Taking The Shack to the Shed
Is the hottest new Christian novel an exercise in heresy?

A graduate professor of mine liked to say that every attempt to explain the Trinity is heresy - every metaphor overemphasizes either God's one-ness or his three-ness. In his bestselling novel, The Shack, William P. Young tries to explain the Trinity. You can see where this is going.

Now currently at number eleven in book sales at Amazon.com and number nine on the USA Today Top 50 Books list, The Shack began as the self-published debut novel of an unknown writer. It has sold like hotcakes: somewhere around 500,000 copies (depending on who you ask) in less than a year. However you feel about the book, the story of its success is remarkable; all the more so considering that the content is unashamedly Christian.

To summarize, the shape of the novel is this: Mackenzie (Mack) Phillips' youngest daughter, Missy, is abducted and brutally murdered during a family vacation. Following Missy's death, Mack, who has always had a somewhat tenuous relationship with God, falls into what he calls "the Deep Sadness." One wintry day, Mack receives a letter from God (in his mailbox) asking him to meet God in the shack where Missy's bloody dress - the only evidence of her murder - was recovered. The rest of the book is a conversation between Mack and the Trinity.

Young does two things I wouldn't advise fiction writers to do: 1) depict the Trinity in bodily form and 2) put words in the Trinity's mouth. My fear would be that such attempts would result in hokey prose - and, to be honest, that happens from time to time in The Shack.

But several notable Christian thinkers have more serious charges for Young. Chuck Colson is disturbed by "the author's low view of Scripture." Al Mohler is more specific:

This book includes undiluted heresy?It is a deeply troubling book?It is intended, undoubtedly, as a way of trying to bring about some kind of redefinition or new understanding of the Christian faith?The main character says at one point that he now understands that everything he learned at seminary was basically all wrong.

Mark Driscoll, who is concerned that Young's vision of God the Father is an African-American woman called "Papa," says, It's goddess worship. If God the Father is really God the Mother, that changes everything?If God reveals himself to us as father, we are to honor him as father."

Blogger Tim Challies is concerned the fiction format is manipulative:

Throughout the book there is this kind of subversive strain teaching that new and fresh revelation is much more relevant and important than the kind of knowledge we gain in sermons or seminaries or Scripture?At several points I felt as if the author was encouraging the reader to deconstruct what they know of Christian theology and to embrace something new. But the faith Young reconstructs is simply not the faith of the Bible.
June 16, 2008