Monday, May 12, 2008

Book Review - The Shack

A friend on a pastor's forum asked us if we had read "The Shack", a novel by William Paul Young. No one had, but several of us had heard a lot about it. Since I was curious, we went out this afternoon and bought it, and I spent a couple hours reading it tonight.

The fear for this book is that people will treat it as theology, instead of the story a father wrote for his kids. For some reason, people in America will take fictional material and try to use it in ways it wasn't intended. I do not understand how that can happen, but I am sure that it does.

Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill in Seattle, and an outspoken Calvinist, addressed the book specifically in a clip that's on You Tube. Just search for the shack and driscoll and you'll find it. He blasts it on several fronts - for "making a graven image of God", for "encouraging goddess worship", for "the heresy of modalism", and for dissing the Puritans. Okay, not the latter, I just get tired of hearing about them. I think he was way over the top on the graven images and goddess worship but on track on being careful about what could happen to people who aren't discerning of this fictional work.

As for the book, it's the story of a man who suffers some great pain - first from an abusive father who he poisons, then from the loss of a daughter to a serial killer. He struggles with "the Great Sadness" which robs his life of joy and color. He gets an invitation from "God" to the shack in which his daughter was killed.

And he goes.

The book spends a good deal of time after the first 60 pages, exploring the relationship between the Trinity as they deal with Mack, the focus of the novel. The author seemed to deliberately push some buttons by casting "Papa", the father as an old black woman, Jesus as a typecast middle eastern male, and the spirit as an asian woman. Sophia, the wisdom of god personified, shows up later.

Mack is helped to fully trust god and come out of the Great Sadness by the members of the trinity, and he deals with both of the worst events in his life. He comes away changed, and then there's a twist.


If you are capable of separating fiction from theology, it's a good quick read. There's something inspiring about even fictional characters dealing with their demons, and it's nice to see god referred to as always loving and enthralled with his children. But again, it's a novel so we need to be careful not to port anything in it over to life that doesn't square with Scripture.

If you get your theology from Oprah, you'll be right at home. Not sure how you'll work that into the rest of the speculation from the Secret or Tolle's work, but maybe Oprah can help you figure it all out.


  1. Perhaps the reason people confuse this book with theology, is because the endorsements on the books cover call it a work of theology. They do this both directly and indirectly.

    For instance

    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.
    Eugene Petersen

    Mr Petersen calls Paul Young a theologian? Or how about the next one

    Wrapped in creative brilliance, The Shack is spiritually profound, theologically enlightening and life impacting. It has my highest recommendation. We are joyfully giving copies away by the case. Steve Berger, pastor , Grace Chapel

    Wow, theologically enlightening! Life Impacting! Certainly new age thought does that also.

    Gayle Erwin said
    Riveting, with twists that defy your expectations while teaching powerful theological lessons without patronizing. I was crying by page 100. You cannot read it without your heart becoming involved.

    He must be confusing fiction and theology the book teaches powerful theological lessons. It certainly does, and Mark Driscoll barely scratches the surface when it comes to the heresies of this "novel".

    I wholeheartedly agree with, stay away from this book. It is deceptive from the start, claiming to be a work of fiction to the critics and a theological masterpiece to the endorsers.

  2. I guess I'll have to read it again. I've watched the author describe it as a work of fiction written for his kids on a You Tube clip from TBN.

    When I read it, that's the way it struck me. It's hard for me to put God into human form as Aunt Jemima. That's some graven image.

    There were so many loose plot threads flying around I almost gave up before page 60, but that's where the allegorical scenes began, which I read with all the interest of someone watching T league baseball. I knew it was loose, and yes, over the line, but the author was trying so hard - almost as if he was writing for his kids... Oh - right, he was.

    I think Peterson loved the story - full over hope, forgiveness and redemption which are sadly lacking in mainstream fiction today. I'm sort of doubting he'd use it as a systematic theology text.

    If this book can cause Driscoll, Challies etc heartburn over its effect on the American church, then the problem isn't with the book, its with the church.

    It's fiction. I'm sure I'll be discussing it with church members as it filters out into summer reading, and I'll remind them of what the Bible says about our God in Three Persons.

    Didn't someone point one once upon a time that the anvil that is the Church has worn out many hammers?

    Thanks for your comments.

  3. As Christians we are bond by a commitment to always honor God. We will give an account of every word we say and for every word that we have printed. Why would a Christian give a false view of God to others? Why sell a lie? Why create a story knowing it will have bones that must be spit out.

    God the father does not have flesh and does not bear the marks of Christ's crucifixion on his wrists. God the father is no where in the Bible referred to as a woman. God the father is Spirit. The Holy spirit is spirit not flesh. This book endorses universal reconciliation which is heresy.

    Accepting this view of God is accepting another Jesus. Handing this book out to others or recommending it is promoting another Jesus. The Mormons believe in Jesus however, it is the wrong one.

    Do you not know that through history it was common for people to write there beliefs into fiction books as a way of expressing what they believed?

  4. Did you even read what I wrote? Or are you just monologuing?


    It's a work of fiction. The Church will survive. God is big enough to handle it. Someone out there right now is working on the next "hammer" that the anvil will wear out.

    People with discernment can enjoy it for what it is and not run off with the Oprah-ites. It'll be okay. I peeked at the end of our Book.

    We win.


  5. Anonymous2:54 PM

    Doesn't the end of our book also say that in the end times a great deception will come and try and deceive even the elect? Do not be led astray by doctrines of demons. Don't be seduced by a different Jesus and a new trinity made in our image! Talk about God in a Box! This is spiritual warfare and your soul is at stake if you follow this slippery path. Don't kid yourself that you are immune to error or being led astray. Judge everything in the light of scripture. If it doesn't pass the test, don't flirt with it, embrace it or believe it no matter how good it feels!