A recent controversial phenomenon is the success of first-time self-published Christian author William Young, with his book The Shack. He wrote it in 2005 and published it a year ago. It has now climbed to the No.1 spot on the NY Times bestseller list as a paperback fictional novel. There are 880,000 copies in print and a further 750,000 in distribution.
Receiving much attention on radio, blogs and web sites, The Shack is making its rounds especially in Christian circles. But it is becoming controversial as many Christian leaders are sounding alarms.
Young wrote the book ‘to explain to his six children his own harrowing journey through life’s pain and misery, to light, love and transformation in God’. He was ‘haunted by his history as a victim of sexual abuse, plus his own adulterous affair, and a life of shame and pain’.
All things awful
The ‘shack’ represents a place where he (and we) hide all things awful. The book ‘is about confronting evil and stripping the darkness away to reveal actually the abiding presence of a loving God’.
When Lynn Garnett, senior religion editor for Publisher’s Weekly, was asked why so many were flocking to The Shack, she replied: ‘People aren’t necessarily concerned with how orthodox the theology is. People are into the story and how the book strikes them emotionally.’
This, to me, is the real story. The church has so distanced itself from digesting sound doctrine that it has accommodated the emotional fixes of the ‘natural man’ and the world’s culture.
The Shack contains some attractive elements or truths, but it lies within the spectrum of false teaching embraced by the Emerging Church. It elevates emotion and experience over propositional truth. As God warns us, ‘There is a way which seems right to man but the end of the way is death’ (Proverbs 14:12).
The story is about Mack, who is struggling in the aftermath of the brutal murder of his young daughter. He receives a letter from God asking him to meet him at the shack where his daughter was killed.
The rest of the story is basically a discussion between Mack and three mysterious persons of the Trinity – a black woman (Papa, the father), a Middle Eastern workman (Jesus), and an Asian girl (the Holy Spirit).
The discussions dwell on deep topics such as the creation, the Fall, freedom and forgiveness. The Shack is full of allegory – which, of course, can have objective reality or truth behind it.
But while Young presents some truths and some intriguing metaphors of the Trinity (we are male and female image-bearers of the God who understands us all), he falls far short of depicting the true sovereignty of God, the hierarchical nature of the Trinity, and what submission to a holy God means.
Young’s postmodern Emerging Church ‘DNA’ is clear in the following excerpt from the book: ‘In seminary he [Mack] had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course.
‘God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects … nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that “guilt edges”?’ (pp.65-66).
Unhealthy trans fat
It is true that many Christians fall into a textbook mentality in which we have a relationship with a bunch of biblical principles instead of a dynamic experiential knowledge of the loving God. But Young is guilty of replacing ‘both/and’ thinking by ‘either/or’ thinking.
God in fact has chosen to utilise words, human language, to communicate with us (fancy that!). Yes, Christ’s life example was the model for his disciples, but he also brought to their minds his inspired words and message to pass on to future believers in written form (Luke 24:49; John 14:25-26; 21:24-25; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12).
Jesus also quoted from the infallible Old Testament as well as praying for his disciples that the Father might ‘sanctify them in the truth for thy word is truth’ (Matthew 5:17-18; John 17:17; 8:31-32). And, of course, we cannot know what Jesus said and did unless we read the Scriptures and interpret them.
It appears from the many positive responses to this book that its most attractive element is the way it impacts on people’s view of God and his personal relationship with us. An example: ‘It has changed me or rather I should say that God has used this book to alter my thinking as to who he is and who I am in his eyes … one who is greatly loved by him. I’ve discovered that he is quite fond of me and you.’
But the next comment sounds the alarm: ‘Wish I could take back all the years in seminary! The years the locusts ate. Systematic Theology was never this good.’
One reviewer summed up The Shack as ‘spiritual comfort-food loaded with theological trans fat. While it has some minimal nutritional value, its effect in the body of Christ is more harmful than healthy’.
The story behind the story
One way to take the spiritual pulse of America is to note what books appear on the bestseller lists. Of course, every time Oprah Winfrey endorses a book, it climbs to the top of the charts – due more to her influence rather than the book’s intrinsic quality.
Many of Oprah’s predilections are New-Age oriented, like A New Earth by Eckart Tolle (currently NY Times No.1 paperback) and The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (NY Times No.1 hardback). Another New Age icon is James Van Praag whose book, Ghosts Among Us, is in the top five. Twenty percent of the USA’s population today believes in a New-Age concept of God, and 35% believe in reincarnation.
How did we get to this situation in such a relatively short time? Are you prepared to share the truth claims of Christianity with someone embracing New-Age beliefs? Are you prepared to stop the not-so-slow leak in your own lives?
Source: Worldviews (Apologetics Resource Center Newsletter) June/July 2008 edition p.5.