Monday, December 29, 2008

The Shack by William Young: Questionable Orthodoxy Even According to "Mere Christianity" Standards


[ Craig Mitchelldyer for USA Today; source ]

This novel was being discussed on the CHNI board. Here was my appraisal:

I'm sure there are some good things in this book. Not all Christian opinions are united, however, as to its overall value. Protestant writer Charles Colson panned it. Near the end of the article, he states:

That is not to say The Shack is without merit. The centrality of Christ and God’s breathtaking, costly love come through loud and clear. But these truths are available everywhere in Scripture, everywhere in Christian literature. You do not have to visit The Shack to find them.

From looking through some discussion on various forums (including Catholic Answers), apparently it has the usual anti-institutional slant, that discounts the necessity of an authoritative Church. For example, in chapter 12, our author has Our Lord Jesus Christ saying: "I don't create institutions. Never have, never will."

I found another Protestant reviewer who panned it also. Apparently, reviews are mixed among both Catholics and Protestants. I found a Catholic priest who liked it. The magazine from Canada may be liberal, though (I'm not gonna check it out and take time determining that).

Protestant Michael Spencer (aka "The Internet Monk") likes it, but Tim Challies, prominent evangelical blogger, doesn't. Protestant pastor Jeffrey Whittaker was strongly critical of it as well (see Part II of review).

Many reviewers have criticized universalist tendencies or assertions in the book. One Dr. James DeYoung (Protestant) has stated that the author, whom he knows, is actually an avowed universalist (the notion that all will be saved and none will go to hell). One can read his critical (PDF) review.

A USA Today article notes what critics are saying about the book. These include Protestant notables like Albert Mohler and Mark Driscoll.

Norman Geisler, my favorite Protestant apologist, wrote a scathingly critical review of the book. Some highlights:

Young’s point is clear: forget your preconceived notions about God, forget your seminary training, and realize that God chooses to appear to us in whatever form we personally need; He is like a mixed metaphor. We cannot fall back into our religious conditioning (91).. . .

Beneath the surface of The Shack is a rejection of traditional Christianity (179). He claims that traditional Christianity did not solve his problem. Even Seminary training didn’t help (63). He insists that Christianity has to be revised in order to be understood, reminiscent of McClaren’s Emergent Church book titled, Everything Must Change. However, one might question whether it is Christianity that needs revision or Christians that need to be revitalized. One thing is certain, Christianity should not be rejected because it has some hypocritical representatives. To be sure, some Seminary training is bad, and even good Seminary training doesn’t help, if you don’t heed it. But the baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater. Christ established the Church and said the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Mt. 16:1 6-18). The Shack, as gripping as its story is, trades a church occupied with people who hear the Word of God preached for an empty shack where there is neither. . . .

The solutions to life’s basic problems come from extra-biblical experience, not from Scripture (80-100). . . .

Another area of concern is a false view of the person and work of Christ. The book states, “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed. Even though we have always been present in this universe, we now became flesh and blood” (98). However, this is a serious misunderstanding of the Incarnation of Christ. The whole Trinity was not incarnated. Only the Son was (Jn. 1:14), and in His case deity did not become humanity but the Second Person of the Godhead assumed a human nature in addition to His divine nature. Neither the Father nor Holy Spirit (who are pure spirit–John 4:24) became human, only the Son did. . . .

The book also contains a classic heresy called Patripassionism (Literally: Father Suffering). Young claims that God the Father suffered along with the Son, saying, “Haven’t you seen the wounds on Papa [God the Father] too?’ I didn’t understand them. ‘How could he…’ ‘For love. He chose the way of the cross… because of love’” (p. 165). But both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed (A.D. 325) made it very clear that it was Jesus alone who “suffered” for us on the Cross. And that He did this only through His human nature. To say otherwise is to engage in “confusing the two natures” of Christ which was explicitly condemned in the Chalcedonian Creed (A.D. 451). Suffering is a form of change, and the Bible makes it very clear that God cannot change. “I the Lord change not” (Mal. 3:6). “There is no shadow of change with Him” (Jas. 1:17). When all else changes, God “remains the same” (Heb. 1:10-12). . . .

The Shack may do well for many in engaging the current culture, but not without compromising Christian truth. The book may be psychologically helpful to many who read it, but it is doctrinally harmful to all who are exposed to it. It has a false understanding of God, the Trinity, the person and work of Christ, the nature of man, the institution of the family and marriage, and the nature of the Gospel. For those not trained in orthodox Christian doctrine, this book is very dangerous.

With this many noted voices in the Protestant community (known for a much wider latitude in theology) uncomfortable with the theological opinions of the book, I think a red flag is definitely raised. From what I have found out so far, then, I could not recommend it myself, and would actually discourage anyone from reading it.

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