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 livingsocial.com 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.