YouShac 08-05-58  

The Shack

 Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity


William P. Young

Windblown Media, 2007, 248 pp., ISBN  978-0964729230



Word of Young's self-published novel has raged through the Christian community so that it is now on the new shelf in Barnes and Noble.  The Shack wrestles with the timeless question, "Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?"  People are finding this allegory a wonderfully stimulating and insightful look at how God sees humanity--and how we should see God--through a story of tragedy and perspective.  I found many excellent insights in the heart-touching story.  Many statements would make terrific quotes, but they would look strange attributed to members of the Trinity. 


William P. Young was born a Canadian and raised among a stone-age tribe by his missionary parents in the highlands of what was New Guinea. He suffered great loss as a child and young adult and has overcome a host of inner demons to live a fulfilled life in his 50's.


Any attempt to portray heaven, the deity, and interactions between God and man through stories is also bound to carry peculiar conceptions and distortions resulting from our personal histories, troubles, biases, and imaginations.  I felt vaguely uncomfortable with the portrayals of the deity, the familiarity, and so forth.  At the same time, I expect in heaven there will be a great deal of joy, fun, and love and little fear.  The relation between God and man in heaven is bound to be much different than the relation between God and men on earth.


Below are Charles Colson's comments on the book.  I agree with these criticisms but not all in the same degree.  A mature person has to thoughtfully learn from the best and pass over the mess.  The difficulty is that we are likely to make a great deal of significance out of some of the wrong things and miss key truth in the others.  For example the loafer hears the boss say, "Work smarter, not harder."  While the conscientious person is the one who hears the boss say, "We have to cut down on absenteeism." So the person who is still rebelling against a legalistic background of legalism loves grace and liberty and denigrates fear and awe, perhaps to a fault.   


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From Breakpoint (on-line newsletter). 





Diminishing Glory
Stay out of The Shack

May 6, 2008

When the prophet Isaiah and the apostle John caught glimpses of God, they were overcome with despair at their own unworthiness in the light of His glory. The same could be said of Daniel or Paul, or any number of figures from Scripture.

But when the protagonist of a new book called The Shack is introduced to the Father of heaven, he is greeted by a "large, beaming, African-American woman" who goes by the name of Papa.

If you have not heard about The Shack, there is a good chance you will soon. A novel self-published about a year ago by William P. Young, the book has gained quite a following in Christian circles. It is still among the top ten sellers at And when it receives a glowing endorsement from a scholar whom I respect, like Eugene Peterson, it is not a phenomenon that discerning Christians can ignore.

The story is about a man named Mack, who is struggling in the aftermath of the brutal murder of his young daughter. One day he finds a note in his mailbox—apparently from God. God wants Mack to meet Him at "the shack," the place where his daughter was killed.

When he arrives, the shack and the winter scene around it transform, Narnia-like, into a mystical mountain paradise, perhaps meant to be heaven itself. Now dwelling in the shack are three mysterious figures—the African-American woman, a Middle Eastern workman, and an Asian girl—who reveal themselves as God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The rest of the book is basically a discussion between Mack and the three persons of the Trinity. While the discussion is mostly on the deep topics of creation, the fall, freedom, and forgiveness, too often the author slips in silly lines that, frankly, seem ridiculous in the mouth of the godhead. Jesus, looking at Papa, says, "Isn't she great?" At one point, Papa warns Mack that eating too many of the greens in front of him will "give him the trots." And when Jesus spills batter on the floor and on Papa, Jesus then washes Her—or is it His?—feet. Papa coos, "Oh, that feels sooooo good." Ugh.

Okay, it is only an allegory. But like Pilgrim's Progress, allegories contain deep truths.  That is my problem. It is the author's low view of Scripture. For example, Mack is tied to a tree by his drunken, abusive father, who "beats Mack with a belt and Bible verses." The author reflects derisively in another spot that "nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that 'guilt' edges."

The Bible, it seems, is just one among many equally valid ways in which God reveals Himself. And, we are told, the Bible is not about rules and principles; it is about relationship. Sadly, the author fails to show that the relationship with God must be built on the truth of who He really is, not on our reaction to a sunset or a painting.

That is not to say The Shack is without merit. The centrality of Christ and God's breathtaking, costly love come through loud and clear. But these truths are available everywhere in Scripture, everywhere in Christian literature. You do not have to visit The Shack to find them.

As Papa warns Mack, God is not who Mack expects He is. But He is also not what our creative imaginations make Him to be, either.

He Is, after all, Who He Is.