The Love Shack
The Love Shack
William Paul Young has touched a nerve—if sales of millions of books is any sign. Like his sleeper best-selling novel, The Shack, his new book, Cross Roads (FaithWords), covers God, the human condition, and the process of transformation—though a fair amount of teaching finds its way into the story. It's teaching that many Christians have found liberating, and many other Christians have rejected. Given the genre of writing, it's understandable that some readers are left confused about what Young really believes. Christianity Today editor Mark Galli decided to find out.
What are you fundamentally trying to address in your writing?
The nature of the character of God as relational, as a love that pursues us relentlessly and wants to burn out of [us] everything that keeps us from being free. I want to bring to light the process of transformation, what that looks like.
I grew up fundamentalist, evangelical, Protestant. Those are my roots, and they are good roots. But it means the Pharisees are my people. I grew up with an image of God that was not helpful—largely the face of my father expanded. My father and I worked for years to get to a place where reconciliation was possible, and we have. But that had a huge impact on how I viewed the nature and character of God, a theology that fundamentally taught that Jesus came to save us from the Father.
Your books playfully but insistently picture God as Trinity. Why is the Trinity so important to you?
Because it grounds both relationship and love. If you have a distinctiveness of persons within the very nature of God, and you have oneness (which is absolutely essential), you have a basis for love inside the relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is what Athanasius and Irenaeus and the early church fathers started and ended with. To me, everything relational gets grounded inside of that.
You are fond of calling God Papa. That feels flippant to a lot of readers.
That's my version of Abba. Father is used of God only 15 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. How surprising it is that as a 12-year-old boy raised within the Jewish culture, one of the first things [Jesus does is] refer to God as Father.
I arrived at Papa because Abba never worked for me, even though it's the Aramaic. I love the way Hispanic children refer to their dads: it's always, "Papi! Papi!" It has this sense of, "I love being around you!" Papi is combined with Abba and I ended up with Papa; it worked for me.
Do you call God Papa when you pray?
I do. It took me a long time. First it was God. Then it was the Father. One of the biggest transitions was to go from the Father to Father, which became much more intimate, and then to Papa. It does smack of familiarity, but it's a shared familiarity that Jesus had with Abba. That's what he used almost exclusively.
What's up with picturing God as a black woman?
I'm trying to get far away from [picturing God as] Gandalf or Santa Claus. When I look at Scripture, imagery was never intended to define God. In fact, the more concrete your imagery gets, the more you're toying with idolatry. It's picture language to help us understand the character and nature of God. We have all kinds of imagery in Scripture. You have a woman who loses a coin in the Gospels. You have feminine imagery, masculine imagery, animal imagery—lots of bird imagery, eagles and the mother hen who covers the chicks. We see inanimate object imagery: a rock, a fortress, a strong tower, a shield.