(Minor spoilers ahead–depending on your definition of a “spoiler”)
William Young is discovering that word of mouth can be a powerful thing. His new book, The Shack, has sold almost 400,000 copies after starting with only a $200 marketing budget. The book is growing in popularity, mostly due to the fact that it simply makes people want to talk about its content, so readers have sold his book for him, one by one.
Without giving away too much, the story is that the main character, Mack, experiences a horrible tragedy in his family which pushes him further away from an active belief in God. Three and a half years later, Mack receives an unusual invitation from someone named “Papa,” and he leaves for a shack in the middle of nowhere that is tied closely to the tragedy. His journey turns into an opportunity to dialogue with God in a way that changes his life forever.
Before I jump into a specific review of The Shack’s content, here are a couple of general observations.
First, Young’s use of analogy will cause many to jump to conclusions before they hear what is actually being said. The Shack is a parable, so any effort to make a direct translation of the story into a systematic theology is going to turn out badly.
For example, Jesus is presented as a homely middle-eastern man (who knew?) who loves to laugh, splash his feet in the water while sitting on the edge of a boat dock, and build stuff. The Holy Spirit is represented by an ethereal and colorful Asian-looking person who can move about effortlessly, appearing here and there without warning.
The author’s representation of God the Father is the most difficult to get past for those who have a hard time with analogy. Through most of the story, “Papa” is presented as a hefty, happy, and candid black woman who can cook up a mean breakfast. Papa talks theology with Mack using a direct but gentle approach, giving him room to think when Mack can’t quite accept an idea as it’s being presented.
Second, what most appealed to me is that Young brings some heavy theological themes down to earth in The Shack. While you should not expect a flawless writing style, his ability to make difficult theology accessible makes this worth the read.
Here are some of the topics that appear throughout the story:
– Why is God presented as Father in the Bible?
– Do we have a morally free will? If so, what does that mean?
– How much can we understand of the nature of God?
– Did God limit himself in the Incarnation?
– How can I understand the triune nature of God?
– Do all roads lead to God?
– Will God protect us from experiencing the effects of evils that we didn’t cause?
In part 2 of this review, I’ll give some examples to show how he addresses some of these things, and why some people are criticizing and others are lauding this compelling and controversial book.