My Thoughts on the Shack
The Shack is popular. Very very popular. In fact the 2007 novel has sold more than 20 million copies to date, making it one of the most sold books of all time. The author William Paul Young, penned a story about a father whose mourning of his daughter's death initiates an impromptu visit from God. This month the book was turned into a feature film starring Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, and Tim McGraw.
The central core of the book expresses a heartfelt and noble endeavor. Young seeks to aid the modern reader in a fuller understanding of why God allows pain, suffering, and uncertainty through the genre of narrative. The argument being established throughout the book through the mouths of the characters is this: the pain we feel is the result of our abuse of free will, and God has not stopped or averted evil in order to accomplish some type of grander, absolute good that humans cannot in their finite perspective fully grasp. That when we insist on remaining grieved at God for a particular tragedy we put ourselves in the place and position of judge over God Himself (or in this case herself?), humanity being grossly and inappropriately unqualified for such a position.
The book points to the fact that within our brokenness humanity must try to gain more of an eternal outlook, seeing all God's people in joy in His presence forever. At face value, although with far too much of a free-will bent for my liking, much of what is being represented remains orthodox, pastoral theology (keeping in mind that I myself am not a pastor). The book is simply written and remains very accessible due to its narrative form, flow, and digestible size. I can see why if one was struggling with issues of hurt, pain, suffering, and uncertainty, it would help as an introductory answer to many objections towards God's control and our need for an informed faith.
Nonetheless, there is an under-girding problem that scaffolds The Shack that I would strongly argue works to in fact erode a central core of traditional Christian doctrine. Since 2007 many interviews with Young have taken place, and I am not convinced he truly understands many historical Christian doctrines. As a public advocate of Christianity however, my main issue with the book is this: those enamoured with the creative story of The Shack are left unaware and caught off guard by the far more multi-dimensional and complex God one comes face-to-face with in the pages of the Bible itself.
Young leaves the reader slightly unprepared and maybe even confused when they see a God who is constantly reprehending and speaking judgment on His enemies. Throughout the narrative of The Shack the Persons of the Triune God deny that sin is any true or real offense or transgression against them. When one reads the Psalms, specifically the famous Psalm 119, we see an image of delight at God's statutes, decrees, and laws, and yet the God of The Shack persistently reiterates that he does not give us any rules or even have any underlying expectation regarding humanity; all of the focus hanging on the idea of a relationship.
What do we do when we delve into the biblical narratives of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Isaiah, where proximity to God's presence is powerfully dangerous and even fatal to us. Young seems at certain points to counter this1, arguing that because of Jesus's final and saving work, the God we now can enter into relationship with has become completely and solely a God of love, making all talk of holiness, wrath, and law obsolete (Making me wonder if Marcion of Sinope might have been the coauthor at times). My biggest worry is the fact thatThe Shack effectively breaks down the essential fabric of the holiness and transcendence of God. Creating a God that fits more comfortably in Deepak Chopra and Opera's books than the Bible. Making me wonder if Young potentially misread 1 John 4:8 as "love is God". The God of The Shack lacks the powerful and in control, stable, and reverential complexity of the Biblical God. Within the pages of The Shack I find a God big enough to sit and have a cup of coffee within fellowship, but far too small to worship.
Yet, I'm reminded of C.S. Lewis, who likewise sought to try and characterize the biblical doctrine of God in an imaginative way in order to portray and capture the heart of the biblical message. The difference being, Lewis was very open with his constant contention and feeling of inability to maintain the biblical tension between portraying and encapsulating the divine love and Aslan's overwhelming holiness and splendor that was meant to somehow be a shadow of Jesus.
This is captured in one iconic scene from The Lion the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where the children meet Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, who describe the mighty lion to them.
"Is he a man?" asked Lucy.
"Aslan a man!" said Mr. Beaver sternly. Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great emperor-beyond-the-sea. Don't you know who is King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion - the Lion, the great lion."
"... Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe?... who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he is good!"
Further Online Resources:
The Shack Movie Review (Stand to Reason) - Melinda Penner
The Shack Profile - Dr. Robert Bowman, Jr (PDF)
The Shack by William P. Young - Tim Challies
Why Papa of The Shack is Not Aslan of Narnia - Tim Challies
The Shack: The Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment - Dr. Al Mohler
The Shack: Four Walls, Five Reviews - A Satire Fred Sanders
Plugged in Online (Focus on the Family) Movie Review: The Shack