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"The Shack" - Not worth a visit!
 Romans 11:33-36

(c) Copyright 2008 Rev. Bill Versteeg

    One of the latest fiction books that has hit the hot Christian reading list is called “the Shack” written by William Young.  Someone encouraged me to read it to see what I thought about it.  Surveying it, I was surprised to hear how many people had read it before me.
    The Shack is a story about a uncertain Christian man whose daughter is kidnapped, victimized and then killed in a shack hidden deep in some woods.  His life is overshadowed by sadness until one day he gets a note inviting him to meet “Papa,” his wife’s name for God, at the very shack where his daughter was murdered.  He goes, and there he meets his version of the trinity, A middle aged black women named “Papa” who obviously represents the first person of the Trinity, a middle eastern carpenter labourer type named Elousia obviously the second person of the trinity, an Asian women named Saraiou referring to the holy Spirit, and the fourth person of his trinity, another women Sophia who he reminds us is a personification of the wisdom of God while scripture tells us that Wisdom was Jesus.
    In his dialogues with God, he struggles with questions about his daughters death.  He deals with questions of theodicy, questions that the best theologians, best philosophers and best minds have dealt with over the millenium, questions that deal with suffering and evil and the reality of a all knowing, all powerful and completely good God.  Whereas the best theologians, philosophers and minds have struggled with these questions over the centuries, suddenly in the form of a story, William Young comes up with the solution.  How is it possible?
    Let me start with a positive comment about the book.  It paints a picture of God as a relational God, a God who desires, seeks relationship with us.  That is good.  But in the process of seeking to answer questions of theodicy, Young makes some major sacrifices.
    First of all, while trying to sound Christian, there is very little listening to the balance of what scripture has to say about God in the scriptures.  There is a reason why the best minds, philosophers, theologians have difficulty with questions of theodicy, because the sweep of scripture forces us to mystery, to paradox, understanding who God is and the sweep of the complexity of what God has done in Christ even forced Paul to say in Romans 11:33-36.
33Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
35“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
36For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

 If Paul was overwhelmed with the mystery of God, how does Young resolve his questions of theodicy?  Well the truth is, he comes up with a different gospel, a different God and a different salvation than what we find in the scriptures. 
The best way to review Young's doctrine is to ask questions in certain doctrinal categories.  This is one of the best ways to discern error in what we read and hear.  What is the books understanding of the doctrines of God/Trinity, Sin, Salvation, Ecclesiology (the church)?

    First of all of all he comes up with a different God.  Yes he perports to come up with the trinity, sounds very Christian, he pictures the different persons of the trinity inovatively - that’s OK, though it boarders on leading us to goddess worship given that God is pictured as an aunt Jamima women, given that God is spirit and besides the fact that God has revealed himself as Father, Son and Spirit, and he confuses the wisdom personfication of the Old Testamant as a fourth person when actually it is Christ. His main problem with the trinity is that his distorted perspective of power, authority and hierarchy shapes his view of God.  For Young, authority means abuse of power.  Hierarchy is where abuse of power happens.  And so in his view of God, there is no hierarchy between father, son and Spirit, there is no authority, there is no need for obedience, no room for headship. 

These themes do not do justice to the scriptural teachings found in 1 Cor 11 where Paul says
    “3 Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”
An extensive study of that passage, no matter how hard we try to twist under out of it forces us to acknowledge some form of hierarcy even in the Trinity.  This along with Christ obvious, intentional and difficult obedience in his incarnation, in his passion in the garden, in his death on the cross, clearly indicates that he submitted his will to his father in heaven.  Contrary to Young’s book which teaches that all three persons of the trinity became incarnate and died on the cross, scripture teaches that only Jesus became incarnate.  But of course, Young does this because he can’t tolerate the son submitting to the father.  To quote God out of Youngs book: “Hierarchy would make no sense among us.”p 122

    The simple truth is, where there are relationships where obedience is required, hierarchy exists.  He even goes to the point that God submits to us because there is no heirarchy over us, there is no God’s rule over us, there is just relationship.  God never commands.  God never judges, there is no issue of the wrath of God, and so we see the concept of sin is no longer an issue of rebellion against God’s will and character.  Sin, in Young’s book, basically boils down to the need to learn to understand yourself, your life and your relationship with God, ie. Education, ie. New age theology.  Because sin is not really a concept in this book, neither is the doctrine of salvation.  The book lacks a soteriology, at best its soteriology can be defined as God’s choice not to retaliate in his relationship with us. (P. 224).

    The second theme that we normally find acceptable in Western Civilization is stretched way to far in his book and becomes downright offensive.  It has to do with his doctrine of humanity.  He subscribes to human free choice.  In good Arminian fashion he tells us that we are free to choose whatever we want and then he goes as far to say that even God will submits to our free choice. 
     The spirit of the age in NA is very simply that free choice is god.  Our capacity to think for ourselves, determine our own destinies, determine our relationships, determine our own governments is North America's cultural gospel.  We bow to the god of free choice and in Young’s book even God bows to our free choice.   Not only are the different persons of the Trinity free to do whatever they want, (so the Spirit is a “free spirit’) we get to choose to do what we want, believe what we want and God is happy with that.  In the end, those who freely chose to be Buddists, or any other religion, will somehow get to God because ultimately, God is happy with their free choice.  No longer is faith in Jesus the only way to salvation, now any road will work although ambiguously, some roads lead nowhere.  Young is ambiguously universalistic because his God bows to our human choice. I find that offensive.  The Shack was not worth visiting.

    No with regard to his doctrine of the church, because Young bows to free choice, and since power, authority, command etc. limit free choice, Young regards the church as an idol, a problem, something that limits ultimate free choice.  The main character’s father was a wife beating alcoholic church elder.  The church is an unsafe place for broken people, where not much of consequence happens.  If there is something called the church, the bride of Christ, she is not the place we go to on Sundays. (P. 177) But the scripture makes it clear that the church even as a sometimes failing  institution along with all of its family members in relationship with one another is what Christ died to redeem and build.  To ridicule it, as Young in effect does, is to ridicule what Christ loved so much he was willing to die for it.

    I am personally offended that Willow Creek recommends this book to new believers.  I am offended that Eugene Peterson, the author of the Message, and that Michael W. Smith endorse this book.  This is not Christianity, this is some Christian themes blended with the poisons of the spirit of our age, it is error and only worthy of our attention if we want to see the ways the error is creeping into our Christian faith. 

    I know that some of you read this book as just fiction.   It is written as if it really happened. The preface and the conclusion create that context.  But it is pure fiction.  A fictional God. A book that tries to reinterpret scripture for us by means of a story.  A book that purports to answer questions that theologians and philosphers have struggle with through history.  But the only way it does it is by exchanging the truth for a lie and worshiping a man made god rather than the true God of scriptures.  I hope that you know your doctrine well enough not to drink this one in uncritically.  I hope you understand why we believe youth education is so important.

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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