With Apologies to Theologians Everywhere…I Loved “The Shack”

April 14, 2009

Tuesday Remix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and re-submitted for your consideration and comments.

Hello. My name is Blake (everyone yell altogether: “Hi, Blake!”), and I liked The Shack. Reading some of the theological reviews of the book, I feel like there must be something very wrong with me, that I would dare to favor a completely fictional story which contains some (allegedly) questionable theology. But I do like the story and found it quite helpful even in a Spiritual sense, which leaves me wondering if it is possible for God to use an allegedly theologically flawed story to draw me closer to Him in our relationship. Apparently it is possible, and judging from the many positive reviews from Christians around the country, I am not exactly out on a limb in this judgment.

Let’s first be clear about some things: (1) I am no theologian, at least not in the “seminary-trained, original Greek and Hebrew” way of talking about theology, and I have never held myself out to be so; (2) I suspect I can find some theological point on which to disagree with almost any author writing today, so I do not derive my understanding of God by trying to emulate any person’s theology; (3) take point number (2) and magnify it several times as it may relate to works of fiction.

So, with all those caveats firmly established, I recommend The Shack…as an allegory for the healing process and as a story that explores the question, “How can a loving God allow such unspeakable pain as our world sometimes experiences?” I like the book. As a person called to a ministry to hurting people and as a friend called to walk alongside those hurting people, I appreciate the value of The Shack as a story, and I would recommend it as an interesting, even enlightening read. I believe the story makes the point loud and clear that God does not stand back at a distance when we are going through unbelievably painful circumstances; rather, that He remains very present, very loving, and very approachable. I’ve never read a story that makes that point more clearly. In that regard, it helped me tremendously.

I do not agree with some of the theology in it. I suspect it would make a poor seminary textbook (but, see caveat number 1 above regarding my own limitations in that area). For my own taste, by far the most thorough and well-reasoned theological review comes from John Mark Hicks in an entire series on his blog here.  His series presents a largely positive review.  Still, some other well-respected theologians, like Hank Hanegraaff, have criticized it. There is also a pretty in-depth review by Tim Challies (with whose own theology I probably have some quibbles).  So, if you are looking for an argument about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, go to those reviews and enjoy the exercise.  You will not get that here.  Moreover, I have read William P. Young’s (the author) blog, and he certainly did not intend this story to be a theological treatise, though I suspect he did intend it to be theologically sound. He may or may not have missed that mark, depending on whose theology you favor. 

But as a story (even a Christian story) about the healing journey, I found The Shack both helpful and insightful. While I will not engage in a debate over the theology in the book, I will defend all day long the value of the book in terms of its insights into the healing journey God has for us all.  It’s story is a remarkably accurate description of how scary and painful the healing process often must be.  It also paints beautifully the intimacy and honesty of genuine time with God.  It saddens me that this value may get lost in some of the theological thrashing by its critics.   Maybe the real argument here is the value of theology versus the value of understanding God’s healing.  I have encountered theologians who had little understanding of grace and mercy.  Likewise, I have encountered pastors who have experienced seasons of untold pain and have learned from it, but whose theological training was on the weak side.  If I have to choose one or the other for my pastor I will take the latter every time.  Because, in my experience, people need healing a lot more than they need theology.

Mrs. Peak, my senior English teacher in high school, used to constantly correct my grammar, even in the midst of casual conversation. It really irritated me, though I suppose I grew to appreciate it. She made me a better communicator and she became one of my all-time favorite teachers. Similarly, theologians like Hank Hanegraaff who take “corrective” cracks at every jot and tittle of every Christian communication on the scene today irritate me. I do appreciate the gift they add to the community of believers (there is a right place for that in our Christian community) but sometimes I am genuinely annoyed by it.  The difference, of course, between grammar and theology is that grammar can actually be mastered by the average person.  Theologians who are trying to make the Christian world theologically perfect are, I am afraid, fighting a losing battle.  Nonetheless, perhaps it is a legitimate battle to be fought, though not by me.  I will leave theology up to the theologians!

So, with apologies to those theologians, I would read The Shack again.  And again.

So there. Now I have said it out loud. Isn’t that the first step to recovery? Pray for me…

© Blake Coffee

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One thought on “With Apologies to Theologians Everywhere…I Loved “The Shack”

  1. Nathan

    Hey Blake;

    Well I have to agree with you here, except for one thing, I haven’t read the “Shack” yet, but I am writing a book (fiction) which will easily draw the same kind of fire which the “Shack” has. So my comments may be a little one-sided, but I do have some insight.
    God did not give us a bunch of mathematical formulas which always work the same way each time. He is a God of relationship and relationships with humans are fuzzy and inexact. Now God certainly doesn’t change in essentials, but He is endlessly creative and always has been, when He told His simple stories (parables) and taught the disciples He was starting a process which didn’t end with the crucifixion or the resurrection. The disciples kept learning from Him (through His Spirit) for the rest of their lives. There are several places in the gospels where the writer says the disciples remembered that Jesus had said this later after the resurrection. There is even the prospect (and I know some theologians will hate this one) that God speaks different lessons to different individuals at different times with the same passages. Yeah my God is that big (even bigger) and yours is too. He is infinitely creative, there may be people who need the particular emphasis of the “Shack” to deal with some very personal problems, of course God knows this, and the human theologian doesn’t.

    After all, the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well would have produced reams and reams of well reasoned criticism from the theologians of the day ( yeah, those pesky pharisees again). So whether I like a book or not, if God was instrumental in the writing of it, it will help someone somewhere according to His plan and not ours.

    As an example, I would like to site the firestorm of criticism which followed Madame Guyon’s book about the Song of Solomon, She served time in the Bastille for her simple and I think pious efforts to bring people into a deeper relationship with the Lord. More than a few of the early protestant leaders were deeply influenced by her writings. The roman catholic theologians had them burned (except for Fenelon who remained her friend).

    So how do we evaluate this story, the “Shack”, well you know maybe we shouldn’t, but we should approach the Lord in humility and listen to what He has to say about it, and stop listening to men who may not have a heart for the Lord at all.

    As far as correction goes, someone correcting me should cause me to seek the Lord about it and to take it seriously if it is truly from Him, but as you well know there is no shortage of busybodies and naysayers in the church who should rightly be ignored. We don’t allow infants to drive cars do we. No we don’t. So we shouldn’t allow the spiritually immature to affect us when they are off base. We should have the spiritual sense and humility to check with the “Boss” about it.

    So I appreciate how candid you are in saying that you like the book, perhaps it helped you in ways you haven’t noticed yet. And I don’t think you owe the theologians anything for liking it, much less an apology, if they really are spiritual they will get over it.

    Reply

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