Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Shack Attack

The Shack is a Christian novel by Canadian author William P. Young, a former office manager and hotel night clerk, published in 2007.  The novel was self-published but became a USA Today bestseller, and it was the #1 Paperback trade fiction seller on the New York Times best sellers list from June 2008 to early 2010.  The title of the book is a metaphor for “the house you build out of your own pain”, as Young explained in a telephone interview.  He also states to radio host talk show Drew Marshall that The Shack "is a metaphor for the places you get stuck, you get hurt, you get damaged...the thing where shame or hurt is centered." (Wikipedia)

Two issues for me:

One:  The book
In this book, Mack, the main character, meets God at 'the shack' as 3 different persons.  Jesus is, appropriately, a Jewish carpenter.  The Holy Spirit is an Asian woman with flowing robes.  The Father is portrayed as a large, black woman.  The portrayal of this last character is the beginning of many of the issues some mainstream Christian leaders have with the book.  In the story, the Father explains to Mack why He needed to meet him in this form and it makes sense to me.  I don't read new-age, gender-blending subversiveness into this.  Also remember, this book is advertised as fiction, which it is.  It's not intended to be a systematic theology text.  However, our own Al Mohler called it 'dangerous fiction'.  Maybe that's the role a Christian leader who is the head of a major seminary needs to take - defender of the faith, no matter how innocuous or trivial the perceived threat is.  I, however, found many good things to be gleaned from the book - especially about the relational side of God - even though I did not agree with every statement the book made.

Two:  The church (little c)
Therefore, I find it sad when I hear that people who are being considered for church leadership are actually judged by church leaders on whether or not they take a stand against this 'heresy'.  You better keep your mouth shut if you liked it, or you're obviously in error or simply ignorant.  Plus you won't get 'promoted'.  If you're a person who thinks differently than the norm, you are to be feared or shunned.  Why?  Can't the church withstand a little scrutiny, or differences in opinion on these matters.  If not, then open dialogue is shut down and members are afraid to say what they think - to their own detriment.  I'll tell you what else people in the church are afraid to do - give voice to doubts.  I'd like a place where I can air my doubts without being attacked.  Just because I have doubts or questions about some things considered Baptist doctrine doesn't make me evil.  In fact, to honestly and fully explore them will give deeper and richer understanding into the topic and this whole thing called Christianity.  But not if I have to keep my mouth shut for fear of being categorized and ostracized. 

Well, I think you know I won't.  I wonder sometimes if it's my God-given role to be anti-establishment.  I know it would be much harder for me to say that if I was already part of the 'establishment'.  This is my argument against the institution.  There is pressure to conform.  We have to be able to distinguish between, and lovingly live in the tension of, unity and non-uniformity.

The quote is well known:
In essential things - Unity
In non-essentials, or debatable things, or matters of opinion - Liberty
In all things - Charity (or love)


  1. This is one of the many things I appreciate about you, Rob. You are able to put into words a lot of the things I feel. Unity AND non-uniformity, I like the sound of that.

  2. And so it comes full circle, just think, if not for the Shack, I would have never gotten up the courage to talk to some strange old gray hair (Mason) who came into Borders all the time and then I wouldn't have met you! Haha that's awesome!

  3. This was a provocative post, but I get little reaction. Are you all such a part of the institution that you're afraid to respond?

    Don't love position or appearance more than truth. They will fail you. That was the Pharisees strong suit. I don't think Jesus had a more strong distaste for any other group of people. That's what the 'organization of religion' wants to naturally become - a group of Pharisees who ensure they look and sound good at the cost of actually being good. Bind up rules on the backs of men, but don't ever lift a finger to help them.

    Can man have any power and NOT abuse it? Power seems to naturally lead to abuse and pride and hypocrisy.

    Does that mean we shouldn't have leaders?

  4. "Reaction"

    There you go Rob :)

    Um...I guess I'll take a stab at it. I think Western Christianity is obsessed with Systematic Theology...There, I said it! :)

    Just think about it though, we love bullet points, we love quick answers, and we love to be right!

    But everything we have about God in the Bible is couched in Story - there are no bullet points in the Bible. Everything is couched in history - His story - The story of God relating and living with Man.

    Every book of the Bible was written with a background and for people to read and still be able to grasp the meaning behind the story thousands of years later in different contexts.

    I mean, it would be a million times easier (maybe) if God had just given us a bullet point Bible - do these things, don't do these things...blah blah blah. But he didn't. He gave us a story that works its way up to the pinnacle of His Son coming in the flesh and living completely obedient and trusting God and then dying on the cross (again obedience) in order to topple the powers of Satan, sin, and death by rising again from the dead! And now the whole story is read forwards and backwards as having been about the Son of God coming to live with us and in us - Immanuel! (I'm guessing something like "In - man - el" since El is a name for God in Hebrew)

    Anyways, establishments and humans naturally gravitate towards stability. We like to wrap things up. We like to get things into their neat little boxes and categories and move onto the next thing. And we do that with our theology. We may not say it, but we act like we can read the Bible once and then we've got it all figured out. Nice and tidy. Yep, this is what it means. Let's move on to something else.

    I don't know, just a couple pennies from my mind right now. You need to read "Searching For God Knows What" by Donald Miller for some more thoughts similar to this and what he struggled through with the establishments. And I'm not anti-establishment as much as I'm anti-stagnancy. The Word of God is living and breathing and we need to be constantly digging in it and letting it dig into us and draw us closer to God!

  5. Micah! An insider speaks!
    Your point about systematic theology is an interesting one. We need to know about God as much as we can, but at the same time we can't package Him. And I agree, we hate it when we don't have a pat answer for things. Many things - I'm thinking about freewill of man/sovereignty of God, warnings against and promises for eternal security, may be unresolvable. There is a tension about many things that we must live in. I like Miller, I'll check that out.

  6. I was given this book by one of my home care patients. I read it over the course of one day. I couldnt leave it alone. Another reviewer posted that it portrayed GOD as an Aunt Jemima type. I guess that reviewer didnt read the same book that I did-or didnt get into the book as a work of fiction or something I dont know. The book portrayed GOD as the character in the book needed GOD to be portrayed at the given time. That wont make sense until you read the book. The Shack is a deep but easy read. It touches your soul and makes you think. It is not a true story. But a wonderfully told work of fiction that makes you wonder if it could be true. And then sit back knowingly after you have read it and think to yourself, "you know, I feel like this sometimes". So, in part it is true. You have to read this book. With all the law and judgment in todays world, a refreshing look at relationships and just pure and simple love puts joy in the heart.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I agree about the relationship part. That's an area I struggle with sometimes and this book helped me in that area.

  7. Thought this recent finding in a CT article was appropriate to this post:

    As we at the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) learned from studying 500 youth-group graduates during their first three years in college, Steve Jobs’s story is far from unique. In our Sticky Faith research. geared to help young people develop faith that lasts, a common narrative was that when young people asked tough questions about God at church, often during elementary or middle school, they were told by well-meaning church leaders and teachers, “We don’t ask those sorts of questions about God here.” While they rarely storm out of the church like Jobs did, they end up believing that the church is not big enough to handle their tough questions, and thus neither is God.

    According to our research at FYI, this suppression of doubt can sabotage a young person’s faith. Contrary to what many of us might believe, students who feel the most free to express doubt and discuss their personal problems actually exhibit more internal and external faith indicators in high school and college. Doubt in and of itself isn’t toxic. It’s unexpressed doubt that becomes toxic.