For those who are yet acquainted with The Shack, The Shack is a fictitious, Christian novel written by author William Paul Young. The Shack has, in its short time on the market, garnered for itself such accolades as being listed among the New York Times Best Sellers, and has been endorsed by such popularly reputable, Christian persons as singer Michael W. Smith and author and translator of the version of the Bible known as the The Message Eugene Peterson. The Shack has been raved about by both Christians and non-Christians and by theologians and lay-persons, and has such potential, according to Peterson, “to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!”
However, such attention has not come without its scrutiny. In spite of The Shack’s popular acceptance due to that what Young claims to be “a God thing,” many critics have risen up against the book, primarily from those whom align themselves with those who are commonly labeled as “fundamentalists” or “conservative evangelicals.” These who have risen against Young’s work do so on the basis of the God who is portrayed in the book. To these, the God in the book and the book’s depiction of the Christian doctrine of the trinity is unorthodox and even heretical. To these, Young’s novel has crossed the seemingly unbreakable and elastic line which has been lain for the genre known as “Christian fiction.”
In spite of these concerns, LifeWay Christian Stores, an entity of the conservative Christian denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, has welcomed selling the novel in its stores, leaving some perplexed due to the store’s frequent and unapologetic policy of not selling literature or merchandise which it deems unorthodox or inappropriate. However, the store does offer this disclaimer on its website, further blurring the appropriate bounds to which “Christian fiction” is accountable:
It is important to remember that The Shack is a work of Christian fiction. Christian fiction may be defined as a story or fantasy written within a Christian context. As such, this title is not a teaching or doctrinal book since, by nature of the genre, more creative license is expected in Christian fiction than nonfiction. As with other Christian fiction, this book is not a treatise on the Trinity, salvation or other Christian doctrines, and it would be unwise for people to develop their theological positions based on works of fiction rather than on the Bible itself.
In spite of this disclaimer and in spite of the “creative license” which is supposedly naturally granted to such works, many Christians have read the The Shack claiming illumination and clarification with regards to the doctrine of the trinity which, prior to their reading of The Shack, had been a great mystery to them.
Young, also contrary to LifeWay’s disclaimer, does not find his work to be one that exists for mere entertainment purposes, saying in an online chat session, “I absolutely am convinced that this [referring to his book’s “best sellers” status] is a God-thing that God is the One stirring this all up, challenging us to rethink and entertain growing deeper in a relationship with Him rather than pursuing our independence.” Therefore, Young, like most of his readers and unlike LifeWay’s claim for the genre of “Christian fiction,” views his work as one that is meant to challenge people’s real views of the Christian God and to cause them to think of God in the manner that he portrays in his novel.
Because of its popularity among a broad range of people, from conservative evangelicals to those who would not claim to be Christians, The Shack is a book that must be addressed and dealt with. And this I plan to do in short order.
Next: The Shack: A Critique, Part 2: Literary Considerations