William P. Young wrote a fiction novel to teach his six children about his relationship with God. It is allegory about God’s grace healing brokenness.
It was the #1 paperback trade fiction seller on The New York Times Best Seller list from June 2008 to early 2010
Young planned on making a few copies of the book at Kinkos as gifts. But then he shared the book with a few friends. They told a few more friends and through word of mouth marketing the book is now number 1 on the NY Times Best Seller list with over one million copies in print. It has been on USA Today’s best selling list for 70 weeks.
The title of the book is The Shack. This book is extremely thought provoking, unique and incredibly emotional. It has been compared to Pilgrim’s Progress and C.S. Lewis’s work. On Amazon it has over 2100 reviews and over 1500 of them give the book at least four stars. It is sure to become a classic.
By habit, I am suspicious of books that are popular, especially in the Christian market (my readers know I don’t hesitate to wave red flags). I read The Shack guardedly expecting for Oprah’s New Age type religion/philosophy.
I was pleasantly surprised with this stirring and unforgettable story about God’s love and spiritual healing. Here is the book description:
Mackenzie Allen Philips’ youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness.
Four years later in the midst of his “Great Sadness,” Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack’s world forever.
In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant “The Shack” wrestles with the timeless question, “Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?” The answers Mack gets will astound you and perhaps transform you as much as it did him.
This is a fiction book. Missy’s death is a metaphor for an ugly, dark place hidden so deep that it seemed beyond God’s healing reach. Mack spends the two and a half days with the Trinity learning about himself and God and relationships in the shack which is transformed into a mansion in an Eden-like garden for the weekend.
I smiled, cried, pondered, prayed, and repented as I read this over two days. The main focus of this book is on God’s love, God’s mercy, and the importance of us loving and forgiving others. I came away from the book refreshed.
Once I felt comfortable the author believed in salvation by faith through grace and that Jesus being the only way, I let down my guard and basked in this well written book full of hidden treasures. This is a novel you read with a highlighter.
Those who view Christianity only as a religion with rules to follow will learn that faith and love don’t come from theology or rules they flow from a relationship with God.
“Grace rarely makes sense for those looking in from the outside.”
William P. Young, The Shack
The Shack Lead me to Several Other Teachings
I spent years steeped in shame, seeking acceptance in religion. See My Story Masked to Truefaced. These teachings freed me from shame and allowed me to accept merciful God’s grace and love. Here is my journey through these teachings:
- c. 2000 Found Wayne Jacobsen’s book In My Father’s Vineyard. I was drawn to this book over and over through the years. I knew there was something there.
- c. 2008 Heard about The Shack controversy and watched the author, William Paul Young’s videos on YouTube. and at TheGreatDance.org. The story behind The Shack is more powerful than The Shack.
- Read and blown away by The Shack. Blogged about it.
- Found out Wayne Jacobson helped write The Shack and began Windblown Media. Read all Wayne Jacobsen’s books. Blogged about his message.
- c. 2009 Found out Baxter Kruger site from link at Wayne’s blog. Read all Baxter Kruger books and listened to over 100 hours of his teachings. Kruger broke free from Calvinistic bondage. Blogged about his message.
- Listen weekly to Wayne Jacobsen’s podcast The God Journey.
- Jacobsen’s teachings lead me to John Lynch’s book TrueFaced. Revealed my personal secrets in My Story Masked to Truefaced. and blogged about this message.
- Read new books published by Windblown Media Bo’s Café: A Novel aby John Lynch and The Misunderstood God: The Lies Religion Tells About God
Why is The Shack so Popular?
Young approaches the popular topic the love of God and human suffering in a story. Jesus taught in parables and object lessons because we learn well from stories. Young’s story is an attempt describe a God’s character to his children. But God’s character is essentially indescribable. We can only understand a part of God’s characteristics by what we know and experience in human relationships.
People in our culture have a need to connect with God as a personal God beyond the holy and omnipotent. Our reverence and wonder about the presence of God make hard to grasp God in terms of intimate family relationships such as God as Papa (instead of an unseen force or an abstract will).
Young presents an easy to relate to version of the trinity of three persons with unique personalities spending a few days casual friendly folksy conversation and home cooked comfort meals. Easy enough for a child to understand, loving, warm and rich.
If you have been hurt in your life through church or religion or experienced the pain of legalism or rejection of judgmental attitudes this book will especially touch you. I have been hurt a lot in churches so I was profoundly impacted.
There is such a chasm between God’s holy being and our imperfect world that it is simply hard to understand God’s mercy and loving actions with unworthy man. The Shack gives us a grasp of the depth of the love of God and it is beyond comforting, it is exhilarating!
“Every time you forgive, the universe changes; everytime you reach out and touch a life, the world changes; with every kindness, seen or unseen, my purposes are accomplished and nothing will ever be the same again.”
Any book that includes conversations with God is bound to receive criticism. How can anyone put words in God’s mouth? But the critics seem to forget the book is a fiction story by a man telling a story about God’s love to his children, not a book on theology. This book is Young’s perception of God.
I was not in total agreement with The Shack (I am not in total agreement with several of my favorite authors). I don’t expect any book but the Bible to be perfect. Books are like watermelons; you have to be willing to spit out a few seeds.
I read many of the heresy hunters posts and some of them say some things that just are not true. The article “Is the Shack Heresy?” by Wayne Jacobson addresses each of the problems the critics bring up.
The predestination folks (particularly Tim Challies) seem to have the most problems with the book (the teachings in The Shack–God loves everyone– do not agree with predestination. See the video series for a full explanation).
A Feminine God?
I imagine the hardest part for Christians to grasp is God being first presented to Mack as a female. Its easy to understand a knee jerk reaction. I was cautious when I read this but not completely turned off I have a limited understanding of the masculine and feminine parts of the image of God (because of my studies in Hebrew roots). When Adam was first made, he was both male and female, formed in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
The Shack is not trying to reinvent God as a female, but revealing that God is beyond race and gender. The main character in the story Mack was abused by his father so the author presents a comforting mother type at first, later in the book (once the earthly father issues are solved) God is presented as the Father. Harper’s Bible Dictionary explains the Bible uses both male and female imagery to show the charter of God:
Although masculine images for God dominate (e.g., king, judge, father, brother, shepherd, etc.), it must be recognized that feminine images are also frequently used to describe God’s activity. Among these are images related to feminine anatomy (e.g., womb and breasts) and feminine function (e.g., conception, pregnancy, childbirth, maternal nurture, etc.).
In the story, Papa explains that there is no hierarchy in the holy trinity–there is no need because each serves each other. It is a thought provoking description and my jury is still out on this section. But I have no problem questioning this and gleaning from the rest of the story.
I was disappointed that God served bacon for breakfast (See my view on the Bible dietary laws). My 30 year old son helped me with this. When we discussed it he said (tongue in cheek) “Hey mom, it is probably the same turkey bacon you serve.” I was enjoying the story so much I didn’t want this part to ruin it. So it is turkey bacon.
Christian can agree to disagree in non-salvation issues and still love each other. The harsh reviews almost all misquote the book or twist the meaning of a few lines. The Shack is not irrelevant to God, the Bible or Jesus–it just knocks man’s traditions and that upsets some people.
To fairly critique the book I would ask the question:
What did Mack learn from his weekend with God?
The Shack is not about theology or religion, but about the sweetness of an intimate relationship with God through Christ.
Mack is reminded of basic truths found in God’s word that he allowed forgot during his great sadness. The truths are given in an unconditional casual conversation format that may make some people uncomfortable.
Mack learns that he doesn’t really trust God and “Trust is the fruit of a relationship where you know you are loved” (p 126).
Mack discovers that God’s desires an intimate love relationship with each of us. He learns God wants him to spend time with Him and intimately communicate with Him, to enjoy fellowship with Him, to trust and follow Him, and to give his life meaning and purpose. He learns that God can use all things, even sin and evil to develop this relationship for good (Romans 8:28).
Mack discovers the depth of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:4-5) . He learns that he can not be self-sufficient and realizes he has been made acceptable through Jesus Christ and Him alone. He learns he will not find God through guilt or condemnation. He understands God is lovingly and patiently waiting on Him to submit (1 Peter 5:7).
Mack is reminded of the two most important commands–to love God and love others (john 13:35). Mack already knows he must forgive others as Christ forgave Him but in the shack he is helped through the process.
Mack learns God works through everything including our brokenness and sadness (Philippians 3:8). When we are separated from our prideful flesh (the carnal, corrupted life) through grace and allow the Holy Spirit to work in us He will gradually bring us to the restful place of humble dependence, wherein we can consistently receive the grace that leads to intimacy. Beautiful, loving intimacy!
Mack learns God wants us to be made complete in Christ (John 6:44-45). God wants us to be of one mind with Him. God wants us to make His ways our ways, His thoughts our thoughts.
I came away from the book feeling loved and secure with a strong desire to cultivate my relationship with God through His Word. How can that be a bad thing?
Oh, how great is Your goodness, which You have laid up for those who fear, revere, and worship You, goodness which You have wrought for those who trust and take refuge in You before the sons of men!
In the secret place of Your presence You hide them from the plots of men; You keep them secretly in Your pavilion from the strife of tongues. Blessed be the Lord! For He has shown me His marvelous loving favor… Psalms 31:17-19
Video Review of The Shack
The Shack is not emergent, nor new age. It does not demean the trinity. It is William Young’s view of God. You may not agree with all of it but it makes you think outside the box and has encouraged thousands to develop their relationship with God.
I was pleased when my Southern Baptist pastor recommended The Shack from the pulpit. It made me realize how secure he is in his position. I’ve been in other churches where the pastor would never dream of recommending any book that would point a person to any thing but the pastor of the church for a relationship with God.
There are many scathing critiques about this book. Most just throw around the words “bad theology” with nothing to back it up or they are extreme Calvinism- focused on replacement theology and election. I.e. They don’t believe Jesus died for all (such as Challies).
If you would like to know the types books I read you can see a list of my library here.
Have you read The Shack? How did it help you?
Why do you think The Shack is so popular? Why is it so controversial?