Wednesday, May 20, 2009

So I Finally Read "The Shack"

[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,
Pastor Onken


Jim Pierce said...
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Jim Pierce said...
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Scott Diekmann said...

I don't mind spending money on books that are here today and gone tomorrow. I do mind spending money on books that lead you to a false image of Christ, like The Shack and The Purpose-Driven Life. As Dr. Scaer points out, all theology is Christology. When Author Young portrays God the Father as having the same scars that Jesus received on the cross, he paints a fouled up view of the Trinity, his theology, and ultimately his Christology. God the Father wasn't on the cross - He was pouring out his wrath on God the Son, forsaking His own Son. By minimizing God's wrath, Mr. Young minimizes what Christ has done for us on the cross. That is a show stopper for me.

Jim Pierce said...

"God the Father wasn't on the cross - He was pouring out his wrath on God the Son, forsaking His own Son."This is a great point and one reason why I am confident that Young is actually a modalist. I listened to a recent radio interview of Young and he asked the interviewer "Where was the Father when Jesus was on the cross" (or something like that). Many modalists like to rhetorically ask that question because they believe God the Father was inside Christ and was crucified with Him (Patripasianism). They will not say God the Son was on the cross. Indeed, there is no "God the Son" in their view. It is also interesting to note that in "The Shack" Young's depiction of the Holy Spirit doesn't have scars on her wrists. Again, strongly pointing to Young's being of the Modalistic Monarchianism stripe.