Saturday, February 21, 2009

Book - "The Shack"

This book launched a publishing company called windblownmedia. Christian publishers see it as a Christian book with controversial theologies. Non-Christian parties sees it as too 'Christian' for their comfort. It has been criticized by some conservatives like Al Mohler and Tim Challies for its theology, which seems to contradict the traditional ideas of God. (For example, God the Father is actually a black woman, Jesus as a Jewish man and the Holy Spirit portrayed by an Asian woman.) Yet, there has been huge interest from many groups. Challies even called the theology of the author as unbiblical. Christianity Today published a rather mild critique of the book, though it eventually took the side of saying that both the supporters and non-supporters of the book failed to 'keep faith.' Regent-College Professor John Stackhouse also had his fair share of criticism in that the book seems to discredit the institutional church.

What I Like....
1) Memorable Quotes
  • "Life takes a bit of time and a lot of relationship." (92)
  • "Your question presumes that poison is bad; that such creations have no purpose. Many of these so-called bad plants, like this one, contain incredible properties for healing or are necessary for some of the most magnificent wonders when combined with something else. Humans have a great capacity for declaring something good or evil, without truly knowing." (133) (on poisonous plants seen as all bad)
  • "Faith does not grow in the house of certainty." (189) (on faith)
  • "Just because I know you're too curious to go, does that reduce your freedom to leave?" (95) (on freedom of the believer)
  • "Paradigms power perception and perceptions power emotions." (197) (on how people understand things)
  • "So check your perceptions, and beyond that check the truthfulness of your paradigms - what you believe. Just because you believe something firmly doesn't make it true. Be willing to reexamine what you believe. The more you live in the truth, the more your emotions will help you see clearly. But even then, you don't want to trust them more than me." (197) (on the difference between trusting God and trusting one's perceptions)
  • ".. just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable evil doesn't mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don't ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn't depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering, you will find grace in many facets and colors." (185) (on pain and suffering)
  • ".. religion is about having the right answers, and some of their answers are right. But I am about the process that takes you to the living answer and once you get to him, he will change you from the inside. There are a lot of smart people who are able to say a lot of right things from their brain because they have been told what the right answers are , but they don't know me at all." (198) (on the difference between religion and relationship)
  • "If anything matters then everything matters. Because you are important, everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness and service, seen or unseen, my purposes are accomplished and nothing will ever be the same again." (235)

On the Other Hand....
There are stuff in the book written in a controversial manner. The theologies of having 'Papa' God as a female and at the same time a woman, is a radical attempt to counter against sexist or overly-patriarchal image of God the Father. I am not sure if this works well, as we can easily claim that Young is dogmatic about God being a female! Having the Holy Spirit represented as an Asian woman also brings in images of racial distinction. One can easily question: "Why not a Latino? or Arab?" The very choice made by Young already limits one's perception about the Holy Spirit.

The book is a work of fiction, or some will like to call it a theological fiction. That said, Young's book can come under the same genre of the Da Vinci code, in the sense that the book is a fiction based on what the authors claim to be facts. For biblical scholars, this could approach the genre of myths, whereby a story is used to narrate the truth.

The book focuses a lot of restoring the view of God from a relationship angle, of forgiveness and of grace. There is nothing inherently wrong about it. However, if this emphasis comes at the expense of overly critical of human institutions, or rules and regulations, a line needs to be drawn. For example, quoting the character of Jesus in the book:
"Once you have a hierarchy you need rules to protect and administer it, and then you need law and the enforcement of the rules, and you end up with some kind of chain of command or a system of order that destroys relationship rather than promotes it. You rarely see or experience relationship apart from power. Hierarchy imposes laws and rules and you end up missing the wonder of relationship that we intended for you." (122-3)
This is seen as an affront on the authority that is based on 'human institutions,' and paints it as an altogether bad thing, and as opposing relationship. The truth is, relationships are necessary whether institutions exist or not. Does Young mean to say that if we eliminate all hierarchies, we resolve all relationship issues in the world? Unlikely. I think if one pushes it far enough, the very 'relationship-centered' platform advocated by Young will soon become the very institution that Young seeks to replace in the first place!

My Comments
I finished this book in one sitting, personally grateful for the clear theological themes carried across via a fictional story that attempts to bridge the head and the heart. Certainly, there is some initial discomfort when the person of God is introduced in a non-traditional way. Yet, I am impressed with the way Young weaves together the loving and harmony displayed by the three members of the Triune Godhead. The downside is the overwhelming negative tones toward institutions and religious traditions that we have come to know, even love. I have to agree with Dr Stackhouse's opinion in this regard. We need to have an even keel regarding our attitudes toward religious institutions as well as relationships. We cannot simply cut out one part and hope for the other to expand and fill the void. A second danger I feel is from the reader's perspective. A literary 'Dr-Jekyll-and-Mr-Hyde' picture emerges. On the one hand, it is easy for those of us who are theologically trained to see that this book is a work of fiction that contains theological themes. On the other, the unsuspecting lay person may become confused and disillusioned about the church and all things institutional. What the world needs is not more sarcasm and attacks against the institution. What we all need is redemption. Even the relationships that Young proposes need to be redeemed.

I recommend the reading of this book highly, and pray that it will challenge readers to read the Bible more. All in all, the book does the public by explaining theology in a very refreshing way. William P Young has done for basic theology, just like Eugene Peterson's THE MESSAGE has done for English Bible translations.


1 comment: said...

I have to say that "The Shack" by William P. Young was a very thought provoking read.

After reading the book, I was left pondering several things about it – which is a true testament to the book's worth. I had several questions on the validity of some of the descriptions of God but I had to humbly admit that there may be no answers this side of heaven for how God presents Himself to each individual.

I posted a more in-depth review of this book on my own blog


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