The Shack by Wm. Paul Young has caused its fair share of controversy since its release. I never cared enough to follow the outrage train down pointless lane, so I just took what everyone was saying with a grain of salt. While looking at a thrift store, a copy of the shack caught my eye. For just two dollars, I could find out what all the hoopla was about.
The first thing I notice besides the interesting shack cover is that it’s a New York times’ bestseller. It’s unfortunate that this doesn’t really mean much nowadays, much like popular music, popular books tend to be lacking. According to various sources[i] [ii] 1 in every 4 Americans didn’t read any books in 2014. The amount of American readers has decreased since 2011.
In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen and follow sacred scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. (p. 65)
Young seems to have a very anti-seminary outlook, as if the pursuit of higher learning when it comes to God is a bad thing. A mystical experience of Gnosticism more prized than the scripture itself. The problem with that is that these direct talks with God are falsifiable. We aren’t talking about epistemology or properly basic beliefs. Any theist that would claim to hear from God would assume the information was correct, right? Surely, even if you view the Bible as limiting, you would at least take it seriously when it says;
“when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:22 ESV)
The Bible’s test seems to be in this area an empirical verification that the so-called prophet is from God. If you hear the voice of God when we do not, wouldn’t it be nice of you to share what God is saying? If what you’re saying is true and consistently comes to pass, more weight would be put into your claims.
However, it is painfully clear that Mr. Young has a version of God that I don’t find familiar. Mr. Young picked the right profession to succeed in, because much like the Shack story itself, his theology is a fiction.
Those who love me come from every system that exists. They are Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved. (p. 182)
In his story, he shows support for pluralism. Now, fiction is one thing, far be it from me, a wannabe horror writer (And no, my blog is not the horror part) to confuse fiction with the actual intention of the author. That would be silly. I wouldn’t accuse Stephen King of murder just because people get murdered in his novels. However, Young also released another work, which was much clearer in his intentions. It’s called “lies we believe about God” a great title for his recantation of the Shack story, unfournately that isn’t what it was about. In it, he spouts the same time of beliefs as his fictional impersonations of God in the Shack.
The Good News is not that Jesus has opened up the possibility of salvation and you have been invited to receive Jesus into your life. The Gospel is that Jesus has already included you into his life, into his relationship with God the Father, and into his anointing in the Holy Spirit. The Good News is that Jesus did this without your vote, and whether you believe it or not won’t make it any less or more true. (p.117–18)
Now, I’m a Calvinist so the phrase “possibility of salvation” itself is an incoherent concept to me. However, regardless of my disagreements with fellow believers, I think we can agree that the idea that Jesus has included you in life, relationship and anointing regardless of your action is universalism.
So, in the Bible, the Father hasn’t been seen. Jesus himself says this. (John 6:46) However, according to Young
God the Father appeared to him as an African-American woman (p. 82) named Papa (p. 86). Also, the Holy Spirit was an Asian woman (p. 85) who was named Sarayu (p. 87, 110). Now, the want to make the Holy Spirit a woman is common, I recently read a book arguing just that. (Biblical Affirmations of Woman by Leonard Swidler)
But this was the first time I saw someone trying to argue that God the Father was a woman. This reeks as some type of edgy postmodernist trying to redefine gender roles though I doubt that was the intention. Writing fiction about the God you believe in is a dangerous thing, you will always run into problems. Allegories can work great, but a straight up “This is who God is” is obviously going to cause a storm in the religious community.
To top it off, it confesses a misunderstanding of the roles of three persons in the Trinity. He indicates that the Father had scars on his wrists–like the crucifixion wounds of Christ (p. 95). Not understanding that the Father sent the Son to be crucified and was not crucified himself is something even unbelievers understand. The Father did not die on the cross. These were just a few of the errors in this book. So while fiction is fiction, there are people who have honestly defended this book as an accurate picture of Christianity.
A final note is the famous translator of the Message Bible, Eugene Peterson is featured on the front cover. He had the audacity to compare it to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s progress, as if the shack could compare in anyway. Bunyan’s work was well-written, made sense, was allegorical and lastly was orthodox. This would be like saying Pelagius was the next Augustine.
The Shack is wack.