The Shack (Book Review)

Paul Young’s popular fictional book “The Shack” begins with tragedy. Young Missy Philip is kidnapped during a family vacation. Her remains are found near a shack in the Oregon wilderness. She had been brutally murdered. Her father, Mackenzie Allen Philip’s, is (as one might expect) traumatized by his daughters brutal murder. His pain impacts every aspect of his life. As I read this book, I imagined how I might respond to such a tragedy.

Early in my marriage, my wife and youngest daughter were visiting her family, while I remained at home. On the day they were to return, the phone rang. My wife was on the other end, sobbing uncontrollably. “She’s dead,” my wife repeated over and over again.

I was overwhelmed with emotion. I began to weep. “Slow down…what happened?”

What came next was relief, followed by guilt, and then grief!
The relief came when my wife clarified that she was not speaking about our daughter, who was alive and safe. The guilt came as my wife explained that her sister had died in a terrible car wreck, caused by a intoxicated driver. My guilt was from the relief that I knew my daughter was okay, yet my sister-in-law was deceased. Next came the grief as I mourned the loss of my sister-in-law and thought about the sorrow that was being felt by her children, husband, parents, and siblings. In many respects, my sister-in-law was the glue that held her entire family together. It’s been about fifteen years since her death, yet the impact of her passing is still felt by her family.
How would you respond to such a tragedy.
Mackenzie Philip’s reaction covers the gambit of human emotion. Anyone who has experienced the depth of such loss knows that the easy answers of religious pabulum provides no relief.

Four years into his Great Sadness, Mackenzie (Mack) receives a note, apparently from God, inviting him back to the shack for the weekend. He arrives on a blustery winter afternoon and finds himself back in the middle of the most intense sorrow a parent can ever know.

There he meets the Triune God. God the Father appears to Mack as a large, good-humored black woman called “Papa.” The Spirit appears as a small Asian woman named Sarayu, while Jesus appears as a Jewish man, named Jesus.

Right away you can see one of the problems that many evangelical reviewers have had with this book, right? Cries of “gender confusion” and the notion that God might be reveal in any form other than male is certainly a concern for many.

Other more pressing theological issues that are attributed to the author (Paul Young) are the suggestion that the book advocated ideas like Universalism, Pantheism, and Open Theism. The problem with these reviewers is that they fail to recognize that the book is a work of religious fiction, not theological treatise.

Go to any Christian bookstore and you will find a select devoted to religious fiction. If you read any of these books as theological doctrine, they will paint a picture of God that could easily be challenged by any systematic theologian. (Take, for example, “The Chronicles of Narnia” which could easily be misunderstood as supporting animism.) Religious fiction (like “The Shack”) must be read from within their genre. “The Shack” is not meant to be read as a statement of doctrine, but as a parabolic presentation about how a relationship and intimacy with God is restored in the fictitious story of Mack Philips.

“The Shack” attempts answers the question, “Where is God in a world of such unspeakable evil and overwhelming pain?” The answer, in the simplest term, is that God is Immanuel. God is with us in our pain and sorrow.

“The Shack” cannot be read as systematic theology. Still, there is theology in this book – and I think it is good theology. That said, care must be taken in discerning this theology. The best resource to exploring the theology in Young’s book is to read “The Shack Revisited” by C. Baxter Kruger. Young writes the forward to Kruger’s book and put’s his stamp of approval on Kruger’s Trinitarian understanding of Christian theology.

The Shack
by: William P. Young
publisher: Windblown Media, published: 2008-06-20
ASIN: B001B8Z2S0
sales rank: 241

Mackenzie Allen Phillips’s youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation, and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later, in this midst of his great sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change his life forever.

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