in various forms) works on healing his wounds and his relationship with the Creator.

My reaction to the book was pretty much what I expected: The Shack is written by a well-meaning author who is attempting to help people through difficult times, but it is a book which, upon close examination, has some serious theological problems. Young seems to espouse an unorthodox view of the Trinity (the kind that makes Muslims think that Christians are polytheistic), the Incarnation (he implies that God the Father became human as well as Christ), and he downplays the holiness of God, at one point having God claim that He doesn’t need to punish sin. And perhaps my biggest problem with The Shack, at least from a practical standpoint, is that it seems to suggest that it’s necessary to have some sort of miraculous, face-to-face interaction with God to get through rough times. For people reading the book looking for comfort, I would think that suggestion would be less than helpful.

As I said before, I think Young is well-meaning, and I tend to think that by trying to simplify the nature of God into understandable human characters, he ends up making implications that he himself doesn’t actually believe. Simply put, it’s hard to simplify the concept of God without distorting who He is in some way.

For all the negatives though, there were a few times when I thought The Shack hit the nail on the head.

On the death of Jesus on the cross (this makes more sense if you know that Young is portraying God as a motherly-type woman in this scene):
“Mack struggled for the words to tell her what was in his heart. ‘I’m so sorry that you, that Jesus, had to die.’
She walked around the table and gave Mack another big hug. ‘I know you are, and thank you. But you need to know that we aren’t sorry at all. It was worth it.’”
On how we change into being who God wants us to be:
“This whole thing is a process, not an event. All I want from you is to trust me with what little you can, and grow in loving people around you with the same love I share with you. It’s not your job to change them, or to convince them. You are free to love without an agenda.”
And on God causing (or not) bad things to happen:
“Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes.”
I probably won’t be recommending The Shack to many people, and I certainly won’t hold my breath waiting for Young to come out with a new book, but I was glad to find some good points in a book that wasn’t one of my favorites.

6 comments:

Sarah 4/21/09, 2:17 PM  

I feel about the same: there were some good portions but overall it wasn't worth all the hype.

I loved loved the part where God talks about Jesus making a continuous decision to remain on earth to fulfill His purpose:

"When we three spoke ourselves into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed. Even though we have always been present in this created universe, we now became flesh and blood. It would be like this bird, whose nature it is to fly, choosing only to walk and remain grounded. He doesn't stop being the bird, but it does alter his experience of life significantly.

Although by nature he is fully God, Jesus is fully human and lives as such. While never losing the innate ability to fly, he chooses moment-by-moment to remain grounded. That is why his name is Immanuel, God with us...Jesus is fully human. Although he is also fully God, he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything."

You can check out my take here and here if you're interested...

Sorry for the horrendously long comment :)

Alex 4/22/09, 7:02 AM  

I didn't ever get around to reading The Shack, primarily because of my aversion to the dubious popularity. I appreciate that you are willing to be objective and object to some things in the book.

As to your objections, I heartily agree: "It's hard to simplify the concept of God without distorting who He is." It seems to me that when authors, or just people publicly sharing their thoughts, try to forcibly incarnate God into their own experience, we unwittingly change Him, because God is beyond us. There is a very mythological appeal to these forced theophanies, trying to bring God onto our level. What strikes me as odd is how much we try to do this when He already did; God became one of us already so that we would not have to struggle to find Him.

Luke 4/22/09, 2:32 PM  

Sarah,

I’m glad you brought up that quote, because while I think Young was off on parts of his vision of the Incarnation, I think he was spot on there.

I think it’s important to realize that Jesus becoming flesh, living among us and choosing to die wasn’t a one time decision. It wasn’t like He agreed to it and was then stuck in a course of action He couldn’t control.

Instead, He continuously, over and over chose to remain flesh, and to carry out the mission He came for.

That’s really powerful, I think. Thanks for bringing it up.

Luke 4/22/09, 2:37 PM  

Alex,

“What strikes me as odd is how much we try to do this when He already did; God became one of us already so that we would not have to struggle to find Him.”This is a great point. It should be a pretty obvious point, but people miss it all the time.

Justin and Heather Bland 4/28/09, 8:18 AM  

Excellent post Luke.

I agree with your analysis. I had a much longer response talking about Job and GODs answer… but you know all about that.

I do appreciate the author’s perspective on evil and GOD working through it and not causing it.

I do appreciate Young’s attempt to break the box that we have placed GOD in, but in doing so he creates another. I think Young just tries to make the box bigger.

My major issue in The Shack is that GOD answers AND explains ever question Mack has. Where do we see that in scripture? (insert long thoughts about Job and GOD’s explanation). GOD just says: “Because I am the LORD your GOD.”

It seems in The Shack GOD is defending himself most of the time… when does GOD ever need to defend HIMSELF?

Overall it was worth the read, because at the very least I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about the nature GOD… that’s not a bad thing.

Luke 4/28/09, 10:17 PM  

Justin,

“My major issue in The Shack is that GOD answers AND explains ever question Mack has. Where do we see that in scripture? (insert long thoughts about Job and GOD’s explanation). GOD just says: “Because I am the LORD your GOD.”Yeah, I completely agree with that, and that was what I was getting at when I talked about how The Shack fails from a practical standpoint—for a book that aims to help people through difficult times (which if that's not why it was written, it is at least how it has been marketed), I don't think it helps much at all. It seems to suggest that the way to get through difficult times where you question God is for God to invite you on a weekend vacation and answer every question you have.

That simply isn’t reality, and I think for a person who is struggling, it’s more harm than help.

From that standpoint, the book would only be truly helpful if you assume that God’s responses as written by Young were really GOD’s responses, and based on the amount of theological error present in the book, I think that would be a poor assumption to make.

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