Book Review: The Shack by William Young

“The Shack” by William Young became a Christian sensation and allegedly helped many people find a renewed commitment to God. Several have said that it explained for them aspects of God that they had not thought of before. I’m thankful that many have drawn closer to God (although I’m not excited about the means by which it happened).  For some people, who have gone through great troubles or are in a “dry spell” spiritually, the book seemed to invigorate them toward spiritual ideas.

William Young is an excellent writer.  He was able to paint a landscape with words that drew my soul into a vivid drama of a father losing his precious, vulnerable daughter.  The first four chapters describe the most gut-wrenching account of a father’s daughter being abducted, followed by an interstate search and climaxing in the find of his daughter’s blood soaked dress.  It’s if William Young extracts your heart, cuts it open to reveal your most tender emotions and then lets it sit on the table to ponder how something so evil could be done.

Then, while emotionally vulnerable, William Young begins to develop a fable that provides answers to some unsuspecting readers, while raising eyebrows of many others. He describes God as three human beings with “god-like” characteristics. Nowhere in the Bible is God ever given three human forms. Nowhere in the Bible is God ever described as women.  Young describes Jesus as a carpenter, the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman (sarayu) and God the Father as an African woman named Papa.  God has great compassion and mercy and loves in tender ways, like a woman, but Young’s descriptions are not conducive to understanding God.

There are many aspects contrary to Scripture. For example, the “Jesus” character refers to the “Father” character, “Isn’t she great?” (p. 88) Why does Young choose this female figure?  As Young writes, “To reveal myself to you as a very large, white grandfather figure with flowing beard, like Gandalf, would simply reinforce your religious stereotypes…” (p. 93). So Young wants to rewrite what Scripture is clear regarding God? Just because some people picture God incorrectly (as an old, white man with long beard) does not mean we need Young to try to straighten that out. God is Spirit (John 4:24). The Holy Spirit is never given a material or physical form.  Only Jesus, God the Son, is given any kind of physical manifestation.

Young distorts the most basic truth that caused separation between man and God – sin. The “Father” figure, Papa, says to Mackensie (the main character) with sadness in her eyes, “I am not who you think I am, Mackenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin.  Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.” (p. 119-120) God indeed “cures” sin, but only by punishing Jesus who became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). This feeds into the American tradition of self-esteem warp and the “I’m okay, you’re okay” kind of psychobabble. Scripture is clear that God will punish people forever because of sin (2 Thes. 1:7-9). In fact, God the Father disciplines His own children when they act independently from His goodness and will (Heb. 12:5-6). Young is such a good writer, playing on emotions and hurts of people with themes of forgiveness, love and compassion that he thinks he can rewrite Scripture and deceive many Christians from the truth.

Unfortunately, many Christians want to have their ears tickled, but they are not aware of the tickling or even that they want them tickled (2 Tim. 4:2).  Young writes that the Father was with Jesus on the cross (p. 96). Young acknowledges Jesus cry, “Why did you forsake Me?” but he tries to rewrite Scripture demeaning the holiness and justice of God.  Young also says the “Father” has wounds just like Jesus (p. 164).

Additionally, Young opens up the discussion on ways to heaven. “People don’t have to become Christians. Jesus will just walk along with them to travel any road to find the person… and the message becomes very muddled” (p. 182). Scripture is clear there is only one way to heaven and that is through Jesus Christ, not how we want to go to heaven (John 14:6).

Young distorts authority and roles. He writes for the “Father” figure, “We have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command…We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us.” (p. 122, the author’s emphasis) Then why does Jesus say, “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” (John 5:30 NKJ) God is a God of order (1 Cor. 14:40; cf. John 4:34; 6:44; 14:26; 15:26 where the Son sends the Holy Spirit).  In fact, God the Father is the head of Christ (1 Cor. 11:3).

Young promotes relativism, because in answering the question of what is good and evil, he writes that the answer is given by personal subjectivity (p. 134). But God is clear about good and evil. If someone calls evil good and good evil, then that would be okay according to the author, but God condemns Israel for that (Mal. 2:17).

Young also promotes a “Father” who has no expectations on people. He writes, “I’ve never placed an expectation on you or anyone else.” (p. 206) Scripture records God’s expectation that we become holy as He is holy (1 Pet. 1:16-17)  If a Christian chooses not to grow, he will come under God’s discipline (Heb. 12:5-6). That sounds like God has expectations that we become conformed to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29).  Yes, God accepts us where we are, but where we are, He does not want us to stay.

I’m confident that William Young loves the Jesus Christ and is seeking to honor Him.  Unfortunately, he is not aware of the distortions he has made in “The Shack” that are contrary to Scripture. There may be authorial liberty in writing a fable like this book, but my prayer is that Christians will learn to discern what they read.

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