The Shack / Off The Map Conference / Opinion / Real Life Story

I'm not sure I have ever weighed in on Paul Young's The Shack here.  The reason is because I don't like it, but most of the folks who hate it do so because it's "too liberal."  Mark Driscoll leads that charge, and  I never want to be aligned with that dude.

The Shack (Special Hardcover Edition)I don't dislike The Shack because it's liberal.  Before I share the reasons for my distaste, I want to offer a disclaimer.  In the last few days, as I have dialogued with several friends on Facebook about The Shack, an old college friend (whom I hadn't spoken with in years) offered some personal testimony on why The Shack was so helpful and meaningful in her life.  I was convicted for my overzealousness to proclaim something as "bad" or "poor" because my thoughts are little more than personal taste (except for a conviction on racial caricatures), and as a writer I probably have a chip on my shoulder: I haven't got a book deal yet; Paul Young has; maybe I'd like to whine about that.  Without getting too derailed here, I'll simply acknowledge that for all my ranting - for example - about contemporary Christian radio, there are millions of people who have been comforted and revitalized by lyrics like this: "How can you be so full of mercy?  You race to meet me, and bring me back to life..."  Or, "Like a rose, trampled on the ground, you took the fall and thought of me above all..."  There's nothing wrong with that, and my biggest beef there is with the monetization of Christian music, and the conversion of it into a form of entertainment, rather than worship or art.  Same with books I suppose.  But I'm getting off on a tangent...

I dislike The Shack because (a) it's too tame, not too liberal.  It's conservative Evangelical theology in provocative clothing.  The most (best) theological assertions the book makes are affirming the Trinity and exploring the femininity of God.  Neither of those is bad (both are great, actually, I'd just like it to go further...) but in my reading, each carried with it a little too much self-awareness for the cleverness of the metaphor.  If that makes sense (like, when I think I've written something particularly witty here, I usually bold it and change the text color - but you knew I was a struggling narcissist, right?) And (b) I dislike The Shack because I think it's mediocre writing that often feels too cheesy for me to take seriously.

I felt patronized and offended reading his black mother-God:
"No, Mackenzie," chuckled the black woman.  "We is all that you get, and believe me, we're more than enough." (p. 85)
"We is all you get"?  Maybe Young took a cue on blackspeak from George Lucas' atrocious Jar Jar Binks alien slave caricature.

There's a reason even Disney stopped distributing Song of the South.

Young's description of Jesus as a "big-nosed Jew" is hardly eloquent, either:
"I guess I expected you to be more," be careful here, Mack, "uh... well, humanly striking."
Jesus chuckled.  "Humanly striking?  You mean hand-some."  Now he was laughing. 
... "It's my nose isn't it?"
Mack didn't know what to say.
Jesus laughed.  "I am Jewish you know.  My grandfather on my mother's side had a big nose; in fact, most of the men on my mom's side had big noses." (p. 111)
Not, in my opinion, a home run for the perception of Christians as culturally enlightened.  It amazes me that this kind of prose makes it to the New York Times bestseller list: "over 2 million copies sold."  But there are reasons for this:

My friend Jim Henderson (Off The Map) who is generally more gracious than I, recognizes that this book has provided hope and healing for a lot of folks damaged by rigid - particularly masculine - views of God.  At its best, Young's God is gracious, kind and approachable.  But the same can be said for the God of most fundamentalists (at their best)... Mark Driscoll hates this book particularly because he can't stand God being described as a woman.  His God is an asshole warrior.  Just like his Jesus.  I'd include some youtube clips of Driscoll talking about it, but I'd rather not fan his flame.

In any case, good can be gleaned from The Shack, and a lot of people find it a breath of fresh air for its reminders of who God can be to us, and how we can begin to heal from the wounds life and religion both throw at us.

My college friend on Facebook wrote to me [edited for length]:
Don't you believe that the trinity would depict what Mack himself would see, not what everybody would see? I guess that was just my interpretation - that we each would view or see the trinity differently based on what our spirits feel/see.   

...I, a very white girl learned a great deal about ignorance and racism through teaching in a very underprivileged area in Houston, TX. It was quite the experience. So, I hear what you're saying [about race]. I just think that sometimes Christians need to relax a bit and allow others to experience books for what they are, knowing that most are intelligent enough to figure out that it isn't the Bible... 
...I'm a bit on the outskirts of knowing what the typical christian views as controversial and have no idea as I don't attend church any longer and have no desire to. The book for me got me through a tough part in life while I saw my family being torn apart from several terrible life circumstances...  The Shack was truly instrumental in my family as we faced some serious tragedy. I think when a believer feels abandoned by God it's important to understand that the Bible might not be the first place they turn, so if a popular book like The Shack helps to remind them of their faith that's okay... Wouldn't we all love to get a letter from God reminding us of how deep his love is for us as a unique being? As we're in the midst of a terrible tragedy that has no end in terms of grief to have a moment where you feel God, no matter how physically or spiritually real, but to just feel him, that would be an amazing blessing... I just know that this book allowed my family to sit and chat about how it helped to remind us that we know God loves us even in the middle of having our amazing family members tortured with cancer... I think that is why others whom have had other major tragedies in their lives have endorsed it also. Grief calls for amazing stories sometimes to help them through and this book is one of those stories.
Eloquent and powerful, Sarah.  Thank you for sharing, for your openness, and for the reminder that we all have very different needs. I'm thankful this book was useful to you and to many others. 

SO!  If you happen to be in Seattle on September 10th, it's worth your time to attend this event.  Henderson is one of the most gifted interviewers/moderators I've ever seen, a genuinely good guy, and I'm certain he'll facilitate some fabulous dialogue.  He'd like Mark Driscoll to attend too, though I wouldn't wish that on my enemies.

Click here for more information


Jim Henderson said...


Scott said...

Peter -

I agree with you completely. I had a hard time finishing it.

Cheryl Ensom said...

LOL I just emailed you, using The Shack/W. Paul Young as an example!!!

Lutestring said...

I didn't like The Shack either. First of all, I found it creepy.

Second, I found the attempt to novelize an answer to the problem of evil clumsy and ultimately unconvincing. Not to say that Young has not deeply wrestled with this things because I am sure he has. Perhaps his life embodies truth to those who know him well. I just did not find his *writing* powerful enough to embody some kind of real comfort or conclusion. To have the figures of the Trinity repeatedly "defending" themselves and justifying their allowance of the brutal murder of a tiny girl ... something in it made me sick. What could ever justify something like that? God has to be more profound than that. This kind of thing goes beyond reason or words when we grapple with it. Which was why the given answer, crammed within some form of story, felt cheap and wrong.

I don't think that right now, we can comprehend a way after deep wrongs like this, for it somehow to be redeemed. Thus when we try to explain, it just comes out sounding like, "Oh, it's not as bad as it seemed and it will be OK." When it really *was* that bad and we just don't have the rest of the story and we are, frankly, left hanging in the dark.

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