“The Shack” by William P. Young – Review

Spoiler Alert!  If you haven’t read The Shack and don’t want things spoiled then read no further!

OK, I’ve finally read The Shack.  I certainly understand why this book has had such a huge impact on so many people.  But that doesn’t mean I liked it.  I didn’t.  The first thing that struck me in reading it was the heavily larded prose.  It just isn’t that well written.  It is riven with cliches as well.  Who edited this thing?  I realize it was published independently so perhaps there wasn’t a professional editor involved.

I think the most positive thing about the book is the way that it expands the view of God’s love for us.  For many readers it must be revolutionary to see how God’s love is portrayed.

I confess that I read the book quickly so here are my thoughts:

  • How audacious of the author to put words in God’s mouth.  I much prefer C.S. Lewis’ approach in Narnia of constructing a complete fantasy world and working through the allegory of Aslan.  However instead we have the three persons of the Trinity bantering back and forth in dialogue that is very ordinary.  A whole lot of saying how much they love each other and people and then laughing.  Ummmm I kind of expected that they’re dialogue would be a little more compelling, what with being God and all.
  • The book is very anti-authority.   We learn that all authority and hierarchy are results of the fall and that there will be no hierarchy in heaven.  Ummmm… Is that really true? I guess so, since God said it.
  • The book is pretty weak on the importance of Scripture.  Scripture makes only a few appearances in the book and is never quoted by Papa, Jesus or Sarayu (unless I missed something, if so, please correct me).   In fact Mack’s only encounter with scripture has him falling asleep after reading a few verses.

The most maddening thing for me is the weaselly equivocating that Young does.  For instance:  On page 182 “Jesus” says “Those who love me come from every system that exists.  They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans, and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions… I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my beloved.”

AHA!  This is a smoking gun!  Willian P. Young is a universalist!  Right?  Not so fast.  In the next line Mack asks “Does that mean that all roads will lead to you?”  Jesus replies “Not at all. Most roads don’t lead anywhere.  What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.”

OK… so Young isn’t universalist.  Or is he?  You just can’t tell.  It is so ambiguous that you can read anything you want into it, except perhaps traditional orthodoxy.  I mean, what are we supposed to think about Jesus not wanting to make people Christians?  Or that some people who love Jesus used to be Baptist?  Does that mean you can’t be Baptist any more if you start loving Jesus? Passages like the one I’ve described are a blank screen upon which you can project anything.  This is one example of the “blank screening” (or deconstructing) that Young does. Scripture, the Church and morality receive similar treatments.  It is maddening because you cannot agree or disagree and you can only guess what the author really thinks.  It is intellectually having your cake and eating it too.

Anyway, sorry to be such a buzzkill for everyone out there who loved the book.  I think it’s great strenght is showing power and dept of God’s love in the midst of tragedy.  Unfortunately when it strays from that it misses the mark badly.  I think if the book is harmless and possibly helpful to some if it is read as a fable and not taken too seriously.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

4 thoughts on ““The Shack” by William P. Young – Review

  1. I had the real privilege of spending some time with Paul in the spring. (William the author is Paul in real life).. If he’s a universalist he sure does hide it well. If he doesn’t believe 100% in the redemption of humanity solely through the work of Christ on the cross he hides it very well.

    What he does not hide well is his profound love for God. This is a man who has been broken at his very core and has emerged out of his own personal “shack” as a man completely, unquestionably, 100% dependant on God for everything.

    I was pretty much where you are when I first read the book – actually my biggest response was “That was it?” I think Peterson’s endorsement swayed me a little too much and gave me some big expectations going in. I went back and read the book after meeting Paul and saw it in a whole new light.

  2. Hey Chris,

    I don’t really believe the Young is universalist… I just guess I wish there were less ambiguity in how he deals with some of the core beliefs of our Faith. I think he really is strongest when writing about God’s love and the relationships between Father, Son and Spirit. When he gets away from that it is a little weaker.

    Since writing the review I talked to some colleagues who heard Young speak at the Catalyst conference in Atlanta. It is helpful to know the story of how the book was written and why.

  3. Hey Geoff,

    I read your blog and thought maybe you would be interested in asking William Paul Young some questions of your own. He will be chatting on abunga.com tomorrow (10/22) at 2 pm EDT. If you’re interested, you can login at http://www.abunga.com/authorsatabunga.

    Brittany
    abunga.com
    blog.abunga.com

  4. Tomorrow Oct. 22, William Paul Young will be on Abunga.com’s “Author Chat” program for one hour to answer questions from fans and readers about “The Shack.” Join us online from 2-3 p.m. EDT at http://Abunga.com/AuthorsAtAbunga.

    Questions are currently being accepted at the “Authors at Abunga” Web page and will also be taken during the chat. An archive of the chat will be available at Abunga.com on the following day if you are unable to attend. Thanks!

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