I went to Living Hope Church in Vancouver (web sit here) to hear Paul Young, the author of a most unlikely New York Times best seller, tell his story . . . or give his testimony if you prefer that language.
The big point is that the shack is a metaphor for all the trash in our lives. We build a facade in front of it hoping that God and others will be impressed and like us, all the while desperately hiding the shack with its sin, ugliness that is our shame. Paul’s power point is that the LORD not up there disappointedly demanding that we clean up our shack, but waiting to meet us in the shack.
You can read much of Paul’s story in this week’s Portland Tribune (here). But hearing it live is far more impacting. I hope you can view the video when it comes on line at the Living Hope site later this week.
I read the book straight through in one sitting, deeply impacted by the story. Then I drilled down deep into key passages to mine the teaching there. I love his exposition of Genesis 3, the model of incarnation, among others. In particular, I resonated with God pursuing Mack to help him face his deep sadness. But God did not leave him as the victim of his father’s failure or the murder of his daughter. He took Mack on to face his own sin and find true forgiveness. It is the lavish grace of God that goes to the root of things in the gentle power called grace.
But there is so much controversy as you can see in Tim Challies review (here) and many others on Amazon. The main criticism is that God is too familiar, too much the best buddy. Where is the Isaiah 6 "holy, holy, holy is the LORD" who brings Isaiah to cry, "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined!"? It’s a very legitimate question. If it were pursued as a question, I wouldn’t be so frustrated with the criticism as I am with the blasts that this book "insidiously deadly. Look, we can allegorize many things, but we don’t mess with the Trinity. This book is a Trojan horse subtly infiltrating the Christian community — one that makes our God extremely small and completely manageable, a God who, in the final analysis, is no God at all" as Michal Burton’s Amazon review characterizes it.
I turn people to Genesis 18 where the LORD comes to Abraham (v. 1) and then three guys accept his invitation to sit down for lunch and conversation. That is a very different picture than Isaiah 6, one that’s a lot closer to The Shack. The thing that grips me in Genesis 18 is the apparently trinitarian picture of God (yes, there’s a LOT more to say here). Note how gentle the LORD is here. In one scene He repeats the promise of a child. The withered old lady, Sarah, who was betrayed by the broken promise of a child, cannot hold her bitter laughter in. The LORD hears her unbelief. He doesn’t ignore it, but pursues her. But instead of rebuking her unbelief, He gently reaffirms the promise. How "Shack-like." Then He and Abraham discuss the LORD’s righteousness. "How can You destroy innocent people?" Abraham dares ask. Instead of rising to His holy throne of omnipotent holiness, the LORD gently interacts with Abraham so he will understand gracious justice. How "Shack-like."
Now I’ll quickly admit that The Shack’s portrayal of the Father as Aunt Jememiah fixing pancakes for the boys isn’t a picture that resonates with me at all. But instead of blasting it as heresy, perhaps it would be good to listen to the explanation of why He comes to Mack in this particular form and see the change of appearance into a strong male figure when Mack needs that form later on.
There’s much more to say, but for the moment let me suggest that you read the book if you haven’t. Then reflect on Genesis 18 as well as Isaiah 6. Perhaps it will help you face your deep sadness, to join me in hearing PLG, to hope for the day of healing in the friend whom I hurt so deeply, face the people I’ve disappointed, and all those Shackish things and know that the Lord of Glory really is the Lord of Exodus 34:6-7.
We’ll talk with open Bibles, trying to hear all of His Word.