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.

11 thoughts on “The Shack

  1. I went to see the “Ten Commandments”…stoned, by the end I was straight. I went back to my ship (USCG) climbed to the top of the ships bridge and wepted, I called out to God and for all I knew at that time…He took me in. Now after almost 50 years the “Transformation” and the “Garden” continues. As we all search, trust, and have faith we continue to reach higher flights of what all this may mean. One of my favorite sayings these days is; if God can use a jack ass to speak…don’t let us limit anything He may choose to use. The Shack for whatever it is, is being that west coast juice for alot of struggling souls…like me. May all our paradigm’s continue to shift. Abiding, Brad

  2. Good points, Galen. While God has revealed Himself to us, He always is more than what He has revealed. Our common mistakes are when we say He is this to the exclusion of that, when He indicates He is both. So love without justice, holiness without mercy, transcendence without immanence, are common mistakes. The Eastern “solution” is to do theology of negation: God is impassible, infinite, etc., all of which are negations. But even there the mistakes happen. To say God has no passions flies in the face of the passionate LORD of the Bible. So we affirm what He reveals, try to express humbly and responsively and love Him who reveals Himself to us . . . and wrestle with what we say about Him. We can’t be silent about the greatness of Him who is our LORD.

  3. I haven’t read “The Shack” and can’t comment there, but speaking of God’s contrasting attributes of nearness and “otherliness” reminded me of a thought that crosses my mind a lot–

    No matter how many ways I find to describe God He seems always to be “in between” them all. There’s always more to Him than my words or thoughts can capture. It’s a bit like trying to count the members of a transfinite set.

    No matter how many axes I use to try to measure Him, there always seem to remain an uncountable number of axes orthogonal to all the ones I’ve already found.

    My descriptions of Him, though they were all perfectly true and even if I go on with them eternally (believers _will_ praise Him eternally, after all), will always comprise an enumerable set. The real God will always be there in, around, and far beyond all the truth we can ever utter about Him.

  4. I haven’t read “The Shack” as yet but I’ve read “A Step Into Deliverance” by T. Pugh. It’s a riveting autobiography about a pastor’s journey into the deliverance ministry. There’s no heresy here, just jaw-dropping truth. A real page-turner!!

  5. I’m looking forward to picking up the book now, but from the discussion, the controversy seems to focus on holding on trying to hold on to both God’s nearness and his involvement in our lives as well as his “otherliness.” We have to weave these together in our thinking and in our lives. Right now, I’m preaching through Genesis (still in chapters 1 and 2) at the small church where I serve as a bi-vocational pastor. I’m both surprised and not surprised at how much I see the link between God as Creator – certainly an example of His “otherliness” – and God as redeemer come through every Sunday. I can’t preach “Let there be light” without also including 2 Cor 4:6, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

    This link between creation and redemption, which I know is not a novel observation, is still powerful. It also seems to me in certain ways a link between the great, world-changing action of God, and God’s action in my own life. (I know that the scope of God’s redemptive activity is far broader than just my own life, but my life is included within that scope.) I “get” people who want to stress how “big” God is, His “otherliness,” and sometimes I want to stress that, too, but I can’t leave that without recalling the many times in the Bible and in my own life where God has reached out in significant, small ways to get my attention, to give a blessing to me, to help me to learn. Some of the unusual little stories of the Old Testament are meaningful to me in the fact that this amazing, powerful, Creator of all things has stopped to touch the lives of people on an individual level. And that gives me hope that God will continue to reach out to touch me, too.

  6. I’m a former student with fond memories of auditing your systematic theology classes. If you visit my blog and read my page “Stars and Constellations” you’ll see where I’m at now.

    I have problems with The Shack, but not for theological reasons. I think it says more about our culture than the Godhead. God has morphed into a black grandmother from a white grandfather. (The Oracle in The Matrix movies was also a black grandmother.)

    We want God to draw near and explain life, but he doesn’t often do so. Even Abraham, the Father of the Faithful–not to mention three world religions–only “saw” God about once every twenty years on average.

  7. Maybe this is comparing apples to oranges? Dante and Bunyan have impacted lives for centuries.

    Perhaps a better comparison would be C. S. Lewis’ _The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe_. No disrespect to Brian McLaren, Randy Alcorn or Paul Young, but what are the chances that they will still be winning significant numbers of new readers in 50 years? Or, put another way, what are the chances you personally will re-read _The Shack_ multiple times because you gain something spiritually significant?

    Lewis still is read and re-read because the story is magical, the writing is simple, yet profound, the truths powerful, and the imagery (Christ as a lion) has a sort of fit with biblical text.

    The current bestseller list (like money making in general) has a way of skewing perspective. I will be pleasantly surprised if _The Shack_ is still selling well and impacting lives for good in 10 years–not to mention 50 years. Same with McLaren and Alcorn. They seem to be more current than have the timelessness of Dante and Bunyan. History has a way of weeding out the nice and the good from the great.

    There is in scripture an astonishing blend of otherness (take off your sandals for you are standing on holy ground; don’t touch the mountain or its base) and closeness (so they saw God, and they ate and drank–Ex. 24:11 and the passage you mention about Abraham feeding the three men and talking with the Lord).

    To focus on one or the other is not of itself a problem–though an implicit denial of one or the other has historically been grounds for deep concern.

  8. It’s true that this is a novel, but it’s also a teaching novel. Like Dante, Bunyan, McLaren, and Alcorn, Paul’s story is “creative nonfiction” to borrow a category from McLaren. Paul himself calls it a true but not factual story. The pictures he paints with his words are matters of truth, and our picture of God is of utmost importance.

  9. Thank you, Gerry, for putting “The Shack” up for discussion. I appreciate your excellent insights and appeal to Scripture.

    I was well on my way to joining the five-pointers’ stampede to diss the novel, and then I listened to a roundtable discussion at Regent (here).

    John Stackhouse, a Regent theology prof, was one of the panelists. He begins by emphasizing that “The Shack” is fiction! If you wish, you can read his insightful comments at this blog.

    By the end of the discussion, I’d done a 180!

    “The Shack” is fiction, a novel that re-tells one person’s spiritual journey. In no way does it present a full-orbed systematic view of the Lord God Almighty, nor is it intended too. If it did, it probably (certainly?) wouldn’t be on the NYT Best Seller list.

    I’ve now changed teams and celebrate the unintended consequences: Jesus is back front and center in a fresh new way! Yes.

    PS On a humorous, but telling note, Maudine Fee comments on the Regent panel that she and Gordon, her husband, read through “The Shack” every night before bed, but Gordon kept dozing off. I say, “telling,” because Fee, the brilliant NT Scholar, like many (most?) of us scholastic types don’t get fiction. We — and I include myself here! — are a product of the Enlightenment: we want things screwed down nice and tight, so our first impulse is usually not to fall asleep, but trash it …

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