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

Displaying 1–10 of 134 comments


October 14, 2008  12:39pm

People will jump at the chance to promote themselves and their ideals and the reality is that often their concern is not born from a genuine love of God and others (1 Corinthians 13) but because they have a deep need to be right. Unfortunately Christianity is plagued with self promoters who are desperate for a platform to promote their gift because somehow they feel validated in their endeavors. I think much of the backlash against the Shack is just that. I am also convinced that all to often our theology is simply an attempt to understand something that the scripture is not absolutely clear on. I know people who fight every chance they get to defend their theological stance. They do this not because they really believe that stance but because they want and need to believe it to feel secure. Engaging God even when they don't understand something is to scary so they work to form an theological framework that alleviates these fears. If someone comes along who can prove they are wrong their world will come unglued. Their theology is an attempt to pad their insecurities rather than engage the living God even when they don't understand him fully. An example of this would be someone who is adamantly opposed to women in ministry, not because they think the scripture is clear on the matter (because it's not) but rather because they have very deep insecurities relating to women so they use the scripture to support their brokenness rather than crucify and resurrect it.

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October 13, 2008  7:24am

I am a catholic and 54 yrs old. I have struggled with my religion many times in those yrs. This book is a wonderful read and uplifting. Reading this book will not change my beliefs just as attending many other chistian churches has not changed them. But I still feel that it should be read by many that wonder and have an open mind. Those who think this book is heresy should be examining their own lives and beliefs. This book is just rocking the boat a little and some people just can't handle that.

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Karen Sullivan

September 23, 2008  10:19pm

My initial impression of The Shack was one of awe. One truly cannot experience The Shack without coming away with a newfound closeness and awareness of God. I want so badly to wholeheartedly recommend the book to my adult students at church, but must admit I can't quite take that leap without reservations. While the book defiantly posses the power to immerse the reader into an intimate experience with the Trinity, I became fearful...and sad...when reading passages from the text that diminishes and challenge traditional theological teachings, defuses Biblical laws and principals, and discourages participation in organized religious worship. Can I overlook The Shack's 'flies in the ointment', and slather the oozing wounds of so many hurting individuals with the message of this book anyway? I've seen people with deep wounds and, in some cases, terminal illnesses that have been created by the steady diet of canned, commercialized 'religion' that the flocks are currently being fed. God help me, I don't know. Will the reading of this book create questions that I may be uncomfortable answering and reveal truths I don't want them to see? The Shack...is it New Age? Postmodern? Universalism? Perhaps, a bit. It definitely fits the bill for those individuals who long for spirituality without organized religion. The Shack gives God a face, a sense of humor, and loving arms that long to wrap themselves around ME. Can I really not take the risk and share that with others?

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Tom Adams

September 19, 2008  9:17pm

I finished reading the shack after it was given to me by a Christian friend at work. Another Christian friend had recommended it. We had been on the waiting list at the public library and when it was our turn the book had been lost. Then out of the blue the friend gave me the book saying they thought I might like it. I did. I think that it is fiction. That is important to remember. But it has given me permission to have a softer relationship with the father. "Papa" - "Abba" are both terms that I would never use to refer to any human being. I didn't even call my earthly father daddy. He never was a daddy. I think many of us men just don't ever get to experience daddy like many women did as they grew up with their fathers. So father soften to "Abba" was what Jesus did for those who understood his language. Now I still can't bring myself to refer to my God as "Papa", I can think of Him as someone with whom I can be intimate as a child with a very loving parent - a daddy, like I never had. I do fine with the honoring and honorable "Father" because I had an honorable father. But he wasn't daddy. I was close out of acting like a man. That was good. And it was different than what Jesus calls us to do - to come as a child. I am grateful for The Shack because it shows how one fictional character was able to soften relationships with God and those around him. I recommend it if you have to read something other than the Bible - read stuff that brings the Bible to your life. After reading the Shack, I read Psalm 130 differently. Forgiveness! Amen.

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September 11, 2008  8:57pm

It disturbs me how all the supporters of this book speak with as little discernment for Gods word as the authors of this book. Paul Young has done what every heretic has done in the last 2000 years has done take the parts of God he likes and leave ot the parts he doesn't and cast God in an image that makes us all feel good rather then the truth presented that challenges us with God's justice as well as his love.

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August 27, 2008  5:26pm

This book was excellent. All of the criticism mostly takes quotes out of context. If you don't like the writing, fine, if you don't agree with everything, fine. But the book does a great job of breaking the habit we have of thinking we can do ANYTHING to win or LOSE the love of God. The "performance" orientation of most of the Christian culture can't stand the absolute power of God's grace. (i.e. (Surely I can BE a 'good christian' by pulling myself up by my own boot straps!)

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Bob Sears

August 26, 2008  12:42pm

There was a large difference between God's shifting images and the standing contents of God's speeches. And what's so terrible about judging? We're commanded to, you know. (See Jn. 7:24; Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 2:15; 5:12; 6:1-5.) God simply forbids us from (1) judging hypocritically or harshly, (2) condemning and (3) judging by our own standards instead of God's.

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August 26, 2008  10:14am

It seemed very clear to me that the portrayal of God was for Mack. It made that clear in the book. God even changes images toward the end. We cannot comprehend what God looks like. It makes complete sense that all of us (not just males)we were made from God's image. It seems to me that many of the critics need to read the section about the Law and how the people who love to live by a black and white faith are the ones who judge.

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Bob Sears

August 25, 2008  8:52pm

Three thoughts: 1. I'm amazed at how many bloggers here have critically attacked critics of The Shack for being critical. 2. The Shack was partly written to correct some misconceptions about God. Surely we need to evaluate its corrections, don't we? 3. 1 Cor. 13:6 says it's loving (with God's kind of love) to rejoice with the truth, and it's NOT loving to rejoice in what isn't true. WHOSE truth if not God's, as revealed in Scripture?

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Steve A

August 25, 2008  1:10am

I have been using (with enjoyment) Webster's 1812 dictionary as of late. http://1828.mshaffer.com. The definition of heresy per Webster's 1812 is: "A fundamental error in religion, or an error of opinion respecting some fundamental doctrine of religion. But in countries where there is an established church, an opinion is deemed heresy, when it differs from that of the church. The Scriptures being the standard of faith, any opinion that is repugnant to its doctrines, is heresy; but as men differ in the interpretation of Scripture, an opinion deemed heretical by one body of christians,may be deemed orthodox by another. In Scripture and primitive usage,heresy meant merely sect, party, or the doctrines of a sect, as we now use denomination or persuasion, implying no reproach." With regards to The Shack being labelled as "heresy" the above definition includes: ". . . opinion deemed heretical by one body of christians,may be deemed orthodox by another."

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