“An African-American, a Jew, and an Asian walk into a bar” might be the beginning of somebody’s joke. But Wm. Paul Young is dead serious when he centers his 2007 novel The Shack on three such persons—and this weekend the movie by the same name opened in theaters across the country.
DESCRIBING “THE SHACK”
Young (b. 1955) is a Canadian novelist who self-published The Shack after his manuscript was turned down by 26 publishers. Remarkably, by June 2008 it had sold a million copies—and now sales are said to be over 25 million!
While definitely fiction, the book is also a theodicy, an argument for God’s goodness in the face of evil. Much of the book is response to Missy’s question about “how come [God’s] so mean?” (p. 33).
The book/movie is also a reflection on the nature of the Trinity. While clearly a temporary manifestation to Mack, the central human being in the book, God appears as Elousia, an African-American woman usually called “Papa”; Jesus, a Jewish carpenter; and Sarayu, a willowy Asian woman.
When first meeting these three “persons,” Mack asks which one of them is God. “’I am,’ said all three in unison” (p. 89).
What a marvelous time, and what a healing time, Mack spends with this amazing Trinity!
There have been some very negative reviews of the book—mostly by conservative Christians. In 2010 Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called it (here) “deeply troubling” and declared that it “includes undiluted heresy.”
Earlier, in May 2008, Charles Colson advised his readers (here), “Stay Out of The Shack.”
These are just two of many written criticisms of the theological content of The Shack. In addition, though, just about a year ago a 79-minute documentary film was produced with the title “The Shack: Its Dangerous Theology and Error.”
There are perhaps some legitimate concerns about the theology of the book—but the more conservative or traditional one is, the greater those concerns will likely be.
In addition to the conservative Christians who criticize the theology of The Shack, there are now many secular movie critics who trash the film.
Returning home after watching the movie, with delight, late Friday afternoon, I looked up some movie reviews of the film—and was disappointed in what I found. They were mostly negative—especially the one by Peter Sobczynski on RogerEbert.com.
Perhaps “The Shack” is most appreciated/enjoyed by people with a moderate/liberal Christian worldview.
PRAISING “THE SHACK”
“When the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian cross-fertilize, the result is a novel on the order of The Shack. This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!”
These words, by Eugene Peterson (of The Message fame) are perhaps the most effusive in praising The Shack, but there have been numerous clerics and moderate to liberal Christian writers who have had positive words about it.
Many of you know and appreciate Richard Rohr. (I wrote about him, here, in Nov. 2015.) Last year Fr. Rohr published The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation. I found it interesting that in this major book about the Trinity, Rohr had Young write the Foreword, mentions Young in the Introduction, and calls him a “dear brother” in the Acknowledgments.
Except to my most (theologically) conservative and most secular friends, I highly recommend this delightful book/movie. It offers much to think about regarding the Triune God, dealing with grief, relationships (with God and other humans), as well as freedom of choice and the problem of evil.