Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Shack - An Uncomfortable Tension

A few weeks ago, a friend told me about a new and increasingly popular book entitled The Shack, by William P. Young. The book came with strong endorsements such as Eugene Peterson who compares the work to John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. That is no small endorsement!
Yet, on the other hand, there are those who are equally adamant in the opposite direction. This same friend attended a service at Mars Hill where Mark Driscoll openly opposed much of the book's content as heretical. As is the case with many popular works, you see both extremes.
As I consider my personal thoughts on this book, I admit some level of hesitancy. I consider it a slippery subject since the book is admittedly a fiction novel. But clearly, the author has a message behind the made up story and that message is important to evaluate - especially in light of the popularity of the book.
And I will say up front that I found many things in this book that were good and right. I underlined several sections that I plan to use in future sermons. There were some very good illustrations and word pictures which helped me understand some very complicated truths. Yet on the other hand, I was unsettled by the representation of the Godhead by the author. Not the character choice per se, but more the attributes attributed to God that at times seemed to contradict the divine self revelation in scripture. So the question I wrestle with is this: At what point does the material of a book become so far out of bounds that it discredits the whole?


After having written several paragraphs of thoughtful consideration, I realized 2 things.
1. There is not enough space to write everything and
2. I don't want to.

Here's the bottom line of the book in my opinion. This generation is searching for a "relateable" God. It is not just this book but also included in the list are recent best sellers like The Prayer of Jabez, The Purpose Driven Life, You're Best Life Now, The Jesus I Never Knew to name a few. It is, in my opinion, the driving force behind the emerging church. I have no commentary on the individual books or the emerging church in general, just the recognition that they are all calling us to a deeper more intimate experience of God. It is a yearning of this generation...it is my yearning as well.
The Shack is the latest effort to present God in such a way that we relate to Him with a deeper sense of intimacy. And in my opinion, this book did that as well as any I have read. But here is the uncomfortable tension: Making God reachable by reducing His holiness or making him so holy He becomes unreachable.
My first response is that we don't make God Holy - He is Holy. The fact of the matter is that He is only reachable by grace through faith. We don't relate to Him better if we see him on more human terms. We relate to Him better because of God's grace to draw us near to Himself. We respond and therefore experience this truth by following Him in obedience. He initiates, we respond.
I think we should all do a better job of responding to the "notes from God". The still, small voice that speaks volumes into our lives. The one we often ignore. Just like the voice I heard last week when going to eat lunch with my son. I knew the principal had been dealing with her father's declining health and as I filled out forms in the office, I overheard her conversation on the phone about issues she was dealing with as her dad was not improving. The small voice said, "Go to her and listen to what is on her heart."
That voice was overruled by a stronger more demanding voice that said I needed to get out of town and people were waiting on me to do so.
I learned today that her father died. I am certain I missed an opportunity to minister in a meaningful way. My selfishness reigns and I am disgusted.
Heaven help us if we need to see Jesus as a black grandmother figure, or the Spirit as an Asian version of Tinkerbell or Jesus as an average middle eastern guy. I am not demeaning these characters of the story and it might be helpful to consider such things so far outside our normal paradigm. Yet, in my opinion, it reveals a much bigger issue - We have lost our experience of practicing the presence of God. We grasp for these images when the one's we have are not working.
And here is my point: no book will ever be written (other than the one inspired by the voice of God) that will ever create the image we need to experience God more fully. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him. For His ways are not (and never will be) as our ways.
I hope this book is helpful to people. I found some things that were of benefit to me. I found some things that I do not agree with. Some of the issues were distracting to me in the story. But more importantly, most of what I found was an echo of a generation searching for an experience of truth.
I believe the book should have an epilogue that says, "I hope you have found this imagery helpful. Now go in peace and ask God, by His grace, to reveal Himself to you. And may you have eyes to see, ears to hear and the faith to believe. All a gift from God."

PS Maybe I'll do a true review of the book at a later date. As for now, I feel my earlier reflections are more important.

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