Book Review: The Shack by William Paul Young

The Shack by William Paul Young:  A Review

I’ve been intending to write the review for this book for several weeks now.  When I completed the reading, I quickly wrote a brief review for which will be expanded upon here.

The Shack was printed in 2007 by a novice author named William “Paul” Young. The Shack has spurred much discussion and has become a #1 New York Times Bestseller ranking at or near the top of the paperback list for several weeks now. On the cover of the paperback version I own is printed a glowing endorsement from Eugene Peterson, widely known for The Message Bible. His endorsement reads: “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!” I do not have the theological education that Mr. Peterson has but surely he was aware of the weight of that statement since Bunyan’s work on Pilgrim’s Progress has encouraged and challenged people for more than three centuries now! Outside of the English translation of the Bible, I must wonder if there is a more read piece of literature in English for believers that has been Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

With such a glowing endorsement and its place atop the bestseller’s list, my interest was piqued. It was not until engaging in dialogue about the book with a college student that I have known since his young teenage days did I purchase a copy and begin reading.

The main character is a complicated man named Mackenzie Phillips who, like many, has pain from his relationship with his father and carries it into and through adulthood. Of course, he didn’t just hate his father – he killed him. Before he ran away from home as a young man, he laced his father’s alcohol bottles with poison, left a note for his mother, and left home. He has a period in his adult life where he attends seminary for a time but becomes disillusioned with religion, the church, God, etc. His friend, Willie (who serves as the narrator), describes Mack as an adult as a good man, father, and husband, but one who speaks little and merely attends church from time to time.

The major turn in the story is when Mack’s youngest child, Missy, is abducted at a family camping trip, falls victim to an murderous act of a sick, twisted serial killer, and Missy’s body is found at this shack in the middle of nowhere. Some years down the road, Mack receives a card through the mail from “Papa” inviting him to a weekend at the shack. The remainder of the story is conversation and interaction Mack has with “Papa”, Sarayu, and Jesus at the shack.

The review is getting lengthy. What’s the bottom line? Here it is:

God does desire relationship with humanity. The book gets it right on that note. Aside from that, the book downplays the role of the church; belittles biblical scripture; absolutely ignores the biblical notions of sin, God’s wrath over and because of sin, and judgement; speaks in universalism terms (we’re all God’s children); and, other than Jesus and God (“Papa”) at one point in the story, “God” is portrayed as a large African-American woman named “Elouisa” or “Papa” who likes to cook and listen to funk on the radio and a petite, creative Asian woman named Sarayu (the “Holy Spirit” in the story). In addition, there is a time when Mack meets and converses with a woman named Sophia later to be told by Jesus that she is a personification of God’s wisdom.

While this book may have a redeeming quality or two, it is more eastern and universal than it is biblical christianity. I do NOT recommend it.

Other sites worth reading on The Shack:
Hank Hanegraaff at
Mark Driscoll, Preaching Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington



Filed under Book Review

12 responses to “Book Review: The Shack by William Paul Young

  1. Elijah

    I’m not sure I understand the trends of books. Why do you think this book has become so popular?

  2. Deborah

    I was thinking about reading this book after you had told me a little about it but now I don’t think I will. A couple of teachers had recommended that I read it, but I trust your opinion more than theirs, Bro. Brian. I don’t think I will be going out to get this book now. Thank you.

    God Bless You!!

  3. shannon

    It falls in line with some of what Francis Schaeffer’s thoughts on how our culture has separated the intellect from faith. To try to sum up Schaeffer’s detailed and very well thought out analysis: The Reformation was a response to the Renaissance. The Renaissance believed man is the center of all things (humanism) and the Reformation answered with a resounding no, GOD is the center of all things. The humanists of that period though had great hopes for the ability of man to overcome the sticky issue of morality (without God, how is it defined?). It never happened. Now we live in a pessimistic age of humanism where we all realize our need for spirituality but we have relegated it to the “irrational” but we still need it (Schaeffer uses the image of a two story house with the upper being science and the lower being faith). Thus, we have a lot of “spiritualism” and not a lot of thinking about this.

    So I think this book is popular because it gives the sense of faith and spirituality our culture is trying to find (apart from Christ) while still being humanist.

    Does that make any sense??

  4. Brian

    Shannon, absolutely that makes sense. I agree wholeheartedly.

  5. Debbie

    Most of us have been taught as children to be kind and thoughtful, to share with and comfort those less fortunate. At one time in my life, I felt my connection with God, but as I aged, realism and cynicism took ahold of me. The Church in which I grew up disappointed me again and again and I turned away from organized religion. I no longer felt that connection with the God I grew up trying to understand. When I married and had children, my husband and I had our children baptised in that same religion due to guilt and family pressure. Trying to come to terms with my guilt in raising my children without religious training, I seeked counsel from the priest at our church–hoping to begin rebuilding my “God Connection.” My “counseling” consisted of my priest handing me a 3-ring binder which included detailed charts and tables indicating the church’s debt.

    After reading “The Shack” I now know that my connection with God has always been there–in and with my family, friends and all those for whom I feel happiness and sorrow, in my tolerance of and willingness to understand those who differ in my thoughts and beliefs.

    I completely respect you and your connection with God and hope you feel the same about me. Perhaps those who would not recommend this book have their relationship with God all figured out. Me… I still have a lot to learn, but his book gave me the passion and excitement to open that door that I had quietly shut many years ago.

    ~ Debbie

  6. Trish Pickard

    I was set not to like the book, The Shack but after reading it, I thought it was really good and thought provoking. All the time I read it, I kept thinking it needs a study to go along with it. I finally decided God was urging me to write a study which I did. If anyone would like it, email me at I would be glad to send you the study. You are welcome to use it and copy it for others.
    Trish Pickard

  7. Brian

    I continue to be astounded at the variety of reactions to this book.

    Thank you all for visiting my humble review and for adding to the discussion, regardless on which side of the discussion you find yourself.

  8. Pingback: Reading List: 2008 « A Ragamuffin’s Reflections

  9. sara

    This is a dangerous book….Sophia is a goddess(demon) who has been recycled throughout the ages and has gone by the name Lillith, Astarte, Isis, Athena…she is also worshipped by gnostics. In all of my web searching of blogs in regards to this book, no one mentions this…I don’t think people know.

  10. Brian


    Thank you for adding this information. I did not know this and though the name similarity could be circumstantial, it’s possible that it was used purposefully. Thank you for adding your comments to our discussion.

  11. I have to say that “The Shack” by William P. Young was a very thought provoking read.

    After reading the book, I was left pondering several things about it – which is a true testament to the book’s worth. I had several questions on the validity of some of the descriptions of God but I had to humbly admit that there may be no answers this side of heaven for how God presents Himself to each individual.

    I posted a more in-depth review of this book on my own blog


    • You’re certainly right that The Shack was a thought provoking read. For what value there is in Mr. Young’s book, that certainly tops the list!

      As for God’s revelation of himself, I must heartily disagree with your statement. He has revealed himself and has done so through the Bible over thousands of years to many different people who were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write. Together, they paint a glorious picture of who God is. God continues to reveal Himself and His will through scripture and the Holy Spirit – but these two will not contradict – why would they? He’s given us both so that we may know Him.

      The portrait of God that Mr. Young gives us is quite different.

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