The Shack


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.



Sherry and I put our best clothes on for Bruce and Cody’s wedding. It was at First Presbyterian Church, an exquisitely beautiful building that was way less attractive than the wedding itself. The theme of the wedding was "as in heaven, so also on earth." Cody is a chaplain at OHSU, working with some of the most difficult situations and marking them for Christ. God was at work in their relationship for eight years, preparing them both for the wonderful work He has for them. Tom Miller got to pronounce them husband wife since he’s the pastor at the church. I was "associate presiding minister" I suppose, and got to do their vows and to encourage them to enjoy their first kiss as husband and wife.

Among the six [yes, you heard me right, six] speakers, was Father Jim Kolb, a Roman Catholic priest who does a lot of work at the hospital. I’d met him when I preached Cody’s ordination a couple of years ago. Partaking of communion was one aspect of the hour and a half ceremony. I was rather surprised that Father Jim was serving, since it was not a Roman Catholic mass. I asked him at dinner following. It seems he didn’t know he was supposed to serve until a few minutes before the ceremony. There was no good way for him to decline. So being a fine fellow, he held the bread for people to take. I was pleased when he told me the miracle of Communion is in the LORD, so he could do his part. But he said nothing since any words over the element would have been sacrilege.

Seeing the different views of communion was quite dramatic. I happily looked people in the eye, saying "The body of Christ given for you." People received it joyfully or reverently or in some cases with a bit of confusion with my words. From Father Jim they heard nothing. For me it was Eucharist. For him it was a place for polite submission, serving bread in a foreign service.

Having six speakers including one fifth neurosurgical resident who earned a PhD in classics before beginning his medical training, speaking on the significance of taking a name along with the magnificent organ, an ensemble, trumpet, violin, a dozen attendants each for bride and groom, and pealing bells as the pronouncement was proclaimed made it the most elaborate and beautiful wedding I’ve ever been a part of. The only one close was about 15 years ago which was even more memorable because among the five pastors, I was listed as special friend of the bride and groom. There are many memories.

I love doing weddings. I get the best seat in the house, though I rarely sit. I get to see all the emotions of the couple (and provoke a few of them, too). I’m so looking forward to what we practicing for: the wedding supper of the Lamb. I can hardly wait!

jesus-usa Oh, yeah. I’m thinking about the role of church and government for a presentation I’ll be doing in early August. What do you think of this T-shirt? Remember, this is a PG rated blog!


I love celebrating events. I’ve blogged several in previous entries. It’s that time for another. David, my baby, and Samantha celebrate their fifteenth anniversary tomorrow. I won’t be there tomorrow, but they will be coming by here to begin the big celebration next Tuesday. Sherry and I will get to keep Nicole and Joy while David and Sam go do their very special thing. In collaboration with David, we get facilitate some very nice stuff for them. It’s all a surprise for Samantha and some of it is a surprise for David. It was great fun for me to negotiate with some folk to make some provisions for them that will make their special time even more special.

I find that doing this sort of thing turns my gears more than almost anything I can think of. That I get to work with them to celebrate goodness is so fun. To get to enhance that for them in a surprise way is even funner. And I’ll get to hang with my grandgirls too.

My mind tends to go to intense and hard, so my outlook can get pretty serious and sadness can take over. Collaborating a celebration like this one is the other side. It’s where joy flows full and free. The intensity gives power to joy. But there are celebrations I can’t join, say a long time friend’s birthday that circumstances keep me from, or anniversaries of special people that I am far away from. These are mixed memories. I celebrate the event, but with a deep sadness that the separation brings.

Perhaps the epitome of this mixture is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. I want so much to be there. The regular practices we call the Lord’s Supper enhance the anticipation. The sadness of living in a broken world with broken relationships make that longing keen.

Next week I’ll have part in Bruce and Cody’s wedding. I’ve done their pre-marital and will be one of five ministers in the service. Their theme is "As in heaven so also on earth." It will be a beautiful celebration. I hope to be around when they do their fifteenth!