The Shack: Part 1

Not Recommended

But Read the Review Below to Find Out Why

Taken from Deidra’s Blog (Used by Permission)

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Discernment is not simply a matter of telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather it is the difference between right and almost right.”    
         -Charles Spurgeon
     I have finally taken the time to read William P. Young’s novel, “The Shack”, and have been working on re-reading sections of it for further analysis and research. I’m sure I’m “behind the times” when it comes to this book as it was released over a year ago and has slowly but surely risen to acclaim from recordings artists to pastors to people on the street. I have heard about it from many different friends, family members and more recently, several people within church settings discussing it’s transformational qualities and profound implications.  Randy has asked me to put a “review” of sorts together as he is starting a blog for the youth and their families at our church and would like to include a section on books, music and media.  Since I have finished the entire book and can comment in a more educated manner, I agreed…what have I gotten myself into, right?

     First and foremost I’d like to share that I have been working on and praying for a more discerning mind and heart these last several months. While the “debater” in me finds causal bantering and discussion enjoyable and thought-provoking, there is nothing enjoyable about discovering the many fallacies of our age. The more I hunger to study and grow in my relationship and worship of God, the more I am acutely aware of what Paul talks about in II Timothy 4- “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” All this to say- what does this have to do with The Shack? Probably more than one realizes. 

     I’ve read many different reviews on this book, and had several discussions about it’s themes and teachings as well. Instead of spending a lengthy amount of time dissecting each specific sentence and theological viewpoint, I am going to try to stick mainly to broad themes…though even in broad terms- there much to say about this popular and ever-controversial novel. For the sake of time, and to protect my brain from exploding (!), I am going to divide the review into 5 sections: 
  1.  The Trinity
  2.  Submission
  3.  Forgiveness
  4. Potpourri of Problems
  5. Why we want The Shack to be Real and Conclusion
     Eugene Peterson says in his glowing endorsement, “When the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian cross-fertilize the result is a novel on the order of “The Shack.” This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” did for his. It’s that good!” When a novel has a statement like this highlighted on the front cover, it definitely peaks one’s interest. The list of endorsers includes such an array of other characters- Michael W. Smith, Wynnona Judd….Kathie Lee Gifford? Can a book really be THIS good? I’m not a decorated theologian, but I have a brain and a heart for God’s truth. Let’s reflect on the Shack and find out if it’s actually worth its weight. 

Some Pre-Review Notes: 

Author’s Biography- A Background Check
     When I finished reading the book, I immediately went to the website noted in the back of the book- theshackbook.com. The website isn’t terribly elaborate, but there was a link to Young’s personal blog and I wanted to get more background on him. The tile post of his blog Windrumors, is “You are Welcome Here”. Knowing that the Shack has been a polarizing book for so many, the title definitely came off to me as a white flag, as if to say, “Critics vent elsewhere”. I’ll elaborate on why this struck me in this way a bit later…

     Based on his bio, it’s clear that Young has had a very full and long journey in life. Starting out as an MK in the mountains of New Guinea, he speaks of his dad being in the ministry and many moves and many jobs. Though he doesn’t elaborate much on his childhood here, it is obvious that these experiences shaped his faith as he states, “For each of us, where and how we grew up plays a foundational role in our sense of ‘normal’, and only when we begin to experience the ‘bigness and diversity’ of the world are we tempted to evaluate our roots.”  Point taken. If this is the case with Young, it would be good for any reader of the Shack to spend some time analyzing his history and background to get an idea of where he is coming from in this novel. 

     Young shares that his “time is spent loving the people that are a part of my life. I am not connected, or a part, or a member of, or involved inside any sort of organization or movement anywhere. The truth is that I doubt anyone would want me. From my perspective that is a very positive thing… for both of us.” I have a difficult time wading through some of these statements…and I’ll explain why a bit later. For now, if you don’t already know, Young seems like a fairly normal “Joe Schmoe” that just happened to write a book- a janitor with 6 kids just trying to live a loving life….so why all of the fuss? 

Fictional Facts or Factual Fiction?
     Almost every time I have spoken with people about The Shack, it seems like the phrase, “Let’s not forget, it’s just a fictional novel” seems to surface… in my case, this seems especially true of Shack Defenders over Shack Attackers. I personally have a difficult time understanding how theology and fiction can so easily “cross-fertilize” as Peterson says. Admittedly, I don’t read a great deal of Christian fiction, but not one famous or credible “cross-fertilized” example pops into my head. I have also heard people liken The Shack to allegorical novels- case in point, “Pilgrims’ Progress”, “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”, and even “Lord of the Rings” once. 

     The tricky part about The Shack, is though it is indeed a “fictional novel”, Young supposedly wrote this book for his kids to explain his theology… that’s just the problem. He is using the story to explain his theology and belief system. An allegory is defined as “n. a form of extended metaphor, in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative, are equated with the meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. The underlying meaning has moral, social, religious, or political significance, and characters are often personifications of abstract ideas as charity, greed, or envy. Thus an allegory is a story with two meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning. –Webster”  

     The Shack is definitely NOT an allegory, and thus, not exactly comparable to these other books. As Tim Challies noted in his book review, “…because of the limitations of the genre, it is sometimes difficult to really know what an author means by what he says. There is often some questions as to what comes from the author and what comes from the characters.” In my view, the Shack is Young’s personal version of Systematic Theology in story form. The other tricky part of Young’s writing is that he makes deciphering his theology challenging and too vague at times. It doesn’t help that there are hardly any scripture references in any part of the book which makes his points even more unstable and questionable.

     Keeping all that I have already shared in mind, one can imagine that reading a book like the Shack is no easy task. This isn’t beach reading by any means. I would have a difficult time relating to anyone who can read it and not be challenged by the theologically saturated dialogue. Is the theology that Young communicates through his characters really…true? My answer?…Yes…but mostly NO with a capital N. In the following sections, I’ll try attempt to explain why.

Deception Detective
     The Shack contains so many interesting sentences and word choices, it would take days to thoroughly sift through everything to come up with a well-rounded critique. As a mama of 2- I don’t have that kind of time. If my girls weren’t awesome nappers, I wouldn’t be writing this review as I “speak”….and on a side-note, this “review” took SEVERAL naps to complete:) I will touch on the main theological teachings I feel are unbiblical and finish up with a few other related thoughts on the book, author and society. 

1. The Trinity
One cannot read The Shack and not walk away with some interesting thoughts about the author’s portrayal of the Trinity- God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. While some are quick to drop the novel because of its portrayal of God the Father (Papa) as a woman of African-American descent, Jesus as a Middle-eastern man with a “big nose” and The Holy Spirit, an Asian woman/mist named Sarayu, I tried to give the author the benefit of the doubt here. Some argue that the 2nd Commandment forbids graven images of God, but others would argue that God did indeed choose to identify Himself as a “Father” (male) throughout the Bible and The Shack is only using alternate images due to the main character’s (Mack) “daddy issues”. 
     Lets just say that we can move beyond this, though admittedly, I’m not crazy about the author’s choice here. Young makes many references to the relationship that exists between the Trinity through various conversations between the characters. One conversation in particular completely tears down the idea that there is any kind of order or hierarchy among the trinity. According to “Papa,” 

“…we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or ‘great chain of being’ as your ancestors termed it. What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us. Actually, this is your problem, not ours.”

     This sentiment easily appeals to our flesh and is great news for anyone dealing with authority issues. Scripture is clear that hierarchy DOES in fact exist among the Trinity. Though fully equal and fully God, God sent His Son (John 3:16) to do His will. Jesus shows his obedience and respect to the Father’s will over and over again (see John 5:30, John 10:15 and the Garden of Gethsemane to name a few), and in John 15, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit. 

     Papa continues, “We carefully respect your choices, so we work within your systems even while we seek to free you from them”. Young’s portrayal as hierarchy as a man-made adaptation is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. God Himself ordained unique hierarchies in the world as a reflection of Himself–one could even call it a “circle of relationship to use Young’s words…But, like everything else, these hierarchies are infected by sin. Sin is what causes marriages to fall a part, not the God-ordained structure of marriage itself. Rebellion against the beauty and uniqueness of roles within relationship is what drives people a part each and every day.

     The word “hierarchy” contains a negative conation for most people. It obviously carries this weight with Young as the characters in the novel claim it as being, “ghastly” and “such a waste”. Another point Young seems to imply is a seeming separation or disconnect within the idea of hierarchy. “We created you, the human, to be in face-to-face-relationship with us, to join our circle of love.” The idea set forth here is that if one person has authority, or fulfills a different role within the circle, there could be no love or real relationship. Again, the Bible refutes this sentiment over and over again and I submit that this is a theological choice the author makes based upon his own past and experiences. If one has the view that authority equals subsiquent slavery, this picture of “everyone is in the same circle with no distinction” would be extremely appealing. 

     These are the moments when a face to face discussion with Young himself would come in very handy. Based upon Young’s bio and many negative references to Seminary, Sunday School and organized religion in general throughout the novel, it makes one want to delve deeper in Young’s personal story so as to understand what he is communicating in The Shack. Since this is not likely to happen any day soon… I’m left to speculate. 

     One cannot discuss hierarchy without discussing roles and submission, which will lead to Part 2 later this week….hopefully 😉 In the meantime, I welcome comments and thoughts on this very hot topic.

Part 2

 

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