The Shack is a bestseller by William P. Young that has drawn a lot of attention and that Christians seem to either love or hate, with little ground in between. It is an allegory or an extended parable about a man who suffers the anguish of his 6 year old daughter’s abduction and murder, and then meets God in a shack in the mountains, where he has extended conversations and journeys with God as he wrestles with what has happened.
As for the people who hate the book, there is a good deal of severe criticism and vitriol being written on-line about it. These criticisms range from silly to theologically contentious. On the silly end you have people saying “He says God is a black woman!”.
Young, of course, is not saying God is a large African American woman that looks like Aunt Jemima, as he makes plain in the book itself. God simply appears to the main character that way. It’s like the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: Aslan the Lion represents Jesus throughout the series. No one is saying that Lewis thought Jesus was a large African cat. We understand that Aslan simply represents Jesus in the parable.
On the more serious end of the criticisms, some folks, especially from the Calvinist end of the Christian family tree, are very upset by some of the theological ideas found in the story. For example, Young seems to describe ‘Universal Restoration’, a thought some Christians (maybe most) held in the early centuries that God will, in the end, bring everything and everyone, including evil people, to wholeness. In this idea, even punishment is restorative in nature, i.e. no one burning in hell literally forever. Some Christians, criticizing The Shack, believe this to be a terrible break with biblical truth.
Throughout the book, Young engages in questions and thoughts that characterize postmodern Christianity today. Many old-school Calvinists declare these questions and musings to be heresy. There are a lot of subjects he brings up, but I’m afraid if I start mentioning them, this will get very, very long.
On the ‘loving it’ side, many people who have struggled with a picture of a vengeful God who doesn’t care, or people who have endured some very painful experiences in life which made them question God’s goodness, report that they have been helped greatly by the book. It’s even been called life-changing by some.
So…. where do I stand? I found The Shack to engage in some important theological questions for our day and to be a powerful story for those needing to hear that God indeed loves them passionately. As with any book, I don’t require that the author agrees with everything I think to get good things from the book. If I only read things where I agree with everything the author thinks, I wouldn’t get to read very much, reading would be pretty dull, and it would be hard to learn much from others. Could people come away with mixed-up ideas? Sure. People do that with the Bible, too.
So, look: you don’t have to agree with every bit of William Young’s theology to appreciate the good things in The Shack. The fact is, Young is a postmodern Christian, not a modern one. That makes some modern Christians unhappy. But that’s a subject for another time.