Monday, July 14, 2008

BACK TO "THE SHACK": now #1 bestseller

The controversial Christian novel, THE SHACK, is now the #1 bestseller on the New York Times Paperback Trade Fiction list. It is the overall #2 bestselling book of ANY book on (I blogged about THE SHACK on April 15, if you care to scroll down to read my earlier comments.)

Since my earlier blog, readers continue to be sharply divided about its value. Most readers rave about how the book empowered their understanding and love for God. However, some notable Christian leaders continue to take THE SHACK to the woodshed and decry that it is full of heresy.

I deeply respect the intellect and integrity of Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary (where I earned two degrees), but I humbly disagree with his evaluation of THE SHACK. He devoted an entire weekly radio show to the book calling it “deeply subversive,” “scripturally incorrect” and downright “dangerous.”

The main character in the story, Mack, was a seminary graduate who at one point says that he now understands that everything he learned at seminary was basically all wrong. Understandably, that kind of statement would put ANY Seminary President on the defensive!

The controversy has even touched Lifeway Christian Resources, the retail giant that supplies books and literature to churches in America – but primarily to the 45,000 Southern Baptist Churches. After some complaints from a few influential pastors (probably some seminary presidents and a few Lifeway trustees), The Shack was briefly pulled from the shelves of Lifeway Bookstores. However, I commend the Lifeway leadership for reconsidering that knee-jerk reaction. The book is once again for sale with a “Reader Discretion Advised” sticker on it. (Go figure! I've always thought we should use discretion when we read ANY book except the Bible!)

Let me share with you one of the main criticisms of the book (don’t read this next line if you haven’t read the book and plan to – it might spoil it). During part of Mack’s “interaction” with God, the Father is portrayed as a kindly, humorous, African-American woman who goes by the name “Papa.” This image is what gives the 21st Century Pharisees apoplexy! Is God really an African-American woman? Is that what the author is saying? Of course not! No more than Jesus is really a powerful, noble lion named Aslan! But you don’t hear many (although there are some) who are criticizing the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.

Again, my love for the The Shack is based upon my appreciation of it as a wonderful Christian allegory. I thoroughly enjoy reading about the easy, loving interaction between the members of the Trinity, and I was drawn to the God of grace who is portrayed in the theme of the book.

William P. Young, the author, wrote the book for his two children. Only after it was picked up by a couple of West Coast pastors was it published to a larger audience (and the audience continues to grow). How does William P. Young (who goes by his middle name, Paul) respond to this overwhelming barrage of theological smart-bombs? In a recent interview ( Young observed that in America, where only about 3 in 10 people attend weekly worship services and millions are ignorant of the Bible, his readers struggle to find a good God amid their pain.

He says, “I don't want to enter the Ultimate Fighting ring and duke it out in a cage-match with dogmatists. I have no need to knock churches down or pull people out,” he says. “I have a lot of freedom by knowing that you really experience God in relationships, wherever you are. It's fluid and dynamic, not cemented into an institution with a concrete foundation.”

So while some uptight theologians condemn their perceived jots and tittles of spiritual error in The Shack, it will continue to reach an audience of people who have been turned off by the "God" who has been neatly packaged and confined by the traditional church. So what do you think will happen if Oprah chooses to endorse it – heaven forbid!

In my previous blog, I asked for your impressions. I didn’t receive a single negative response, and here are a couple of the comments I received:

I found The Shack to be a fascinating piece of work. I loved it too. I've already given away two copies. I really appreciated Young's images of things like forgiveness (letting go of another person's throat), the Father (Papa, first a woman, then a man), the unique relationship of the members of the Trinity. I too was reminded that the Lord Jesus lives in the present more than the past or future, and that's good for me today. That the Father would also have scars on his wrists was an interesting twist for fiction and allegory----- It was good to be reminded of Papa's desire: "I want all of you and all of every part of you and your day." "Rules and principles are simpler than relationships" was a great reminder, too, of how easily we slip into legalism, judgments. I too loved Sophia!
Anyway, I'm impressed with Young's abilities with words, and I'd highly recommend this little volume to anyone who asked.God bless,-- Jerry

Bro. David- I read The Shack a couple of months ago, and am still contemplating and experiencing the implications of it in my life. If I had to pinpoint the over-arching effect it's had on my life, I'd say that my admiration of Papa has been heightened, my love for my Savior has grown deeper, and my legalistic tendencies have been diminished. I've recommended it to just about everyone I know, and most have responded in a similar fashion. The depiction of the Trinity is so profound, and so "different" from what most people have come to think. This really is a paradigm-shifting book! --David

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