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The Shack by William P. Young

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The Advocate

The Shack by William P. Young

Reviewed by Darcie Gudger

"Logically, if we believe that God has a purpose for everything, we must believe he has a purpose for this little self-published book that’s shaken and challenged our Christian worldview."

One of the most poignant lessons I learned in my wild adventure through academia was the role of literature in the life of a Christ follower. Until I sat in Dr. Charles Bressler’s class, Literature of the Western World, as an undergrad at Houghton College, anything outside the mystery genre bored me to death.

Memories of marathon yawn-fests over Cliff Notes to Moby Dick and Billy Bud, caused me to put off taking the required lit class until the second semester of my senior year.

Dr. Bressler opened the class with a promise to shake and challenge our Christian worldview to its core. That statement sounded funny coming from a professor at a Christian college! Bressler immediately plunged into an explanation of the value of owning your faith. Secure in your faith in Christ, you cannot be easily deceived. Also, you can learn how to share Christ with people like Albert Camus without using the Bible as your authority. An existentialist like Camus, does not believe in absolute truth. The Bible holds no authority for them. Pure logic and reason of the True Gospel has to cut through the agony of existential nothingness. Read The Stranger if you want to deepen your understanding of that worldview.

How are we as Christians supposed to share the truth of Christ to the intellectual elite and the post-modern who doesn’t believe in good and evil?


The Oxford dons crouched over handwritten manuscripts and mugs of ale understood this. The Inklings was a writers’ group boasting C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein as members. In addition to critiquing each other’s, these men defined the purpose of literature.

Dr. Bruce L. Edwards of Bowling Green State University wrote an essay, “Who Were The Inklings?”, in 2006 about this eclectic bunch of authors. Understanding and applying the power of Myth was the goal of this group.

Edwards quotes Lewis as he expands the definition of Myth beyond the limited perception of Greek gods and underwater cities.

Myth places them [readers] in the presence of their creator and benefactor, judge and advocate, and answers the questions when, how, who, and why. A “true myth” has the power to explain where we came from, shape our identity and purpose, instill hope, promote justice, sustain order. That is why Lewis can describe the Christian gospel in these terms: “as myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. . . . Christians also need to be reminded . . . that what became Fact was a Myth, that it carries with it into the world of Fact all the properties of a myth.” (http://cslewisblog.com)

Taking time to study great classical writers such as The Inklings will broaden your understanding and appreciation for fiction as a vehicle to demonstrate God’s Truth. Edward’s blog is a fantastic place to start. Wheaton College specialized in C.S. Lewis history, providing vast resources of information.

Considering The Shack, is it fair to speculate William P. Young employed the literary device of Myth in his fiction work? God is no more an African American woman named Papa, than He is a lion named Aslan. However, God demonstrates traits of both. The nature of God is unfathomable. His facets uncountable.

Romans 11:33-36 says:

How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen (NIV)

God, in all three forms, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are beyond full understanding of any human being living on this fallen planet. But does that mean authors don’t have creative liberty to explore expressions of God’s nature?
If The Shack was intended, marketed and distributed as nonfiction, I’d have a lot of trouble with it. Young’s characters Papa, Sarayu and even Jesus, are crafted on the author’s personal experiences and interpretation of Scripture.

Young dares to ask; what if?

Controversy over the content of The Shack stems from readers accepting this fiction novel as gospel truth. From my research about Young, I cannot conclude his intention was to rewrite scripture. His intention appears as broadening and deepening readers’ understanding of God. Readers are responsible for their own reactions and faith. Grounded, secure faith will not feel threatened by this book – especially if the reader keeps in mind The Shack is fiction.

One scene in The Shack has proven effective in helping non-Christians understand God the Father’s willing sacrifice of his own son. Think about it. How many times have you heard the argument, “I don’t want to serve a God who kills his own offspring,” ?

Main character, Mackenzie Phillips, is guided to a judge who is the embodiment of Wisdom. Wisdom demands Mack choose which of his children will go to heaven, and which will go to hell. Mack tries to duck the disturbing question. Wisdom demands an answer.

At the end of the emotional battle, Mack begs the judge to send him to hell so none of his children have to go. Mack has that “light bulb” moment, finally grasping a piece of the heart of God.

Young explores questions we are afraid to ask because someone might question our salvation or understanding of the Bible. Why do horrible things happen to committed Christians? How can God call himself Love when he sent his own son to die on a cross? How accessible is he?

Logically, if we believe that God has a purpose for everything, we must believe he has a purpose for this little self-published book that’s shaken and challenged our Christian worldview. Logically I conclude The Shack does its literary job.

Darcie Gudger is a freelance writer currently working on a young adult novel while trying to solve all the mysteries of motherhood with her adopted son, Kyle. In her spare time, she coaches the 2A Colorado State Champion Sheridan High School colorguard, judged equipment for the Rocky Mountain Colorguard Association and sings for the Bear Valley church choir and worship team. An adventure-seeker who lives and writes in the shadow of the Rocky mountains, Darcie loves hiking, camping, cycling, photography and keeping her husband guessing. Visit Darcie online at her blog, Joy in the Litterbox.