Here goes another one of those blogs that I probably should not write, but what the heck? I have had dozens of people ask me for my take on William Young’s The Shack, so I guess I will give it to them. I will just keep it short.
The Shack is a fiction book that describes a man’s encounter with God after the kidnapping and death of his daughter. I found the book to be a good read and would have no problem recommending it to people. Theologically, of course, every thing I read could be better, but there were no red flags that concerned me too much. In fact, one of my biggest criticisms was that Young (the author) seemed to go to far out of his way to put orthodox language on the lips of God. In doing so, he avoided some of the major pitfalls when dealing with the Trinity and did his best to keep people like me off his back (which is often futile—especially when a work is too popular!), but he suggested, in my opinion, too much concerning our grasp of God’s nature. I like a bit more mystery left in tact. We may understand accurately, but let us not think we understand fully.
I was quite surprised by his understanding of many often elusive theological details. For example, when conversations with God occurred, it was explained that while God already knows all (thus he was not an Open Theist), this in no way makes the conversation meaningless as it is God’s purpose and pleasure to genuinely engage with us. I was impressed as well by the description of the Holy Spirit. When Mack (the main character and father of the girl) attempted to look at the Holy Spirit, he could never really focus. That is some really good theology as the Holy Spirit’s role, as is stated in the book, is to point to Christ, not to himself. Christ is the central figure, yet all of the members of the Trinity are presented as one, yet distinct, equal, yet fulfilling a particular role. Good stuff.
Of course there are going to be many who don’t like descriptions made of God in such a way. I can understand this, but if you are one of these, you need to be consistent and have the same problems with fictional stories such as the Chronicles of Narnia. And to be sure people will have problems with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit showing up as women, but I think he did a good job of explaining why this was the case. God is neither male nor female, as Young elaborated, and a fatherly figure is not what Mack needed at the time. While, to be sure, God is presented as masculine in the Scriptures, there are times when he compares himself to a mother in order to describe that which is expedient to the need. I think this is all Young has done. If this were written ten years ago when all the gender inclusive stuff was hotter than it is now, I might have been more offended thinking there was some sort of agenda behind it. But I don’t think this is the case.
Of course I did not agree with all the libertarian freedom (Arminian) presuppositions (God will not interfere with human autonomous freedom). Young did, however, back off on this at the end when he said that God could have intervened and saved his daughter. Besides, I don’t judge the value of such works upon their stance on non-cardinal issues. I can appreciate them even if they do promote such silliness as libertarianism!
I did like how Young left it a mystery as to why God did not save Mack’s daughter. God has his purpose which we sometimes don’t need to know. I often think of that with regard to the death of my sister. The search for meaning can be maddening, but we must ultimately say that God knows what he is doing, is in control, and is good. We sacrifice none of these. Young communicated such in this book. There is so much to commend here.
In the end, I thought that the book was decently written, thoroughly engaging, and theologically sound. I would recommend it, not as a basic theology novel, but as a good attempt to deal with the problem of pain in a creative way that will cause one to step outside their box for a while. Don’t let it create a new box (as is so often the case when people get out of one box, they jump right into another), but consider it’s perspective and you will be fine. In other words, reading or liking The Shack will not send you to hell (at least I hope!).
PLEASE NOTE: I puposefully did not read many reviews of this book so as not to try to jump on any band wagon, one way or another. However, I have caught the wind that most conservatives don’t like it much. Am I missing something?