For book endorsements, you couldn't top what Eugene Peterson said about The Shack by William P. Young. "When the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian cross-fertilize the result is a novel on the order of The Shack," wrote Peterson, professor emeritus of spiritual theology at Regent College. "This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress did for his. It's that good!"

Bunyan's masterpiece didn't just invigorate his generation. Pilgrim's Progress is an all-time best-seller, an English-language classic. So Peterson's praise for The Shack is impressive indeed. Both books employ allegory to convey core convictions. Whereas Bunyan allegorized the journey of faith, Young tackles the question, "Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?"

Allegory is a notoriously tricky literary device. Many attempt it. Few succeed. Bunyan's central character, Christian, experiences the doubts and temptations that believers endure.Young is more ambitious. Each person of the Trinity becomes a character in The Shack. The Father is Papa, a deliberately peculiar name for an African American woman. Jesus, true to reality, is a man from the Middle East. And the Holy Spirit is Sarayu, an Asian woman.

When authors experiment with allegory, they risk only failure and ridicule. Christian history, on the other hand, is littered with theologians who experimented with new conceptions of the Trinity. All they got for their efforts was the lousy title of heretic. To be fair, the Bible does not provide a finished formulation of the doctrine. It took a succession of ecumenical councils over the course of centuries to finally articulate the biblical view of the Trinity.

Christians today generally ...

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