There’s been no less than a storm of reviews regarding Young’s best-seller, The Shack. Few are ambivalent. The vast majority either love it or hate it. Regardless of how you feel, it has swept the Christian community like a mighty wind – or a ravaging tornado – depending on how you view it.
One thing I find intriguing in many of the blogs and posts about this book is this: Some of the reviewers have never actually read it. Quite frankly, this was even true in a recent group conversation I was part of; we were all talking about the book though none of us had really ever read it. Regardless of your personal opinion, that’s innocently hypocritical and openly egotistical.
Not anymore. I read it last month during a trip to TN. And here’s my thoughts (but keep your penny till you’re done reading).
First, a confession. I must admit that I have not wanted to write this or post this. And granted – no one is making me do either. But so much bickering and branding goes on in Christian circles about various non-essentials that I often tend to avoid topics or issues that are in that vein. Personally, I feel most of it is in vain, and I deeply don’t want to get caught up in unnecessary conversations with other Christians about things that probably aren’t a big deal. But the more I sat on this, the more I realized that, perhaps, this is a bigger deal than I want to admit. Quite honestly, maybe this is more about some essentials after all. On that you may disagree; we’ll see. But perhaps it is now worth the risk to find out. So I write. And I post.
As a fictional story, I enjoyed The Shack. (There. I said it. Whew!) And that is exactly what it is – fiction. (The author clearly states this in his “afterwords” on the audio version.) So from a strictly literary standpoint, it was a decently intriguing piece. Even though the plot line was predictable (I had the end figured out before I got there), and even though it ended way too picture-perfect, I admit I found myself wanting to finish it.
But as a spiritual guide, it cloaked the truth and lacked doctrinal clarity. And make no mistake — a spiritual guide is exactly what the fictional story seeks to be. This intention is clearly stated by the author as well; in fact, he actually hopes his book will be the beginning of a movement that helps people understand God better. Whether or not he actually does is the centerpiece of the debate. Personally, I don’t think he does. I think he helps us better understand how he sees God. But that’s about as far as it goes.
Therein lies the crux of my distaste: the author seems to presume that his understanding of God should be everyone’s understanding. Yet, he only provides fictional (though representative) characters as his main means of support and credibility.
As a result, two primary problems emerge for me:
1 It seems to encourage reinvention, not reiteration. In other words, the author indirectly encourages us to imagine God in any way that meets us at our place of deepest need. Personally, that’s a tad scary. Throughout Scripture we are never encouraged to reinvent God as we think would best meet our current needs, but rather to bring our needs to the God of the Bible, the one revealed in Scripture. It is that God that should be reiterated and proclaimed, taught and known. The pragmatic and tragic result of reinvention is that we may start thinking we can begin with our thoughts when it comes to understanding God, or that God can be whatever we need him to be, based on the situation.
2. It seems to prioritize man’s good over God’s glory. Throughout the book, the main character’s condition was the host’s main concern. In fact, it seemed that “Papa” took a back seat at times because of Mac’s wishes or choices. Does God love us unconditionally? Without a doubt. And does he, then, act for our good? Yes. But we are not the end game of God’s love and action. His own desire for maximum glory from all the nations is the final goal (Rev 5).
Essentially, The Shack subtly promotes anthropocentric theology , not theocentric theology. Young paints a picture of mankind emerging as the ultimate centerpiece of divine activity, when, most biblically, man plays second fiddle to something far greater and more important on the stage of redemptive history: God’s own glory!
I must admit that, opposed to something blatantly stated, this is something I covertly, though repeatedly, sensed as I read the book. Nevertheless, it’s like a pebble in the shoe: hard to find but really irritating. And over time, this kind of thinking will cause a bad theological blister.
Would I recommend it? To the right person, perhaps. But with a disclaimer: Enjoy the story, not the theology.