I’m a little behind the times on this one which is my norm for books. If a best-selling book is not readily available at my local library branch or if a friend doesn’t have a copy I can borrow it usually takes me a while to get a hold of a blockbuster. Since bookshelf space is currently at a premium at our house, and books can be a big drain on a budget I’m very selective of the books that I buy.
The book The Shack by William P. Young came out in 2008 and caused quite a stir in theological circles. The book was highly recommended to me by a former boss. He even loaned the book to me at the time, but because I had a lengthy to-read stockpile of books borrowed from several other friends I returned the book to him as he had other friends eagerly waiting to read the book.
Well, a few weeks ago I was at Cousin Brack and Donna’s house. Donna and I frequently do book exchanges because we have similar tastes in books. She broke out the The Shack and asked me if I had read it. I said, “No’, but since I had read many takes on the book I wanted to read it myself.
Now, critics have attacked the theological soundness of the book, and if you were reading it from a purely theological standpoint the book would probably hit you the wrong way. A theologian I am not, so I read the book with the mindset that it was fiction and some of it was probably going to be purely allegorical. Read in that light it did not disturb me that God was portrayed as a sassy black woman, Jesus a common middle Eastern-looking carpenter, and the Holy Spirit a Asian woman with fairy-like attributes. I have read my share of Christian allegory via John Bunyan and C. S. Lewis, and I found The Shack to be similar to what I’ve read by these authors.
Actually, I think God perfectly timed this read for me. I have not a lost a child by a senseless, violent act, but I have asked God the same questions the main character, Mack, asked God in relation to my inability to have children. I have also had a difficult time coming to grips with why God allows suffering in this world. On a logical level I know we live in a fallen world and because of that suffering occurs as a by-product of the fall; however, my heart has had a difficult time accepting why a loving God would allow suffering…especially the suffering of the most innocent among us. This book spoke to me deeply on that level and on several other levels. There were times I thought the author was going to say that there are many paths to God, but when the question is directly posed the author simply says through the God character that people have come to Him from many different religions by stating that they were Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus etc. not that they came through those religions. There is also lots of reference to reconciliation by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and whether or not God reconciled the whole world to Himself at that moment, or if that reconciliation was reserved for people who accepted the gift of reconciliation. It goes a little off the tracks for me at that point because Young does say through the God character that God reconciled the whole world through Christ’s sacrifice, but the path of reconciliation is a two-way highway. The discussion stops there, and the discussion never occurs as to what happens to the person who doesn’t accept that reconciliation. With the risk of imposing a little bit of a spoiler here the main character meets his dead father in his vision of Heaven. Earlier in the book Mack describes his father in detail as a very abusive, alcoholic father that he had to escape from as a young teenager. His father dies shortly after this and you assume he has died unrepentant…the author does not elaborate on those details. The God character often alludes to the fact that He is “very fond” of everyone, and when directly questioned about whether unrepentant murderers will be in Heaven you get the impression from the author that they will.
Now, from what I’ve read about the author he is openly a Christian Universalist. In a nutshell, Christian Universalists believe that when Christ died on the cross He completely reconciled everyone to God even folks who never accept and/or outright reject this reconciliation. Everyone makes it to Heaven simply because of what Christ accomplished on the cross. This is opposed to Unitarian Universalists who believe, basically, that if you dream up a way to God it is acceptable. All paths lead to God, and we all make it to Heaven in the end.
This assertion of a Christian Universalist worldview directly by the author and vaguely in illustrations in the book is part of the reason evangelicals got so fired up in opposition to this book…that and the fact that the author does not directly address sin and hell. I’d say their objection would be more justified if the author was writing a non-fiction book on theology. Some believe that the book is heretical based simply on the fact that the author proclaims to be a Christian Universalist. Personally, I found it far from heretical…a little “out there” at times, but in my humble opinion definitely not heretical.
Now, with the objective review out of the way I’ll give you my subjective review:
I loved it.
It’s definitely in the top three books I have read all year. The story is very compelling, and honestly, who among us has not desired a vivid vision of God where He answers our most difficult questions? Even though it was a small book (just under 200 pages) it took me a good week to read, because I kept re-reading what I had just read in order to wrap my brain around it.
The best attribute of the book is its emphasis that knowing God does not come from understanding His actions, but through a relationship with Him. The importance of relationships both with God and with our loved ones, I believe, the is mission statement of the book. The book did not change my beliefs in any way, but it changed the way I look at my life and my relationships especially with God.
I would highly recommend that everyone read The Shack and draw their own conclusions. It’s definitely not an easy read, but it will challenge you both intellectually and spiritually…something I always find refreshing in book.