If You Haven't Read The Shack, Once Through Might Be Helpful

by William P. Young (Windblown Media, 2008, 256 pages)

God seeking us in unexpected ways to know and love us in relationship.

Every point in human history has its people who understand the Great Hope of life but lack the desire, strength, courage or integrity to live it. As a result, relationships with God and others suffer. While in the past, the vision to motivate people to live hopeful lives may have come from prophets, visionaries and trained religionists, today, organized faiths on a worldwide scale have failed to inspire their leaders or their followers to much more than lukewarm political correctness. Even the fiery liberals and conservatives on the edges of the great religions have in many ways reduced themselves to the roles of prudish, professional legalists—pushing their strict regulations, politicized theologies, thuggish proselytizing, superficial spirituality and shallow relationships. Face it, from a relational point of view, there is little to differentiate among those who burn churches, bomb nightclubs and picket abortion clinics. All of them—and especially those of the faith which should know better—turn their backs on the Great Hope, while fighting to protect their own turf and force others to their points of view.

The Shack, a novel by William P. Young, points to the one hope for healing the anguishes and torments of a materialistic world dying from its lack of spiritual understanding. As a Christian, Mr. Young rightly centers on Jesus of Nazareth as the source for repairing personal, community and environmental injuries. Approaching God through Jesus is the beginning point. Trusting the wisdom and love of God to work good out of evil is essential. Yet, knowing God comes with no promises of wealth, health, security or prominence as the world generally defines these. God, indeed, is in charge and working out his will in the midst of ongoing evil. God knows us well and uses our interests as means to attract our attention.

A well plotted and skillfully written work of fiction, The Shack follows the spiritual struggles of Mackenzie Allen Philips as he wrestles with a supposedly good deity who allowed the abduction and apparent murder of his youngest daughter. Working through Mackenzie's natural curiosity, God directs Mack to the place of the murder—the location of his deepest pain—and encounters him in many surprising ways, all of them aimed to "heal the wound that has grown inside of you, and between us."

While The Shack is an entertaining read, the content is as deep as you wish it to be. The dialogs between Mack and God—as father, son and spirit—are engaging, thoughtful, original, occasionally convicting, amusing and, at times, hilarious. You will likely find yourself on almost every page. You may even discover yourself speaking and listening more directly to Jesus, as you see him as humanity's channel to God.

On the essentials of the Christian faith—Jesus as the reconciler to God and as the truth that sets humanity free—The Shack is totally orthodox. Jesus is presented as who he was and is and is to be—the creator who became flesh, who gave up his glory, who became a servant of lost humanity, who lived his life in total dependence on the power of his Abba, who forgave his murderers, who cried out in agony from the cross, who overcame death, who is alive in believers today through the power of the Spirit and who is the coming ruler of all humanity. This is all in The Shack.

Despite such historical orthodoxy, some people see sinister motives behind The Shack. While Mr. Young claims otherwise, reviewers have accused him of attempting to belittle theological education, sneak New Age philosophy into the church, promote universalism and present God as pantheistic. In each of these criticisms, the arguments pull single sentences out of context and misrepresent them as points of heresy. While warning others about heresy is essential, in most critical reviews of The Shack, the authors appeared to suffer from educational blindness, professional jealousy, conceptual ignorance or all of these together.

Whatever the issues of the reviewers, the means and goals of biblical salvation are clearly presented in The Shack. Salvation is totally about a reconciliation relationship originating with God by the blood of Christ. Salvation is about knowing God in the heart through the Spirit. While the burden is light, the process of growing involves dying to self, in part to heal relationships. Relationships are always more difficult than doing good works for others or for God. From a living knowledge of God, good works bubble up and overflow in relationships.

Yet, The Shack is fiction and contains some speculations on debatable issues. Many of the ones on the nature of the Trinity, for example, are most definitely debatable, but hardly heresy. None of the speculations undermine the faith. None are subversive. The essentials of Christianity are secure in The Shack.

The suggestions for building relationships make The Shack worth the read.

Village Reporter