I just finished reading The Shack, by William Young. I was a little wary of reading it, solely because it’s becoming popular in Christian circles, and I find that’s a recipe for poor quality, at least in music. Perhaps I need to repent of judging the Church… We’ll come back to that one day.
Anyway, I didn’t want to enjoy it for the reason I just stated, but after an unbiased read, I actually loved it! I would go as far as saying it’s a novel I would recommend to anyone/everyone. It captures the loving, holy, just, all-powerful nature of God in a way I’ve seldom seen written. The God of The Shack is absolutely the God I have experienced in my personal life, and in the Scriptures. So kind, so good, so desiring to take care of his children, and so worthy of our praise.
There are a few minor negatives to the book, and those all revolve around the writing quality. It does come across as a first novel, which I believe it is. That wasn’t enough to drive me to distraction, and after the first couple of chapters I didn’t notice so much. I do know a couple of folks who were quite distracted by the writing quality, so do bear that in mind if you’re editorially inclined.
I’ll spare you a full review. I don’t think it warrants one (it’s just that good!) But what I do want to do is respond to a couple of articles I have read, and bring attention to some conversation surrounding this novel. This is by no means exhaustive, rather me getting my thoughts out of my head, and for the benefit of those who have provided me these articles, and are awaiting a response.
Deceived by a counterfeit “Jesus” - The twisted “truths” of The Shack & A Course in Miracles
by Berit Kjos - February 14, 2008
Disclaimer: I’m not going to respond to anything regarding “A Course in Miracles”, because I don’t know anything about it.
To put it bluntly, I’m not sure Mr Kjos finished reading The Shack. If he did read it, perhaps it was the last in his weekly list of books to review, and so he skimmed it. In his analysis he picks and chooses lines he has a theological problem with, removing them completely from the context they were placed within, and offering no hint for the reader that any context existed. This is a dangerous way to read, especially considering many read The Bible this way. (The use of chapters and verses and different translations has allowed many of us to pick and choose, cut and paste, and allows us to build a theology of individual verses - stripped of context - that we find satisfying. Did you know chapters and verses were only added to New Testament in the 300s and 1500s AD, respectively?)
In reading over the comments on the article, where people strongly agree and strongly disagree with the reviewer, my heart breaks for those who feel compelled to prop up the image of God first as the Mighty One, the Just One, even the Angry One. The truth is that God is mighty and just, and holy, but he can defend himself in those things. To read The Shack, and complain that God isn’t portrayed as angrily or as all-powerfully as he in the Old Testament, shows to me an unfortunate misunderstanding of the entire Old Testament, and a painful issue in your own heart. If having read the book you cannot respond to the loving picture of Christ and his Father, so beautifully told in a way we can “all” appreciate, I fear that you are one who needs to message of this book the most! I’ve heard people say “I didn’t like The Shack because I couldn’t identify with the God that Mack meets.” If that’s you, I wonder if you need to meet a new God - the God of the Bible. I don’t say that with condescension, I say that having experienced deeper and deeper revelation over the years, that God is truly loving, and longs for intimate relationship with us, and that the Bible does reveal this.
A Review of The Shack
by Tim Challies - May 2008
Having read through Challies review, and subsequent follow-up, I run into a fundamental problem with his position.
Because so many people are responding positively to this book in opposition to “stodgy old religion,” we must believe that it is good. “William Young wrote a novel - a story that inspired me and thousands of others to want to have a closer, more intimate relationship with God. All your theological arguments can’t erase that.” The danger of such an argument is that it effectively places us over the Bible and over God. No longer do we judge right and wrong by what God says, but we judge right and wrong by how we feel. If the book inspires people to be intimate with God, we must judge it to be good. If it stirs emotions we like, we judge it to be good.
There are profound implications here. Pragmatism necessarily causes us to lose our focus on the absolute standard God has given us in His Word to determine right from wrong. When we lose that focus the church is placed on the slippery slope to becoming like the world. When we discard God’s standards we must depend on our own deeply flawed standards. We begin to trust in ourselves and lose our trust in God. We lose our reliance on His Word as the tool for discernment.
I have come to the place in my own spiritual life where I believe sin is entirely relative. Right and wrong, is restrictively relative, in fact, to my relationship with Christ. Anything that does not push me towards Christ, takes me away from Christ, and is sin. And that’s it. No more complicated than that. The 10 commandments? That’s a list of things that WILL take you away from Christ, he has promised as much. Do I follow the 10 commandments? Fundamentally, no. I follow Christ, and because I follow Christ, I will do my best to follow what he has asked me to, including the 10 Commandments. Mr Challies seems to me a black and white believer in a static list of right/wrong that we must all adhere to.
I personally will adhere to Christ. I believe that our relationship with Christ IS placed over the Bible. The Bible does not exist for the sake of existing, but for the sake of enriching our relationship, and giving us (at minimum) a backstory and a context for this relationship. I believe that is what life is about, so to hold the Bible in the place of prominence in our relationship with God is backwards. Our relationship with God should be held in prominence, and the Bible can assist in that process, if we have eyes to see, and ears to here. (Much of my teenage years were spent trying to figure out the Bible, which I felt contradictory at the time, and not enriching my relationship at all.)
So I fundamentally start on a different page to Mr Challies, which causes the rest his theology to not make sense to me. He states that due to the fall of man from grace, we must always approach God through a mediator, and so direct personal experience from God cannot and will not take place. I believe that is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Cross, and the tearing of the temple curtain when Jesus died. We no longer need a mediator, because Christ has mediated. Period. It is finished.
Mr Challies feels that the Cross is lacking from The Shack, ironically, despite numerous mentions of the crucifixion by Papa and Jesus. His arguments here are purely subjective, so I won’t detail them, suffice to say that I’m confident he has interpreted things far from the author’s meaning. The author’s meaning is clarified on numerous blogs and videos, Google it.
In The Shack, God is portrayed as an African American woman at one point, and as a fatherly man at another point. When he discusses the Trinity, Mr Challies takes serious offense at this: God being represented in any physical form. He goes as far as saying the Creator cannot be made part of his creation. While I follow his logic to a degree, I must ask the question of what Moses saw and experienced when he was with God on the mountain, and what it was that burned Moses face when God walked past. Even without those questions, to believe the portrayal of God in a physical form for any purpose to be fundamentally incriminating, says to me that Mr Challies is more concerned about the few scriptures that warn of graven images, then the bulk of scripture that talks of God’s love for us. Again, his relationship with each of us is foremost in his mind, I believe. That love allows him to reveal himself to us in any way he sees fit. Who am I to tell God that he can’t appear in human form, if that’s what he knows it will take to reach me? That is his prerogitive, and I will continue to love him no matter what. I will not construct an icon to worship in place of God… but we’re not even talking about that!
I appreciated what this reader had to say:
“It’s clear that you read into the text various theological positions that that author has clearly and explicitly repudiated (specifically with regard to the Trinity, the Atontement[sic] and Universalism - search on Google and YouTube for his statements) and I don’t doubt that when you “see” these things in the text, you experience a real and emotional aversion to them, but I think you are lacking circumspection here.
The book itself is a touching and meaningful devotional work that does so much to oppose, in an accessible way, the constant drumbeat of secularist and anti-theistic rhetoric regarding God’s love and compassion in the face of suffering. From God Is Not Great to God’s Problem, the reading public has been assaulted with the challenge of reconciling the of evil[sic] and suffering of humanity with a good and loving and powerful God. The Shack is certainly no point-by-point refutation of these bad philosophies (I recommend several of Marilyn McCord Adam’s books for that), but it is an accessible treatment of numbing evil being reconciled with an all-powerful, beneficient creator in the context of a human story.”
At the root, I think Mr Challies has written from his heart and has strong convictions. However, he strikes me, as Dr Larry Crabb puts it, as “a woman reading romantic poetry on her wedding night, and never getting into bed.” He misses the point of the novel. I would encourage Mr Challis to continue to seek deeper revelation, which we know to be a lifelong process. I commend him for his in-depth review and thorough analyses based on what he perceives to be Bible truth. I however believe some of what he consideres clear Bible truth is simply his perspective, and not God’s perspective at all. But we know God’s an opportunist, and will work with whatever he gets.