Just ten years after being self-published, The Shack had sold over 20 million copies worldwide, been published in 48 languages, spent 140 weeks on the NY Best Sellers list (currently #4), and has been made into a movie. Clearly, The Shack is a cultural and religious phenomenon that has swept the world. Both the story of the author and the premise of the book are fascinating.
The author, William Paul Young (b. 1955), is the oldest of four children. His parents were missionaries with The Christian and Missionary Alliance to the highlands in West Papua, New Guinea, among the Dani (a stone-age tribal people). William reports that he was abused by his father, the tribal people, and by the older boys in the boarding school where he was sent at only six years of age. Eventually, his family returned to his native, Canada, where his dad worked as a pastor in several small churches. William recalls attending thirteen different schools growing up. William graduated from Western Pacific College and earned a degree in religion. He then attended Canadian Theological Seminary (C&MA), and served on staff at a Four Square Church working with college students. William’s pain continued into adulthood. USA TODAY reports that “when he was 25, his eighteen-year-old brother died in a work accident, Kim’s (his wife) mother died unexpectedly, and his niece, 5 years and one day old, was run over by a cement truck while riding her new birthday bicycle.” When he was 38 years old, he left ministry after he was discovered to be in an adulterous relationship. The Shack (“the house you build out of your pain… is a metaphor for the places you get stuck, you get hurt, you get damaged… the thing where shame or hurt is centered.”) is a book about the inner healing that William experienced from his childhood, unexpected family deaths, and his adultery.
The story of the book is also intriguing. Kim urged William to open his heart and write about his healing to their six children, ages 14 to 27. William wrote The Shack and gave it to his children for Christmas in 2005 with no intention to publish it as a book. At the urging of his family and some close friends, William went to 26 different publishing houses that all turned him down. So, he and two friends formed a publishing house, Windblown Media, and with a $300 advertising budget, promoted the book. Largely through word-of-mouth advertising, The Shack gained widespread attention and quickly became a best seller.
Since there are several excellent in-depth reviews of The Shack (see below), I would like to merely offer a few personal responses:
(1) As fiction, I found The Shack to be emotionally gripping. I cried several times. I am not sure how a parent, especially a father, could not cry while reading this novel. Yet, at times it gets “preachy” and bogged down. Overall, as fiction, I thought it was powerful reading.
(2) As theology, I found The Shack to be so heretical that it was very difficult for me to finish the book. I realize that many will say, “The Shack is fiction, relax!” To which I respond, “The book is fiction that clearly intends to communicate theological perspectives.” Further, thousands of people claim to have had their lives and their views of God changed by reading this book! Just listen to the people endorsing the book. Eugene Peterson writes, “[The Shack] has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim Progress did for his.” Michael W. Smith writes, “The Shack will leave you craving for the presence of God.” Harmless fiction? Hardly. Make no mistake, The Shack IS teaching heretical theology through the medium of fiction. We ought to realize the fiction we read shapes us, just as the fiction we watch in movies – be it violent, vulgar, profane and so on – has an effect upon us. Our understandings, opinions, and even beliefs are molded by what we read and watch. The Shack is fiction communicating about a very important, non-fiction Being, and so we must take care in how we read and watch this story. Rather than listing dozens of theological aberrations, I refer you to several articles from leading Christian thinkers, as well as, to two rebuttal articles from the Shack’s publishing team (listed below).
(3) As pop-Christianity, I am very discouraged. The widespread popularity of The Shack among Christians shows how non-discerning American “Christians” are today. If a song, painting, or book “touches” us emotionally, then we assume God is working in our lives. If a preacher is a good “emotional” speaker, the crowds flock to hear the preacher. Beloved, the test is not whether a book emotionally moves us, the test is whether or not a viewpoint advanced by a book agrees with God’s Word. The Shack presents God as unconditionally loving with no concern for sin. This lack of God’s holiness and transcendence is a shallow depiction of God, which stands in great contrast to the complex, beautiful portrait of the infinite Creator God in Scripture. Therefore, The Shack in my view is emotional and heretical. While it may be enjoyable fiction, it is dangerous in the theological positions it communicates.
Let me close by saying it this way– if someone advanced an emotional, yet entirely false picture of who you are and how you do things, how would feel? Now you know how God likely feels about The Shack.
- “The Shack: Helpful or Heretical?”
- By Norman L. Geisler and Bill Roach
- “The Shack – Impressions”
- By Timothy Keller
- “A Look at The Shack“
- By Albert Mohler
- “Some Thoughts on The Shack“
- “Stay out of the Shack”
- By Chuck Colson
- “The Shack by William P. Young”
Articles from the Publishers of The Shack
- “Is ‘The Shack’ Heresy? Part 1 – ‘Before you burn us at the stake…'”
- By Brad Cummings, Producer, Publisher, Co-Author The Shack
- “Is ‘The Shack’ Heresy? Part 2”
- by Wayne Jacobsen, Co-author of The Shack