I’ve just finished reading The Shack by Wm Paul Young. The book seems to have caused quite a stir and the internet is littered with reviews either lauding it it or criticising it. There is indeed a great deal to criticise, and yet, I hesitate, because there is also a quality of beauty about the book that takes one off guard.
The story sets out to convey deep theological truths about God, wrapped up in the most extraordinary and unexpected story. At times, the book is very moving; at times, it is shocking. And I believe the book does convey some truths about God and the Trinity which most people would never even think about. I don’t want to go into the details of the story as I wouldn’t want to spoil the read for you, should you decide to give it a try. Nor do I wish to go into a detailed book review and criticism as I think there are enough of these already. But I simply have to say just two things; things which seem so serious to me that they simply have to be said.
Firstly, personifying God as anything other than that which is revealed in scripture is always going to be verging on blasphemy for anyone who knows their bible. We are not to make false images of God (Exodus 20:4). The book does this in both the case of the Father and the Holy Spirit. God the Son remains a man and indeed, a carpenter. But this leads on to the second major problem. Jesus (along with Father and Holy Spirit), speaks a great deal throughout the book. And this text, dialogue, pronouncements and so on, comes from the imagination of Wm Paul Young. It’s my belief that God has already revealed as much of his nature as he wishes us to know and has given us the words which he wanted to say. These things are contained in the bible, the Word of God.
Now, I don’t mind so much a preacher or a writer expanding on scripture with illustrations etc., to help us understand God’s Word. But when people start to invent what they think God is like or what they imagine he might be saying, then we are on very dodgy ground indeed. When such images and words are wrapped up in an emotional story, then they are even more (not less) likely to be taken to heart by those who don’t know the bible, or any theology.
It is believed by the author and publishers of The Shack that the book is a great evangelistic tool and that people should pass it on to family and friends. I disagree. Whilst the book may be of interest to someone who is mature in the Christian faith, this is not a book to give to people for the purpose of evangelism. If you wish to evangelise (and all Christians should!), tell people what you believe and why; and live this out in your life. If you want to pass on a book, make it a copy of the New Testament, or maybe just one of the gospels.