You’ve seen in the checkout line at Target, in the airport newsstand, and on every Christian book club list for over a year.
The book in question is The Shack, by William Paul Young.
I have to admit that the ubiquity of this book made it unappealing to me. I am, by training, suspicious of any religious title which can sell that many copies, with the notable exception of the Bible. However, last fall in a colleague group, a pastor whose opinion I highly respect recommended The Shack. He said that he had read the entire book in one sitting on an airline flight, and the book had restored hope to him in a way that no other book had done for years. I bought it on my way home and read it right away. I found it enthralling.
In December, I read The Shack again, this time in preparation for our congregation’s annual women’s retreat. The second time through, I was struck by some of its religious insights. The book provided those on our retreat with hours of good conversation and helped all of us to voice some theological questions which we had pondered in our hearts.
So what is all of the hubbub about? You can go to any number of online chat rooms, college or seminary campuses and discuss this book, or read innumerable interviews with the author in various publications. My opinion will be no more valuable than any of those. Here, however, is my brief synopsis.
The Shack is about a man named “Mac” who has lived through the horrible tragedy of losing a daughter. Through a strange turn of events, he ends up spending a weekend in a cabin with the Triune God, learning and growing in innumerable ways through the experience. The plot itself is not thrilling. The dialogue is not brilliant. The entire premise is quite implausible. The wonderful thing about this book, however, is the imaginative experience of reading it.
The brilliance of this book is in Mr. Young’s ability to paint a rich, vibrant picture of the Holy Trinity. God the Father appears as a warm, matronly African-American woman who loves to laugh and feed others. God the Son is a thin middle-eastern looking man who loves carpentry and service. God the Holy Spirit is a slight and breezy Asian woman, who collects tears as treasures and tends a fabulous garden. The three of them interact with each other in joy and love and welcome Mac fully into their life together. Sophia, the Wisdom of God, also appears briefly.
This depiction of the intimate, beautiful life within God is thought-provoking in myriad ways. The characters (divine and human) discuss many great theological questions together, ranging from the presence of suffering in the world to the difficulty of love to the profoundly healing nature of forgiveness.
I’m sure that the systematic theologians of the world have found fault with some of the theological assumptions of this book. That is all well and good. The Shack is a novel. I wouldn’t recommend it as a theology text for a seminary classroom.
As a pastor, however, I find myself recommending this book on a regular basis. To a world filled with people longing to understand something about the love of God, The Shack presents an imaginative and thoughtful response. The Shack portrays God as deeply in love with humanity, infinitely merciful and forgiving, and desiring full reconciliation with all creation. It is both refreshingly childlike in its innocence and deeply theological in its assumptions.
My recommendation is this: read it alone, and then discuss it with a friend. Then set it down and thank God that Mr. Young took the time to write this book, which has reawakened many people’s minds to the possibility of talking about God, and perhaps even to the reality of talking with God.
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