If you don’t know what The Shack by William P. Young is stop reading and go do something else worthwhile. If you do and you want a Christ-centered review of the content and response check Tim Challies here and Al Mohler here and a little Tim Keller here. Theologically, this book is an absolute mess, and Challies linked above deals with that in detail.
While I won’t review the whole plot, I will reveal some key moments in the book.
Here’s my main problem with The Shack as art and implied theology: the book fails to live out it’s main thesis.
The Shack is the story of Mack, a man who’s traditional Christian faith failed to survive the tragic loss of his daughter. Mack goes back to the shack where the crime was committed and has visions of the Trinity, in which God speaks to him.
The pinnacle moment comes when Mack enters a nearby cave which serves as a courtroom. To his surprise he is the judge and God is on trial. The moral of the story is simple: to deal with his pain Mack must trust God and submit to him as the judge of the universe. I agree with this premise.
The only trouble is the rest of the book pretty much in its entirety. Rather than reflect a faith that submits to God as the ultimate authority in the universe, in The Shack, Young deconstructs and undermines the major tenets of Biblical Christianity: the Trinity, the Bible as God’s revelation of himself, the Church, salvation and forgiveness, and more.
As you read The Shack, it becomes clear that Young explicitly or implicitly believes that everything you know about Christianity is wrong. For example: should you read the Bible? Nah. “God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects.” Pastors and theologians are the real problem.
Should you go to church? Why bother? In the book, God’s not even at church: “You’re talking about the church as this woman you’re in love with; I’m pretty sure I haven’t met her… She’s not the place I go on Sundays.”
Does God save? Only if you choose him first. In the book God says, “In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship.” Perhaps the perspective here is everyone is ultimately saved. It’s hard to tell, other than that for Young, God seems to have left the matter up to us. Not a lot of hope in that gospel.
In the end, Young leaves the impression that we should trust God with our greatest pains and injustices, but we should not trust him in his Word or in his Church. We can’t have it both ways. Either God is the Creator as revealed in the Bible or he isn’t. Whatever the religion is expressed in The Shack, it clearly isn’t Christianity.
Side note- this book is an example of a common reaction to Christianity in the last 10-15 years: it assumes due to abuses and failures within the church that the entire system is irredeemably flawed.
The church is indeed full of broken people who fail, but our hope is not a stripped down Bible-less pro-God mysticism, but rather the gospel of Jesus Christ as proclaimed in God’s Word. Only that God can lead us through our pain.