the-shack

Me and writing reviews

I find that I am not very good at writing book reviews so if you want to read a good review on The Shack read this one writen by my friend Chad Holtz. If you would like to know what I think of the book then read on…

Why I read such a “blasphemous” book:

My wife was given The Shack, writen by William P. Young, as a present and because of all the noise that has been made about it on some discernment blogs I decided to read it and see what all the hoo-ha is about. I strongly believe never to make up my mind, comment or speak my mind about something I have not investigated myself, so I decided to read it.

What is the book about?

Mackenzie Allen Phillips (Mack) is married to Nan and a father of three boys and two girls. During a camping trip with three of his children the youngest, Missy, is abducted and evidence found in an abandoned shack suggests that she is brutally murdered. After some years he gets invited back to the shack by a person named “Papa”, the name by which Mack’s wife calls God. At the shack God reveals himself in three persons to Mack. Papa, an African-American woman (The Father); Jesus, a Middle Eastern man (The Son) and an Eastern woman named Sarayu (The Holy Spirit). During his conversations with God and experiences Mack receives healing from his inner hurts to the point where he can forgive his father and the man who killed Missy.

So… What did I think about it?

I must say that I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed reading the book. It is well written and engaging. It leaves one with that feeling that everything will be ok.

Young touches on a few controversial subjects and I think it is these that get him in trouble with the fundamentally minded folks.
The first subject is the sexuality (or rather the non-sexuality) of God. When God the Father reveals himself as a woman to Mack, Young challenges our premise that God the Father is male. Though Scripture refers to the Father in the male form I think there is a cultural (the patriarchal nature of the ancient cultures) reason for that. I think Scripture makes it clear that God neither male nor female.

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (NKJV)

John 4: 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (NKJV)

I think Young challenges this common idea in a very creative and respectful way. Later in the book, after Mack was able to forgive his father, God reveals himself as an older man to Mack explaining that Mack was open to relationship with God the Father thinking of Him as a male father figure.

 

The second subject is the fairylike, mystical nature of the Holy Spirit and given the name Sarayu in the book. Some people claim that the name Sarayu means goddess of the wind or something like that. I googled the name and this is what I came up with:

From Wikipedia:

The name is the feminine derivative of the Sanskrit root सर् sar “to flow”; as a masculine stem, saráyu- means “air, wind”, i.e. “that which is streaming”).

And from behindthename.com:

“Sarayu” is also a Sanskrit name of India which means “moving fast”, and also “air; wind”.

Then I searched the meaning of the word “pneuma” the Greek word used in the New Testament for the Spirit.

From Wikipedia:

Pneuma (πνεύμα) is an ancient Greek word for “breath,” given various technical meanings by medical writers and philosophers of antiquity, including:

Pneuma, “air in motion, breath, wind,” equivalent in the material monism of Anaximenes to aer (ἀήρ, “air”) as the element from which all else originated; the earliest extant occurrence of the term
Pneuma (ancient medicine), the circulating air that is necessary for the systemic functioning of vital organs, according to various medical writers of antiquity
The connate pneuma of Aristotle, the warm mobile “air” that in the sperm transmits the capacity for locomotion and certain sensations to the offspring
Pneuma (Stoic), the Stoic concept of the animating warm breath, in both the cosmos and the body

Pneuma also refers to:
The pneuma or “spirit” in Gnosticism
Pneuma, a concept of Christian pneumatology

Using the name Sarayu for the Holy Spirit is not that far off from the Greek word used in the New Testament, so I find no problem with that.

 

The third subject that strikes me is the nature of the relationship between the Trinity. On pages 121-124 Mack has a conversation with God:

(p121) “I mean,” Mack hurried on, “I have always thought of God the Father as sort of being the boss and Jesus as the one following orders, you know, being obedient. I’m not sure how the Holy Spirit fits in exactly.”

(p122) “You know what I am talking about.” Mack was a little frustrated. “I am talking about who’s in charge. Don’t you have a chain of command?”
“Chain of command? That sounds ghastly!” Jesus said.
“At least binding,” Papa added as they both started laughing, and then Papa turned to Mack and sang, “Though chains be of gold, they are chains all the same.”

(p122 Sarayu speaking) “Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or ‘great chain of being’ as your ancestors termed it. What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us. Actually, this is your problem not ours.”

(p122 Jesus speaking) “It’s one reason why experiencing true relationship is so difficult for you,” Jesus added. “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.”

I agree with Young that there is equality in the Trinity, though from my understanding of Scripture there is some form of authority within the relationship of the Trinity and this comes from the following scriptures:

John 8:28 Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. 29 And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” (NKJV)

Here Jesus says that He only does what the Father tells him which for me refers to some kind of authority that the Father has.

John 17:1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, 2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. (NKJV)

When Jesus says that the Father gives the authority it implicates that the Father has the authority to give to Jesus.

I however think that our understanding of authority is tainted by our fallen nature and we mostly misuse authority to lord over other people, getting them to do what we want. This is not in line with biblical authority which Jesus came to show us. He ruled with a towel (John 13) and through service gained authority. Biblical authority only comes through relationship and it is never forced onto someone, but rather a choice of submitting under authority like Jesus chose to submit to the authority of the Father.
Young also touches on the theme of Universal Restoration which has become a theme that I think a lot of these last few months. I am still gathering my thoughts on this subject and hope to write something about this new journey I find myself on very soon.

My conclusion

I think Young did an excellent job of telling a story of pain, forgiveness and healing. He presents God as approachable and ultimately good. As far as the theology that is presented through this tale, I do not agree with him on every point but he is no heretic

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