I only read the first six chapters of The Shack, and I won’t be reading any more. Author William P. Young uses a story about a man who loses a young daughter to violence, and then accepts an invitation from God to meet with Him at the scene of the crime, as a vehicle for his own pseudo-theological pontificating. I’d call it the philosophy of men mingled with scripture, but Young never quotes any scripture.
He’s a competent enough writer but, like too many I’ve read, he makes his protagonist have thoughts and feelings that are too easy just to move the story along.
Mack: “I’m angry about the death of my daughter.”
God: “Let’s talk about something else.”
That’s my next problem with The Shack: as soon as Mack comes to the cabin to commune with God, God proceeds to welcome him with…a lecture about the nature of the Trinity. And it goes on for the rest of the chapter. I’m not sure which bothered me more: that Mack would so calmly go along with the plan, or that Young would have the audacity to use his character’s pain as a vehicle for selling his own ideas about religion.
And make no mistake about it, that’s what The Shack is for. Young has an axe to grind with anyone who “limits” God by suggesting that he has any kind of concrete church, truths, salvation system, or other such apparently trivial nonsense like that. You know, the little things that religion doesn’t really need. No, the God of The Shack is a stereotypical, multicultural, I’m-OK-you’re-OK, let’s-hold-hands-and-sing-Kumbaya kind of God, exactly the sort of silly, watered down, narcissistic Baby Boomer fantasy that gets made fun of with things like “Buddy Christ” statues.
Will anybody find comfort from The Shack? Its popularity says so, but that hardly means much: plenty of people are comforted when a farmer’s wife finds a potato that looks like Jesus. The Shack carries about that much spiritual gravitas. It’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull meets Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
The one thing that really made me sit up and pay attention, and that set me up for a huge disappointment soon afterward, was this passage at the end of chapter 4:
In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book.
On the surface, this is a great observation. It certainly gels well with a Latter-day Saint’s perspective on personal revelation and an open canon of scripture (James 1:5), but it sets Young up as something of a hypocrite. After all, isn’t he denouncing authoritative religious leaders and then proceeding to lay down his own subjectively invented interpretations of Christianity?
That’s the biggest issue I have with exegesis: the subjectivity. The only way to really know truth about God is to receive it directly from God. Anything else is what we see in the world today: whoever has the most clever ideas and can present them in the most convincing way gets to say what is doctrine. Any conservative Christian who blanches at the radical lack of structure in Young’s theology shouldn’t be surprised: a few generations of stripping anything difficult away from society, including from religion, can only result in people being taken in by a religion that doesn’t require anyone to do anything other than feel good.
And that’s definitely what’s happening here: Young has taken his own feelings about God and given them satisfying words, which he then puts into God’s mouth. I’d call that being a false prophet any day.