Shacking up

The Shack, a scar on the soul of Mack, a man needing a god.

“Mark, you’ve got to read The Shack.”

“Read The Shack yet? It’s total heresy from cover to cover isn’t it?”

“Man I’ve just finished reading The Shack. It has completely changed the way I think about God.”

William P. Young’s The Shack must be one of the most divisive Christian works since Luther nailed a copy of the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Ok, that’s an exaggeration to underline the point that if you travel in a “sanctified” crowd you’ve most likely come into contact with supporters and detractors of the book over the last while.

Everyone from Nominal-Christians to Full-Blown-out-there-Crazy-Fanatical-Christians have an opinion on the religious virtue, life changing influence or divine depth of the book. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many referrals and rebuttals in my life. The book must have changed the lives of at least 10 people whom I know personally.

A common theme amongst the advocates of the book is to read it with your heart and not your head, It’s a bit of a mantra, and so, with this in mind, I picked the book up in December last year and immersed myself in the head of Mack, the lead character.

I really enjoyed the story line. Well, you can’t exactly say that can you? The story is macabre, if you’ve read it you know what I mean. It had real characters, real life dirty grizzly problems and a happy ending. It was a read in a few hours; think about for a whole while longer kind of book. I laughed, cried (nobody tell Liezl) and did a lot of thinking.

But here’s the catch: this book cannot be read with just one’s heart and not one’s head because the story is transparently a metaphorical wrapping for the author’s true intent: a presentation of God. Who He is. How He acts. And how we should react to Him.

Intertwined in the riveting story are a number of discussions between the lead character and God. And the subject matter of these conversations is not recipes, rugby or rainbows but rather Theology. Who is God, how does He communicate with humans, what happens to us when we die, what is the nature of the Trinity, what is the church and how does salvation work?

I’m firmly convinced that many Christians who read this book will define much of what they believe about God on it. By that I mean Post Modern Christians no longer spend time studying Scripture to find God, but rather trust in the plethora of 20th century authors out there who sculpt and mould their view of God and then present Him for the best selling price of R99.00 at your nearest CUM bookstore (now only R69.00 in the post Christmas sale!).

Because the author was talking about spiritual things maybe some Scripture would be wise to keep in mind. Paul writing to the Thessalonians in his first letter chapter 5 and verse 21 says:

21 test everything; hold fast what is good.”

Describing the citizens of Berea in Acts Chapter 17 verse 11 he says that they:

11 were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

Paul had a high regard for Scripture and so should we. Books, movies, tv and all other media that influences our lives should be measured against Scripture.

What defines your understanding of God? The fickle wind of the times? The best selling author of the day? The preacher in the pulpit? Or is it Scripture? Jesus Christ while committing His disciples and all who would one day follow Him in faith, in John chapter 17 verse 17 says:

17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

Jesus too had a high regard for the Word of God, His Word.

What did you use to read The Shack: Your heart or your head? Does it matter?


20 thoughts on “Shacking up

  1. Definitely my head, because it did nothing for my heart.

    It offended my delicate sensibilites as a writer more than as a Christian. I felt the situations and dialogue were extremely contrived, and would have been laughable; but he throws in some strong emotional blackmail, and readers think they have read something profound, instead of just emotionally-charged.

    Rather than setting up a realistic framework for a characters response, he just tells us what the character was feeling, often “He didn’t know why, but he felt…”

    I get that it was fiction, my main concern is that unlike a lot of other allegorical works, he PUTS words into GOD’S mouth – often words that conflict with scripture, and popular consensus. But people want to believe this version, because GOD said it. (Didn’t he?)

    Am I heartless and cold because the story itself did nothing for me?

    • On heartlessness: I know you. You couldn’t pull off heartless with a gun to your head.

      On The Shack: David, I know a number of congregants at the church that you attend quite well. Why is it that some people in the same congregation would advocate the shack strongly and others would shun it as heresy? Why the vast differences in discernment amongst believers with so much else in common?

      • I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said “Stop! Don’t do it!”

        “Why shouldn’t I?” he said.

        “Well, there’s so much to live for!”

        “Like what?”

        “Well… are you religious?” He said yes. I said, “Me too!”

        Are you Christian or Buddhist?” “Christian.” “Me too!”

        Are you Catholic or Protestant ? “Protestant.” “Me too!”

        Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?” “Baptist” “Wow! Me too!”

        Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?” “Baptist Church of God!” “Me too!”

        Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you reformed Baptist Church of God?” “Reformed Baptist Church of God!” “Me too!”

        Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?” He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!”

        I said, “Die, heretic scum”, and pushed him off.

  2. I think you make a good point, in quoting Paul saying “test everything; hold fast to what is good.” I surely don’t agree with that mantra of reading with heart instead of head, and there is a filter you must use with this book.

    It’s like my coffee press. I let the grounds mix freely with the water for a little while, but to have properly drinkable coffee, I must then push the grounds down, leaving only the brewed coffee.

    What is sad is, I’ve heard from those who would either have us chug the ground/water mixture straight up, and those who would leave the coffee out altogether and simply drink the hot water (all figurative, I assume you get what I mean). Surely scripture is our basis, the nourishing water our souls thirst for, Jesus in book form. Books like The Shack are simply things we flavor the water with from time to time, to get a new taste. Our thirst is still quenched, and there is a pleasant new flavor (which I think we also get from talking about God to others).

    Obviously David (the other commenter) didn’t like that flavor of coffee, and that’s okay. As long as he is still drinking the water, he will live. It is, in fact, the coffee drinkers who must be sure to keep including water, rather than just eating the grounds and assuming they will be quenched.

    I think I’m posting this as a blog :).

    • I read the blog you posted out of this. Your best writing that I’ve read yet. Thanks.

      I don’t come to the same conclusion as you but I think the conversation is edifying.

  3. Let’s see how Richard’s analogy breaks down and doesn’t make sense. With, of course……….another analogy. :-)

    Whether the grounds are filtered out or whether a few grounds make it through, one thing is certain. It’s all coffee, and ultimately harmless. But take a five gallon water jug; crystal clear, cool, and perfectly apealing. Problem is, it has a few drops of syanide it it. Maybe not enough to drop you were you stand, but enough to damage some major organs like your liver or kidneys. Eventually the damaged organ(s) will lead to other complications.

    Why suppliment scripture with this kind of reading. Especially when many respected teachers have said “stay away from it”. The bible contains all we need to know without this kind of cyanide. Ultimately it leads to low view of scripture, liberal thinking and perhaps even abhorant or heretical beliefs.

    If I invite you to my house for a barbeque and I say,”don’t eat that hot dog, it fell on the ground and Fido was licking it, would you have to test it for yourself? Of course not! You’d take my word for it.

    • There is a legend that the burning of the Library of Alexandria was ordered by the Caliph, because : “If the books contradict the Qur’an they are heretical, and if they agree with it they are superfluous”

      We need to be looking at supplementing our understanding of the Bible all the time, because I am not smart enough to think every thought, and sometimes I need someone else to think it first; even if only so I can reject it as heresy, and not waste my own time coming to the heretical conclusion.

      I have no problem (other than literary) with The Shack as a book, although I think much of the flavour is heretical. I am concerned that Christians are choosing to accept it all, without testing whether the coffee that has been added is good or bad.

      I like the fact that people are reading it, but I wish more of them would use it as a starting point to explore the biblical basis of forgiveness and trinity, rather than see it as a new and better interpretation.

      • mmm, that’s interesting stuff.

        I like the Caliph destroys Alexandria example. It reminds me of an Aristotle quote that I’ve kept in my back pocket since I was in my early twenties, “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain an idea without accepting it.”

        A phrase which rings true with what you’re saying is, “Chew on the fish and spit out the bones.”

        I do however believe that there is a place for Christians to highlight error and make others aware of it. I’m thinking of Paul’s words when he describes the function of elders in the book of Titus chapter 1, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

    • mmm, that’s quite impressive :).

      I’m currently sitting at the office introducing a Scottish guy to rusks. I love being South African.

      I’m thinking of Acts 17 verse 26, “and He made from one {man} every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined {their} appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,” I’m glad my boundry is South of 26°, East of 28°.

  4. HI Mark,

    I did read with my head initially but my heart was touched. As a mature Christian 38yrs plus I found the writers sensitivity and humor encouraging. It certainly made me deepen my relationship with the Trinity!

    Love Gay

  5. Hi Mark.

    I definitely read with my heart. Read it cover to cover in eight hours flat (one sitting). Put it down. And cried my heart and my eyes out. This book gave me a perspective on a loving and caring God that I have never had before in all my Christian life.

    I am one of those who advocated this book to a lot of my friends. And I will continue doing so .

    I have just recently stumbled onto your blog ( via Shark bait’s blog) and will backtrack a bit and read some of your previous posts as well.

    Keep it up.

    (a fellow South African)

    • Hi Hanno,

      Be a Berean. Comment on anything which doesn’t look right. There’s value in the conversation.

      Shark Bait rulez. I’m thinking about starting a fan club.

      I’m new to this blogging thing, although I’m finding it an interesting medium to express oneself in. It’s not that different from having a chat with a close friend… except you’re very seldom that close and it’s a bit one sided.

      What’s it like in living in Uitenhage? I see they have the internet now ;).

      In Christ,


  6. Pingback: The Shack « Becoming What We Already Are…

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