[This is also my newsletter article for June]
I'm not one to get on the bandwagon right away to read the latest bestsellers or to get all excited about the latest fads and programs that come down the pike in the church. When The Purpose Driven Life was such a big hit, it took me a couple of years to finally get around to reading it. In addition, I can't justify spending money on books that are usually “here today and gone tomorrow.” And the library copies are usually already checked out. So I wait until someone loans me their copy. That's what happened with The Shack, published in 2007 and written by William Young.
It was an intriguing book, to say the least. If you haven't already read it, it's about a man named Mack whose young daughter is abducted and brutally murdered while on a camping trip. Her body is found in an abandoned shack. After receiving a mysterious note, Mack makes his way to the shack where he meets with God who helps him deal with his grief and loss.
What makes the book so intriguing is the way Young depicts God. God the Father appears as an African-American woman who is called “Papa.” God the Son, Jesus, is a Jewish man named – you guessed it – Jesus. And God the Holy Spirit is an ethereal Asian woman by the name of Sarayu. Young's depiction of the Trinity is confusing at best. Papa tells Mack that he is appearing this way in order to break down Mack's pre-conceived notions about God which may be hindering his healing and getting past the anger he has toward God following his daughter's death. This is all well and good, but it's unclear whether the book's author has an orthodox understanding of the Trinity or whether his view is “modalist.” Modalism is an ancient heresy which describes God as one person who reveals himself in three ways. In other words, modalism teaches that God is not eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Rather, sometimes he shows himself to be the Father, sometimes the Son, and sometimes the Holy Spirit, as if God is wearing different masks at different times. For example, in one section of the book, Papa shows that he has scars on his wrists such as Jesus has and declares that “We were there together.” But the Father did not die on the cross. The Son did. (As a side note, the author's view of the atonement is confusing, too. In fact, in an interview, Young denied the substitutionary nature of Christ's atonement, that is, that Christ's sacrifice on the cross was the payment for the sins of the world.)
On the other hand, I did find one aspect of the way Young portrays the Trinity to be helpful. The author makes it clear that the members of the Trinity are in an everlasting loving and personal relationship with one another. It is only in this way that the Bible can truly say that God is and always has been a personal God and that He is “love” (1 John 4:16) and wants to share that love with his creatures. In addition, it was pointed out to me by another reader of the book that, if read with careful discernment, The Shack can bring comfort to those who are dealing with tremendous tragedy and loss. I admit, I teared up at certain points of the book. The topics being dealt with are extremely sensitive and emotional topics, and for someone who has a young daughter, it was easy for me to put myself in Mack's shoes. However, The Shack is not recommended for newer Christians who have not yet been involved in a thorough study of the Bible and Christian doctrine. The book is too fraught with imprecise theology.
Theological problems aside, I thought the writing of the book was not all that great. It came across as pretentious at times. The dialogue did not sound natural but rather contrived. And even though Young tried to purposefully avoid stereotypes in his depiction of God, he gave us just that when he has Papa saying “Sho' nuff” and writing that Jesus has a big nose because he's Jewish. I especially cringed when I read that.
If you want to read some other recommended reviews of The Shack, you'll have to go online. If you are reading this on my blog, you can click the links below. If you are reading this in the church newsletter, you can type the addresses into your browser later.
In Christ's service and yours,