New York Times bestseller, "The Shack" by William P. Young is all the buzz right now and those who love it say that it has changed their lives. After hearing so much about the book, last week I finally decided to read it for myself. If it hadn't come so highly recommended, I'm not sure I would have made it past the preface.
The story, for those who haven’t already heard, is a fictional account of a man whose young daughter is brutally murdered. Several years after the murder, the man gets a letter from God inviting him to spend a weekend in the shack where the murder occurred. The first quarter of the book is mostly flashback, and the rest is primarily dialogue as the man talks theology with a giggly and somewhat clumsy middle eastern man representing Jesus, a gardening Asian woman representing the Holy Spirit and God, who is portrayed as a black woman who goes by the name of "Papa" and can be found in the kitchen baking scones. I had many issues with the book, but I’ll highlight three of them...
Issue #1: I found the flashback of the murder chilling enough to give any parent nightmares. I could see it especially vividly because Young used a real place (Oregon’s Wallowa State Park campground) as the setting. Every detail was accurate as I remember it. I’d advise that if you have small children, or if you camp, or especially if you plan to visit the Wallowas someday, don’t read this book.
Issue #2: The way Young portrayed the trinity (God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) was weird. Some may find the various characters helpful in expanding their thinking about God, but it seemed to me that Young instead reduced God to a manageable size. It reminded me of a book title from back in the 60's: "Your God is Too Small." I was looking for the "awe" of God, and it wasn't there.
Issue #3: The theology in "The Shack" wasn't bad, but I felt like it was lacking. Young tackles many of the age-old questions (the nature of the trinity, the reason for pain and suffering, etc.) by having the characters representing God explain the answers in very neat, simple packages. These are questions that have been under discussion for thousands of years. Having "God" give the answers the author believes are correct seemed to me to be presumptuous. I also felt there was a lack of respect for the church, traditional understanding of theology, and the scriptures.
"The Shack" is obviously written from the author’s life story, which so far he has not shared, and since I’ve never experienced such a devastating loss I can’t really know if his approach is helpful to those who have. Obviously the book is meaningful to many people. I can see how some of Young's theology might be helpful to someone who has been hurt by the legalism that is all too prevalent in the Church. He also paints a clear picture of God's love for humanity. That's my best guess as to what it is that people like so much about the book. For me, I give "The Shack" 1 out of 5 stars. I recommend that church leaders read it so they know what it is, but I don’t recommend it to anyone else.
If you want to know more about God, don’t read "The Shack" and don’t watch the inevitable movie, instead read the Bible. Find a version that is in plain English (no King James-eth!). I suggest starting with the book of Luke in the New Testament – it's my favorite -- and follow it with the book of Acts. Now that's 5 star reading!